Friday, September 16, 2011

Poetry Friday: In Love with New York City

Can't you just hear Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue starting ....the famous upward climb of the clarinet....?

I'm a New-York-City-O-Phile. I love the city for all kinds of reasons, but also I also love it irrationally. I love what's energetic and creative about it, but I also love what's messy and sorrowful about it. Saying I love New York City feels a little like saying I love people, which I do. Well, on bad days, I get cranky and complain about politicians and greedy CEO's and and and.... But in general, I do like people quite a bit. And New York City has plenty of them.

New York City. It's not Wordsworth's Lake District, that's for sure. You don't really wander lonely as a cloud in the streets of Manhattan, though sometimes you're lonely as a person in the middle of millions of other people. The city is all about people, and that came through clear as a blue September sky last Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. All the people, all their stories of that day - I have to admit, it hurt, especially backgrounded by Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence at the memorial.  But instead of hurting, instead of despairing, I'm going to offer up Allen Ginsberg's amazing poem, "My Sad Self," for Poetry Friday. Bad title, I know, but a good poem. Ginsberg wrote it in 1958 and dedicated it to Frank O'Hara, another poet who loved New York City. 

My Sad Self

  by Allen Ginsberg

              To Frank O’Hara
Sometimes when my eyes are red
I go up on top of the RCA Building
          and gaze at my world, Manhattan—
                     my buildings, streets I’ve done feats in,
                           lofts, beds, coldwater flats
—on Fifth Ave below which I also bear in mind,
          its ant cars, little yellow taxis, men
               walking the size of specks of wool—
   Panorama of the bridges, sunrise over Brooklyn machine,
          sun go down over New Jersey where I was born
             & Paterson where I played with ants—
   my later loves on 15th Street,
          my greater loves of Lower East Side,
             my once fabulous amours in the Bronx   
   paths crossing in these hidden streets,
      my history summed up, my absences   
             and ecstasies in Harlem—
      —sun shining down on all I own
       in one eyeblink to the horizon
               in my last eternity—
                                     matter is water.

      I take the elevator and go
             down, pondering,
and walk on the pavements staring into all man’s
                                           plateglass, faces,
             questioning after who loves,
      and stop, bemused
             in front of an automobile shopwindow
      standing lost in calm thought,
             traffic moving up & down 5th Avenue blocks behind me   
                      waiting for a moment when ...

Time to go home & cook supper & listen to
                      the romantic war news on the radio   
                                     ... all movement stops
& I walk in the timeless sadness of existence,   
      tenderness flowing thru the buildings,
             my fingertips touching reality’s face,
      my own face streaked with tears in the mirror   
             of some window—at dusk—
                                     where I have no desire—
      for bonbons—or to own the dresses or Japanese   
                      lampshades of intellection—

Confused by the spectacle around me,
          Man struggling up the street
                     with packages, newspapers,
                                           ties, beautiful suits   
                     toward his desire
          Man, woman, streaming over the pavements   
                     red lights clocking hurried watches &   
                            movements at the curb—

And all these streets leading
          so crosswise, honking, lengthily,
                            by avenues
          stalked by high buildings or crusted into slums
                            thru such halting traffic
                                           screaming cars and engines   
so painfully to this
          countryside, this graveyard
                     this stillness
                                           on deathbed or mountain   
          once seen
                            never regained or desired
                                           in the mind to come
where all Manhattan that I’ve seen must disappear.

Ginsberg Young

Ginsberg Old
The poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater over at The Poem Farm. Head over there to see what other people have posted.


  1. Yes, I hear Gershwin looking at that photograph! I've only been to New York City once, and it definitely casts a spell. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this poem - love the line, "one eyeblink to the horizon." I also thought Paul Simon's song during the ceremonies Sunday was especially poignant.

  2. Oh wow, Julie, this made me sigh out loud. I have visited the US twice now and have traveled a little bit (California, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Missouri, and a few more states I cant recall now - and will be going to New Orleans this November) - sadly, I have not visited New York yet. I've heard so many friends share with me the city's energy and vibrance and dynamism. Hopefully we can visit summer next year. Your sharing of the poem here has solidified my desire to visit Newyorknewyork! :)

  3. you know what i wish? i wish we had more politicians who would be willing to read poetry in pubic, to use their skills at oratory and their audience in a non-political setting to deliver something else for people to consider.

    i would have loved for someone who wasn't a poet or an entertainer to have read this poem to new yorkers this past weekend.

    thanks for the shot of ginsberg.

  4. Thanks so much for this, Julie. I share your love for and fascination with NYC. Hadn't seen this Ginsberg poem before. It's wonderful. Cool photos of the young and old G, too!

  5. I'm not a Ginsberg fan, but what a powerful mood here. Love esp those several lines ending with matter is water.

    NYC--only been there three times, but hope to return many more times. It's a world!

  6. Julie, thanks for sharing this poem.I find the ending especially haunting given what Manhattan has endured.

  7. I lived in NYC for one year, Julie, and this poem and post makes me homesick for that year, for all of its life and the men selling roses in the street and the smells and well, all of it. Time for a visit, methinks.

  8. When I moved to NYC to get my teaching degree at Bank Street, it felt like I had stepped through the wardrobe into a mythical place: "There's where Claudia and Jamie scooped coins out of the fountain!" "This is the street where Harriet hid in a dumbwaiter!" "This is the neighborhood where Mitch and Amy played stickball!" Five years was long enough for me to have my own indelible Manhattan experience, and though all was changed by then from what it was in Ginsberg's 1958, it was exactly the same.

    I don't think I could live there again--I found it exhausting, I realized afterwards--but to visit is always a cellular-level thrill. I appreciate this other red-eyed view. Thanks. My word verif is, curiously, "criesist."

  9. I love the way the poem wanders (both down the page and through the city. And I just find myself staring at the two pictures and imagining all the LIFE that took place between them.