The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia


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 The Collected Poems gathers not only his published work but also an extensive selection of unpublished or uncollected work; the editors have also provided a biographical introduction.


I first saw the young Philip Lamantia sometime in about 1954 at one of Kenneth Rexroth’s Friday night soirées in his big old flat above Jack’s Record Cellar at 250 Scott Street in the old Fillmore district when it was still largely a black ghetto. Local and itinerant poets and other flickering literary lights would show up, usually loaded in more ways than one but mainly with the latest poetry. Rexroth, with his book review program on kpfa radio, was the reigning avant-garde arbiter of all things radically poetic. He was an anarchist and libertarian in those days when libertarians weren’t followers of Ayn Rand but were philosophical anarchists and pacifists, as were many of the poets.

As a recent, unpublished, and totally straight arrival from New York, I didn’t dare open my mouth at these far-out gatherings but sat as far back as possible, imbibing the dago red and listening to the likes of Lamantia and Robert Duncan carrying on brilliant stream-of-consciousness discourses that flew over my head like exotic birds making letters with their legs. They were passionate, erudite, disputative conversationalists. One word might send them off in opposite directions, with sentences that might run from Foucault’s pendulum or the size of Flaubert’s penis to a mad disquisition on phallic symbols in general.

However, having opened with Peter D. Martin a one-room bookstore in North Beach called City Lights, and having the idea of publishing an international poetry series, I realized that I had fallen into a veritable quicksilver mine where local poets of the so-called San Francisco Poetry Renaissance met up with the first Beat poets, those wild-ass carpetbaggers from Back East like Allen Ginsberg who proceeded to take over the scene.

It was ten years since the war in Europe had ended. Military service had uprooted so many Americans, many of whom returned home briefly but didn’t stay long. and a great migration of my generation began. It was as if the whole continent had tilted, and the population slid westward. It took a whole decade for the disparate elements of postwar America to coalesce in a radically new culture. and it was happening in San Francisco and in places like 250 Scott Street and North Beach. San Francisco was still a last frontier where a new world was aborning.

Philip Lamantia’s voice was the most distinctive poetic sound I had ever heard.

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