Famous NYC Literary Haunts: Take a Virtual Trip
By Susan Brennan
A poem is sometimes divided into units called a “stanza”, an Italian word that means, “room.” It is in these “rooms” that words and people are brought together. The Internet television series, VERSE: A Murder Mystery, brings viewers into the homes of some of New York City’s most infamous and legendary poets’ and writers’ haunts. VERSE blurs the lines between documentary and fiction by using real poets and writers to play themselves in important literary landmarks – often their own.
The story is about a young poet, Jon Sands, a real spoken-word superstar, who discovers a lost manuscript and is drawn into the New York City literary world with the only key to an unsolved, 30-year-old murder.
VERSE: Chapter 1
One of the first sites shown in the series is the White Horse Tavern — a West Village bar and restaurant most associated with the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who drank himself to death at the tavern. Through the years, many poets and artists have claimed the White Horse as a meaningful meeting place where inspiration has been sought and cultivated. In Chapter 2 of the Show, a scene takes places in the tavern and you can briefly see Dylan Thomas’ portrait in the background.
VERSE: Chapter 2
The Chelsea Hotel, in the Chelsea neighborhood, is a location rich with décor, which reflects its artistic history. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Patti Smith, Charles Bukowski are among the poets who have lived and created within its walls. A dramatic scene of a brooding poet overlooking the famous staircases is beautifully rendered in Chapter 2 of VERSE.
Heightening the drama of a crucial scene in Chapter 6 is the graveyard of the East Village’s St. Mark’s Church, home of the 46-year-old Poetry Project which has featured poets from Kenneth Koch to John Ashbery to Alice Walker to Anne Waldman and countless others. This is a poetry temple in all sense of the phrase – many poets make the trek here each New Year’s Day for the marathon reading and Monday night open readings.
In the Bowery, VERSE’S protagonist, Jon, wanders into beat writer and infamous junkie William S. Burroughs’ dungeon layer called the Bunker. In Chapter 5, Jon discovers that Burroughs knew the murdered poet and is invited by its current resident and poet legend, John Giorno, to search around the place. While in the Bunker, Jon is mesmerized by Burroughs’ typewriter, which was used to type his famous novel, “Cities of the Red Night.” Also, Jon blows on Burroughs’ blow-gun which was alluded to in “Naked Lunch.” In the Bunker, William S. Burroughs hosted many famous people from Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and punk rockers who would head over to the Bunker after their sets at CBGBs, only a block away.
VERSE: Chapter 5
The Bowery Poetry Club, a relatively new poetry-home founded by Bob Holman in 2002, hosts more than 1,200 events annually. Jon Sands lights up the room in Chapter 7 with his performance. The warm, friendly atmosphere of Bowery is encouraging to young and old poets alike and has proven to be a long-standing poetry beacon.
VERSE: Chapter 7
A just a few blocks from the Bowery Poetry Club is the run-down apartment of the first underground movie star and poet, Taylor Mead. The neglected abode is where Taylor has lived for decades and is featured in grim detail along with him in Chapter 4. Taylor was the star and muse for many of Andy Warhol’s cult films including “Tarzan and Jane Regained… Sort Of” and more recently in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” Taylor is the unofficial poet laureate at the Bowery Poetry Club and can be regularly seen there at the corner bar telling stories and dirty jokes.
VERSE: Chapter 4
And finally, throughout each episode, VERSE offers a literary-map to navigate the very streets of New York City where many poets and writers have wandered and stumbled upon their greatest source material. Words caught careening off passing conversations; the community of strangers; the hustle of taxis, bikes and street vendors all composite the thriving, ever-challenging cinematic pallet which artists have pondered for centuries and will for centuries to come. We are lucky to have these vivacious landmarks which remind us that in New York City, poetry is always at home.
Susan Brennan’s poems appear in various publications. She co-wrote Vegas – Based on a True Story, which premiered in competition at the 2008 Venice and 2009 Tribeca Film Festivals. Currently, she wrote the script for the web series Verse, a poetry murder-mystery produced by Rattapallax Productions, awarded first place at the LA Webfest for dramatic script. She is the first place winner in the Tribeca/Amex My Movie Pitch Contest, which will feature a short film based on her pitch written, produce and directed by Edward Burns. She received her MFA in Poetry at NYU and is a yoga teacher. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Ed.