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Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Becomes of a Book?

Holly Karapetkova at the Capitol Hill Reading Series

We had a really lovely time Tuesday night at the Capitol Hill Reading Series.  Holly Karapetkova, winner of the Washington Writers Publishing House poetry contest, read from her wonderful book, Words We Might One Day Say.  

Here's a small video of her reading a new poem titled "Dead Friends."

Next month, Kim Roberts will be the featured reader, reading from her new book Animal Magnetism.
For more information about the reading series, and to sign up for email alerts, visit the reading website.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flat Langston Letter to Busboys & Poets

The following open letter has been published in a number of places online.
Letter and check delivered to Busboys and Poets 14th & V location.
February 14TH, 2011

Dear Mr. Shallal,

Various characterizations of Busboys and Poets, your own and others', suggest that it is a space created and named in honor of the late Langston Hughes, his work and his legacy within and beyond the District of Columbia. It is true that wonderful things happen in the Langston Room. We have all, at one point or another, been present to witness the wittiness, the bravery, the signifying and the song that characterizes Hughes’ work as it emanates from the stage and the various poets who have graced it over the years.

As poets who have sat in those chairs and booths as well as stood upon that stage, we ask you to consider the ways in which placing a cardboard cutout of Hughes within Busboys and Poets—making of him a character, a mascot, more than a presence—unfortunately does not honor his legacy.

Our objections to this display are varied. Some of us feel it is improper that Hughes be physically reduced to a gimmicky object within a space commemorating part of his experience as a young writer in Washington, D.C. Others hope that if you must have a cutout image of Hughes in the space that it be an image that aspires to communicate Hughes’ greater significance rather than the unsophisticated semantic connection to your business’ name. Even with our mélange of concerns about this matter, we all agree that it is a gesture that does not suit Busboys and Poets’ relationship to Hughes’ legacy and its relationship with the poets, local and national, who continue his work and who patronize Busboys and Poets.

The poet Ethelbert Miller this week asked the following on his blog: “POLITICS AND POETRY? What would Langston do?” Fortunately for us, Hughes’ words are still present. Your staff attempted to answer the question of how he would feel about this moment, and respond to the week’s events, by posting the following quote on the Busboys and Poets twitter feed and attributing it to Hughes: "I am glad I went to work at the Wardman Park Hotel (as a busboy), because there I met Vachel Lindsay." Firstly, the parenthetical in the quote is not Hughes’ language but an addition on the part of whoever manages the Busboys and Poets twitter feed (and should therefore be marked with brackets). Secondly, while this quote does suggest Hughes appreciated the opportunity to slip his poems to the critic Vachel Lindsay, the following excerpt from Hughes’ autobiography The Big Sea makes it fairly clear that he did not appreciate being made a spectacle as a “bus boy poet”:
The widespread publicity resulting from the Vachel Lindsay incident was certainly good for my poetic career, but it was not good for my job, because from then on, very often the head waiter would call me to come and stand before some table whose curious guests wished to see what a Negro bus boy poet looked like. I felt self-conscious and embarrassed, so when pay day came, I quit. [The Big Sea, page 214]

If Busboys and Poets is in the business of honoring Langston Hughes and, of the utmost importance to a poet, his words, we suggest that you seriously consider his own words about his own life as they pertain to this matter.

Some of us saw the physical cutout. Many of us only heard about it or saw pictures before we, as a group, could come to you and ask that it be removed. As a showing of good faith, we have enclosed with this letter a check for $150.00 (the stated price of the cutout in the 02/08/2011 Washington Post column detailing its disappearance) to compensate you for your lost property. We only ask, respectfully, that this image not be replaced. It is not necessary and, for us, serves as more of a deterrence than a welcome.

In the interest of strengthening the relationship between Busboys and Poets and the local, active poetry community, we extend the offer to help initiate and sustain a dialogue between you, your management, your advisors and the poets whose work and organizations fill Busboys and Poets. To date, it has been a fruitful yet unexamined relationship. We want it to continue, but in a manner that fosters open lines of communication and a mutual mindfulness.


