a poet in new york
When I first read "The Passionate Eye," I felt there were a number of themes in Suzanne's writing that resonated with a book that some of you might find interesting: "A Poet in New York" by Federico Garcia Lorca (bilingual edition; translated into English by Greg Simon and Steven F. White; The Noonday Press).
Between June 1929 and March 1930, the 30 year old Spanish poet, playwright, and author travelled abround for the first time. He spent time in New York, Vermont, and Havanna. According to editor Christopher Maurer "A Poet in New York" is "both a condemnation of modern urban civilization--the spiritual emptiness epitomized by New York--and a dark cry of metaphysical loneliness." Later, Maurer writes: "A recent critical account of 'Poet in New York' identifies its three major themes as 'social injustice, dark love, and lost faith.' Their common element is the alienation, or 'otherness,' just mentioned. The 'social' aspect of the book is easiest to grasp; 'Poet in New York' condemns capitalist society and all that it seems to entail: an anthropocentric world view; the degradation of nature; indifference to suffering; the materialistic corruption of love and religion; and the alienation of social groups, particularly the blacks."
One can find many parallels with Vega's work -- alienation, dreams, social injustice -- to name a few. I was particularly struck by Lorca's use of the image of the "hueco." "Lorca's vision of the impermanence or emptiness of forms--forms abandoned in the senseless flux of life: the 'husks of insects,' lost gloves, or cast-off suits of clothes--gives rise to one of the most frequent and most untranslatable images in the book: the 'hueco:' void or hollow, space or empty space. The atmosphere of New York is riddled with huecos: 'There are spaces that ache in the uninhabited air." The 'hueco' image seems to tie so well with songs like "Big Space," "Men in a War," and "Night Vision."
"A Poet in New York" is divided into ten parts. Parts 1 - 3 were written during the first part of Lorca's New York visit; parts 4 - 6 were written in Vermont; parts 7-9 were written during his return to New York; part 10 is his trip to Havanna. He wrote to his family upon his arrival in America that "It would be foolish to even try to describe the immensity of the skyscrapers and the traffic. Everything I could say would fall short. All Granada would fit into three of these buildings." Interestingly, Part I is titled "Poems of Solitude at Columbia University" (he occupied room 617 at Furnald Hall). One of the poems in Part 1 is titled "Dawn;" the resonance with Vega's work is quite astonishing.
in New York has
four columns of mire
and a hurricane of black pigeons
splashing in the putrid waters.
in New York groans
on enormous fire escapes
searching between the angles
for spikenards of drafted anguish.
arrives and no one receives it in his mouth
because morning and hope are impossible there:
sometimes the furious swarming coins
penetrate like drills and devour abandoned children.
that go out early know in their bones
there will be no paradise or loves that bloom and die:
they know they will be mired in numbers and laws,
in mindless games, in fruitless labors.
light is buried under chains and noises
in an impudent challenge to rootless science.
And crowds stagger sleeplessly through the boroughs
as if they had just escaped a shipwreck of blood.
In "After a Walk" he writes: "Bumping into my own face, different each day/Cut down by the sky!"
Part III is titled "Streets and Dreams" and it also contains images that so often remind me of Suzanne's work in poems such as "Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)," "Christmas on the Hudson," and "Murder (Two Early Morning Voices on Riverside Drive):"
did it happen?"
"A gash on the cheek.
A fingernail that pinches the stem.
A pin that dives
until it finds the roots of a scream.
And the sea stops still."
"How, how did it happen?"
"Really! Like that?"
The heart came out on its own."
"I'm done for!"
This poem reminded me of those parts of Suzanne's lyrics that tell stories and describe characters through the re-telling of small details and the snippets of conversations that stick in your mind for years--for example, parts of "Stockings," "Neighbourhood Girls," or Rosemary."
When I read the manuscript of Lorca's own readings from then as-yet-unpublished "A Poet in New York" I thought of Suzanne at work at her own readings:
"I have said 'A Poet in New York' when I ought to have said 'New York in a Poet.' The poet is me, purely and simply: a poet who has neither talent nor genius, but who can sometimes escape through the murky edge of the looking glass of day more quickly than most children...I have not come here to entertain you: I do not want to, and simply couldn't care less. I am here to fight. Fight hand to hand against a complacent mass, for I am not about to give a lecture but a poetry reading--my flesh, my joy, and my feelings--and I need to defend myself from the huge dragon out there who would eat me alive with three hundred yawns of his three hundred disappointed heads. And that is what I mean by fighting. Now that I have come, and have broken my long poetic silence for a moment, I badly want to communicate with you. Not to give you honey (I have none), but sand or hemlock or salt water. Hand-to-hand fighting, and it does not matter if I am defeated."
( I like Lorca's image of the poet as fighter--the bull fighter, the knight--sallying forth to combat! A romantic idea.)