Postcard from San Francisco #1: Beat Town

25 Mar

Yes! I’m here! The spiritual home of the beatniks! San Francisco!

The city is full of spots to visit just full of beat history: the first and foremost example being the lovely City Lights Books, between Columbus Avenue and Broadway. Since 1953, this modest sized bookshop has been a purveyor of leftie literature and the heart of beat writing since its inception, being at the centre of the ‘Howl’ obscenity trail. The place is still run by the manager, publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who, inspired by Penguin books, began to publish affordable and accessible literature in paperback form in 1955. Full of unusual and interesting books, City Lights is perfect for poetry lovers and anyone looking for something a little different from the usual bestsellers. Gems like All My Friends are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John, a little picture book that made me laugh out loud.  I also picked up a City Lights edition of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and of course, a copy of Howl and Other Poems; it was so hard to resist the iconic little editons I could have bought the whole series!

Other places to visit include Vesuvio, a place a mere stumbling distance from City Lights. The walls are covered in Beat and other local memorabilia from the city’s past and when it gets a little noisy on a rainy San Francisco evening, one might easily fantasise about being transported back to the days when Kerouac and Ginsberg were themsleves patrons. Also in the North Beach Area (prime Beat territory) is Cafe Trieste, another former hangout, and thelovely little Beat Museum on Broadway, just across the road from City Lights. Highlights include Allen Ginsberg’s organ and a display numerous editions of On The Road, in a huge variety of languages. Great stuff!


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