Kyle G. Dargan
Sandra Beasley
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Cornelius Eady
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Brian Gilmore
Michael Gushue
Laura Hartmark
Melanie Henderson
Randall Horton
Reuben Jackson
Fred Joiner
Bettina Judd
Gregory Pardlo
Joseph Ross
Myra Sklarew
Sonya Renee Taylor
Dan Vera

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poetry Reading Map

As I mentioned in the last post, I think it'd be helpful to have a visual sense of what parts of the area are being under-served by poetry readings.  Below is a handy little Google Map that begins to give us a sense of the current poetic geography in the Washington area.  Thanks to Beltway Poetry's resources page for many of these listings.
  • The listings are by venue to give us a sense of the spaces that are currently open to poetry.  So keep in mind that many of these are sites are hosting multiple readings.
  • I've chosen to highlight curated reading series with guest poets (there are a number of open mics around town but not many more).
  • The color code is: blue for DC, red for Maryland, and green for Virginia
  • Yellow thumbtacks represent possible new venues for readings.  I'd appreciate highlighting any other spaces you think might be ideal for a reading series.
  • I kept to the metro area, by defining it as those spaces accessible by Metro.  The Soundry is an exception but it's listed on the Beltway site so I did too.
If I've left a reading off, apologies.  Let me know. There were some listings that appeared dead and no longer operational and I chose to not include those.  If you want to see the full map, it's here.

Hope this is of help. - Dan

View DC Metro Readings in a larger map

Notes After Flat Langston Gate

Note: This was originally posted on Facebook as an open statement to local DC writers.  In the hopes of being transparent and fostering continuing dialogue, I've posted it here. -Dan Vera

"Flat Langston Gate" [link, link] serves as a reminder of the continuing need to foster and support a wide range of venues in this city. Busboys has undoubtedly been an enormous boon to this city's poetic community. They should be (and do get) applauded for that. But it's neither the only story, the only ideal, or the only word.   As in biodiversity, poets thrive in complex ecologies. We have one of the most vibrant poetry communities in the country and we need to support current venues and explore the creation of multiple venues in this city. To build on the model that Busboys has successfully used or explore other models.  Everything should be on the table.  This is a great opportunity to have a conversation about venues, access, compensation for the city's poetry community.

I've tagged a few folks to this note --- DC writers as I think this is a DC conversation.  I do hope this can be the beginning of  a constructive conversation.

A few thoughts:
  • what exactly is just compensation?  We shouldn't be afraid to have this conversation. What could it look like? As some of the conversation on facebook threads noted, this is a bit of an unknown for many.  On one of the threads a writer, who is also a not-for-profit arts exec, asked the question and it still hasn't been answered.  This conversation has to be more than a demand.  It has to include a real discussion of how we raise funds for such a setup.  How does this function in private settings (a library, a community center) and commercial settings (bar, restaurant, gallery).  Grants?  Pass the hat?  Suggested entry fee?
  • Underserved areas I think it'd be helpful to see a map of the city and plot out the location of current reading series.  Are we too focused in NW?  What about the other quadrants of the city?  How could we help locate venues and seek out "pioneer hosts" for such readings.  What would it take to support these readings?
  • one example: the Palabra Pura reading series in Chicago grew out of a thoughtful conversation about what communities in Chicago were being underserved.  One of the answers was the Latino community and that bilingual poetry series was the result.  What are the communities that are underserved in DC?
  • training for hosts - I can think of a few people who would love to sponsor readings but don't know what is involved in it -- the basic mechanics involved in setting it up, publicizing it and so on.  The mystery can be overwhelming and debilitating to people wanting to host a series.  Perhaps we can find a space and time to teach folks who are interested in hosting reading series.
  • how do we coordinate information about readings that are happening in the city?  This is a conversation I've had with a few people who host readings.  We've talked about sharing a google calendar that could be posted in various places online.  This could be a very good thing.  We need to just move on it.

I can think of a number of other ideas but I hope this is a good beginning.  And while this setting may not be ideal, perhaps we could use this as a starting point for an actual non-virtual meeting about this.   Would really love to hear your ideas.

- Dan

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Poetry Mutual at AWP

Kim Roberts and Yael Flusberg signing books at the Poetry Mutual table.
We had a pretty amazing time at the AWP Conference last weekend.  In many ways it was Poetry Mutual's coming out/debutante ball.  I mean we just unveiled the new website the week before and folks are still finding out about us.

We shared a table with our good friends at Plan B Press and were happy to host book signings for Kim Roberts's Animal Magnetism, Yael Flusberg's The Last of My Village , Julie R. Enszer's Handmade Love and Robert Miltner's Canyons of Sleep.

We had a fun time playing "Trivia for Prizes" with passersby.  Trivia categories over the three days of the book fair included "Beat Poets", "WB Yeats," "Poets Laureate" and "Gertrude Stein"  and managed to give out zany prizes to a number of players.  Surprisingly not many got the Stein and Yeats trivia and our fake titles of Beat Poetry books and Yeats poem titles managed to full almost everyone.  Would certainly love hearing from any of the winners who played at AWP.