: Editorial: "The Brooklyn Bridge and Othre Transitions" :

​2017 Fall, Vol. 75, No. 3

The Brooklyn Bridge and Other Transitions

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying

-- T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday, VI, Verse 18

 

Challenging TransitionsThe recent publication of a long lost novel by Walt Whitman, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle (1852) has been trashed in The Paris Review and praised in The New York Times. Whitman was in transition at that exact moment both physically and emotionally as he journeyed to Manhattan from Brooklyn via ferry to carouse at the Bohemian bars like Pfaff’s, but more importantly he was to try and figure about what sort of career to pursue: should he continue in the family business of house building, abandon his work as a journalist that was wearing him down or continue as a poet or try his hand at writing novels? The recent discovery of the work of a slave/poet George Moses Horton in the New York Public Library is similar but startlingly different and astounding when one considers both the “institution” and the man.

If we throw into the mix another set of figures for the year 1852 such as the Roebling’s (the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge) you have the greatest American poet plus two great inventors and a black slave trying to gain his freedom. Both Whitman and Roebling Senior dabbled in pseudo sciences, for Roebling it was hydropathy, for Whitman phrenology. Both men’s search for a science in an age where the eccentric Charles Fourier and Emanuel Swedenborg offered a way forward for both geniuses and commoners. Horton was able to buy his freedom but his poetic bent was not to be the way out. To stay or to go was a key question for a writer of that day and today.

One essay traces the journey of two writers from today’s fashionable and literary Brooklyn to South Dakota and seems to reverse the traditional outward and upward story. When I left my birthplace—Brooklyn, New York—in 1956 my neighborhood was a mixed ghetto of Irish and Italian families who gathered at local bars with names like Farrell’s, Connie’s Corner, Franks’ Prospect Avenue, Delaney’s”, Sullivan’s, Fitzgerald’s and Fogarty’s. I left because it was parochial and offered little opportunity though many stayed and thrived. Today it is either the literary capital of America with authors like Paul Auster, Colm Tóibín, Natasha Trethewey and, I presume, Pete Hamill is still in residence. It is home to small publishers and the New York office of The London Review of Books.

Another view—one taken by The New York Times critic A. O. Scott­—is that chic Brooklyn has more companies producing artisanal mayonnaise and documentary films than anywhere else. The bars may still exist and are probably populated by hirsute patrons like Whitman. Fogarty’s I know is gone as is the trolley barn across the street. Boop’s bar/pizzeria owned by my childhood best friend’s uncle and may or may not still exist. On my next visit I will find out.

We have here another “Senior Paper” from my work-in progress drawn from the Antioch Archives with his thoughts about 1955 and what a post-Antioch life might be like from Borges’ great translator Norman Thomas Di Giovanni. It reveals “Di G” (as he was known) as a writer-in-training and would-be translator who wished the college offered courses in Latin and Greek.  Our other essayists take in Celine and his trip around America and Jeffrey Meyer’s catalogue of unhappy Victorian writers struggling to make the transition to married life and, in general failing, but still find happiness. Not everyone was despondent as Edmund Gosse's magnificent “biographical recollections” Father and Son shows.  There is an essay by Frederic Will on his friendships over time with three men that reveals how it grew and changed as they grew and changed.

Our usual fiction and poetry are here with writers who have graced our pages before and represent a mixture of styles and subjects. All are crossing bridges and trying to figure out the classic question: what next and in what direction? We, too, are trying to do the same as we complete our 75th year of continuous publication.

Robert S. Fogarty, Editor

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The BEST words in the BEST order for over 75 years.

See the table of contents for the 75th Anniversary Part I issue or the 75th Anniversary Part 2 issue.

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