What started as a late-night text message has turned into a five-day East Bay Poetry Summit, with poets flying in from as far away as New York, that’ll take place in homes and gardens in Oakland and Berkeley for the near entirety of Memorial Day weekend and at absolutely no cost to attendees.
Local poet Andrew Kenower, who since 2007 has recorded audio of about 30 readings per year for his website A Voice Box , as well as taking photos of authors, wouldn’t claim responsibility for this convergence, which will feature more than two dozen poets, a potluck, a barbecue, karaoke and maybe even a softball game. Though the idea was his, it was the affirmation of the small group of friends he told that brought the idea to life.
“So many times when people are visiting, they’re only here for a day or two,” he said by phone, “and you don’t get to have time or a community experience – you just sort of see a couple friends, you go out after the reading, and then you go home.”
Kenower, with the poet Paul Ebenkamp, has been co-hosting a series of readings at their Berkeley home for the past year and a half. The events are as much a social affair as they are readings. Even this is largely community sourced: Kenower says he’s only had to organize about half of them, with the other half put together by request – people passing through town looking for a place to read are told about their space and either find others with whom to read or else obtain the hosts’ help.
This sort of house series is not unusual in the East Bay: The Manifest Reading and Workshop Series – run by Kate Robinson, Cheena Marie Lo and Brittany Billmeyer-Finn – and the Other Fabulous Reading Series, run by Zack Haber, are two current examples; these have taken up where series like Condensery at 21 Grand left off.
Says Robinson, via e-mail: “The big reason why I think that something like this has such a fertile ground these days is that our cultural climate is really tangled and confusing. People feel totally disenfranchised and disconnected. So much happens every single day that there seems to be no way that anyone could have control over their lives. So these poets, these people who examine life and its intricate nuances so closely, they hole up in people’s living rooms and talk about these observations. I mean, really the living room reading is just an extension of the work of poetry itself.”
These gatherings provide a place for a sort of communal introspection that naturally leads to larger ideas.
“I think one of the beautiful things about Bay Area poetry communities,” says poet Brandon Brown, who has helped in the summit’s organizing, “is that it’s always, or for a long time, been a place infected with the DIY spirit, so it’s not a matter of waiting on institutional series to bring your favorite writers to town. You can do it – and people do.”
IF YOU GO
East Bay Poetry Summit: Thursday (May 23)-Monday. Free. Various locations; check website for full schedule.
Photo by CA Conrad