Poets House: One Week Remains to See the Year

by Ken L. Walker


When I first visited New York City in 2007 (six months before I moved here), a Kentuckian friend told me to make sure and visit “Poets House on Spring Street.”  I did. And I was automatically seduced by the prowess with which New York keeps poetry animate and fairly healthy; a city filled daily with readings, performances, walks and artsy opines.

I write  “New York” and mean “Poets House” in the same vein that someone might say The Roots keep hip-hop respectable or the BBC retains all that is decent about radio news broadcasts.  I was, in fact, so seduced, that like many poet-transfers coming through town with a moving truck full of books and a gentrifying-flag tied to the antenna, I interned at Poets House while it was in transition from the old Spring Street location to its new waterfront Battery Park biosphere with a lovely window-filled row of Hudson horizon-views.

While the Poets House library of over 50,000 volumes of poetry continues to be its faithful vitality, it is its annual showcase that acts as icing on the cake.

Suzanne Wise, publicity and marketing director for Poets House, says that the showcase is:  “a display of nearly all the poetry books published in the U.S. in the last year, a wonderfully diverse and inclusive exhibition where micro-presses receive the same care and attention as major publishers. The nearly 2,200 titles gathered include spoken word CDs, translations, anthologies, poetry-related prose (essay collections, memoirs, biographies, scholarly works and more), chapbooks and poetry baseball cards.”

One easy aspect to focus on is the number of books the showcase displays. 2,200 operates at an average of six poetry-related published documents per day released to the reading public.

Earlier, this month, The New York Times reported that the first Poets House Annual Showcase, held eighteen years ago, exhibited just over 800 titles. This year, viewers of the showcase will not only find English language books. There are more than 20 different languages present that I could see in my minimal observations (from Urdu to Spanish to Cantonese), and major American presses are actually the minority. The books face forward so that spectators can see the highlighting of specific cover designs, as comfortably, the breadth of what matters is the poetry inside. The past year represents highly intriguing works, like Tiresias: the Collected Poems of Leland Hickman, Guillevic’s Geometries, and mauve sea-orchids, a lovely, hard-to-find chaplet by Lela Zemborain (translated by Rosa Alcalá and Mónica de la Torre).

Aside from the simple display of forward-facing books, chaplets and CDs, the showcase also administers a handful of diverse readings during its July sojourn.  The final reading of the month is coming up on July 27, celebrating auteurs featured in the new Alyson Books anthology, Persistent Voices: an Anthology of Poets Lost to AIDS.  This reading is admission-free. Showcase readings provide this advantage since, often, Poets House readings come with a door-cover of anywhere from $7.00 to $10.00.

Walk through the showcase and unearth its artifacts.  Experience that last great reading. Not quite a flash of lightning, more like a heat wave, there is only one week left before the amazing stanza-shelf-deity that Poets House is goes back to normal, or at least its version of normal, which you can see here performed by Bill Murray, who reads to construction workers during the construction of the new Poets House: