Monthly Archives: May 2021

Farewell to a Dissident Poet

On February 22, one of the greatest living men of letters in America died 30 days short of his 102nd Birthday. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a poet, a painter, a publisher, and a bookseller. His City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was founded in 1953 and is the best known bookstore in America.

In 1956, he published Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg in his Pocket Poet Series (#4). It resulted in a major obscenity trial that could have resulted with Ferlinghetti going to prison. But he won and censorship was defeated. This case was made into a very good movie, Howl, starring James Franco as Ginsberg.

In 1958, New Directions published Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. It became the all-time bestselling book of poetry in America with over a million copies sold. It is the first book of poetry that I read cover to cover. I highly recommend it. He paints pictures with words.

During the final years of my college experience, A Far Rockaway of the Heart was published. It is a sequel to Coney Island, set 40 years later. So I wrote my final college paper on it. Ferlinghetti was 80, and I thought how much longer can he go on?

He did go on and continued to write, of which I read bits and pieces. Occasionally, the entire book. But then on his 100th birthday, he published a novel, titled Little Boy. I couldn’t wait to get it and I devoured it. Maybe too quickly. So about a week before his death, I was listening to his good friend Bob Dylan’s latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, and one of the long songs reminded me of Little Boy, so I decided to reread it. But a bit slower this time. And then the sad news hit. And now this book took on special meaning to me. So I watched Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder for about the 20th time and began reading slowly.

Little Boy is a small book, just 179 pages, and it is unlike any novel that I have read before. Perhaps similar to the few pages that I have read of Finnegan’s Wake. It is really, just one long run-on sentence like a saxophonist holding a long note. It moves and it moves fast. And it really isn’t a novel. It is autobiography mixed with a history of literature and the 20th Century. But it is pure poetry. Only a poet could write these sentences.

Ferlinghetti had a very interesting life. Born the fifth child to a mother who just whose husband had just died. He was taken in by his aunt, later abandoned. He was an orphan for a time but eventually was taken in by a rich family related to the founder of Sarah Lawrence College. They had previously lost their son named Lawrence. It was a family without hugs and kisses, but provided him a good education.

Being a bad boy at times, Lawrence was sent away to a sort of reform school. There he met a boy with two novels in his pockets: The Sun Also Rises and Look Homeward, Angel. He eventually followed the boy, Thomas Wolfe, to the University of North Carolina.

Then WWII came. He was skipper of a submarine chaser and was at Normandy beach. After the war, Lawrence attended Columbia University. He also earned a Doctorate at the University of Paris, where he met George Whitman (future owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank). He would remain a lifelong friend until his death in 2011 at age 98.

In 1951, Lawrence moved to San Francisco and opened City Lights in 1953. He took the torch from Kenneth Rexroth, who was the leading Anarchist, dissident poet in San Francisco. And then he changed the world. So this little boy lived to 101 but remained as open minded as a child. He had the bite of an old school Anarchist but always was a Romantic.

RIP Lawrence (3/24/1919-2/22/2021). A life well lived. I hope readers of this review will pursue what he had to say.  

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

Inside Chat with Kevin Gibson

If you are familiar with the New York Times Book Review, you may have seen the section where authors and social figures are interviewed about current events or newly released books.  Back in April 2021, I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Gibson, a Louisville author and resident.  You may remember his contributions to the LEO Magazine years ago talking about food and beer culture in the community or may have checked out one of his published works at the library.  Here is my inside chat with Mr. Gibson. I hope you enjoy the conversation.


Could you tell everyone a little about yourself?

I am a nerd who loves things like Batman and Star Wars but who also loves sports (especially the Green Bay Packers) and history. I’m very social and tend to make friends easily, yet I am also introverted and enjoy “decompressing” by spending time alone and/or with my dog, Atticus. I also love tacos and sushi.

Growing up, did you know you were going to be an author?  Who encouraged you to pursue this profession?

I first wanted to be a comic book artist. I also had a brief time when I thought I wanted to be a Hollywood stunt man. But when I was in the fifth grade, a local TV journalist came to my class to talk to us about journalism. We did a mock news broadcast and I was given the job of being the sports copywriter. I was hooked for good on the idea of being a writer.

How did you first get into writing and what inspired you to write about specific topics?

I took my first journalism class as a sophomore in high school and never looked back, becoming an active member of the school newspaper staff, then going to college for journalism and English. I have kind of gone through phases, and I think this goes back to my wide variety of interests and passions; my focus was to become a sports writer, which is where I started. After a few years of covering sports, I realized it was starting to burn me out on sports, which was something I didn’t want to ruin as a pastime, you know? I ended up writing film reviews, music reviews, restaurant reviews and more feature/people-oriented stuff from there. I also spent a few years trying my hand at horror fiction, which was a passion for me back in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. But I had very little success getting my creative writing into magazines, so that eventually fell by the wayside.

What kind of reader were you as a child?  Did you have a favorite author or books that stuck with you the most?

