7: Poem excerpt, Herschel Silverman, “Cittee, Cittee, Cittee IV,” 1996.
Herschel Silverman (1926-2015) befriended iconic fellow poets of the Beat generation, such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Charles Olson, and was deeply influenced by their work. An owner of a candy shop in Bayonne, New Jersey, Silverman participated in the spoken word poetry scene of 1960s Greenwich Village, in Manhattan.
This is the fourth in a series of poems about the texture of life in New York City, often referencing foods as a way of highlighting the city’s diversity and as part of the play with language. (A longer excerpt of the poem, including this passage, may be found in an article at the website Literary Kicks, and the book containing the entirety of the series may be ordered online. To see and hear Silverman's delivery style, watch a portion of this YouTube video, which, from 2:50-6:00 captures the poet reading a different passage from “Cittee, Cittee, Cittee,” while walking about the titular city, accompanied by clarinetist Perry Robinson. Note that the passage he reads contains some profanity, so teachers should preview it for themselves before making the decision on whether to show it to their classes.) This installment of the poem was written in commemoration of the 1996 murder of Abe Lebewohl, the owner of New York’s Second Avenue Deli, who turned the small operation into a kosher institution of New York. In the poem, Silverman evokes the ever-changing liveliness of New York City. He lists details that attest to the city’s character, knaidlach among them, that are especially but not exclusively culturally Jewish in nature.
Suggested Activity: Have a few students read this poem excerpt out loud, in as rhythmic and expressive a way as they can. First, have them examine the way the poem sounds. How would they describe it? How might the aural qualities of the poem mimic the sounds of New York City?
Then delve into the content. Where do knaidlach fit into this list? Are they part of the cutting-edge nature of the city? Of traditionalism? What does it mean for knaidlach to be floating in the city, rather than the soup? What does the inclusion of knaidlach in this poem tell us about knaidlach as an iconic Jewish food and as an iconic New York food? What does this tell us about the relationship between Jewish food and New York food?
Source: Herschel Silverman, “Cittee Cittee Cittee IV” in Lift Off: New and Selected Poems, 1961-2001 (Marlborough, MA: Water Row Books, 2002), 129-132.