Poetry Sunday: ‘The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics,’ by Joan Gelfand


The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics

………………………………..“All that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” Edgar Allen Poe

I: The dream within the dream within the dream

What is it, Ferlinghetti,
Taking star turns in my dreams?
Strolling in front of cars
Haunting alleyways, stairways,
Bars? Beating moth like flitting through
San Francisco’s sex fraught avenues? In North Beach
Where XXX marks art and
Nasty commerce collide, intersect Columbus,
Telegraph Hill, Jack Kerouac Way.
You are fog whispering in from the sea
On another sunny day.

“There’s a breathless hush on the freeway tonight,
Beyond the ledges of concrete/Restaurants fall into dreams
With candlelight couples/Lost Alexandria still burns.”

Ferlinghetti’s words sink, weighted
On the business end of an invisible fishing line,
Dredging last nights’ dream to surface, gasping for air
Shivering like some catfish
Eyes bulging, wet lake water dripping off its scales.
The knife of memory slices open
That dream, finds me on haunted streets,
Instructing small boy:

“You gotta go to the Ferlinghetti school. It’s totally rad
and completely cool.”


II:  Ferlinghetti Makes an Appearance

Phantom audience shouts:  “Higher! Higher!”
Egg the poets on – after all, they’re not on the wire.
Higher? We spin the memory wheel until there’s my father
Strolling through his own Coney Island
And there he is again winning a goldfish
The clerk hands it over fish circling in plastic bag
Big Daddy pretends
It’s all for the kids.
He needed to win like that fish needed water.


III: The Poet Reconsiders

Is the skill of life just keeping on
All the gears oiled, the doors open?
Even if the past keeps drowning and the knifed open
Dream fish still swims around?

In dream theater Ferlinghetti arrives.
Was it the Regal, the Royal or the Metreon?
I rise to make room for he who started everything
Got the wheel of poetry turning, broke
Open language, letters. Vaporized
While he drifts
Haunting my dreams.


[Author’s Note: Stanza 2, lines 12-14 are after “There’s a breathless hush on the freeway tonight/…. lost Alexandria still burns” from “Wild Dreams of a New Beginning” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.]

Joan Gelfand_12-18-15      Joan Gelfand book vover_The Long Blue Room_11-30-15

First published in Poets 11: 21. Reprinted with permission of the press from The Long Blue Room (Benicia Literary Arts Press 2014) which can be ordered at Amazon.

“The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics” has been made into a film poem launched in December 2015 and recently accepted into the 4th Annual International Poetry Video Festival in Athens, Greece. View the film here.


Notes on “The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

I met Joan Gelfand, literally, through reading her work. Her chapbook was one of the first contemporary books of poetry I laid hands or eyes on when I returned to poetry in 2006 after a bone-dry hiatus that had lasted 25 years. Seeking Center was crucial for me; it validated the subjects I was writing about (some might call them “Women’s Issues”) and more importantly, validated the voice of a poet who was not only a woman but one close to my own age. Before reading it, I had not considered the idea that I might one day author a book of poems. Gelfand and I met in person a few years later when we happened to be sitting next to each other at a literary salon that sometimes gathers in a local restaurant. I had the great pleasure of reading with her in Mendocino after my own first book came out in 2008, and since then we’ve shared many poems, books, and ideas.

I’ll provide a few notes about Lawrence Ferlinghetti below, but I first want to say that one reason I chose this poem is that Gelfand really is a poet in mold of Ferlinghetti, using modern and jazz idiom in a poetics that is, as seen here, is welcoming and large and speaks to and of the people. An active reader in the Bay Area’s rich and busy literary scene, Gelfand is also an enthusiastic supporter of the work of other poets and understands what it means to build and nurture a poetic community. Not only that, she keeps up with the times, working in a variety of media (poems accompanied by music at readings, and cds, newspapers, zines, online and print journals), of which today’s poem is a recent example. I hope you’ll read the poem to yourself before you watch the film to enjoy its sounds and rollicking ride and to see why it’s been widely anthologized and is a perennial favorite at Gelfand’s readings. Take a minute to think about the idea of a “film poem” and what makes it a wholly different genre from a video of a poetry reading. The poem film is a new art form, and in its innovation and passion this one pays wonderful homage to the man whose work inspired Gelfand’s poem.

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