I read a lot of comic books – sorry, graphic novels – but also read the usual stuff. My favorite book from childhood was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It really fed my imagination and showed me a story can really go anywhere you want it to. Later, I went through my sci-fi/fantasy phase (Piers Anthony, anyone?), and I remember reading several books about dogs during my tween years – I have always loved dogs, and love stories when they are cast as the hero. I’m sentimental that way.

What is one thing you enjoy the most about Louisville or the Kentuckiana area?

I love the feeling of intimacy juxtaposed with the many features of larger cities, like pro sports, the dining scene, the museums, the parks. Louisville certainly has its problems, but there’s always a lot to do. I also love the neighborhoods and their interesting and unique histories. And I love patronizing the local breweries. I guess that’s more than one thing, though, isn’t it?

What is your wheelhouse as a reader?  Meaning what genres, tropes, themes and such grab your attention to read?

It again depends on mood or phase. I have been reading non-fiction almost exclusively in recent years, from biographies to history to books about actors or TV shows. But as noted, I went through a long stretch in which I was obsessed with horror fiction, especially short fiction. I would go to Hawley-Cooke Booksellers almost weekly to buy horror magazines like Cemetery Dance.

What are you currently reading?

Currently, I’m reading Jerry Seinfeld’s latest book, “Is This Anything?” It’s basically material he never took to stage or to the TV show, so you can just read it in his voice and it’s like you’re at a Seinfeld live show.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, has your writing been impacted in any way?

Yes, although I would never call it writer’s block – I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, the loneliness and depression I went through when I basically had nothing left to write about – being a restaurant/night life writer in a pandemic is a non-starter, you know? – Just sapped me. Also, my mother was very ill as the pandemic began and she died last year on Mother’s Day. So much about 2020 just killed my energy, and I know I’m not alone. Thank goodness I had my current book project in front of me to look forward to. That one should come out this fall.

Do you have a favorite setting when it comes to writing and/or reading?

I can’t say that I do. I wrote most of my beer history book (“Lousville Beer: Derby City History on Draft”, 2014) at the bar at Buffalo Wild Wings in the Highlands. But my last couple of books I’ve written mostly at home on my couch. I can write anywhere, really, because once I get in “the zone,” I can block out pretty much anything. Well, except for my dog, who sometimes forces his way into my lap to get my attention. Hard to dissuade a 70-pound hound dog.

You are hosting a dinner party and can invite any 3 people regardless if they have passed away or are still living, who would you invite?

Wow. Well, Bart Starr would have to be one. He was an idol for me starting at age 9, and just seemed like such an honorable and decent man. After that, maybe John Lennon. I think it would be fascinating to hear his views on what the world has become today. And the third would be my grandfather, just because of how much I miss him every day and would love to just be with him again. I never knew I could miss someone so much until he died.

What are your top 3 restaurant in the Louisville area both past and present? If someone is going to buy you a meal what 3 restaurants would you pick and why?

These questions are really mean. Ha. I have to say one would have to be the late, great Maido on Frankfort Avenue. I love Dragon King’s Daughter, but Maido was special to me. I used to joke with Toki, the owner that I may as well just sign my paycheck over to her every week. There was also a little short-lived gem I loved called Taste of Jamaica. The owner, Ibuka (who I believe is still making food around town), was just great, and the jerk wings were the best I’ve ever had. Every meal I had there was wonderful. But currently? It goes back to mood. Some days I have to have El Mundo. The Irish Rover gets a lot of my money. Anyplace with a seafood boil, like Storming Crab (yes, I realize it’s a chain). Seviche is magnificent. I really like Jake & Elwood’s, too, and I recently tried I Love Tacos and was pretty blown away. Sorry I can’t pick three, it’s just impossible for me.

You released a book in 2014 called Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft and contributed to LEO Weekly a section about beer, how has the beer culture evolved to the present day?  Do you see any new opportunities/businesses in a couple years?

I’m not a brewer or a business man, but breweries remained open during the pandemic, and that tells me there’s still room for growth in Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As long as the beer is good, I think a brewery has a shot to make it. And I love that each of Louisville’s breweries seem to have found its own identity – that tells me there is still opportunity. I still am a firm believer that the breweries that will have the most staying power are the ones that serve their neighborhoods and are able to adapt. And I think the bourbon boom actually does offer opportunities for breweries here in Kentucky that might not exist elsewhere.

What can you tell folks about your book being released in the fall titled, This Used to be Louisville?

It’s a look around the city at places that we generally know as one thing but once were something else. In some cases, it’s a historical place that deserves recognition; in other cases, it’s just some random place in a random neighborhood. For instance, there’s a little Italian restaurant on Frankfort Avenue that originally was a toll house that marked the outskirts of the city at the time. It’s one of the last such toll houses from the early 19th century that still exist in Kentucky. Big picture, I wanted to look at a wide variety of buildings and places to drive home the point that so much has happened in the spaces we regularly frequent or merely drive past on our way to living our day-to-day lives.

Kevin Gibson’s published works that are available at LFPL:

Interview by MicahSt Matthews Branch