‘The Interrupted Sky,’ a book of poems about 9/11, from Gleason’s Gym phenomenon ‘awesome’ David Lawrence
In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, David Lawrence, a highly accomplished writer who also teaches the brutal art of boxing at Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO, has produced thousands of poems published in hundreds of books and magazines.
Roughly 50 of his poems on the topic of 9/11 have now been gathered in the book The Interrupted Sky (Cyberwit.net, 2021, available on Amazon.com).
For anyone not familiar with former pro boxer “Awesome” Lawrence, The Interrupted Sky is a mesmerizing introduction to his uncensored, stream-of-consciousness, sometimes politically incorrect, often brilliant writing.
Lawrence chose the prose-poem form to make his work more accessible, he told the Brooklyn Eagle. For those of us who lived through the day’s horror, Lawrence’s poems are triggering: the towers are still smoldering and people are still jumping and falling. Like an old-time recording machine that captured sound waves in wax and faithfully reproduced them when played with a needle, Lawrence’s poetry captures and transmits the instant raw emotions of a witness to the crime. You don’t so much read the poems; you mainline confusion, sorrow, pain and anger.
“I wrote about September 11 because I was going downtown on the bus that day and I saw the first plane crash into the building,” he said. “And it so startled me that humanity could be so cruel to each other that I felt I wanted to make this permanent. I’m putting 9/11 in stone, like Mount Rushmore, and I’m leaving it for future generations.”
In The Interrupted Sky’s preface, Lawrence writes, “Do I still think about the Towers falling every day? No, I am not so loyal. I promised I would but I didn’t.”
But he remembers them in his poems. He stays loyal, and makes us loyal, too.
In “Ground Zero,” Lawrence writes:
I can’t understand the horror of leaping from fire into absent particles. Disappearance is a traverse into a borrowed world.
I try to think of the diving corpses every day. I try to drag the dead back into the almost living just to shame their killers…”
Lawrence writes of those chased by fire to their brief but infinite falls. He has timed how long their final trips took. Death is a constant presence, along with a thirst to make things right, to catch those falling, and, failing that, revenge. In Eat a Piece of Life he writes:
If I were falling down from the World Trade Towers would I bite the air and try to eat a piece of life to extend my pain into an infinite moment,
Or would I bite my gums and try to keep out the breath that lets me wallow in my upcoming death? I am in God’s, the dentist’s, waiting room.
Would I shake hands with the woman falling next to me or would I take a China tea set out of my pockets and eat scones from the St. Regis while we discussed the education of our children?
And how to keep them from falling, falling, like their parents, us, into the trap of allowing violence to drop its weight into America?
Would I tell the falling ladies that the best defense is offense before we hit the other world of the sidewalk and put our ears into our silent deaths?
Riches to rags
Lawrence has lived a multitude of lives. He was once a professor at Hunter College, with a Ph.D. in literature. He was a Wall Street multimillionaire, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on larks and gifting enormous sums to troubled employees. “I didn’t care. I had enough money,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Lawrence started boxing in his 30s and went professional at age 44, probably the oldest pro boxing debut in history. He fought his six pro fights in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Boston and White Plains, on championship cards in the casinos, and was a media sensation, arriving for his fights in his chauffeured Rolls Royce. All of his professional fights ended in knockouts — he knocked out four opponents, and was knocked out in two. He may have suffered brain damage.
Lawrence also put out three hip hop albums which hit the charts, and modeled. His rap name was Awesome D, aka the Renegade Jew. He was in an advertisement familiar to long-time New Yorkers, where he played a homeless man in the subway. “For seven years it ran on every subway in the city,” he said.
His film “Boxer Rebellion” played at Sundance Film Festival in 1994. “This girl from Andy Warhol’s group, Celia Cotelo, did it, and it was an odd movie,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence’s life’s story — including the part where he was eased into a tax-evasion scheme by a trusted employee at his insurance company and served two years in a minimum security prison — has been optioned four times.
Writing is central to his existence. Lawrence has authored 12 published books of both prose and poetry, including The King of White Collar Boxing and On Jail: The Essays, the 14th best-selling boxing book of all time, which will be reissued soon.
Now 74, Lawrence is one of the most popular boxing coaches at Gleason’s. He’s no longer wealthy, but can do 50 pull-ups with ease and more than a hundred pushups. He’s so unusually strong that a medical clinic in Manhattan studied him for a clue to his longevity.
“My life has been magnificent … before it fell apart,” Lawrence said. “I was a multimillionaire, riding around on Wall Street in a Rolls Royce, chauffeured 20 hours a day, hanging out at San Moritz, New Year’s Eve parties where I wore a tuxedo in the ski area. I had the life. And yet, if you asked me am I happier now earning forty bucks an hour in the gym, I’d say yes. I love coming over here and teaching people to box. And I love sitting down and writing, because when I write I get into my soul. My soul is where I want to be, because I’m 74 years old and I’m going to be dead, and I want to take my soul with me. It’s in my duffel bag.”
For a man who frequently writes about death, Lawrence laughs a lot. His outgoing personality draws people to him. His fellow boxers at the gym joke with him about arranging fights. In the middle of a taped interview under the Archway in DUMBO, a powerfully built man with a white towel around his neck snuck up on Lawrence from behind and air kissed him on the cheek. They both erupted into gales of laughter.
Lawrence and his wife Lauren have managed to hold on to their upper-crust, art-filled apartment on the Upper East Side — all that’s left of their once over-the-top lifestyle. “My wife is the love of my life. We’ve been together 50 years,” he said.
One of the poems in The Interrupted Sky is a gentle love poem to Lauren, called “Love Note.” It reads in part:
If I were a piece of paper flying through the air as the World Trade Towers fell, I’d wish that I were a love note to my wife.
I would float like our emotions through thick and thin and for all our little gestures that have been …
To hear Lawrence read “Love Note,” please view the video below:
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