Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Kidz These Days

Below is a text celebrating/remembering the bimonthly reading series known as the Gates Salon that ran for four years and fostered the writerly community out of which the Corresponding Society developed. This was written as an introduction to an online chapbook we will be releasing in the next few days: “The Gates Salon,” a suite of illustrations by our friend Ray Ray Mitrano. Some photographs of the final Gates Salon, by Mae Saslaw, have been posted on our website’s picture page. Here:

from the first Gates Salon

The Gates Salon: Some History
by Lonely Christopher

The poet Richard Loranger described it as “a whirligig of hair & teeth & minds” converged for “a magic cry […] here in Foreverland”; he was right. The Gates Salon is dead, but not really. Our final convention was held on May 7, 2009 --- we had been doing this, in different ways, for four years. What began it, maybe, was the urge to yelp our language to each other. We took that want and fashioned a mode. What you should know about us is that we’re kids and, more importantly, poets, artists, musicians. An unreliable historian might trace some of it all back to the meeting of three students who today identify as Lonely Christopher (I, author), Robert Snyderman, and Sweeney. Anyway, we three, subsequent to our introduction, became the ostensible hosts of many events through which this particular community shaped. Numerous of those also involved met studying creative writing at the undergraduate program of the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; a bunch of us, as first semester freshmen, habituated an establishment in Fort Greene known as Tillie’s, which was a cafĂ© hosting bimonthly open mic readings (always Thursdays). We remember infiltrating those open mics, drunk and still drinking (malt liquor out of paper cups the organizers nervously tolerated), spewing our jejune verse out into an eclectic crowd of hipsters, rappers, and poetasters. A week or so after the final Gates Salon, I visited the Bethesda Angel at Central Park with my erstwhile co-hosts Bob and Sweeney --- we couldn’t remember exactly how we decided to found a public reading series there, four years ago (as second semester freshmen), but it probably was something of a separatist gesture (as we started meeting in the park on dates conflicting with the open mics at Tillie’s), our lack of off-campus housing was a consideration (Sweeney had a tenement apartment, but small and sticky), and, anyway, the angel is the most beautiful spot in Central Park (which, dewy-eyed, we loved back then, even though it was almost an hour’s travel from Clinton Hill, where school was). So thus is was, we began a new ritual: some of us would ride up to Big Nick’s, a pizza joint on 71st, for a pie and cheap draft beer, then slowly a crowd of kids would seep into the park, tumbling out of the shadows from different directions into an eventual dusky fellowship around the Bethesda fountain. We’d bring flashlights and lots of booze. Time was we refused rules and restrictions. The reading would begin sometime after nine, kids would share whatever they wanted in no particular order, and this would continue for as long as it had to (usually violating the curfew withal). This enforced lawlessness sometimes encouraged the less mature of us to torture the audience with marathon readings; occasionally a single reader would recite what felt like libraries of callow scribbling --- hour-long filibusters did happen (and I admit to a few solipsistic, interminable performances myself). The crowd usually included our comrades from Pratt, students from Manhattan schools such as Fordham and Marymount, plus clusters of strangers who chanced upon us and stuck around to check it out. Regulars there from the beginning included our dear friend Greg Afinogenov, Mae Saslaw, Harry Cheadle, MarkKate Chillemi (all writers), plus musician Fareed Sajan, visual artist Fred Henzel, native Manhattanite Cary Hooper, and the photographer Julian Shereda-McKenna; twice or thrice our patron saint Richard Loranger became the emcee extraordinaire. Revisiting the scene of the crime recently with Bob and Sweeney, it struck us as miraculous, given the ostentatious locale, that our rowdy activity, our definite violations of park code and city ordinances, went so long ignored or undetected by the authorities. Of course, the night did come when a tractor full of park police plowed out of the Ramble and caught us in the act, dispensing drinking tickets forthwith. Unfortunately, because of the volume of the ticketed, processing everything became herculean, and the cops presently allowed us to drink all the contraband they had just finished confiscating from underneath the ineffectual drapes we made out of sweaters and manuscript pages (to conceal our criminals bottles, initially) --- the only stipulation in this concession, though, was that we chug all the booze down before they were done running our names through their portable computer. Comically, we all descended upon the line-up of malt liquor 40s, whiskey pints, and giant jugs of sangria; property and ownership became irrelevant and we just drank, desperately and vigorously, and quickly decided to continue the reading as we waited (I still remember delivering a poem to my friends while the lights of a newly arrived police cruiser flickered across the dark landscape). The cops, in that way, were friendly; they even let us piss in the bushes. We tried a few more times to meet at the angel for sober readings, but were never able to convince anyone of prohibition’s necessity. When the three hosts moved into a Bed-Stuy apartment the following semester, my proposal to turn the reading series into a nominal salon to be held indoors, like my idol Stein had done, was accepted. The Gates Salon began then. (We named it thus considering our address on Gates Avenue, between