City Lights Bookstore: Project Profiles
Below are some extended descriptions of projects our teams proposed for City Lights.
Virtual City Lights
Creating a virtual City Lights would provide access to all people, ensuring that those who cannot physically visit the space have the opportunity to experience all that City Lights has to offer. The opening page would be the entry to City Lights Books, the first space one encounters when they enter the store. When physically visiting the store a customer would have the opportunity to check-in their bag, ask staff about various titles carried or about certain sections. From the point of entry, the visitor could choose to wander the main floor, visit the basement, or visit the second floor. If the visitor decides that they would like to see the “Stolen Continents” section they are directed to the basement. The visitor is “lead downstairs” demonstrated by a video camera that zooms in on the basement from the top of the stairs. Once in the basement the visitor can peruse the section they’re interested in by seeing a direct, head-on shot of the available titles. To “look” at a book, the visitor would click on the title which would link them to the book’s information webpage. This page provides a brief description of the book and an option for more detailed information.
We would like to note that part of the visitor’s experience should include sound to make the experience as authentic and interesting as possible. Some ideas for incorporating sound include people reading their poetry, spoken word clips, historical audio clips, and clips from reading by visiting writers. We do not want the audio clips to be a primary experience for the visitor and therefore too distracting however, so we would ensure that visitors have the opportunity to mute the sounds.
The visitor is not required to travel through the website in a linear fashion but rather has the option to make this a multi-dimensional experience with the freedom to explore the site. A visitor can “travel” floor by floor or section by section. For example, if the visitor reads about a poet in the history section and wants to see that poet’s collection they could travel to the main entry for directions or if they are familiar with the site “travel” directly to the poetry section or to the third floor.
We hope to make the experience as authentic and personable online as they might experience actually visiting the store in person.
Share Your Poem Project
The “Share Your Poem Project” will focus on giving an audience to voices that aren’t always heard and linking the residents of the Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods together through the process of recording and sharing poetry. The “Share Your Poem Project,” will invite local residents to contribute poetry through recording and listening stations set up throughout the community, and increase the number of literary voices in the air of the neighborhood. The emphasis on local residents as the intended participants will also foster neighborhood connections and a sense of community to help maintain City Lights as a Literary Meeting Place, a theme and principle it was founded upon. People who want to be a part of the project can stop into an old phone both converted into “poetry station” and submit their favorite poem. They can compose their own work, recite something they were taught as a child, or read any poem that has stuck with them. They can also listen to others contributions.
There will be 8 stations set up at locations within the two neighborhoods (in addition to City Lights) that already serve as important gathering places. The neighborhood is often overwhelmed by tourists, yet the locations selected are more “everyday” on the surface and aim to serve people living in the neighborhood, even those who have no personal connection to City Lights. Each station will have both a recording booth and a listening booth. The recording booth will include an audio recorder, pen and paper, and a typewriter. The listening booth will include a bulletin board and headphones to display the poems recorded in the designated station. Each booth has been placed in a location that either fosters beat generation/literary ideals or that reaches a distinct part of the community that we hope to include in the project. The locations are displayed below, followed by an explanation as to why they are sites of importance for this project.
In order to reach those who aren’t particularly interested in poetry, there will also be a different copy of one collection from the City Lights Pocket Poet Series at each station. This will be designed to increase participation to include those who may have never written poetry before or who have not received enough exposure to poetry to be able to recite or write down a favorite poem. Even people who have never read poetry before can read through the poems from the City Lights series and recite one of the poems out loud for the aduio recorder, adding their own personal touch and bringing it to life. The inclusion of early well-known poems published by City Lights in this series (such as Howl) will also help people connect to the the history and realize the relevance of older work in the neighborhood today and may help inspire people to write their own poems.
One of the goals of this project is to connect the people who visit different sites in Chinatown and North Beach in their daily routines. Spatially. these two neighborhoods not only closely border each other, but are tightly woven together and in some areas the boundary is unclear. Yet they seem to be considered very different neighborhoods. There have already been a few public art projects that have emphsized the physical and literary connection between the two neighborhoods. The aim of this project is to strengthen the connection of people and ideas in both neighborhoods.
There will also be live reading events in connection with the poems collected. However, keeping in spirit with the idea of sharing and connecting, people will not recite the poem that they contributed, but instead pick another from the collection. There will be “happy hour” reading events occurring on weekday evenings for those who live in the neighborhood to stop by on their way home from work. The weekend scene seems to be filled with tourists and rowdy partiers who frequent the adult entertainment clubs, so these evening events will provide a nice contrast as they will be more low-key and hopefully appeal to local residents.
“Howl” Trial Re-Enactment
This project aims for City Lights Bookstore to preserve the heritage of free speech that it pioneered. While the purpose behind City Lights Bookstore was to promote free speech and thought that was not able to be expressed elsewhere, the historical event that solidified and gave credibility to City Lights’ purpose was the “Howl” trial. “Howl” was written by Allen Ginsberg and was published and distributed by City Lights. However, the sale of this work was stopped and deemed obscene. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shigeyoshi Murao were taken to court and charged with obscenity because of the poem’s references to drugs and heterosexual and homosexual acts. Keeping in mind this was all occurring during the late 1950s and that nothing like this had ever taken place before, the monumental decision that did not deem the work obscene but rather that it was of “redeeming social importance” was a landmark.
In order to highlight the importance of the trial and its impact, we would like to propose to have a re-enactment of part of the trial in conjunction with other events. Seeing as how City Lights continues to promote literary events such as readings, we believe it would be a good idea to continue in this tradition and do brief theatrical re-enactments of either parts of the trial, or the arrest that lead to the trial. One idea would be to perform different parts of the trial in chronological order and have the performances coincide with the plaza event. The performances would take place before the actual plaza celebration in order to attract interest and hype up the event. City Lights’s Poetry Room would be a fitting setting in which to perform scenes because it provides space and it also highlights that Ginsberg’s “Howl” was essentially a poem. In order to signify the importance of the trial and the decision, the opening scene before the trial could be that an actor (or willing participant/attendee), at the register paying for merchandise is suddenly “arrested” for purchasing “obscene” merchandise. Once the customer and cashier are “taken away”, a narrator could pose the question, “Imagine if what you read was regulated today?” This opening question could lead some of the attendees to reflect as they watch the re-enactment progress.
Keeping in mind that “Howl” was a poem, and the people present at the re-enactment might want to discuss what they just saw and debrief with other audience members, it might also be a fun idea do a “Poetry as a Weapon” workshop after the performance. While the workshop has Bay Area youth as its target audience, it would be available to anyone who is interested in participation. Themes to be used as inspiration are: free-speech, censorship, activism, and life journeys. To link the present with the past, Beat authors could facilitate the workshops. These poetry workshops could be used to demonstrate the impact and power of words can have to create social change and reinforce freedom (of word, speech, expression).