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Local and visiting fans of New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge should consider themselves in good company—the immigrant-built symbol of the connection between the Old and New Worlds has been honored by everyone from Walt Whitman to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In celebration of National Reading Month, add this literary guide to New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge to your reading list.
Despite having been written prior to the bridge’s construction, Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” can be considered a prophecy of its arrival. The setting of Whitman’s famous poem is the East River via the Fulton Ferry Landing, the eventual location of the bridge’s anchorage, and its subject is the physical and metaphysical crossing. In 1878 when Whitman saw the nearly complete bridge he had foreshadowed 22 years earlier, he called the visit “the best, most effective medicine [his] soul [had] yet partaken.”
Before Beat poet Jack Kerouac went on the road, he penned the poem “Brooklyn Bridge Blues” in 1956. Featuring Kerouac’s signature tempo, the collection of “choruses” chronicles the author’s struggle to reconcile the bridge’s loftiness with the ugly world beneath it. Fans of the Beat era’s angst will appreciate Kerouac’s take on an often-exalted subject.
When Hart Crane’s book-length volume of poems The Bridge was first published in 1930, it was considered controversial. A nod to Crane’s muse, the work is characterized by its long length and modern style, traits which are perfectly encapsulated in the book’s opening poem, “To Brooklyn Bridge.” In this piece, Crane celebrates modernity by using the bridge’s towers to symbolize spiritual ascendancy.
In Vladimir Mayakovsky’s raving ode to the bridge, the Russian writer compares his Brooklyn Bridge passage to that of a “crazed believer [entering] a church.” Mayakovsky touches on the various emotions elicited by the bridge, including pride and humility, before asserting its longevity. However, it’s when he’s at his most succinct that Mayakovsky best captures the bridge’s awesomeness, stating simply: “Brooklyn Bridge—yes . . . That’s quite a thing!”
Throughout her career, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Marianne Moore drew inspiration from the Brooklyn Bridge. In “Granite and Steel,” Moore adopts a romantic view of the landmark, describing it as a “romantic passageway” and “double rainbow.” Her ode is the first included here to consider the bridge as a piece of art which was “first seen by the eye of the mind, / then by the eye.”
Exercise your body and mind at this annual literary event. On June 11, 2018, join Poets House and contemporary poets for the 23rd Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge, a sunset stroll under John Roebling’s iconic arches featuring readings of Brooklyn Bridge-themed poems by Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, and others.
Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Books Beneath the Bridge gathers literary enthusiasts together for readings, discussions, signings, and more, all in the shadow of one of literature’s most famous muses. Since 2012, more than 5,000 book lovers have come to hear authors, including Patti Smith and Colton Whitehead, read their words while representing some of Brooklyn’s best independent bookstores.