Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a series of travel journal entries adapted from poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s forthcoming book, Writing Across the Landscape. It first appeared in The American Scholar’s Summer 2015 issue (subscribe here!).
I was part of that Greatest Generation that came of age at the beginning of the Second World War. As I worked in San Francisco, the days and years fell away into the great maw of time. America went through a sea change after that. San Francisco, which had been a small provincial capital, grew up. So did I, and I started voyaging. I was usually traveling to some literary or political event or tracking down some author whose undiscovered masterpiece I could publish at City Lights Books. I didn’t keep journals consistently, so some literary capers went unrecorded, such as when I visited Paul Bowles in Tangier to pry from him his Moroccan tales in A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard. This was agreed to, and then we sat dully in his high-rise apartment near the American Embassy. And when Jane Bowles suggested we turn-on, Paul said he didn’t have any hash. I was clean-shaven in a white suit, and I imagine he thought I was a narc. Paranoia, the doper’s constant companion! I wrote these peripatetic pages for myself, never thinking to publish them. It is as if much of my life were a continuation of my youthful Wanderjahr, my walk-about in the world. Rereading them now, I see a wandering figure in momentous times. …The war ends, decades whir by, there is a rumble in the wings, the scene darkens, and Camelot lost! Read more…
After starting in Pittsburgh, the Ohio River heads north and then quickly loops south, as if realizing the error in its ways. It is a place to get lost and to get found. The river bends and twists here with energy, like a snake caught by its tail. There is an optimism in the current, movement and ambition, married with the skeletons of our built world and those worlds that came before that rise out of the fields and hills along the banks. Sometimes in the grace of dawn these structures appear as nearly flesh and blood. But that hope recedes as the sun climbs over the hill, past the chestnuts and maples. Time and gravity wait to do their parts. Read more…
We’re excited to reprint Elissa Schappell‘s essay, “The Craft of Poetry: A Semester with Allen Ginsberg.” The piece was first featured on the site in 2013 as a Longreads Member Pick, and originally appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of the Paris Review. It was later anthologized in the Paris Review’s 1999 collection Beat Writers at Work. Thanks to Schappell and the Paris Review for sharing it with the Longreads community:
Of all the literature classes I have ever taken in my life Allen Ginsberg’s “Craft of Poetry” was not only the most memorable and inspiring, but the most useful to me as a writer.
First thought, best thought.
It’s 1994 and I am getting my MFA in fiction at NYU. I’m sitting in the front row of a dingy classroom with a tape recorder and a notebook. The tape recorder is to record Allen Ginsberg, the big daddy of the Beat’s “Craft of Poetry” lectures for a feature I’m writing for The Paris Review. No. Lectures is the wrong word—Ginsberg’s thought operas, his spontaneous jet streams of brilliance, his earthy Dharma Lion roars—that’s what I’m there to capture. His teaching method is, as he explains it, “to improvise to some extent and it have it real rather than just a rote thing.”
It was very real.
The education Ginsberg provided me exceeds the bounds of the classroom, and far beyond the craft of poetry. Look inward and let go, he said. Pay attention to your world, read everything. For as he put it, “If the mind is shapely the art will be shapely.”—Elissa Schappell, 2013
The news that Allen Ginsberg was going to be teaching at New York University was passed around campus like a joint, making some people giddy and euphoric, others mildly confused, and still others paranoid—teachers and students alike. The waiting list to get into the class was extraordinary not only in length, but for the sheer number of times students eagerly checked to see if they had moved up. As a graduate student in the creative writing program I was given first dibs. I was curious to meet Ginsberg, curious to see how he would commandeer the Craft of Poetry class, which in the past had been taught by Galway Kinnell and William Matthews. The following excerpts were culled from a diary I kept during the semester. Read more…
Rose George | Longreads | March 2015 | 21 minutes (5,358 words)
