Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose FBI file once described him as "a Beatnik rabble rouser," looks like an elder statesman with his trim white beard, navy jacket and patterned tie.
But the man whose City Lights press published and sustained a generation of Beat poets is not another yippie gone yuppie. Look closer and you see he's wearing an onyx stud in his right ear.Ferlinghetti is chiefly known as a lyrical poet whose 1958 work, "A Coney Island of the Mind," is one of the best-selling books of poetry in the past three decades, and as a political anarchist whose publication of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" led to his arrest on obscenity charges.
Although he has published some two dozen collections of poetry, as well as essays and a handful of plays in his more than three decades of writing, Ferlinghetti has written only two novels. "Her," published in 1960, is a surreal account of a young man's search for his identity.
His latest, "Love in the Days of Rage" (Dutton, $15.95), is set in Paris in 1968, during the student-led spring riots that shut down the universities and paralyzed the city. The historical events serve as the background for a love story between Annie, a painter who teaches at the Beaux Arts, and Julian, a wealthy financier who calls himself an anarchist banker.
"This new novel is much more accessible to the public; it's written in a much more conventional style," said Ferlinghetti, 69, in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. As if to bear out the Algonquin's reputation as a literary haunt, well-wishers twice interrupted the interview to greet the poet.
"I really want to revivify the `spirt of '68,' as it was called by the French. . . . Especially today when we need it," said Ferlinghetti, who finds this decade's emphasis on wealth and success disheartening.
"In retrospect it was this `youthquake' against the dehumanization of man, the new technocratic age."
Ferlinghetti said many of the anarchist arguments espoused by his character Julian were lifted from Fernando Pessoa, a French-Portuguese poet who wrote a novella early in the century called "The Anarchist Banker."
He was asked if Pessoa's philosophy of anarchism is his as well.
"Anarchism isn't really a philosophy and it isn't really an ideal. It's an idea. The press has given anarchism a bad name. They've equated it with terrorism. I'm talking about anarchism in the traditional sense," he said. "It's mostly civil libertarianism and anti-fascism, really. The individual's freedom today is more and more limited, not just by our government but the whole industrial way of life. The point of view of the philosophical anarchist is to stand up for the free individual."