Poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti co-founded the venerable City Lights Bookstore in 1953 and the City Lights Press in 1955.
City Lights Publishers began with the Pocket Poets Series, now numbering 60 volumes. Ferlinghetti aimed to create a series that would include new international voices outside the provincial and academic traditions. Edition number four, "Howl" by Alan Ginsberg, led to Ferlinghetti's arrest on obscenity charges. The ensuing landmark trial drew national attention for the Beat movement and set the first legal precedent for the publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance.
This month, edition number 19, Frank O'Hara's admirable collection “Lunch Poems,” is being reissued in a special 50th anniversary edition. With a preface by John Ashbery and an editor's note by Ferlinghetti, the volume also contains facsimiles of unpublished correspondence between editor and poet.
O'Hara composed poems during his lunch breaks from his curation job at the Museum of Modern Art. One is “A Step Away From Them,” which begins:
It is my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum colored cabs .First, down the sidewalks
where laborers feed their dirty glistening torsos sandwiches and
Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets on.
Among the better known is [Lana Turner has collapsed!]. The final lines read:
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up.
The Pocket Poets Series continues today because, as Ferlinghetti notes, "As long as there is poetry, there will be an unknown; as long as there is an unknown there will be poetry."