Ferlinghetti has made his mark on contemporary poetry not just as the author of A Coney Island of the Mind (which has sold nearly a million copies since its publication in 1956), but as one of the founders of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore and, under its City Lights imprint, first publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Recently, he has turned some of his attention to painting, a pursuit reflected in his new collection’s title and the verses of its first section. Alas, these initial poems are dull, repetitive, and monochromatic to a fault. Things improve as the author revisits his native New York and wanders amiably through Central Park, MoMA, the Public Library (oddly represented by the denizens of its men’s room), and (in the touching “Journal Notes Turning into a Poem”) the Yonkers home in which he was born. His three elegies for Ginsberg are equally moving. Like his late friend, he evokes Whitman (“Across Atlantic / Across Manhattan / Across great Hudson / into the heart of America / My heart is racing now”) and drums up some of the requisite Beat energy and cynicism in poems like “First, the News” (“We fought Chevron’s war / Your heart in a flower / pales the dawn”). Although Ferlinghetti portrays a country in decline, likening America to Rome before the fall, tenderness and humor also abound. “Appearances of the Angel in Ohio” is wonderful and strange (one “gets in a chariot / in the Handicapped Parking zone / and takes off in circles / into the evening sky”), while the ranting “Blind Poet” is an instant classic for the spoken-word set.
Varied and appealing, despite a shaky start.