Jack Powers on Lawrence Ferlinghetti

On October 23, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

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Stone Soup To City Lights: Jack Powers on Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Doug Holder

****I wanted to publish this old interview I conducted with the founder of the famed Stone Soup Poets–the late Jack Powers. Many of the younger poets on the scene today may not be familiar with this granddaddy of the Spoken Word movement here in Boston. Here he discusses his relationship with iconic Beat Poet and Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Jack Powers

Jack Powers

Jack Powers is the founder of Stone Soup Poets, a venue of readings and  publishing in the Boston and Cambridge area for over thirty years. He  has provided a space for open poetry readings from poets from all walks  of life. He has also published poetry books for a variety of known and  unknown poets, including: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was a major player  in the Beat Poetry Movement on the West Coast in the 50′s. Jack recently visited Ferlinghetti in San Francisco where he still runs City Light  Books. City Lights, the first all paperback bookstore, was founded by  Ferlinghetti in 1953. Shortly after he formed a publishing house,  creating his renowned Pocket Poet Series. Among the poets he published  were: Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Dianne DiPrima, to  name just a few. I spoke with Powers about his recollections and his  recent meeting with this legendary poet.

Doug Holder: Jack, you  have told me more than once that Lawrence Ferlinghetti brought you back  to poetry. What is it about the man that drew you to him?

Jack  Powers: I think people of my generation were scared into a stasis in  post-war America. I was turned on to Ferlinghetti when I read one of his books from the Pocket Poet Series Howl and other Poems by Allen  Ginsberg. I came across it in a little bookstore at the corner of Mass.  Ave and Huntington in Boston. In the late 50′s I went out to San  Francisco with a dear friend and discovered Ferlinghetti’s City Lights  Bookstore. I didn’t actually meet Ferlinghetti until 1975. I was  attracted to Ferlinghetti’s poetry because it was written in the  vernacular; he wrote about “high” things in the common tongue. Now in  his 80′s, he is still a very formidable presence. I feel he will be  recognized as a great poet in his own right, beyond his role as a guru  of the Beat Movement.

Doug Holder: Ferlinghetti, along with  Peter Martin, launched the first all-paperback bookstore in 1953, and  later formed a publishing house, starting with their Pocket Poet Series  in 1955. Was your own publishing house, Stone Soup Publishing, modeled  after Ferlinghetti’s and Martin’s efforts?

Jack Powers: It was  impossible not to be influenced by something so beautiful. When I went  out to “Frisco”, and City Lights, I loved the feel of Grant St. ( home  of City Lights), and the crazy people. When I say “crazy’ I mean the  label that mainstream society gave them. Here were these creative people spreading their wings, amidst the stifling conformity of 1950′s  America. The energy that came from that little bookstore in North Beach  was inspiring. Ferlinghetti kept his “tire in track” simply put: he  didn’t kill himself with booze and drugs, like so many others. Kerouac,  for instance drank himself to distraction and died in his 40′s. Ginsberg bathed in the Ganges and was a master of histrionics. Ferlinghetti  remained the solid core. Ferlinghetti was and is the model of the sober, committed artist. People could depend on him. He was the co-founder of  the Beat Movement, but he was solidly planted like a tree. Every time I  see Ferlinghetti I feel born again, flushed with new energy.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Doug Holder: Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg’s “Howl” You published  Ferlinghetti’s “Jack of Hearts” Were there any similarities between the  books?

Jack Powers: Ferlinghetti publishing “Howl” was a very  natural development. He even wrote a poem “The Dog” in his book “Coney  Island of the Mind”, that was based on the poetical persona of Ginsberg: The Dog trots freely in the street and sees reality and the things he  sees are bigger than himself and the things he sees are his reality  Drunks in doorways moons on trees I believe Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg  belong together. Like two dogs they walked the street and wrote about  the stark reality…the wino, the aging drag queen, the ethereal shine  of the moon on a tree. They were both living question marks, searching  for a common truth.

Doug Holder: During your trip to the Coast  you told me that Ferlinghetti showed you the cottage that he let Kerouac use to dry out and concentrate on his writing. Describe the setting,  the feeling, the sense of place or presence there.

Jack Powers: I  remember touching the desk Kerouac did his writing on. I wondered how  many words flowed from here. How incredibly privileged I was to be  there. I followed a nearby creek to the Pacific. I stood in the ocean  and said: “Thank you, I understand.” Just like the creek, we start out  as a mere trickle and make that universal passage to the sea, the world  at large, the cosmos, what have you. The shore puts you in contact with  constant reality, like a heartbeat. After I got back to Boston, I had  the most remarkable thing happen: I saw my own aura around my arms and  legs. I feel Kerouac gave me this gift.

Doug Holder:  Ferlinghetti is in his 80′s now and you are in your 60′s. Will you be  able to carry the torch for him?

Jack Powers: I feel that I have to  continue to carry the torch. I owe Lawrence for teaching me that each  individual life means something. You don’t have to be a Yale Younger  Poet in order to say something. Lawrence believes as I do, that  Americans are too into titillation, they don’t read things that  challenge them. I think the idea of producing challenging art forms is a common goal.

 

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