Less well known than some of the Beat poets, Philip Lamantia nevertheless embodied the spirit of his times so thoroughly that his life story now seems iconic. Born in San Francisco in 1927 to Sicilian immigrants and raised in the Excelsior, he was expelled from Balboa High School for intellectual delinquency, moved to New York, hung out with cats like André Breton and Max Ernst, published his first book (Erotic Poems) when he was nineteen, experimented with peyote while living with Washoe Indians in Nevada during the 1950s, and returned to his home town where, among other things, he appeared at the seminal October 1955 Six Gallery event where Allen Ginsberg read Howl for the first time. In fact, Howl might never have existed if not for Lamantia; in Lamantias San Francisco Chronicle obit, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote, It was Philip who turned [Ginsberg] on to Surrealist writing. Then Ginsberg wrote Howl. If the Surrealists saw art as a means of freeing the subconscious, Lamantia went one step further: He saw it as a spiritual path. He died in 2005 at his North Beach apartment. His book of mystical poetry, Tau, which he had long declined to publish, was released by City Lights this year. Editor Garrett Caples presents the book along with rare video of the poet tonight at A Tribute to the Poet Philip Lamantia.
Wed., Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., 2008