More and More NYC Poetry Readings: Storefront and Triptych

Storefront, a well-curated art gallery and exhibition space (about the size of a single studio apartment) on Wilson Avenue in Brooklyn has begun hosting a new series called “Literary Thursdays.”  The new series claims that it is “featuring the work of emerging Bushwick writers and poets.” The series began October 7, presenting two poets while also showcasing the final week of its gallery exhibition “Drawing on the Utopic.” Wine and food were served afterward and audience members were given the opportunity to purchase chapbooks and talk with the readers.  The two poets who read are listed below:

Matt Reeck

Paul D’Agostino

October 11 was the second installment of this season’s Triptych readings. The program was an eclectic trip of highly-accomplished poets who brought out a standing-room only crowd. The poets who read last Monday night are listed below:

Michael Dickman (The End of the West)

Matthea Harvey (Modern Life, Sad Little Breathing Machine)

John Yau (Exhibits)

**And, rather than attempt to profile the phenomenal Triptych series, I posed the following five questions to one half of the curating team, the poet and designer, Mary Austin Speaker.**

How long has the Triptych series been going on?

Triptych has been running for about two years now. It’s the continuation of Readings Between A & B, which I curated with Kaveh Bassiri for the last two years of its existence. We’re working and curating in the spirit of Reading Between A & B, but we had to use a new name because A&B’s founder moved to Los Angeles and had to take the name with her for legal reasons. She encouraged us to take the space and the time, and we wanted to keep doing the same thing, so we sort of rode the tailcoats of A&B.

What is your favorite thing about curating the series?

Creating conversations between readers. I love picking readers whose work speaks to each other in a way that they might not have thought of before. Sometimes, of course, our readers know each other very well before the arrive at 11th Street, but I try to curate a balance of expected and unexpected combinations of poets.

I also really love surprising the audience by bringing them a poet they don’t know, whose work resonates with them in a way they might not have anticipated. Most of the time we go to readings to see poets with whose work we’re already quite familiar. Booking three readers per evening in a comfy space seems to provide enough people with incentives to show up early or stay late and hear the people they haven’t heard of before.

Tell me about the other folks you work on the series with.

Kaveh Bassiri and I ran the Reading Between A&B series for two years, then founded Triptych together after that. When Kaveh left to pursue his PhD in Arkansas, I invited Justin Petropoulos (we met in the creative writing program at Indiana University), and Anne Lovering Rounds, who I met through Paul Romero at the Bryant Park Word for Word series, to help me run the series.

Anne works for Cambridge University Press and had been helping to run a nonprofit music organization, and Justin had been working on political campaigns for the Democratic party. When I found out each of them were looking for new opportunities in the poetry community, it seemed like a very obvious choice. They’re both excited about the opportunity to speak publicly about poets they admire, and I find that between the three of us we cover enough aesthetic territory to keep things diverse.

We each introduce one reader per evening, and the background work of sending out emails and printing flyers and hustling for publicity is a bit more spread out.

Best and worst things about the venue?

I love the 11th Street Bar. It’s intimate, comfortable, low-lit, casual, centrally located, easy to find. It’s the kind of place you can feel calm about approaching someone whose books you’ve read for years. It’s small enough to make it feel like someone’s home, and they have a great selection of beers on tap.

Without ever asking us to charge a cover or institute drink minimums, they’ve been kind enough to offer us their back room, and the use of the whole bar when we need it. We use their sound system (which expands to accomodate the whole bar if need be), and they’re happy to bring in additional staff when our readings are well-attended enough to require it. They’ve also been very flexible about scheduling, and they provide free drinks for readers and curators. They like poets—we feel respected and appreciated there.

The only trouble is that sometimes the readings are better attended than we expect, so we wind up with spillover from the back room and people can’t always hear if they come late and have to stand in the main bar area. Sometimes there’s some background noise to contend with, but we understand we share the space with regular bar patrons, so that’s to be expected, and it’s really a small price to pay considering how much they give us.

Your favorite memory over the last couple of years . . .

That’s hard to narrow down, but there are definitely times when the room feels very electric. I’d have to include the Reading Between A & B years in there—Yusef Komunyakaa, Hermine Pinson and Aracelis Girmay was a standout for sure. That might be the only time we’ve had someone come back for an encore at the insistence of the crowd. And one of two times we’ve had a reader sing her reading. Hermine Pinson can SING. The reading Philip Levine, Dorianne Laux and Maurice Manning gave felt epic. Susan Howe gave a lecture that opened up little doors in my brain. Mary Jo Bang gave her first reading from Elegy. Bob Hicok. Anne Waldman and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge gave a collaborative reading. Anne Carson, Graham Foust and Misty Harper was an amazing and totally odd pairing that turned out to be magic (Anne gave a lecture— a rare treat).

I have really been delighted to discover the work of dozens of new poets by way of recommendations from readers—Chris Martin, Kathleen Pierce, Stuart Krimko and John Murillo are all poets who came to us on recommendation from readers we’d already booked.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention John Ashbery reading with Jeff Clark. And the indefatigable Kenneth Goldsmith, who announced to me after he was finished that he’d just given the best reading of his life. I’ll never forget him arriving in a monster coat and giant silver high-tops, grabbing the mic, and swaying back in forth, tranced out, reading from a transcript of Senator Larry Craig and the policeman who arrested him for soliciting sex in a bathroom. He mashed this up with an excerpt from his own book, Fidget, in which he wrote down every single movement of his body over the course of a 24-hour period.

I’m especially excited about our next reading—Alice Notley and her two sons Anselm and Edmund Berrigan will be reading together on November 15. They’ve only done this a few times and I’ve been hearing quite a bit of excited buzz about it. We also got a great surprise last week—all three of the readers we’ve scheduled for December 13 have been nominated for this year’s National Book Award. That’s going to be a great reading. And there’s one last, best thing—I met my beloved through the A&B series. You’ll see him in the lineup next season when his next book comes out.

—    Ken L. Walker