The following post does not represent the thoughts or feelings of the South Jersey Poets Collective. This editorial has been written and posted by SJ Poet member Aubrey Gerhardt, an excerpt of which appeared in the Press of Atlantic City.
When my husband approaches a car in an Atlantic City parking lot the driver locks his door. My husband is white and thin-framed, but he must limp like the alley he grew up in, like the broken glass on Ventnor Terrace. People who walk the uneven streets of Atlantic City are perceived by outsiders as a threat. I don’t belong to the island, but I have been drawn to it, in awe of it, heartbroken with it, hopeful for it. I listen to parents and grands telling stories about what Atlantic City used to be. Atlantic City, you are beautiful in ways that maybe only a mother can love. Your potential is real.
Atlantic City has so many capable people living here that given an opportunity and financial support this island could materialize ideas into livelihoods. The potential exists for residents to produce art that could accurately represent and give voice to the needs of, the pride of and the beauty of local neighborhoods. Voices have been raised that poetry is not what Atlantic City needs. Poetry may not be a priority, like say, a grocery market where one might buy necessities at reasonable rates. Poetry is not as important as, perhaps, a day center where transients could do laundry and take showers, to greatly improve health conditions for those using public spaces. Poetry cannot provide the necessary psychiatric services or employment assistance as Jewish Family Services, One Stop or The Atlantic City Free Public Library.
What poetry can do is remind Trenton, remind Atlantic County, remind Atlantic City itself, that this is a community of people. This is more than an island of servants imported to wait on wealthy vacationers, corrupt politicians and oblivious tourists. A.C. is a series of neighborhoods comprised of beautiful families filling households with the sounds of spoons in cereal bowls, in sinks, of tap water running, a key locking a kitchen door on the way out to work a 12 hour shift. When a resident walks to the Farmer’s Market and hears music, hears poetry, humanity taps that person on the shoulder. Something about poetry can make a woman believe she does not deserve to be beaten. Something in poetry can make a man believe he can get sober. Poetry can give the people of Atlantic City a dose of confidence. A child passes by a drug exchange, an altercation, a man passed out on a stoop. If, on that same day, that same child passes through a park where poetry is being read, when she goes to sleep at night, perhaps it will be poetry that occupies her thoughts.
I want the people of Atlantic City to reclaim Gordon’s Alley, to revive Club Harlem. I want to hear the talent latent in the bellies of a people who have been fed empty promises for too long. I have heard others propose curfews or propose building housing for college-aged students who will allegedly flock to the city. I have heard idea after idea that sounds a lot like Gentrification and very little like Unification. I want to hear the poetry of residents of Atlantic City. I want to hear the guitar, the drums, the horns, the voices that should be filling the evening air without the fees of over-priced venues that too often exclude residents. I want to see local artists beautify neighborhoods, to remind this city of its greatness. No one achieves anything without someone believing in them.
Whether the taxpayers of Northfield, Linwood and the rest of Atlantic County are honest enough to admit it, the fate of the Mainland will mirror Atlantic City’s. In Linwood, I’m trying to keep the house my great-uncle built in our family. My husband and I are trying to keep food on the table and to raise our children lightheartedly in heavy times. In the face of coming lay-offs at the Atlantic City Free Public Library, my husband took a job with the county. I listen to the community as it loses its breath from another wave of lost jobs. Our family no longer lives in Atlantic City and now neither of us are employees, but still, we are inexplicably connected to Absecon Island. I cannot say that I have any ideas that will turn the economic tide for Atlantic City. I cannot tell you why I feel so compelled to involve myself in this conversation. I just know that poetry can’t screw anything up more than it already is. And maybe, just maybe, stumbling upon poetry will shed unexpected light