From Writer in Residence, Geoffrey Philp – July 17, 2014
Rising this morning at six o’clock, my ritual ever since I started writing, I was greeted by the usual squawk of finches and the unusual din of traffic trolling up Collins Avenue, weary from another night of drugs, liquor, and sex—the eternal promise of youth and good times on South Beach.
My wife sleeps soundly under the covers as I write these lines.
It has been a week of rediscovery and discovery during my writer’s residency at the Carlton Hotel on South Beach, which has changed so much since I first came here in the late seventies. Ocean Boulevard is no longer a waiting room for the dying and soon-to-be-dead. The Cameo Theatre where Jeffrey Knapp, Adrian Castro, and I tested our first poems is now a night club that promotes “Lap Dance Tuesdays.” And while the old hotels look the same, their interiors have been radically changed.
In the midst of these rediscoveries, I have discovered poets whose work adorn the hallways, and in my room, I found Apples from Shinar, by Hyam Plutzik, a mid-century Jewish American poet. Apples from Shinar was Plutzik’s second complete collection. His 2,000- line poem, Horatio, was published by Atheneum and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, which was won by Phyllis McGinley for Times Three: Selected Verse From Three Decades.
So what does this have to do with anything? Everything. As a writer and a father of three grown children, I’ve reached the point in my life where reflection, especially at six in the morning, is a natural reflex. I worry about my family. I worry about the impact of my work.
Yet here in this refurbished room on South Beach, two writers, Plutzik and McGinley whose works are not “canonical” as Harold Bloom would say, have reaffirmed my faith in my vocation. In each I’ve discovered remarkable poems that have passed what Seamus Heaney calls the “envy test”: McGinley’s “Ballade of Lost Objects” and Plutzik’s “To my Daughter.”
And as I am writing this, my friend, Michelle McGrane posts on Facebook: “’Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.’ –Jack Kerouac.”
So give thanks to my family, friends, and enemies whose actions have led to this moment. Give thanks for all my successes and failures. Give thanks to Phyllis McGinley and Hyam Plutzik, whose son, Jonathan, chairman and owner of the Betsy/Carlton, preserves his father’s legacy by sponsoring this writer’s retreat.
Because that’s the point isn’t it? Giving thanks and paying forward. I’ve lived a blessed life of travel, adventure, and contemplation through reading and writing.
And the journey isn’t over.
July 17, 2014
Geoffrey Philp, an author from Jamaica, has written three children’s books, Marcus and the Amazons (Mabrak Books, 2011), Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories (2012), and The Christmas Dutch Pot Baby (2012); two collections of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien (1997) and Who’s Your Daddy? (2009); a novel, Benjamin, My Son (2003); and five poetry collections, Exodus and Other Poems (1990), Florida Bound (Peepal Tree, 1995), Hurricane Center (1998), Xango Music (2001), and Dub Wise (2010). A graduate of the University of Miami, where he earned an MA in English, Philp teaches creative writing at Miami Dade College. He posts interviews, fiction, poetry, podcasts, and literary events from the Caribbean and South Florida on his blog geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com.