The Cross Review and Reading Series cross-pollinates New York and New Jersey writers west of the Hudson in Jersey City’s WORD Bookstore. Each reading showcases at least one writer from Jersey and one from New York. Founder and curator of Cross, Jen DeGregorio, mentioned at the last reading that WORD was the ideal host since it has two locations, one in each state, thus making it the perfect symbol of the series’ mission: “a bridge between the New York/Brooklyn and New Jersey poetry worlds.”
Cross’s birth followed DeGregorio’s work as an editor of a start up literary magazine. When the creators of that journal decided not to proceed, DeGregorio wanted to take matters into her own hands. She commented, “I figured this presented the perfect opportunity to strike out on my own. But I wanted a focused concept, as there are so many online journals and reading series. And the answer I came up with was a bridge between [these two] poetry worlds.”
So, why Jersey? Why place the reading west of the Hudson? DeGregorio responded, “Let’s face it, New Jersey gets short shift on so many levels when it comes to New York! I mean, the New York Giants and New York Jets play in NEW JERSEY. I think that says it all. And you have to hand it to the New York/Brooklyn poets. They have done an excellent job of working together to create a completely happening and relevant poetry universe. I wanted to help to do that for New Jersey poets, but with a little help from our New York poetry friends.”
And so with a little help from her friends, on Sunday March 15th, Cross hosted its second reading (rescheduled from the first Sunday of the month, its usual time, due to inclement weather.) Four poets, three Brooklyn-based and one Jerseyan, presented their work to an intimate crowd in the back of WORD.
DeGregorio described the first poet, Melissa Ahart, curator of the Roots Poetry Series, as someone who’s “got it going on” due to her visceral work about the female body. Ahart shared poems regarding “the two kinds of birth,” which included lines, such as “the hard work to split him from me.” She joked after her first poem that she didn’t vary her topics for this reading, so if “you don’t like the first,” she suggested browsing WORD’s wonderful books. In one of her final poems, “NICU,” Ahart depicts babies as satellites then writes, “we lift you from your greenhouse box.”
The second reader, Jillian Brall, co-editor of the journal Lyre Lyre, shifted focus from babies to technology, discussing language today: phones being “dead” or how we “charge” them, which translates to watching a battery symbol fill. In her poem “Thrust,” the speaker notices a woman smiling on the train: “everyone looks (can they see?) and concludes she must be on drugs, or ought to be. Her grin makes us tense. The imperfect present. The future progressive.”
When asked if DeGregorio looks for a particular style or poetic voice, she noted, “Cross is looking for poets with strong voices of all varieties. I’m not out to promote particular poetics. I really have just so far picked poems that I’ve loved for one reason or another. Interestingly, I’ve noticed themes developing. In Issue 1, for example, I have a lot of poems that deal with birth, death and love. Yes, those are perennial themes in poetry. But the poems in Issue 1 overtly engage with one or more of those concepts.”
These themes were certainly present in the March reading. After a quick break for guests to purchase a dry cappuccino or peruse the WORD shelves, Keayr A. Braxton, winner of the Glascock Poetry prize, brought the night back to bodies. She told everyone her work lately has been trying “to take the body apart.” In “I Hereby Make an Anatomical Gift,” she illustrates “breaking into a kaleidoscope of reds” and “the body’s cathedral.” And in “How to Gut a Fish” she kills and dismantles the fish and draws comparisons to the human body: “Some of us are meant to marry; all us, after the wedding, get over the promise of body, it’s thumping heart.”
Abigail Welhouse, author of the new dancing girl press chapbook, Bad Baby, closed the night with a boisterous performance, commenting that we started with good babies and ended up here. Jumping right into her work, she began: “I will kick you in the eyes and laugh. There’s no greater comedy than broken noses”— the opening lines of the title poem, first published in Cross Review. In “Dawson Gets a Haircut,” Welhouse had audiences laughing as she confessed, “and suddenly gets way hotter in season five…the haircut is a coming of age story.”
DeGregorio ended the night with thanking all involved in making the night happen and welcoming everyone to “figure out how to submit to Cross…submissions.” When asked about her goals for the review, she replied, “My big goal is to build a poetry community. So far I’ve been working primarily with poets I know— though I’m happy to report that I’ve published or will publish a couple of poems that came through the random submissions process. I’d like to find other new poets this way, poets I don’t know but will get to know and enjoy through Cross. I’d like to be able to showcase diverse voices from diverse communities and, in the process, get inspired.”
This community was clearly visible at the reading Sunday night because what made it especially inviting was its relaxed, close-knit atmosphere. In the middle of Brall’s reading, she stopped to ask the audience if she was pronouncing the word “meme” right (she was not). As she joked about this, an audience member offered, “poetry is for learning!” During Welhouse’s reading, she pointed out that her nail color matched her book cover and finished by stating, “I feel like we’ve all had this experience together. I like you guys. Is that too personal?”
The setting of WORD helps promote such genuine gestures since readers can see the crowd clearly, versus a dark bar or brightly lit stage. The staff at WORD also aids in creating this atmosphere. DeGregorio noted, “The folks at WORD were excited right away about the idea of a reading series. And everyone there has been so wonderful and accommodating.”
To join this community, visit crosspoetry.com, check out their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter @CrossPoetry. Submit work to Cross Review; the next issue will be out before the next reading, which will occur May 3rd at WORD—the one west of the Hudson.