A Coney Island of the Mind

poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, © 1958 – New Directions, 1958, trade paper

April is National Poetry Month, so naturally I decided I should read some poetry. For some reason I’d had a line or two from a Ferlinghetti poem in my mind for a few days, so I went looking, on my poetry shelves, for the book it was in, this book. No luck. I know I had it… wait a minute, that was the book that got loaned and never returned. Darn.

I could find, and did, the particular poem I wanted to read on the internet, but I wanted the book not a poem on the screen (I suppose if you’re under a Certain Age you wouldn’t understand that). The book is out of print – poetry volumes, except the biggest names, don’t stay in print long. No problem though, as used copies are easy to find on the web.  The copy arrived, I read it, savoring the poems and the memories of reading them over the years, several of these poems are like old friends.

So it’s April, read some poetry. This might be a pretty good place to start, depending on your tastes in poetry. Works for me. Here’s the poem I went looking for in the first place, one of Ferlinghetti’s best known, and an especial favorite of mine.

“Dog,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn’t hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do
And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory
and past Coit’s Tower
and past Congressman Doyle of the Unamerican Committee
He’s afraid of Coit’s Tower
but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
democratic dog
engaged in real
free enterprise
with something to say
about ontology
something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at street corners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master’s Voice
and looking
like a living question mark
into the great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Personal Opinion, reading, Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Coney Island of the Mind

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    have to find out who Congressman Doyle was. Oh, the Internet–always calling me.

  2. I’m going to post a poetry-related review tomorrow, Rick. I know the feeling of wanting a missing book really, really well!

  3. Scott Cupp says:

    Great to see this poem reprinted here. one of my favorites.

  4. Richard says:

    Patti – perhaps a member of the House Committee on Un-American Affairs, chaired by McCarthy?

    George – I’m sure you do!!

  5. Richard says:

    Scott – glad I could brighten your day.

  6. Carl V. says:

    I’m so glad you posted that, I’ve been curious about his work since you mentioned him the other day. Brilliant poem. If the rest of the book is anything like that I definitely need to track down a copy.

    And, after a quick trip to the library website I see that they don’t have this book but I did place on hold another one volume book compiling two previous books of poetry and a DVD of a live performance featuring 24 poets including Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’ll let you know how it is.

    In the meantime I am continuing my foray into poetry for National Poetry Month with a book by Catheryne Valente and I should be getting a library copy soon of a book of works by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I saw one of her books in the bookstore and read a bit and was intrigued.

  7. Richard says:

    You’ve had a chance to read one of my favorites now, Carl. This slim volume of poems is worth finding and keeping by the bedside for before-sleep reading.

  8. Carl V. says:

    I got an email that the video is waiting for me at the library for pick up. It will be interesting to see which poem(s) he reads on it.

  9. Richard says:

    Carl, I’ll be interested to hear how that turns out.

  10. Frank says:

    Always nice to see a poem by Ferlinghetti. Others from that strange time are Gregory Corso and Allen Gisbereg, alas, deceased. Less well-known, but from that crowd, is Gary Snyder, from up here in the Northwestwho went Zenward rather than following Kerouac. Tonight I intend to read some John Betjeman and maybe some Seamus Heaney, the former quite approachable and the latter, not so easily.

  11. Richard says:

    I’m about halfway through a rereading of HOWL, which is rough going in parts, and It doesn’t seem to me to stand up very well after all these years. I guess angst has a statute of limitations.

    Next on the poetry list is Ghosts of A Chance by John Harvey.

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