Van Morrison Lit Up Inside Contest

LitUpCover2Some folks honestly can’t remember a time in their life without Van Morrison. Maybe it was “Brown-Eyed Girl” that appeased both you and your parents as a fussy four-year-old on a long car trip, Astral Weeks that got you through some horrific break-ups, or the lesser known but equally groovy “T.B. Sheets” whose harmonica solos did something inexplicable to your core. We all have them. We all know for certain they are ours alone. We all have Van stories.  Are you an Astral Weeks or a Moondance kind of soul?

When music critic Greil Marcus toured the U.S. with a short book he had written about the transcendent moments in Morrison’s music, something he calls the yarragh, he noticed a trend. In his fantastic essay, “Listening to Van Morrison” not only does Greil share some thoughts on this phenomena of seemingly universal “Vandom,” but the man himself shows up as well. Greil writes, 


Usually, when a writer shows up at a bookstore and reads from or talks about a book he or she has written, people ask questions: how do you write? Where do you get your ideas? What made you write this book? But not this time. This time, in San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, people weren’t necessarily interested in my stories about Morrison. They wanted to tell their own stories. 


One other story Greil picked up along the way was from a fan who had just been to a performance.

When it was over, we went next door to a bar, a lot of people who’d been to the show were there, and of course that’s all we were talking about. How great it was, and did you notice this and did you hear that – and then Van Morrison walked in. He came in, walked to the bar, everyone stood up and applauded, and he just sat down at the bar. Finally I got up the nerve. I went over to him, and I said: ‘Mr Morrison, your music has meant so much to me. Sometimes it pulled me through, when I didn’t think anything would. I couldn’t live without it.’ He waited for me to finish, and he looked at me, and he said: ‘Why do people feel they have to tell me these things?'”


vanmoerrisonmoonda_2701736bAt City Lights, we definitely want to hear those things! Send us your best Van Stories! Whether it is a memory attached to a song, or a chance encounter with Van himself, we want to hear it! We’ll post our 5 favorites here on the blog and, if yours is chosen, we’ll send you a copy of Van Morrison’s collection of lyrics (curated by Van himself) recently published by City Lights, Lit Up Inside.*

You can e-mail your stories directly to [email protected]. *Only folks who send their stories to that email will be considered for a prize.

The deadline is Monday, January 19, 2015

For maximum share-a-bility, please limit your stories to one page – that’s roughly 1,000 words. Let’s see what you got!

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Friday Staff Pick: In Praise of Shadows

Recommended by Tân, City Lights Books

An essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and even toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book also includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure.

“This eloquent, though sometimes perverse, essay on the Japanese sense of beauty by one of the most articulate of modern Japanese novelists is something everyone interested in Japan should read.” —Edward McClellan, Yale University

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Planet News

Why We Can’t Breathe: Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest Prison Broadcast and on that note, Please support this effort to raise funds to overturn legislation adopted in Pennsylvania that empowers prosecutors to silence prisoners – bar them from speaking publicly in any form. This law was passed in response to Mumia delivering the commencement address at Goddard College from behind prison walls. But this isn’t just about Mumia. This law threatens the ability of ANY prisoner in Pennsylvania to speak to the media if a victim objects, in clear violation of free speech principles. If the law is allowed to stand, it will make it even more difficult than it already is for people in prison to have their voices heard. And you can be certain that copycat legislation will be adopted in other states whenever prisoners actually succeed in getting their message heard on the outside. This law needs to be overturned now.” – Michelle Alexander

Thomas Sayers Ellis’s poem “Polo Goes to the Moon”—an elegy for the bounce-beat go-go music pioneer Reggie Burwell—appeared in The Paris Review No. 209 earlier this year. Now he’s recorded a spoken-word version in “Amiri’s Green Chim Chim-knees Growth Tribe,” part of a tribute to Amiri Baraka to be released next year by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Give it a listen.

“The embargo is no use. It only brought suffering to men, women and children, like embargoes always do. You ask yourself what venal, grasping, backward looking so and so’s—we could name a few—who benefit? Follow the money, as the man says. We are the only country that did this—and the whole thing was insane. Just stupid.”
––Ry Cooder, collaborator/producer of Buena Vista Social Club and author of LOS ANGELES STORIES, a City Lights Book:



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Friday Staff Picks: Holiday Edition

Wracked with confusion as to what to gift your compatriots with? Fear not! Here are some suggestions from the shelves of City Lights… Simply click on the images to purchase the books, and if none of these will do there’s always a HOWL onesie or City Lights giftcard


“This is a guide for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life. It is not advisable, nor was it ever, to lead a Dada life.”–The Posthuman Dada Guide

The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world–all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich’s Café de la Terrasse–a battle between radical visions of art and ideological revolution–lasted for a century and may still be going on, although communism appears dead and Dada stronger than ever. As the poet faces the future mass murderer over the chessboard, neither realizes that they are playing for the world. Taking the match as metaphor for two poles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century thought, politics, and life, Andrei Codrescu has created his own brilliantly Dadaesque guide to Dada–and to what it can teach us about surviving our ultraconnected present and future. Here dadaists Duchamp, Ball, and von Freytag-Loringhoven and communists Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev appear live in company with later incarnations, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, and Newt Gingrich. The Posthuman Dada Guide is arranged alphabetically for quick reference and (some) nostalgia for order, with entries such as “eros (women),” “internet(s),” and “war.” Throughout, it is written in the belief “that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources.”


