Poets of Our Time

And now for another excerpt from my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, restored window

St. Clement’s. Beauty under the grime. Muted mosaics flaring in sunlight. Chanting poets.

Rich wanted to ask Allen Ginsberg to read a section of The Odyssey at an anti-nuclear event he was planning for a Sunday at St. Clement’s on August 6th, “Hiroshima day.”

He asked me to go with him to Allen Ginsberg’s reading at a nuclear disarmament rally. He read most probably from “Plutonian Ode.”

Poets we knew and became connected to moved forward, a gentle tide, rocked by the new thing, our ability to create oblivion, and to answer with our voices evoking the voices of consciousness to carol our spirits inside the death-rendering, until there we were, the Poets of Our Time right up in front of the crowd, serious, dolorous, Kerouac cool, smiling antennas up and on the tips of our toes. Ginsberg threw himself into the poetry, sparked our responses: nodding heads, nodding bodies. Handclaps, psalming our way beyond. We were in love.

I was in love. With Allen Ginsberg!

In the excitement Richard and I were swept away. Rich had no chance to ask Ginsberg to read at the St. Clement’s anti-nuclear event. We rode over the East River to a party at Maurice Kenny’s Brooklyn apartment, and after that, unwilling to give up the day, although it was midnight, we walked to the Esplanade to feel and hear the breath-song of New York harbor.

Community: Snapshots of a Political Inflection Point

In my book, Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen (NYC) these two people wanted the same job: Mayor. They courted District Leader Jim McManus for his support.

Rudolph Giuliani and Jim McManus, circa September 1995. Photo by Mary Clark.
Jim McManus and Ruth Messinger, September 1994. Photo by Mary Clark.

The candidates were Ruth Messinger, Democrat, and Rudolph Giuliani, Republican.

It was my job to keep tabs on what was happening in the community, and to take initiatives when needed or possible. When Giuliani became mayor, he began making changes that would affect the Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton community, often not in the best way. If McManus supported him openly, by endorsing him in 1997, the doors would open to better negotiations, better outcomes. He had to decide whether he thought Messinger or Giuliani would win.

Meanwhile, two of the old guard in the McManus Club decided to get what they could. How far would they go?

Community: Reblog

Thanks to Chris Graham at the Story Reading Ape for publicizing the #newrelease of my latest book, Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen. The Story Reading Ape is well-known to writers for writing tips and profiles of authors. Chris has also designed book covers. A very versatile ape!

Here is his page for Community

And I’ll add in a couple of photos of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood

Mathews-Palmer Playground West 45th – 46th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues
Me at the start of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival circa 1997 (blue shirt, black pants)

Five “Kitchen” Secrets of Civic Organizing

In Hell’s Kitchen, a gritty neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, the view of Times Square, Broadway and Fifth Avenue is over-sized and profoundly personal. One response would be to stay cloistered in your job and your close circle of family and friends. Keep your head down, shoulder to the wheel. The other reaction is to save and improve the little bit of urban space you inhabit.

From the outside, the city is a mess, a mass of congestion, which makes no sense. It is, in fact, a collection of communities. Each one distinct, each one proud of its name, location, demographics, and heritage, and yet also of its place in the overall scheme, its being inherently New York, the complex center of the universe. And nothing can happen in that universe without the approval of those most affected, at least that’s what the inhabitants believe. New York pugilism can know no bounds, as in Donald Trump’s mind, but for the other 99.99+ percent it has (on the far side) limits and rules. The slightest threat, the most ethereal wishes, can spark an outpouring of a neighborhood’s residents into a common purpose.

They will find themselves up against some of the city’s — and the country’s — most powerful individuals and institutions.

In my book, Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen, I describe how a small neighborhood of working and middle-class people of diverse ethnic backgrounds went up against this powerful elite. How did we do it?

To read the rest, please go to Medium.com – and remember you can clap as many times as you want!

Community is also available on Smashwords in multiple formats

Celebrities: Tales of Times Square

Richard Burton had replaced Anthony Hopkins in “Equus” on Broadway. On February 20, 1976, they met at the theater.

People waited in the soft glow outside the Plymouth Theater on West 45th Street. About twenty after six, Tony Hopkins, his wife Jenny and a friend of theirs came down the sidewalk in the murky darkness from Eighth Avenue. He went into the theater, virtually unnoticed. He looked at me, but made no sign of recognition. He looked serious and I thought later, I did not see him smile all evening. More like he was making a long trek after the war in a Tolstoy novel. I was happy for him that he was going to meet Burton and could imagine he would be wondering how it would go with the old lion of the theater, and at the same time, Tony had an aggressive reaching-out quality and could assert his own personality and identity.

Barricades lined a path to the stage door. Richard Burton came out and the TV news people turned on their lights, sudden brilliance in the winter darkness along the street. The small crowd surged toward him. The TV people stayed and so did the police, so the crowd did, too. I decided to get out of the way and stood behind the crowd against the theater wall. Burton signed autographs and went back inside.

Almost an hour later, Elizabeth Taylor’s limousine drove up. The chauffeur jumped out and announced to the police that he was “bringing her in in a minute.” He opened the back door and four or five policemen gathered around her and swept her toward the stage door. The barricades were pushed aside by their rush and the crowd fell back, pressing me and several others against the wall. We were off our feet for a few seconds. People yelled, “Help,” and “Back up” and me, “Hey, watch it.”

Once she was inside, the crowd broke up quickly. Tony came out the stage door. He walked past me without a word. I walked away, tired of celebrities. Next thing he was standing beside a limousine. He reached toward me, taking my hand, with a look as if he were holding onto a lifeline.

He said he would be at the theater again tomorrow at 5:30.

I nodded and stepped back, wondering if he was going to get into that limousine. He’d said that was the life he didn’t want.

I couldn’t look. I was thinking, please don’t get into that limousine. I wanted to say to him, run free. Run as fast as you can.

And I did not look. I walked through Times Square mixing with the late-night weirdos and freaks and savored my freedom. Did he envy me that? At the same time, he was making use of his freedom, good use, more productive than I was I had to admit, to invent his own destiny.