Close encounters (of the celebrity kind)

Actor Mickey Rourke and one his beloved dogs

Spend a decent amount of time in Manhattan, you’ll encounter celebrities — they’re everywhere, and there’s so many of them around that you probably spot only a small percentage of the famous and sort-of-famous in your midst.

They could be sitting at a table in the same restaurant where you’re being revived by paramedics after you look at the wine list and go into fiscaleptic shock. They might be standing next to you at MOMA as the two of you admire one of the Pollocks or Monets. They might be slumped in back of in one of the fifty cabs that pass you by with their OCCUPIED light turned on. They might be sitting next to you at that Broadway show (they’ll be the ones wearing the dark sun glasses in a dark theater unless you’re sitting in the balcony or you’re at “The Lion King” or “Jersey Boys” — they won’t be there and the guy with the sun glasses is probably a potential serial killer visiting from Nebraska or upstate New York).

I’ve encountered more than my share of celebrities in Manhattan. I once saw John Belushi hop out of a limo on Greenwich Avenue, run into a pharmacy, then jump back into the limo. I heard and watched Woody Allen and Diane Keaton outside a movie theater as they argued about where to go for dinner — he wanted to go to the Russian Tea Room; she wanted to go somewhere else for a change. I sat behind frizzy-haired film critic Gene Shalitt at a showing of the Scorcese documentary “The Last Waltz” soon after it opened. I once saw Telly Savalas walking in midtown, a gorgeous young woman on each arm. I think I once encountered Patti Smith in Chelsea. I saw Allen Ginsberg on the subway. I once literally bumped into Stevie Wonder outside a jazz club.

Wait, there’s more! A couple of weekends ago, my companion and I were walking on the fringes of the West Village, heading to dinner with friends at a restaurant off Bleecker Street. A man was walking toward us with four small dogs on leashes, the leashes in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Another man came from the other direction, walking one small dog. Dogs being dogs, they all got excited, and in the excitement, in the tangle of dogs and leashes, one of the first man’s four dogs got loose. The other guy managed to grab the stray pooch. My companion held the first man’s three other dogs – and his cup of coffee — while he got his runaway’s collar reattached to the leash.

The rugged-looking fellow with the four dogs? We’re pretty certain it was actor Mickey Rourke. He loves dogs. He reportedly lives in that neighborhood. And if that guy wasn’t Mickey Rourke, then we had just encountered walking, talking evidence that the government has been conducted cloning experiments — and one of their first successful clones was a copy of Mickey Rourke, this following botched cloning experiments which spawned Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Bush the Younger and, of course, Gary Busey.

The coolest thing about encountering celebrities in the city? It’s when you’re cool about it. Little dog back on his leash, there was no “Aren’t you…?!” from us. Leashes and coffee cup were returned to their rightful owner. “Thanks” and “No problem” were exchanged. We headed off to dinner. He kept walking his dogs and drinking his coffee. New York, New York…it’s a wonderful town.

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Watching the river flow

I warmed up for the celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday by attending a great show — Blondes on “Blonde on Blonde” — presented last Saturday as part of the Concerts at the Crossing series held in Titusville, N.J., near Washington Crossing, where, yes indeed, Washington crossed the Delaware and invaded Trenton.

I know…we should have let the British keep Trenton. But I lived there with my parents right after I was born. My young father was serving in the Air Force, stationed at Fort Dix. So if Washington hadn’t crossed the Delaware and routed the Hessians, I’d be speaking with a British accent and…

I know.,.I’m drifting too far from the shore…Here’s a video of one of the “Blondes on Blonde on Blonde performers,” Sloan Wainwright, singing “Meet Me in the Morning” from “Blood on the Tracks” —

On the actual Bobday — Tuesday, May 24 — I sat by the banks of the Raritan River in New Jersey, reading a poem by Allen Ginsberg of Paterson, N.J., .listening to “Things Have Changed” by His Bobness…and watching and listening as an Orthodox Jew with a cantor’s voice stood alone at the riverside, first with his hands on his hips and then with his arms opened wide to the sky. The man chanted and sang a tune I did not recognize and words I did not understand, and he looked out over the holy river, and it was a confluence of Jewish poems and prayers, a meeting of the orthodox and the avant-garde, as the cantor and I sat and watched the river flow on Robert Zimmerman/Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday,

Here’s the song I was listening to, sung by the birthday boy himself:

And here’s Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton watching the river flow…

A (poetry) festive(al) event

Philip Schultz will be the featured poet at this year's Delaware Valley Poetry Festival

New Jersey’s got a great poetry tradition, both in terms of individuals and institutions.
If you’re talking great poets, let’s talk New Jersey poets Walt Whitman and Williams Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, for starters, and let’s add such current luminaries as Robert Pinsky (born, raised and educated in N.J.), Paul Muldoon and C.K. Williams and Yusef Komunyakaa (all three teach at Princeton), National Book Award winner Gerald Stern of Lambertville, and other outstanding Jersey-based poets including B.J. Ward, Maria Gillan and the great Joe Weil (sprung fully formed from the loins of Elizabeth, N.J.)

If you’re talking about poetry, how about the spectacular Geraldine R. Dodge Festival — and a much smaller event called the Delaware Valley Festival, held yearly in two small towns, Frenchtown and Stockton, along the Delaware River.

I started the festival back in 1998 when then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky agreed to be the featured poet, joined by New Jersey poets (including Weil and my friend, the poet Charles H. Johnson) associated with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The festival’s debut was a huge success — and we were off and running, as subsequent festival featured the likes of Louise Gluck (who became our nation’s poet laureate herself a few years later), Pulitzer winner Muldoon, Stern, Diane Wakoski, Gillan, Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns, Pinsky again (for the 10th anniversary) and, last year, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner the great Rita Dove.

As my life has taken a new direction I’ve decided to end my involvement with the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, handing over the reins to the capable hands of Frenchtown-based poet Skye van Saun, who will continue to work on with my talented friends and colleagues Keith Strunk and Laura Swanson of River Union Stage.

One of my last acts as coordinator of the event was to recruit this year’s featured poet, Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Schultz.

On the bill with Schultz are New Jersey poets Cat Doty and Linda Radice. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Seating is limited and first-come, first-served. For more information, call 908-996-3685 or visit riverunionstage.org.

Why am I writing about this now? Because the 13th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m., at Prallsville Mills in Stockon, N.J. If you’re anywhere near New Jersey, it’s practically a can’t-miss event if you’re a lover of poetry and literature.

And, yes, I know I misspelled “festival” as “festive(al)” in the title of this post. That’s what’s known as poetic license!

Last words

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

You know you’re about to die. What could you possibly say? Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet, who wrote such chilling and beautiful poems about death, had this to say just before she died: “I must go in, the fog is rising.”  
Thomas Edison, when he died in 1931, uttered these encouraging words:
“It is very beautiful over there.”

On the other hand, I’ve read that Louis B. Mayer, the film mogul, offered this commentary as he passed into that movie set in the sky: “Nothing matters,” and let’s hope his comment was not based on something he saw just before he could see no more.

Henry David Thoreau, of course, muttered two words just before he became transcendent in 1862. “Moose…Indian…” You’d expect something a bit more telling from the man who urged us to beware all enterprises requiring new clothes – I wonder if Emerson and Alcott and the others bought new clothes for Thoreau’s funeral?

I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth I said, just before her passing, that she would give up all of her earthly possessions for just one more “moment of time.” Just one moment!

And I’ve read that a man named Robert Alton Harris, just before he went to the gas chamber in California in 1992, declared: “You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper!”

If and when Death comes calling for me, if I feel like talking about or have anything interesting to say, I hope I’ll be able to offer words of comfort to my friends and families. Maybe I’ll see something that confirms that there is an afterlife, that there is a heaven, and that it’s a good place to be – not like what Brueghel saw, more like what Edison apparently glimpsed.

A few years back a friend was going to be seeing Allen Ginsberg and I gave this friend a book for the famous poet to sign. It was a collection of letters exchanged by Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, but that’s not what matters. What matters is what Ginsberg wrote: “To Nick: AH! Allen.”

I think Ginsberg was referring to the quest for spiritual bliss. I think “Ah!” is what one might exclaim at the sight of it. Here’s hoping that when I die, I feel the urge to exclaim “Ah!”