Tag Archives: Peter Carlaftes

Cornelia Meatpacking District

28 Sep

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For many years, the Cornelia Street Café was one of my favorite haunts in all of New York City. Situated on a tiny, quiet street in the Village, it burst with energy and innovation. “Minister of Culture, Wine Czar, Dean of Faculty” Robin Hirsch gave the stage to the exquisitely unique musicians and poets that make New York City so great.

Among the monthly guests was David Amram. Composer, author, veteran, he began his professional career playing French horn in the National Symphony Orchestra in 1951. A few years later, after serving in the US Army, he moved to New York and began playing in bands by jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Oscar Pettiford. A decade later, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be the New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence. In between that time, he’d written the scores to such films as Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. To host a musician of Amram’s caliber spoke to the esteem of the Cornelia Street Café, though both the Café and Amram always brought in up-and-coming acts as well. At his monthly Monday night sessions at “the Cornelia Street Stadium,” as he always called the tiny venue, Amram shared not just his music but stories of life in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the Village. He’d talk about the great international instrument shop he frequented and the poetry and music venues that have now shuttered.

And then just like that Cornelia Street Café became one of them. Opened in July 1977, the café closed due to rising rents on New Years 2019.

The news of Cornelia Street Café’s shuttering is a huge loss to the literary community and to New York City. While New York’s profitability is positive, its rampant gentrification destroys the very thing that makes the city so exciting, beautiful, and unique. If a city loses its artists, it loses its heart, its pulse.

It was also a loss for me. My editor and mentor introduced me to Cornelia Street Café, urging me to check it out. Soon I began attending Amram’s jams, Three Room Press’s Beat-centric events hosted by founders Kat Georges and Peter Carlaftes, and a slew of other readings. I got to hear impressive poets like Steve Dalachinsky (who passed on September 16), Anne Waldman, George Wallace, you name it! It was also the place where Sopranos actor John Ventimiglia came in and sat across from me at the table where I was seated. Incredibly, more than once I found myself on stage. David Amram kindly invited me to read from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” coauthored with biographer Paul Maher Jr.,which is one of the highlights of my life. I also had the great pleasure of reading a section from my memoir-in-progress at the Greek American Writers Association, thanks to an invitation from the ever-gracious Penelope Karageorge. I, in turn, introduced many of my friends to Cornelia Street Café, and when the news broke that it was closing, we grieved because it didn’t just mean the loss of a venue—it meant the loss of a community spirit.

So, when my mentor emailed to alert me that Cornelia Street in Exile was heading to the Meatpacking District for a Sunday afternoon outdoors at Gansevoort Plaza on September 15, I had to go! I was also intrigued. Though there was a beautiful—and ohmygosh delicious—restaurant at the street level, to get to the performance venue you had to descend down the stairs into the cavernous basement. It was dark and narrow, lit by candlelight. Plush red drapes and mirrors perhaps sought to make the tiny room elegant and more spacious, but in fact the space felt womblike. It was, after all, a place pregnant with creative possibilities, where one grew, evolved, and was, in a way, reborn into the slippery city night. So how would it work to for Cornelia Meatpacking District to be out in broad daylight, on the street, for passersby to wonder it?

 

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Hirsch and Amram

Incredibly well, actually. When it was open, Cornelia Street Café often hosted a full day of events over Memorial Day weekend that spilled out onto the sidewalks. It felt very much like one of those events. Of course, that’s probably thanks to the Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, who were a staple of the summer events and who helped create a seamless transition from one performer to the next at Cornelia Meatpacking District by stilt-walking from the stage to the crowd to perform between sets. That got people’s attention!

David Amram & Co. held the show together, playing many of our favorites and introducing—and even performing with—the other musicians and poets. It was a full afternoon of delight thanks to all the fun musicians and poets who read. As it was more performance-driven, I missed getting to hear David’s stories, which for me are always fascinating, but poet—and new dad—Frank Messina told how he’d met his wife at the Cornelia Street Café!

 

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Messina and Amram

The event also included Arturo O’Farrill Trio. Son of the legendary Latin jazz musician Chico O’Farrill, Arturo is a musician in his own right: the Grammy Award winning musician is known for his free jazz and experimentations with hip hop. There was also Rogerio Souza and the Billy Newman Quarteto.

The lively music soon had people dancing at the front of the stage! Proprietor Robin Hirsch, publisher Kat Georges, attendees in the crowd, and a bold young woman who seemed to enjoy the attention danced and swayed and moved to the music. The sun then began to set over the Hudson, and with it the show came to a close.

Though it lacked some of the intimacy of the basement and felt commercial because the corporate sponsors were profusely thanked between each set, the event was a success. It showed the resilience of the arts and captured the beauty of community. Many of the familiar faces were there, but so were new people, intrigued by musicians playing jazz on stilts, the charm of VickiKristinaBarcelona Band, and folk musicians singing of bad dates. Four hours long, the Cornelia Meatpacking District felt organic—and hopeful.

Next up, Hirsch brings Yom Kippur for Yogis to the Integral Yoga Institute for Cornelia Integral on October 3 at 7pm. Tickets are $20. FMI: iyiny.org.

Photos from the Burroughs Birthday Bash at Cornelia Street

11 Mar
Three Room Press’ annual William S. Burroughs birthday bash at Cornelia Street Café is one of my favorite literary events of the year. I’ve been going for three years straight—since they started it!—with one of my very best friends, Sue. It’s intimate and snarky and creative. It feels like a bunch of intellectual but down-to-earth friends sitting together in a living room and taking turn sharing their favorite works of Burroughs’.
Peter Carlaftes Burroughs
Burroughs Bowie
Steve Dalachinsky Burroughs
Aimee Herman Burroughs
Burroughs Reading
Bowie Album
I won! I won!
Cornelia Street Cafe Food
The delicious food from Cornelia Street Cafe.
Burroughs Cornelia Street Cafe
A William S. Burroughs reading is the perfect place to promote his friend Jack Kerouac! Here are the postcards for Burning Furiously Beautiful (on sale at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Lulu).
You might also be interested in:::

Anne Waldman, Penny Arcade, Jan Herman, Steve Dalachinsky & Aimee Herman Read Burroughs 101!

15 Mar

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Attending Three Rooms Press’ Burroughs 101 celebration at Cornelia Street Cafe has become an annual event for my friend and me. Last year’s phenomenal readings culminating in an epic communal reading brought the spirit of Burroughs and the Beat Generation to life, and it was no surprise that this year there were even more people in the audience than at the centennial event.

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Anne Waldman is captivating. I cannot keep my eyes off her when she recites her poetry. I can’t even call what she does “reading.” She sings, chants, tells stories. It’s deeper than performance. It’s like she becomes the poem. I heard her read at the First Blues event honoring Allen Ginsberg’s work at Housing Works. With Ginsberg, she founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She was also friends with William S. Burroughs so it felt special to hear her read her friend’s work. Her son, Ambrose Bye, accompanied her at the Burroughs 101 event, weaving jazz music throughout her poetry. I definitely want to see them perform together again.

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Any time I get a chance to hear Steve Dalachinsky read I jump at the opportunity. The first time I ever heard the New York poet read was actually the first time I ever attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. After that, I ran into him at various other readings, but I am naturally shy and hate to appear fan-girlish so I was nervous about introducing myself. Fortunately, David Amram introduced me to Steve and his wife, poet Yuko Otomo, on my second trip to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, so now I always enjoy catching up with Steve and Yuko when I see them. Steve does amazing jazz-poetry, and I tend to prefer hearing him read his own work, but he has such a reverence for Beat poetry that he gives reverence to Beat events that could otherwise come out cultish or immature.

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Jan Herman is a scholar. He’s someone I’d like to just sit down in a coffee shop with and listen to him talk and tell stories. And that’s what he did at the Burroughs 101 reading. In a conversational approach, he told stories about Burroughs.

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Aimee Herman kicked the evening off, bringing Burroughs’ rebellious and experimental spirit to life at Cornelia Street Cafe as she ripped up poems as she read. Burroughs, as most know, cut up his writing and rearranged it to form his work. Aimee Herman’s reading succinctly captured Burroughs’ literary methodology in that simplistic and stunning gesture.

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Penny Arcade is an authentic poet on the scene since I was old enough experience the contemporary New York poetry world. She closed the evening by reading Burroughs’ aphorisms. It was the perfect ending to a perfect reading.

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The Burroughs 101 celebration was hosted by Three Rooms Press’ very own Peter Carlaftes.