[Note: I visited Central Park on Friday, November 6th from around 9:30 am to about 4:30 pm… I did not take many notes in comparison to the photographs I took. I am starting to write the sequence that is born of this, and from Olmsted's lecture "The Justifying Value of a Park." I do not want the poems to be tourist poems - you might want to visit after this post, but not after reading the Central Park sequence... but it was important for me to visit. It'll have something to do with signage and centers, and construction and decay, and beginnings. I've been turning Dickinson's line "The Zeroes taught Us -- Phosphorous" around in my head for literally years now. This was Olmsted's zero. This park was America's zero, the first public park and entirely constructed].
[Locale 1: The Fountain]
I don’t even know where to begin. I accessed the Park from the south, by the ballparks, past the childrens’ dairy, down the mall – to arrive here. So many signs designating restoration, where to walk, where not to walk. ‘Passive activities encouraged.’ [I keep cycling this instruction around in my mind. It bothers me to be so directed… it's as if to say, "This is just a reminder, but picnics are nice. So is sitting on a bench with a good book" as if we need this reminder to do these things in our lives. Passive activities encouraged]. So many runners [on paths, not on areas designated to "passive activities"].
So many tourists. I wonder how many people use the park regularly who actually live in NYC [my sense is that the park has become cliché, not something to be romanticized by the city's inhabitants. Just a place to cut through or to avoid on Saturdays when the tourists are out in full force. It requires restoration, was allowed to become run down, no resurgance via Conservancy until the 80s, and most restoration took place much much later].
The park does not strike the city from the sky but there is so much before the buildings [on the website, www.centralparknyc.org I learned that 500 trees had been felled due to a significant storm – that this is the first time in 30 years you can see the Empire State Building from The Great Hill]. I feel it built because I know Olmsted… but my favorite parts feel unconstructed, even though I know they were designed.
The way the sun strikes the brick gleaming like copper. There is a sheen to things. The fall colors play against each other and with each other. The breeze pulls at the water falling from the fountain. So many dogs – and dog owners speaking to other dog owners. The breeze brings leaves to me, they click across the brick and across my shoe.
Across the lake there is no city to be seen. Respite. Everywhere we are instructed by signage – unlike B oston’s Franklin Park, the Country Park, built for promenade not for wandering. Walk down a line. Feel the trees at your side. Sense shade and shadow playing at the senses. Take a photograph – keep it in your pocket. Make a moment. I would guess Olmsted and Vaux would encourage keeping by repetition. Know a place in the mind. The effect of this willow along the walk pulls me in with its difference—a few here and there, dotting horizons. Stand here as axis, pivot, consider, feel the breeze. Hold a hand. Hear a child’s laughter.
The sun is warming. I could stay all day. Who appreciates this more? The citizens or the visitors? Intended democratic space—and maybe it is because I’m here at 10am on a Friday… but the people around me are privileged. Mothers who can afford to stay home with child [or have nannies], others who can afford to walk their dogs, go jogging, take leisurely mornings. Now a man with a large portfolio case—an artist. Dogs doing more looking than their walkers.
Here the park is very sculpted. Feels different from Boston, which feels grown. The Country Park being the crowning achievement this just being the beginning [Central Park was the design that started Olmsted's career as a landscape architect, and coined the phrase]. This bench, stone cold, a part of the landscape. Invites. Benches everywhere—everywhere—though I chose a rock for my coffee and croissant this morning.
The birds here are fearless. They are so clearly used to us. Many other [people] sitting peruse brochures and take photographs. The man next to me sat, reflected for a few minutes, then left. So many maps. I knew there was a lake –but it came to me through the tiles tunnel as a surprise. At the bend, something elese. At the bend, an at once familiar and new green. Why do we want photos proving our presence? I took some self portraits [guilty]. Remember that day by that fountain –we were there. We were present. We went to a place and that’s what it looked like that day.
A park’s landscape is effected by what is stasis and what changes. The fountain moves but all else is same—then the trees. Bright yellow and orange and brown. I must have missed the red. The breeze. The people passing. The water, mostly still, but always rippling. The finches and pigeons. The clouds—if you manage to look up from all the other splendor. So many languages in my ears.
