Philip Lamantia

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Lamantia in 1981

Philip Lamantia (October 23, 1927 – March 7, 2005) was an American poet and lecturer. Lamantia's visionary poems are ecstatic, terror-filled, and erotic, exploring the subconscious world of dreams and linking it to the experience of daily life.


The poet was born in San Francisco to Sicilian immigrants and raised in that city's Excelsior neighborhood. His poetry was first published in the magazine View in 1943, when he was fifteen and in the final issue of the Surrealist magazine VVV the following year. In 1944 he dropped out of Balboa High School to pursue poetry in New York City.[1] He returned to the Bay Area in 1945 and his first book, Erotic Poems, was published a year later.

Lamantia was one of the post World War II poets now sometimes referred to as the San Francisco Renaissance, and later became involved with the San Francisco Beat Generation poets and the Surrealist Movement in the United States. He was on the bill at San Francisco's Six Gallery on October 7, 1955, when poet Allen Ginsberg read his poem Howl for the first time. At this event Lamantia chose to read the poems of John Hoffman, a friend who had recently died. Hoffman's poetry collection Journey to the End (which includes the poems that Lamantia read at the Six Gallery) was published by City Lights Bookstore in 2008, bound together with Lamantia's own Tau, a poem-cycle also dating from the mid-fifties. Tau remained unpublished during Lamantia's lifetime.

"Cosmogonic amplifiers erase minumumed

Signatures of daimoniacal configuration
Whose greater space passed into future:
Fire unlocking by saturation
Eye of the sterilized Tau."

-Tau (excerpt)[2]

Nancy Peters, his wife and literary editor, said of Lamantia, "He found in the narcotic night world a kind of modern counterpart to the gothic castle -- a zone of peril to be symbolically or existentially crossed."

The poet spent time with native peoples in the United States and Mexico in the 1950s, participating in the peyote-eating rituals of the Washo Indians of Nevada. In later life, he embraced Catholicism, the religion of his childhood, and wrote many poems on Catholic themes.


  • Erotic Poems (Berkeley: Bern Porter, 1946)
  • Ekstasis (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1959)
  • Narcotica (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1959)
  • Destroyed Works (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1962)
  • Touch of the Marvelous ([no place] Oyez, 1966)
  • Selected Poems 1943–1966 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1967)
  • Charles Bukowski, Harold Norse, Philip Lamantia: Penguin Modern Poets, No. 13. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969)
  • Blood of the Air (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1970)
  • Touch of the Marvelous -- A New Edition (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1974)
  • Becoming Visible (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1981)
  • usa 1959 [broadside] (San Francisco: Arion Press, 1981)
  • Meadowlark West (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986)
  • Bed of Sphinxes: New and Selected Poems, 1943–1993 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997)
  • Tau; with Journey to the End by John Hoffman. Edited by Garrett Caples (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2008)
  • The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia. Edited with an introduction by Garrett Caples, Andrew Joron, and Nancy Joyce Peters (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013)


  1. ^ Hamlin, Jesse (2005-03-11). "Philip Lamantia -- S.F. Surrealist poet / Visionary verse of literary prodigy influenced Beats". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
  2. ^ [1]


  • Nancy Joyce Peters: Philip Lamantia. In: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 16, 330–336.
  • Steven Frattali: Hypodermic Light: The Poetry of Philip Lamantia and the Question of Surrealism. Peter Lang, 2005.
  • Ann Charters (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)

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