A Place of Many Places: The NY Times Looks at Poetic New Jersey

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Originally uploaded by tom_hoboken

A quick Flickr search for Union City, NJ, pics has me finding more pictures of the Manhattan skyline than of Union City itself. This isn’t unique to Union City, a lot of communities in the Garden State are defined by their access to PATH, the Bridge, and the City (aka New York, NY) then they are by their own merits. The same thing happens out here as I look for pictures of Oaktown and find a lot of pics of what San Francisco (also known out here as the City) looks like from the East Bay.

So why is New Hersee, as the ole skool Latinos call it, in my head this morning? It’s all thanks to a nice article in the New York Times highlighting W.S. Merwin, the 4th poet from N.J. to win the Pulitzer in the last ten years.

The article postulates that population density may be behind Jersey’s poetics. I’d agree and also add that living in the shadow of a larger metropolis–the city behind The City–calls for literature that brings attention away from the center and to the margins. This isn’t a diss on the center because so much poetry can come from viewing the center, seeing the fog roll in on the SF piers or watching the Empire State Building light up in a new color formation, and giving the folks who are so caught up in living in the center a chance to appreciate what they may be taking for granted.

In my own poetics, I wasn’t able to write any Bronx poems while living in the Bx. The first few came when I was a resident of Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, and the majority have come from my home in Oakland. So I appreciate distance when it comes to writing of place.

Distance from the center plus a critical mass of communities, it feels like New Jersey does have the right formula for poetics.

Infinite Poetry, From a Finite Number
Published: May 15, 2009

It’s not much of a yard by the standards of most of America — just a postage stamp of grass behind the house at the corner of Fourth Street and New York Avenue, fenced by chain link and shaded by an unruly maple, here in this densest of cities in this densest of states. But like many things in New Jersey, it turns out to be larger than it looks at first glance.

The eminent poet W. S. Merwin lived at this corner until he was 9, a block away from the Presbyterian church his father pastored. Several years ago, long after he had won his first Pulitzer, his boyhood city honored him with a street sign here: “W. S. Merwin Way,” it reads. Last month, Mr. Merwin won a second Pulitzer prize for poetry — the fourth New Jersey poet to win in the last 10 years, a streak that is unmatched of late by any other state, and one that raises the question of whether it is more than just a happy coincidence.

Full article here.

Props to Author Scoop for pointing me this way.

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