Dancers in Washington Square Park

On my way to the KGB reading, I’ve come into Bobst library – the red-ochre, Uluru-coloured behemoth that menaces the older residents of Greenwich Village – to break my blog fast, or, blog silence, which is due, perhaps, to having been off in a siding of the New York City digestive tract for several weeks – not that it hasn’t been fun, it’s just that, sometimes, you get too absorbed to observe consciously. Sometimes, that part of you called “living” has to be given free rein, and that part called “writer” has to take a back seat.

Kerouac didn’t advertise the fact that he would come back from his epic Benzedrine-driven road trips to his mother’s house, and spend months in quiet, writing. For me, thankfully, it isn’t as pronounced. I’m happy to follow a busy week with a quiet one (and be busy with writing). For a while back there, during a besotted, “lonely-in-New York month”, half the nights I couldn’t get home before 3, because I was in love with the elbows I rubbed up against in the East and West Village dives, not there so much for the contents of the multifarious seduction of the back-lit bottles (though, that too), as for the company. As Hell says: “pull up a stool, there’s always room for one more. ” And, it was fun to wash out of taxis with people I’d only just met, in places I wouldn’t know how to get to the next day.

But, to tell the truth, how else would you spend your first three months in New York? (It’s like what a friend said to me, whose exciting new business is about to be boarded by venture capitalist pirates, and he’s still living in a kip in south Brooklyn – I don’t think he’ll mind me saying it, because I live in the same kip. Late one night we decided to get a taxi home from a bizarre karaoke in Korea Town with white leather booths. I enjoyed his “New York moment perspective.” He said: “tomorrow, you could be broke, and couldn’t do this anyway, and one day you’ll be old, so you may as well do it now.” The taxi was barreling down the East River drive. If it were a quai in Paris, it would have been beautiful. Here it was gritty and dirty, but the grandeur came from the energy that was crackling through everything. And then, of course, the meta-moment came, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 a.m., came with a pocking rush, like the tyres of the taxi driven by the Haitian driver, when you realise, “shit – I’m here. I’m HERE!”)

Tonight reminds me that, just recently, I’ve come back to a sense of perspective. I’ve been reminded of that walking through Washington Square, where Black and White and Asian kids in white hoodies are dancing like the cheesy Fat Boy Slim dancers in the video Praise You – they’re dancing hip hop to a boom box under the red lights of the Christmas tree, under Washington Square’s white arch, with the Empire State behind it, lit white. One of the kids hugs me as I pass; I laugh, and he moves on: “let me see you clap your hands, I know you can,” he says to two little girls sitting nearby. In the Village, at least, off 6th Avenue, there’s an exhaling, as rush hour loosens its grip, before Friday night’s carnage begins.

It’s a time for quiet in Washington Square, if you have quiet inside you. And I do.

Looking for Pessoa

Looking for Pessoa, in a shocking lapse I forget his name (and go up to the sales assistant, who’s sitting in the poetry ghetto, where even an “independent bookstore” like McNally Jackson in SoHo relegates us. She’s doesn’t seem to be busy, doesn’t give me a passive-aggressive answer, and googles “Most famous Portuguese poet”. He comes up. “God bless G,” she says, probably relieved to be saved so easily from another crazed customer) – I forget him, just as I remember my own heteronym, just as the volume by P goes Protean and splashes all over the floor; just as I almost forget Craig Arnold’s name, looking for a single salutary volume of poetry to take to bed, to take me through October and beyond. Shameless plug, but I look for Breytenbach and, another lapse, they don’t have his work – I would go to the NYU bookshop, but that monolith already has enough of my dosh.

The two eds of Pessoa, City Lights and Penguin, are different takes, and no original Portuguese. I “wanted the Portuguese” (I already hear some pretentious twat say that at some future adjacent table; he probably has an English accent, or sounds suspiciously middle class Dublin, like moi…). Indeed, I did so very much want the Portuguese (“did I tell you about my year in Porto? Wonderful, darling. Just wonderful”), so I’m going the way of the scab, the miser and the careful student, and will get it out of the Bobst Library which, like a red ochre beast with a suspicious resemblance to Uluru (previously known as Ayer’s Rock), has colonised one whole corner of Washington Square, to the ire of Greenwich Village’s matronery and marginals. I heard only last night over beers that the library sees several suicides per year, via its vertiginous central gallery.


After deciding against Pessoa, I “settled” on Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (in archipelago books),  a settling which, in fact, is more like rising into the air. I “discovered” him recently. In discovery, as upcoming Columbus Day reminds us (incidentally a day greatly feted by Italian Americans in pizza and cannelloni suits), you discover that other people were there before you. I joined a country called “Darwish”, so elegant and simple and proud. Luckily, there was no immigration process. (Maybe it’s also called Palestine, but it’s harder to get into and out of, if you’re actually from there.) And, there’s also quite a long, narrow, passionate, Chile-shaped country in NYC called Roberto Bolaño . Women outside literary bars ask me while dragging on a fag, “so, who’d you like?” And I feel returned to teenage discos, when “Cure”, “Smiths” could get you a snog, if she was a Cure-head; but the wrong answer was inner martyrdom (what about the “Buzzcocks”?) Bolaño gets them nodding – better get reading. (I could in the original if that were the only thing I were doing. But it isn’t, and I’m “sawwww fucking busy,” to plagarise the New York cliché that is so obvious that it shades into offensiveness. And yet, you overhear it everywhere: “I’m SO busy; oh, hold on, honey: (vicious tonal change)”can I get a triple macchiato with a Xanax froth? Yeah, stat. YEAH. To go. – Come on, barista? What else is there? Take out is the new eating in.”)

B. Breytenbach read the class Darwish’s poem, ‘To Describe an Almond Blossom’, one of those poems that builds with inevitable, simple, heart-breaking imagery (it is, in fact, a poem that merits that description). While hearing it, you hope, “please don’t disappoint me” – which it doesn’t; it fulfils your hearing. It also fulfils one of the most basic, non-logical criteria of art, which, to paraphrase either Lorca or Robert Graves, is that art should raise the hairs on the back of your neck – one the unmistakeable signs of artistic transcendence. (As the oracle says to Neo in The Matrix, “No one can tell you you’re in love. You just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”) So, when the hair goes up all along my arms and on my neck, I know what I’m hearing is the real stuff.

In the end, I bought his book: took away a little stone, to place among all the other stones on his burial cairn.