Below is the Preface to my book Broadway Poems: Pandemic, Personal, Political (2023),
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For the Table of Contents, click here.
For my poem "On Beauty," click here.
This book of twenty-five poems took shape while America
was clothed in masks and mired in the worst Pandemic
we have faced in a century. It began as a tentative
exploration of many issues relating to the Pandemic,
but then it morphed quickly to consider other questions
of a personal and political nature.
When I use the word “political” in the title and here to
describe my third group of poems, I do not mean the
engagement with the political process or political parties
in America. Rather, I am looking at the word in its original
meaning—the life of the “polis” –either the local, or the
larger national, space that we all occupy. Thus, the
“political” poems presented in this book are reflections
primarily on the nature of crucial aspects of life in America,
historically considered, rather than denunciations or commendations of people or parties.
For example, one of the issues I explore is the way the concept of safety and exhortations to “Be safe!” have developed in our culture in the last 50 years, and what that says about us as a people (“Enhanced Safety Consciousness”). Then, I take on a hot-button issue that isn’t related to a political party but is related to how we understand our national story (“History as Battleground”). I am especially concerned to trace the way that the last three generations, beginning from the close of World War II (1945) have injected various beliefs and practices into the national DNA that both challenge and threaten us today (“1946 And All That”). I also look at a current issue to see if I have understood it helpfully (“Why Aren’t People Returning to Work?”)
But I do not want to stop with Political or Pandemic poems (such as “On Covid-19” or “Pandemic and War” or “Faint Echoes of a Century Ago”). In my second group of poems I also want to explore aspects of personal life, such as a conversation with a friend about beauty (“On Beauty”). Several of my poems have a melancholy dimension to them (such as “The Problem of Unequal Decline”), but others are brimming with hope (“Reasons for Hope” or “Dreams and Dreaming”). I try to inject notes of humor into several of the poems, such as “Slow Reader” or “Wanton Debauchery, a Biblical Reflection,” but others seemingly have a note of terminal sadness. I apologize ahead of time for the obscurity and length of the last poem (“My Life’s Course”), but I wanted to take the opportunity to put all my thoughts down in one place about what I am trying to do now in my life as a thinker and writer.
Only two of the poems rhyme, including the first one (“Broadway Coffeehouse”), a paean to a place. That place is the Broadway Coffeehouse in Salem, Oregon, where some of these poems were written and many were refined. It is a space like no other I have found, where opportunities for reflection, meeting others, enjoying a beverage, and seeing multiple generations come together is daily presented before my eyes. I have thus decided to entitle this work “Broadway Poems,” to capture my indebtedness to a place that has been my daily study and friendship home for a decade.
This book concludes with an essay that I wrote after attending my fifty year high-school reunion in Summer 2022. The irony about the essay is that I didn’t actually graduate from Darien (CT) High School because our family moved from CT to CA after my freshman year of high school, but the memories of Darien and my classmates are so fresh and powerful that I was invited to the reunion and decided to reflect on the nature of memory, hope and regret as it emerged for me after the reunion. My hope is that some of my older readers, or those especially conscious of the role of memory in life, will find the reflections useful.