By Gabby Pardo and Zoya Naqvi
In an era full of gadgets and gizmos, Bruce Levine prefers to write his poems the old-fashioned way — with pencil and paper. During his first poetry reading at the Southampton Cultural Center on Friday night, he showed his love for the old world in a poem he shared with the audience.
Five poets joined Levine reading lines aloud from a brown-glazed podium against a glass window. There were poems about politics, red race cars, pet cats and flies. The poets ranged from published authors to first-time readers.
“I wanted a more casual atmosphere where people will feel more comfortable,” Levine said. “That’s why we’re sitting on the ground as opposed to an auditorium seating.”
Americans are showing an increased interest in poetry, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts. The poetry-reading rate among minority groups increased by 15 percent and doubled for young adults.
The cultural center typically hosts performances like plays and art exhibits rather than poetry readings. In 2006, the center decided to expand what used to be a bowling alley into a gallery and 180-seat auditorium.
Eager to find use of the empty space in the gallery, Levine immediately proposed the reading idea to Kirsten Lonnie, the Executive Director of the cultural center.
One of Lonnie’s goals is to have diverse locals participate in the readings.
“We reach out to different ethnicities and try to diversify in terms of getting them younger, and getting in special needs groups. If it fits into out mission and do I think there is an audience out there and that there’s a purpose,” Lonnie said.
The Southampton Cultural Center is the second place in the village, aside from the public library, to offer free poetry readings in the past year.
“I just started writing again and getting back into poetry,” Kathleen McErlean, a Hampton Bays Middle School English Teacher, said. She was on elf the readers in the event, and said this was the first time in years she read her work in public. “I plan on attending more readings like this.”
The next reading is scheduled for Friday, May 17. After the poets finished their reading, Levine encourages and asked them to promote the event so more people can come share their ideas and work.
“There’s not much poetry activity out here in comparison to New York City,” Tom Oleszczuck, one of the attendees, said. “Aside from this reading that’s starting, the only regular reading that I know of is in Riverhead.”