Friday, March 27, 2015

Library Walk: Julia Alvarez

Last five lines of sonnet from "33."

Of the more than 40 plaques laid out on Library Way in 1998 honoring famous writers and literary quotes, less than 10 were of living authors. Julia Alvarez is one of three that still thrives and writes today. Curiously, the quote of hers on Library Way is from her 1984 collection of poetry, Homecoming.

In particular, the quote is from one of 33 sonnets that make up the bulk of her book entitled 33. The age she was when she confronted her own mortality and her next steps in life. On Library Walk it is the last five lines of one of these sonnets that have been immortalized in bronze.


Sometimes the Words are so Close

Sometimes the words are so close I am
more who I am when I'm down on paper
than anywhere else as if my life were
practicing for the real me I become
unbuttoned from the anecdotal and
unnecessary and unpressed down
to the figure of the poem, line by line,
the real text a child could understand.
Why do I get confused living it through?
Those of you, lost and yearning to be free,
who hear these words, take heart from me.
I was once in as many drafts as you.
But briefly, essentially, here I am...
Who touches this poem touches a woman.


— Julia Alvarez


In 1996, Julia Alvarez published an updated edition of Homecoming: New and Collected Poems. This edition features an additional 13 sonnets bringing the total number of sonnets to 46. To reflect her age at the time. Forty-six.

At the same time, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of  the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Whether it be a birth day, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited William Butler Yeats.