Friday, November 21, 2008

STL #78: Ferlenghetti

(Note: The misspelling of the subject's name in the title seems somehow appropriate in reflecting my utter lack of interest in the poet, so I have intentionally left the incorrect form. Other errors are unintentional.)

Some time ago, I said that the only poets in NAP I knew were Creeley and Levertov. Using the threshold of being in the same room with as knowing someone, I actually know Lawrence Ferlingetti too, having been loitering in the City Lights poetry room when he came sprily up the stairs. I've known his poetry for a long time, having come across it in an anthology my sister had called, dig this hipness, Beowulf to the Beatles (cause the modern rockers, they're like poets man). The "little charleychaplin man" and "christ climbed down" are in there for imagery or something. I read Coney Island of the Mind on the recommendation of a hipster I knew while an undergrad. Despite (or because of) the long acquaintance, his poetry doesn't mean that much to me. The Coney Island book has become an official Beat artifact, and it's hard to read it as other than something acting out its own dated hipness. I don't think this is a fault exactly, but there's nothing in the book that transcends the period it helped define. In NAP, a handful of poems from Coney Island are presented as numbered sections of, by implication, a book-length poem. I had never thought of Coney Island of the Mind as a long poem. That doesn't salvage it for me, but does make it potentially interesting. Unfortunately, neither my memory of the whole text or the represented extracts show on extension from the beginning to the end. Each poem begins by invoking an outsider artist (usually through a specific work) and ends with some existential resolution: damning the "engines/that devour America," or contemplating "her eternal form/spreadeagled in the empty air/of existence." There are other repeated elements to these poems: the descending and ascending white space, the scare quotes thrown around phrases, the agressive alliteration and long-vowelled assonance. Later poems I've seen work out of this paradigmatically 'beat' framework: not to my taste still, but more varied.