Author Archives: Roger W. Smith

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

NYC encourages conversation (a photo-essay)

 

 

 

“The blab of the pave”

— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (cataloguing the delights of the City)

 

 

 

I continuously see people on the street, in the park on sidewalk benches, in gathering places such as cafes and bars — everywhere — in pairs or larger groupings, engaged in deep conversation and repartee.

People feel less self-conscious in New York. Free to express themselves. New York encourages thought and exchange of ideas.

It’s wonderfully liberating.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum: Another thought. The fact that NYC is in large part a city in which people are on foot when they are outdoors, and not in cars, but instead are walking, or resting on benches, say; and, when they are traveling, are often on subways or buses, where conversation frequently occurs, is a facilitator of conversation and interaction.

 

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

 

42nd Street

42nd Street

 

 

 

59th Street.jpg

59th Street

 

 

 

Battery Park City

Battery Park City

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Central Park

 

 

 

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Central Park

 

 

 

Hudson River Park

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

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Hudson River Park

 

 

 

Hudson River Park (3)

Hudson River Park

 

 

 

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Hudson Yards

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

Madison Square Park (3)

Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

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Madison Square Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventh Avenue

Seventh Avenue tavern

 

 

 

 

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Union Square Park

 

 

 

Union Square.jpg

Union Square

 

 

 

Upper West Side

Upper West Side

a letter from Walt Whitman

 

 

 

What interests me about the letter of Walt Whitman posted here (text below) is his feelings about his native city, New York. They are similar to mine.

Whitman, then working as government clerk and a volunteer in hospitals in Washington, DC, was visiting New York at the time the letter was written. He was staying at his mother’ s house on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

 

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Monday forenoon November 9 [1863]

 

Dear comrades, as I did not finish my letter yesterday afternoon, as I had many friends come to see me, I will finish it now—the news this morning is that Meade is shoving Lee back upon Richmond, & that we have already given the rebs some hard knocks, there on the old Rappahannock fighting ground. O I do hope the Anny of the Potomac will at last gain a first-class victory, for they have had to retreat often enough, &: yet I believe a better Army never trod the earth than they are & have been for over a year.

Well, dear comrades, it looks so different here in all this mighty city, every thing going with a big rush & so gay, as if there was neither war nor hospitals in the land. New York &: Brooklyn appear nothing but prosperity & plenty. Every where carts & trucks & carriages & vehicles on the go, loaded with goods, express-wagons, omnibuses, cars, &c—thousands of ships along the wharves, & the piers piled high, where they are loading or unloading the cargoes—all the stores crammed with every thing you can think of, & the markets with all sorts of provisions—tens & hundreds of thousands of people every where, (the population is 1,500,000) , almost every body well-drest, & appearing to have enough—then the splendid river & Harbor here, full of ships, steamers, sloops, &c—then the great street, Broadway, for four miles, one continual jam of people, & the great magnificent stores all along on each side, & the show windows filled with beautiful & costly goods—I never saw the crowd thicker, nor such goings on & such prosperity [italics added]—& as I passed through Baltimore.& Philadelphia it seemed to be just the same.

I am quite fond of crossing on the Fulton ferry, or South ferry, between Brooklyn & New York, on the big handsome boats. They run continually day & night. I know most of the pilots, & I go up on deck & stay as long as I choose. The scene is very curious, & full of variety. The shipping along the wharves looks like a forest of bare trees. Then there are all classes of sailing vessels & steamers, some of the grandest & most beautiful steamships in the world, going or coming from Europe, or on the California route, all these on the move. [italics added] As I sit up there in the pilot house, I can see every thing, & the distant scenery, & away down toward the sea, & Fort Lafayette &c. The ferry boat has to pick its way through the crowd. Often they hit each other, then there is a time—

My loving comrades I am scribbling this in my room in my Mother’s house. …

 

 

— Walt Whitman, The Correspondence: Volume I: 1842-1867, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller (New York University Press, 1961), pp. 180-181

“a big difference in workload” (a letter and an exchange about Bob Gibson)

 

 

 

imageedit_4_2129622455 (2)

 

 

 

My good friend from New York City, William Carron, recently submitted the letter shown above to Baseball Digest, a copy of which letter he shared with me.

