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Literary Tours: Poets House, New York City

13 Comments

Poets House Lucille Clifton

Getting to Poets House, 10 River Terrace

It’s a straight shot down the West Side Highway, with views of the Hudson River getting ever more tempting as you drive south. New York City, to your left, competes for your attention with its neon and flash.

But you are on your way to the tip of Manhattan—to Poets House: a place of reclamation, of your past and of your future. Of your past, because if you remember the fall of the World Trade Center and the apocalyptic meltdown of glass and stone by the sea—then it will mean something to you, that Poets House is literally built on the fragments of that broken past. The ground beneath it is Tower remains, built upon, reclaimed (the way poems themselves build on the pieces of our lives, refashioning, reclaiming).

Poets House Scott Edward Anderson


If you have traveled, like I have, on this particular night when poet Scott Edward Anderson reads from his new collection Fallow Field, you will be touched extra deeply by the poem he wrote for two friends who have lived long (there they are, spright and smiling in the front row!)—and who reclaim for pleasure along the sand…



Gleanings

      Ocean Grove, NJ

Look at the two of them, bent
to the early morning tide.
Culling glass from the gritty surf.
Strange and wonderful alchemists,
who search for the elusive blue
of medicine bottles, caressing
emerald imitators from “Old Latrobe,”
or amber sea urchins
left there like whelks at low tide.

They discard broken bits of crockery,
forsaken jetsam of the sands.
Beach glass is opaque
with a false clarity:
Polished by sand and sea,
the edges don’t cut
like our lives, lived elsewhere,
out beyond the last sandbar,
where plate tectonics rule the waves.

—Scott Edward Anderson

Poets House Staircase

Finding Yourself at Poets House

Ah, but you might reclaim your future at Poets House too. And that is my way of saying I believe in the generative power of poetry. It is entirely possible that the course of your life could be positively altered by walking through these beautiful glass doors and up the silver and golden staircase, into the 50,000-volume poetry library built by donations from poets, translators and publishers across the country.

Panoramic views of the historic Hudson River, with Angelou or Clifton working their words into your soul—this could change everything. Or, you might encounter Tony Hoagland in person. A man like that can tip a life on its head. That life could be yours.

Art on the walls, funky stuffed animals in the children’s room, readings, talks, workshops—even a sleepover amidst the stacks (for members only)—all have the power to delight, inspire, and change.

Poets House Exhibits

Poets House Children's Room

Poets House Adrienne Rich

Poets House Night River View

This night, my first at Poets House, I watch the warmth of Executive Director Lee Briccetti as she welcomes the featured poet, and I realize there is relationship at work here—not just words, but rather words that must have been shared in context over years. Anderson stands at the lectern, comfortable and happy. His poems, now spoken, become lyric connectors that will (I can see it) build more relationships, piece by delicate piece…

Naming

The way a name lingers in the snow
when traced by hand.
The way angels are made in snow,
all body down,
arms moving from side to ear to side to ear—
a whisper, a pause; slight, melting hesitation—

The pause in the hand as it moves
over a name carved in black granite.
The Chuck, Chuck, Chuck,
of great-tailed grackles
at southern coastal marshes,
or the way magpies repeat,
Meg, Meg, Meg

The way the rib cage of a whale
resembles the architecture of I. M. Pei.
The way two names on a page
separated by thousands of lines,
pages, bookshelves, miles, can be connected.
The way wind hums through cord grass;
rain on bluestem, on mesquite—

The sandpiper’s tremble
as it skitters over tidal mudflats,
tracking names in the wet silt,
silt that has been building
since Foreman lost to Ali,
since Troy fell—building until
we forget names altogether—

The way children, who know only
syllables endlessly repeated,
connect one moment to the next
humming, humming, humming—
The way magpies connect branches
into thickets for their nesting—

Curve of thumb caressing
the letters of a loved one’s name
on the printed page, connecting
each letter with a trace of oil
from fingerprint to fingerprint,
again and again and again—

—Scott Edward Anderson

Poets House Scott Anderson and Child

Photos and post by L.L. Barkat, author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing (twice named a Best Book of 2011)

***

Vist Poets House by subway or bus. If you drive into New York City from the north, simply turn right off the West Side Highway, onto Murray Street (after Chambers, after Warren). Parking garages are on Murray and North End Avenue. Come out of the garage and walk straight towards the river. Poets House is on your left on the corner of River Terrace and Murray. If you visit during the day and want to see the World Trade Center site, it is within walking distance (walk south on North End Avenue, turn left onto Vesey and continue until you reach the memorial).

Poets House Subway and Bus Directions

Poets House
10 River Terrace
New York, NY 10282
(212) 431-7920

Library Hours:
Tuesday-Friday: 11 am -7 pm
Saturday: 11 am -6 pm

All programs $10, $7 for students and seniors. Free to members.

Literary Tours

Join us for more Literary Tours, from Washington Irving’s House to Edith Wharton’s Estate and more!

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. This is wonderful! I didn’t know such a place existed. And I think both the poems you posted here have something for me. Thank you.

  2. How wonderful for Scott to be able to do a reading at Poets House, which has a library to be envied.

    I’m hoping to get up to NYC before the Clifton exhibit closes. I also want to see the Doty exhibit there.

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      I think I missed a few things, since I was focusing on the reading and meeting the very warm group that came to hear Scott. Maybe we’ll need you to write about that after you go! :)

  3. Kathryn Neel says:

    Did a reading there several years ago with a group of poets. We had great fun and the place is amazing. One of my beloved places in NYC.

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      I could see why it would be beloved. I wish I’d been there in the daytime, to walk by the river. You’ve done that, I’m thinking? :)

      Oh! Well, I am sorry I missed you reading there. :)

  4. nance.mdr says:

    Would love to visit this wonderful house.

  5. Lori says:

    Wow, I just feel like I went into another dimension with this post….what a place! Wish I could go there, I felt the energy from here in my chair.

  6. Thank you, Laura, for this lovely tribute to Poets House and for including my poems. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. SEA

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      You’re welcome, Scott. I was struck by how your poems really connected to the place itself (or, as it goes, perhaps my experience of the place). That made me happy :)


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