Jacob Steinberg is the author of This isn't about Jon Ross, it's about art and Your Eyes Saw My Unformed Limbs. His Spanish poetry collection Magulladón is forthcoming on Editorial Triana in Buenos Aires. He is the editor of chronos (loves) kairos and int lit library.
"The city exists as a fruitful, generative space, a locus of culture, and Cityscapes explores this space, probing the intersections between art and life. These pieces take the reader around a spin of the globe, inhabiting and evoking spaces in all their splendor – and squalor.”
". . .One of THE MOST ambitious and amazing city projects that I’ve ever seen!"
Cityscapes, curated and edited by Jacob Steinberg, is an ambitious project. It aims to gain the perspective of an impressive amount of writers located in major cites not only in the US but around the world. I know that Jacob has lived in various places throughout his life and has recently made the transition from New York to Argentina. I feel like this contextualizes the project as a subject of not only intrigue but of personal importance. I believe that identity and place are inextricably linked and form almost a feedback loop unto each other. Place shapes identity and identity shapes your perception of your surroundings.
Within the context of new media and the Internet I feel as if one can adopt an almost global identity and feel connected to places and ideas that are divorced from one’s current surroundings. For example, a specific style has formed around new ideas of what literature is and what it can become. Some have called this culture ‘alt lit’ and others feel aversion to that moniker. Jacob’s project was originally titled ‘alt lit cityscapes’ but in the process of working with the diverse styles and viewpoints of contributors it was simply called ‘cityscapes’ in the end. However, whatever one wants to call the online literature scene there are discernable patterns of a homogenous viewpoint. Many writers in this ‘community’ experience similar feelings of alienation from their ‘irl’ surroundings and have sought out the Internet as their surrogate ‘cityscape.’
In Mira Gonzalez’s piece, ‘palm trees are not native to los angeles’ I feel as if she explores the disconnect between her city and her person, in terms of spatial relationship between herself, both internally and literally, in her external surroundings. Taking the title as a metaphor I feel like it expresses her alienation from Los Angeles. The feeling of being ‘out of place’ even though, if I recall correctly, she is a Los Angeles native. I feel like this piece really speaks to the alienation one can feel when confronted with the vastness of everything compared to one’s minor role within it. Mira writes:
lying on the sidewalk
on venice boulevard
i am able to perceive this
inconceivably large distance
between myself and the street
i am trying to become
two squares of cement
i am one fraction of the pacific ocean
compared to me everything is enormous
. . .
i am one unit of matter
moving through time
at this incredible pace
I like the imagery that is created in this poem. I imagine Mira lying on the sidewalk, almost comically, as other people that are also ‘moving through time at this incredible pace’ pass her by. I Imagine her trying to desperately feel a connection to her city, a connection to anything. Physically she is as close as she can be to her city, trying to join with the concrete, but she is not able to feel a connection mentally. She is somewhere far away. The poem then shifts. Because she feels unable to connect internally with her city she focuses on external, tangible, and objective things. ‘It is going to be 73 degrees today’ she writes without any implication of how she feels about that fact. It is just fact about her city, disconnected from any emotion of affection towards it.
In Megan Lent’s short story she expresses a different perception of Los Angeles. I really like the contrast between her piece and Mira’s piece. I feel like it highlights the subjectivity of experience and how your surroundings can either feel alienating or comforting or sometimes both. Megan expresses nostalgia for Los Angeles that is connected to memories and experiences that have been positive and also influential in the construction of self. She writes about ‘the best parts of Los Angeles’ through short vignettes that make up her perception of Los Angeles.
. . .[T]he ocean. The sky above it. The end of historic Route 66” sign. A blind man playing saxophone. Your best friend standing under the pier. Someone you love walking down the sand with you late at night… A painting that is all in shades of red that looks just like your hair and probably your heart… [A]nd you recognize that you are here, in this city, under this layer of smog, and stars, yes, you are here.
I enjoyed M. Kitchell’s contribution to this project. His piece is a series of webcam photos taken in ‘every place i’ve lived in since moving to san francisco a year ago.’ If I am discerning this correctly, I believe that this piece is showing different living situations within San Francisco. I liked how it shows the transient nature of trying to establish yourself in a new and unfamiliar place.
I particularly liked how Carolyn DeCarlo’s piece, much like Megan Lent’s, focused on not how the specific geography defines a place but how personal experiences and interactions with the people that you meet within the place are what shapes your perception of the city. She writes about the context of place in relation to a certain experience that she had while in a particular place. My favorite lines are
What I’ll miss is
your mouth full of donut
on a bench in Dupont Circle
The lines seem funny and sentimental and not dependent on place. ‘Dupont Circle’ could easily be replaced with any other location but the affection that Carolyn feels for the moment that occurred on Dupont Circle creates affection for Dupont Circle itself.
I liked Noah Cicero’s poems about living in Korea. I found it interested and felt fascinated while reading about people’s subjective experiences in countries outside the United States. I liked the juxtaposition of the perspectives of writers that were natives of country with writers that were foreign transplants. I like how Noah writes in plain language, directly expressing his negative feelings about moving to a place that feels divorced from a sense of home. Noah writes:
I don’t like Koreans
I'm from Brooklyn
of the Korean
girls fuck with me
so I write this poem
I like the idea of using poetry as a form of expression to relieve feelings of alienation; To try to relate what is inside your head to the heads of other people. It feels difficult to do that when we are distinct bodies, and it is especially a challenge if there is a language barrier on top of the difficulty of trying to get people to understand what you are feeling.
I like how Noah’s second poem deals with a relatively positive encounter that he had with someone in Korea. I feel like the poem expresses a connection and exchange of ideas that directly affected Noah and his perception:
I tell another foreigner
that I enjoy eating
paris baguette for lunch
that he has been to paris
and paris bagutte
doesn’t match the power of
. . .
I believed in the purity of his words
I never went to paris baguette again
I’ve noticed these same sentiments being expressed in many different pieces throughout the publication. I like that people feel that human connection [or lack thereof] is what makes something seem good or bad to them.
This is a ‘long-ass’ publication at 290 pages and ideally I would like to discuss every piece in depth because they each feel special, personal, and different, perspective-wise. However, I feel like a ‘long-ass’ review would gradually lose the attention of you, the reader, and consist of me repeating myself a lot.
I highly recommend reading through the Cityscapes collection in its entirety. Overall, I would say that one of the most valuable things that I have gained from reading this publication is reflection on my own city and how I relate to it. I live in Woodbridge, VA, which is basically a city that people pass by to go to DC or Baltimore or any place other than Woodbridge, VA. I don’t feel a strong affinity for my city but since my external world is lacking in the things that I would want from a city I feel like I have immersed myself in a wonderful online community that I would consider my true ‘cityscape.’ There are many people in this issue that I have interacted with formed connections with online that feel just as dear to me as any ‘real life’ interaction. In my opinion, a conception of place has less to do with specific geography and more to do with the people that you chose to interact with. Anything and any place can become your city, regardless of physical location.