She was a name on a plaque and a face on a wall. I ate beneath her portrait for three years and paid it little attention except to notice that the artist had made her look square. There were other portraits of women to hold my attention on the walls of Somerville, my Oxford college: Indira Gandhi, who left without a degree, and Dorothy Hodgkin, a Nobel prize-winner in chemistry. In a room where we had our French language classes, behind glass that was rumored to be bulletproof, there was also a bust of Margaret Thatcher, a former chemistry undergraduate. Somerville was one of only two women’s colleges of the University of Oxford while I was there, from 1988 to 1992, and the walls were crowded with strong, notable women. (The college has since gone co-ed.) Read more…
Jack El-Hai | Longreads | March 2015 | 14 minutes (3,509 words)
A New York City stockbroker named M. Leopold was working in his office at 84 Broadway shortly after noon on December 4, 1891, when he sensed vibrations, an odd rumbling. Looking outside, he saw flames and a cloud of smoke shooting out from a window of the Arcade Building directly across the street. A man’s body then flew out through the opening, landing on Broadway. Leopold raised his window and smelled the tang of dynamite. Read more…
Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole | Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza | Schocken | April 2011 | 18 minutes (4,838 words)
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Cambridge, May 1896
When the self-taught Scottish scholar of Arabic and Syriac Agnes Lewis and her no-less-learned twin sister, Margaret Gibson, hurried down a street or a hallway, they moved—as a friend later described them—“like ships in full sail.” Their plump frames, thick lips, and slightly hawkish eyes made them, theoretically, identical. And both were rather vain about their dainty hands, which on special occasions they “weighed down with antique rings.” In a poignant and peculiar coincidence, each of the sisters had been widowed after just a few years of happy marriage to a clergyman. Read more…
Jeff Sharlet | Longreads | February 2015 | 24 minutes (5,994 words)
- Mary Mazur, 61, set off near midnight to buy her Thanksgiving turkey. She took her plant with her. “He doesn’t like to be left alone,” she later explained. The plant rode in a white cart, Mary in her wheelchair. With only one hand to wheel herself, the other on the cart, she’d push the left wheel forward, switch hands, push the right. Left, right, cursing, until a sweet girl found her, and wheeled her into Crown Fried Chicken. “Do not forget my plant!” she shouted at the girl. I held the door. // “I have a problem with my foot,” she said—the left one, a scabbed stump, purple in the cold. Her slipper wouldn’t stay on. // Mary wore purple. Purple sweats, purple fleece. 30 degrees. “I bet you have a coat,” she said. Not asking, just observing. Measuring the distance. Between us. Between her and her turkey. Miles away. “You’ll freeze,” I said. “I’ll starve,” she said. I offered her chicken. “I have to have my turkey!” Also, a microwave. Her motel didn’t have one. // “Nobody will help you,” she said. “Not even if you’re bleeding from your two eyes.” // Two paramedics from the fire department. Two cops. An ambulance, two EMTs. “I didn’t call you!” she shouted. “I don’t care who called me,” said one of the cops. One of the paramedics put on blue latex gloves. “She won’t go without this—this friggin’ plant,” he said. “You’ll go,” said the cop. “You’re not my husband!” said Mary. The cop laughed. “Thank god,” he said. The whole gang laughed. One of them said maybe her plant was her husband. That made them laugh, too. “I’m not going!” said Mary. “Your plant is going,” said the cop. Mary caved. Stood on one foot. “Don’t touch me!” They lowered her onto the stretcher. “Let me hold it,” she said. “What?” said the EMT. “The plant,” said the cop. He lifted it out of the cart. “Be careful!” she shouted. He smirked but he was. “Thank you,” she rasped, her shouting all gone. Mary Mazur, 61, shrank into the blankets, muttering into the leaves, whispering to her only friend.
Meredith Hindley | Longreads | February 2015 | 18 minutes (4,383 words)
In August 1936, Americans retreated from the summer heat into movie theaters to watch China Clipper, the newest action-adventure from Warner Brothers. The film starred Pat O’Brien as an airline executive obsessed with opening the first airplane route across the Pacific Ocean. An up-and-coming Humphrey Bogart played a grizzled pilot full of common sense and derring-do.
The real star of the film, however, was the China Clipper, a gleaming four-engine silver Martin M-130. As the Clipper makes its maiden flight in the film, the flying boat cuts a white wake into the waters off San Francisco before soaring in the air and passing over a half-constructed Golden Gate Bridge. As it crosses the Pacific, cutting through the clouds and battling a typhoon, a team of radiomen and navigators follow its course on the ground, relaying updated weather information. The plane arrives in Macao to a harbor packed with cheering spectators and beaming government officials. Read more…
Maria Bustillos | Longreads | January 2015 | 15 minutes (3,706 words)