Allen Ginsberg on Henri Michaux

interimpadIn September of 1967 the first and only issue of Interim Pad was released by City Lights and sold for just a dollar. The journal was a collection of essays and poems edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and printed on yellow card stock held together by two staples. Flipping through Interim Pad is an experience that immediately reminds us of the DIY ideology that continues to provide the solid ground upon which City Lights was built. This collection includes a piece by Allen Ginsberg in which he recalls a few brief encounters with Belgian-born, Francophone poet and artist Henri Michaux, who had written extensively on perception and consciousness—and particularly altered consciousness—which is what brought these two together in the first place.

Ginsberg writes,

“I sent Michaux a polite note around the corner from Rue Git0Le-Coeur where I stayed, I said I was a jeune poete Americaine who had much experience in the same hallucinogenic field as himself, and would like to exchange information with him”

And as simple as that, their acquaintance in Paris began. The two shared a genuine curiosity for one another; Ginsberg being the jeune poete Americaine seeking those French elders who had been experimenting with consciousness for years, and Michaux, unaware that a generation across the pond was doing some extensive research of their own. Though the descriptions of Michaux provided by Ginsberg are short, one can’t help but notice similarity in their spirits.  It’s often overlooked that surrealism was a direct influence on the Beat Generation, and that City Lights has been publishing international work in translation since its inception.

Ginsberg continues his description below.

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Police State Repression of Black America

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

ABUJAMAL(col. writ. 8/11/14) © ’14 Mumia Abu-Jamal)

Once again, a Black unarmed youth has been killed by a cop.

And while the facts surrounding the shooting are presently unclear, what is clear is that a cop shot 18-year-old Michael Brown 8 times.

According to at least one eyewitness, Brown was shot as he stood with his hands up in the air.

To anyone who knows American history, this is not a rarity.

It is the result of a systematic function of police across the country, to repress, track and target the nation’s Black population.

That has been the case for generations.

We shall see voices trotted out to call for calm, as outrage arises in Black hearts in response to outrageous treatment. Never do those calling for calm become voices calling for true justice, for justice is equality; and who dare demand that cops be treated like the people that they oppress?

For they have no influence over the repressive forces, and in fact, no political office in America does. They have been bought off, paid off – or both.

Listen to the voices of ‘Black’ politicians.

Indeed, listen to the voices of white politicians.

Listen to the raging silence.

Needed in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri – and in every Black community in America – are independent, and uncompromising Black revolutionary collectives – determined to protect the lives and wellbeing of Black people –period.

Existing political structures – silent in the face of these outrages –have failed us, and cannot be made to serve our interests.

It’s time to learn from this, and build for our future necessities.



Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of many books, including Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms, All Things Censored, and We Want Freedom. He has been living in a Pennsylvania prison since 1982 and sentenced to life without parole.

Two works by Mumia Abu-Jamal are published by City Lights: Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A. and the forthcoming Writings on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited by Johanna Fernandez with a foreword by Cornel West. That book will be out early 2015.

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Review: The Living Method by Sara Nicholson

by Jackson Meazle

living methodSara Nicholson‘s debut, The Living Method (The Song Cave, 2014), doesn’t cease to amuse or elude me. The poem’s movement from one image-thought to the next possesses an air of elated mystery. Like Rilke’s vertigo, her vision of the outside lingers over naming and describing through constantly new eyes.

The house will be what it is not—a song—
a song is not like a house but it could be.

We must not think of ourselves as inhabitants
but as workers who descend

who will wait without fluency for the water
that does not answer us, for the water

that does not build along with us.
One dwelling.

 [from “Residence”]

The referent of “house” is in flux, yet she adds new breadth to each expository couplet. As a result, we are shown the collage of the imagination at a steady pace. These poems are not fast and they are not slow. I say this because some readers may believe that the works are at times slowly wistful. They reach mediocre speed running through the book, which compliments the searching kind of music underneath her lines.

I saw something.
The mountain became unfamiliar
as the hill was familiarized—ciphers of hair
and autumn at rest in the body.
Seeing a field, we will set it out in prose
and signs will be hidden in the monotony
of lyricism—I heard something—signals
over a purslane coast.

 [from “Everests”]

While the pace of the book is steady, the language moves effortlessly from heady to pedestrian. She tells us we will probably Google one of the poem’s titles, and that she “swore that the thesaurus / would give meaning to the galaxy.” It’s a tone that is erudite and therefore jokey. Where there are basic poetic images—birds, the moon, oceans, and mountains—there’s also an impressive array of naming and coloring of a variety of flowers and plant-life. An antique quality pervades the forlorn lines even though their arrangement snaps them out of their respective nostalgia. They move perfectly from the philosophical to nature-bound elemental with easy temperance. Traceries of thought are examined and cast aside.

