The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 22

CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE POETRY ROOM, SAN FRANCISCO
CREDIT: JOHAN JÖNSSON (JULLE), CREATIVE COMMONS

It was a Saturday afternoon when I pushed open the front door of the store and
entered the tiny vestibule. The aroma of books - 60 years' worth - lured me further
into the sacred interior. A sharp right, a few steps up, straight down an aisle lined by
books to the rear, a straight staircase leads to the Poetry Room. Here is the heart of the
experience: walls lined with shelves containing works by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg
(of course), Frank O'Hara, William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowsky and others. Not all
of the books have been published by city lights, but they represent the work of writers
who found a home there. On a table, a book caught my eye: Poems for Architects. It
seemed like a message from God. I picked the book up and tucked it under my arm.
At one end of the Poetry Room, a small group of students was sitting on the floor,
while another student read beat poetry. No one in the group appeared to be older than
25. At a rough calculation, it's likely that even their parents weren't around in the '50s
when the Beat Generation was recording its startling thoughts and City Lights was
publishing them. I didn't recognize the poetry, but the tone and delivery of the reader
had absolutely the right edge. Memories of Saturday nights at Toronto's Bohemian
Embassy in the early '60s began to lock me into a daydream, which came to an abrupt
end when the reading stopped. There was a brief contemplative pause and the sound
of raindrops on wet pavement: it was the audience showing their appreciation by snapping their fingers, just as they might have done 60 years ago in this same spot. The
poetry, the young audience sitting on the floor, the flawless delivery and the beatnik
applause ... this wasn't like the '50s - this was the '50s. Incredibly, I had entered a
cultural time machine. I was nearly overwhelmed.
With my Poems for Architects still tucked under my arm, I headed back down the
stairs toward the cash desk at the entry. On my way out, I noticed another small book,
with its cover facing out. A brief blurb under the title Several Short Sentences About
Writing included the statement. "Best book on writing. Ever." I picked up that book
too and later discovered that the blurb was entirely true. I recommend it to anyone
who asks for a good book about writing, and I'm recommending it to you, right now.
What makes a place special? Is specialness something that architects can design?
The answer is obviously yes; they've been doing it for thousands of years, but a lot
of the time, specialness is something that a place acquires over the years - some
incredible people having spent time there, a world-changing event having been centred
there, a guiding principle, and simply having endured.
Promise me you'll visit City Lights next time you go to San Francisco. If you're lucky,
you might see Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He's 98 years old now, but they told me he still
comes into the shop.
22 | Read The Right Angle Journal online www.therightanglejournal.ca



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017

Message from the Board
Why aren’t All Buildings Beautiful?
Resilience: The Forest and the Trees
Index to Advertisers
Locations: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 4
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 5
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 6
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Message from the Board
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Why aren’t All Buildings Beautiful?
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 9
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 10
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 15
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 18
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Resilience: The Forest and the Trees
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Index to Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - Locations: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - 22
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Winter 2017 - cover4
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