David Lawrence is a Man of Words

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Mark Connor

© Mark Connor

 

 

David Lawrence is a man of words. A former Literature Professor at Hunter College in New York, he has authored five collections of poetry, including his latest, “Lane Changes”, published in 2007 by Four Way Books. He is a man of action, too, having occupied himself with intense physical activities that challenge the will and risk injury or death. Therein lay the mixture of mental and physical expression that animates his work, exemplifying a synchronicity of strength and thought that communicates to others the totality of human experience. The most basic source for him of such creativity is boxing.

            Lawrence was not a boxer while growing up, but became one well into his adult life. He was 33 years old when his wife told him he had to find a hobby other than motorcycle riding, so he took up boxing. He was one of the first competitors in the “White Collar Boxing” scene started at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, which hosted the December 2007 launch of “Lane Changes”, and where he now trains fellow enthusiasts. In the early 1970s he actually turned professional at age 44 and compiled a ring record of 4 wins and 2 losses, every fight ending by way of knockout.   A week after the publication party he sat in his office, where he periodically pens poetry and takes an occasional nap while waiting for the next training appointment, and spoke about his approach to the equally rhythmic arts of Boxing and Writing.

            “I started boxing at maybe 34, 33,” he said. “I’m the oldest guy in history to have turned first time pro; at least that’s what they wrote about me years ago in the New York Times. I turned pro at 44 and I was fighting 22-year-olds.”

            Fighting those 22-year-olds could seem like a major risk for a man in his mid-forties, but the beauty of boxing is the combination of variables that go into each contest, including the level of intellect in the experienced fighter’s head. With enough intelligence and boxing experience the extra age could be an advantage.

            “[To] some extent,” Lawrence agrees, “but, see, I wasn’t a smart fighter. I just went in there and swung, you know?”

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The nostalgic reminiscence of his short-lived career reveals macho pride tempered with a humble recognition of the dedication an art like boxing demands of its faithful, extracting the same expenditure of emotion a life in poetry requires.

 “See, I connected with myself as an animal. I was an intellectual, you know I had my Doctorate, I’d run a huge corporation, but I go in and I feel my hands, I feel my feet, I feel my body, and I don’t think like, ‘Oh, I think he stepped to the left, I’ll go to the right and hit him, ’” he said, his assertion arrested by laughter. “You know, that’s bull shit. If I did I’d take up Tidly Winks. I wanna fight, that’s it; back and forth.”

            So therein lay the explanation of why boxing is that basic source of creativity to him. The physical connection through the combative challenge touches his heart, pulls from him the drama in his soul.

            “It’s funny,” he says, “I just published a poem in Atlanta Review, and it’s ‘Ringside at Gleason’s Boxing Gym’, but there’s a rhyme in the first stanza. I sometimes play with it. ‘When I was a young poet skiing on white glaciers in Oregon/I never thought I’d live my life/My wife of a life, my sacred to be breathing in and out life, in a boxing gym.’ So I’m playing with it—I’m letting the language explode here.”

            With prompting, he reads the rest.

            “I am missing the boost of white air and the snow gargling expectations/and the thin garrulous lightness of the clouds/mounting the sun like a hot humping dog disguised in vapor. But I’m here in the now/with no humdrum/but ecstatic punches, delirious hits, waking thuds and the angels of unconsciousness surrounding me like a breath of hurt fresh air.”

            The poem points to the unbroken chain of one’s life, the marriage metaphor uniting spiritual self with the physical, sensual experience of sport, both in the mountains and in the realm of the ring, where the feminine snow combining with the masculine sun and air yields the simile of one’s virility masked in vapors, a man once a skier now a boxer fighting to express himself physically to the world with all the intensity of a poet, his vulnerability only protected by “the angels of unconsciousness” in the salvation of “here in the now”. The ups and downs of Lawrence’s life greatly inform his art, helping him to construct such soundly communicated poetry.new-york-christmas-season-2007-005

           After years as a literature professor Lawrence entered the business world, managing insurance brokerages and becoming a multimillionaire. Then he fell from grace with a conviction for income tax evasion, and served time in federal prison. With a wife of many years and grown children, he is happy to share through poetry his observations of life in the many social and economic stations from which he’s experienced it. From poems in Lane Changes like “Cancer Dance”, which describes the rich patrons of a charity gathering, “Steve K”, which tells the story of two businessmen being snagged by the FBI for White Collar crime through an informing associate, and “Launderer”, which recounts passing Mafia man John Gotti on the street just after pocketing 50,000 dollars in cash from a shady business deal, one can see the author’s acceptance of his shortcomings while discovering that forgiveness must be found in his own heart before redemption is possible. And in poems like the opener, “White Plains”, in which he remembers “getting hit so hard in the head/ That the gray canvas turned into/ An albino snowstorm” and later “I turned around/ And hit him under the chin/ With a frozen hand”, Lawrence uses again the harsh imagery of nature’s extreme expressions, in this case the snowstorm, to explain the raw challenge of boxing. In the poem “Evander Holyfield Won’t Retire”, which opens with the line, “It’s not about the money,” and gets ready to close with the third to last line, “Your injuries are a form of dialogue with loneliness”, we get a glimpse into a true warrior’s motivations from someone close enough to the sport to understand why the great ones really keep pushing even when the world says stop, and in “At The Boxing Clinic” we read the same feelings in the presence of those getting licensed to train amateur fighters after their own years in the ring. “We are here to get our licenses/ As trainers, / To work the corners of amateurs, / Jealous of their broken noses, / Their glories.” The poem ends with, “The bags on our cheeks are suitcases/ We are all going nowhere.” You can hear the anticipation of another glorious adventure in the metaphor, along with a resignation to death.

            Lane Changes is well worth the read. The publisher, Four Way Books, can be found on line at www.fourwaybooks.com. David Lawrence can be reached at Gleason’s Gym, 75 Front Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.

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2 Responses to “David Lawrence is a Man of Words”

  1. Lauren Lawrence Says:

    David Lawrence is a man of words and so are you Mark.

    What an extremely well written review chock full of poetic sensibilities. The blogging world has been made this much better.

    Lauren Lawrence

  2. Marty "Killer" Miller Says:

    I met David over 20 years ago and have spared 100’s of rounds with him.
    He was and still is one of my favorite people.
    He signed one of his books to me “to marty, the guy who really broke my nose”. Still makes me feel good. By the way, he hurt me on many occasions…probably still makes him feel good…
    Long Live David Lawrence…My Hero!

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