BY STEPHEN DiLAURO | Downtown bohemian bibliophiles are more likely to find themselves on a tar beach than a sandy Hamptons littoral. It just goes with the territory. Yet, outside of Ireland, there’s probably no richer place in terms of literary history, and poetic output, than Downtown Manhattan.
Three Downtown women have recently brought out books that deserve more attention than they have received so far. Linda Kleinbub is the founding editor of Pink Trees Press, publisher of a number of Downtown poets and writers, including poet Ron Kolm (“The Bookstore Book”), memoirist Phillip Giambri (“Good Boy, Bad Boy, Better Man: A Cautionary Tale”) and Madeleine Artenberg (“Naming a Hurricane”), among a stellar list of local litterateurs. Now, for the first time, Kleinbub has brought out her own collection, which was 20 years in the writing.
In addition to her editorial duties, Kleinbub stages events in East Village community gardens and elsewhere and she hosts some poetry open mics in various Lower East Side watering holes. So, it’s no surprise that her poems examine the emotional potency of romantic liaisons and assignations as she poeticizes love among the Downtown art set.
Kleinbub likes wordplay, as in the poem “Friendly.” Another piece, “Competition,” is about games and how we play them. She is also capable of fevered imagery, as in “Barefoot.” In any case, a poet who employs a word such as “abecedarian” will always have me in thrall.
Lynne Kanter is a longtime Soho resident and scene maker. I first met her as part of the Plexus art opera continuum. She was always very visible, at least in part because she was David Bowie’s girlfriend for a number of years. An avid photographer, she has self-published a delightful and historic assemblage in book form: “Soho in the Seventies: New York’s Lost Bohemia.”
It’s full of pictures of the era: cars and buildings and bohos, some now celebrities. There’s little verbiage, almost no names or place identification, as Kanter lets the photos speak to memory. Maybe that’s part of the allure. The book has caught on and, like all the books and writers mentioned here, can be found for sale at McNally Jackson Books. Her photos have a decidedly poetic quality to them.
Blaise Cendrars, the late, great Swiss French poet and filmmaker (he worked with Abel Gance, the giant of French silent films), believed that photography could be poetry. Cendrars is currently the subject of an exhibit at the venerable Morgan Library on Madison Avenue. Translations of his poems by East Village resident Ron Padgett are on display. Padgett, one of the early driving forces behind the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, at Second Avenue and E. 10th Street, and former chancellor of the Poetry Society, is an original and enduring poetic voice.
Cicero wrote: “He who has a library and a garden has everything.” J.P. Morgan had a library, a garden, and everything. If you haven’t visited since the renovated Morgan Library and Museum reopened, it’s well worth the excursion, even in the heat. If you go, go on the weekend when the garden is open to visitors.
Haleh Liza Gafori’s “Gold” is a collection of previously untranslated poems by the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi. It was published this past spring by the New York Review of Books, another venerable Downtown institution, though not open to the public. I’ve long been a fan of Coleman Barks’s Rumi translations. Now Gafori’s “Gold” has a permanent place on my desk and I consult it frequently. It is, quite simply put, delightful.
Shortly after I bought Gafori’s book, I heard an interview with her on Bob Holman’s “Poetry Is Bread” podcast, which emanates from the Bowery Poetry Club. If you are unfamiliar with this podcast, please check it out. Holman is a great host and interviewer. Every episode is worthwhile. It is pure literary caviar.
So, if the heat has you longing for sweater weather and tweeds and autumnal colors, slow down and read a book. You’ll be richer in spirit, and summer will be over soon enough.
DiLauro is a playwright and poet. Performances and texts of his poems are available for free on his channel https://YouTube.com/UkeJackson.