When I was twenty-one, I moved to Manhattan, not knowing a soul, not knowing what had drawn me here—apart from the fact that it was the hub for book publishing and the place to be a writer. I came from a small town where people warned me not to go above 90th street or take the subway after seven at night. I promptly did both and fell instantly in love.

Back then, I was writing poetry. I applied to a workshop with Cynthia Zarin at the 92nd Street Y, and was elated when my work was accepted—and that I would be the youngest student in there. Until the first workshop, where my first submission was eviscerated by the instructor. I never went back (which I’ve always regretted), though I’ve taken many workshops since. First rule of being a writer: Be willing and able to accept rejection. Or else, as one of my instructors at the City College graduate writing program said years later, “Go be an accountant.”

During that first year in New York, when I wasn’t writing or avoiding writing, I swerved through the streets in a daze, dumbstruck by the people, the skyscrapers, the bookstores on almost every corner. My favorite phrase was Have I mentioned how much I love New York City?

Leave it to a Belarusian poet to capture the city’s pulse, the city one sees from the sidewalks looking up.

New York
by Valzhyna Mort

 new york, madame,

                                    is a monument to a city

it is
a gigantic pike
whose scales
bristled up stunned

and what used to be just smoke
found a fire that gave it birth

champagne foam
melted into metal
glass rivers
flowing upwards
and things you won’t tell to a priest
you reveal to a cabdriver

even time is sold out
when to the public’s “wow” and “shhh”
out of a black top hat
a tailed magician
is pulling new york
out of the ears of skyscrapers

And check out this short video Poets & Writers did on Valzhyna Mort. You’ll get to see pierogies being made.

*I didn’t know poets had agents too. Except now they’re apparently billed as literary speakers.