Tea and Letters at Book Culture

On October 20, which was National Day on Writing, Book Culture hosted Tea and Letters, hoping to encourage a letter-writing renaissance. A framed statement on their letter writing station spells it out: “Letter writing takes time, patience and sentiment… When not limited to 140 characters, a letter writer is able to bare their soul, an intimacy we feel is important in the time of ‘likes’ and ‘hyperlinks.’"

Earlier this year I received an eight-page letter from an old friend, who is a musician and artist now living in Ireland. In it, he expressed such richness of experience and depth of feeling, that I wondered how I could adequately respond. It says a lot about the frenetic pace of our lives that it took months for me to sit down and write a response. Observing others writing letters around me made it easier.

Sitting around the table holding our Book Culture pens, we laughed about how we had become so accustomed to typing that our handwritten words were coming out slightly illegible at times. 

Beside me, Nancy was writing to her friend, Andrea, in Palo Alto.

“I miss her so much,” she said.

Julia, a music student at Juilliard, wrote a letter to her boyfriend in Chicago.

Her friend, Patrick, also at Juilliard, was writing a letter to a friend in France whom he met while studying in Morocco. One of his pages was in Arabic.

As well as Tea and Letters, there was cake and fruit and cookies and even cucumber sandwiches. Book Culture also provided free stationery at their Letter Writing Station, which will now be a permanent fixture at the store. Book Culture also provided postage, including for international letters. 

The future recipient of my letter once said to me, “You’ll get there just as fast by donkey.”  I understood the wisdom in what he said, because with all of our rushing around, are we really getting anywhere we want to be any faster? 

It was gratifying to take a moment to compose a personal message to someone who had taken the time to express himself to me in such a poetic way.  And I could tell by the focus of those around me, that plenty of people still want to connect in a more personal way than texting and emailing.

On Saturday, October 26th, at 11 am Book Culture on Broadway will host a family-oriented version of this event, where children can write letters to whomever they wish.  If this Sunday’s event is anything to go by, it will be a perfect environment for kids to write their letters to friends and family. And I’m sure the recipients will be grateful to Book Culture for helping to keep the art of letter writing alive.

Open Mic Night at Book Culture

Kerry Henderson of Book Culture, one of the organizers of Open Mic Night

National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets.  Book Culture’s Open Mic on April 19th showcased 19 poets, many from Columbia University and a few more established poets, such as George Spencer and Moira T, Smith.  One of the readers was an editor of Columbia New Poetry and another works for the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism.

Andy Nicole Bowers, "Learned languages of stone."

I was the second person to read. This is fortunate because I had less time to feel nervous.  I plugged Beyond Belief, Cami Ostman and Susan Tive’s anthology in which I have a story, Swan Sister.  My first poem, Full Moon, which I wrote about my brother when I was 18, is related to this story.  The other poem, which I wrote more recently when I cried on my computer and the mouse got stuck, is not. 

Moira T. Smith, "Why do all men want to be whipped and belittled?"

The funniest poet of the night was Moira Smith.  Dressed in bright red and yellow, she spun through pages of truisms, such as, Every man’s wish is to be guided and corrected by the right woman.

Then she started shuffling through her sheaf of papers.

“I’m looking for the one,” she said.

“Aren’t we all?” said someone in the audience.

George Spencer, reading from Unpious Pilgrim

And maybe we were all looking for the one, except perhaps for poet George Spencer who held hands with his partner, Anoek, also a poet.  George Spencer’s poem moved me tremendously, although I didn’t really understand it. 

“It’s a sestina,” he said.  “I can read this here because you’re all from Columbia and you know what a sestina is.”

“I don’t,” I said. 

Becca of Columbia New Poetry, "My body is a dusky polyp."

As I learned later, a sestina is a 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza. Poets.org lists 34 different forms of poetry, the most popular of which were pantoums and prose poems at this reading.  I learned that found poems are like word collages of things seen and heard. I put together some bits and pieces I remembered from the reading to make a found poem of sorts, all words written by the poets at the event.

Catherine demonstrating her brother with a rack of lamb

Hands that trace the blue path of her nerves

With dark arithmetic

Pink rose petals put in my mouth

My voice is maroon,

He had a squid tattoo on his left shoulder

A million atoms of dark blue

Illuminated flowers

The womanly showcase as expected as breath,

Like solving an equation.

"Something is stable. I waver and the ferry does not."

With ereaders dominating the market, bookstores like Book Culture are becoming fewer.  This event provided something one can’t find when shopping for books online: a sense of community and living words.