Yet here I am in San Francisco on my way to the City Lights Bookstore. My heart is racing; my palms are sweaty – I can hardly contain my joy. A smile widens as my husband and I get closer to the shrine, to this historic spot where magic and artistry came together to form “The Word.” The poet’s haven, as mystical as San Francisco itself. City Lights Bookstore may be just a bookstore to some but for many it is where great minds met and collaborated and formed alliances, bridging gaps while creating new and exciting works of art.
Standing outside, I look in like a small girl in front of a candy store. I am looking at the books, the glorious books that line the shelves. I study the window face and the posters of upcoming events and books on sale. Photos are taken of me with shaking hands and a silly grin. I am here.
There is so much history here in this bookstore, stories of the men and women who adorned this space. Their poems, and their voices reading th poems in screams and sighs and whistles and shouts and in soft whispers. Did Jack Kerouac stand here? I can hear them all in my head – Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferllinghetti and Adrianne Rich, and the list goes on, of all the poets who mattered to some of us who listened.
The hardwood floor creaks and squeaks out sounds as I walk and in my mind I wish on some level to be stalked in this room by the ghosts of those men and women whose creative juice flowed and who made us all think. If I could just have gone back in time for a moment to hear these poets recite their work from this rocking chair, this poet’s chair. The Poets, who may grace the chair that sits by the window overlooking this city, draped most days in a fog, a symbolic cloak of mystery. These poets sat in the poet’s chair and spoke their poem and rhymed and sang their poems to men and women who clapped or snapped, who thanked the poet for the words that spilled out of his or her mouth and gave everyone courage, and hope and desire. The poets, the thinkers of generations past, rocked and roared and laughed and cursed the good, the bad and the indifferent. They worked this room.
The Poets’ Room, the beat room, where the beat generation lives on. Their stories, their poems line the shelves upon shelves. In this room with its bay window. Yellow wood floors, and tables filled with more books. Photos in black and white line the walls above the shelves, photos of the artists. It is quiet, like a church or a library. Patrons are respectful, knowing full well that this place is mystical.
Here I stand with the one I love sharing this most hallowed of experiences for me; it feels like a poem itself. I am in this place where activists and writers lament. Where time is spent browsing over books with the one you love or by yourself. Here I am in this place where poetry is still alive. I didn’t meet Lawrence; he wasn’t in that day. But what would I have said to him had he been there? I who travelled over 5,000 miles with my copy of Coney Island of the Mind picked up some 35 years ago in a bookstore at John Abbott College. I was hoping he would sign it, that he would come through that door and walk across that yellow wood floor and I would be waiting. How I loved that poem he wrote: “Waiting.“
I sit in the “poet’s chair“ and look around. I am here, in San Francisco, at City Lights Bookstore. This is something I have been “Waiting“ to do for such a long time and something I will not soon forget.
“Poet Chair at City Lights Bookstore” by Julie Jordan Scott. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.
“City Lights Booksellers and Publishers” by Jay Galvin. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.