Friday, September 25, 2009

Goodbye New York? Why do we do it?

Write, that is... and why is it so difficult a question to answer? DANIEL NESTER recalls life before leaving.

Goodbye to All Them

I’d like to say I left New York and never looked back, that there was some cloud-parting moment of clarity when I knew I had to stop being a New Yorker, stopped claiming the appellation of New York Poet, and never looked back. But I can’t.

My life as a New York Poet begins at age 26, in seminar rooms near Washington Square, reciting first drafts with sober incantation. Star Teacher #1 orders us to read Poet in New York. I do. “New York has given me the knock-out punch,” Federico García Lorca writes back to his family in Spain in 1929. I share classes with a Troubled South African Poet of Indian Descent, who ululates and laments the absence of servants in her West Village apartment. She brings in handwritten poems, calls her classmates racists. Finally, one night, Star Teacher #1 tells her this is all inappropriate, calls her into her office. We never see her again. Two years later, another student asks Star Teacher #2 what to do when we get out of grad school: Should we apply for teaching jobs, send poems to journals? Her tone is desperate; she really wants to know. Star Teacher #2 pauses, looks at the ceiling—dreaming of his summer house in Vermont, no doubt.

“Try just being a poet,” he says.

People write this down.

My life as New York Poet ends 12 years later, on March 12, 2005, when I announce my intention to move out of town—upstate to a teaching job, the coveted prize for poets—to 312 people on my personal email list. No one responds to this email

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