Gary Snyder was there from the beginning. He performed his poem “A Berry Feast” at the legendary reading at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on October 7, 1955—the event at which Lawrence Ferlinghetti first heard Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” It was, as Jack Kerouac would write in The Dharma Bums, “the night of the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance,” in which both Snyder and Ferlinghetti would play essential parts. When Ferlinghetti died last week at the age of 101, Snyder set down some reminiscences and reflections about their long association. Alta Journal is delighted to present them to you here.
—DAVID L. ULIN
My first night in North Beach, (at 18) roaming the night streets on a layover from Oregon, I heard of Larry Ferling. He had recently arrived in town, it was said, and was looking into buying the little bookstore at the corner of Broadway and Columbus.
I got my ride back to Portland.
I returned to the Bay Area a couple of years later, and Lawrence’s place had become “City Lights Books” and had an admirable booklist of current labor politics, socialist theory, Marxist vision, Rexroth travels, Kropotkin mutualism, plus much poetry and novels.
I got to know Lawrence and we talked about nature theory and wild ecosystems. I went my way on to work in the high coastal mountain trails and then linguistics and languages at Berkeley. My contacts there led to the dedicated Buddhist Imamura Family, to poetry research, and on to living in Japan.
I started writing my own poems and sent a sheaf to San Francisco. Lawrence wrote back to say that if we got the paper, printed and bound them, and then sent them to him, he’d sell them. Potter Will Petersen and I did the labor. We sent 500 and they sold.
Through later years, I got to know Lawrence better via my friend Allen Ginsberg. We even met and cooked for friends at Lawrence’s little house on the ocean coast. Lawrence came once to do a poetry reading in my home territory in a noble wooden church structure from the gold-mining era. In a driving rain.
Summers of drouth, bark beetles, and wildfire have come through. I managed to have a last lunch with Lawrence together with novelist Kim Stanley Robinson in a modest restaurant in North Beach in the fall of 2011.
From start to finish, he was the biggest, clearest, most consistent supporter of radical, adventurous, experimental writing on the whole West Coast.
—Gary Snyder, III.2.2021
Gary Snyder also shared this elegy with the Beat Museum, which is located around the corner from City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. Learn more at kerouac.com.