Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Visits from Friends, Wall Street Occupied

A friend called from London this weekend and seemed disappointed that I hadn’t been posting anything on this blog.  I’ll be self-indulgent and blame the time-consuming process of buying and then furnishing a condo in Rhode Island, near Westerly.  Moving, unpacking, and arranging are taxing enterprises: where to put the sofa, and which shelf for which books, all of that.  Meanwhile, I’ve had visits from several poets—Wendy Battin from Mystic, Benjamin Grossberg from Hartford, Chard de Niord down from Providence, Jason Roush from Boston, Peter Covino from Kingstown, where he has just been tenured at URI, and Doretta Wildes from Middletown.  (Actually Doretta is doing more fiction nowadays, her first novel Rinse Cycle out this past summer.)  Then Leslie McGrath, coming up from North Stonington for a daytrip we made to Providence—but there’s more about that further on.

I went down to New York in early October, and after I’d greeted my host Walter Brown, I went down to Liberty Plaza (or Zuccotti Square) to join in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration.  An energizing experience, to understate.  During the week following, the Occupy movement went global, with significant demonstrations in London, Paris, Hong Kong, and other cities across the USA.  Critics of the movement say it has no defined goals.  But what it has done is to alert the distressed majority to facts they may not have known before, for example, that 1% of the US population controls 40% of the nation’s wealth, or that a typical CEO’s salary is 900 times that of a typical worker in his company.  The electorate has begun to see that Congress is in the hands of the donors to election campaigns, a situation made worse by the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited and anonymous donations to campaigns.  The donors need not even be US citizens.  Electoral reform is urgent, otherwise Big Money will continue to make laws for us by remote control.  A brief description I wrote of Occupy Wall Street is found on the Occupy Writers site here:

I’d reserved a couple of tickets for the 9/11 Memorial on October 11, exactly one month after the inaugural ceremony.  Walter and I picked them up around 4:00, then walked some distance down to the intake site on Thames Street.  The path leading inside runs between walls of blue-painted plywood, with lots of twists and turns, your ticket inspected at several checkpoints, until you reach the security portal, identical to an air terminal security check.  Off come your belt and shoes, etc. Once you’re reassembled, there’s a bit more walking, and finally you are in the park, among young oak trees and low, granite benches.  We walked to the edge of the south pool, which duplicates the “footprint” of the destroyed building, a deep reservoir outlined by a smooth bronze rim inscribed with the names of those who died.  Inside that rim is a shelf filled with water that flows down all four sides in a considerable drop to the lower level. The scale is enormous.  If the pool qualifies as a fountain, it must be the world’s largest.  A much smaller square cistern is sunk in the center, and water proceeds to flow into it also.  Sinister detail: you can’t, from the outer rim, see the bottom of this cistern. There’s no upward jet here, the governing direction is down, flowing water vanishing earthward as into the underworld.  Did I say that the walls of the entire pool are black?  They are. You can’t see the ensemble without encroaching feelings of gloom.  Add to that the damp, overcast, misty day we had, and a somber experience it was, all told. 

We walked to the north pool, which was exactly like the south.  As I was reading the names I came across the name of a friend’s sister, whom I knew had died on the fateful day.  A strange moment, when everything seemed to go very quiet. I wondered how inevitable it was to find that name, among so many—Anglo, Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Arab, Latino.  Some of the names had little flags stuck in the inscribed letters, others had roses.  It’s a wrenching experience to see those because it’s clear that family and friends had left them as some sort of apotropaic gesture made against finality.

The museum is still under construction as well as two high-rise office buildings, the first of which will, once again, be taller than the Empire State. You might question the wisdom of that Babelian plan, though extraordinary construction precautions have been taken to countervail any attack and demolition.  I agreed with Walter that the new buildings looked undistinguished, as architecture.  Of course I’ll return when construction is complete for another look.  If it seems I have an unusual interest in the 9/11 site, maybe this poem written several months after the calamity will make that interest understandable:

From there Walter (the person named as “W” in the poem) walked to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration and mingled in the crowd for a while.  One group of Jewish demonstrators held up a sign saying that the Sukkot holiday required the faithful to live in temporary shelters for several days, and that in their estimation staying in Zuccotto Square was a way to enact the ritual of the holiday.  This was not the only pleasing sign held up.  Creative slogans were to be everywhere, and the human composition was varied as to age and ethnicity. History in the making.

