City Lights Pocket Poets - Cover Story

Lawrence Ferlinghetti visited London in May 1998 as part of the Patchen and Ginsberg celebrations taking place at that time. During the event at the Tate Gallery on the evening of Monday 18 May, he mentioned in passing how City Lights Pocket Poets books came to look the way they do.

It seems that Ferlinghetti had read An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air by Kenneth Patchen and had been impressed by the way in which the white paper label on the wrapper had been used to cover over the staples on the spine of the book, providing both an aesthetic 'look' and a practical approach to binding of a papercover book. This book was designed by Kemper Nomland Jr and published in 1945 by the Untide Press. Untide Press operated from a conscientous objectors' camp in Waldport Oregon.

Front cover of An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air by Kenneth Patchen

As you can see, this book, from 1945, is very similar in appearance to the City Lights Pocket Poets series which first appeared in August 1955 with the publication of Lawrence Ferlingetti's Pictures of a Gone World. These books, with their characteristic white on black (and white on colour) covers have since become recognised worldwide as a symbol of City Lights.

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Last updated 22 November 2002