Slam in the City

by Carolyn Shea

Claire Sammons – May 2, 2008

“I live in an old apartment, where the staircase railing comes up to my knee and the hardwood floors roll and twist with age...At night I hear the pinging and ponging of ping-pong games at the pub below, and in the morning the classic tunes from ice-cream trucks as they leave their nearby headquarters. I live on Bedford Ave, in Williamsburg. It’s an oasis of brick buildings, thrift stores, dimly lit bars, expensive organic grocery stores, and ironically clad youngsters. Hipster paradise, painfully hip. The people watching does provide material for writing, though the ice-cream trucks get a bit old.”

NEW YORK typeLast spring, 17 Evergreen students took a cross-country plunge into Manhattan’s effervescent literary scene for six weeks with Leonard Schwartz’s field study program, Poetry New York. Student Claire Sammons traveled to New York City for the program and stayed on for two months afterward as an intern with Steve Clay, founder and director of Granary Books, a unique publisher specializing in poetry, book arts and preservation of manuscripts and rare books by contemporary writers and artists.

While stationed in the city—a global center for the book publishing industry—Schwartz’s group of aspiring writers convened every day at the Bowery Poetry Club, a popular café and performance space on the Lower East Side, using it as a home base for classroom work and readings, as well as the locale for seeing other artists, both established and upand- coming.

Claire Sammons portrait

Claire Sammons – June 26, 2008

“We held class at the Bowery Poetry Club and did everything that normal bibliophilic students would do; read books, discussed said books, and wrote books. Or at least dreamt about writing books; in the meantime, we wrote our own fetal poems. But we came here to do what normal students don’t usually get to do: interact beyond the stale context of the book to meet and collaborate with those abstract ideas that are the writers and poets themselves. This, I think, is the most important part of the class: to demystify the role of the poet, to squint our eyes and see through the glowing cloud that surrounds celebrities and discover, lo and behold, they’re just other humans. Coming to New York we saw these abstracted figures as people; we were able to meet them and even collaborate with a few. When one’s idea of an author or poet is limited to his writing, it is easy to turn that person into a twodimensional object, something to be dissected and analyzed. To observe the writer actually reading his work in person, or better still, to hold a conversation with him is a more valuable experience than any lecture hall could give, simply because it is real.”

During the program, the students saw up close how the business of literature operates by visiting numerous publishers, including Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New Directions, Ugly Duckling Presse, Factory School Books, and Seven Stories Press. They called on the literary agent Violaine Huisman and dropped into the downtown offices of The Academy of American Poets, the preeminent U.S. organization dedicated to promoting the art of poetry through such ventures as National Poetry Month and its literary journal American Poet.

They also met with several Evergreen alumni who are employed in the publishing field. Max Heller ’06 works at George Braziller Publishers, and is also working on a novel, an essay collection, and an art book. Michael Barron ’06, assistant editor at New Directions publishers, recently edited We Meet, a new collection of writing and artwork by the poet Kenneth Patchen. Holly Melgard ’08 works as a production assistant at Bomb magazine, and has received a fellowship to the University at Buffalo’s prestigious Ph.D. program in poetics.

According to Schwartz, Poetry New York’s goal was twofold: To gain exposure to the “bohemian literary adventure” still alive in the city, as well as the world of poets, writers, editors, and translators that pursue it. “At the same time,” he says, “New York is that most highly professionalized of cities, as pertains to books and book publishing, too, and I wanted students to come away with a sense of what it might mean to see themselves as professionally involved with words. As a matter of fact, these two projects, one based in passion and the other in commitment, are deeply intertwined.”

Claire Sammons – May 25, 2008

“[As part of my internship] I recently dug through several files of correspondence between [New York School poets] Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett. I told Steve later that going through the personal libraries and letters of or involving the likes of Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, Ted Berrigan, and Ron Padgett would be like a history major sipping tea with Napoleon while George Washington’s in the kitchen making a casserole. Reading these poets’ works can be done anywhere on earth (provided you can bring a book and have enough light to read) but only here can you see it all going and doing. To shake someone’s hand, have a conversation, attend a reading, interact; this is why I came here.”

Read more of Claire’s blog and see photos of their journey at