Well, I hadn’t, in my 50 something years living in New York City … until last night.
I grew up around the corner from the grim brick building just inside Central Park at 65th Street and Fifth Avenue. As I recalled to my lodger, as a child I played everyday in the playground up the street and on the Manhattan schist rock formations all around us. I tucked myself inside the wings of the stone eagles that guarded the Central Park Zoo entrance during games of hide and seek, and I knew how to squeeze myself down into the front row at sea lion feeding time. I was a child of New York City and this was my backyard. But I’d never been inside the Arsenal.
The Arsenal is the home of the New York City Parks Department, the City Parks Foundation, the Historic House Trust, and the New York Wildlife Conservation Society. Its rooftop has recently been remodeled as an event space, and it was there that I attended a poetry reading, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets Summer Reading Series.
This last event in the summer series featured three very different poets: Matt Hart, Dorothea Lasky, & Catie Rosemurgy. Each read for about a half hour; then we had time to chat with the poets and buy their books. I found each one compelling in content, craft, and presentation, but I especially enjoyed the work of Catie Rosemurgy, and I went home with a copy of her collection, The Stranger Manual, which I’m reading now. I recommend it highly.
The Academy of American Poets hosts many events in New York City, free to the public throughout the year, including the annual Poets Forum, which will be held this year October 28th through 30th.
But there’s more to the story. At the end of the reading, my lodger and I descended the stairs of the Arsenal and discovered the Gallery, where we viewed a wonderful historical photo exhibit entitled Before They Were Parks. If you’ve seen the classic film West Side Story, you will recognize the setting in these photographs. The neighborhood depicted in the images was razed to make way for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
One more surprise awaited us. The main lobby of the Arsenal is covered with hand-painted murals, created under the auspices of the Federal Works Progress Administration of FDR’s New Deal, in 1935-6. They’ve darkened and faded with age, and there are plans to restore or re-light them, but look closely and you will have a real treat.
A magical evening in my beloved city.