Open City: Blogging Urban Change
In the beginning, there’s just sound
By Sahar Muradi


On Saturday, I went to the two New Year literary legends: the Poetry’s Project’s 37th Annual New Year’s Day Marathon at St. Mark’s Church, and Dark Matters, the 17th Annual Alternative New Year’s Day Marathon at the Bowery Poetry Club. Actually, I’d agreed to meet a friend at St. Mark’s Church to hear Patti Smith, but when it came down to it, I spaced and thought it was at the Bowery Poetry Club. So after my 4pm brunch(!), I squeezed into the packed house at 308 Bowery and stood before the beautiful dark stage lit with Whitman’s face.  It was loud and raucous, full of heart and heckling and audience spitfire.  And it was free. Oh, how I adore you, New York.

Miriam Stanley took the mike in her brown fur vest and did a roll call of poets.  Steve Cannon, I know you’re here. Madeline, you’re here, Allen Fitzgerald, you here? No. Robin Ross, ya, I know you’re here. Ice, I know you’re by the bar. Susan, I just saw you, and Stan Marcus? She then lovingly introduced Steve Cannon, of Gathering of the Tribes: He doesn’t have a bio…but everyone knows who Steve Cannon is, and if you don’t know who Steve Cannon is, shame on you! He’s the President of Avenue C.  Read a fucking poem, Steve!

Twelve years ago, when I was in college, I remember applying for an internship at Gathering of the Tribes, but instead ended up working at a feminist paper in Boston. So when Steve got up and did a little reflection on the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, I had one of those Slacker or Robert Frost moments of inventing the alternate life of having interned with him and come to the city much earlier and written things and done things and basically been someone else.

Luckily Master Lee cut that disastrous brain cord. The great city griot took the stage in his very bard voice and very bard stature and gave a deep and meditative and hilarious performance on the things we can and cannot control:

And speaking of things we can control, the night wouldn’t have been right without a finger for Bloomberg for his blizzard blunder, and Patricia Carragon had us all shouting to the Emperor of Snow York:

I did eventually make my way to St. Mark’s after all my friend’s text references to being in the bleachers—what bleachers?? I even asked the guy next to me, are there are any bleachers here? Uh, not that I know of. Wasn’t it possible though, New York, with your sudden artifices? I seriously thought, maybe I’d never noticed the other floors at the Poetry Club.

Finally, some hours later, I found my friend at the church, paid $20 (oh, the neon names) and we wedged ourselves into a corner parallel to the stage but in full view of the bursting audience.  My skin did go gooseflesh when Patti Smith came on with her two braids and hopes for this year of the iron rabbit. But also when Taylor Mead so gently unzipped his little duffle bag and took out a sexy poem, and Penny Arcade saw that and later said what everyone was thinking about his thin frame.

Yes, all through the night (I left at 12:30 am, some 8 hours of poetry later), listening and listening and being blown away by 1) language, and 2) by being a part of this big crowd of people on this first day of the year and witness to this one specific moment in this city’s history. There was an energy. There was something fiery and possible about the whole day. I think I’d like to walk into the new year with that.

One Response to In the beginning, there’s just sound

  1. Susan Yung says:

    Too bad you missed my reading … I’m the “Susan” with no last name (I almost missed the reading after waiting 2 hours for the 4-6 time slot.) I read my hyphenated bio since 25 words is too short to describe 50 years of art in LES and Chinatown which took the alloted 3-min. time to read. My earlier write-ups were totally unacceptable by the men so I present it here: “domestic-violence”, “misogynist-hater”, “anti-racist”, “democractic-anarchist”, “ghettoe-girl”, “Chinatown-Harlem,” “East Village-West Village”, “homesteading-gentrifier”, “yuppie-squatter”, “homeless-sheltered”, “American-Asian”, “World-Traveller”, “Adventuress-Common-Law-Wife”, “Photographer-Videographer”, “Martial-Fine-Artist”, “Musician-Drummer”, “Artist-Scientist”, “Geologist-Librarian”, “Mathematician-Designer”, “Collector-Exhibitionist”, “Buyer-Seller”, “Cook-Politician”, “Migrant-Worker”, “Independent-Dependent”, “Pacifist-Activist”.

    I could not stay because I had to prepare to video at Nuyorican Poets Cafe for Rome Neal’s “Banana Puddin’ Jazz” which was entertaining with very talented “minorities”. Unlike my 15 years videoing “Tribes”, where every non-colored person clamors for attention from a blind Black man with their “bad art”.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
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