How does one write about a book that has been published to mark the author’s centenary? A book that is promoted as the last will and testament of a figure who is giant in contemporary American cultural history. A man who is a poet, a bookseller, a literary star and iconic publisher whose circle of friends included the Beat poets etc. A man who exhibits a joi de vivre for life despite having had a complicated childhood where he was shunted from family to family as his own mother was incapable of looking after him. Lawrence Ferlinghetti says he writes about “my lonely self and the only plot of this book of my life being my constant aging”. It is an account of an extraordinary life. His sharply perceptive comments on the past and the present are a pleasure to read. It begins from the title itself that is a play on the name of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the Americans on 6 August 1945 — “Little Boy”! Ferlinghetti’s presence in the American literary scene is no less explosive. He has certainly left his mark with his association with the Beat Poets and the City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, USA.
The format of the book is mindblowing. It is a single paragraph with sentence breaks occurring when the capital letters appear as they should at the beginning of a grammatically correct sentence. Otherwise the only way of recognising a break in the story is by reading out the text aloud as if it were poetry and the pauses are where the periods should exist but do not. There is a very strong rhythm that is in step with the episodes narrated. The bridges in the narratives happen with his commentary on his own life. There is no other way if explaining it. But there is a refreshing bold experimentation in the literary form that many of the younger writers can learn from a master like Ferlinghetti.
“Little Boy” is a fabulous book!
29 Sept 2020