Friday, March 18, 2011

A letter in response to A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Did I enjoy A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti? Some would argue that I enjoyed it a little bit too much, although I don’t know why anyone would ever want to argue about that. What they should argue about is that Ferlinghetti gets ‘it’. That two letter word loaded with the potential to represent every person, place, thing, or idea.
When and while I was reading his poems I would be shuddering in peace. It’s strange right? There aren’t many occasions when one can claim to possess peace, and yet, also be shuddering. But that’s what happened.
In the beginning of the book he explains that the title of the book was selected because it was as if it were ‘a kind of circus of the soul’. Did you catch that? He said ‘a kind of circus of the soul’. If that doesn’t qualify as not only creepy, but also holy, then I don’t know what does (perhaps I’m the only one who experienced varying emotions at the circus, a mixture of love and hate, and fear and fantasy). Anyways, after reading his first poem, with lines in it such as,
“They are the same people only further from home on freeways fifty lanes wide on a concrete continent spaced with bland billboards illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness. The scene shows fewer tumbrils but more maimed citizens in painted cars and they have strange license plates and engines that devour America.” I was in a state of awe. It was awesome! I remember saying to myself, “This guy really gets it!” But I didn’t talk. I just silently sat while I carefully read and re-read the same lines over and over again, as if the secrets of the universe were somewhere hidden between the lines of the text and I had to discover them. If you were to ask me what’s so great about his poems, then I would condescendingly look at you as if you were totally incompetent, lacking even the slightest ability to pick up on what is so overtly obvious to me—great poetry. In my defense, how often do you hear someone ask? “What’s so great about the music of ‘Beethoven’? Or, “What’s so great about the art of Leonardo da Vinci?” I thought it was blatantly obvious, and so asking such silly questions like the ones mentioned above only signals bad thoughts in my mind towards the one doing the asking.
Perhaps a reaction like that is childish and uncalled for. But cut me some slack though, the man is the same guy who intimately knew some of the most famous Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, among others. He was part of a group that fought in the defense of a piece of literature that many were vehemently labeling obscene and not even worthy to the right to be labeled literature. He was a legend in his own right. I mean, he’s not the author of several books and owner of a bookstore and publishing house for nothing.
One poem that I reluctantly admit loving out of a misguided avoidance of enjoying the same thing that the majority of the crowd does, is his “I Am Waiting” poem. I can think of no other poem, barring Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, that is so beautifully and powerfully and breathtakingly written. The first time I read it I had to fight off feelings of jealousy because I so desperately had wished that I had written it first, and I still do to some extent, to a big extent. Who wouldn’t? There’s such an air of immortality found throughout the entire work. It’s hopeful and melancholic and comical and offensive and is a poem of discovery and ‘wonder’. It’s all of these things. What it’s not is a bunch of mumbo jumbo tied together and pathetically purposed a poem. Thank God! We have enough of those. Can I get an amen, or at least a mental nod of agreement?
It’s time I further admit something. I cried. I wailed. I lamented. I did these things at least on the inside. There was that choking lump in the middle of your throat, you know, the one you look to you left and to your right before swallowing and avoiding detection from others when you’re watching a tear-jerker movie or Nicolas Sparks book. I was a baby on the inside and it was a welcomed relief from all this emergent adult living I constantly find myself seemingly uncontrollably doing. I suppose it was the repetitious use of the word ‘rebirth’ that really got the inner, and occasional outer tears flowing. You live life and you make mistakes and sometimes all you want, all you need, is a rebirth. That got to me. It got to me and changed me. No I’m not an international religious figure or worldwide known humanist, but I feel a little bit more human after having read it. I guess I just liked it because it was thoughts I had always thought and felt, but never saw in print. It was nice to see that someone else thought and felt the same way.
Another poem I thoroughly enjoyed was the 11th poem from his Pictures of the Gone World. Talk about what a great poem this is. Talk about inspiration. Talk about insight. Seriously talk about these things. They are definitely worth talking about. I think they are worth shouting at the tops of your rooftops. Somebody should at least. These are the things that need to be read in our society and throughout the world, not who the recent Hollywood actor or actress recently broke up with. The final line of the poem ends as such, “Yes but then right in the middle of it comes the smiling mortician.” Bam! Right to the heart of hearts! What an end to a poem! What a kicker! A kick right to the shin by an impudent kindergartener whose mommy or daddy forgot to teach some manners to them. Makes you feel something. Unless you wear emotional shin guards everywhere you go to avoid feeling and perpetuate your numbness.
From the start of the poem it’s loaded with unbelievably profound lines such as, “The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun,” and “The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind some people dying all the time or maybe only starving some of the time which isn’t half so bad if it isn’t you.”
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the crazy lunatic who finds these lines moving. I don’t know. That could very well be the case. But I’m not crazy. How could I be? Those lines are like sucking the life out of the marrow of a bone. They touch spots you thought calluses had rendered permanently incapable of ever being felt. They’re unbelievable lines. I’m enthusiastic to say the least, however, come on, these lines are really good.

When I read “The Long Street”, I said to myself, “wow”. It’s everything I could want in a poem and more. It’s Ferlinghetti for you. He’s an immortal bard in my opinion, a poet-prophet like Wordsworth and Coleridge, a modern day post-Romantic romantic who has a knack for producing awe-inspiring, life-defining poems that could make the author of Lamentations lament tears of joy and sadness and everything and nothing and certainly something.

I could write about Ferlinghetti until pigs fly or the sun stands still, but I don’t think scientists will put jetpacks on swine any time soon and the sun hasn’t stood still since the times of Joshua in the Bible. Thus, I present you with an unorthodox conclusion. I love Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He’s a great poet. Nothing more to be said and everything left to be said and God bless this letter.


  1. Phil, I'm so glad that I read your letter before writing my Ferlinghetti post. He really does get "it," and had this insight that I find remarkable. You could tell the extent of his maturity, not only as a person but as a writer. His themes were so consistent and meaningful. Good post.

  2. Phil, the best thing about your posts is your honesty :) I like knowing what's going on in the heads and hearts of my fellow beat-followers when they're reading. Way to engage, Phil.