If you read last week’s paper you will know that I’ve been involved in moves to save the Whitstable Carnival. It’s not actually what I’d planned for my retirement, but there you go.
I’m busy with the process of setting us up with a constitution, along with looking into ways in which we might earn some money. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.
Meanwhile I’ve also been working with Kevin Davey, the author of Playing Possum, the Whitstable based novel that was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize, on a celebration to mark the birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I suspect few of you will have heard of him. If I mentioned Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, on the other hand, my guess would be that many more of you would register who they were.
Kerouac was the author of the seminal Beat novel, On The Road; Ginsberg the poet responsible for Howl, whose publication lead to an obscenity trial in 1957.
Between them these two writers kicked off the Beat movement in the United States, and Ferlinghetti was inspirational to both.
Himself a poet and artist of some distinction, his City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, and the publishing house that is associated with it, has been the focus of radical literary and political dissent for the last 65 years. It was born in 1953, the same year as me.
Since then City Lights has issued novels, poetry and prose that have challenged war and nuclear weapons, opposed the corruption of the Nixon years, explored gender and challenged homophobia, strengthened the struggle for civil rights, and given voice to struggles in the developing world and dissent in Eastern Europe.
It was the City Lights bookshop which became the meeting place between the organisers of the New Left, and the alternative culture of the hippies, and which created the first stirrings of the mass movement that finally put an end to the Vietnam War.
In other words, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an important man. Aside from the two writers above, he also published Aimiri Baraka, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso, Angela Davis, William Burroughs, Diane de Prima, Noam Chomsky and Huey Newton.
What these names remind us is that it is entirely possible for an art movement to change the world. Beat culture led directly to hippie culture, the signs of which are around to this day, in everything from the wholefood section of your supermarket, to the fact that we no longer consider it sinful to live together outside of marriage.
Bukowski, in particular, is very significant in my life. It was reading his novel Post Office in the early 90s that persuaded me that I should become a writer. There was something about the way he wrote that inspired me, and the fact he was drawing on incidents in his own life.
Oddly enough, Bukowski had been a postal worker before writing the novel and, as I’m sure you know, that’s what I ended up doing: kind of like Bukowski in reverse.
Anyway, Ferlinghetti still being alive, and March 24th being his 100th birthday, Kevin and I decided that it was too important a date to miss. Consequently we are hosting a special City Lights evening down the Labour Club on the 23rd, where visitors will be asked to read out their favourite passages, and tell the rest of us why we think it’s important.
The evening will feature Ben Hickman, director of the Centre for Modern Poetry at the University of Kent, and Chair of the Canterbury Constituency Labour Party.
Come along. It will be a good night.
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From The Whitstable Gazette 14/03/19
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