It took moving away from Washington Heights — the neighborhood where he grew up — for Paul “Pinny” Bulman to be able to write about his experiences there.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of distance to give you perspective,” said the poet, a 2014 Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) winner for poetry.
Much of Mr. Bulman’s work focuses on imagery and ideas from his native New York City; his most recent project, a collection of poems entitled old shul, recalls his childhood in Washington Heights, at a time when the area’s once-vibrant Jewish community was moving away, the byproduct of an ever-changing New York.
“The years that I grew up there, the neighborhood had gone through a lot of transitions,” he said.
In his youth, he and his family went to the shul on 179th Street, though he recalls a dwindling membership and the vanishing of other shuls in the area. Some became supermarkets with Stars of David on the side; others were simply shells of buildings.
His poem “shadows” describes an evening of prayer at his shul.
we godspeak to the rhythm
of backfiring buses
and the strains of merengue
from the neighboring building
to which half the empty room
is subconsciously swaying
In spite of the sense of dislocation older community members felt, in a neighborhood that was now mostly Dominican, Mr. Bulman says the two worlds came together for him, creating what felt like a norm.
“Their dislocation was my home,” he said. “In the dislocation, it’s possible to find beauty there, too.”
A graduate of Yeshiva University and St. John’s University who received a doctoral degree in psychology, Mr. Bulman works for a non-profit mental health agency in the Bronx.
Part of his work focuses on a program for children with emotional difficulties. The organization offers specialized, therapeutic school programs for the children with whom it works.
He spends part of his hour-long bus commute to work each day writing on scraps of paper, tucked away in his pocket, until his bus ride home. The commuter activity some would find distracting actually facilitates his writing process.