Networked New York: Annie on the Conference Theme

For our last posts before the conference, Blevin and I decided to write a little about our own understandings of New York networks. As a native Brooklynite, I have a long-standing and deep-rooted interest in the ways artists represent the relationships that form here. Thinking about all of the networks in New York often overwhelms me, and so in order to talk about my understanding of the topic I’m going to lean on a poem that represents that sense of awe.

In 1948, Elizabeth Bishop published “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore” in an issue of the Quarterly Review of Literature dedicated to celebrating her friend and mentor’s 60th birthday. In this poem, Bishop describes the multiplicity of networks that make up her experience of living in New York, including her own relationship with Moore. Bishop entreats in the opening line, “From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning, please come flying.” At this point in the poem, it’s possible to read the bridge’s significance in a way that’s strictly literal: Moore is in Brooklyn, Bishop is in Manhattan, and the bridge connects these places and therefore also the poets residing in them.

The connections in the rest of the piece are not as straightforward as the one in this first line. It’s a hard poem to write about; Bishop’s portrayal of the sights and sounds of the city is dazzling. She electrifies the (dare I?) network of networks that are all somehow functioning at once in New York. Bishop points out the ways networks of natural life mirror networks of industry, for instance, when she writes, “The ships/ are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags/ rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.” “Facts and skyscrapers glint in the tide,” signaling that New York is a network formed by nebulous information, manmade structures, and the natural world. The mutable network of language itself is explicitly embedded in other networks: economic, as in “priceless vocabularies,” familial, as in “dynasties of negative constructions/ darkening and dying,” and natural, as in “grammar that suddenly turns and shines/ like flocks of sandpipers flying.” To disentangle all of these networks from each other would be to misrepresent the experience of New York.

In one sense, the poem reads like a dizzying list of inside jokes thanks to its density of metaphor. Moore delightedly responded to its publication, “Lots of things, lots of things that mean more to me than to anyone else!” Read this way, the original one-to-one connection in the first line stands: it is a poem primarily concerned with connecting Bishop and Moore. And yet, by the poem’s end, when Bishop repeats the first line, “from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning, please come flying,” her use of comparison and juxtaposition throughout has opened up the possibility of interpreting the bridge’s significance metaphorically. Even if Moore hasn’t yet “come flying,” the reader has already made the trip to the city, and the bridge becomes a symbol for the many kinds of connection New York affords.

Please come flying to our exploration of New York networks next Friday, March 9. Full conference program here.