Lawrence Ferlinghetti – A Coney Island of the Mind

Lawrence FerlinghettiLawrence Ferlinghetti
A Coney Island of the Mind
(Rykodisc – 1999)
by Matthew S. Robinson

Though many cars of this distant train of thought were written at once “under the influence of Eros, Pan [and] red wine” and originally intended to be accompanied by live jazz as “oral messages” rather than print-gagged poems, the continuity of the delivery is often barely as consistent as the messages expressed through it. Though there are some common themes amongst Ferlinghetti’s, even they are random and inconsistent. As the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, the West Coast Beat mentions his hometown repeatedly, sometimes within the same “oral message” or even the same line.

Similarly repetitive name-droppings of Christ and other craftsmen (not to mention the infamous Johnny Nolan), sunbathers, elephants and sexual organs and functions do not an East Coast carnival scene paint. In many cases, the aged poet’s sibilant voice and shaky pacing and his occasional trasncript editions make him sound more like a reminiscent storyteller than a contemporary truth-teller. Even so, the portrait of the poet as an old man is a picture of a lo-fi guy having fun in a high-fi studio, complete with all the sound and mic effects he never had as a boy. Despite the generational gap, the time on your dirty ol’ grandpa’s lap is not often boring. And even when it is, sax-man Dana Colley (of Morphine fame) makes the untimely timing more on-time and keeps the mental midway rides rolling. As poetry, Ferlinghetti’s word play and prognostication are insightful and provocative. It just may be too late to go back to Coney Island.

© 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR