The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Manhattan, 1975,” a narrative poem in free verse, deals with various aspects of city life. The nature of New York life is reflected in the form of the poem; half-lines that begin at the left margin alternate with headless lines that begin where the half-lines that precede them end, giving the poem a broken, fragmented appearance. The traditional stanza form is replaced by five syntactical and semantic units. The title refers to Manhattan in particular, but in its criticism “Manhattan, 1975” describes any city experience.

The poem alternates between the description of street scenes and reflective passages. The first of the five units begins with a hypothetical dialogue, indicated by the conjunction “if” in the first line, between an imaginary female “you” and a male “I.” The topic of the conversation is sexual. The youth of the woman is implied by the freshness of the earth and the upcoming buds, symbolizing the breasts of the young woman. Once fully matured, she will lose her virginity in the city. This thought is expressed by mentioning her hymen and by associating purity, which is her presexual but also pre-Manhattan stage, with the whiteness of buds. While the female “you” is introduced by the mention of her hymen, the first unit of the poem ends with the male “I,” stating his sex in the double entendre of the line “P. S. Nuts to reason.”

Summer is coming, and nature is awakening; so is the girl’s sexuality. The male “I” is excited by her sexual awakening, as is indicated in the line “the tiniest nerve-endings trembling.” At the same time, his feeling is repressed because it is “within its...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Manhattan, 1975” is written in the tradition of a group of poets, including Carl Rakosi, who called themselves “Objectivists.” Objectivism claims that the poem is an object and has to be dealt with as such, apart from its meaning. Therefore, special consideration is given to form.

The form of the poem is eye-catching, because the lines are broken up. Each half-line, beginning at the left margin, is continued in the following line by a headless line that is set off from the left margin. “Manhattan, 1975” is a dialogue in which voices are separated by the half-lines and headless lines.

The form of this poem is a new, American one, appropriate for depicting American life. The traditional poetic devices of European literatures—such as rhyme, meter, even line and stanza—have been abandoned and replaced by dialogues. The poem has become narrative.

The dialogues that take place in this poem include the imaginary dialogue between a man and a woman in the first part of the poem, the actual dialogue between a woman and the parrot man, and the failure of dialogue between the two senators from North and South Carolina.

A further device of this poetic form is the use of quotations and intertextuality; that is, different parts of other texts are interwoven into the poem, such as references to the Old Testament. Rakosi uses biblical imagery, direct quotations from the Old Testament, and allusions to the Bible, in which a biblical quotation is changed: “And irrelevance,/ where was its sting?” Furthermore, he chooses biblical names, such as Ruth and Noah, reflecting his own Jewish heritage.