“Oyez, Oyez”

We let ourselves out into the flood

because we forgot about snow.

I’m thinking about killing you, birds,

but there are too few of you, too many of me.

The pigeon certainly does not sing.

What you’re hearing is radio

in the eaves tonight. The song you’re hearing

is built out of flesh, I can’t wait

to torrent it when the seasons change.

It really happened. You sang. Your blood.

Your Alsatian blood with violets

and a dollop of breath. Salt in restaurants,

music in the mediocre air.

The diary-like parataxis exhumes a tendency toward standing mundane imagery on its head. This kind of language has an unrelenting turn of phrase, which is why the scenery is often fleeting. Coming back to the poems sharpens one’s shifting impressions of her tableau, each time revealing something that was maybe hidden. The composition veers close to extra-sensory, and it is as if one’s not initiated or tuned to her wavelength. Much like the book’s cover, a painting of an intentionally upside-down still-life resembling a human head, the poems present the illusion of perception as no one’s fault but their own. Nicholson’s poems eschew conventional wisdom and beauty by concocting a personal nuance for any moment worth recording or dismissing.

Sequester all your pity
for the blue flowers
for they don’t deserve it
Donate your antibodies
to the not-so-poor
Love’s as intoxicating
as a Mastercard
and the sight of mayflies
in the evening gives
credence to our faith
If little blue flowers
are a niche interest
so are literary genres
I’ve been told
I appear a scholar
in my gold lamé

[from “The Art of Symmetry”]

Chiseling the prism-face of poetry, she has made her own place and her own way, rendering for us that which is eternally on tip of the tongue.


The Living Method is available at City Lights Bookstore from The Song Cave and Small Press Distribution. Matthew Henrikson praised the book, saying, “I’ve read very few poets of my generation who have so decidedly shrugged off pretense and posturing. She’s pure hippocampus, navigating the external world from deep within the internal. We hear a voice speaking to us, but that voice comes from a crowded place, amid a thousand thoughts we do not hear. Her poems have no angle. They touch on the occult and hermetic but do not wear them as a shroud. They reach out from the radius into the radiant.”

For more contemporary poetry, visit City Lights Books and come to the Poetry Room upstairs. A great selection is also available on our website.

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Excerpt from The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry A. Giroux

violence of organizedIn The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disamignation Machine, the newest book published by City Lights, Henry A. Giroux explores the intersections of political power, popular culture, and new methods of social control. Giroux examines how neoliberal discourse (that is economic liberalism, not political liberalism) and the commodification of everyday life constitute an assault on collective memory, civil rights, and public agency. He contextualizes his argument with current events that reveal how institutions of government and business generate false narratives that promote fear, quietism and passivity.

Journalist, broadcaster, and former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers said “Giroux refuses to give in or give up. The Violence of Organized Forgetting is a clarion call to imagine a different America—just, fair, and caring—and then to struggle for it.”

Comedian Marc Maron recently said on his popular podcast about the book, after visiting City Lights Books, “Holy f*ck, those are some words you don’t usually see together and the poetry of [the title] resonates with me. … I’m like holy sh*t, man, and I’m gonna get this book.  I’m gonna read it.  I’m gonna rejigger my brain and understand it all.” Now you can too.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Five, “Lockdown USA: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Manhunt”:

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Poetry on a Monday: Majorie Cameron

Cameron, June 2, 1962. Printed, poem and drawing included in Semina 8, 1963 Courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica.

Exciting news of an upcoming exhibition on the work of Marjorie Cameron, occultist, artist, poet, bohemian in LA this October at MOCA!

George Herms discussing her work

And catch her in this snapshot of North Beach 1959 in which you can also spot Wallace Berman, Bob Kaufman and others…

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Review: Language Arts by Cedar Sigo

by Jackson Meazle

languageartsWe’ve come a long way by the time the first poem of Cedar Sigo’s new book Language Arts (Wave Books, 2014) is over. It is a prose ode to poets, friends, publishers, and people in general who made the poet who he is as a collective presence. Where one unnamed beloved ends another begins with little hesitation or pause. Here is the peopled world that a poet’s mind can hold. Here and further on, it is a backstage world reminiscent of Robert Altman’s best films. Overheard lines cast into the poems make for a monologue out of probable dialogue.


