The poet, publisher, and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919, has received the Robert Frost Memorial Medal and the first Literarian Award of the National Book Foundation. He is the subject of Christopher Felver's new film documentary, Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder.
Nearly four decades after the publication of A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti offers this companion, a bardic, blasphemous and somewhat blissed-out wake-up call for 20th-century America to find its lost soul. One of the iconoclastic survivors of the Beat generation, Ferlinghetti, who is approaching his 80th birthday, serves up his first collection of new poems since 1988's Wild Dreams of a New Beginning. These 101 numbered poems, most occupying a single page, burn through modern America's absurdities and unrepentant historical revision in a glorious rant against mediocrity, greed, capitalism and boring poetry, with serious riffs on painting and love. Ferlinghetti blasts the "defeated Romanticism/ of T.S. Eliot/ and his pathetic phallusies" claiming Whitman and Neruda‘Blake would work, too‘as his ancestors. Staggered lines and unfettered associations serve to bypass the cerebral ("It is not the mind that hears it/ but an ear of what we call the soul") while insisting that poetry maintain its political and social missions as well: "But I still hear singing/ still the voices of poets/ mixed with the cry of prostitutes...." Dubbing himself a "stand-up tragedian," Ferlinghetti's commanding voice draws on humor and the everyday (in poem #16, God uses a "portable Mac" while the devil whispers "`Life sucks...'"), anger and even a note of pathos and allows him to speak with the stentorian resonance that has made him legendary: "I still would love to find again/ that lost locality/ Where I might catch once more/ a Sunday subway for/ some Far Rockaway of the Heart." (May)