March Blizzard Poetry

megabenefit2On March 7, 1983, the day of the “Rock’n’Poetry” Benefit for the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s Church (423 West 46th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York City), a major snowstorm hit the city. By late afternoon the streets were empty.

Allen Ginsberg arrived, shaking off a mantle of snow, about fifteen minutes before the reading. He was friendly, but a little shy. I showed him and a friend into the library where lamplight glowed on the blue, green, mauve and earth-colored leaded windows.

Spalding Gray arrived, and shook my hand. (He’d promised he’d come one day.)

Amiri Baraka called to say he was on his way in from Newark and battling the snow.

“I understand if you can’t make it.”

“The roads are still open, and it will be just as bad trying to go back to Newark. And I wanted to get into the city anyway.”

The audience filled the downstairs theatre and I began to worry about over-capacity. More than a hundred people had braved the storm.

Easing open the door, I saw a mound of snow creeping down the street. The mound pulled over to the sidewalk and Baraka piled out with his family.

I held the church door open. “I can’t believe what you’ve gone through to get here.”

“I was determined to be here,” he said. “There aren’t many places like this.”

I left him with Ginsberg and the other poets and their friends in the small library room next to the front office. Poets sat on the sofa, Ginsberg in a low armchair, and others on the well-worn, wine-red rug.

The reading was segue-ing from poet to poet. Spalding Gray said all he needed was a table and a chair. He sat at the table center stage with one spotlight, reading from his notebooks. His words flowed out intuitively, and the way he coupled the words, tangled, bickered, or united in conjugal bliss, exposed his inner turmoil and joy, his triumphs and losses.

Sheri spoke to me and I was jolted back to my responsibilities.

Applause followed me down the front hall. I counted the box office.

It was time to give Baraka and Ginsberg the heads up. I poked my head in.

Ginsberg looked up, making eye contact. “Are you doing well? Did you make money?”

“We did. We’ll be able to go on another year with the money we made tonight.”

He smiled. “That’s great.”

I stared a moment, not realizing before his commitment to poets and poetry groups.

Baraka went into the theater next, giving a reading filled with stamping meter and hard-edged images tempered by, well more than humor, empathy, or sense of injustice and hope, by love I would say.

When Ginsberg spoke people clapped, stamped their feet, howled, and sang, his voice rising like a cantor. The walls reverberated, the theater was heated by the crowd, a night of wonder.

Outside the snow had stopped. The poets left with the crowd, a beautiful sound in the silent snow-cloaked city.


Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen


Book One is available on, free read and download

Talk about miles to go, miles of snow, a transfigured night and all in sight covered in a winding sheet of white.

Stopping by a snowy Ninth Avenue, face and hands wrapped against the wind, I contemplated the divide before me. Ice-crystals glittered in streetlights and snow fenced sidewalks. The city streets were deserted, and I was alone in the canyoned silence. On the avenue’s arctic slope, deep within the haunting sound of a muted city I could hear gypsy cabs snorting dragon-breath in the dark, and I would have stayed to watch fringes of icicles on fire escapes glow in the dying light.

Crossing Ninth Avenue, I heard the wolf howl in the wind. Into a cumbersome gap hacked in frozen snow I pioneered, and westward to find a narrow trail past four and five-story buildings. Bare choirs of trees fell silent, only ticking now and then in frozen despair, until a faint glow, just the slightest cinematic glimmer, fell on the crooked path. I leaned back, one hand on a rack of ice, to see a living painting: a red brick building with tall arched windows of earth and sky-colored glass. Indigo peaked gables and copper crosses with a patina of green sprang like a frieze from a breathing, luminous city-lights gray sky.

Double wooden plank doors painted in vertical stripes of chipped and tattered red, white and blue were shuttered against the cold and any vagrants or visitors who might venture in. Hiking up the steps, kicking footholds in rime-encrusted snow, I peered through wire netting at an empty stairway to heaven.

Tracking again through Technicolor traces from the lighted windows, I discovered a second set of steps and a brightly lit hallway.A royal blue and white plaque with a strident red cross sparked through a crust of frost: Welcome to St. Clement’s. 

A bare bulb in a metal cage hung above the steps. Up and down the street of tenements and brownstones, and on windowsills and steps festooned with snow, there was no other light.On the far side of a railing, steps led to a single recessed arch, and winding down and up again, I began knock-knocking-knocking on heaven’s door.

A small round bell bolted to the brick caught my eye. I heard the buzz resound and die.

Richard Spiegel, the director of the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, opened the door.“Mary?”

In his early thirties, Richard’s long, wavy chestnut hair and trimmed beard shone with a soft gleam of mahogany and substrata strands of red.I had borders to cross and my poetic license in the back pocket of my blue jeans. 

I stepped inside. “I promised I’d come one day.” My eyes pulsated with red and white light as I thawed from the glacial trek.

I was one of only three. We read wine-poetry and drank red wine in cups from St. Clement’s kitchen.