Looking at the Norman MacCaig set TextsWatch
This topic relates to the "Bowery" area on Manhattan island. I am not sure how much fellow students are aware that "Hotel room 12th floor" and "Brooklyn cop" both take place in the Bowery.
Both these poems were written in April 1966 while MacCaig attended a two week poetry conference in LongIsland University. During that fortnight MacCaig wrote nine poems.
“Hotel room 12th floor” and “Brooklyn cop” poems are set in the Bowery on Manhattan island. It appears MacCaig stayed there for up to two days before an American colleague invited him to stay him and his family for the rest of MacCaig’s stay. I therefore believe “Hotel room” was written in those first two days along with “Tugboat Poet.”In “Hotel room” MacCaig refers to “Coldwater flats.” These flats were situated on E Houston and Canal street. This reference is just one that suggests that initially MacCaig rented a hotel room in the Bowery. Bowery Hotels there did not have high floors. But for the disturbance outside MacCaig's hotel to stretch to the Coldwater flats - that were a few blocks away - suggests how widespread this disturbance was. It is no secret that MacCaig commented on the violence in New York and particularly in the Bowery. Though MacCaig returned to New York in 1967 - to visit Harvard where he recited a number of the New York poems - I am not aware ever again visited New York.
“Pheobe’s Whamburger” and “Louie’s Place” are restaurants located in the Bowery. Phoebe was apparently quite a character and it is likely that MacCaig ate in her restaurant during that fortnight.
Though now one of the plushest places on Manhattan island, in 1966 the Bowery was a very difficult and violent place. The Brooklyn cop - who I now believe MacCaig may met in the Bowery - and whose area of work was the Bowery on Manhattan I believed the cop may have lived on the adjacent Brooklyn island - hence the title of the poem.
One thing I am now convinced about, is that these are factual poems. Yes they contain elements of MacCaig’s poetic imagination but their genesis is based on historical fact.
And that - in my mind - invites a new interpretation of these poems. The disturbance described in “Hotel room” must have been significant to stretch blocks away to east Houston street and canal street. That said - so far - I cannot locate any information about what happened. Because I believe these are factual poems, this disturbance did happen. I also wonder when MacCaig returned to LongIsland University the next day he referred to the disturbance and it was that account that encouraged his American colleague to invite MacCaig to stay with them.
Clearly what happened did not persuade MacCaig to stay away from Manhattan island and the Bowery. One of the most moving of the nine poems he wrote is “The Sun Comes to Earth in the Bowery.” The poem describes a man who is either unconscious from drink or dead - and is totally ignored by everyone.
Though I begin to address the subject above, I am presently interested why MacCaig entitled “Brooklyn cop” Brooklyn cop. This cop is not in Brooklyn the poem describes him working in the Bowery on Manhattan island. “Pheobe’s Whamburger” and “Louie’s Place” are not in Brooklyn. Norman MacCaig will have known that - after all I believe he ate these restaurants. So why “Brooklyn cop”?
Because MacCaig titles this poem “Brooklyn cop” I believe MacCaig met the cop one day in the Bowery. I suspect the cop lived in “Brooklyn” and I believe he may have told MacCaig that - hence the title of the poem. I believe the references to the cop’s love of family was information the cop gave to MacCaig. The fears this cop describe are real. In 1966 the Bowery was a violent and difficult place - as “Hotel room” - demonstrates. So we get an image of a cop whose family live in safety yet the cop requires to go to work each day in an area that can - and indeed was - extremely violent.And as the poem describes, the cop does not know whether he will return home that night.
When I first taught “Brooklyn cop” I basically followed the line described within the BBC Bytesize site. However after studying the poems in detail and upgrading my notes on Norman MacCaig’s poems I became aware of a depth in the poems I had not noticed before as well Norman MacCaig’s use of historical fact. One point I noticed which is something I do not believed anyone has asked before. Why is the poem “Brooklyn cop”entitled “Brooklyn cop”? That may seem a stupid question, however I do not believe it is. In April 1966 Norman MacCaig was attending a poetry conference in Brooklyn yet the action of this poem takes place in Manhattan: it does not take place in Brooklyn. I believe it might be insulting to suggest that MacCaig did not know the difference between Brooklyn and Manhattan. I see that the BBC Bytesize site is unaware that “Phoebie’s Whamburger” and “Louie’s place” are real locations that are in the Bowery in Manhattan and are not general references or metaphors. MacCaig was well aware of that and probably ate in both of these restaurants.
There may be hyperbole in lines 11-13 “what / clubbings, what gunshots between Phoebe’s Whamburger / and Louie’s Place.” These restaurants - after all - were some distance apart. However these geographical references also describe the distance that the violence could spread over. And in that sense they are an important reference. In 1966 Phoebe’s Whamburger reference read:
“what / clubbings, what gunshots between Phoebe’s /
Whamburger and Louie’s Place.”
Because of the use of enjambment MacCaig created a fitting thematic emphasis on “Whamburger”. In 1988 MacCaig change that line and took away the enjambment and emphasis that he had created back in April 1966.
In addition - and something also not referenced in the BBC Bytesite website - both “Hotel room 12th floor” and ‘Brooklyn cop” are set in the Bowery on Manhattan island. In “Brooklyn cop” it is clear that Norman MacCaig is determined to make the point that this cop was constantly concerned for his life. The Bowery was a very dangerous place in 1966 - as indicated by “Hotel room 12th floor.” It was a very violent place where life could easily be extinguished. Working in the Bowery, this cop is well aware that violence could break out at any time and that the cop could easily loose his life.
So why.the title “Brooklyn cop”?There is no reference to Brooklyn in the poem so how would MacCaig know that this cop actually lived in Brooklyn? Possibly a guess, but it is my belief that he met the cop one day in the Bowery. It is possible that is how he got some of the material on the cops life.
Finally, of the nine poems MacCaig wrote that April only one was set in Brooklyn. That poem described the poetry conference that Norman MacCaig had been invited to speak at in April 1966. The other eight poems all take place on Manhattan island and some in the Bowery. One is actually entitled “ And the Sun came to earth in the Bowery.”