Harvey Shapiro, a man who is often referred to around here as one of the greatest poets of New York, passed away yesterday. His loss is a loss to the art form and to our beloved city. The New York Times, where Mr. Shapiro served as an editor from 1957 to 1995, wrote a great obituary, which can be read here. Around these parts, specifically my desk, Mr. Shapiro’s work was an inspiration and a reminder that everything from war to God to the subway presented an inkling of the human conundrum to anyone who watched it for long enough.
Go find a copy of National Cold Storage Company, right now. Then hop on the IRT, get off near DUMBO, and read the collection cover to cover while the two bridges (“the Brooklyn Bridge, and behind it/the battle-gray Manhattan”) clatter and roar overhead. Put a copy of The Light Holds in your bag and leave it there for those late nights when the subway won’t come and the gloss has rubbed off of New York. Keep a copy of Battle Report on your desk. To show you how it’s done.
The following is “Borough Hall,” it’s from The Light Holds, published by Wesleyan in 1984:
In Brooklyn I knew Louis Zukofsky
and George Oppen. I saw the Bridge
and the Statue of Liberty.
I had a wife, two sons, a house.
All this is recounted in my poems.
No horseman will
pass by my stone.
If I am remembered
let it be
by a young woman on the IRT
getting off at Borough Hall.
Rest in peace, Mr. Shapiro.