Best Lawrence Ferlinghetti Quotes on Poetry

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—friend of Allen Ginsberg, co-founder of the legendary City Lights bookstore in San Francisco—is still kicking at 93 years of age. Today we’re honoring him with a few of his best quotes from Poetry As Insurgent Art, a collection of poetry, advice, and aphorisms, first published in 1975 and updated several times in the decades since:

Poetry has no gender but isn’t sexless.

If you would be a poet, write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outer space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full disclosure and has a low tolerance for bullshit.

Stutterers and stammerers also have the right to make poetry.

[Poetry] is a lighthouse moving its megaphone over the sea.

Paper may burn but words will escape.

The function of poetry is to debunk with light.

Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks from the doors, but don’t throw away the screws.

NEW: Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”


I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?

Newly added and annotated: Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California.” In which Ginsberg—Beat poet, Howl author, visionary, imp, hedonist, Buddhist, troublemaker, friend of Dylan, King of May, and inheritor of Walt Whitman—dreams of finding his poetic father in a nighttime supermarket. “Which way does your beard point tonight?” he asks Walt. (This was years before Allen grew a full one himself.) Whitman’s ghost doesn’t answer, but the poem makes it clear America won’t be following his lead.

More on Ginsberg at Poetry Foundation.

More on Ginsberg at

NEW: William Carlos Williams, “To Elsie”

“The pure products of America / go crazy…”

And we’re doing the same. For WCW. The poet, the obstetrician. “The lovely man,” as John Berryman called him. William Carlos Williams’s “To Elsie” is up and (mostly) annotated over at Rap Genius. Some questions posed in the annotations: Did the first line of the poem influence the first line of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”? Did the deer at the end suggest the reindeer at the end of Auden’s “The Fall of Rome“? Could Jersey Shore have changed Williams’s mind about our culture?

If you have any insight into these or other mysteries, add your explanations. Go crazy with us. With America.

More about Williams at Poetry Foundation.

More about Williams at


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