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Local Poet Finds Inspiration in Changing Elmhurst Streets

By Katie Honan | January 27, 2014 9:30am
 Matthew Kremer walks around Elmhurst, where he finds inspiration in his daily interactions.
Matthew Kremer walks around Elmhurst, where he finds inspiration in his daily interactions.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ELMHURST — To some, it was just a fast food restaurant facing the wrecking ball on Queens Boulevard.

But to Matthew Kremer, the demolition of the Wendy's that had been made famous in Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" was an inspiration.

Kremer, 34, lives in Elmhurst and writes about his observations and experiences in the neighborhood on his site Visions of Elmhurst, with the hopes of eventually compiling them into a book.

in terms of loss, i suppose
that wendy's was the only
'landmark' proper in elmhurst
to speak of
outside of the old elks lodge.
it made me weirdly happy
to know it was there
when i made the move
down this way.

He moved to the neighborhood last year after bouncing around Brooklyn and Jackson Heights for six years. Kremer's more comfortable in Queens, he said, and continues to learn more about it through his poetry.

"When I first moved down to this lonely part of Queens, the point was  — if I was too shy to break in, then maybe I could participate in some way," Kremer said.

"Poetry is my way to feel less estranged in a neighborhood without much interaction."

The Pittsburgh native came to the city after a stint out in northern California, where he received a graduate degree from Humboldt State University.

He's now an an adjunct professor in the English department at Stony Brook University on Long Island, where he's also studying for a PhD.

When he's not teaching and commuting, he's writing about the place he now calls home and has compiled a handful of poems about his neighborhood.

"I spend an incredible amount of time walking around Elmhurst observing the neighborhood," he said, adding that it helps him "have some credibility about plopping down and writing about a place."

His poems — about both current events like a recent story on turnstile jumpers, as well as the mark left by the Elmhurst gas tanks which were demolished in 1996  — are meant to be reflections on the neighborhood as it goes through changes similar to other neighborhoods throughout the city.

"The way in which I started to care about a place, I see poetry standing in contrast to the great change that's happening," he said.

"To describe a place in contrast to the rapid development — to me, it's an inherently political act."

He's written about local bartenders as well as the demolition of the Wendy's on Queens Boulevard, which was the site of the fictional fast-food restaurant "McDowell's" in "Coming to America."

The location will be the future home of luxury apartments.

"There's this fear that something very essential is getting lost," he said, adding that this form of "ruin poetry" is his way of reflecting on economic factors changing neighborhoods throughout the city .

And while the literary and academic scenes can be closed off, he hopes his verses can connect with his different neighbors.

"Nobody needs a poem in order to live their lives," he said.

"But it would be really flattering to me if a bartender or a firefighter or a cook or a construction worker —you name it, whoever — would enjoy reading a poem about a place where they live."