Bx. ‘literary landscape’ excites her imagination



When Judith Baumel was young, she thought of the Bronx as the boondocks.

Things have changed.

Now, when she looks across the borough from Riverdale, she sees the history, literature and landmarks that have become a part of her.

In her poetry, Ms. Baumel, 55, catalogs aspects of the mainland, which she has called home for the majority of her life, while contributing to its most recent chapter.

“I started out ... not hating the Bronx, but thinking the Bronx was a backwater ... Once I started writing about it, it’s completely the center of what I write about,” she said on Monday afternoon at Noni’s, a small coffeeshop on Riverdale Avenue.

From the heights of Riverdale, some might consider the western view of the Hudson River and Palisades more poetic. But Ms. Baumel looks east. She looks out across Kingsbridge and Fordham, past the Throggs Nest and Whitestone bridges, all the way out to the Long Island Sound.

“I’m looking out and at the far end you’re seeing Gatsby ... you go out and see a little of the Poe landscape ... you can see actually a little of the Wallace Stevens landscape,” she said. “There’s a literary landscape, a kind of living literary landscape that I really, really love,” she said.

In “Letter to Nando,” from her newest book of poetry, The Kangaroo Girl, Ms. Baumel compares the rolling landscape of the Bronx to an ocean. (To read the poem, go to A12.)

“For me, the rippling of the landscape in the Bronx is like being out in the ocean,” she said.

She was born a day after a famous event in Bronx history, when Don Larsen threw a perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium in 1956.

“It’s family lore that I was polite enough to wait so my father could hear the game on the radio,” she said.

Her loyalty, however, lies elsewhere.

“I am a Mets fan and for a very classic Bronx reason. My father was a Giants fan, so it’s kind of an inheritance,” she said.

Adam Wisnieski, Judith Baumel, Riverdale Avenue, book of poetry, The Kangaroo Girl, Letter to Nando, Botanical Garden.
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