What’s your favourite poem about New York?

Photograph of the New York skyline at sunset, showing the Empire State Building
Empire State, by Sam Valadi, via Flickr. Reproduced under CC BY 2.0 licence.

Of all the cities in the United States, New York holds a special place in the literary heart. From the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, through to the rhythms of the beat poets, New York has inspired the forging of new poetic styles. For this week’s #MondayMusing, let us know your favourite poem about the Big Apple. 

As one possible starting point, the New York School of the 1960s, which saw poets like Frank O’Hara and John Ashberry align with painters like Jackson Pollock and Larry Rivers, helped to create a sense of New York as cosmopolitan and cool. Here, for instance, is a snip from New York School poet, Ted Berrigan’s, “44th Birthday Evening, at Harris’s“, which recalls friendships forged in the city:

Nine stories high Second Avenue
On the roof there’s a party
All the friends are there watching
By the light of the moon the blazing sun
Go down over the side of the planet

But of course poetry has also dealt with the complexities and conflicts of the city too in terms of race, class, and the darker side of urban life. Joe Brainard in “Picnic or Yonder Comes the Blue” acknowledges:

I like to do things. I like to eat, and things like that. I like
the things that go on around me. People are nice. And, really, I
like this place I live in. However, some people don’t.

On Tuesday 5th June, join Yasmine Shamma for Poetry Aloud: The New York School, as she reads from the work of some of the poets – including Ted Berrigan and Joe Brainard – who feature in her forthcoming book, Spatial Poetics: Second Generation New York School Poetry. This book explores the relationship between the spaces we inhabit and the spaces we create. It takes us within the interior domestic settings of poets of the 1960s, as well as the wider urban setting of New York, to ask about how they might have been influenced by place. Might, for instance, living in a messy downtown New York City apartment automatically translate to writing a messy New York School poem?

Ahead of that event, share your own poems that evoke New York City in the mind. Join the conversation virtually in the comments below, or use the hashtag #MondayMusing on Twitter or Facebook.


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