Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop in DUMBO puts verse before prose

Farrah Field co-owns Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop with her husband, Jared White.
Farrah Field co-owns Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop with her husband, Jared White.

“New Year’s goal: Read more poetry!” reads a chalkboard outside Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop.

We may be a little more than 100 days into 2018, but the enthusiastic suggestion helps lure passers-by away from the rumble of the Manhattan Bridge and into the colorful DUMBO bookstore.

Inside, tables splayed with various sizes of poetry books, in a range of colors and formats, adorn the small space. Shelves on the perimeter of the bookshop alphabetize the authors by first (rather than last) name, and record store-style flip shelves organize titles by contemporary poets, showing off their artwork to perusing customers who may pick a vintage album for the same aesthetic reasons.

Husband-and-wife poets Farrah Field, 41, and Jared White, 39, started selling books from independent poets and small presses at the Brooklyn Flea in 2011, eventually moving into a storefront in DUMBO just a few blocks from their home.

“We wanted to do something kind of different than anyone was doing,” White says after moving a small ukulele from a chair in the store so we can sit and chat. “We focus on small presses and handmade books, stuff that doesn’t usually end up in bookstores.”

The books are mostly contemporary, and there may be only one copy some titles in the shop, which organically replenishes its stock with works introduced to them by local writers and small presses. White typically recommends best-sellers, what he’s loving at the time or titles connected with events in the store.

Berl’s hosts an average of three events a week, welcoming new and established writers to share their work. Field has also started instructing workshops in the space.

“Poetry is so voice-driven, more than any other kind of writing,” White says of the constant stream of events on Berl’s calendar, which is especially packed for National Poetry Month, observed in April.

The shop records all of its readings, which can be listened to at the store’s “listening station” — an iPad equipped with headphones stationed between two bookshelves.

Berl’s attracts a strong local contingent, as well as tourists walking their way through the historic neighborhood.

“We’re the only bookstore doing this with poetry in New York,” White says. “And Brooklyn is the place to do it because there’s such a rich, totally open community.”

Fast facts

  • Berl’s curates readings by any and all category of poet, including a recent reading exclusively by poets named Emily (including the Emily behind the eponymous pizza restaurant).
  • Berl’s is named after White’s grandfather, Harmon “Berl” White.
  • Though a recent accident has taken it temporarily out of commission, Berl’s is home to a large Lego bust of Walt Whitman.
  • The bookstore is located at 141 Front St. in DUMBO. For more info, visit berlspoetry.com.