Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a voice of dissent, is set to have his travel journals published in Sept. 2015. The unrestrained poet, who stood trial on charges of obscenity after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s stunning Howl and Other Poems in 1956, has reached a deal with Liveright Publishing, an imprint of W.W. Norton. The sale was brokered by Jack Kerouac’s former literary agent, Sterling Lord, who also continues to serve Kerouac’s estate. Editor in chief for Liveright, Robert Weil, accepted the deal, calling one of the only remaining alive writers from the Beat Generation a voice for any poet of dissent. Weil pronounced the work to be supremely political, including many portraits of the Beats.
The book, entitled Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals (1950-2013), documents the crystal blue-eyed poet’s excursions across four continents in six decades. While traveling and writing, Ferlinghetti explored Mexico, Haiti and North Africa, also seeing Cuba as it was consumed by the revolution of Castro, and visiting Soviet Russia as an attendee of a 1968 Writers’ Congress. He also spent a plethora of time staying in Italy and France, living there for four years as he sought a doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris. Encounters with Pablo Neruda, Ezra Pound, Ernesto Cardenal, as well as other poets, pepper the pages of an erudite literary journey. It is an extensive composition of notebooks and travel journals, along with the addition of two out of print travel books formerly published by voice of dissent, Ferlinghetti; The Mexican Night (1970) and Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre (1984).
Ferlinghetti was unafraid to scout the countries of his day which were in the throes of ruling dictatorships. Spain during the middle of the 1930’s was exploding into the Spanish Civil War, as General Francisco Franco eventually took power in 1939. Many artists had been forced into exile, including Pablo Picasso who left the country early, as they were either being sent to prison or struggling with poverty. Thousands of opponents to Franco’s political regime were to be found with their hands bound as skeletons in mass graves. Poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) was ruthlessly murdered by elements of the fascist regime at Grenada. His body was dumped into an unmarked grave, leaving behind him the manuscript of Poet in New York which he had placed on his publisher’s desk in Madrid only weeks before his death. That work, eventually published in 1940, would be acclaimed as a howl of protest in opposition to racism, mindless consumption and an overbearing love and attachment to technology. It seems truly fitting that the scholarly Ferlinghetti had been exploring and taking note of this historically terrible time in Spain’s history.
Another notable area of examination for the traveling poet was to be in the country of Nicaragua. The Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua was a revolutionary faction that overthrew President Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, toppling 46 years of a Somoza family dictatorship. Sandinistas became the namely tribute to Cesar Augusto Sandino, who was a hero in the Nicaraguan resistance during the US military occupation of 1927-1933. Before struggling to uphold their reign of power over the country, the Sandinistas had broken into three separate factions during the 1970s. After the takeover, the roles of the new National Assembly were being centralized as the Sandinistas faced attacks from counterrevolutionary Honduran contras, a group armed and funded in part by the United States government. This volatile coup in Nicaragua most definitely sparked the inquisitive poet into him visiting the country.
All things considered, and with fascism and a socialist revolution aside, this extraordinary poet, publisher, writer, traveler and inspiration to a generation of non-conformists, is a truly historical gem to look forward to. Collectively, Liveright, Robert Weil and Sterling Lord have done something remarkable for literary hipsters and rambunctious malcontents of the new millennium by publishing Ferlighetti’s travel journals, which they ultimately believe will stand for a pure voice of dissent.
By Bryan William Myers