Category Archives: Poetry

Fearless Girl—A Contrarian View

Fearless Girl Faces Charging Bull in Manhattan’s Financial District

Fearless Girl gets to stay in the path of Charging Bull  at least until February of 2018.

State Street Global Advisors installed the bronze statue on the eve of International Women’s Day in order to highlight the need to increase feminine representation on the boards of Wall Street firms. An inelegantly expressed sentiment on the plaque at the girl’s feet states, “Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference.”

That should make the feminists happy, right? but not all are. Gina Bellafante, columnist of the New York Times criticized the statue as a cynical PR ploy, an example of “corporate feminism.”  However, after 28,000 people signed an online petition advocating for its permanent placement, Mayor De Blasio, acquiesced to popular opinion and decided to let her stay—for now.

But the fact that the statue represents a prepubescent child suggests correctly that it may take a long time to achieve gender parity on Wall Street boards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she is around for much longer. No doubt State Street realized that many people would be offended by the representation of an adult female protester, who would certainly appear too aggressively militant. Everyone can sympathize with a brave child. But I can’t help wondering why she is thought to be “fearless.”  Ticked off, resentful and angry, surely, but fearless? Being ignored is different from being threatened.

Fearless_GirlFor awhile, moving Fearless Girl to another location was under consideration.  But of course removed from the path of the charging bull, she would lose her power as a messenger for equal rights. Out of context she just looks like a spoiled brat. One has the impression she would stamp her little foot if she could.

Arturo Di Modica, worked on the bull  for two years following the crash of 1987 and with the help of friends secretly installed the 7,100 pound statue in the early morning hours of December  19, 1989. Di Modica himself wants “Fearless Girl” out of there. He was recently quoted by the New York Post as saying that his statue is “a symbol for America. . .of prosperity and for strength.” He resents his statue being viewed as an oppressor. New York City does not own the statue. Actually Di Modica would be within his rights to remove the bull, though he has not threatened to do that.

I am in sympathy with the sculptor. Surely no one would consider the bull a symbol of the male managers of Wall Street who make the decisions about board appointments. Rather, Charging Bull is a positive statement about the energy and bullish optimism the stock market generates. It is a powerful tribute to capitalism.

Standing defiantly in its path, Fearless Girl is a rebuke that makes no sense whatsoever.  MK

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Filed under Monuments and Memorials, New York City, Role of Women

It’s Our Anniversary!

Valentine heart-shaped baloons in a blue sky with clouds. Vector background

Sixty-two years. We are often asked, “What’s the secret?” Darned if we know. We do know that we’ve been incredibly lucky in so many ways. Whatever health problems have occurred have been fixable, and for that we are very grateful.

However, as we look back, there is one thing that has made the journey easier. In the early years of our marriage when the kids were tiny, we lived in a little house without air conditioning. During the summer, when our neighbor, Miss Harris, was in her garden, she could hear everything above a whisper that went on in our kitchen. One day she remarked to Mary, “You two sure do laugh a lot.”  We did and still do—at this crazy world and at ourselves. The walls of our pre-war New York City apartment building are thick; so far the neighbors haven’t complained.                                                         HK—MLK

 

AN OLD TRICK NOW

As soon as we promised
for better or worse,
she put words in my mouth;
I did the reverse.

Then we could converse
without being heard
by a hidden bug
or a tattletale bird.

Since I can’t see
there’s anything to it,
I can’t tell you
how we do it.

We echo each other
like rhymes in a verse
that hold it together
for better or worse.

Herb Knapp     From the forthcoming Flying Backwards by Herb

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lest We Forget—You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

fashion-1860

As I worked on my book on 19th century domestic life in New York City, I was constantly reminded how lucky I was to have been born in the 20th century!