I wrote Mr. Caron as follows:

 

 

Dear Mr. Carron,

 

Your letter to the editor of Baseball Digest re earned run averages was very well thought out and written.

Before commenting, I would like to share something I recall. Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson appeared a while ago on the Charlie Rose show. Some offhanded comment was made about pitchers either having broken, or possibly breaking, Bob Gibson’s record for the lowest ERA in a season. (It had not been broken.) Gibson, who impressed me in the interview, said something like, “Has it been broken? I didn’t know that.” I believe it was explained to Gibson that, no, his record had not been broken. I forget the specifics, but thinking that Bob Gibson was so humble or unconcerned about his standing in the record books, impressed me. Very much unlike, say, Donald Trump.

Your point about innings pitched is valid. The statistics you cite for Gibson’s 1968 season — innings pitched, complete games, extra-inning games are remarkable. He pitched 304.2 innings out of a possible 312.2. Incredible! Where did you find these statistics?

Thanks much for sharing this very interesting letter with me. How did things change so that now almost no starter completes a game (as a rule) and many pitch only five or six innings?

 

Roger Smith

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 10, 2019

Walt Whitman … profoundly a New Yorker

 

 

In his sprawl, his vaunting ambition, and his humanity, Walt Whitman was profoundly a New Yorker. His poetry bore no little resemblance to the “mettlesome, mad, extravagant city” that he called home, and to the end of his life, he remained “a Manhattanese, free, friendly and proud.”

Whitman was born in the small community of West Hills in Suffolk County, and he returned often to the rural scenes of “fish-shape Paumanok,” as he called Long Island. But he grew up in Brooklyn, at a time when it was growing explosively, and proudly called himself a “Brooklyn boy.” Like his father, he found occasional work in carpentry and contracting, and that may have affected the way he thought about his poetry–with “the preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising, the hoist-up of beams the push of them in their places, laying them regular.”

New York’s expansion resembled Whitman’s own during the “seed-time years” that preceded Leaves of Grass. He later claimed that the poems “arose out of my life in Brooklyn and New York from 1838 to 1853, absorbing a million people, for fifteen years, with an intimacy, an eagerness, and an abandon, probably never equaled.” Although he moved to Washington during the Civil War and then to Camden, New Jersey, he never stopped revisiting the New York of his imagination. In a letter from 1868, he wrote, “I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the shows of all these things in New York more than any other mortal–as if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.” [italics added]

 

– exhibit label, “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy”; exhibition at the Morgan Library, New York, NY

 

 

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CITY OF SHIPS.

 

CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here,
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores—city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!
Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me—whom you adopted I have adopted,
Good or bad I never question you— love all—I do not condemn any thing,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!

 

Leaves of Grass (1881-1882)

 

 

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But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices
of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (excerpt)

 

 

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The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (excerpt)

 

 

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The exhibit label is vague about where Whitman actually lived during his years in what now comprises New York City. (Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate municipalities when Whitman lived there. Jamaica, Queens, where Whitman was a schoolteacher briefly, was then part of Long Island, where Whitman was born.) He grew up in Brooklyn; and, in the years of his adulthood prior to the Civil War, he resided in both Brooklyn and Manhattan at various times. When in Manhattan, he lived downtown in boarding houses in or near what is now the Financial District. When he was residing in Brooklyn, he often took the ferry to Manhattan. He was a regular at Pfaff’s beer cellar in Manhattan, which was located on Broadway near Bleecker Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2019

 

 

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Addendum:

In 2017, University of Iowa Press published a lost Whitman novel (its existence was unknown to scholars):  Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which was originally published by Whitman in 1852 under a pseudonym and was serialized in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch. Zachary Turpin, who wrote an introduction to the 2017 edition, made this remarkable discovery.

If one reads the novel, which is set in Manhattan at around the time of Whitman’s boyhood — i.e., the early nineteenth century —  one can readily perceive Whitman’s familiarity with the City, which provides a setting and backdrop for the events and gives the story verisimilitude.

My posts on Ralph Colp, Jr., Norman F. Cantor, and Eiji Mizutani have been updated.

