Poetry as Multimedia Experience ; Danish Transplant Brings New York Neighborhood's Writers into 21st Century

By Ryzik, Melena | International Herald Tribune, April 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Poetry as Multimedia Experience ; Danish Transplant Brings New York Neighborhood's Writers into 21st Century


Ryzik, Melena, International Herald Tribune


A Danish transplant brings a neighboorhood's writers into the 21st century with a walking tour and an MP3 audio guide.

On 12th Street between Avenue A and First Avenue in New York City, there is an empty lot, a dusty, fenced-in patch next to a school playground. On a recent sunny afternoon, some children were tossing a baseball there, beneath two wildly flowering cherry blossom trees, oblivious to the history around them.

Though the precise location is lost, this was apparently where Lorenzo Da Ponte, the Venetian opera writer, was once buried. Da Ponte wrote the librettos to three operas by Mozart -- "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi Fan Tutte" -- among others. He is credited with helping bring Italian opera and literature to America. He died in 1838, at age 89, after a colorful life that in its way prefigured those of many striving artists who followed. Not that you would know that now.

"I love that this has no sign of him -- so unsentimental," said Pejk Malinovski, a Danish writer, translator and poet, standing at the fence with a cigarette. Across the street, Mr. Malinovski pointed out another undesignated landmark, an apartment where Allen Ginsberg lived in the 1970s. It was a rough block then, and Ginsberg had a fourth-floor walk-up with a broken buzzer. When friends came by, he would throw his keys down in a sock. The building, at 437 East 12th Street, has a long history as a home for writers.

"It used to be called the poet's dorm," Mr. Malinovski said. "There's still a lot of poets who live there." The writer and musician Richard Hell is among them.

Mr. Malinovski, 35, a transplant from Denmark by way of London who has lived in New York since 2003, is behind a project that unites Da Ponte, Ginsberg and Mr. Hell, along with other creative lights in the area known as the East Village.

Billed as an East Village poetry walk, the project, "Passing Stranger," is a site-specific audio tour that guides listeners through the history of the neighborhood's interconnected writers and shakers, with interviews, archival recordings and recitations of poems. Narrated by the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, with music by John Zorn, it is a literary and geographic keepsake, a portrait of an enduring bohemian community.

On April 15, it will officially make its debut with a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, the last stop on the tour, but the guide is already available as a free MP3 at eastvillagepoetrywalk.org. Listeners can download it and stroll through the tour anytime (or just imagine the sights mentioned from their couches).

The project, supported by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, was five years and more than 40 drafts in the making, whittled from nearly 100 hours of tape, said Mr. Malinovski, a freelance radio producer. The idea came to him when he first moved to the city, and lived in the East Village. He read Daniel Kane's "All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s," and walked around, envisioning the Beats and the generations of New York School poets who followed. …

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