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Poetic License: No Poems Left Here

By Staff | Oct 6, 2011

Sylvia Plath is responsible for this non-poem. I had caught her in “Edge” at Union Square Theatre, then a few months after that Angela Torn monologue, tracked her down for reverent viewing at the East Village Cinema-plex, southwest corner of 12th Street and Second Avenue, a block away from where I was born. “Sylvia,” the hard to find Palthrow portrayal of Plath was surprisingly anemic: the Plath estate had forbidden use of her poetry and the effect was like listening to Sinatra songs without the words or Hamlet reciting his soliloquies in memorandum form and language.

Midway through the movie, the ghost of Cinemas Past began to haunt me. Memories of the theatre, its history and my experiences there drowned out any remaining appreciation of the movie. Overwhelmed and driven by nostalgia, for the first time in forty years, I walked down the city block I had been born and raised on, the street that served as the backdrop for most of the poetic recollections of my childhood.

I was expecting to find at the least some ironic changes, bitter-sweet memories, perhaps an epiphanic moment or two. Instead, I discovered a colorless city block, void of distinction and character, victim of gentrified makeover: no children played on it, no one sat on the few remaining stoops, no one dared or cared to lean or look out its windows. 13th Street between First and Second Avenues still looked the same on the city maps but it had been closed to the real city, the East Side of my childhood, for years.

The five minutes I spent looking for shocks or even traces of recognition during my walk through the block are among the most dismal and disappointing I have ever experienced. As I reached the corner of First Avenue and began the slow turn toward 14th Street that I had taken thousands of times, I took my last look at the city block that bore me and murmured to myself, “There are no poems left here. If there are, I cannot see or feel them.”

Thomas Wolfe, the writer I idolized when I lived on 13th Street, got it right – way back then: you can’t go home again – and don’t even try.

Thanks a lot, Sylvia.