Poets in New York

7 Sep

So I may have suggested a bit of a tough cookie for the next poetry club: Federico Garcia Lorca’s Poet in New York is, on first reading, quite difficult and quite bleak. I first came across it whilst I was investigating books to read for a trip to New York earlier this year. I thought I’d immerse myself in the metropolis of Jonathan Letham, Paul Auster, Jack Kerouac and the like, although in the end, I just ended up rereading the supremely long and epic Invisible Man by Raplh Ellison, one of my favourite books of all time. But in my search, I came across Poet in New York and thought it sounded interesting. The collection’s introduction warned of Lorca’s fascinating with death and ‘dark love’ and now that I’m reading it, I can see what they meant. Cats devouring frogs is one recurring image that I was stuck by. Lorca’s morbid outlook is miles apart from other poets’ musings on the city, such as Walt Whitman’s Manahatta and other urban enthusiasts who looked upon the hustle and bustle, the noise and the immensity of the city with rapture. The compartive uniqueness of Lorca’s perspective is interesting in itself, and reading bits about his life, as told by Leslie Stainton in Lorca: A Dream of Life, certainly provides a fascinating background to his work. However, I recently came across something that shed a whole new light on Poet in New York; a children’s book cum graphic novel called The Arrival by Australian artist Shaun Tan. This lyrical and stunningly illustrated story contains almost no dialogue from its characters. Instead the stories are told by beautiful drawings that together create a collective tale of an immigrant’s experiences and their first impressions of ‘the big city’. I urge you to have a look at this and read it along side Poet in New York; the alien landscape of the city as portrayed by Tan is highly reminiscent of the surrealist world that Lorca describes and the two complement one another wonderfully. And to finish, here’s some Walt Whitman:


I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane,
   unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and
   steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender,
   strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining
   islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters,
   the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the
   houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-
   brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses,
   the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing
   clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the
   river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d,
   beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the
   shops and shows,
A million people–manners free and superb–open voices–
   hospitality–the most courageous and friendly young
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!

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