[MUSIC] [SOUND] The first decades of the century did not really include the formation of anything like the loosely affiliated group of poets and painters that came to be called the New York School in the 50s and 60s. What New York documented from 1900 to 1930 instead was diversity. It was a ferment, a cauldron of intersecting and diverging poetries, one again that no linear narrative can encompass. There's a telling 1922 photograph early on in body sweats that images part of what New York offered. Claude McKay and Baroness Elsa are posed together both richly and oddly costumed. McKay wears a dress, a scepter, and has a string of pearls dangling from his royal hat. Freytag-Loringhoven exhibits herself in one of her infamous self-made costumes with a swirling hat that exceeds any effort I can make to describe it. She leans on McKay as if jauntily flirting with him, but in a posture embodying her own aggressive sexuality. The photo reminds us that McKay was doubly othered as both of black and gay. Yet the photograph is striking in a different way for literary scholars. In the way that we conventionally divide and conquer our literary history, Claude and Elsa could meet in the flesh in New York. Indeed, McKay recalls her visits to Liberator, where he published one of her poems in his 1937 autobiography, but these two writers do not meet in our histories of modern poetry. And yet they did meet. The founding poet of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote in fixed forms, and the single most radical Dadaist experimental poet of the period. Yet they were working Dorothy Parker was beginning to become famous for the savagely witty poem she published in Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. And Charles Reznikoff was writing his early images poems is in Brooklyn sometimes based on New York settings with a political edge. Here are two of his little untitled poems from 1918. On Brooklyn Bridge I saw a man drop dead. It meant no more than if her were a sparrow. Above us rose Manhattan, below the river spread to meet sea and sky. And another, the shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. We might remember that New York's Greenwich Village became Lola Ridge's home when she moved there in 1908. She published in Emma Goldman's radical magazine Mother Earth. And issued the Ghetto and other poems in 1918. Meanwhile, surviving by writing advertising copy, publishing stories, and being employed as a factory worker, artists model, and illustrator. She was arrested protesting the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. Here are few of the opening stances from her long poem, The Ghetto. >> The Ghetto by Lola Ridge. The heat nosing in the body's overflow. Like a beast pressing its great steaming belly close. Covering all avenues of air. The heat in Hester street, heaped like a dray with the garbage of the world. Bodies dangle from the fire escapes or sprawl over the stoops. Upturned faces glimmer pallidly, herring-yellow faces, spotted as with a mold, and moist faces of girls like dank, white lilies, and infants faces with open, parched mouths that suck at the air as at empty teats. >> So, she's describing the ghetto world in Manhattan, a world rather different from the one either Elliot or Williams wrote about. Edna St. Vincent Millay moved to Greenwich Village in 1917. If McKay turned the sonnet into a vehicle for revolutionary anger, McKay made it more deeply anti romantic than perhaps anyone had made before. Her sonnets from and Ungraphted Tree, a sequence, begins as a woman sits beside her lover whose now dead. So she came back into his house again. And watched beside his bed until he died, loving him not at all. The sequent ends in an anti-romantic flourish as she, sees a man she never saw before, the man who eats his victuals at her side, small, and absurd, and hers, for once, not hers, unclassified. McKay and Millay together writing in Manhattan, transformed the character of one of our most fundamental literary forms, the sonnet. Yet they tend not to meet in literary history either. E.E. Cummings moved to Greenwich Village in 1924, already well on his way to establishing his own brand of experimental modernism. Here's his poem, Buffalo Bill's, from 1920. Buffalo Bill's defunct, who used to ride a water smooth silver stallion. And break one, two, three, four, five pigeons just like that. Jesus, he was a handsome man. And what I want to know is, how do you like your blue eyed boy, Mr. Death? New York was throughout the century, century of vibrant center for the arts, as well as being itself a visual and poetic topic. From Whitman's Mannahatta, and Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, to Lola Ridge's Broadway and Wall Street at Night, Marianne Moore's New York. Claude McKay's The Tropics in New York, to Hart Crane's The Bridge, and then eventually on to Frank O'Hara's the Day Lady Died, James Merrell's an Urban convalescence, and finally the poetry of 9/11 and Occupy Wall Street. No other American city has been so rich a sight of literary variety or so thoroughly imaged and offered as a symbol at once of potential and disaster.