05 March 2021

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a personal inspiration

Freshman year at Loyola University in 1969, I took Photography 101 from a prof who was into Beat Generation writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Carr, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others). For our final grade he asked us to do a photo essay of a poem. Any poem. He pointed to the books in his office and told us to look through them. As other students picked up Ginsberg and Patchen and Para and Rexworth, I found the collection A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, thumbed through it and the title of poem #22 on page 37 stopped me – Johnny Nolan has a patch on his ass.

I was juiced and put together a dynamite photo essay, illustrating Ferlinghetti's images:

  • "kids chase him" – easy, I went to City Park and photographed kids running after each other.
  • "screendoor summers" – a photo of an open screen door with the sun in the sky above.
  • "through the back streets" – illustrated by a photo of Antoine Alley at night (Antoine Alley runs along the downtown side of Saint Louis Cathedral).
  • "a man laments upon a violin" – visited several jazz halls until I found a man playing a violin.
  • "a doorstep baby cries" – wasn't hard, we had a few babies in the family.
  • "a ball bounced down stairs" – I used a tennis ball and a tall staircase at Loyola's Marquette Hall.

The hardest step was how to illustrate Johnny Nolan with a patch on his ass. Never found Johnny Nolan or a lookalike but I found pair of blue jeans with a patch on the butt at a thrift store and hung them from an old clothes line.

Man, I was proud of my essay. Nice, sharp black-and-white images.

Bought a copy of A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND and other books by Ferlinghetti and have read them so many times over the years. His poems inspired me, still do. The economy of words, the precise images.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged our city, I lost most of my photos and negatives, including my photo essay of Johnny Nolan has a patch on his ass.

Recently, I read the poem to someone who have never read it and got teary eyed. Comes from being an old man. Comes from realizing how many things you loose in life.

"Johnn Nolan has a patch on his ass

kids chase him

thru screendoor summers ..."

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on February, 22, 2021. He was 101 years old.



  1. Nice! Somewhere there is a happy college teacher - how rarely do assignments have such a long afterlife.

  2. Even though you didn't know Ferlinghetti personally, it's clear you KNEW him. He touched your life in a beautifully meaningful way. I'm sorry for your loss.

  3. Ferlinghetti was a tremendous influence. I remember reading a book of his poetry - a bit stoned - in a crashpad in 1970 San Francisco. It opened my eyes to how words could be used and danced with.

  4. It sounds like a terrific class. Sorry you lost your photo album. Things like that turn up in used bookstores from time to time. A friend whose former roommate stole some books from him, found them for sale in a used bookstore.

    I probably would have chosen Allen Ginsberg because I met him at a party in 1970 or thereabouts.

  5. I love hearing about poetry sticking for so long. For me, from the Beats, it's Ginsberg's "ah, Carl, while you are not safe, I am not safe," from "Howl." Amazed to hear Ferlinghetti was still alive until two weeks ago and that he lived to 101. Wow.

  6. I can attest to losing valuable and sentimental possessions during hurricanes. The weatherman's a soulless monster.

    And I could have been Johnny Nolan. My mother reinforced everything with iron-on patches. I tried to convince her if she ironed patches inside the knees of jeans, they'd be a little less obvious. But, nahhhh.

  7. Interesting!! I'd not heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but I love the title of his book of poems. I plan to buy and read it.

    Thanks, O'Neil.

  8. I loved that book and especially that poem. My brother introduced me to Coney Island of the Mind while I was in high school. He ended up in Haight Ashbury in 69-70s and got to know a lot of beat authors. Wish he was still here.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>