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10 San Francisco Poets You Should Know

Picture of Andrew Joseph
Updated: 14 December 2016
In some way, shape or fashion, poets influence the circles we interact in. They are observers, activists or lovers from all walks of life. Famously, San Francisco was one of the places which incorporated the Beat Generation, a group of authors whose works influenced American culture, post-World War II. This led to the formation of the San Francisco Renaissance — a movement that brings to you 10 San Francisco Poets hat you should know.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One of the most well-known poets within the Beat Generation, Ferlinghetti, who is also a painter, has a style that sends readers into a consciousness that gives them the ability to see change. Ferlinghetti’s experiences come from his time spent in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he attended graduate school, then relocated to San Francisco in 1953, where he co-founded the City Lights Bookstore with publisher Peter Martin. Today, at 94 years of age, Ferlinghetti is still involved in San Francisco’s literary scene.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti | © Christopher Michel/Wikimedia

George Oppen

Born in 1908, George Oppen is poet who has had enough material from his life to produce exceptional poems for us to study and appreciate. Moving with his family to San Francisco in 1917, Oppen attended Warren Military Academy but early incidents led to him fighting and drinking. This, as he described it, spiraled into a personal crisis. By 1925, the series of events resulted in a serious car wreck where Oppen was the driver and a passenger died. His life transformed after listening to lectures from C.A. Mace, a professor in philosophy at St. Andrews. Oppen’s poems depict his ability to express perceptions, and not argue beliefs. He believed that there is a danger which takes the part of closing when creating a poem. In retrospect, he said that a poet does not write what he already knows.

Oppen_ 10 San Francisco Poets you should know
A celebration of George Oppen’s 100 birthday 4.07.08 | © kellywritershouse/Flickr

James Broughton

James Broughton works are quintessentially Californian. Having lost his father early to the 1918 influenza epidemic and spending the rest of his life battling the impression of his overbearing mother, ‘Sunny Jim’ has become one the beloved poets of San Francisco. Exploring the depths of wildness and civility, along with male and female, body and spirit elements, Broughton embodied his thoughts into poems. He was once quoted saying; ‘Ultimately I have learned more about poetry from music and magic than from literature.’ He was a member of the San Francisco Renaissance movement.

Amy Tan

In Oakland, California, Amy Tan, the second of three children to Chinese immigrants, published her first novel The Joy Luck Club in 1989, a best-seller. Her poetry uses on rich imagery which includes themes of loss and reconciliation, hope and failure, friendship and familial conflict, and the healing power.

Tan_ 10 San Francisco Poets you should know
Amy Tan Portrait 3 | © David Slfry/Flickr

Tshaka Campbell

Tshaka Menelik Imhotep Campbell, is also known as the “TarMan Celebrating his Natural Kink”. He has this power of Nyamah (energy of words). Believed to be a reincarnated West African Griot, the belief in oral traditions is strong. He was quoted in saying that he feels the need to paint a picture for his listeners, readers or general audience, taking them on a journey. He has been recognized as an accomplished artist being voted amongst the ’25 people to know in San Francisco’.

Diane Di Prima

A feminist Beat poet, Diane di Prima, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1934, hit the literary scene with a bang. Having developed friendships with poets Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, Jack Kerouac, and Audre Lorde, she moved to San Francisco in 1968. Performing poetry with streams of consciousness focusing on politics to spiritual practice, her life’s goal is to experience every experience humanly possible to a human in a female form. Her poetry collections includes This Kind of Bird Flies Backward (1958), the long poem Loba (1978, expanded 1998), and Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (2001).

Di Prima_ 10 San Francisco Poets you should know
Diane Di Prima B & W | © daa_animator/ Flickr

Gary Snyder

Beginning his career in the 1950s as one of the first of the Beat Generation, Gary Snyder is a poet depicting matters of social and spiritual entities. Snyder’s way of using physical reality and precise observations of nature is a result of his time in Portland, Oregon, where he lived on a farm. He took interest in Native American culture, and its connection to nature which fueled the poet. Snyder’s poetry is influenced by Japanese haiku and Chinese verse, in addition to his knowledge of anthropological factors like oral traditions. In 1975, his collection Turtle Island was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Alejandro Murguia

This poet, short story writer, and editor is synonymous with the San Francisco’s Mission District. His poems are centered around a brilliant and impassioned vision of San Francisco’s Native and Latino history. His view is that Latin America is fused to the history of San Francisco, and vice versa. Still living in San Francisco, Murguia teaches at San Francisco State University, and is the city’s first Latino poet.

Kenneth Rexroth

Born to Charles Rexroth and Delia Reed in December 22, 1905, Rexroth struggled with his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s chronic illness. Homeschooled by his mother, Kenneth reading the Classics of the era, aged four. During his teenage years in 1923–1924 he was imprisoned for allegedly being part owner of a brothel. In jail he was under the care of four black cellmates until his legal guardian could bail him out. In 1927, Rexroth and his first wife, Andrée Shafer, moved to San Francisco where he published his first poems in a variety of small magazines. While in the Bay area, he kept the company of George Oppen and Louis Zukovsky, solidifying his presence in San Francisco. During World War II, Rexroth was an activist, helping Japanese-Americans in escaping West Coast internment camps. He also was very passionate about rescuing poetry from a downslide into formalist sentimentality.

RexRoth_ 10 San Francisco Poets you should know
Kenneth rexroth: autobiographical novel | © Chris Drumm/Flickr

Allen Ginsberg

The poet that opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression, Allen Ginsberg–one of the founding fathers of the Beat Generation–embodied counterculture, hostility to bureaucracy, and openness to Eastern religions. In San Francisco, Ginsberg met members of the San Francisco Renaissance (James Broughton, Robert Duncan, Madeline Gleason and Kenneth Rexroth) and other poets who would later be associated with the Beat Generation. Kenneth Rexroth, can be proud to be known as the person who introduced Ginsberg into the San Francisco poetry scene.