Philip Lamantia

Philip Lamantia

Philip Lamantia was born in San Francisco on October 23, 1927, the son of Sicilian immigrants. He began writing poetry in elementary school and was briefly expelled from junior high for “intellectual delinquency” when he immersed himself in the work of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. At age sixteen, after being introduced to surrealism by the Miro and Dali retrospectives at the San Francisco Museum of Art, he began to write surrealist poetry, realizing that “the purely revolutionary nature” of surrealism “even before my knowledge of Surrealist theory, was part of my own individual temperament.” Shortly afterward, Lamantia left home to join the Surrealists in York City and was welcomed by Andre Breton as “a voice that rises once a hundred years”.

Lamantia’s poems were published in 1943 by Andre Breton as VVV. His first book, Erotic Poems, was published in Berkeley in 1946. His second book, Ekstasis, appeared after the Six Poets at the Six Gallery reading, and City Lights published his Selected Poems 1943-1966. “High”, “The Night is a Space of White Marble”, I Have Given Fair Warning” and “There is the Distance Between Me and What I Seek” are from that volume. “Fud at Foster’s” describes Foster’s Cafeteria, a popular hangout for San Francisco poets and artists, the place where Ginsberg met Robert Lavigne, who took him home and introduced him to Peter Orlovsky.

Like the work of many of his Beat colleagues, Lamantia’s poetry demonstrates the tension between what his biographer calls “the exultation of reality and an omnipresent sense of the pain and terror inherent in life. Lamantia is the only American poet of his generation to embrace fully the discoveries of Surrealism, and is a contributing editor of Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion.


O beato solitudo! Where have I flown to?
stars overturn the wall of my music
as flight of birds, they go by, the spirits
opened below the lark of plenty
ovens of neant overflow the docks at Veracruz
This much is time
summer coils the soft suck of night
loan unseen Eagles crash thru mud
I am worn like an old sack by the celestial bum
I’m dropping my eyes were all the trees turn on fire!
I’m mad to go to you, Solitude – who will carry me there?
I wedged in this collision of planets/Tough!
I’m the trumpet of King David
The sinister elevator tore itself limb by limb

You cannot close
You cannot open
You break your head
You make bloody bread!

I Have Given Fair Warning

I have given fair warning
Chicago New York Los Angeles have gone down
I have gone to Swan City with the ghost of Maldoror may still roam
The South is very civilized
I have eaten rhinoceros tail
It is the last night among crocodiles
Albion opens his fist in a palm grove
I shall watch speckled jewel grow on the back of warspilt horses
Exultation rides by
A poppy the size of the sun in my skull
I have given fair warning
at the time of corpses and clouds I can make love here as

There is this distance between me and what I see

There is this distance between me and what I see
everywhere immanence of the presence of God
no more ekstasis
a cool head
watch watch watch
I’m here
He’s over there … It’s an ocean …
Sometimes I can’t think of it, I fail, fall
This IS the book of love
there IS the Tower of David
there IS the throne of wisdom
there IS this silent but a lot
Constant flight and air of the Holy Ghost
I long for the luminous darkness of God
I long for the superessential light of this darkness
Another darkness I long for the end of longing
I long for the
it is nameless what I long for
a spoken word caught in its own meat saying nothing
This nothing ravishes beyond ravishing
There IS this book of love Thrown Silent look of Love

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