 The Women’s March reminded me again. I couldn’t help but think not of how far we had to go, but of how far we have come

 Gender Equity? There was no such thing during the mid to late 19th century. The “doctrine of the spheres” was accepted by virtually everyone—men and women alike. Women’s place was in the private sphere of the home and men’s in the public arena. Women were expected to be conciliatory to their husbands, long-suffering if necessary. Divorce was a disgrace—and rare.

 Equal pay for equal work? No possibility of equal pay because there was no equal work. A woman who did not have the prospect of inherited wealth needed to find a husband who would support her, and the sooner the better. Lacking such support, there were few possibilities of supporting herself.  She could work at sewing in a garment factory or as a domestic — jobs men did not do.

 Reproductive rights?  Forget about it. No effective means of birth control was available. Women had on average four to seven children, though they were not always able to raise them to maturity since there were no antibiotics— not even an understanding of what caused disease. Childhood death was commonplace.

In 1913, women marched on the eve of Wilson's inauguration in support of women's suffrage.

In 1913, women marched on the eve of Wilson’s inauguration in support of women’s suffrage.

In 1848, the fight for women’s rights began in earnest with the Seneca Falls convention where Ellizabeth Cady Stanton outlined her grievances, among them the fact that women could not vote! Many years later, in 1913, women marched to demand that right, and since then there have been other women’s marches, most notably those in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the sixties, ERA supporters marched for a very specific purpose.

Supporters of the ERA knew exactly what they wanted, and they wanted it now!

But cultural norms change slowly. It was seven long years after the suffragettes marched before women achieved the right to vote, and the effort to pass an Equal Rights Amendment eventually proved unsuccessful. The suffragettes and the supporters of ERA were serious and focused, and there is no doubt that these women’s marches moved the needle forward.  (Some day I will write about the condition of women in the 1950s when I was a young mother. We were certainly better off than our 19th century sisters, but we still had a long way to go.)

 Today, we are no longer expected to be domestic, submissive, pious, or pure, as the nineteenth century  “cult of domesticity” demanded. And it’s a good thing we can speak our minds freely. But looking at the recent Women’s March, I think sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

womens-march-2017Wearing pink pussy hats that reference women’s genitals is probably not the best way to show seriousness of  purpose. Hats with animal ears are cute on babies, but look ridiculous on grown women. In fact they just reinforce the stereotype of women as childish and silly. And I find it particularly ironic that women were “sticking to their knitting” in order to fashion a symbol of power. And then there is that “pink is for girls” thing. Weren’t we supposed to get over that? Or so I was told when I considered buying a blue blanket for my baby grandson.

 Actually  there was obviously no specific purpose to this march, no desire for any particular outcome. It was just a diffuse aggregation of gripes about every conceivable outrage that could be perpetrated against women, and a warning that  nobody better try to perpetrate them.

 As such it provided a protected venue for lots and lots of women to express their outrage and unhappiness and most particularly their hatred of Donald Trump and their extreme disappointment over the defeat of their sister candidate for president of the United States.

 They could scream whatever they wanted  as loudly as they wanted—and many did. Some, in fact, seemed to  have lost all semblance of self control. Is there anyone, really, who does not consider that berserk rant of Ashley Judd unhinged? And what about the crude and extreme vulgarity of some of the costumes and signs? I am surely not the only one who found it off-putting.

 In the end, will this Women’s March move the needle forward?  Will women achieve more respect as a result? Will it change atttitudes in a positive direction?  What do you think?

 

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Remembering Another Inauguration

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What follows is a poem Herb wrote about the inauguration and assassination of President Kennedy. The poet Robert Frost wasn’t able to read the poem he’d written for the inauguration because of the glare of the sunlight on the page. So he recited from memory “The Gift Outright,” a poem he had written about Americans who secured the land through “deeds of war.” There is a weird parallel here to the Vietnamese who would “secure their land” through “deeds of war.” And the parallel of the fates of the Kennedy and the Ngo brothers could have been the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles.