In the days after, I had lunch with Grace Schulman and saw with her the exhibition of Indian paintings from the Mugal period at the Metropolitan. I also spent an hour at the offices of The Hudson Review with Paula Deitz, who regrettably couldn’t come with me to see the exhibition of Stieglitz’s art collection (also at the Met.)  Add to these events several long walks through various neighborhoods of the city, and the visit can only be called full and stimulating, with plenty of matter for reflection.

I mentioned that poet Leslie McGrath had driven up the following week to see my new place and then to continue on to Providence. Not for shopping or entertainment, but to take part in Occupy Providence and to join the poet Doug Anderson, whom I knew through Facebook but had never met in person.  We had an enlivening couple of hours together, but suppose I refer you to the description Leslie wrote about our day for the Best American Poetry blog. She also asked Doug and me to add a few words, which we did.  Here is the link:

There is more that could be said, but for a blog post this one is moving toward epic length, so I will just conclude with a “To Be Continued.” 

1 comment:

  1. A free event is happening in NYC and we would love it if you could give this event some coverage on your blog.

    Time Out New York has this to say about Darkling: “Opera snobs and novices alike won’t regret wandering downtown.” See and hear it for yourself on November 22 at Drom in New York City for the CD Release party. RSVP for the concert here:

    About Darkling

    American Opera Projects (AOP) explores the outer edges of the operatic form with Darkling, an experimental opera- theatre work with original music composed by Stefan Weisman and libretto by Anna Rabinowitz.

    Spanning the decades from the 1930’s to the post-World War period, Darkling is a remarkable story – both poignant and humorous – of love, loss, calamity and hope. Past and present blur, characters are swept along by the great forces of history and lives are bowed and buffeted in this uniquely moving and captivating work. "Brave and sensitive" (The New York Times), Darkling uses opera, avant-garde theatre, vaudeville and cutting edge technology to create “an unlikely collaboration of Wagner, Sally Bowles and Steven Spielberg" (Time Out/New York). This dramatic tour-de-force views history not from a grand geo-political perspective but from the insightful, intimate outlook of a poet whose ordinary Polish-Jewish family is unexpectedly affected by extraordinary events of the Holocaust.

    Stefan Weisman is a composer living in New York City. His music in Darkling was described by Anthony Tommasini (The New York Times) as "personal, moody and skillfully wrought." His one-act opera Fade, commissioned by the British opera company Second Movement, premiered in London in 2008 and also had successful productions in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Brooklyn. His commissioned work for the Bang on a Can All Stars was mentioned in the New York Times’ retrospective of 2007’s best new music. Upcoming projects include a new chamber work for eighth blackbird, and a multimedia family opera, The Scarlet Ibis, which is being developed by the HERE Arts Center and American Opera Projects. For more information, visit his website:
    Anna Rabinowitz

    Anna Rabinowitz Anna Rabinowitz's fourth volume of poetry, Present Tense, published by Omnidawn, was named one of the best poetry books of 2010 by The Huffington Post. Her previous volume of poetry is The Wanton Sublime: A Florilegium of Whethers and Wonders, published by Tupelo Press, 2006. At present, she is working on a monodrama based on The Wanton Sublime. American Opera Projects (AOP) has commissioned her to write the libretto and Tarik O’Regan, a Grammy-nominated British composer, to write the music. Her book-length acrostic poem, Darkling: A Poem, (Tupelo Press, 2001) was transformed into an experimental, multi-media opera theater work by AOP. It had its world premiere and ran for three weeks off-Broadway in 2006 and was performed in a concert version in Berlin and Poland in 2007. Center City Opera of Philadelphia performed a concert version at the Philly Fringe Festival in 2009. A translation of the original text into German will be brought out by Luxbooks, Weisbaden, Germany, in spring 2010. Rabinowitz’s books also include At the Site of Inside Out, (University of Massachusetts Press), which won the Juniper Prize. Other awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and nominations for a Pushcart Prize and ForeWord Magazine’s Best Poetry Book of the Year for Darkling. Rabinowitz is Editor Emeritus of American Letters & Commentary, a vice-president of the Poetry Society of America, and a member of the Board of Directors of AOP. For more information, visit