PETE’S CANDY STORE, JUNE 9
Matt Longabucco, Shanekia Mcintosh, and John Yau by Nicodemus Nicoludis
It’s sometimes hard to know where you want to be on the weekend, or what readings or other literary events you want to show up at. Nearly every night there’s something happening, and people come together in various groupings—sometimes it’s about the place or the specific series, or the journal or press hosting or a specific poet or writer you want to hear. New York is democratic that way: no one is making you go to anything, and you have the choice to be where you want with the people you want. In “post-COVID” New York, the reading series scene has exploded, and for me, the Pete’s Candy Store Reading Series, hosted by Terrence Arjoon and Sam Truitt, has become a reliable place to hear work and get together with poets from across the city.
No reading starts when it says it’s going to start, so getting there late means being early enough to grab a drink and say hi to people you might only see in this context. The series itself has also become a sort of gathering place for small press publishing. Terrence himself is an editor of 1080Press, an all-for-free press that sends out chapbooks and newsletters in the mail; Sam is the editor for Station Hill Press. The first person I saw when I walked up to the bar was Jared Daniel Fagen, who I met when we shared an office together at adjuncts at the City College of New York and is the editor of Black Sun Lit.
Finding somewhere to sit in the caboose-like back room, the PA crackles on. Matt Longabucco read from a new long-poem, twisting it in a composed, sharp narrative. There was a humor in the poem that punched holes in the subtle lyricism of it. I like when people read long poems, when you can really sit in the words and the movement of the poem; it reminded me of other long-poem readings at the series: Rainer Diana Hamilton reading “Trance Essay for Remembering Smells” or Kay Gabriel’s electrifying performance of “TRANNIES, by Larry Kramer.” Shanekia Mcintosh read from new poems and some from her Topos Press book Spiral as Ritual. Smart, funny, with an eye toward systems and places of oppression and connection, her reading brought the room together.
But I had a feeling everyone else (like me) was waiting for John Yau. John doesn’t really get asked to read his poems that much, which I think is shame because of just how good he is. He read primarily new work, and one in particular struck me: a poem he was commissioned to write for a Caravaggio painting. He said he was given two weeks to write it but “freaked out” and wrote in one day. The rest was from a series he is working on, relatively short pieces, both thoughtful and sardonic.
The reading over, everyone is quickly shoved out of the room by whatever act is setting up there next. One time it was a Janeane Garofalo show. This time, one of a thousand bands occupying stages in bars on a Friday night. Another drink, another cigarette, and we are all outside talking about writing and work, teaching and what we want to do this summer.
It’s not hard to find people in the city, the world is small and big at the same time. But it’s hard to find people who share a language and vision of writing as open and democratic. Too many people take things too seriously, and so many reading series are saturated in the weight of their own self-importance. The readings Terrence and Sam put together are something unique: a place to hear poetry, to be with and meet poets and people invested in small press publishing, without piety and ceremony.
Nicodemus Nicoludis is co-founder and managing editor of Archway Editions and a PhD student at the CUNY Grad Center.