Snapping the Bars

[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

When Michael moved to New York City he worked on political campaigns and served as assistant director of public affairs for the New York State Urban Development Corporation.

I don’t know a lot about his work on political campaigns. A lot of his understanding and appreciation of politics came from the trenches; I know he helped manage one failed primary campaign for some minor office, in New York City perhaps, and apparently the winning opponent was so impressed with him that he took on a role in their general election campaign as well.

In 1984 there was a lot of planning to redevelop Times Square, which had fallen into disrepute (in 1978 Mick Jagger famously complained that he couldn’t “give it away on 7th avenue / This town’s been wearing tatters”). The UDC was involved in efforts to revitalize it, and also to create a major sports complex for the New York teams. These negotiations were filled with power plays and politics among the businessmen who saw opportunity for profit, power hungry politicians, and among the competing interests of New York City, New York State, and New Jersey across the river. And so Michael got to be involved in a lot of work announcing plans of great local political importance. He’s quoted in the New York times here about the UDC’s role in the Time Square development plans.

Then in January of 1985, the chair of the UDC, William J. Stern, abruptly resigned. Stern was a millionaire businessman and ally of Governor Cuomo, and it was big news. I know Michael was there at the announcement because he took pictures:

William J. Stern’s resignation press conference January 1985

William J. Stern’s resignation press conference, January 1985

I am 99% sure that’s what these pictures are of. It took a lot of sleuthing to figure it out: the date on the back of the photos is January 1985, and the framed New York Daily News article in the background is what finally clinched it. I asked Twitter to help out, and my wife Julia and others eventually were able to decipher this headline:

“City plays an ace to trump N.J. with new sportsplex”

And a tweep identified the source:

Yes, that’s Donald Trump, because of course it is.

The twenty-sixth poem in Cape Cod Light is Snapping the Bars. I’m not really sure what it’s about or what the title refers to. I can imagine that it is about notoriety, and the unsolicited opinions, flattery, and accusations that come with it, about the false self-importance that comes from being well known or powerful. The title may be a reference to snapping open prison bars, escaping from the confines of fame.

It could be about his fleeting brushes and associations with fame, perhaps about his decision to leave the high-powered political world and retreat back to the Academy at Harvard.  Or, it might be one of the few or only non-autobiographical poems in the collection. It’s possible it’s written from the perspective of one of the candidates he worked for, or perhaps even that of Bill Stern.

Snapping the Bars

Doing nothing takes the most time.
All these explanations
Dashed off at the kitchen table, that assure our fame,
Even the passionate colloquies
In which we are incredibly noble or depraved
Are the foreign parts,
What we’ve decided to become.

True, everything is evolving
Towards some distant, divine event.
But someone has recognized an infidelity
And is knocking at the door: it is not you,
He says, that was meant to know this.

The next poem is here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *