Lawrence Ferlinghetti (March 24, 1919 – February 22, 2021) was an American poet, painter, social activist, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers Publishers. He visited Vashon in 1976, and wrote a poem here (Photo Courtesy City Lights Booksellers Publishers).

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (March 24, 1919 – February 22, 2021) was an American poet, painter, social activist, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers Publishers. He visited Vashon in 1976, and wrote a poem here (Photo Courtesy City Lights Booksellers Publishers).

Time Again: When Lawrence Ferlinghetti Came To Vashon

Ferlinghetti’s long and illuminating life also reflected itself in a small way on Vashon.

  • Thursday, March 4, 2021 9:15pm
  • News

By Bruce Haulman and Terry Donnelly

For The Beachcomber

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on Feb. 22 at the age of 101.

His obituaries and remembrances have told and re-told his amazing life and impact as co-founder of San Francisco’s storied City Lights Bookstore & Publishers, an outspoken social radical, a painter, and a poet.

Ferlinghetti’s long and illuminating life also reflected itself in a small way on Vashon, when, in June 1976, he visited his friend Jakk Corsaw and read his poetry one evening at Don Joseph’s Al & Tony’s Pizza.

Ferlinghetti was in Seattle to do a reading at the University Friends Center in the University District and stayed a few days with his friend Jakk at Portage. Clearly, Ferlinghetti would have met and had long conversations with Jakk’s two great friends Jim Smith, owner of the Portage Store, and Billy Sandiford, performer and founder of the much-beloved Billy Sandiford Day Parade.

Jim Smith, Billy Lee Sandiford, and Jakk Corsaw at the Portage Store (Photo Courtesy Vashon Heritage Museum).

Jim Smith, Billy Lee Sandiford, and Jakk Corsaw at the Portage Store (Photo Courtesy Vashon Heritage Museum).

While at Portage, Ferlinghetti was inspired to write his poem “Clamshell Alliance” which was first published in his 1979 collection, Landscapes of Living and Dying, and later in his 1988 Wild Dreams of a New Beginning.

There is no clear connection between his poem and The Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear protest group that was formed in 1976 to oppose the development of the Seabrook nuclear plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire.

The Clamshell Alliance became the moving force behind the massive 1977 protests to halt construction of the plant — which failed. But the protests sparked others and helped build the anti-nuclear movement in the United States.

“A Quiet Morning, Portage” and was taken on Feb. 27, by island photographer Terry Donnelly, with the intention of communicating a sense of the quiet mood of Portage on a calm morning. “Although I did not intend to illustrate the poem literally, I believe it captures the peace of the Portage neighborhood, its relationship to the sea and how, from this isolated dock, one might sit and watch the sea contemplating what lies below as Ferlinghetti did from his window,” Donnelly said (Terry Donnelly Photo).

“A Quiet Morning, Portage” and was taken on Feb. 27, by island photographer Terry Donnelly, with the intention of communicating a sense of the quiet mood of Portage on a calm morning. “Although I did not intend to illustrate the poem literally, I believe it captures the peace of the Portage neighborhood, its relationship to the sea and how, from this isolated dock, one might sit and watch the sea contemplating what lies below as Ferlinghetti did from his window,” Donnelly said (Terry Donnelly Photo).

It is not difficult to imagine the connection between what the Seabrook protesters were fighting for and Ferlinghetti’s verse — “The small clams and Quilcene oysters, are their own alliance, against the world’s defeat.”

Clamshell Alliance

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Here by the sea

Vashon Island Puget Sound

at the Portage

lie in bed

thinking what to do

‘The sea

is calm tonight’

Beneath it

all not so calm

Nor inside us

here at the isthmus

this portage

between two lives

this isthmus

built on Indian arrowheads

all not so calm

We are all

submerged in our lives

in the ‘bath of creation’

Yet the tide is full

The small clams and Quilcene oysters

are their own alliance

against the world’s defeat

They are in league

with the seas and the whales

They are in league

with Moby Dick

against the Ahabs of earth

The clams

live and breathe closed up

We too

close up tight on shore

clam up

— Bruce Haulman is an island historian. Terry Donnelly is an island photographer.


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