by Zack Graham
Until recently, it was cold in New York. The kind of cold that makes you hate everyone and everything as soon as you step outside. Why did you even bother? Why do you have this stupid job which makes you step outside at all? (And then, after enough winters: why do you even live here anymore?)
“You, Very Young in New York,” a poem by Hannah Sullivan, will remind you of why you live in New York. It will remind you why you struggle through winter after winter, why you wait underground for a train that may never come, why sometimes, despite living in the biggest city in America, you feel so alone. In short, “You, Very Young in New York” is the perfect remedy for a brutal New York February.
Rosy used to say that New York was a fairground.
‘You will know when it’s time, when the fair is over.’
But nothing seems to happen. You stand around
On the same street corners, smoking, thin-elbowed,
Looking down avenues in a lime-green dress
With one arm raised, waiting to get older.
And then you fall into Sullivan’s rendering of a city — from the Greenwich Village of Henry James to the Brooklyn coffee shops of MFA’d near-novelists, through the seasons: summer (eating peaches from the greenmarket), fall (its brittle confection of branches), hangovers (evening comes without seeing light again), hookups (it feels like drawn-out sex on coke, like something dirty); Ben Bernanke and Isabel Marant and Barack Obama and David Foster Wallace; pisco sours and sea urchin and whipped cream and kidneys; over and over, again and again, until you come tumbling out of the other side, and:
through tears, you are laughing.
An Oxford professor who lived in New York once upon a time, Sullivan is one of British poetry’s breakout stars, winning the T.S. Eliot prize for her debut collection Three Poems (the first of which is “You, Very Young in New York”), published by Faber & Faber in 2018. Sullivan’s geographical and temporal distance from her experience living in New York, in combination with her immense talent, has proven the perfect recipe for defining the city we know and love. “You, Very Young in New York” displays her uncanny ability to make the specific feel universal, presenting a collection of moments that streak by you — as, and, then, here, there, now, it’s; February, March, April, Christmas — at warp speed. Such an approach simulates the sensation not only of remembering life in New York, but of living that life as well.
Hannah Sullivan captures the glorious essence of New York’s past, present, and future in 278 lines of verse. We owe her a tremendous debt.
Zack Graham’s writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Newsday, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of an Emerging Critics Fellowship from the National Book Critics Circle, and is at work on a collection of short stories and a novel.