Meditation and Poetics – (Reznikoff – 10)

New York Public Library and Bryant Park c.1910 – “just walking around,  four in the afternoon”

AG: It’s amazing how he (Charles Reznikoff)  did his work. He was like a saint in that way. He lived in an apartment house near Lincoln Center in New York, one of the new apartment houses. His wife, actually, was a professor of literature at Brandeis and editor of a Jewish magazine, a Jewish Zionist magazine. He helped out with that a little. He lived a very sort of anonymous life in libraries, like a scholar, (like I said), looking up texts.

He walked around Manhattan a lot. He did a lot of walking meditation. He would take long walks. There were occasions when I was wandering around Bryant Park and I met him in Bryant Park by New York Public Library, just walking around, four in the afternoon. I didn’t know what he was doing there and he didn’t know what I was doing there, but we were both doing the same thing – sort of observing space in the middle of the city and observing particular pigeons, and trying to figure out what was going on. And when we bumped into each other it was funny – “Oh, you’re doing it too. You’re here too”. And, then, of course, the park was full of bums like us, (in the sense of homeless mindless wanderers).

He walked every day, I think, from something like from something like Sixty-seventh Street, or Seventieth, or the Eighties (somewhere way over on the West Side, Tenth Avenue), he’d walk every day to Bryant Park, at least, sometimes all the way.. He used to walk to Wall Street to work, or downtown to the Courthouse, down to Lower Manhattan. So he walked the length of Manhatan every day (when he was younger, when he was older, just walked down to mid-town, but he walked every day. That was his big thing, like just doing nothing but walking, (with the regular rounds – so he’d walk down, get his lunch, do a little work at the library and then walk all the way back – and while he was walking…  – or sometimes he’d take the subway) – “Going to work in the subway/ this bright May morning/ you have put on red slippers;/do they dance behind the counters/ in the store, or about the machines/ in the shop where you work? (- sees someone with red slippers and suddenly, “do you dance behind the counter?”)- and on page 111 (17) “Rails in the subway/What did you know of happiness,/ when you were ore in the earth;/Now the electric lights shine upon you” – (18)  “Walk about the subway station/ in a grove of steel pillars/how their knobs  the rivet-heads – / unlike those of oaks -/ are irregularly placed;/how barren the ground is/ except here and there on the platform/ a fat black fungus/ that was chewing-gum” – [That really kills me that, because he’s the first  guy that ever noticed that and put that into a poem. So the aesthetics. Everybody has seen that “fat black fungus that was chewing-gum” on the sidewalk, on the pavements, in the subways, on bus floors, on train floors, on the floors of grammar school.. boys rooms. Everybody.. It’s a universal, but nobody’s ever noticed, named, taken particular notice of, seen the peculiar aesthetic beauty of it, and have found the apt comparison to fungus – and this is nineteen.. what year is this? – nineteen twenty-nine (it was published in 1929).

In fact, the whole notion of seeing things in the subway, writing about the subway, is a kind of mindfulness that only somebody walking around a lot, at ease, relaxed, not thinking, not preoccupied, would have the time to spare to open up his mind and observe what was going on around him. He wasn’t thinking  of.. in other words, he wasn’t rushing in the subway.He was slowed-down, his mind was slowed-down, in the subway, and observant.

That fat black fungus that was chewing-gum” is really great. I think that probably will last a long long time. When the subways are gone, when the subways are gone to dust, this will still be there.  This little perception will still probably be memorable, I mean even if the books are gone, so people will recollect that image.  Also, the “grove of steel pillars/how their knobs  the rivet-heads -/ unlike those of oaks -” is pretty accurate. Not merely.. I mean, everyone has seen those riveted knobs, those regularly riveted knobs in subway pillars, but nobody’s looked at them long enough to see the peculiar.. well what?- what is it he did with them? – he compared them to oaks, that’s alright, but he also..they stand there in the mind now. They stand there recollected in the mind with the rivet-heads, with the knobs or rivet-heads, in regular order. Some people remember it and some people don’t. He remembered – saw and remembered clearly. So what it is is he’s just seeing and remembering ordinary mind, in a sense.  I mean it’s ordinary mind remembering ordinary matter. It isn;t any straining after an unworldly beauty. The unworldly beauty is in the world already. It’s just a question of noticing it. So that’s wakened mind, so to speak. It’s wakened mind and at the same time it’s ordinary mind.

If you wanted go write a Surrealist poem, it would be a recombinaton of rivets and ordinary mind, objects that can be recombined in odd form, I think we were talking about this the other day)..the possibility of.. with a basic grounding,  then recombining your noticings, your details, in unusual order

[Audio for the above may he heard here starting at approximately six-and-a-quarter minutes in, and concluding at approximately twelve-and-a-half minutes in] 

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