A Coney Island of the Mind–Book Review
The enthralling cover and title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind were what initially drew me to it. Even though I’ve never been there, I love Coney Island for its whimsy and for how it is a place both lost in time and timeless. Reading these poems gave me the same feeling.
The nostalgia isn’t surprising, since Coney Island was published in 1958 by a member of the Beat Generation. As such, the criticism of materialism and conformity is not lost on us among the reeling images and colorful metaphors. For example, the first poem in the collection compares the agonized individuals in Goya’s works to Americans in the ‘50’s, burnt out in their cars and tyrannized by billboards.
One of the most significant things about Ferlinghetti is that his trade is as much images as words. The imagery created in his poetry seems more than just a result of verbal description, it seems to be an entity in itself. He paints wild, languishing scenes of scorched beaches, failed love, and Chagall entering his own painting. Another form of visual interaction is the spacing of lines within the poems – each is at a different margin than the one before, adding additional energy to the verse. Almost as prominent as Ferlinghetti’s love of imagery is his love of allusion. He references everything from Hamlet to Alice In Wonderland to the Gettysburg Address.
Perhaps the most unique feature of Coney Island is a section devoted to poems written specifically for jazz accompaniment. Written in a more straightforward style than the rest of the collection, these poems start simply and quickly become multilayered with their many allusions. Like the improvisational nature of jazz, they are written in a stream-of-consciousness style.
A Coney Island of the Mind is a work that is artistically, culturally, and socially significant.
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