20 Years of Monday Night Poetry at KGB Bar | Part 4

We’re celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Monday Night Poetry Series at KGB Bar with spotlights on the poets who have hosted the series. Laura Cronk and Michael Quattrone hosted from 2007 until 2011. The duo of hosts became a trifecta when Megin Jimenez joined the team in 2009. In this post, Michael and Laura remember the beginning of their work on the series. Stay tuned for an interview with Megin Jimenez.

This is the fourth post in a six-part series. To read Part 1 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder Star Black, please click here, for Part 2 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder David Lehman, please click here. To read part 3 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series hosts Deborah Landau and Matthew Zapruder, please click here.

Laura Cronk laughs at KGB Bar, photo by Reb Livingston

Laura Cronk is the author of Having Been an Accomplice from Persea Books and has published poetry and essays widely. She is Assistant Professor of Writing at The New School where she also directs undergraduate and continuing education programs in writing including The Summer Writers Colony and the Riggio Writing & Democracy Program. She is currently poetry editor of The Inquisitive Eater.

Michael Quattrone at KGB Bar, photo by David Lehman

Michael Quattrone serves as chairman of the David Rockefeller Fund, a family foundation dedicated to fostering and embodying a more creative, just, and flourishing world through catalytic grantmaking and advocacy. He is also a director of Hearthfire, a nonprofit retreat center in Pocantico Hills, New York, launched in 2011 with his wife, Kala Smith. He holds an MFA from The New School in poetry and published an award-winning chapbook Rhinoceroses. He is a singer/songwriter and is at work on his first record.

Laura Cronk: Michael, I remember meeting up for the first time as co-curators at French Roast where we drank coffee and hatched plans for our first season together. David Lehman had invited us in when Deborah Landau and Matthew Zapruder had to step away. I remember how exciting it was knowing that many poets we admired were likely to accept our invitations. We were very conscious of the work that had done to build the series into something so formidable but also so alive. We wanted to continue to bring in as eclectic and fine a cast of poets as we could. Michael, you and I both come from theater backgrounds, and there was something about pulling off the weekly production of it together that was very satisfying. When I read this line is an essay by Fanny Howe, I immediately thought of KGB, “There we will create a little home school and a theater and call it the world.” Do we have any stories from those Monday nights?

Michael Quattrone: Near the end of October, 2008, Rick Barot and CA Conrad came to read.

LC: Oh, this is a good one! I was out on maternity leave but I do remember you filling me in on what I missed that night.

MQ: During CA’s set, I began to hear some minor disturbance from the back of the room. I ignored the initial muttering and bottle clinking, absorbed as I was in Conrad’s poem, which described a man walking naked into a church and prostrating himself before an altar to the King . . . Elvis Presley. As the man is rapt in his devotion, a goat enters the church, walks down the aisle, and mounts him from behind. At that very moment in the narrative, a cry erupted from behind me, where a bar patron had become violent, punching our beloved bartender, Seiji. Two men quickly restrained the perpetrator, while I jumped over the bar to dial 911. The angry man, who had apparently been provoked by the communist icon on the bartender’s hat, quickly fled, and after we checked on Seiji, CA finished his reading. I have wondered since then if CA’s dreamscape cast a spell on the room that night? Perhaps the confluence of KGB, Elvis, and mystical eroticism is too much for some of us to bear. Ask Shanna Compton! She was there, and mentioned my dubious heroism in a blog post.

LC: Shanna is someone who would really appreciate every part of that scene — you leaping over the bar and having to act heroically on the spot, CA casting a spell on the room to such dramatic effect, the air of danger. It wasn’t the only time things almost went very wrong. I remember a night we had a heckler who was growing increasingly aggressive as the evening went on. Miraculously, Geoffrey Nutter worked the heckling into his reading and it became a kind of performance art. There were so many amazing nights of poetry, always with the feeling that anything might happen. A favorite night of mine was when Anne Waldman read with Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge — it was such a powerful night of artistic friendship and each gave a totally mesmerizing reading. I remember Paul Violi reading his poem “House of Xerxes.” That poem was a perfect vehicle for his mischievousness and wit and, I don’t know how to say it exactly, but, inherent glamour. There were a number of moments in readings when it seemed everyone present was lifted up in a collective joy, and Paul’s reading that night is one I remember clearly. I also remember the first reading after Paul died, when everyone who came together that night was sharing a collective grief. You lit a single white candle at the bar.

MQ: Yes. Paul held that room in the palm of his hand when he read. Later, we hosted a reading to remember him, and his wit shone through in others’ voices. I felt him with us.

LC: Do you have any other notable moments to mention?

MQ: On at least two occasions, we KGB hosts were invited to curate an evening of poetry in Bryant Park as part of its summer series. It was a treat to trade the red walls of East Fourth street for the majesty and fresh air of the Public library grounds on 42nd, so I was looking forward to the event — until one of the poets cancelled at the last minute! I begged David Lehman’s advice, and he suggested I ask Richard Howard to fill in. David and I had run into Richard walking his dog in the village once or twice, but I had never properly met Richard, and was nervous to ask the giant of poetry for an inconvenient favor.

LC: Thank you for making that call!

MQ: I left him a stumbling message, and he called back promptly, first to scold me thoroughly for my presumption, and then to let me know that he would save the day! Mr. Howard’s scolding made me even more nervous to meet him that evening, which is probably why I dressed for the occasion in a seersucker suit.

LC: I remember that suit. You really looked terrific. Richard is so stylish that I think we knew we needed to look our best. I remember I put in extra effort as well, though I was just about 9 months pregnant and my wardrobe options were limited. I was running from work and you made sure you would be there to welcome Richard.

MQ: I showed up early and afraid; he gracefully suggested he might forgive me, if I bought him a coffee from one stall and an ice cream from another. I did, and he did. We had a lovely time watching passersby from our late-afternoon bench, and he broke everyone’s heart that evening, reading from Talking Cures.

Michael Quattrone and Star Black at KGB Bar, photo by David Lehman
Laura Cronk at KGB Bar, photo by Brett Eugene Ralph

Don’t miss Megin Jimenez’s memories of KGB Bar coming next week in part five of our six-part series.

Next up at KGB Bar:

Monday Night Poetry
Featuring Macgregor Card and Ocean Vuong
KGB Bar | 85 E 4th St, NYC
April 03, 2017
7:00 pm — 9:00 pm



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