Greenpoint, October, 2015

Monday, June 30, 2014

Até Breve, Nova Iorque

For the next week or so, BTB hits the road for South America. Won't get to Brazil (but closer than you).
82St. station after Colombia beats Uruguay 2-0
The Research Bureau has gathered up some odds and ends from the cutting room floor, and will post these just to keep the juices flowing. My father taught me to start the car and run the engine every few days even when you are not using it. He also believes that sunshine on the hood can revive a dead battery--but that's another story.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shakespeare in the Dark

Here's a poem to give one pause, whether on the subway or waiting in line in Central Park. "To an Artist, to Take Heart" by Louise Bogan.
Slipping in blood, by his own hand, through pride, 
Hamlet, Othello, Coriolanus fall.
Upon his bed, however, Shakespeare died,
Having endured them all.

(Photo: Antony Sher as Macbeth, Harriet Walter as Lady Macbeth. Dir. Gregory Doran for RSC, 1999)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Squeezing Woodside

Puzzling over the MTA Poetry in Motion poster for Jim Moore's "Love in the Ruins." The art is John Cavanagh's Commuting/Community (1986) from the 61st St. IND/LIRR station in Woodside.

Or, in the MTA's cropping:

Now take a look at the complete work, displayed in the station, in a photo by by Robbie Rosenfeld from

What's a letter here or there, when you've got a railroad to run?

The text of the poem itself (also an excerpt):

     i remember my mother toward the end,

folding the tablecloth after dinner
     so carefully,
as if it were the flag
     of a country that no longer existed,
but once ruled the world.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Petal to the Metro

The apparition        of these faces       in the crowd  :
Petals     on a wet, black     bough   .
Switzerland, Near Geneva (Erich Hartmann, 1980)
We return to our summer series, Poetry in MoTiAn, with Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" (1913).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mark Me

A summer fantasy: I trade my Civic for a 1978 Lincoln Mark V, and return to Queens a king.

You know it's for sale by the angle at which it's parked. The sign reads: "8 cylinders, 126 h.p. Race car!"

Ultimately, it comes down to taste. The awesome grill, the sublime rear passenger window.

Canal Street, Westerly, RI. $5200.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Day Went By

A day went by
yet still remained unknown
as if it hadn't happened yet at all

Urszula Kozioł  (tr. Regina Grol-Prokopczyk)
Our summer series, Poetry eMotion, continues with poetry from Poland and art from China. What could be more New York?
The art for this post is from Xing Danwen's series, Urban Fictions. Danwen photoshops her image into maquettes created to promote real estate developments proposed for construction in China. Her statement here

Friday, June 20, 2014

Magnetized to the Moon

Elizabeth Bishop's "The Man-Moth": a subway poem inspired by a typo. Far too long for one of the MTA's Poetry in Motion posters; just pick the stanza that you would most enjoy reading as you are carried "through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams."
Magnetic Moths, Sir Roger Penrose (1938)
Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for “mammoth.”
                      Here, above,
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

                      But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

                     Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

                     Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

                     Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

                     If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention
he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

Thanks to One More Folded Sunset for the suggestion.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Top to Bottom, East to West

Missing the BQE a bit, I took a few shots as I crossed over between Jackson Heights and Woodside on Roosevelt last weekend. Nice shadows, light traffic.

It wasn't until I was processing the photos back at the lab that I notice the vertical figures on the retaining wall. Kanji or graffiti? Maybe both. Dangerous work, for sure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

No One Knows

Another school year is almost over. As always, the question, what did we learn, is lost on the wind. Here is a poem by the Czech poet Miroslav Holub, which I sometimes use with my own (slightly older) students.
1971 (photographer unknown)

Children, when was
Napoleon Bonaparte born,
asks teacher.

A thousand years ago, the children say.
A hundred years ago, the children say.
Last year, the children say.
No one knows.

Children, what did
Napoleon Bonaparte do,
asks teacher.

Won a war, the children say.
Lost a war, the children say.
No one knows.

Our butcher had a dog
called Napoleon, 
says František.
The butcher used to beat him and the dog died
of hunger
a year ago.

And all the children are now sorry
for Napoleon.

