cover image Hart Island

Hart Island

Stacy Szymaszek. Nightboat (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-937658-34-2

Szymaszek (Hyperglossia), director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York City, offers a long meditation on the silent city that exists within greater New York City. In lines that are broken and jittery, almost nervous, readers explore what it means to exist anonymously in the world. Traversing Manhattan's East Village, Szymaszek's narrator gets the same breakfast daily, goes to work, goes home; the routine becomes a sort of erasure of self. Simultaneously, the narrator becomes aware of Hart Island, a small dot in Long Island Sound that serves as a potter's field where unclaimed bodies, and the bodies of those infected with terrible illness, are buried without notice by the inmates of Riker's Island. What are readers to make of a city that dumps its paupers and strangers unceremoniously on an island locked away from everyone but prisoners? The forgotten bury the forgotten. If New York City is a space where there are too many stories to pick out just one, does that mean every person is forgotten? Szymaszek's poetry is an attempt to answer these questions, but maybe this is too enormous a project. The broken lines offer glimpses, but the reader is on the other side of a locked fence, staring into the questions, and finding only silence. (May)