Take the “A” Train

Holy crap.  This week has been intense.  I don’t think I’ve ever slept so hard in my whole life!  I don’t even know where to begin…

I started working as an intern at Poets House this past Wednesday (1/19).  The commute to Battery Park City was an absolute nightmare the first time.  Luckily, I allowed myself an hour’s time to travel, despite an estimated travel time of only thirty minutes.  I had ridden the subway only once before, on my way to see the play (The Strangest) with my roommate, Lydia, last week.  She knows the ins and outs of New York City a lot better than I do, so I had just followed her lead.  I figured I would be able to easily follow the signs and my directions (courtesy of hoptstop.com) and make it on my own.  Little did I know that Penn Station, the closest subway entrance to the program housing, is a crowded city of its own.  I wandered around trying simply to FIND the subway among all the trains and angry, hurried patrons.  I made my way down a flight of stairs, but repeatedly ran into “staff only—do not enter” signs.  My panic was elevating, time was running out, and I’m sure it was very visually apparent that I was completely and utterly confused.  A man asked me where I was trying to go and directed me to the entrance I was trying to find.  It was an entire (underground) block away!  Once I got there, I ran into the new snag of buying myself a metro card.  I swiped the card to head into the subway and realized I had used the wrong entrance.  Once I finally found the correct entrance (pointed out by an attendant who said “you got to take the ‘A’ train,” which definitely summoned a smile) my card wouldn’t work because it had just been swiped.  A helpful policeman let me in, and I was FINALLY on my way to work.

I’ll be working at Poets House full time, from 11:00-7:00 Tuesday through Friday (it isn’t open on Monday, and I’ll be taking Saturday to spend in the library, reading).  Everyone there is so nice and welcoming.  The first person I met upon walking through the door was Kate, the self-proclaimed “second-newest intern,” and she and I have quickly become friends.  The group I work with is close…there’s no shortage of hilarious joking and teasing, such as “if you want to get fat you need to constantly be snacking every time I see you.  Fat people snack.”  It’s a fantastic atmosphere, thankfully free of the stereotypical New York poetry-hipster.  The weekdays of my first week brought with them a variety of tasks: entering names and e-mails from the sign-in sheet to a database, greeting people in the lobby, running an errand to buy wrapping paper and flowers, cleaning, alphabetizing (and occasionally sneak-reading) the showcase of books of poetry published in 2010, and (my personal favorite) finding and typing up poems that might appeal to children on an old-fashioned typewriter.  The children’s room has a couple cases of old card-catalogue drawers that are filled with an interesting object in each drawer, such as plastic stars, bells, acorns, a wooden frog, a crystal, paper cranes, and more.  I would type up a poem on a card and put it in a drawer where it corresponded with an object.  To be honest, I think it’s pretty self-important of interns to expect that there won’t be any busy-work involved.  I can’t say that I adore entering sign-in sheets or cleaning, but it’s something that’s necessary to the organization, and I will do everything I can to support its survival.  It sounds cliché, but the small jobs that interns do are just as important as the work of the people who have their own extension number, because a place like Poets House couldn’t exist without them.

It hasn’t ALL been busy work, though.  The unquestionable value of my internship became apparent over the weekend, through Poets House’s hosting of “North of Invention: A Festival of Canadian Poetry.”  A variety of Canada’s most brilliant poets participated in panel discussions and readings.  I worked at the event, charging admission, cleaning, setting up food, etc., but was also able to experience much of the festival.

Kate and I spent a lot of time together over the course of Saturday’s events.  The words of the poets generated some fascinating conversation between us, and we really started to open up to each other about life, poetry, philosophy, and our personal experiences.  Finally, someone who listens to my ramblings and is actually eager to respond!  Considering we are the interns with no lives outside of Poets House, we volunteered to stay late after the events and help out with the wine and cheese reception.  For the duration of the reception, we stood behind the food table and poured wine.

At one point, we found ourselves talking to Jordan Scott, one of the poets who would be participating in the festival the next day.  Jordan Scott’s most recent work, Blert, a poetic exploration of his experience with stuttering, has been widely acclaimed.  Luckily, we didn’t figure that out until we had been talking to him for a while…otherwise we might have been a little star struck!  He was genuinely interested in what we had to say about our own experiences with poetry.  He urged us to self-published, saying he started out by publishing a chapbook and giving it to everyone he knew.  He talked to me and Kate for a large portion of the reception.  I was so grateful to have an opportunity to pick his brain.  I keep reminding myself that someday, if I’m ever in the same position, I want to be the person who talks to the interns.  By means of Jordan Scott, we were also introduced to poet Stephen Collis, who has experienced much acclaim over his own poetry as well as being involved in the movement of conceptual poetry.  He, too, urged us to self-publish, remembering the day when Jordan Scott, then a student of his, came to his office to talk about that very idea.  We also spent a lot of time talking to a woman named Brenda, who had been chatting with Stephen Collis.  She was hosting a poet who was participating in the festival who had flown in from Belgium.  Brenda was also genuinely interested in what we had to say, leaving us with her e-mail in order to stay in touch after the festival.  Later, I looked up her name (Brenda Iijima) and discovered that she’s a widely published poet herself!

We left the reception with our heads spinning, giddy with nerdy excitement and a fierce new resolve to publish our own chapbooks.  I can honestly say I hadn’t had such a life-changing day in a long, long time.  Kate and I sat down to dinner at Restivo, the tiny Italian restaurant upon which my mom and I had stumbled when we were in New York for my interviews.  We continued our conversation over food that was just as exquisite as I remembered (later, Kate told me “I knew you weren’t joking about being a sugar-lover when you described your pasta as ‘so good it was like dessert’”).

The second day of the festival (Sunday) was just as mind-blowing as the first, only this time Kate and I were allowed to attend all of the goings-on because there was a surplus of interns.  Once again, we played host to the reception and were able to chat with the poets and other guests.  Christian Bök, author of Canada’s best-selling (as in best selling of all time) book Eunoia, told me he really liked my outfit, it really looked nice on me (?).  I have more thoughts and comments on this that are perhaps too snarky and inappropriate for a public post.  So, facebook me for further discussion.

Needless to say, I slept like the dead after all that.  I haven’t been doing anything too physically strenuous (considering I haven’t been to the gym since Tuesday.  Half marathon training begins in ernest…tomorrow…), but the days have been long, emotionally exhausting, intellectually exciting, and visually over-stimulating.  Therefore, I slept until 11:00 am this morning (Monday, January 24th).  My day proceeded casually.  I headed down towards Poets House, where I knew there was a decently-sized Barnes and Noble that I could find easily.  I stopped at a little café to warm up (apparently today was the record coldest day in New York since 2005), and ate a fantastic open-face sandwich with this crazy spicy mustard that, in my world, it was adventurous to try.  When I was finished, I carted myself on over to Barnes and Noble and wandered around looking at books.  I found a fantastic Norton Anthology of criticism that probably weighs more than I do, but talked myself out of buying it.  I ended up with a few short non-fictions books on subjects that interested me.  I also grabbed a new, bigger moleskine for writing purposes…the little tiny ones tend to yield little tiny poems that I don’t love.  Finally, I bought some magazines to read and eventually use for found poetry.

Overall, today was a chill day.  Okay, literally a very very chill(y) day.  I just attended a faculty seminar with a poet and art critic named Frances Richard.  Turns out one of her chapbooks was published by none other than Brenda Iijima, at Portable Press!  It’s truly a small world…I’m reminded of that even in this gigantic city.

This weekend was definitely a turning point in my life and my career.  I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but it’s like something (or someone) inside me finally breathed out after having held its breath for weeks.

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