A poetry club in Bay Ridge? Get outta here!
A cadre of creative types called the Bay Ridge Poets Society meets monthly at The Owl’s Head wine bar. Often caricatured as a working-class rookery of mook-ery, Bay Ridge doesn’t get due credit as a center of high culture, organizers said.
“There was a hunger for this,” said emcee and native Ridgite Henry Stewart, who is also an editor at Opera News. “Bay Ridge doesn’t have a reputation as a literary place. I think it’s not a fair assessment — there are a lot of people in the neighborhood who are creating.”
Stewart says he knows the saloon’s salon won’t transform the blue-collar neighborhood into a new Algonquin Round Table, but that’s not the point.
“We aren’t going to change people’s perception of Bay Ridge,” he said. “It’s one more thing to add to the tapestry.”
And it’s more than just scribes who howl, yawp, and otherwise wax poetic on the last Sunday of every month.
“More and more, we are trying to figure out exactly what ‘poetry’ is,” said John Avelluto, the Gravesend native who runs the bar and founded the society. “We get performers, musicians, people who are almost ranters.”
The notion of vino-infused versification flies in the face of Bay Ridge’s supposed blue-collar ethos.
“If you read a book in a bar, you’re a hipster,” quipped Tommy Casatelli in a 2012 video called “S--- People From Brooklyn Say.”
Casatelli was himself the target of some neighborhood ire after he opened a so-called “hipster bar” — The Lock Yard — in Bay Ridge last year.
But the society’s scrawlers aren’t plaid-clad invaders from the north — they’re locals looking to elevate their neighborhood, and their neighbors.
“Part of what we’re doing is providing more attention and more opportunities for arts funding,” said Avelluto, who pointed to a 2010 study from Brooklyn College that found, per capita, Bay Ridge artists receive one-tenth of the borough average in grants.
Still, in a neighborhood where there has been a backlash to bars serving craft beer, it is good to have a place where people can gather without judgement, another poet said.
“They’re not expressing themselves around the people that they’re normally around. You get up in front of strangers and you release everything,” said Bensonhurst native Ricardo Hernandez. “This isn’t just a poetry reading — it’s group therapy.”
Bay Ridge Poet’s Society at The Owl’s Head (479 74th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues). Sept. 28 at 7 pm. Free.