Through original interviews, conversations, surveys, projects, diagrams and drawings from over six hundred contributors—including Miranda July, Cindy Sherman, Elif Batuman, Mac McClelland, Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Tavi Gevinson, Rachel Kushner, Roxane Gay and Sarah Nicole Prickett—Women in Clothes explores the wide range of motives that inform how women present themselves through clothes, and what style really means.

“It is a riot of opinions from women of all backgrounds; women born as women and those not, women of different religions and none at all…It is about commonality without being common, authentic experience without touching on cliche…As a snapshot of a moment and a portrait of women today, Women in Clothes is a significant sign of the times.”
The Irish Times

“Old and young women, fat and thin ones, bag ladies and Bergdorf bag ladies, we’re a pack, a pod, a gam, a herd—birds of a feather. And long before feminism made fashion a guilty pleasure, my first experience of the sisterhood among strangers took place in a communal dressing room. I had a version of that experience reading Women in Clothes, a communal dressing room in book form conceived and edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton. They gathered the testimony—fashion-related interviews, lists, memories, dreams, poems, secrets, diagrams, fantasies, comic riffs, and, in some cases, accounts of oppression—of more than six hundred women from around the globe, and distilled them to five hundred pages, an Augean labor.”
The New Yorker

“A collaged, zine-like anthology…Women In Clothes is a welcome life raft in a sea of what can be, for many women, confusion and mixed messages about why to wear what, when and how to wear it—and more importantly, how to intuit and shape your own style.”
—The Rumpus


I compulsively read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist whenever I could get a spare moment. My commute (my life!) was vastly improved as it felt like my coolest, smartest, pop-culture literate, and humane friend was sharing the ride, offering the low down on—and a considered critique of—the too numerous troublesome aspects of American life and culture. —Recommended by Stacey, City Lights Publishing

A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.


Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.
“[Citizen] is an especially vital book for this moment in time. . . . The book explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected, and the emotional costs for the artist who cries foul. . . . The realization at the end of this book sits heavily upon the heart: ‘This is how you are a citizen,’ Rankine writes. ‘Come on. Let it go. Move on.’ As Rankine’s brilliant, disabusing work, always aware of its ironies, reminds us, ‘moving on’ is not synonymous with ‘leaving behind.'”—The New Yorker

“So groundbreaking is Rankine’s work that it’s almost impossible to describe; suffice it to say that this is a poem that reads like an essay (or the other way around) — a piece of writing that invents a new form for itself, incorporating pictures, slogans, social commentary and the most piercing and affecting revelations to evoke the intersection of inner and outer life.”—Los Angeles Times



Paul_Celan_Breathturn_lowTranslated from the German by Pierre Joris—winner of the 2004 PEN Translation Award for Celan’s Lightduress—the is the first of Celan’s three major books of poetry before his death by suicide. Considered by many to be one of Celan’s major writings, Breathturn brilliantly reveals the “Wende” or turn of writing.

In Europe, Celan has become an increasingly important poet of the second half of the 20th century, largely for his efforts to create a post-Holocaust language for German poetry. The facts of his life seem inseparable from his work: his term in a Nazi work camp, the murder of his parents by the Nazis, his death by suicide in his adopted France in 1970. Joris, a poet and professor at SUNY-Albany, places Celan and this work (Atemwende, originally published in 1967) in context for the uninitiated American reader and discusses the problems in translating this poet’s writing. Celan consciously attempted to move the German language away from lyricism toward a terse, charged accuracy that could reflect the unrepresentable: “Down melancholy’s rapids/ past the blank/ woundmirror:/ there the forty/ stripped lifetrees are rafted./ Single counter-/ swimmer, you/ count them, touch them/ all.’ Joris’s translations (on pages facing the German text) capture much of the multilingual resonance, subtlety and compressed power of Celan’s brilliant, difficult work, which has absorbed the interest of such critics as George Steiner and Jacques Derrida.(Publishers Weekly)

indexWhat makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Aided by artists, writers, cartographers, and twenty-two gorgeous color maps, each of which illuminates the city and its surroundings as experienced by different inhabitants, Solnit takes us on a tour that will forever change the way we think about place. She explores the area thematically–connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge’s foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of Vertigo.