 

 

 

The following posts of mine – each of them a tribute to a deceased person I admired — have been updated by me:

 

 
Roger W. Smith, ‘tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/16/tribute-to-ralph-colp-jr-md/

 

 

 

my history professor, Norman F. Cantor

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/06/13/norman-f-cantor/

 

 

 

Roger W. Smith, “Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani” (ロジャーW.スミス、「水谷栄二さんを偲んで」)

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/08/18/xxxx-roger-w-smith-reminscence-of-eiji-mizutani-%E3%83%AD%E3%82%B8%E3%83%A3%E3%83%BCw-%E3%82%B9%E3%83%9F%E3%82%B9%E3%80%81%E3%80%8C%E6%B0%B4%E8%B0%B7%E6%A0%84%E4%BA%8C%E3%81%95/

 

 

To each post, I have added  communiqués I received from relatives of the deceased. It was an oversight on my part not to have done this before.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2019

one doesn’t write in a vacuum

 

 

comment posted by Pete Smith

July 8, 2018

in response to the following post of mine:

 

“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

Stop the self-serving blathering.

Despite your recent posts bemoaning the Trump administrations horrific treatment of immigrant families, you forget your posting in support of Trump after the Billy Bush tape, pretending that this was just “locker room talk” (Trump’s own characterization) and thus joining the legions of racist misogynist xenophobic supporters who chose to look the other way at this horrible idiot and, incredibly, helped get him elected.

Your relatives are not two-faced liberals who pretend compassion but live for only themselves. We and our spouses have given more than you will ever know (because you don’t ask or care) and far far more than you have given to support the underprivileged, both through personal service and financial support. Your hateful screeds denying this are an insult to your family and an embarrassment to yourself.

Stop reposting this garbage.

 

 

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One doesn’t write in a vacuum. Ex nihilo.

You have to have something to start with. To leverage off of. Drawing upon one’s own experience. Something you are reacting to. Which you heard or experienced. Something from your own, lived experience.

Which perhaps — or definitely — got you thinking about something.

For example:

A relative, commenting upon frequent messages of mine about migrant children being cruelly separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, seemed to be implying that I was getting too worked up over the issue (which reminded me of what most “reputable” people used to think and say about abolitionists prior to the Civil War). Which led to the outpouring of vituperation (responding to a post of mine on the topic) from the relative quoted above.

A relative asking me why do I keep posting photos of myself on my City walks on Facebook, and publicly stating that it was a case of vanity.

Close relatives telling me that I am obsessed with being praised for my writing and too proud of it.

 

 

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The following are posts of mine which resulted from me considering such topics after something brought them to mind. The posts led to snide and harsh criticisms, both on line and in emails, from relatives of mine:

 
“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/27/expressing-outrage-admirable-or-to-be-frowned-upon/

 

 

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2019/05/30/on-photography-mine-an-exchange-of-emails-with-apologies-to-susan-sontag/

 

 

In which the question is taken up: When is the desire to be admired not abnormal?

In which the question is taken up: When is the desire to be admired not abnormal?

 

 

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To repeat. The writer has to have something to start with, to leverage off of. It’s usually something you disagree with or want to clarify and, in so doing, make your point of view stand out. Otherwise, we would only have generic, unfocused, anodyne writing — inoffensive, but dull and not worth reading:

My Summer Vacation

How I Am Enjoying My Retirement Years

Why I Am a Liberal

 

 

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The self-appointed censors in my family would be happy with prior restraint. They wish to be designated “minders” who can control what I write about and am permitted to say, making sure I step on no toes and that no one is ever offended. They want a sort of closed circuit Orwellian publication channel or venue in which thought control and censorship can be imposed, if deemed necessary, by them.

 

 

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Think of the writers — many examples come to mind — such as James T. Farrell in his trilogy Studs Lonigan; Theodore Dreiser in his early novels and his autobiographical work Dawn; Tolstoy in his novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” who were drawing upon their own experience in their families or among boyhood friends (in the case of Farrell) as a source of content and as grist for the writer’s mill. By their doing so, their works gained verisimilitude. The philistines are incapable of recognizing or appreciating this.

Inventing characters out of whole cloth or opining about hypothetical situations usually does not lead to good writing. A writer leverages off his or her own unique experiences.

 

 

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A final thought: Beware of people who want to beat you with a cudgel by bringing in some public figure such as Richard Nixon or Donald Trump whom they loathe and somehow, incongruously, trying to place you or your views in the same “camp.” It’s usually a case of psychological projection.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2019