I hadn’t been in New York City for many years and I simply didn’t remember the cacophony of sirens, jack hammers, thwacking copters, tires drumming on cracked asphalt, the rattling subway, the howling truck engines and angry shouting drivers. From the first day of the shoot I was continually aware and overwhelmed by the noise. Barcelona, where I live, by most standards a loud urban environment, is a library in comparison. I often had to shout directions at the cameraman. He said he seldom heard me anyway, but he read my lips or guessed at whatever I might be saying and usually got it right. “Remember that old expression,” he said one day: “I can’t hear myself think.”
Extreme uncontrolled noise usually engenders mayhem and madness. Yet here in the eye of the storm, the silence of poetry abides in abundant calm. It seems the center of the poetry universe should be some far off mountain or desert monastery, some tropical island retreat or cloistered sanctuary where poets might better hear the whisper of the muse. But, no, this raucous, deafening place contains the deep dwelling silence from which poetry is born. Just as poetry in turn gives birth to the silence this noisy place so desperately needs.
Poetry not only exists in New York City, it thrives. The list of scenes is as overwhelming as the racket. Poetry cafes, venues and clubs. Poetry associations and festivals. Readings, spoken word, open mic, slams. On any given day a poetry event is taking place somewhere. In Brooklyn, the Bowery, the Bronx, a Harlem night, a back room brothel, around the corner, up the street, down the block, in a cafe, in an auditorium, in a bedroom, in a quiet heart.
Poetry begins and ends in silence and like a mountain so it grows. After we have scaled its heights, we are left in silence as well. Maybe it’s why so many people say they don’t understand it. It’s not so easy to grasp what emerges from nothingness, what is born out of a void, especially in a place that is anything but empty.
Silent within if not always without. Poetry, that vehicle of travel, that prayer for safe passage. It bathes the world, returns a loud world, even a New York City world to stillness, to tenderness, to the sweetness of a breath about to become a word.