Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

The Lives of San Francisco’s Poets

Some people write poetry. Others write about poetry.  I write about poets, among other people and living things. This week, San Francisco remains in the throes of celebrating poet, painter and publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti who turns 100 years old on March 24.  He is indeed a person and a cause worthy of an extended celebration: He’s a champion of art not only in his own work on the page and at every opportunity he gets to speak of our City of Poets, but at City Lights, the bookstore he founded in 1953. There has been and will be much more written about him elsewhere as we move into his birthday month’s second half and I’m not really qualified to speak to his importance to our literary communities. Though I can report firsthand that last Sunday,  an unseasonably sunny and warm day, poet laureates past and present and assorted other people crammed into the cave-live Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library for a long afternoon of reading and speechifying in the name of Ferlinghetti’s centennial. There were some laughs and appreciation, but it was largely the kind of event that Ferlinghetti himself might have described as a gathering of “all you poet’s poets writing poetry about poetry.” I mean, I don’t know, I’m just going by what he’s written and what the poet’s poets said about him that day.  I left before it was over because there was very little air in the room.

But this week, in honor of Ferlinghetti’s 100th continuing, the coming of poetry month in April and well, just because, I’m pointing you to four recent profiles I’ve compiled about the lives of poets from our City of Poets, San Francisco.  All are in some way connected to Ferlinghetti’s legacy. I’ll let you read their stories and figure out those connections for yourselves, lest I ruin any surprises by over-explaining…

In this week’s San Francisco Examiner, I profiled Josiah Luis Alderete, a Spanglish speaking poet with North Beach roots and a Mission District corazón. An amazing performer, his pieces with titles like Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez and Pinche Piñata will set you straight. Read his story here:

Kim Shuck is San Francisco’s seventh and current poet laureate:  She is a tireless artist, educator, activist and advocate.  Her poems make racist statues disappear.  Read her story here:

Alejandro Murguía was San Francisco’s sixth poet laureate and is the de facto poet laureate of the Mission District. His story is wild and spans beyond poetry and our city limits into the war in El Salvador. Read his story here:

Finally, Tongo Eisen-Martin has been reading and resisting across the country the last couple of years. If you’ve had the good fortune to hear him recite his poems in person, then you know. He’s done some deep research into extrajudicial killing of Black lives and his poetry is alive on arrival. Read his story here:

None of the tellings of the stories of these poets and their lives would be possible without the poets themselves, The City of San Francisco, The San Francisco Examiner and its photographer Kevin Hume, and the independent booksellers of the Mission District (particularly Modern Times Bookstore Collective, where I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of these extraordinary artists). Thank you to everyone involved in making San Francisco’s poetry community exceptional and accessible.  And oh yes: A hearty thank you and a very Happy Birthday, Mr. Ferlinghetti. Your insurgent poetry continues to inspire we who are waiting for the rebirth of wonder.

 

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Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Poetry, San Francisco News, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Witness

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Treat Street, Mission District, San Francisco

Every Saturday I walk by them, the two women who ring the bell and the single man who answers the door and greets them. For an hour or more, or for at least as long as it takes for my own standing lunch date, they huddle in the doorway, reading pages from Awake or The Watchtower. I’m incredibly moved by this scene of the same three strangers, week in, week out, and the conversation I imagine them to be having about matters of this life and after.

One afternoon, at the moment I passed, the women were waiting at the gate, with no sign of the man. I thought Ha! he’d tricked them, and decided to sit out their Saturday ritual, though that was the moment he stumbled forth, buttoning his shirt, opening the door, apologizing to them for the delay. The women weren’t troubled at all and told him to take his time.  They seemed happy to wait.

It is the tender nature of the exchange, between two people of faith and one on the fence, and the simple kindness and respect with which they relate to each other that reminds me of civility, the likes of which is rarely on display in The City where behemoth tech buses roll. I wonder what the two ladies in their simple pressed blouses and tan loafers make of those.

There were days, not long ago, happier times on these blocks, when people strolled in their Sunday best even on weekdays, acknowledging each other with a tip of the hat and by appellation — Miss, Mister, Missus. I’ve told myself so many times, this old world no longer exists, and yet here it is, unfolding for me to witness, every Saturday afternoon in the Western Addition.

 

Filed under: San Francisco News, serial, Sunnyside Up, Tales of the Gentrification City, ,

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