Montagu Square gave us London versus John Lennon.
In New Jersey, Paterson contributed its own timeless would-be drug bust rivalry – and a rare (almost unheard-of) NJ intersection of politics and poetry: Mayor Frank X. Graves – noted non-reader – versus native poet Allen Ginsburg, who actually claimed to have been able to understand Ezra Pound.
According to the late mayor’s New York Times obituary in 1990, “In his first administration, from 1961 to 1966, Mr. Graves personally led police raids, unleashed dogs on rioters and ordered the arrest of the poet Allen Ginsberg, a Paterson native, for saying at a poetry reading that he had just smoked marijuana at the Passaic Falls.”
The anecdote surfaces as politicians, including state Senator Nick Scutari (D-22), pursue legislation to legalize pot, and local mayoral candidates competing in the May 13th election routinely cite Graves as an admirable impact player.
At his kickoff, Council President Andre Sayegh recalled a sidewalk-patrolling Graves once telling him and his brother to stop climbing a telephone pole.
Former Ward 2 Councilman Aslon Goow points to Graves’ “hands-on” style as an influence, and Passaic County Freeholder Terry Duffy last week told PolitickerNJ that the late mayor ruled the city with an iron fist.
In addition to Paterson being his birthplace, there’s an interesting Ginsberg tie-in to the Great Falls. The poet who wrote Howl was the protégé of William Carlos Williams, who wrote the book-length poem, Paterson, which includes his homage to the falls.
With a warrant out for his arrest and the dominating Graves on the prowl, Ginsberg escaped arrest by fleeing to New York.
The law and order-minded Graves, it should be noted, was mayor when authorities arrested Paterson boxer Hurricane Carter on murder charges later reversed in a court of law after witnesses reversed their testimony.
Mr. Carter died on Saturday.