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The pennycandystore beyond the El -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Thanks to Sonya Bhagat for introducing me to today's poem
(Poem #614) The pennycandystore beyond the El
 The pennycandystore beyond the El
 is where I first
                 fell in love
                             with unreality
 Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
 of that september afternoon
 A cat upon the counter moved among
                           the licorice sticks
                and tootsie rolls
        and Oh Boy Gum

 Outside the leaves were falling as they died

 A wind had blown away the sun

 A girl ran in
 Her hair was rainy
 Her breasts were breathless in the little room

 Outside the leaves were falling
                      and they cried
                                   Too soon!  too soon!
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Note: The El was the New York City '9th Avenue Elevated' railway line

Today's poem touches upon another of my favourite themes - the magic
unreality that childhood can imbue the world with. The pennycandystore (and
don't you just love the way it's runtogetherasoneword?) takes on the aspect
of an enchanted cave, a little enclave of magic, wonder and, of course,
candy offering a retreat from the grey September day.

The contrasting images are nicely drawn - the glowing jellybeans and the cat
atop the counter within, and without, the rain, the sunlessness, and the
'leaves falling as they died'. And as a distinct chord, there's the fact
that the half-light, the rainy autumnal setting has a magic all its own - a
slightly more personal reading of the poem, perhaps, but one borne out by
phrases like 'a wind had blown away the sun', and the girl whose hair was
'rainy'. It's mostly the connotations of the words - 'wet' is damp, sodden,
unattractive. 'Rainy' is little drops of water sparkling even in the
semi-gloom of the afternoon, complementing the image of the flushed,
'breathless' girl.

Of course, the symbolism in the last verse is a gloomy reminder that all
this is evanescent, that childhood passes too soon. But, as the girl running
into the candy store seems to proclaim, for the moment, it doesn't really
matter, does it?

Biography:

Levi Asher's 'Literary Kicks' site has an excellent biography and assessment
of Ferlinghetti. Quoting a bit I particularly liked

  Ferlinghetti is still active today as a poet and as the proprietor of City
  Lights. I hope I won't seem politically incorrect for saying this, but
  after immersing myself in the writings of the guilt-obsessed asexual Jack
  Kerouac, the ridiculously horny Allen Ginsberg and the just plain sordid
  William S. Burroughs ... it's nice to read a few poems by a guy who can
  get excited about a little penny candy store under the El or a pretty
  woman letting a stocking drop to the floor.
        -- http://www.litkicks.com/People/LawrenceFerlinghetti.html

I'd strongly encourage you to go read the full thing, and explore the rest
of the site while you're at it.

Links:

For a beautiful page on the El, complete with pictures, see
[broken link] http://www.nycsubway.org/irt/irt-els/9th-ave-el.html

Penny candy seems to be a dying tradition, albeint one being revived by
nostalgists. See http://lkwdpl.org/lore/lore148.htm for example.

Let me recommend once again the Literary Kicks site http://www.litkicks.com,
a vibrant paean to the Beat generation, and Asher's other project, a
self-styled 'web album' entitled 'Queensboro Ballads' which no lover of NYC
should miss, at http://www.levity.com/brooklyn/.

The first poem today's called to mind was Millay's 'The Unexplorer',
poem #49

Not far behind it was Heaney's 'Song', poem #61

And, on the New York front, 'Teasdale's Central Park at Dusk', poem #464

-martin

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