New York on Fire

Hilton Obenzinger, Author Real Comet Press $12.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-941104-39-5
Writing in the tradition of William Carlos Williams's Paterson , poet Obenzinger relates New York City's history through its catastrophic fires, from 1613 to the present. He assembles verse collages of ``reminiscences'': an account of a 1776 fire (viewed as part of the Revolutionary War); the tale of one ``Old Mose,'' a seven-foot fireman who in the 1850s predicts, ``Steam is the end of the Volunteers''; that of a teacher in 1851 who asks, ``Why do the doors open inward?'' while the school burns; and the 1904 fire on an excursion boat, in which ``Mama says that's clam chowder cooking. / That white smoke blowing / up the steps / is clam chowder boiling over.'' With the 1960s and '70s, the poems become somewhat didactic, recalling those eras' tumultuous politics. Obenzinger ( This Passover or the Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem ) strains the conceit, particularly toward the end--the power of fire diminishes with the progress of technology; the force of metaphor fades with repetition here. Aside from this tendency toward excess, Obenzinger's poems are colorful and memorable. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1989
Release date: 09/01/1989
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