 

From Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp

 

SQUINTING IN THE GLARE

Heavily the low sky raining

Over tower’d Camelot.—Alfred Tennyson

 

 Any friend of liberty, he vowed,

he would support, and any foe, oppose.

“We will not count the cost,” he said, which showed,

that unlike his opponent, he had class.

The press was wowed.

 

Reporters clamored for a word or two

from him whom they imagined

could by glamor do

whatever they imagined.

He promised us he’d close the missile gap,

lower taxes, grow the GDP.

And then he promised us the moon.

Reporters turned to watch “the jumpers”

squeal and swoon.

 

He knew what he could do because his brother

had enlisted numerologists

to poke through piles of figures and discover

plans that the reporters all agreed

were certain to succeed.

 

At his inauguration

a picture perfect poet rose to read

a poem he’d been up for half the night

getting right.

But something there was that didn’t want it read.

The wind kept grabbing at his manuscript.

The cold turned all his fingers into thumbs.

The sunlight, weakly warm but winter-bright

smeared his page with glare.

So he decided to recite

a poem he had written long before

about colonials

who realized their land through deeds of war.

But poetry no longer spoke to us.

 

Our best and brightest all agreed

the president loved chivalry

and was a verray parfit gentil knyght,

unlike his predecessor who was clueless,

cultureless, and bland,

grammatically unsure, a dupe

of businessmen he’d let get out of hand.

 

The press corps strolled about

affecting courtly airs,

while Hollywood dolls and gangsters’ molls

paraded past them up the White House stairs.

 

Secretly the brothers had a bunch

of wisemen in for lunch

to talk about the war in South Vietnam.

The rulers there were brothers, too—

Diem and Nhu—

but not quite up to what they had to do.

 

So diplomats at dinner winked

at plotters who winked back and shot

the brothers after Mass

then dumped their bodies in a vacant lot

before the windows of our embassy,

where diplomats sat wishing,

wishing, wishing they had not.

 

“Nothing succeeds like successors,” quipped

a sniggerman in Washington,

where politicians sipped their scotch then rose

to dilate on dominoes.

They said the new man Fate

had brought up to the plate

was sure to homer with the help

of coaches from the Pentagon and State.

The President would see to it, they said.

“He can set the crooked straight,” they said.

 

But as we watched his motorcade

rolling through the streets of Dallas,

he was shot dead.

His killer, captured, was about to be

questioned by a magistrate when he

was shot dead, too.

The killer’s killer, captured, was asked why.

Enraptured by revenge was his reply.

But was this true?

Who knew?

 

People traded theories with friends.

Professors pointed solemnly to trends.

And lunatics in public institutions

appeared on television with solutions.

 

His successor promised to perform

Texas miracles: to win the war

in Asia, do away with poverty,

and build a Great Society

for us to glory in.

But scribes, abruptly old,

wrote only of what might have been.

 

His brother tried to take his brother’s place.

He promised, if elected, to restore

the nation to a state of grace

But then he, too, was shot and died.

“Why?” we asked his killer. “Why?”

 

“The Phantoms,” he replied.

“The Phantom jets he promised to the Jews.”

But later on he testified

that he could not recall

the incident at all.

 

Plot-intoxicated children

rocked and rolled, smoked pot, saw through

appearances, were born again, and studied

radical chic,

but nothing that was translated from Greek.

 

And as they danced and grew their hair,

soldiers sent to lend a helping hand

to brothers fighting brothers were misled

by testwise numerologists who said

their numbers showed

light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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You Never Know . . . .

png-fortune-tellerThe beginning of a new year is traditionally a time for predictions. But, as we have recently seen, predicting future events can be a risky business. The following poem speaks to the matter. It is a variation of “Da bienes Fortuna” by Luis Gongora, a Spanish contemporary of Shakespeare. I call it a version rather than a translation because I have brought it up to date. I write of boys stealing cars, for instance, where Gongora writes of boys stealing “egges” but the message is the same.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW

Life will never go

according to the epistles,

Expecting whistles, flutes,

Expecting flutes, it’s whistles.

 

There seems to be no plan

but merely new digressions.

The state awards a man

both honors and possessions.

So then he spouts confessions

and joins the destitute.

Expecting a flute, a whistle.

Expecting a whistle, a flute.

 

Sometimes the way it goes,

a guy begins to tell . . .

His wife breaks in and crows,

“I’m pregnant!” “Hey, that’s swell!”

They celebrate, what the hell,

Ignoring his dismissal.

Expecting a whistle, a flute.

Expecting a flute, a whistle.

 

You see kids go to jail

because they stole a ride,

while men who work wholesale

in fields like homicide

are feted far and wide

and wear expensive suits.

Expecting flutes, it’s whistles

Expecting whistles, flutes.

hwk

Since predictions are so unreliable, I offer instead a hope: May 2017 be a year of pleasant surprises.

 Poem from Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp

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Some Guys You Just Don’t Mess With

TR Statue

At the entrance to the New York City

Museum of Natural History

is a statue of a racist,

jingoistic politician

up on his high horse,

attended by “natives” on foot.

Our neo-Calvinist Elect

insisted the commissioners reject

a statue of FDR

holding a cigarette.

Also the one of Eleanor

reminding us she often wore

a stole made from the furry skins

of animals.

But entering or leaving the Museum

of Natural History, the Elect

avert their eyes and hurry by

the statue of the boisterous bully boy,

up on his high horse, lording it over them,

often with a pigeon on his head.

From Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herb Knapp

Photo by Lee Snider

For more poems from this volume see girandolebooks.com

 

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“The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Go Oft Awry”

img_2414For some weeks now, work crews have been busy ripping out the pay phones on New York City streets, replacing them with streamlined 9.5 foot high WiFi kiosks that offer free WiFi connection, free phone calls, and USB ports for charging your various devices. Before they are done, they intend to install 7500 of these kiosks.

 WHY AND WHO’S PAYING?

 With the proliferation of cellphones, the old pay phones have become obsolete. You never see anyone using them and anyway many of them don’t work.

So in the name of progress, the City has entered into a 12-year franchise agreement with a consortium that has agreed to install the kiosks at a cost of over $200 million. Here’s the deal: the consortium will pay all the costs of installation, including the laying of fiber optic cables. They will sell advertising on the large lighted panels on the side of the structures and the City will share in the ad revenues. Everybody, it seems, will make a lot of money; the City is slated to receive no less than $500 million over the 12-year period of the agreement.img_2417

 When interviewed by West Side Rag, my neighborhood newspaper, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, one of the groups comprising the consortium, had this to say: “The big goal is addressing digital inequality. . . . Without fast access to the internet, you cannot have equal opportunity.”

 A cynic might suggest that the “big goal” has more to do with the financial arrangements rather than bridging the digital divide, but let that go.

 SURPRISE! SURPRISE!scan-1

 Now it seems that maybe they should have given more thought to just how the opportunity to access free web browsing might work out.

 Homeless vagrants have been pulling up overturned crates or cast-off chairs and couches left for the trash trucks in order to sit comfortably while they listen to music or watch pornographic movies for hours on end. This does not make residents of nearby apartment buildings happy. In fact, complaints have been so numerous that as of September 14, they have had to shut off web browsing altogether.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

 Anne Roest, commissioner of the City’s Department of   Information Technology and Telecommunications admits, “We are going to make adjustments. . . . A lot of these things are things we really weren’t anticipating when we went live.”

 And that’s the way it’s always been.

Life will never go according to the epistles,

Expecting  whistles, flutes,

Expecting flutes, it’s whistles.

“You Never Know,” a variation of Da Bienes Fortuna by Luis de Gongora (1561-1625). The full poem will be found in Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp, to be published very soon by Girandole Books.

Update: Did You See This? is now available from Amazon. You can read a sample at girandolebooks.com 

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