Two poems in memory of Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

Image: detail from cover of San Francisco Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights Foundation, 2003)

John Gohorry



Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations.
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti


What happens to time
on the mind’s Coney Island?
It’s sixty years since the first trip
I hitched in your boxcar
from the Acol Road rented room
where Luke and I played our EP
of Logue and the Kinsey Quartet
riffing versions of Pablo Neruda
to the twenty-nine shadows
of Brooklyn amusement rides
your streetlight imagination
cast through uncurtained windows
on our delighted souls.

O it was a spring
of fur leaves and cobalt flowers
and my apprentice heart beat faster
than in our fierce games of Chaucerball
when your words rose from the page
with their magic to haunt us,
and I heard them dance wild and free
from the chains of a left margin.

You wrote about walking the wire
of the circus tent, where Beauty,
all sparkles, shone in the spotlight
ready to leap; twenty-nine times
(at least twenty-nine times)
you’d caught her and held her fast.
Swabbing Mme Lagnado’s floors
for six shillings an hour
I dreamed of your Coney Island.
Balayez! Balayez! she would cry
as I reeled on her Carousel
five minutes past going time.

Cut sixty years, to your passing
four days ago, aged more than 100.
I’ve long since left Acol Road.
The lights in my city throw shadows
on pavements, front gardens,
the white sheet of this page.
The shadows I cast are fewer
and scarcely as haunting as yours
but today I’m on Brighton Beach
with J. Alfred Prufrock’s ghost.
Barefoot in flannel trousers
we’re here to bear witness,
spit peach stones onto the sand
and watch the black freighter
crewed by the thronging spirits
your courage gave substance to
glide by en route to posterity.
The Liebestod music wells up
and the white-and-blue awnings
of windbreak and snack booth
smack their struts in applause.
At the masthead, your light gleams.


26 February 2021


Luke Spencer

    Fourth Person Singular


- a tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti


The thought of checking out just late enough
to see Trump chucked out of the White House
must have gladdened your final year.
Your question, Who stole America?
never needed asking more than now
when bigotry’s staged a massive comeback
and poetry’s missed too many dates with truth.
You never had much truck with wiggy nihilism
nor those whose only activism was to
flush a protesting toilet and run.
Edgar Hoover’s verdict on you (a beatnik
rabble-rouser who may also be a mental case)
was the best calling card you could have wanted.
Prévert and Rexroth helped you see how rage
could be more lethal served with laughter;
but rage it always was, as when your words cut clear
across a packed town hall in 1963 to me,
your rollneck sweater and sober suit
declaring and down-playing how the many might
speak in a single, singular voice, to say
Only the dead are disengaged.


John Gohorry and Luke Spencer

About John Gohorry and Luke Spencer

JOHN GOHORRY was born Donald Smith in Coventry in 1943. He has published fourteen collections of poetry, most recently 'A Coventry Crucible' (Lapwing, 2021), a joint venture with John Lane celebrating Coventry’s role as UK City of Culture 2021. In the past two years he has published 'Squeak, Budgie!' (Smokestack, 2019), twenty-four satires against Brexit and Britain’s drift towards xenophobic nationalism, 'The Stock Exchange of Ideas' (Arenig, 2019) which among much else proposes the setting up of poetry playgrounds ‘nationwide, free, and open to all’, and 'Exploring Psalmanazar' (Shoestring 2020), fifty-two poems engaging with the eponymous eighteenth century forger.                       LUKE SPENCER is a retired Senior Fellow of the University of Leeds where he taught British and American literature for over 30 years. His publications include critical studies of writers such as John Berryman, Adrienne Rich, EL Doctorow, Tony Harrison and EP Thompson.