Everybody has the story of their first New York apartment. Mine involves a sublet in SoHo, in the same building where Scorsese’s After Hours was filmed, followed by a dubiously unleased two-bedroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where my rent checks would go uncashed for months, years at a time.
Both pads were humble abodes, places where I crashed after those short graduate school afternoons, belaboring being a writer in a city that is alternatively merciless and satori-inducing, especially to those of us who use line breaks, speak with music on the tongue, and wish to make no money in a time when the city became again a jazzy, rich town.
For the past few years, more of us have moved north from the Delaware Valley, going to school and working, depriving ourselves of Harry Kalas’ play-by-play, Power 99’s “Old School,” and WWDB’s “Fridays with Frank.” And while we keep our connections and try to make it to Dirty Frank’s as much as we can, this was the place where some of us really lived.
The Painted Bride New York Reading Series, then, is our first New York apartment. It’s the first place where we at the Quarterly hung our plants from the ceiling and said, “We’re going to stay awhile; we might as well grow something while we’re here.”
And so for four Wednesday nights, we made our home the THEATER, a converted performance space in Williamsburg, ran by wonderful people and now inhabited by a modern dance troupe. It was part of what the THEATER called their “Wednesday Night Series,” and we alternated between free jazz nights, play readings, and a “mixed bag” Wednesday.
The kick-off party for the Wednesday series was a saturnalian spectacle not unlike ancient Rome. Besides the free homemade hummus, there was an improv jazz troupe, tumblers rolling on gymnast pads, and, most infamously, a trapeze artist who did her act swinging from the rafters. To see Regie Cabico, a formidable showman himself and one of our readers, gasping, holding onto his plastic cup of wine, as two akimbo legs jut out at him, was truly a sui generis moment. To try and follow said trapeze act, as this writer did, by reading a fresh set of verse, was both a true test of will and, for me, further proof that poetry need not be held in some highfalutin regard. It’s all showbiz, after all.
That was a portentous, wonderful night, and from then on, I knew our series would be a success. Some highlights: Tim Suermondt doing his best Pancho Villa voice—something like Steve Allen in drag; Chris Connelly outlining his Michigan mythology; Richard Tayson reading unflinching new work, some included in this selection; and Carley Moore hogtying such disparate images as Picasso’s wives, a talking chair, and a chorus of cats, all in the space of 10 minutes.
The series was, by its design, a humble endeavor: get excellent writers in from the area and give them a comfortable place to read. Sit back on a couch. Listen. And with a two blocks’ walk from the Bedford Avenue L train stop, one could do exactly that. Sometimes 40 people came, another time a baker’s dozen. But for everyone there, the voices were clearly heard, the beer cold, the coffee always fresh.
I’m so happy to present these poets’ work to you. Not only because the poems are excellent and goofy and poignant, but because they chronicle the nights when we PBQers up here started unpacking our suitcase, laid on our mattress and said, exhaling, “This is our home.”