Disconcerting, iconoclastic, desecrating and melancholic, Lawrence Ferlinghetti outlines the cornerstones of his poetics in forty-nine poems collected in ” A Coney Island of the Mind ” (1958), acme of his production.
Ferlinghetti takes his readers by the hand, as if they were children-adults who have lost the sense of the most authentic reality: promptly accompanies them in a sort of sightseeing in the streets of San Francisco, a city that becomes a symbol of what is the US capitalist and consumerist “welfare society”. Off and lively, from neon lights to skyscrapers, San Francisco displays billboards aimed at a mass audience. Even in a serene place like Golden Gate Park lurks a “frightful depression”. The author makes the city and its (not empathetic) citizens a circus, a grotesque cabaret, synecdoche of the entire North American state. Instead, his craft and spontaneous poet’s craft identifies him with that of an acrobat who has the task of guessing the truth, before he can reach Beauty, advancing poised on the cutting edge of his audience. Ferlinghetti says he has “never laid down with beauty” in his life, but “to have gone there in bed” generating his poems. On a panic background, immersed in nature that the author imagines as a Paradise, unlike Dante, “in which people would be naked / […] / because it wants to be / a portrait of the souls / but without angels apprehensive to tell them / of how the kingdom of heaven is / the perfect portrait of / a monarchy “. The poems of the Ultimate of the Beat build, as the author himself says, “a Coney Island of the mind”, “a circus of the soul”.
In the balance, therefore, in the playful space of lights and shadows that animate it, the poet affirms that “even if our fields were roads” his dreams are intact in the basement of his memory; that is, in his childhood lived in a world that is still the one illustrated “in the major scenes of Goya”, scenes rich in “children and bayonets”. The world in which Jesus was “hung up on His Wood” is no different from the contemporary one in which “Christ is dismounted / His Wood naked / this year / and has escaped to a place where / there were no trees Christmas without roots “. The world that denounces Ferlinghetti is a world where racial segregation still exists . The only element that has changed coincides only with the landscape, consisting of “motorways with fifty lanes / on a continent of concrete / punctuated by mellifluous advertising posters / that illustrate idiots illusions of happiness”. And again, “the scene shows fewer carts than those condemned to death / but more citizens break out / in painted cars / […] who devour America”. In addition to the various rhymes and alliterations, in addition to a nuance of symbolism (inherited from the reading of Apollinaire and Verlaine), more than anything stands out a syncopated form, an arrangement of broken phrases, in swing, almost to depict the thread and the trend of the poet-acrobat. However, one gets the impression that in Ferlinghetti both content prevails over form, due to both the language and some everyday situations. Yet, it never expires in banality. The poet is a determined “super-realist” in constant expectation of a “renaissance of amazement” that should occur thanks to the visual and auditory force of the poetry conveyed by the word. Ferlinghetti, as a poet, wants to change the world, simply because he is convinced he can do it and that all the poets are capable of it. He wants to offer his readers new eyes. He first imposes his point of view on the reader, sagaciously, undressing, to wear the perspective of a dog that “trots” on the streets of a San Francisco made up of “men sandwiches and […] / dead sunflowers and live / politicating phones. tame with the party whips in / hand “performing” on the rings of their circuses “. Finally, after numerous quotations by authors such as Thomas, Yeats, Miller, Keats and Whitman, it turns out that for Ferlinghetti “this life is not a circus in which / the shy trained dogs of love / are watching / while time unravels / the his wily whip “. Therefore, Ferlinghetti, along with poets who think like him, will not remain to watch, but will always denounce all abuse and any form of censorship and coercion. With “A Coney Island of the mind”, but also with his later works, now sublimated in a single volume titled “Greatest Poems” (Mondadori, 2018), which makes the verse to the ‘greatest hits’ of pop / rock music, the anarchist Ferlinghetti aims to awaken everyone’s consciences. And for the most part those of the poets who lie dormant in their academic cradle. Thus, Ferlinghetti continues to wait, on the threshold of his hundred years, “that someone / really discovers the America / and […] / that the American Eagle / really unfolds the wings / and gets in the right way and flights straight ahead and that the Age of Ania / dies dead “.