Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti: I Am Not a Beat!


This week in KCRW’s Scheer Intelligence, Robert Scheer sits down with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the 97-year-old poet, co-founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and champion of Beat poets and writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and others.

Despite his lifetime of work with the Beats, Ferlinghetti never considered himself one. “I was a straight man keeping the store back home,” he says cheerfully. “I was leading a respectful married life on Portrero Hill. These guys were much too far out for me. I didn’t go out on the road with them. And I came from a former generation. When I arrived in San Francisco I was still wearing my beret from Paris, and we were known as bohemians … people who led an unconventional creative life before the Beats came along.”

In their conversation, Ferlinghetti tells Scheer how his experience as a naval officer in Japan during World War II, seeing “acres of mud with bones and hair sticking out of it” in “a landscape in hell,” made him an “instant pacifist.”

When Scheer suggests that Ferlinghetti and the Beats were sympathetic to the idea that in Cuba, [Fidel] “Castro had the potential of developing a democratic, socialist alternative in Latin America, and that by U.S. policy of hostility we forced him to rely on the Soviets. And that destroyed the democratic content of the Cuban Revolution,” Ferlinghetti observed: “I was in Nicaragua in 1985 and in 1989, and on one of those trips I was reading the Nicaraguan newspaper in Spanish and he said, ‘I am not a follower of Moscow. I am its victim.’ “

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