Crossing Borders in the Brooklyn Literary Scene With Poet Patricia Spears Jones

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When poet Patricia Spears Jones moved to New York City in the 1970s, the literary community was much smaller. “It has grown and grown and grown,” Jones told me. But as the scene has expanded, it has also fragmented into seperate factions that don’t always talk to each other. And “literary Brooklyn,” it seemed to Jones, who is African-American, had become a coded phrase. “I kept seeing how literary Brooklyn, outside of spoken word, seemed to always be written up as white and male with the occasional black or female token,” she said. So Jones, working with the owners of Calabar Imports, a boutique in Crown Heights offering handcrafted imports, decided to design a poetry reading series that would bridge the gap.

The series she curated, Words on Sunday, runs every weekend through the end of November at Calabar’s Bed-Stuy pop-up shop. Jones, who has a long and storied history in the poetry community as well as four collections of her own, populated the readings with an array of diverse voices, from the queer poet and activist Michael Broder to the composer Janice Lowe. “I wanted to feature poets who are innovative and who have been working at their craft for many years and who have been recognized as such,” Jones said. ” I really wanted to also focus on poets and writers who live in Central Brooklyn, from Prospect Heights to Bed-Stuy.”

Jones, who frequents poetry programs around the city, also felt that Calabar provided a different kind of space for poetry readings. “In Brooklyn, there are few places where people can just walk into a retail space, sit down, and hear a great poet do his or her thing,” Jones said. “I wanted that to happen in Bed-Stuy, so Calabar’s opening gave me the chance.”

“Any time we can bring different members [of the literary community] together is always a good thing because there continues to be race, gender, sexual orientation and class segregation. There are too many silos,” Jones continued. “Words Sunday is my way to break down some of those silos.  I want to see more openness, more border crossing, more willingness to break away…I want a literature and a literary community that does not fear inclusion.”

Words on Sunday is held every Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Calabar Imports pop-up at 351 Tompkins Avenue.

 

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