Ferlinghetti Gets Funky

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. To Fuck is to Love Again (Kyrie Eleison Kerista) or the Situation in the West Followed By a Modest Proposal. New York: Fuck You Press, 1965. 4to. Stapled wrappers. 19 multi-colored sheets.

On June 11, 1965, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, dressing in a Nehru jacket, launched into this poem early in the evening session of a massive poetry reading/happening at the Royal Albert Hall. Peter Whitehead, who filmed the event and released the documentary Wholly Communication, wrote that London was never the same afterwards. The poetry festival jumped started the London Underground, and Ferlinghetti’s poem brought down the house. One of the attendants stated to a reporter, “He is just yelling swear words and they love it.” Before the reading in London, the poem was published as a pamphlet by Fuck You Press. The poem later appeared without the first clause of the title in Starting from San Francisco (New Directions 1966).

As a statement of political, sexual, and literary revolution, To Fuck was perfect material for Sanders’ press. The poem links sex with holiness and the use of “fuck” in the title highlights Ferlinghetti’s understanding that sexual freedom dovetails with freedom of speech. Sanders understood this relationship well and made it the cornerstone of his publishing enterprise. Before Sanders fought his own obscenity battles, Ferlinghetti defended Howl in court and won. That trial would prove to be one of the most important victories against literary censorship in the 20th Century.

“To Fuck is to Love Again” is also an important Fuck You title because it highlights the interconnected network of bookstores and alternative publishers that made up the Underground. This one title links City Lights, Peace Eye Bookshop, and Better Books of London and hammers home the international nature of the Mimeo Revolution. Fuck You titles, such as Ferlinghetti’s, were featured items at Better Books, and Barry Miles and Sanders exchanged material for each other’s bookstores. Many British readers may, therefore, have sought after “To Fuck is to Love Again” as a Fuck You title after the Royal Albert reading. Of course, Ferlinghetti owned and operated City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Maybe less known is that the idea for the Royal Albert Hall Reading germinated at Better Books. In 1965, Ginsberg was in London and hanging around the shop with Barry Miles, Barbara Rubin, and others. Ginsberg realized that Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Andrei Voznesensky would be in and around London at the same time. He suggested a group reading linking the international underground with the one that was about to explode in London. Rubin asked what was the biggest venue in town and the rest is history. It should be remembered that “To Fuck is to Love Again,” and in directly Fuck You Press, is an important part of that story.


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