Franklin and Classon --- our quarters were given the name the Gates Platform by Fareed Sajan.) To commemorate this initiation, the mutation of our poetic revelries, we commissioned artist Fred Henzel to turn our new apartment into a tremendous and sculptural installation. Henzel wrapped the surfaces of our living room with garish blue tarp and floor-to-ceiling pink wallpaper, decorating the place like an unhinged birthday cake (bathroom visitors discovered the tub in use as a ball pit). The Salon, though it lapsed into unmanageability here and there, was more formal than what we had been doing outside; the lack of any hierarchical reading list kept, but an unspoken and nebulous inclination of certain procedures grew slowly codified. The regulars came to be known as the faithful --- terminology from Proust, who wrote of a different kind of salon (nevertheless held Thursdays). The faithful sat attentive and close to the reader, while a clutter of less-interested kids gathered in the back --- they became known as the groundlings (and were a sometime problem). We knew when something was going wrong and needed fixing. After a string of unpleasant readings, where minds and mouths loudly wandered and we worried control was collapsing totally, the three hosts called a meeting to discuss solutions. We decided to sacrificially preserve our sobriety next time and that subsequent reading began when I delivered a speech, jotted on note cards, which we had communally authored. We kept the cards: “This series is unique because we strive to focus not on the ego of the individual, but on the strength of the community […] We are here living in arguably the literary capital of the planet during a very exciting time for Brooklyn in which writers and artists have the opportunity to form lasting & profound relationships within a thriving youth community […] This convergence of friends is not about forcing a specific idea or style upon anyone --- we are not coming together strictly because of any similarities and we do not wish to make anyone conform to one set of aesthetics or some particular manifesto or philosophy --- we are about dif. artists coming together from dif. places to not only share our work but absorb the work of others and, most importantly, to grow in our own ways as a result of meeting and operating as a group.” That fledgling rhetoric would develop and become foundational to our articulations of value re the Corresponding Society, a small press that came from this community. The faithful upstairs (and then downstairs, when our landlord moved us to the building’s basement after two years of complaints from our neighbors) included writers Mandy Richichi, Dave Swensen, Allie Viall, Gabe Sorell, Jody Buchman, Max Briton, Adrian Shirk, Jenny Stohlmann, Gray Hurlburt, Carrie Gormely, Stephanie Willis, Rachel Bennet-Pelz, Chanelle Bergeron, Scott Tomford, Katie Przybylski, Phillipe Arman, Amber Stewart, Lucy Blodgett, Maxim Smyrnyi, Knina Skrikheartz, Ellen Kennedy, Zach German, Jen Hyde, Matthew Daniel, and Joshua Furst (to name a few), and well as photographer Kendal Mills, designer David Bernstein, musician Keenan Mitchell, and illustrators Sophie Johnson and Ray Ray Mitrano. A quality of the salon as it aged was the unpredictability of its audience makeup. The faithful came regularly, but the general crowd was eccentrically unpredictable: one week would be intimate and between friends, the next week would resemble a rent party populated by a bunch of strangers from everywhere --- there was a boy named Horatio, transplanted from China, who read wonderfully tortured poems about his social anxiety (in glorious lines of broken English); there were those who came because it was the thing to do on a Thursday night; there were string trios and guitarists (and amateur guitarists) who could easily close the reading by turning it into a dance party. The idea was simple, egalitarian as we could make it, and unpretentious --- we all just wanted to share. Side effects included excessive drunkenness, an entire student population chronically hungover for Friday morning classes, and, only naturally, getting laid here and there. The extent to which everything aforementioned was predicated on the Pratt Institute became clear when those involved in this fellowship who were students at that particular school grew of age to graduate. Fundamentally, the three hosts, having experienced friendly and intellectual cohabitation for most of our undergraduate careers, are now separating geographically; the Gates Platform is disbanding. Many of the faithful, the same age, are entering periods of change, re-situation. The end is never the end, obviously; we will turn into something and thus rise phoenix-like from the grave --- but it’ll never be like this again. That’s not negative --- and we posit the operations of the Corresponding Society as evidence that this community of writers, made of those whose determination occurred in the crucible of these few bygone years, is alive and vital. The death of the Gates Salon signals a paradigmatic shift… fun. This has been a text to celebrate what has happened --- how we loved to, as Richard Loranger put it, “traverse light as a matter of kind, arching archly toward the metamorph[.]” What misadventure! Walking away from the park, from Bethesda, with my pals Bob and Sweeney (following our posthumous and sentimental pilgrimage to the angelic vortex), I remembered the past this way: “We thought we were invincible --- and half the time we were right.” Sweeney snickered slyly and corrected me: “If you really want to be honest about it, we were right way more than half the time.” The, uh, end [?]

from the last Gates Salon


Anonymous said...

loved this---well brought me there! an unforgetable moment in time for these gifted artists. An ending? Perhaps. but this fan predicts for all of you a glorious next chapter.

Fred J Henzel said...

Thanks for mentioning me