Volunteer Valerie becomes a glutton for the Baltimore literary scene.
The first thing I noticed upon entering Cyclops Books last Thursday evening, in anticipation of the PerVerse Poetry Series, was how much colder it was inside the bookstore than outside. To be fair, I probably have about the lowest tolerance for cold of anyone, whether in winter or summer, so I tend to notice these things. I adjusted quickly as I took in my surroundings. It was my first introduction to this poetry series—one among many such regular events in Baltimore—and the beginning of what would turn out to be a weekend spent canvassing the city’s rich literary landscape.
The feeling in the bookstore, located in Baltimore’s Station North Arts District on the corner of North and Maryland Avenues, was upbeat with jubilant red walls, a friendly and down to earth owner and patrons. People chatted in the seats arranged toward the center-front of the store, while others mingled at the small bar as they waited for the reading to begin. The bookstore doubles as a venue for live music, one of many such locales in Baltimore’s vibrant music scene, so it has the comfortable, uncomplicated vibe of a well-used gathering space. With the books arranged along the perimeter, much of the center of the store is left open for readings, performances, and other gatherings. I took advantage of the small miracle of having arrived uncharacteristically early to browse the eclectic selection of books stocked in this little independent bookstore.
The PerVerse series, which is hosted at Cyclops on the third Thursday evening of each month, began at about 8 p.m. A cast of open-mic readers, many of whom were compelling poets, and a prose writer who felt that his piece was trying to tame itself into verse, plied their trade before the floor was turned over to the headlining poets. True to PerVerse’s mission to bring together worlds of poetry that do not often meet, the billed poets were a diverse bunch, running the gamut from more traditional to experimental to spoken word. The poems were tender, others funny, many evocative of beautiful imagery, while still others snapped the audience awake with provocative verse, challenging our complacent assumptions. The audience gathered was small, but their warmth and encouragement was typical of Baltimore’s enthusiasm for the arts and for any creative person audacious enough to pursue her passion. Sometimes, this means that the quality of the work can be a bit amateurish, but this is not for lack of experimentation, audacity or creative ambition.
After attending the PerVerse series, I had apparently not gotten enough of my word-fix. So on Saturday afternoon, I planned to catch two more events. I headed down to Highlandtown’s Enoch Pratt Free Library branch for a literary parade hosted and organized by Rafael Alvarez, and featuring a son of Baltimore, the acclaimed poet Aafa Michael Weaver. The event, which was something of a literary Holiday party, included a small fundraiser to support the Pennies for Poe campaign which is collecting money to keep open the doors of the Poe House after the city decided that it would no longer fund the house’s upkeep.
Having arrived a half-hour late, I missed the first set of poets, but I managed to catch a local fiction writer, the musical performances of a young clarinetist and an acoustic guitar duo, and, of course, Mr. Weaver’s reading. Reading selections from older collections and from his new manuscript, The Government of Nature, which is forthcoming in 2013, Mr. Weaver, a tall man with a slow, gentle smile and a grave, resonant voice that is simultaneously soft-spoken and even inaudible at times, enchanted the audience with the musicality and precision of his language and with the jarring subtlety of his imagery.
I devoured the words that he shared with us, but I still wanted more. That afternoon, I had planned to make my way to the 510 Reading Series at Minás Gallery in Hampden, but instead headed home disappointed after realizing that the fiction series, which typically meets on third Saturdays of the month, was on holiday. Having become accustomed to the splendid buffet of literary offerings in Baltimore, I have become a glutton of a kind, no longer able to help myself to just one serving!