NYC's thriving poetry scene
April, aka National Poetry Month, may be the one time of year most non-poets devote any thought or attention to poetry, but what they're missing is an active verse scene that happens locally year-round.
"Poetry is not really part of American pop culture, but I forget that, because the scene in New York is so vibrant," said Melissa Broder, a poet who runs the reading series Polestar at Cake Shop, a rock club on the Lower East Side.
Turns out the popular perception of poetry as dull and academic is dead wrong. In honor of National Poetry Month, we put some common misconceptions to rest.
MYTH: Poetry readings are formulaic and boring
When you picture a reading, do you see some guy in a turtleneck droning into a mic at the front of a coffee shop? Well, don't. Readings these days take place in bars and rock clubs, and the young crowd is there to socialize and drink beer.
Poet Sasha Fletcher, a Philadelphia transplant pursuing an MFA at Columbia, attends a lot of events in Brooklyn. He's noticed a recent movement of younger poets who "manage to write really interesting work that they can deliver in a way that's really entertaining and engaging."
MYTH: Poetry exists in a bubble, away from the real world
Like all creative people in New York, poets are drawn to - and respond to - all aspects of the city's cultural life. The neighborhoods which host a high concentration of poetry events - the Lower East Side, Bushwick, Williamsburg and Ridgewood - also are where a lot of up-and-coming bands and emerging artists are active.
Reading series such as Supermachine, hosted by Ben Fama, regularly also feature bands or incorporate visual artists into their programming.
And this isn't at all a new thing for New York.
"There was a time in New York, in the '30s and then again in the late '50s with the Abstract Expressionists, that the poets and the visual artists were almost inseparable," said Jason Andrew, whose Storefront gallery in Bushwick holds regular poetry readings to recapture that interdisciplinary spirit.
MYTH: Poets are dreamers who don't understand capitalism
The truth is that most poets know they won't make money, but they don't care. They've accepted the fact that they'll always have to have a day job to keep pursuing their passion, but the support of their community helps them keep going.
"I don't know that I'll ever make a whole lot of money at it," Fletcher said, voicing a sentiment that was echoed by many. "But I don't really know what I'd do if I didn't have this."
Experience the scene for yourself at the following:
Stain of Poetry
Goodbye Blue Monday, 1087 Broadway, Bushwick
Last Friday every month
Space Space, 390 Seneca Ave., Ridgewood
Mailing list: poetrytime email@example.com.
Cafe Orwell, 247 Varet St., Williamsburg
View the schedule at crowdyourself.blogspot.com.
16 Wilson Ave., Bushwick
Third Thursday every month
Cake Shop, 152 Ludlow St.
First Sunday every month
The Multifarious Array
Pete's Candy Store, 709 Lorimer St., Williamsburg
Outpost, 1014 Fulton St., Crown Heights
View the schedule at supermachinepoetry.com.
Intrigued? Want to read more? We asked Kevin Larimer, editor of Poets & Writers magazine, to suggest some local up-and-coming poets.
"Slow Dance With Trip Wire," Camille Rankine
"Juvenilia," Ken Chen
"To Light Out," Karen Weiser
"Becoming Weather," Chris Martin
"Late in the Antenna Fields," Alan Gilbert
Call for entries
We know some of you readers are budding poets, and we'd like to see what you've got. Submit your short poems by April 22 to firstname.lastname@example.org (with POETRY SUBMISSION in the subject line), and we'll print a few of our favorites in the books section on April 27.