The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue

Vincent Katz’s Broadway for Paul

Vincent Katz
Broadway for Paul
(Knopf, 2020)

Often matter-of-fact in tone, stripped of rococo embellishment or flowery pretense, these poem-objects by poet, art writer, and translator Vincent Katz stand as testimony to keen observance and thoughtful assessment. The voice is conversational, as if the poet and reader were seated at an outdoor café sharing a pot of good coffee, sheltered for the moment from the rush of activity and liberated from destination.

I felt charged tuning into the, at times, seemingly spontaneous improvisation, the poet boldly applying pen to paper as his thought stream issues forth, one observance noted down which then spawns a reflection, the thought allowed to move where it may as quick as a sax solo; for instance, catching the delight in a woman smiling at a baby on the subway. The observations are corralled into form, the passion of the personal journalism contained in the poems' elegant structure.

The longer poems, in particular, lulled me into a luxurious trance, the long-flowing lines inviting me along as the poet reflects on his day—either in the lush colors of the rural countryside or amidst the guerrilla choreography of midtown Manhattan.

His noticing, descriptive and evocative, clarifies what is available for our own focus, mining, on an atomic level, the goodness in details and attitudes:

A grey day, but somehow one balanced on its own vectors.
Tall pines across the pond. The grey of pond's surface.
Nearer pines, their branches sheathed in darker green.

Most often his chronicling is still, sober, as if newly arrived on earth. He denotes the connective tissue we share not only with the seen but the experienced as well, as in a poem chronicling a rainy day in—as the end notes reveal —São Paulo:

stasis of leaves and buildings

Sometimes there is no time for processing, so he comes right out and says it:

It's a beautiful day. Look at the light out there.

One poem ends: “…afternoon lingers.” How's that for an unresolved chord? Or a finale?

Light matters in these poems, as does earning a measure of acceptance, of oneself and of the world. Throughout is an evocation of surroundings. Some of the poems set in the country feel like a landscape painting by Alex Katz (his dad) come to life as words. Those where he is paused on a sidewalk illuminate details threaded within the city's cacophony.

Shadows do not escape his noticing, nor does a quote from George Washington chiseled in granite. And I love the fact that he can scribble a poem in his notebook while sitting at the Café Dante with his mom.

Between noting two weddings on the grounds of downtown Manhattan's majestic civic structures, the book's closing poem, "A City Marriage," takes us on a voyage not only through the area but deep into a history of the locale that has only recently been revealed—namely the slave population's contribution to the city's richness. Not since James Schuyler's The Morning of the Poem (1980) from nearly 50 years ago, or Elinor Nauen's So Late Into the Night (2011) has a contemporary long poem sustained for me a sense of breathlessness as it unfurls its bouquet of noticing, recalling, investigating, and celebrating.


Greg Masters

Greg Masters has published 10 books in the past decade with his imprint Crony Books. The latest collection of poems is The Collected Thoughts of Greg Masters.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues