Philip Lamantia: rollicking maypoles of imaginary Canaans forgotten in redwood dust

Cover to Lamantia’s Destroyed Works. Collage by Bruce Conner, published by the Auerhahn Press in 1962


“Memoria,” from Semina 3, 1958.


The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia represents the lifework of the most visionary poet of the American postwar generation. Philip Lamantia (1927-2005) played a major role in shaping the poetics of both the Beat and the Surrealist movements in the United States. First mentored by the San Francisco poet Kenneth Rexroth, the teenage Lamantia also came to the attention of the French Surrealist leader André Breton, who, after reading Lamantia’s youthful work, hailed him as a “voice that rises once in a hundred years.” Later, Lamantia went “on the road” with Jack Kerouac and shared the stage with Allen Ginsberg at the famous Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, where Ginsburg first read Howl. Throughout his life, Lamantia sought to extend and renew the visionary tradition of Romanticism in a distinctly American vernacular, drawing on mystical lore and drug experience in the process. The Collected Poems gathers not only his published work but also an extensive selection of unpublished or uncollected work; the editors have also provided a biographical introduction.

“He was the primary transmitter of French Surrealist poetry in this country,” said Ferlinghetti, who first met Mr. Lamantia here in the early 1950s. “He was writing stream-of-consciousness Surrealist poetry, and he had a huge influence on Allen Ginsberg. Before that, Ginsberg was writing rather conventional poetry. It was Philip who turned him on to Surrealist writing. Then Ginsberg wrote ‘Howl.’ ”

Ginsberg actually wrote a letter to the editors of Poetry magazine after a review of Lamantia’s work claimed Lamantia was plagiarizing him:

Since I’m cited as a stylistic authority I authoritatively declare Lamantia an American original, sooth-sayer even as Poe, genius in the language of Whitman, native companion and teacher to myself.

 buy button thumbnail

Related posts:

This entry was posted in Books & Print Culture, City Lights Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.