Wednesday, October 22, 2008
“The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel" goes to Endicott College
I was invited to give a workshop for my poetry collection “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel” by an unusual man, Dan Sklar. Dan Sklar is the Creative Writing Director at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Dan has turned into a great supporter of the small press in the Boston area. There are too few colleges, universities, that welcome little magazines and small presses, and because of Dan, many poets who would not have been heard by many students, are given a voice. Besides the Cape Cod Writers Center headed by the gracious Ann Elizabeth Tom, and Michael Sullivan of the William Joiner Center at U/Mass/Boston, and a few select others, Sklar is a major solid citizen. Sklar, of course is a widely published small press poet and probably mentions his credits in Free Verse and Ibbetson Street more than he mentions his publications in the Harvard Review, and other top shelf mags. When you go out to Endicott, Sklar treats everyone the same. Whether you are a big deal poet with a Pulitzer, or you are putting out a stapled chapbook with a minipress, well, Sklar digs you…as long as the work works for him. I tell Dan whenever I go out to Endicott I feel like a mensch, a distinguished poet, instead of an extinguished one. Hats off to this guy and buy his latest book “Bicycles, Canoes, and Drums”
*I included some remarks that I made to his class about “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel” (Cervena Barva Press):
There are some people who are nature poets, there are language poets, metaphysical poets, and you name it. I guess I can call myself a peoples’ poet. I write mostly about people—character studies, if you will. I guess it goes back to when I was a kid watching the Twilight Zone—you know the original in black and white. Rod Serling, the host, would introduce some character, a guy, down-on-his-luck, maybe a reclusive bookworm, a snake oil salesman, in a gone-to-seed hotel room, with the requisite neon sign blinking garishly outside his window. Serling would introduce him: “Have if you will Mr. Henry Beamish, a small fastidious man whose only passion is the written word.”
To me, often people on the margin have been a source of fascination. I have worked a s a counselor at a psych. hospital, McLean Hospital, for 26 years now, and I guess for some reason I was attracted to the “craziness” of the ward, over the “craziness” of the outside world. When we discharge clients from the program I work now, I often joke; “I haven’t been discharged yet, and won’t be anytime soon.” A good portion of the work I have produced has dealt with the often overlooked denizens of the back ward, and the people I have encountered in bars, coffee shops, and subways, etc… in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville.
In my life, and I am sure in yours, there has always been a person, who remains a strong symbol, an icon for you, a flashing light, on this journey we all take. So when I wrote: “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel,” I concentrated on a man I saw in a small booth in the middle of the Midtown Tunnel when I was a kid. The tunnel connects the borough of Queens to the borough of Manhattan. The booth and the man are long gone, but the booth hasn’t given up the ghost. Now as a middle age man, probably around the same age as the guy in the booth, I realized this man represented encroaching adulthood: the trip from the relative security of a Long Island childhood, to an unknown, alluring, yet frightening adult world. Did this man have a wife, friends, a life outside the booth, I asked my Dad. My father confused as to why I was fixated on this obscure figure said: “How the hell do I know?”
When I was on the skids, I retreated to a booth of my own making, whether a cubicle in a dark library, or the small furnished room I lived in the Back Bay of Boston for many years. We emerge and submerge in metaphorical tunnels. We emerge from the vaginal tunnel towards the light and cry, later we reenter that tunnel and die. We have many rites of passage. All I know is, wherever I go that man, in that cramped booth, will always follow me.
To order go to http://cervenabarvapress.com