Kensington Row Bookshop Poetry Readings

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This poetry series began the day—maybe in Feb. 2003—when I met Elisenda Sola-Sole in her newly opened comfortable, art- and book-filled quality used bookshop on Kensington’s Antique Row. Did we each sense, before saying, that we wanted a poetry series? I had arranged poetry readings at Detroit’s Wayne State University for five years, and was active in the DC-Metro poetry scene, giving readings, teaching at the Bethesda Writer’s Center, in three peer workshops—and would soon have a book-in-press, The Habit of Fire, at Word Works DC. But I had no place to put a poetry series. Elisenda wanted to encourage poets, as her Catalan scholar father had encouraged young writers—but was shy about how to do so. Her bookshop has since become a most welcoming, and needed, cultural center; see

We had trial readings that spring; I said an audience of 12 would be good, 20 super. With Miles David Moore, Wells Burgess, and myself we got 35—and a Chamber of Commerce write-up, with photos! I also began Metro-accessible Dutch-treat suppers beforehand, with rides to/from the Bookshop. Elisenda generously kept the Bookshop open late, provided refreshments for many years (Federal Poets made a one-time donation), and bought folding chairs.

The March-April-May-June 2003 readings featured Federal Poets workshop members. Our Sept.-Dec. 2003 readers came mostly from Hilary Tham’s New Room workshop and Word Works DC. FP President Nancy Allinson soon became our perceptive, encouraging, and efficient long-term M.C. I built e-mail lists, did publicity, and when Elisenda’s printer broke in Oct. started making the fliers designed by her graphic artist assistant, Debi Hammack.

From 2004 on the circle of readers has widened to include many fine local poets and some travelers. Barrie Armitage urged me to invite her friend Stephen Corey of Georgia Review; he came, twice! My spouse Ernie Benjamin and I bought the travelers supper, and offered them lodging and breakfast at our home. By 2013 we’d featured many local and visiting poets with national standing, including Luis Alberto Ambroggio, Cornelius Eady, Barbara Goldberg, Harvey Hix, Lyn Lifshin, Fred Marchant, E. Ethelbert Miller, Alicia Ostriker (twice), Linda Pastan, Myra Sklarew, among others.

These trends continue, with a good diversity of gender and ethnicity, and occasional theme and anthology readings. I’ll continue to welcome queries from poets with a book or chapbook who are interested in reading—and Elisenda, Nancy, and I look forward to hearing more good poetry at Kensington Row Bookshop.

2003-2013 lists featured readers, with a few comments.

written by Judith McCombs September 2013

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