‘Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West’ a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

In August poet, author, activist, playwright and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti released ‘Writing Across the Landscape’, a record of five decades of travel drawn from his journals. This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West’ from a 1994 collection and considers life after work.

“Ferlinghetti felt strongly that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals. His career has been marked by its constant challenge of the status quo; his poetry engages readers, defies popular political movements, and reflects the influence of American idiom and modern jazz.”

In a 1993 interview with William H. Honan, Mr. Ferlinghetti shared his observations on the evolution of the American poet.

“Today’s young poets, he continued, tend to come from working-class families and are not college graduates. That’s a change from the Beat poets, many of whom met at Columbia University in the 1950’s, and from Mr. Ferlinghetti, who earned a Ph.D. in modern poetry at the Sorbonne.

“It doesn’t require a great intellect to write poetry,” he said. “Great sensory perception is more important. Also, bright young people today are just as interested in film and video. I would be, too, if I were starting out. The single, unaccompanied voice can’t compete with those images.” ‘Bohemian,’ Not ‘Beat’.”

Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons

   walking their dogs

   in Central Park West

   (or their cats on leashes—

   the cats themselves old highwire artists)

The ballerinas

   leap and pirouette

   through Columbus Circle

   while winos on park benches

   (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)

   hear the taxis trumpet together

   horsemen of the apocalypse

   in the dusk of the gods

It is the final witching hour

   when swains are full of swan songs

   And all return through the dark dusk

   to their bright cells

   in glass highrises

   or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes

   in the Russian Tea Room

   or climb four flight to back rooms

   in Westside brownstones

   where faded playbill photos

   fall peeling from their frames

   like last year’s autumn leaves

Lawrence Ferlinghetti   ‘These Are My Rivers’ 1994

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