The Chicago poet Carl Sandburg once defined poetry as the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Yes, it’s tough being a poet, especially in the digital age. But now is no time for poets to sulk alone, idle, blue and unheard. Even in the former Soviet Union, after all, poets recited their work to overflowing crowds packed into sports stadiums. If ever there was a time for poetry in our own country, now is it.
And you can get your monthly dose of it on the East End at Poetry Street, a monthly open mic event created and co-hosted by Susan Dingle, at the Blue Duck Bakery Café on Main Street in Riverhead. The program began humbly as a project for the East End Arts JumpstART in June 2014 with a special Juneteenth theme. Two and half years later, Poetry Street has featured dozens of poets from ages 8 to 80 from places all over Long Island and beyond. “We are thrilled,” Blue Duck Owner Nancy Kouris says, “to be able to lend out our bakery to such innovative and creative minds who share their original, thought provoking work.”
Dingle first dreamed up the idea for Poetry Street while waiting to take the stage at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York to read a poem of her own. “I thought, that’s what Riverhead needs,” she says, “a place where everyone can read their poetry and people cheer for it like it’s basketball.”
And so it was. But first, Dingle wanted to accomplish two things in order to make Poetry Street as inclusive as possible. “I wanted it to be a sober space,” she said of her decision to hold the event at the Blue Duck, “so people of all ages and people in recovery can read and feel safe.”
She also wanted every community in Riverhead to feel welcome. On that front she invited poet, community activist and 2010 Riverhead Public Servant of the Year Robert “Bubbie” Brown to be her partner in the event. “Poetry Street always had a vision of promoting social justice and building up what Dr. King called ‘the Beloved Community’ by providing a safe space where every voice is heard and valued,” notes Dingle.
To be sure, and proven by her partnership with Brown, Poetry Street is no vanity project for Dingle. Instead it’s a program she hopes will, like good poetry should, bring the community together in good times and bad. “Whenever a community is in turmoil,” she says, “where racial strife erupts, I would like Poetry Street to be on the scene, with poets as ‘first responders’ putting words on things people are afraid to say.”
In 2015 Dingle, along with Brown and co-host Maggie Bloomfield, took Poetry Street on the road and into the community, reading at the Community Mosaic for East Ends Arts, the Family Community Life Center of the First Baptist Church in Riverhead, as well as at civic events sponsored by the Anti-Bias Task Force of Southold Town. Poetry Street was also a sponsor of the Writer’s Resist event at Stony Brook Southampton in January and is planning to take their program into the Riverhead Correctional Facility. About the work poetry can accomplish, Dingle says that Poetry Street is “a sanctuary for those who are unheard, for those whose voices are emerging and those whose voices expand our vision and encourage our journey. An orchestra of human voices speaking its poetry is inherently wonderful.”
And look for Poetry Street to expand in the future. Dingle’s ambitious plans include a podcast, a radio show—“like A Prairie Home Companion, only without the Blue Grass”—and maybe a television show.
Even if you don’t have a poem to read, all are welcome to come bask in the poetic glow of their community. To quote Long Island’s favorite poet-son, Walt Whitman, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences too.”
Poetry Street next meets on Sunday, February 26, and on the 4th Sunday of every month from 2–4 p.m. at the Blue Duck Bakery Café, 309 Main Street in Riverhead. Visit susandingle.com for more information.