Brooklyn Jewish Troubadours

In Tablet (“A New Read on Jewish Life”), Lee Smith writes “How Delmore Schwartz Saved My Life: Or at least kept Lou Reed from punching me at a dinner party“):

The American poets who captured this paradox best—Schwartz and other Brooklyn-born bards, like David Schubert and of a later generation, Hugh Seidman—constitute one of our most important and lasting literary traditions. They are the Brooklyn Jewish Troubadours. In a sense, these are Walt Whitman’s children, the generations he reached out to in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” adolescents caught between the deprivations their parents invariably suffered in the old world and the new world of opportunity and bounty.

The Brooklyn Jewish Troubadours are haunted by the specter of impermanence—everything is on the verge of changing, likely for the worst. As Schwartz writes in “In the Slight Ripple, The Mind Perceives the Heart,” “night comes soon,/With its cold mountains, with desolation,/unless Love builds its city.” There is a direct line then between Schwartz and Lou Reed. Consider Reed’s “Perfect Day,” where with the small events of urban life—drinking sangria in the park, feeding animals at the zoo, a movie, too—love builds its city against impermanence, a fortress made of papier mache.

“You’re going to reap just what you sow,” Reed sings in “Perfect Day,” and finally I turn to face the music. “Mr. Reed,” I say, “can you tell me about Delmore Schwartz?” His face softens, his eyes get large and his body breathes expansively. “Delmore Schwartz,” he says, “is everything.”

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