in the steps of poets – the east village poetry walk

Going to New York made me nervous. Not because I thought I’d get lost, or that I’d freak out being in a city with more people than the country I come from. Not because I thought the skyscrapers would make me dizzy or the cabs hit me and keep driving. I was nervous because of the expectations: everyone I know, whether they usually enjoy visiting cities or not, loves New York. But what could there possible be for me, someone who usually avoids cities and mostly likes running around in the forest or on mountains?

After five days in NY, I was completely in love. I had found my aspect of the enormous city: the poetry scene.

Let me give some background on that: a few weeks before I travelled over the ocean to the U.S., I was listening to  a poetry podcast called Poetry Off The Shelf. They mentioned a project called Passing Stranger or the East Village Poetry Walk, a walking tour of a part of NY rich in history and poetry. I decided then that whatever my travelling companions decided to spend time on there, I would take this walk. And so I did, with my partner and sister-in-law. If you’re ever in New York and have the slightest interest in poetry, I really recommend taking the tour: it’s a very rewarding way of spending a couple of hours of your life.

It worked like this. We all downloaded the audio file that we were going to listen to while walking through the East Village, put headphones on and started walking. It was a strange experience – like stepping into a different time while at the same time seeing the modern world around me. Ears and eyes in conflict: the sounds, the stories, the poems from decades ago but the streets, the walls, the houses carrying only worn signs of those times gone by. It was a world of its own, and I enjoyed it immensely. People walked past me as I sat on the stairs of a church, next to the dead body of a chick that had fallen from its nest, looking up at the flat where Allen Ginsberg once lived, listening to his poems and a story from his life. I realized then that those people probably had no idea of what had happened right at that spot 60 years earlier. They probably didn’t even notice the dead baby bird as they rushed past the stairs, confusedly following our gazes to Ginsberg’s old flat . I had stepped into a landscape of sound that only I knew of, I had opened a time capsule and was swimming in words of passion, anger, conflict and joy.

Hours later, when the tour was over, we went straight to the Bowery Poetry Club to have a drink and discuss our experiences. I was glad to have taken the tour with people close to me, even though it was quite a lonely experience in a way. To be able to talk about it afterwards, though, was really rewarding. Later that evening we went to a poetry slam at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which was an experience in its own right: incredible poets, and an indescribable atmosphere. All in all, I had a great few days in New York, and the poetry walk is something I’ll never forget. I want to share some of that experience with you by showing some of what I saw during my walk through the East Village. I hope you enjoy!

This is where it all started.

Above and below, plaques commemorating poets at St. Mark’s church.

Intensely listening inside St. Mark’s…

A beautiful flower in the church yard.

I’ll let this speak for itself.

School or prison?

A small life lost on the church steps opposite Allen Ginsberg’s apartment on 437 E 12th Street. No matter how hard we try, we can’t keep nature out of our cities – and who is to say that human cities aren’t as much part of nature as the huge constructed ant nests with populations that reach millions?

Walking by and admiring this innovative fence surrounding a beautiful garden in the middle of the otherwise grey city, we were suddenly overtaken by an old lady and her dog. She invited us to enter and walk around for a few minutes – she is part of the commune that’s taking care of the garden. It was perfect. An oasis in the middle of the noise and traffic; yet another world to experience on this tour. Below is a beautiful flower I found in that garden.

Graffiti worth seeing.

Through the looking-glass…

Naturally, we had to take some breaks to visit used book shops! In this particular one, we bought On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Staring competition.

We also took a quick break to visit McSorley’s Old Ale House to have some ale. We were very good.

We went to CBGB where the American punk movement came to life – but we quickly left. It wasn’t a music club anymore, but this old piano was still there – and it seemed to still miss someone’s touch.

The tour ended at the Bowery Poetry Club – which, as you can see here, sounds like a pretty good place. We stayed for quite a while, until we headed towards the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and a poetry slam (that blew my mind). This was the best tour I had ever taken anywhere – this memory will surely be etched in my mind until it grows dull.

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