Series on Series

The Phoenix Reading Series at The Center for Book Arts

by Marlene Vidibor

The Phoenix Reading Series was started by Michael Graves in January 1996. Its venues have included Le Poème in the East Village, The International Bookstore and Café in the West Village, the Chuck Levitan Gallery and Space Untitled, both in Soho, Borders Book Store Café at the World Trade Center, and the old Center for Book Arts in Soho. Devotees including George Dickerson, Matthew Laufer, Charles Pierre, Arlette Lurié, Rose Bernal, Linda Bosson, and Jay Chollick have remained loyal to the series through every venue change.

When the Phoenix moved to Nature East on 13th and 5th in September, 1999, I took over as chief host, with Michael and others as occasional co-hosts, and in July, 2000, moved the series to the new Center for Book Arts space in Chelsea [28 West 27th]. Here our readings take place in quiet, amid workbenches and of gallery cases filled with books and boxes made by talented and skilled artists. Michael hopes soon to announce a second venue in Soho.

The series has featured noted figures on the NYC poetry scene. Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land, was brought to us by the well-known editor, Natalie Layzell. Samuel Menashe's manuscripts appeared in the Berg Collection's "The Hand of the Poet" exhibit at the NY Public Library. George Dickerson, founding editor-in-chief of RATTAPALLAX magazine, published Phoenix features Mark Nickels (Cicada) and Michael T. Young (Transcriptions of Daylight) [Reviews: Feb 2001 and Dec 2000 issues. See Archive. Ed.] Michael Graves and Matthew Laufer, who have also appeared in the magazine, played an early role in its edition.

Many of our featured writers and open participants have mastered a second art form. George Dickerson has appeared in twenty feature films, including prominent roles in Blue Velvet and After Dark My Sweet. Pud Houston is an award-winning painter. Arlette Lurié is a widely published collage artist and contributing art editor of RATTAPALLAX. Ellen Peckham of the A/E Atelier Gallery is a collage artist, printmaker and sculptor. My award-winning fiber art is in the artists files at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. I also do watercolor collage, book, and jewelry arts.

Several events from the current season have been particularly noteworthy. On January 17th, we held Edgar Allan Poe Night in celebration of Poe’s birthday (January 19th). Michael Graves spoke on Poe and evil. The discussion was followed by readings of Poe’s poetry and poems inspired by Poe. On February 1st, Phoenix hosted Evan Eisman, second-place winner at the Lyric Recovery Festival(tm) at Carnegie Hall, and Gary Keenan to an SRO crowd. On March 8th, first-place LyR Carnegie winner Nicholas Johnson paired up with Richard Levine.

Michael's talks on Poe and on Joyce were two of many he and others have presented at Phoenix over the years. From time to time, Victor Schermer, a psychologist from Philadelphia, has enlightened us with explanations of various poets and their work. Indeed, Phoenix has had a number of poet-psychologists among its features, including Cyra Green, Anne Wallace, and Elaine Schwager (I Want Your Chair), who also features for Phoenix on April 26th. [Review/interview, Jan 2001. See Archive. Ed.] Paul Oppenheimer, author of Evil and the Demonic and professor of English at CUNY, has led lively discussions. Maureen Holm presented her essay, "Ego-Free, the Poem Aloft," [Jan and Feb 2001. See Archive. Ed] last Fall, accompanied by LyR baritone Gilbert High, who sang and spoke on vocal technique and breathing. We look forward to more such special presentations in the future.

Phoenix is a participant in the 240-venue United Nations project, "Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry," coordinated by RATTAPALLAX publisher, Ram Devineni. ( Among the readers scheduled to appear at the March 31st session are Madeline Artenberg and Richard Levine, along with several out-of-town poets. There will be an open reading as well.

Sample poems from past features appear on our web site: Listings appear there and on the Big City Lit(tm) Listings page, as well as on and in The Schedule, a snail-mail subscription listing published by the editors of Medicinal Purposes Literary Journal.

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