August 24, 2018KR BlogBlogEnthusiamsLiterature

A Coney Island of the Mind

I visited one of my favorite places recently, that strange and wonderful land at the southern tip of Brooklyn called Coney Island. Aside from inspiring one of my favorite poetry collections, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind (in which he explores the complexity of his own inner isle), throughout its history Coney has boasted a bizarre yet fascinating combination of cultural diversity and sensational smut.

From 1885 through 1896, the hotel-cum-brothel, the Coney Island Elephant, was the first thing New York newcomers would see as they sailed in. What would they find when they landed? An encyclopedic array of vice: prostitution, gambling, freak shows, and in modern times, the worst crime of all–buying those over-priced piña coladas on the boardwalk.

Originally called Narrioch, or land without shadows, by its Native American locals, and later Conyne Eylandt by Dutch Coneyites, the Island was once the site of a booming resort and amusement park. It reached its peak in the mid-twentieth century and started to decline after World War II, becoming by the twenty-first century the endearing mess I’ve come to love.

In A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti moves his reader through a geography of mental and written space. Even his title implies the creation through words of a socially important actual location (Coney Island) transported to the realms of the mind, or a psycho-spatial place that Ferlinghetti creates though his poetry. Coney Island performs a similar service. A thrilling combination of life forms, this island is one of the few places in New York where you’ll see a yuppie and a Hells Angel crunched together on the Cyclone, raising their hands and screaming together as they go over the first drop.