An Immersive Audio Tour of the East Village’s Famed Poetry Scene, Narrated by Jim Jarmusch

Allen_ginsberg_erads howl

Image by Michiel Hendryckx, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

A peek at the pho­tos on a realtor’s list­ing for a New York City one bed­room apart­ment for­mer­ly occu­pied by Beat poet Allen Gins­berg is a dispir­it­ing reminder of how much the East Vil­lage has changed.

And that list­ing is over six years old!

Daniel Mau­r­er, the edi­tor of Bed­ford + Bow­ery, and a Gins­berg fan whom his­to­ry has com­pelled to take over a por­tion of his hero’s for­mer­ly sprawl­ing digs, wrote amus­ing­ly of shod­dy ren­o­va­tions and his upstairs neigh­bor, punk rock icon Richard Hell:

Orlovsky’s name is still on the mail­box – which is just about the only thing still around from his day. After his death, the place was gut ren­o­vat­ed with lux­u­ri­ous mod­ern ameni­ties like a mini fridge that comes up to mid-thigh and a stove that’s so tiny and inef­fec­tu­al I just use it for cook­book stor­age. Soon after I moved in I took a trip to Ikea and rec­og­nized my kitchen cab­i­nets there.

That’s why I was amused to read a piece in the Wall Street Jour­nal … in which my upstairs neigh­bor, Richard Hell, talked about his rent-sta­bi­lized two-bed­room apart­ment and its “funk­i­ness that you don’t find in Man­hat­tan much any­more.”

Hell describes his “worn unvar­nished wood floors that groan when you walk on them, cracks in the plas­ter walls, sag­ging orig­i­nal mold­ings.” That’s exact­ly what I was look­ing for in an apart­ment two years ago.

Mau­r­er is far from alone in the desire to edge clos­er to a bygone cul­tur­al moment. Radio pro­duc­er Pejk Mali­novski spent three years craft­ing Pass­ing Stranger, a site-spe­cif­ic audio tour of the East Vil­lage poet­ry scene, below.

A Dane who relo­cat­ed to New York in 2003, Mali­novs­ki was intrigued by the scene-relat­ed anec­dotes of his friend, poet Ron Pad­gett, who point­ed out his for­mer haunts on strolls about the neigh­bor­hood. His inter­est piqued, Mali­novs­ki immersed him­self in Daniel Kane’s All Poets Wel­come, The Low­er East Side Poet­ry Scene in the 1960’s, anoth­er his­to­ry that comes for­ti­fied with archival audio clips.

Film­mak­er Jim Jar­musch, a long­time Low­er East Side res­i­dent who stud­ied with poet Ken­neth Koch in his youth, was tapped to pro­vide the audio tour’s nar­ra­tion, with music com­pli­ments of com­pos­er John Zorn, the artis­tic direc­tor of The Stone, an exper­i­men­tal East Vil­lage per­for­mance space. Below, Jar­musch explains what attract­ed him to the project:

No mat­ter if geo­graph­ic con­straints pre­vent you from down­load­ing Malinovski’s tour for a two mile, 90 minute amble around the much-changed East Vil­lage. In some ways, the vir­tu­al tour is bet­ter. Rather than try­ing to take it all in in a sin­gle, pre-plot­ted ses­sion, you’re free to wan­der at will, enjoy­ing such inter­ac­tive fea­tures as maps and pho­tos, in addi­tion to inter­views, read­ings, and rem­i­nis­cences.

The 10th stop on the tour deposits you across the street from 437 East 12th Street, Ginsberg’s afore­men­tioned for­mer res­i­dence, on the steps of a church that no longer exists. Mary Help of Chris­tians Roman Catholic Church was demol­ished short­ly after Pass­ing Stranger hit the streets, but its mem­o­ry lives on thanks to its cel­e­brat­ed appear­ance in Ginsberg’s work:

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writ­ing Let­ters

Pigeons shake their wings on the cop­per church roof 

out my win­dow across the street, a bird perched on the cross 

sur­veys the city’s blue-grey clouds. Lar­ry Rivers 

‘ll come at 10 AM and take my pic­ture. I’m tak­ing 

your pic­ture, pigeons. I’m writ­ing you down, Dawn. 

I’m immor­tal­iz­ing your exhaust, Avenue A bus. 

O Thought, now you’ll have to think the same thing for­ev­er!

- Allen Gins­berg, New York, June 7, 1980

Gins­berg him­self is brought to vivid life by his sec­re­tary and fel­low poet, Bob Rosen­thal, who recalls how vis­i­tors would call up from the street, then wait for Gins­berg to toss down keys, wrapped in a dirty sock. He also name checks Mr. Buon­giorno, the 437 East 12th St neigh­bor who served as Mary Help of Chris­tians’ bell ringer.

You can hear those bells in the back­ground of your Pass­ing Stranger tour, though pro­duc­er Mali­novs­ki uses ambi­ent sound spar­ing­ly, to avoid over­whelm­ing those using the tour on the noisy streets of the actu­al East Vil­lage.

You can down­load the full walk­ing tour of Pass­ing Stranger—named for Walt Whitman’s open­ing salu­ta­tion in “To a Stranger”—here.

Explore Pass­ing Stranger’s triv­ia-filled inter­ac­tive website—featuring audio from Amiri Bara­ka, Het­tie Jones, Eileen Myles, and Jack Ker­ouac, among oth­ers—here.

Poems includ­ed on the Pass­ing Stranger audio tour of the East Vil­lage, in order of appear­ance:

Ken­neth Koch, “To my Audi­ence” (excerpt)

Frank O’Hara, Ode to Joy (To hell with it) (excerpt)

Ted Berrri­g­an “Dear Margie, Hel­lo”

Ron Pad­gett “Poe­ma del City from Tou­jours l’amour”

Walt Whit­man, “To a Stranger”

Tay­lor Mead, “Motor­cy­cles”

Bernadette May­or, “Son­net (You jerk, you did­n’t call me up)”

Diane Di Pri­ma, “Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Let­ters” (excerpt)

Gal­way Kin­nell, “The Avenue Bear­ing the Ini­tial of Christ” (excerpt)

Miquel Piñero, “A Low­er East Side Poem” (excerpt)

Jack Ker­ouac, “Amer­i­can Haiku” (excerpt)

Bill Berk­son / Frank O’Hara, “Song Heard Around St. Bridget’s”

John Ash­bery, “Just Walk­ing Around, from A Wave”

Joe Brainard, “I Remem­ber” (excerpt)

Alice Not­ley, “10 Best Com­ic Books”

WH Auden, “Sep­tem­ber 1, 1939” (excerpt)

Anne Wald­man, “Fast Speak­ing Woman” (excerpt)

Lewis Warsh, “Eye Con­tact” (excerpt)

Dick Gallup / Ted Berri­g­an, “80th Con­gress”

Abra­ham Lin­coln, “My Child­hood-Home I See Again” (excerpt)

Leroi Jones, “Bang, bang, out­ish­ly” (excerpt)

Het­tie Jones, “Ode to My Kitchen Sink”

Bren­da Coul­tas, “A Hand­made Muse­um” (excerpt)

ee cum­mings, ”i was sit­ting in mcsorley’s…”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Footage of Allen Gins­berg, Jack Ker­ouac & Oth­er Beats Hang­ing Out in the East Vil­lage (1959)

Hear Allen Gins­berg Teach “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”: Audio Lec­tures from His 1977 & 1981 Naropa Cours­es

Iggy Pop Con­ducts a Tour of New York’s Low­er East Side, Cir­ca 1993

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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