27 January 2013

East Village Poetry Walk: Part One

Last Thursday I took the #1 Downtown from my upper west hotel, then transferred to the L Train to the Lower East Side.  I discovered the East Village Poetry Walk website months ago and have wanted to take this walk ever since. Just before leaving Toronto for my impromptu trip, I downloaded the Jim Jarmusch narrated tour onto my mp3 player. It's entitled, Passing Stranger, after a Walt Whitman poem To A Stranger:
"Passing stranger, you do not know how longingly I look upon you..."
How wonderful is that?

It was a beautiful day and I was excited but relaxed. I felt immediately at home in this neighbourhood. Unlike so many other parts of New York. one feels one can breathe here.

The walk begins at these gates to the St Mark's Church in the Bowery. This church is not only a place of worship, and Manhatten's second oldest building. It's also a hub for theatre, dance and poetry. That colourful sign points the way to the various offices. In the vestibule while listening to the narrated history, I collected the post cards of some local dance and theatre companies.

On the church courtyard wall are these plaques, dedicating trees to some of the poets who have been part of the scene here. Embiggen to read more easily. Take note of the names.

The courtyard and its trees from the sidewalk. After one leaves the church, the actual walking begins. The tour guides you slowly along, pointing out the homes and haunts of poets. While you stroll, you hear histories. interviews and poem readings. It's rather sublime.

One sits in awe, and awe is not too strong a word, on steps across from 437 East 12th, the apartment building  where Alan Ginsberg lived the longest in this neighbourhood.  "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing..." plays in his voice. Apparently he used to throw down the key encased in a sock, to visiting friends from that 4th floor center window.

Frank O'Hara lived here...

...W.H. Auden here...

...and you know that photo of Jack Kerouac smoking on the fire escape? Yup. taken here, in the back of an earlier apartment of Ginsberg's on East 7th. Kerouac wrote the better part of The Subterraneans while here in 1953.

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