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Joelle's poetry in Spring 2001

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To visit Waxpoetic

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by Joelle Hann, Founding Editor




I have to admit that websites seem unpoetic—browsing them (or building them) means spending time online (usually more time than you intended), facing an unnaturally bright screen, functioning in robot-like gestures (clicking and searching and more clicking) and engaging in a particularly constricted form of thinking. Too often, print-outs from websites are ugly; and only if you are lucky is the visual noise low enough to appreciate what's on your screen. However, as I've been learning, there is definitely an up-side to websites—an up-side that serves poetry well. A website can provide a venue less formal than a poetry reading, but more accessible than a poet's private scribblings. It can be a perpetually open studio, akin to the visual artist's, which offers a glimpse of works finished, but not yet made 'public' and works in progress. This kind of intermediate forum is a luxury for poets.

I initially began www.waxpoetic.org in January 2001 as a means of organizing my own poetry and essays. To date, not all poems from my mansucripts have gone live; similarly, only two of my essays are up. But curious browsers will get a good feeling for my work, and--more importantly, I think--I have enjoyed a sense of accomplishment in having them up there. As it happened, my work wasn't the first to appear on Waxpoetic: on the initial pages, I 'published' some friends' poems. After that, Tyrone Duffy contributed a few digital photographs. Gathering what seemed like its own momentum, the website has kept evolving in this spirit. Waxpoetic.org still hosts my own work, but there's a lot of other stuff up there as well.

One of Waxpoetic's developments is the poetry reading series begun in the summer of 2001. The venue is Pete's Candy Store, an Italian shop that once sported an illegal gambling den in back. A friend converted the shop into a bar and the casino into a performance space about two years ago. My series provides an eclectic sampling of poetry in our predominately visual arts enclave. A number of poets have drawn on the art and artists of the neighborhood (and in some cases international artists), in their readings; collaborations and textual 'interventions' have been common. For publicity, I host readers' bios and a poem or two on the website; as a result, the poetic styles represented there range from the classic lyricism of Phyllis Levin, to the genre-crossing wit of Mónica de la Torre.

The cross-genre pollination between poetry and visual art gives Waxpoetic—the reading series and the website—-a dynamic flavor. I am particularly pleased with this. This April, as a part of Sal Randolph's Free Biennial , an art exchange happening at multiple venues in New York, Waxpoetic (with poet Frances Richard) will run an event called Pete's Poem Swap, . In the spirit of the gift economy of poetry, everyone in attendance the night of the poem swap will receive at least one item of free poetry, assigned randomly at the door. Lee Ann Brown and Alan Gilbert will perform poetry with music, and then to close the event, the audience will construct a collaborative poem, orchestrated by Kristin Prevallet and members of the band One Ring Zero.

All of these events happen at Pete's, a friendly bar tucked away unpretentiously on Lorimer Street but which nonetheless shimmers with a dash of glitz. The arc of lights over the stage and the gold and red motif on the back wall give the place a speakeasy atmosphere. It's easy to imagine the renegade dealings of yore, before Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was such a artsy neighborhood, when mobsters were active here, gun-fire peppered the streets, and (it is rumored) real estate sold for less than it costs now for a cup of coffee.

Other things on Waxpoetic: electronic reproductions of editions and artist books , including my own collaboration on relics, called Reliquary. Tryone Duffy regularly contributes his digital collages and collage poems . In its first year, the Waxpoetic reading series will have featured 25 poets including: Nuar Alsadir, Jill Bialosky, Phyllis Levin, Ross Martin, Daniel Nester, Claudia Rankine, Shao Wei, Susan Swenson, Jean Valentine, Suzanne Wise, Susan Wheeler.

In the end, maintaining the website serves a different function for my writing than the one I'd envisioned. It's less of an accounting of my own poetry and musings, and like a place to futz around and organize. It does for me what the visual artist's puttering in his studio does for his painting: by tidying up, cleaning brushes and so on, I calm (and distract) myself before my work begins.

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Joelle Hann Joelle Hann grew up on the west coast of Canada and now lives in Brooklyn where she runs the Waxpoetic poetry reading series. She has published widely and currently has several projects underway, including Reliquary, an artist's book project. She has received two Canada Council grants, residencies at Banff Center for the Arts and Yaddo and holds an MFA and an MA from New York University.