A Literary Institution for Alphabet City

Entering the Sol Goldman YWHA at 344 East 14th Street (corner of First Avenue), one immediately gets the sense that concrete houses community. Color in the form of posters helps compensate for the otherwise unornamented functionality of the place, extending from the lively, first-floor reception area, to the library, to the pool, unseen, but presumed as indispensable here as at the 92nd Street Y (Lexington) or the West Side Y (63rd Street) facilities.

On Thursday evening, November 2, the new 14th Street Y hosted a reading by many of the twenty-three poets who, during 1999-2000, each featured for a month at a time on poetrycentral.com . They included Evie Ivy, Marc Levy, Chocolate Waters, Jay Chollick, Maureen Holm, Francine Witte, Larry Mallory, Maggie Balistreri, Jackie Sheeler, Madeline Artenberg, Elizabeth Harrington, Robert Dunn and Jennifer Poteet. The site’s creator, Bill Duke (co-editor with Meg Campbell of the successful divorce anthology, Split Verse), was on hand to present the anthology of selected work by these poets. As each took the microphone to read, the cameras rolled, recording the performance for later publication on the site.

The reading took place in an oblong, windowed space on the second floor just down the hall from the theatre. The audience of thirty, seated on folding chairs in a semi-circle, listened andwatched intently throughout the evening as the work ranged from elegiac to eclectic and from sonnet to satire.

Poet-in-Residence Veronica Golos began with a warm introduction, and invited artists, musicians, writers and publishers from all over the city to attend and even to propose programs for inclusion in the upcoming season. Golos and her small staff expect to offer a range of workshops, lectures and classes for writers. As compensation for its budgetary and spatial constraints, she emphasized that the center grants its director, and therefore its artists, broad license.

Twenty-five years ago, the corner of 14th Street and First Avenue marked the drop-off point from the vast metropolitan rapid-transit network into an isolated, if human-scale, pedestrian zone where low, dilapidated buildings alternated with vacant lots. While amenities were scarce, rents were cheap, an attraction for the young and funked out who opened hole-in-the-wall galleries, cafés and bars in the side streets and along the avenues (including that once cited by Galway Kinnell as "Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World") to Houston Street, defended then unlovely Tompkins Square Park against overreaching authorities, and were otherwise content to be left tunnel-free and inaccessible.

As always, artistic enterprise attracts institutions. This one appears to understand better than most that in Alphabet City, poetic license is not a grant, but a given.

-- Elena Kondracki