I have been described as private, that’s other people

 (You never really know) One year I sent everyone

 A slice of the rose for Christmas. It was meant the way

It sounded, withdrawn. Two fires on the high road whistling

The phone only echoes back my voice

Entrenched mirror, high rise pathways,

Pistol unit, sword, english glossing, streetlights

 Sniping back. Mothers lock up your daughters

                                    [from “Plains Pictograph”]

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Poetry on a Monday: Nathaniel Mackey

whatsaid serifatetadVery pleased to share Nathaniel Mackey‘s work today – author of many books of poetry, novels, critical theory, essays, and current professor at Duke University after many years at UC Santa Cruz. His many honors include a National Book Award, won in 2006 for his book Splay Anthem, and the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

City Lights has three books by Mackey still in print: Atet A.D., an epistolary work spanning a seven-month period shortly after Thelonious Monk’s death to the former Mystic Horn Society’s recording an album on John Coltrane’s birthday; and two books of poetry: School of Udhra (1993) and Whatsaid Serif (2001), both featuring the career-long serial poem Mackey has intertwined into all of his books his entire writing career going back to 1978: “Song of the Andoumboulou”.

From the Poetry Foundation

Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, poet, novelist, editor, and critic Nathaniel Mackey earned his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University.
Mackey cites poets William Carlos Williams and Amiri Baraka, in addition to jazz musicians John Coltrane and Don Cherry, as early influences in his exploration of how language can be infused and informed by music. In a 2006 interview with Bill Forman for MetroActive magazine, Mackey addressed the relationship he seeks between music and his own poetry: “I try to cultivate the music of language, which is not just sounds. It’s also meaning and implication. It’s also nuance. It’s also a kind of angular suggestion.”

30 minutes of Mackey on a Monday is a good thing, whether you’re at home or at work. Here’s a reading from 2007 at UC Santa Cruz:

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Recommended Reads: The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird
James McBride

Quite the masterwork. A poignant delight with a sense of humor that sears to the bone.—Recommended by Scott, City Lights Books

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

The novel won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013. National Book Award judges called McBride “a voice as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain.” McBride did not prepare an acceptance speech, as he thought he would not win, and was described as “clearly stunned” upon receiving the award.

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Planet News

Neruda, 1941
“This is a rebroadcast of writer and political activist, Pablo Neruda reading his poetry at the 92nd Street Y. It was originally recorded in 1966. Neruda is joined by Martin Eshleman, Robert Bly, Ben Bellit, H. R. Hays, and James Wright, who translate his poems. At the beginning of the reading, Neruda thanks his American audience for greeting him with such warmth and support. This acknowledgment is notable based on the fact that his appearance was almost prevented by U.S. Authorities owing to the fact that he was a known communist.”
Listen Here (via Clocktower)

“…and I asked them what I would have to do to become an oceanographer. And basically they said I would have to go back to high school, you know. I hadn’t taken any of the science courses that would enable me to take the science courses that I would need to take in order to go to… any place. So I abandoned the idea of being an oceanographer, but I can see myself still as an oceanographer, if I could get to that point.”
Sheila Heti interviews John Didion (via The Believer)

“I had a vague premonition this book would be rooted in common human experience, less up my alley than the alien textures woven throughout “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” Yet I also sensed strange notes forming, coiling within a small wound that would not heal. Whichever aspect of himself Murakami drew from in order to create “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage,” it lies somewhere among the stones of his mystical labors.”
Patti Smith reviews the new Murakami (via the New York Times)

“Across a whole range of issues, a simple defense of intellectual property is right now a rebuke to the corporations, not a sop to them.”
N+1 on writing and freedom

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Diane di Prima Turns 80

dianneToday San Francisco’s own Beat poet Diane di Prima celebrates her 80th birthday, and so it is our pleasure to dedicate today’s post to the recognition of her contribution to the landscape of the revolutionary Beat Generation. Happy Birthday, Diane, from City Lights Books!

Di Prima was born in Brooklyn and spent most of the late 1950′s and early 1960′s in Manhattan, where she first became involved with poets like Jack Kerouac, Audre Lorde, Frank O’Hara, and Allen Ginsberg. A natural born activist (her maternal grandfather was an active anarchist often associated with Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman), di Prima managed to elegantly combine political commentary with spiritual practice, but with obvious special attention to poetics and structure. She was already corresponding with Ezra Pound at the age of 19!  Allen Ginsberg said of di Prima, 

“Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in Imagist, political, and mystical modes. A great woman poet in second half of American century, she broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”


While editing her publication (with Amiri Baraka) The Floating Bear in New York, she was persistently harassed by authorities for her radical content, and on one occasion was even arrested by the FBI. In the late 1960′s she eventually settled in San Francisco and served as a channel between east and west coast artists. Di Prima read two of her poems at the legendary performance of The Last Waltz by The Band in 1976, and after authoring over 40 books, went on to be named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2009.

diane and amiri
Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka

Find 2 poems from Revolutionary Letters below, first published by City Lights in 1971 – and big news on her newest publication with City Lights, coming this Fall.

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