Staffer’s Poetic Project Is Not the Gallery Experience You Expected

By Karl Saffran, Urban Gateways Finance & Operations Associate

If you’ve noticed poetry creeping into your life this past week, it’s likely that the calendar is the culprit. April is National Poetry Month, the time for bookstores to dust off those shelves way in the back, for public radio to interview a poet or two, and for your local coffee shop to finally say yes to the writing group that’s been asking about having a reading since last May. To be sure, many organizations and poets warmly embrace  the attention that comes each April. I’ve always found the designation at least slightly condescending, however. The idea that there would be a National Music Month, where radio stations start playing music and Bruce Springsteen album sales suddenly skyrocket, seems silly at best. Yet this is the fate of poetry.

I’ve been working for poetry-centered non-profits for nine years, first as bookstore manager at Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee and then as managing director of Flying Object in Hadley, Massachusetts. (Currently, in addition to my work here at Urban Gateways, I also work for the Poetry Foundation.) So poetry has been a big part of my daily life, year-round, for a long time and I’ve been working to expand its place in other people’s lives as well.

With that in mind, I opened a poetry bookstore as an exhibition at Paris London Hong Kong, an art gallery in Chicago’s West Loop. I asked six small presses from across the country to send books, which are placed on pedestals scattered throughout the gallery. I also asked ten poets to record themselves reading one of their poems. These recordings play in from a hidden speaker at random intervals.

My goal for the store is to make people approach poetry in a different way. By limiting the selection and treating these books as “art,” my hope is that people that would never have considered looking at a book of poetry will be tempted to do so. The gallery is in a building with 3 other galleries, so most people just wander in not expecting a poetry bookstore. I’m happy to say that only about half run away when they realize what it is!

If you want to visit, Paris London Hong Kong is located at 845 W Washington. Store hours are Friday from 1-6 and Saturday 12-5, now through May 7th.


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