[Locale 2: Southern Rocks, by the Ballparks]
At lunchtime all kinds of people are out –easily reached from the edges. The playground is full of screaming children. the faces around me are diverse—and I feel them local, somehow. This is where they go, midday… that said… I’ve also seen the number of rickshaws and carriages increase. I suppose these passages were meant for carriages so it is oddly fitting—not sure Olmsted would have approved of the price.
This woman [science teacher] – “This was all molten rock” talking to a group of kids. “Something pushed it this way. See holes where they were going to blow it up” “Look at these intrusions.” “This is a different kind of rock than the bedrock.” Kids saying “whoa this is cool!” “texture” “This is weathering – this rock is disappearing right in front of us. Turning to dust.” “Rain, sand, pollution…” “abrasion” “friction” “I love these weird pattern.” “this rock got beat up. It got beat up bad.”
[Locale 3: Café]
I spent the entire day walking the park and didn’t even make it to the northern-most end. I got to the reservoir and couldn’t make it past the tennis courts. Then it’s a 20 block walk back to Random House where Peggy [my friend living in Brooklyn] works. Entirely worth it, though. The sun, however, was going down and I could no longer sit outside to write. At one point, past the Ramble, by the lake but not within sight of it, I could not see the city. But then there were so few people on the interior – or maybe it’s just that wide open spaces make them all more visible, when the great lawn stretched out in front of me.
I can barely think well enough to articulate the strength with which I felt Olmsted and Vaux with me [I felt Olmsted most in the Ramble, the stretch of meandering paths... I heard someone say when looking at a map, "see, that's where we got turned around, in all those paths winding around. We don't want to go back in there"]. So man of the restoration plaques were as late as the late 90s –the photograph boards showing the state of things prior was sad—though it could have been worse. The workers, fortunately, were not invisible. All with the Conservancy jackets on, all types I would not otherwise expect to see [in contrast to those visiting]. I took photos of them thinking so many people probably try to get them to not intrude in on the shot. What obstructs the view: homeless people sleeping in the sun, blue tarps holding back, rickshaw drivers hanging out in groups. There were so many photographers, runners, dog walkers, tourists… and on the outskirts, people who actually look like they live here.
[My thoughts after this are even more repetitive and not worth sharing... but will feed the poems... if you managed to get here, thanks for reading]
*** UPDATE*** Phoebe’s Greg Grummer deadline has been extended to January 15th! See http://www.phoebejournal.com for details ****
Forgive my absence from blogging but I’ve been quite busy traveling and sitting in on interviews with potential poetry faculty, and (of course) writing “the book”.
Some photos and notes from my travels to Central Park are forthcoming, but I have many messy notes to sort through before I can form thoughts enough to share them with you all… needless to say I have been feeling Olmsted so very clearly since spending a whole day wandering the landscape he crafted.
In the meantime, I wanted to take a minute to speak to (one of) my other job(s), as the Poetry Editor of Phoebe: A Journal of Literature and Art. We just finished putting together our spring issue and we’re starting to look toward selecting work for fall 2010. We’re currently accepting submissions to the Greg Grummer Poetry Award for this fall issue, and I’d encourage all of you poets to apply.
Our judge this year, I am truly honored to say, is the poetic powerhouse Rae Armantrout whose collection Verse has earned her a position as finalist for the 2009 National Book Award. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when Rae accepted our invitation to judge this year’s contest.
Here’s the flyer:
As you submit your entries and anxiously await the results, keep an eye out for our spring 2010 issue in print. We just finished sending acceptances and ordering the pages, now it’s just layout and sending it to the printers! Us poets have a translation special feature with collaborative translations from Charles Bernstein and Odile Cisneros, Forrest Gander and Aljaz Kovac, homophonic translations of Beowulf from Theodora Danylevich, and more “traditional” translations from Ranjani Murali and Krista Ingebretson. Other poets who will be published in the issue include Dina Hardy, Keith Montesano, Megan Gannon, Stephanie Ford, Karina Borowicz and MUCH MUCH MORE! Look out for it in early spring 2010!