Across an urban grid of just seven by seven miles, she finds seemingly unlimited landmarks and treasures–butterfly habitats, queer sites, murders, World War II shipyards, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She roams the political terrain, both progressive and conservative, and details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, the South of Market world being devoured by redevelopment, and much, much more. Breathtakingly original, this atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us–or to discover our own infinite city, be it Cleveland, Toulouse, or Shanghai.



  • Listen to a podcast of Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading a series of his thoughts from Poetry As Insurgent Art.

After a lifetime, this (r)evolutionary little book is still a work-in-progress, the poet’s ars poetica, to which at 88 he is constantly adding.

From the groundbreaking (and bestselling) A Coney Island of the Mind in 1958 to the “personal epic” of Americus, Book I in 2003, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has, in more than thirty books, been the poetic conscience of America. Now in Poetry As Insurgent Art, he offers, in prose, his primer of what poetry is, could be, should be. The result is by turns tender and furious, personal and political. If you are a reader of poetry, find out what is missing from the usual fare you are served; if you are a poet, read at your own risk—you will never again look at your role in the same way.


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Welcome To / Now Leaving / Berkeley

By Julien Poirier

Berkeleyprotest-800x430After marching all over on Saturday night I lay in bed with my wife Kailey watching an aerial feed of balletic hooligans tearing up the city center. Jumping between simultaneous live streams and just-breaking blogs, popping jellybeans from a jam jar, we were like a spryer Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagan being shanghaied from my hometown by our daughters’ magical flying Christmas elf into the pop-up Oz of a Golden State unprophesied even by Jerry Falwell’s lip-syncing Heart o’ Jesus taco. I had bought the jellybeans at the same Trader Joe’s that some angry kids had smashed into a night earlier. Why, kids? Didn’t they know that nice people worked at that store? Not to mention: That’s the place where I sometimes buy milk for my daughter.

Black Lives Matter

I’m an anarchist too,
I just don’t break windows.
I’m an armchair anarchist,
but you should see the state of my armchair.

The bourgeoisie is better than its pique.
Every so often the streets must be sown with broken glass,
so that the weeds of rebellion choke
the flowers of consensus.

The more windows young anarchists smash,
the more members of the middle class
should hit the street,
almost as though they had been kettled
behind those swift panes.

They should come down from the hills
with their kids and their dogs,
they should bike from their lofts
in their beards and their clogs (?)

and fall in behind the sullen, prowling youth,
and throw up their hands and yell “Don’t shoot!”
and encircle their throats and croak “I can’t breathe!”
and shave the ramparts close, chanting

“Make love to the police!”

[Berkeley 12.6.14]


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5 Questions with Peter Turchi

a muse a mazeYesterday we had the pleasure to post Rebecca Solnit‘s answers to our 5 Questions, just before the event this Sunday, December 7 (at a special time of 5:00PM) at City Lights–a conversation between Solnit and author Peter Turchi. Both have new books out with Trinity University Press. Today, we feature Turchi’s answers.

Peter Turchi, like Solnit, is a prolific writer and author of many books. His newest is A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic.

Event: Sunday, December 7, 2014 @ 5PM. “On Language and Place: Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Peter Turchi.”

About the Book: In A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic, Peter Turchi draws out the similarities between writing and puzzle making and its flip side, puzzle solving. As he teases out how mystery lies at the heart of all storytelling, he uncovers the magic—the creation of credible illusion—that writers share with the likes of Houdini and master magicians. Applying this rich backdrop to the requirements of writing, Turchi reveals as much about the human psyche as he does about the literary imagination and the creative process. This much anticipated follow-up to Turchi’s bestselling Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer helps the reader navigate the fine line between the real and the perceived, between the everyday and the wondrous.

“Although Turchi’s knack for drawing connections can seem like a sleight of hand in itself, his writing is consistently engaging, lively, and thought provoking. The interactive element is also a delight, as there are actual puzzles scattered throughout (answers are provided in the back) to demonstrate the challenges and rewards offered by puzzles—and by good writing. And though Turchi’s volume seems most tailored to writers, readers and puzzle lovers should find much of value as well.”––Publishers Weekly

About the Author: Peter Turchi’s books turchi-peter-2014-smallinclude Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer; Suburban Journals: The Sketchbooks, Drawings, and Prints of Charles Ritchie, in collaboration with the artist; a novel, The Girls Next Door; and a collection of stories, Magician. He has also coedited, with Andrea Barrett, A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft and The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work; and, with Charles Baxter, Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. Turchi’s stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Story, the Alaska Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, and the Colorado Review. From 1993 to 2008 he directed the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. Turchi recently taught at Arizona State University, where he was director of the creative writing program, and he’s currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Houston.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Peter Turchi: I read at City Lights about 10 years ago, and it felt a little like a pilgrimage to a shrine. When I was an undergraduate, A Coney Island of the Mind was one of our central enchantments, and Allen Ginsberg sat in on our class … we all understood that City Lights was—is—one of the true landmarks in U.S. literary history, as well as a great bookstore. It was lovely to have some old friends turn up, too.

