Kentucky Reading Series Report: Sarabande Books and 21c Museum Hotel

by Christopher Walker

If a native Louisvillian had to take an out-of-towner to a classy and hip space, the former would most likely take his or her guest to 21c. The combination museum-hotel-restaurant & bar (Proof on Main), at the corner of 7th and Main streets, is smack dead in the heart of “Museum Row” in historic downtown Louisville. 21c hosts the Sarabande Books Monthly Poetry Series on the last Monday of every month, January through October.

21c is a unique museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting the very best work of living artists from all over the world. This mission is handled exquisitely through meticulous placement of exhibits throughout the entire building. 21c doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of a blank wall; everything in the hotel has a purpose and every inch of space is used to exemplify this idea. The galleries change approximately twice a year.

The mission and atmosphere of 21c acts as a naturally-fitting location for the Sarabande reading series, which switched locales from the Pink Door because of their complementing missions and desire to display the creative works of modern artists. Sarabande Books, a nonprofit literary press founded in March 1994 in Louisville, focuses on publishing poetry and short fiction, but also puts out some great creative nonfiction, as well. They have since garnered much renown and become a widely recognized independent publisher, releasing work by Jenny Boully, James Kimbrell, Cate Marvin, Ander MonsonAleda ShirleyJulia Story, Jean Valentine, and many others.

In the south atrium of 21c, in one conference room about the size of an average university classroom, the walls hold a border by the photography of Gabriel Wrye’s “Tout Se Moun” (or “Every Person is a Person”). It was dedicated to hosting the reading. All the chairs were filled, and the multiple pitchers of water, drank to their empty bottoms.

Every Sarabande reading opens with a musical guest; this time around it was local artist Heather Summers. She pleased the crowd of fifty plus—a few only left with room to stand—with a few original songs, a few covers, playing both piano and guitar.

The poets came next. New Yorker Jason Schneiderman read a few selections from his 2004 collection Sublimation Point, then continued on to read from his new book, Striking Surface. Schneiderman’s poetry seemed to have a necessity to be read aloud. His opening poem, the self-deprecating “Schneiderman” garnered audience chuckles. This was in juxtaposition to the majority of elegiac poems referring to his late mother. These poems, such as “Elegy I (Work)” and “Elegy III (The Kübler-Ross Joke),” displayed a realistic feeling of grief but also a sense of morbid, ironic humor.

Following Schneiderman’s reading, ex-New Yorker (now in Louisville by way of St. Louis) Jennifer Kronovet read selections from her 2009 collection Awayward. The book is Kronovet’s compilation of her experiences living in a foreign country and culture. Her masterful use of prose elucidates her culture shock in the opening poem “Weekend.” She also read a piece on the degradation of language—“Excuse Me”—and a few poems (“System”, “Basic”, “Order”) concerning motherhood.

Unique to this season’s readings have been the question-and-answer sessions. This time around, both poets discussed their involvement in a workshop with the Kentucky School for the Blind among many other taste-related inquiries.

The new season will begin on January 24th, and if the series picks up some momentum, one thing is certain: they’ll need more chairs.

Performers are listed below: