A poets house by any other name
By BRIAN NIEMIETZ
Last Updated: 10:08 AM, September 26, 2009
Posted: 12:47 AM, September 26, 2009
ROSES are red, violets are blue, writing good poetry is a difficult thing to do. But for New York’s aspiring bards, it’s about to get easier, thanks to the grand opening of the new Poets House in Battery Park City. And the poets are inviting us all to the opening gala, which starts with tours, music, readings and more today at 11 a.m.
Since 1895, this library and workshop combination has housed poets and poetry alike. From 1990 through 2007, it was a comparatively intimate SoHo loft. Now, thanks to contributions from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others, the rent on this $8.7 million, 11,000-square-foot pad with 50,000 volumes of poetry in its collection and a panoramic view of the Hudson is paid through 2069.
“Doesn’t everyone get rich from poetry?” laughs Dave Johnson, an accomplished writer and poet who lectures at Yale University, the New School University and the Cooper Union School of Art. Johnson and more than a dozen other top poets — including Pulitzer Prize winner Phil Levine — will be reading at today’s festivities.
“I have two fees — one which is exorbitant, and one is free,” says Levine, whose accolades also include a pair of National Book Critics Circle awards. For his efforts Saturday, the latter fee will apply.
In addition to these readings, attendees on the Poets House’s front lawn will be treated to the musical stylings of ’80s pop star and former 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant as well as musician/poet Kurt Lamkin.
For those whose dealings with poetry are limited to the ranting of a recently dumped teenager in an East Village coffee shop, Johnson feels your pain.
“I’ve been to my share of bad readings,” he admits.
“A bad poem is a bad poem. If you’re in a bar, you try to get yourself distracted.” But here, where the talent alike is as rich as the setting itself, distractions won’t be necessary.
“The audiences really want to see new faces. They want to see the old ones, but they really want to see rising stars,” theorizes Levine, whose first encounter with poetry in New York City was seeing Dylan Thomas read at the 92nd Street Y. Calling poetry’s present and future in New York City “healthier” than when he was coming of age, the 81-year-old scribe says, “There’s an enormous variety in American poetry. There’s a lot of people whose work I can’t even read, but I’m glad they’re there.”
10 River Terrace, Battery Park City at Warren Street; 212-431-7920, poetshouse.org