(tr. Ian and Jamila Milner)
Warsaw elementary school 1956/57 (Photo:Władysław Sławny)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You Are Special

For ladies & gentlemen
Shoe repair    subway
We buy loans & pawn
Queens Blvd., Rego Park (June 2014)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Exit 8A

Courtyard Marriott, South Brunswick, NJ

The cars go by
just like they did

-Tom Clark
Friday, July 13, 2014, 7 A.M.
Does this poem speak to New York subway riders? Is there anyone, anywhere--at least in these United States--who does not immediately go to their own place where the cars go by..., however real, imaginary, or liminal that place may be? Here for the poet's blog post for the poem.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Slow Dreams of Pleasure

Longish for an entry in our alternate Poetry in Mutation series but a fine subway poem. The first in Paul Blackburn's early book Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit: A Bouquet for Flatbush from 1960. All five of the poems in this small book from 1960 are about riding on the subway. The other titles are: "Clarkson Avenue Ramble," "The Once-Over," Clickety Clack" (for Lawrence Ferlinghetti), and "Meditation on the BMT." Here is the cover of the first and only edition from Totem Press, whose address is listed as 402 W. 20th St. Gone, of course, as is Blackburn (he died in 1971). But the Franklin Avenue Line (now Shuttle) goes on. Intermittently.


at Park Place
or Dean Street
decaying open platforms with their whitened wood
waves of weathered greenness down the line
waves of somewhere unimaginable blossoms blowing
a late spring to tired faces                in this half-
    forgotten     slow    half-empty train
passing in the rain    in slow dreams of pleasure
                          toward the spur's end where
vaguely    in-
decisively        train and rain
come at the same
    to a measured 

Friday, June 13, 2014

77 on 58th

A wine shop near Columbus Circle. The guy at the counter, Puerto Rican, maybe, had dropped a bottle. "I'm going to set you up," he kept telling the employee mopping it up. And then, "In 1977, the World Series, Reggie Jackson hit three home runs. All the Irish cops came into my dad's bar." He told it again to the woman behind the counter. And once more on his way out the door. "One of those crazy days," she said to me once he'd left the shop. 
(Photo: Larry Morris)
I put him at about my age, which means he would have been around 16 for that memorable series (described well in the book The Bronx is Burning). The Yankees beat the Dodgers in six games. Reggie did indeed hit 3 homes runs in the deciding game at the Stadium--after being dogged all season by his manager, Billie Martin, and the New York press for underperforming. If I was there when the cops came in to my father's bar, after the game and the raucous on- and off-field celebration that followed, I'd still be telling the story to anybody who'd listen.
Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (May 2014)
(There's no way to quite recapture what baseball looked like on television in the 1970s, with its 2 or 3 camera angles, grainy color, and sparse graphics. But shooting an HD monitor with a cellphone camera does a passable job.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

May in June

Our summer subway series, Poetry in Animation, continues with "The Locust Tree in Flower," by William Carlos Williams. An obvious choice, perhaps, and a few weeks late, sure, but when was the MTA ever original or on time?
Bill Jensen, Locus, 2001-03 (39" x 33")








Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tripping over the MTA

Not all the poetry underground is on Poetry in Motion posters. Here's an inadvertent (?) verse from the MTA itself, spotted in the 34th St. IND station.* And again, with Calder poking out behind the pillar.

Please slow down
Avoid slips, trips, and falls...

The limb you save 
May be your own.

Okay, the second couplet is added on. Feel free to submit your own ending. Remember, the tail wags the doggerel.

(*Funny, I have only seen this particular poster at the 34th St. station. Is it particularly prone to trips and falls?)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Potomac on the Gowanus

Every June, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, throws a party--a very quiet party--at its incredible gallery space at the end of the Audubon Terrace on Broadway between 155th and 156th St.  The Academy celebrates newly elected members in visual art, literature, architecture, and music. The exhibit is a wildly mixed bag but always offers surprises. It's up for one more weekend. Here are a couple pieces that caught my interest.

The Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility designed by Sims Municipal Recycling (2013). This is the Tipping Building. Has there ever been a better name for a building on a canal? Or for a tugboat?
Photo: Nikolas Koenig
"This 140,000 sf recycling facility processes New York City's curbside metal, glass, and plastic recyclables and features a public education center. The eleven-acre master plan creates distinct circulation zones for visitors, truck deliveries, and pedestrians. Utilizing pre-engineered building components made from recycled steel the facility projects a dynamic face on the Brooklyn waterfront."

Massimo Scolari's Gas Station Inn. Does it remind you of a New York City highway?

Robert Adam's Firebreak above East Highlands, California (1982). Does it not say it all?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

To Be Small and Stay Small

BTB is nothing if not opportunistic in its approach to the Poetry in Agitation summer series. Here is a poem by Emily Fragos, a poet I only encountered this afternoon at the American Academy of Arts and Letters exhibition at the Audubon Terrace (open for another week). The gif (first on BTB) is by Hilary Faye and was part of a candy-box exhibit (now closed), Hyper-Resemblances, at Columbia's Wallach Gallery.
Hilary Faye, Untitled, 2011
On Robert Walser (1878-1956)

You saw a dwarf and imagined yourself a dwarf
or the old homeless hag, pushing her cart of junk.

