The Borough of Queens is taking applications for its poet laureate, and I’m going to throw my sweaty hat into the ring. I think my chances of being accepted are low, but fuck it. I’m as good as anyone else and I like this borough very much.
Queens was where I lived when I moved back to New York. I had been away from the Northeast for several years and hadn’t lived in the five boroughs since I was an infant in the Bronx. I grew up mostly in Yonkers and while I came to the city frequently growing up, I am by and large a child of New York’s suburbs.
In college I decided I wanted to be a great American writer in the same way that thousands of other English majors do. I was determined to get myself back to New York City as if that would somehow magically bestow some great inspiration power and let me live a charmed literary life.
I got a job at JFK airport that helped me move back here and I went looking for apartments that were a reasonable commuting distance to JFK. I found a small studio in Ozone Park at $500 per month (it soon went up to $525). It was on 101st Avenue and John Gotti’s old Bergin Hunt & Fish Club was still there and only a few blocks away. That was a selling point that the realtor mentioned. “People know not to mess around in this neighborhood,” he said. Gotti had been locked up for several years by then but the neighborhood still had some old wise guys hanging around.
I enjoyed living in Ozone Park a lot. I would walk around the neighborhood as much as I could and enjoyed how quickly neighborhoods could transition from one to another. Not far from where John Gotti plotted his takeover of the Gambino Crime Family a store sold cricket supplies to the Indian and West Indian immigrants who were moving into Richmond Hill. I was not too far from Forest Park and I could also walk to the small apartment where Jack Kerouac wrote his first novel.
While immediate literary success proved elusive, I managed to publish my first poetry collection while I was living in Ozone Park. ‘Five Borough Blues’ was a small broadsheet of poems published by New Jersey-based Lucid Moon Poetry (RIP Ralph Haselmann Jr.).
Years later, after living in Inwood for a decade, I moved in with the woman who is now my wife and that brought me to Flushing. I got to learn Northern Queens whereas Ozone Park is in Southern Queens.
The greatest borough continues to impress me. I do miss Inwood a good bit, I can’t lie. But Queens has many more great neighborhoods that are still real neighborhoods and not overpriced tourist zones.
Queens has both the greatest number of interesting neighborhoods, real residential neighborhoods with character, as well as cultural institutions and a variety of environments that the other boroughs don’t have. Do you have the beachfront and harbor areas like Broad Channel and the Rockaways in Manhattan? No. Can you find 24-hour Korean barbeque in Staten Island? Good luck.
And without fail, Queens continues to inspire me to write poetry. The entire city does, to be sure, but Queens is my home and it’s where I believe you find the most New York part of New York. It has the widest array of cultural offerings and the largest sampling of interesting people anywhere in the world. It stands between the city and its suburbs. It has all manner of terrain. It even has its own zoo.
I will gladly accept the (unpaid) responsibilities of the Queens Poet Laureate. I will let no excellent verse about this borough go unwritten. Applications are due April 24th (April is national poetry month).
But whether or not I am poet laureate of Queens, I will continue to let the city inspire to create good written works. It deserves no less.
Summer is a traditional time to go to the beach and be near the water, and New York City has 14 miles of public beaches where you can contract skin cancer while being eaten alive by horse flies. I never understood why people would want to go to a sunny place and let the sun burn them during the hottest time of the year.
But believe it or not, New York City also has woods and you would do well to spend some time in the shade this summer. There’s something immensely satisfying about going for a walk in the woods and knowing you are still within the five boroughs of New York City.
For more than 10 years I lived in Inwood, the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. I was lucky enough to live right across one of the wooded sections of Inwood Hill Park, which contains the last piece of natural forest in Manhattan as well as Manhattan’s last surviving salt marsh. It is also the highest natural point of elevation in the city.
I moved into Inwood on a Saturday in the summer and the following Monday went on a jog in the park before going to work. Not familiar with the park and its paths yet, I became lost. I couldn’t believe it that I was lost in the woods in Manhattan, but I was. I eventually found my way home and wasn’t too late to work, but Inwood Hill Park remains a treasure with lots wooded paths to walk. Even on weekends in the spring and summer when the park is typically crowded, you can find some solitude in the woods.
Be careful though, there are no shortage of shady characters who know this as well, and while I was living in Inwood a young Julliard student named Sarah Fox was murdered in a wooded part of the park one afternoon while she was jogging.
Inwood Hill Park may be one of the best and most overlooked wooded parks in the city but it’s not the only place to cool off in the shade.
Now that I am in Queens, I live not far from several parks that have real woods and wooded trails.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided we would go to Alley Pond Park. My wife, who grew up in Queens, knew it as a place high school students would go to drink alcohol under the cover of darkness. The park is the second largest public park in Queens (Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which doesn’t have dense woodlands, is the largest).
Alley Pond Park would be difficult to reach via public transportation as it is not near any subway lines; you’d have to take the bus if you don’t have a car or can’t walk or bike there. We found a parking space in a small parking lot that looks like it overflows during busy times. We put our twin daughters in a jogging stroller and managed to navigate it through much of the wooded paths in the park. Of course, being in New York City, the paths in the park were sometimes paved and sometimes led to steep staircases that we dared not traverse with a stroller, but we were always able to turn around and find another suitable path that would let us enjoy the woods a little more.
We saw lots of birds and even a rabbit. There were plenty of mosquitoes as we got near swamp areas of the park. We came across other strollers in the woods but like Inwood Hill Park, one can achieve a certain solitude in the woods even on days that the park is crowded.
No matter what borough you reside in, there is no shortage of wooded parks in New York. It will be cooler and less crowded in the shade.
The first poem of the year has been posted on the Impolite Literature blog. The poem is entitled “The Greatest Borough” and it’s an homage to Queens, which I contend is the city’s greatest borough. You may disagree.