Books Are Dead. Long Live Books. 

The artist cooperatives, innovative bookstores, poetry reading series, presses, and gritty, grassroots communities behind the East Bay's literary renaissance.

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At Quiet Lightning's packed New Parkway show on May 12, pure poetry gave way at one point to a woman singing wistful twee pop accompanied by drum machine beats. The event concluded with a ten-minute film debut on the theme of combustion. Many East Bay readings, in fact, now incorporate music, film, and artwork into the event.

The East Bay has always been San Francisco's more down-to-earth, grittier counterpart, and many of its poetry readings reflect that. All over the East Bay, poetry events for almost everyone's tastes abound. The Woolsey Heights series and the Manifest series take place in people's homes. "That used to happen in San Francisco, but it doesn't anymore," Karp said. "Now it's all in the East Bay. The intimacy and the casual nature of such events make the banter and socializing less inappropriate because we're all just sitting in a living room and it feels right. There's not that stiff formality and hierarchical elements that come with a designated reading space or formal institution."

Zack Haber hosts The Other Fabulous Reading Series at the Long Haul Info Shop, an anarchist resource and community center. Alt-poetry royalty like Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian read there regularly. Pretensions slip away in a scattered back room lending library that doubles as a reading space where anarchists come to study.

The n/a event space in Oakland hosts the Red Element series, which focuses on poetry with queer themes. Or if you want to eat Indian food while listening to poetry, there's Poetry Express at Priya restaurant in Berkeley. The Bay Area Generations literary events, meanwhile, require all readers to read with a colleague of a different generation. And Words of Resistance is one of the best poetry open mics in the East Bay.

During the four-day East Bay Poetry Summit, events popped up at a variety of non-institutional spaces for poetry, including Speakeasy, Woolsey Heights, Tender Oracle, and The Omni. The Summit's premise was to invite a wide variety of poets from around the United States and Canada to give readings, lead conversations, mix cocktails, and flirt. The proceedings concluded with a poet softball game and barbecue. Each reading brought together writers who had never appeared together on the same bill, and some of them had never even met before. Newly appointed Los Angeles poet Laureate Will Alexander sent electricity throughout a packed living room when he recited lines from his surrealistic poem "Compound Hibernation," inspired by astronomy, alchemy, and physics: the mirrors in my skin like haunted salamander fluid/like cells bereft with cooling centigrade rotation.

Through an Indiegogo campaign, the Summit was able to raise $5,300 to reimburse all the poets for their travel. The event included a trip to the newly discovered final resting place of iconic Bay Area poet Jack Spicer. Inside the mausoleum, poets honored his memory with a reading.

"All of us were really moved by the community support, and maybe a bit surprised," said Summit co-organizer Brandon Brown. "It is a real testament not just to the enduring importance of poetry and community, but also to the particular community here in the Bay Area, where most of the support came from."

Poetry in the East Bay is certainly of enduring importance, but it also seems to be of growing significance. More people are creating it, and more people are seeking it out. That may have to do with the fact that at it's spilling out of its old containers. As always, it's thought-provoking and educational, but now, increasingly, it dares to be entertaining, unpredictable, and even fun.

"A lot of people recognize that a poetry reading can also be a party, and that doesn't take anything away from the art," Karp said. "In fact, the party's vitality may be an essential element of the poetry."


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