You closed your eyes for days at a time,
groping along the village walls, tumbling into bushes
with an embarrassed gasp.

You adored the gentlewoman--her pillowy bum--
and the chattering birds with faces like walnuts
and feet like twigs, so alive, alert, and active

in their birdie pursuits. Standing alone in your stale,
furnished room, you felt a shudder of feather
and the glowing air grew full, so close. To be alive

was wonderful, but to be small and stay small--
drop of water into the water.

This is about the outside limit on length for a subway poem. And let's hope no one is offended by uncovering a "pillowy bum" on the F train. What if the reader is not familiar with Robert Walser, the German minimalist (if that's the right word for his micro-prose)? Matters not at all. Here is a poem about the imagination and the places it lifts us to and trips us into.

For those interested in the evolution of a poem, I include the photo I took of the draft displayed at the exhibit (shot through the glass). The few changes in word choice and the ending are small but potent:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Duck Days

Aw we begin our search for poems to expand and enrich the MTA's Poetry in Motion series, or just create our own damn series, let's establish a few criteria. The poem should be:
  • Short enough to read once, preferably twice, between any two stations on a local;
  • Speak to New Yorkers in some particular manner (not necessarily about New York or the subway); and
  • Be provocative--intellectually, emotionally, physically, morally...
We begin where we may well end up, with Eileen Myles' "Truth." I think it meets the criteria to a a "T." Bonus: It is about riding the subway or trying to. Double bonus: It comes with its own art, courtesy of Ken and Ann Mikolowski's Alternative Press, where it appeared as bookmark in 1971 (#13). Note the imprint of the subway token. The photo below is from the Rare Books Room of the New York Public Library.


It's not fun
to be 31

the subway

How quickly and elegantly this short poem gives us the experience of being young (though not so young) and without means in the city. Quite a different approach from Tracy K. Smith's "The Good Life," in the MTA series. Suddenly, that relatively short poem feels like a novel.

Lovely how the spelling of "turnstyle" rhymes with the poet's signature: Eileen Myles. I emailed the poet to ask permission to reproduce the poem here--as far as I know, the only place it has ever appeared outside of the Alternative Press issue (43 years ago!). I asked for associations she may have now with the poem. Here is her reply: "It was certainly directly out of the experience of being broke and feeling too old to bed doing what I was doing, i.e., ducking under the turnstyle for a free ride."

How old were you the last time you ducked or jumped a turnstile?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Breaking News! Kentile Signing Off?!

The New York Times and The Gothamist both reporting the iconic Kentile Floors sign in Brooklyn may be demolished, according to a permit filed with the DOB. While the company closed in 1992, the sign has remained as a symbol of Brooklyn's industrial history.
(Photo: The New York Times)
Driving on the BQE-Gowanus Expressway without the Kentile sign? Too sad to fathom. (Oddly, I've never blogged about it before this. It's always just been there.)

Gowanus X 10

Crossing the canal on the express bus always provides a view (one I have first featured on this blog in April 2011). Yesterday, around noon, a gray gulf. By the time I reached Staten Island, the sun was out.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Livin' on Chicken Noodle Soup and Wine

BTB's summer series, Poetry in Locomotion, begins today. We'll be rooting around (and underground) for poems for the MTA's Poetry in Motion series. There'll also some detours, but no derailments, we hope, for poems that celebrate (or excreate) the experience of being a subway rider. Thanks to onemorefoldedsunset for the idea!

As part of my research for the series, I asked a few people if they read the MTA's Poetry in Motion poems while riding the subway. A waitress in a cafe on East Broadway said she always enjoyed them. When I asked if she remembered any, she said, "Maybe the one about chicken noodle soup."
(Art: Amy Bennett, Heydays)
The closest I could find on the MTA's Poetry in Motion website is "The Good Life," by Tracy K. Smith (b. 1974):

While some people speak about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.

A nice poem, even if it is missing the noodles and the soup. But we can do better.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights. Still available, as far as I know.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Gus Gargoyle

Bakery trucks are common on the streets of New York. I caught this one out of the corner of my eye on Roosevelt Avenue. But what was that dark cloud hovering above Lady Liberty?

Closer inspection revealed this three-headed creature. A wolf, I think. The Wolf of Woodside Avenue?

I suppose it's better than the mushroom cloud Condi Rice warned us about.