Rain Taxi Review of Books
Broadway for Paul by Vincent Katz
Review by Jim Feast
Vincent Katz’s new book of verse, Broadway for Paul, starts from a strong counter-rhythm. Much of the verse celebrates walking down the streets of Manhattan, keenly aware of what Hart Crane called “the veins of eternity flowing through the crowds around us.” While Katz enjoys walking in this flow of humanity, however, he is aware that his own feelings are not for everyone, saying of his fellow New Yorkers, “We just thought people outside the bubble wanted the same thing: / To live as variously as possible.” Poems throughout that refer to Trump and other subjects make clear that the mix of races, ethnicities, and sexualities populating New York City’s avenues is not something that everyone in the U.S. is comfortable with, let alone celebrates.
Katz’s balancing of counter themes is perhaps clearest in the long poem “A City Marriage” which closes the volume. In this piece, the speaker is wandering around the courthouses and bureaus of lower Manhattan, taking in a cosmopolitan society as a variety of people exit the marriage bureau. Among them is “a happy group of 10, greeting, laughing, hugging, then settling down to smoking and chatting,” before going off to a nearby garden for a photo op. The garden is in the vicinity of the African Burial Ground, which in Colonial days had been excluded from the metropolis. “In the early 1990s, during excavations for the Ted Weiss Federal Building.../ the remains of 419 women, children, and men were discovered.” These bodies were only a small portion of the “approximately 15,000 people of African origin...buried in this region, and the vast majority still lie under buildings.” Katz’s suggestion is that even amidst scenes of joy, there have always been those in our nation that has been against the mixing of races and classes, pointing out, “By the late 18th century, slave labor was essential to New York’s white populace,” and that, “In some real way, they are still propping up the economic activities that are engaged in daily in the rectangle bounded by Chambers and Duane, Broadway and Centre.”
One can read this poem (and the book overall) as a rejoinder to those who reject the very real history of oppression on which the U.S. is grounded, suggesting that not only has diversity of identity and thought always been present in our society, but it is the base upon which the whole American edifice rests. Broadway for Paul cherishes a mindful wandering of New York streets, all the while maintaining awareness of the rainbow of people whose suffering and very bones prop us up and sustain our existence, leading the pedestrian to appreciate the sanctity of the ground on which they tread.