Category Archives: Brooklyn Bridge

Week Two, You Get Around

FYI: The internet is a funny thing in that you post a little video about crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on one website, and then it suddenly appears on another website.  Self-Absorbed Boomer picked up our trek across the great span with much delight.  So now, Week 2 participants, you can see yourselves on yet another blog.

And I found this out because I shamelessly Google myself from time to time. 

–Christina M. Rau

Poet Along The Shore

If you can read backwards, then you know these words are Walt Whitman’s. His poems expose the inner workings of a city that parallel the inner workings of the mind.  The Long Island influence in his work is as noticeable as the influence Brooklyn had on him.  In turn, his influence on Long Island and Brooklyn, and their histories thereafter, is incredible.  From poetic style to images to simply finding inspiration, Whitman is the forefather of many poets, the reason many others have come after, and the impetus to find life in the city sublime.

Inhabitance

Whitman still walks

Fulton Ferry Landing,

spilling around its perimeter

in his typical endless flow—

words, words, words,

lines extending, tumbling

forward in urgency, immediacy,

progressive, bounding forwards,

words repeated and louder each time

yet only on the page,

or, here, cut through metal,

praising the current,

the gulls,

embodying the flaneur,

lauding the city—

its buildings, its streets,

and always coming back to

the basis of human beings,

the what of humanity,

the simple curiosity of human experience,

breathing life into everything it touches.

— Christina M. Rau

Rhythm Of The City

You know those fairy tales about living creatures under the bridge that pounce on passersby from the shadows to challenge them, scare them, or make them pay a toll? Instead of scary creatures under the bridge, we ran into an off-beat gang of musicians ready to entertain and spread the word of peace. We also ran into a pianist.

Things you should know about this experience:
1. The musicians were so frenzied because they’d been lounging (rightly so) in the shade, waiting for an audience.

2. NYC has a program that encourages music; two weeks this summer, the government left pianos throughout the city for people to sit at and play.

3. The pianist understood the concept of spreading the music a bit more than this group, who asked him to stop playing so they could start.

4. The backstory of who this group is and how they found each other and why they seem to get along only some of the time or why they are displeased with piano music (seriously, go back and look–the guy in the white complains about him and the leader of the group goes to ask him to stop) are all unclear.

This is why the new Brooklyn Bridge Park is being built. These are our Brooklyn memories.

— Christina M. Rau

Brooklyn Backdrop

Brooklyn is everywhere. As we saw in the pre-reading of Haw’s book, the Brooklyn Bridge is iconic and used over and again. In this video, we see glimpses of that as well as its rich surroundings, including the promenade where we visited just a few hours ago.

-Christina M. Rau

Haw’s “The Brooklyn Bridge” and Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

Richard Haw’s Brookyn Bridge: A Cultural History sits well next to Walt Whitman’s magnificent “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Haw’s thesis is that the Brooklyn Bridge is more than just a stunning feat of engineering and architecture; it is an icon that has come to mean so many things to so many different people—in responses as varied as postcards, advertisements, and poems. Similarly, Whitman begins his poem focusing first on his own perspective as a ferry passenger but quickly he asks the reader to ponder what others are thinking as they come home from a hard day at work (interestingly, the poem’s original title was “Sun-Down Poem”). By the end of the poem, Whitman demonstrates the multiple ways one can experience an East River commute. He connects it to the ride of life (“life’s ebbs and tides”), he makes connections across time and space (“And you that shall cross from shore to shore”), he expresses feelings and thoughts that are unique to the individual but also shared (“Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river, I was refreshed”), he regularly juxtaposes opposites (Manhattan and Brooklyn, shadow and light)–ideas and images that ultimately serve to present the ferry passengers, readers of the poem, and Whitman himself as disparate yet part of a “well-joined scheme” (“a part” and “apart”).

In the opening chapter of his book, Haw too insists on an understanding of the Brooklyn Bridge from a multiple of perspectives. He describes how city leaders pushed for a celebration of Brooklyn Bridge as an “idealized version of the modern city…a transcendent, democratic space.” Yet, for all the fanfare, it seems that the working classes and the darker side of American society were whitewashed in favor of a magnificently orchestrated “pseudo-event.” Chapter three in turn focuses on how the Brooklyn Bridge was interpreted in early prints as exuding “expansive optimism” or fostering the idea of “mastery, possession, and dominance.” Photographers and artists represented the Bridge in many different ways as well. Most famously, Hart Crane and Walker Evans sought to make the bridge a symbol of connection, science, and human progress, a “mystical synthesis of ‘America” while other artists and critics (Haw among them) associated the Bridge with power, control, and dehumanization.

For the blog, I ask you to convey your perspective on Whitman’s poem. What is your favorite part or line? What do you bring away from this work? Alternately, how do you feel about Haw’s approach to the bridge and history?
——————————————————————————————————————For me, Haw’s book helps me to think about my own students at City Tech, many of who come from low-income backgrounds. I have found that many have never walked the 20 or so yards off campus to experience this world famous attraction for themselves. Certainly, they do not seem to view the Brooklyn Bridge as their bridge. But again, this perspective can and often does change.