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Friday Staff Pick: Dear White People


Recommended by Paul, City Lights Books

In the satirical tradition of the New York Times bestseller Stuff White People Like comes this witty companion book to the “incredibly entertaining” (Indiewire) film of the same name, which “heralds a fresh and funny new voice” (Variety).

Right out of college, Justin Simien wrote a screenplay about the nuanced experiences of four black students on a predominantly white college campus. The film, Dear White People, garnered a Sundance Award for “Breakthrough Talent” and has been hailed by critics everywhere. Channeling the sensibility of the film into this book, Simien will keep you laughing with his humorous observations, even if you haven’t seen the satiric film.

News Flash—the minimum number of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Rather than panic, readers are advised to purchase a copy of Dear White People. Whether you are a dear white person wondering why your black office mate is avoiding eye contact with you after you ran your fingers through her hair, or you’re a black nerd who has to break it to your white friends that you’ve never seen The Wire, this myth-busting, stereotype-diffusing guide to a post-Obama world has something for you!

With decision-making trees to help you decide when it’s the right time to wear Blackface (hint: probably never) and quizzes to determine whether you’ve become the Token Black Friend™, Dear White People is the ultimate silly-yet-authoritative handbook to help the curious and confused navigate racial microaggressions in their daily lives.

Based on the eponymous, award-winning film, which has been lauded as “a smart, hilarious satire,” this tongue-in-cheek guide is a must-have that anybody who is in semi-regular contact with black people can’t afford to miss!


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Planet News

A telegram from Dorothy Parker to publisher and editor Pascal Covici. (via)

Can You Solve Walter Benjamin’s brainteasers?

“Clark uses taxidermy to create her sculptures. In the particular piece I used in Citizen, she attached the black girl’s face on this deer-like body—it says it’s an infant caribou in the caption—and I was transfixed by the memory that my historical body on this continent began as property no different from an animal. It was a thing hunted and the hunting continues on a certain level. So when someone says, “I didn’t know black women could get cancer,” as was said of me, I see that I am not being seen as human, and that is fascinating to me, even as it is hurtful in a more superficial way, since my stomach hurts more from the chemo—or is it the diagnosis?”
Claudia Rankine in conversation with Lauren Berlant in BOMB magazine


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5 Questions with Rebecca Solnit

rebeccasolnitbookWe’re thrilled to welcome Rebecca Solnit and Peter Turchi to City Lights for a special event this Sunday, where the two will be in conversation about “language and place”. They are both celebrating new publications.

Solnit’s new book is a special collection of essays, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. Turchi’s is A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic, a book about the magic of writing, both published by Trinity University Press.

Rebecca and Peter answered our 5 Questions, with Turchi’s to appear this Friday.

Event: Sunday, December 7, 2014 @ 5PM. “On Language and Place: Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Peter Turchi.”

About the Book: Rebecca Solnit is beloved as an activist and a passionate writer who speaks truth to power, and as the title of her latest book suggests, the territory of her concerns is vast. In her signature alchemical style, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness combines commentary on history, justice, war and peace, and explorations of place, art, and community. The 29 essays gathered here encompass celebrated iconic pieces as well as little-known works to create a powerful survey of the world we live in. This rich collection tours places as diverse as Haiti and Iceland; movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring; an original take on the question of who did Henry David Thoreau’s laundry; and a searching look at what the hatred of country music really means.

“Her swerving sentences roam, loop, and circle back, then take flight again; her meditations often encompass personal history, art, philosophy, and literature within the same paragraph. Her work is both cerebral and intensely personal. She takes big risks.”— Boston Globe

dec jsAbout the Author: San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit is the author of thirteen books about art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope, meandering, reverie, and memory. They include Men Explain Things To Me, The Faraway Nearby; Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas; A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster; Storming the Gates of Paradise; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities; Wanderlust: A History of Walking; As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art; and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. She has worked on climate change, Native American land rights, and antinuclear, human rights, and antiwar issues as an activist and journalist. A contributing editor to Harper’s and a frequent contributor to the political site, Solnit has made her living as an independent writer since 1988.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Rebecca Solnit: Lost in the mists of time is my first visit to City Lights, since I grew up in the Bay Area, but I do have distinct memories of browsing there in between sets at punk rock shows at the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco’s first and finest punk club around the corner on Broadway, when I was 15 or 16. I was so poor then: I remember yearningly looking at Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations but not buying it.

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