There was something very exhilarating about speaking Muriel Rukeyser’s visions of “The Outer Banks” into the wind and rain at Zuccotti Park today. I felt them torn from my lips and swallowed up by the elements. Highly unlikely that they would find a listening ear, which seemed appropriate. I’d pretty much given up on finding any poetry lovers after my reading of “Not Yet” (“A time of destruction. Of the most rigid powers in ascendance.”), which was kindly assisted by a man who offered to hold my umbrella and then, after about ten lines, broke in to inquire, “Just what exactly is going on in this poem?” “Well, she’s describing a landscape of devastation, but you kind of have to let the images wash over you.” “Yes, but are you very deep into this poem?” “I’m about halfway through.” After that, I thought I’d just as soon hold my own umbrella. Other poems I read today (all from The Speed of Darkness, Random House, 1968) included “The Poem as Mask” and “Poem” (the famous one beginning “I lived in the first century of world wars” that was so widely read after 9/11); I’d intended to read “Käthe Kollwitz,” but I was getting chilled and a really nasty shouting match had broken out between a man with a sign denouncing the Prime Minister of Singapore (or was it the President) for his purported sexual abuse of children and a man who was bellowing at him, “You fucking neo-Nazi, you racist, get out of here!” The first man was shouting about Michael Milken owing him money. Then another man, much younger, started trying to block the Singapore sign guy from entering the park. “You can’t go in there, you can’t go in.” I wanted to jump in and ask how baiting the so-called neo-Nazi could possibly be productive, but decided to let the guy in the NYPD Community Affairs raincoat handle it. “You can’t prevent anybody from going in the park,” he said mildly. “Everybody goes in the park. You can’t prevent anyone from going in the park.”
Before all that happened, I’d met a youngish man (white) who said he used to be a New York City Police detective before 9/11, and as a result didn’t want anything to do with the Wall Street area, but his friend had convinced him to come down here and see what was going on. He seemed quite open to the proceedings in Zuccotti Park, but I couldn’t quite tell if he shared the general drift of the sentiments being expressed, or simply viewed the Occupation as a singular phenomenon that had to be witnessed with one’s own eyes. “This is history in the making!” he exclaimed. I’d also met a young man (black) who was wearing a Florida State jacket and said he’d come up from Florida to be part of Occupy Wall Street “because one of my best friends was killed by the police” a year or two ago. He’s in a graduate program and writes some poetry himself. He had a female companion with him, but she hung back and didn’t join the conversation. I have to say I’m beginning to wonder what it is about standing on Broadway and reading poetry with a sign around my neck saying BECA– USE THEY’RE TRYING TO DRIVE OUR PLANET OFF A CLIFF that causes men to approach me with questions or comments, and women to walk right by. Is it that women are conditioned not to interact with strangers? Is it some signal or scent I’m giving off? I don’t mind the men, but I’d really like to know what my sisters are thinking about Occupy Wall Street; and I’d especially like to know more about what many of them are experiencing inside Zuccotti Park, that famously “leaderless” collectivity. I’ve heard and commented on various currents of discussion about the racial dynamics of OWS, and to a lesser extent class dynamics, but nobody (that I know of) seems thus far to be interested in talking about what difference gender makes at the intersection of Broadway and Liberty.