A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose

An Umbrella Showcase

Carmine Street Metrics: An Introduction

by Quincy R. Lehr, Wendy Sloan, Eric Norris, Terese Coe

On Friday, June 8, 2012 at 8:15 am, there will be a panel at the West Chester Poetry Conference, a dual presention about Umbrella and Carmine Street Metrics; hence we are keeping this special feature live for a second issue. The panel’s co-chairs are Kate Bernadette Benedict and Quincy R. Lehr; on the panel: Wendy Sloan, Linda Stern, Rick Mullin, and John Foy.

The Carmine Street Metrics Reading Series started life under its current name in 2008, but there’s always a backstory in poetry circles, at times slightly sordid, but usually just fairly convoluted. This is ours.

In a sense, the reading’s origins go back to the fall of 2000 when Terese Coe organized a primarily metrical reading series at the annual Minetta Lane Block Party in Greenwich Village, a combination potluck lunch, sidewalk sale, street fair, art exhibit, children’s play area, and sunny stage on a stoop. Panchito’s sent over free pitchers of margaritas, while neighbors and friends and poets brought wine, champagne, casseroles, homemade cookies, and so on. Terese’s speciality was pie baked with Granny Smith apples from a local community garden.

There was no requirement that poets read metrical work; these were simply poets who had met at the online poetry workshops Eratosphere and Gazebo. Poets read from a stoop three steps up on a two-story building, vintage 1850. Among those reading were Michael Palma, Kate Light, Christine Potter, Jody Bottum, Joshua Mehigan, Catherine Tufariello, and even Bob Schechter (later a Bumbershoot regular contributor and guest editor), who had to be shanghaied into reading something.

Over time, the Block Party became a catered outdoor neighborhood banquet—one that poets could scarcely afford—and the reading series disbanded. But Bill Carlson, editor of the Iambs & Trochees poetry journal, had heard of it, and he asked Terese to find a new venue for a metrical reading series in the Village. The Iambs & Trochees readings were held at the Greenwich Village Bistro on Carmine Street from 2004 to 2005.

So it was that Terese Coe, Quincy R. Lehr, Wendy Sloan, Ray Pospisil and R. Nemo Hill—who were to become core participants in what came after—met one another through the Iambs & Trochees readings. At the time, Iambs & Trochees—journal and reading series—was New York City’s sole champion of metrical poetry. Sure, Pivot still existed, albeit fitfully, and The New York Quarterly might let a metrical poem in every now and anon, but where a significant number of pages and a monthly reading were concerned, I & T loomed large.

When Bill Carlson became ill, in 2005, Iambs & Trochees stopped holding readings. At the beginning of 2006, Quincy and Nemo launched a press, Modern Metrics, and an associated reading series, with a mission to promote a metrical poetry that would be more forward-looking than Iambs & Trochees had, in their estimation, been. It was in many ways a leap in the dark. Nemo and Quincy assumed, naively, but in a sense correctly, that if they hung up a shingle, others would notice.

The Modern Metrics readings were sparsely attended at first, and the venue was unstable, moving, in less than three years, from a small Village theater to an East Village art space to another theater near the South Street Seaport. By late 2006, Quincy was living in Ireland, and Terese, Wendy and Ray stepped in to fill the breach at various times in various ways.

The current Carmine Street Metrics reading emerged from the Modern Metrics series in 2008 at the Greenwich Village Bistro, initially under the direction of Wendy Sloan, Terese Coe, and Meredith Bergmann. The audiences grew, incrementally at first, but the move back to the Village made the readings more accessible, and over time CSM developed a substantial audience. Succeeding personnel and venue changes have deposited the reading at its current location—the Bowery Poetry Club—with its current staff of Quincy R. Lehr, Wendy Sloan, and Eric Norris. With the exception of Ray Pospisil, who died tragically in 2008, everyone who has been involved in running the Carmine Street/Modern Metrics readings over the years remains a regular attendee.

Why? What is it that has kept us at it, maintaining the project over all these years, through two names, six venues, and a great deal of unpaid labor? In a word, community. The Carmine Street Metrics Reading Series has done its level best since its inception to be enjoyable, participatory, inclusive and—that elusive quality—good. There is no one single aesthetic in contemporary metrical (or metrical-ish) poetry, and we have tried to reflect that plurality in our choice of features. Likewise, our open mic has benefited from the talented practicing poets and strong readers who are habitués of the reading. And both the open mic and our choice of features have promoted developing voices. Rather than resulting in a cutthroat or cliquish environment or a flaccid “anything goes” open mic, the features and the open both contribute to the kind of dynamic exchange of new work that makes for stimulating and memorable readings.

A reading, hopefully, is an aesthetically pleasing experience in its own right, but it can, and should, be a point of congregation for like-minded people, beforehand, and maybe over a few beers afterward as well. And CSM has been that. Friendships have come of it, not to mention a bit of healthy literary competition and organic mutual influence.

There has been a general thriving of metrical poetry since the year 2000. Online journals such as Mezzo Cammin, The Flea and the erstwhile Barefoot Muse have proliferated, and Umbrella has also played a role, while staying true to its eclectic mission. Print journals such as Measure, The American Arts Quarterly, and The Raintown Review, under its current editors, have pushed new writers and new takes on metrical verse to the fore. The nexus between and among the internet boards and journals, the newer crop of print magazines, and scattered readings such as the those we sponsor continues to strengthen. We are pleased to be a part of these exciting developments, and pleased that Umbrella is publishing this showcase of poets who have been featured readers for the Carmine Street Metrics series.