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. Megin Jiménez hosted the series from 2009–2012. She speaks to us from The Netherlands, where she works as a translator and writes poetry and fiction. This is the fifth post in a six-part series. To read our previous features please click the links below:
Part 1 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder Star Black
Part 2 featuring Monday Night Poetry Series co-founder David Lehman
Part 3 featuring series hosts Deborah Landau and Matthew Zapruder
Part 4 featuring series hosts Laura Cronk and Michael Quattrone
Megin Jiménez was born in Mérida, Venezuela and grew up in Denver. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, La Petite Zine, LIT, Sentence,Tarpaulin Sky, and other journals. She is a graduate of The New School Writing Program and co-hosted Monday Night Poetry at KGB Bar for many years. She works as a translator and lives in Leiden, The Netherlands.
New School: When did you step into your role as host and who have you shared the role with?
Megin Jiménez: I hosted from 2009 to 2012, 7 seasons and close to 200 poets. Laura Cronk (friend and fellow 2004 MFA alumnus) and Michael Quattrone brought me on board as they both had their hands full with young kids at home. I brought in Matt Yeager (also a friend and fellow 2004 MFA alumnus) when Michael and Laura moved on in 2011, and Matt and I eventually brought in John Deming (another NS powerhouse who founded the website Coldfront).
NS: The KGB Poetry Series is legendary in New York. Hosting the series and being responsible for its trajectory is a thrilling but also very serious charge. Could you say something about what was on your mind when you first took on this curatorial role? What kinds of work were you most excited to showcase? What about the experience were you most looking forward to?
MJ: I was excited to have living, breathing poetry in my life on a regular basis, and to take on the project with fellow poet friends. Having been someone who was crippled with shyness as a child and always spoke too softly to be heard, I was initially terrified to take the podium, but also wanted to push myself in this way. I liked the informal format of having a first-book poet paired with a complementary, more established poet and looked forward to the puzzle of finding good pairings. It was also fun to be able to see David Lehman on a regular basis again. Of course it was also exciting to be able to invite poets I admired and there being a good chance of them accepting, with pleasure.
NS: How did your goals for the series change as you spent time in your role as host and curator?
MJ: At first I was focused on building on audience and getting the word out better. I did implement some basic 21st-century innovations for the series, like an email list and Facebook page, which helped publicize our line-up each season. But I also learned that it’s the poets who bring their audiences (and sometimes don’t), no matter how much publicity work you do. I think it’s rare for anyone to attend a reading without knowing anything about a poet or their work, as one would take a chance on theatre or dance, for example. Sometimes poets came with the expectation of a “KGB audience,” and though there’s generally a good MFA student base, there’s not a single poetry audience; it really changed from week to week because our readers were so varied. So I learned to relax a bit and just wait and see who and what that particular week would bring.
NS: In thinking about the legacy of the series, what elements of the series do you think are most important to carry forward?
MJ: Openness to all types of poetry and poets, a certain playfulness. The series has never been dogmatic in terms of poetics or aesthetics. We never took sides in the assorted battles over the years regarding what constitutes “the real thing” (for example, there are those who dismiss deeply academic poets and those who dismiss LANGUAGE poets, or spoken word poets, etc.) While we were lucky to get “big names,” the podium was open to anyone we dug who had a book out. We we had poets from other countries reading with their translators; paired up with Cave Canem to host some of their poets; we welcomed poets from small presses.
A poet who ran another series in town once (drunkenly) criticized my curating for being conventional, not taking more of a position. But to me that was part of the charm of the series, that you could actually catch someone like Billy Collins or Rae Armantrout or James Tate or C.K. Williams in an informal mode, reading at this little dark bar in the East Village. I think a lot of people thought there was money attached, or that some other glory would come (I’m not sure what, a bump in book sales? a rock star reception? the readers they had been awaiting their whole life?) if they could just get a spot reading in the series, but the truth is that our budget was always $0. We hosts gave our time freely and the poets read for nothing more than a drink from the bar. There was nothing more to it than two readings; the magic was in the present moment, that night, and then it was over.
NS: Everyone who has served as a host for the KGB Poetry series has had some affiliation with the New School, as a student or as a faculty member. What about the Monday Night Poetry series feels “New School” to you?
MJ: The downtown, “we’ll figure out our own way” quality. I mean that in the sense that The New School became a university because of a big appetite for ideas and the will of great intellects to get together and discuss them, not because of the existence of handsome building with Greek columns and ivied brick walls. The poetry series creates a space to breathe in abstract ideas, intense emotion, the rhythm cast by words spoken aloud — all of the intangible and ineffable things poetry does — outside of the confines of a formal setting, like The New Yorker Festival, or a reading at a university, or at the 92nd Street Y.
NS: Has curating the KGB Poetry Series informed your own work?
MJ: The readings often sparked ideas and exposed me to poets I hadn’t read and ended up loving (Lynn Emanuel and Martine Bellen come to mind, for example).
NS: Could you tell us about a favorite KGB moment you’ve had as a host? As an audience member?
MJ: I loved the ritual of taking the bus downtown, arriving when the bar was empty and chatting with Seiji, the bartender. He would dim the lights set out candles at each table, and I would have a drink (scotch and soda), leave behind the day at work, and go over my notes, back to poetry.
It was so fascinating to see the audience that came out for each poet, especially older poets. It’s easy to understand why young people come to poetry, and how MFA students make the time for the readings. But those poets in their 60s, 70s, 80s, who had been engaging and wrestling with words most of their lives, and the readers and friends that came to see them, was a privilege to view; these were people who were still living by art and often still living in the city. Painters and photographers are often friends with poets, I found, and wear fantastic eyewear and have wild hair and a startling, smart look in their eyes. Linda Gregg was one of the first poets I hosted; she was intense and electrifying. I’ll always remember Jean Valentine casting a spell with her long poem “Lucy,” which was about to be published as a chapbook. And being hypnotized by Keith Waldrop’s finger moving under each line he was reading.
Other unforgettable nights: the time the generous and handsome Mark Bibbins brought Ann Carson as a surprise guest during his reading. The time Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge read with Anne Waldman and Kiki Smith was in the audience…
David Lehman and Dara Wier bantering. Great performers I remember: Jeffrey McDaniel, Kate Greenstreet, Nin Andrews. And so many kind and deep-thinking poets I remember hosting — Christian Hawkey, Mary Jo Bang, Sandra Simonds, Mark Wunderlich, Rosmarie Waldrop, Reb Livingston, Joshua Beckman, and Dottie Lasky are just a few.
Nights as an audience member before becoming a host: Joe Wenderoth reading from Letter’s to Wendy’s — devastatingly funny work, with undercurrents of desperation; James Tate when my mom was in town; Fanny Howe with Saskia Hamilton.
NS: Do you have any outtakes you can share for the KGB Poetry Blooper Reel?
MJ: Do I dare speak of the time a giant cockroach fell from the rafters on a featured poet’s shoulder as another poet read? He did not make an issue of it and simply brushed it off. You wouldn’t have known unless you had been watching. We hosts were horrified and mortified. There was the time I awkwardly hugged a poet goodbye who did not want to be hugged. Times no one laughed at my joke. There was the time only three people showed up to the reading and we were extra enthusiastic…
Next up at KGB Bar:
Monday Night Poetry
Featuring Jorie Graham + Dan Chiasson
KGB Bar | 85 E 4th St, NYC
April 10, 2017
7:00 pm — 9:00 pm