The Noir City: Manhattan Transfer 1925


“Dusk gently smooths crispangled streets. Dark presses tight the steaming asphalt city, crushes the fretwork of windows and lettered signs and chimneys and watertanks and ventilators and fireescapes and moldings and patterns and corrugations and eyes and hands and neckties into blue chunks, into black enormous blocks. Under the rolling heavier heavier pressure windows blurt light. Night crushes bright milk out of arclights, squeezes the sullen blocks until they drip red, yellow, green into streets resounding with feet. All the asphalt oozes light. Light spurts from lettering on roofs, mills dizzily among wheels, stains rolling tons of sky.”

– John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer (NY 1925)


Noir Poet: Marc Cohn

High Wall (1946)

Strangers in a Car – Marc Cohn

There’s a stranger in a car
Driving down your street
Acts like he knows who you are
Slaps his hand on the empty seat and says
“Are you gonna get in
Or are you gonna stay out?”
Just a stranger in a car
Might be the one they told you about

Well you never were one for cautiousness
You open the door
He gives you a tender kiss
And you can’t even hear them no more
All the voices of choices
Now only one road remains
And strangers in a car
Two hearts
Two souls
Two lanes

You don’t know where you’re goin’
You don’t know what you’re doin’
Hell it might be the highway to heaven
And it might be the road to ruin
But this is a song
For strangers in a car
Baby maybe that’s all
We really are
Strangers in a car
(Driving down your street)
Just strangers in a car
(Driving down your street)
Strangers in a car


The French have a name for it: noir

Farewell My Lovely aka Murder My Sweet

PI Philip Marlowe has the poet’s eye for the softer edges of existence while enmeshed in the hard reality of greed, corruption, and criminal passions.  The smell of places, dirt and dust, smog, rain, the sun on baking asphalt, the twilight that has no sunlight lit by dull incandescent bulbs that throw shadows in bars where angst is held at bay for as long as a shot of  booze does its job. A respite from the desperate loneliness of men and women in big cities where ethical conduct and loyalty are not rewarded but ridiculed, and get you into trouble, and deep.  You give up on true relationships and, well, love, it just doesn’t bare thinking about.

 “I watched the cab out of sight. I went back up the steps and into the bedroom and pulled the bed to pieces and remade it. There was a long dark hair on one of the pillows. There was a lump of lead at the pit of my stomach. The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase a for everything and they are always right.  To say good-bye is to die a little.”

– [Raymond Chandler, ‘The Long Goodbye’]

Noir Poet – Kenneth Fearing: “appeals urged across kitchen tables and the fury that shouts them down”

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)


She sleeps, lips round, see how at rest
how dark the hair, unstrung with all the world
see the desirable eyes, how still, how white, sealed
to all faces, locked against ruin, favor, and every

Nothing behind them now but a pale mirage
through which the night-time ragman of the street
below moves in a stiff and slow ballet
rhythmic from door to door, hallway to curb and
gutter to stoop, bat’s eyes bright, ravenous,
ravenous for the carrion found and brought by
tireless fingers to unreal lips

Her hand relaxed beside the enchanted head, mouth red,
see how at peace the human form can be, whose
sister, whose sweetheart, daughter of whom,
and now the adorable ears, coral and pink
deaf to every footfall, every voice
midnight threats, the rancor stifled in rented bed-
rooms, appeals urged across kitchen tables and
the fury that shouts them down, gunfire,
screams, the sound of pursuit
all of these less than the thunderous wings of a moth
that circles here in the room where she sleeps

Sleeps, dreaming that she sleeps and dreams.


-From ‘Dead Reckoning’, A Book of Poetry by Kenneth Fearing (Random House, NY, 1938)



Marlowe: “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”

The Big Sleep

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

– Raymond Chandler, first paragraph of  The Big Sleep (Published 1939)