PoetsWednesday celebrates 25 years

Group draws
all ages to weekly

Staff Writer

Group draws
all ages to weekly

SCOTT FAYTOK Poet Joe Weil hosts PoetsWednesday at the Barron Arts Center, Woodbridge.SCOTT FAYTOK Poet Joe Weil hosts PoetsWednesday at the Barron Arts Center, Woodbridge.


Staff Writer

Anne Waldman once said it is every poet’s responsibility to "make the world safe for poetry."

Edie Eustice, who lives in the Iselin section of Woodbridge, has been true to the famous poet’s adage for the past 25 years.

Every Wednesday between 8-10 p.m. since 1978, poets from as far west as central Pennsylvania and as far north as New York state descend upon the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge to participate in the PoetsWednesday reading series.

"I was going to readings in Hoboken and Greenwich Village, and I wanted a place for poetry in Central Jersey," Eustice said.

Eustice got in touch with Sofren McBride of the Barron Arts Center to get a series together. McBride agreed to give Eustice the monthly space for the readings and a stipend for the featured readers.

Eustice, who said she has never bothered to try to publish any of her own work, said she just wanted a place for poets to meet where they could discuss and share their poetry.

Because other poets are sometimes hard to find, when the readings were finished, Eustice said, she and other poets didn’t want the evening to end, so Eustice used to invite everyone back to her house where they would stay up all night talking, discussing poetry and just hanging out.

"I used to let anybody who wanted to come back to my house," Eustice said. "One time I stood in my doorway after one of the readings and nine cars pulled up in front of my house, and they were all men. Who knows what my neighbors were thinking."

In 1989, Eustice needed help curating the series because she was caring for a sick friend.

That is when poets Joe Weil and Deborah LaVeglia came on board as co-directors of PoetsWednesday.

Both LaVeglia and Weil are widely published poets.

LaVeglia has been published in small press literary and poetry magazines such as Exit 13, Negative Capability, Lips and the Paterson Literary Review.

Joe Weil has been published in many of the same journals, as well as founding two of his own: Black Swan and Anti-lawn. He recently published his first book, "In Praise We Enter" (Rain Bucket Press).

LaVeglia said she got involved in the series just by going to the open readings.

"I had been going to the open readings, and I got to be good friends with Joe and Edie," LaVeglia said. "Joe said he needed help, so I stayed."

That was 10 years ago.

LaVeglia said the trio tries to offer a variety in the types of poets they feature in the monthly series.

"We’ll have one month where we have more of the traditional type of poets, and then the next [month] we’ll have someone like Reggie Cabico," LaVeglia said.

Cabico is a well-known performance poet who comes out of Manhattan’s Nuyorican Café — a popular venue known to host poetry slams.

Performance poetry not only focuses on the poet’s words but on how he or she delivers the poem, using more theatrical speech and body language to communicate what the poem is saying.

PoetsWednesday also features more experimental poets like Dave Lancet, who curates The Fringe monthly reading series in Newark, or Pulitzer Prize-nominee Jana Harris, who featured frequently in the ’80s.

"She used to come dressed in a red and white Campbell Soup uniform, like she worked in a factory," Eustice said. "She was so funny. She used to always drink hot water. She’d say, ‘Give me a cup of hot water.’ "

Poetry junkies will recognize some of the other poetry luminaries who have featured at the consistent series — including Hal Sirowitz, Bob Holman, Edwin Torres, Dan Nester and Cat Doty.

Last week, PoetsWednesday featured Maria Mazziotti Gilan of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College.

Gilan, who is also co-editor of the Paterson Review, is a well-known poetry advocate in New Jersey.

"I think people like Joe and Edie really bring poetry to new audiences. They’ve done a lot," she said. "I think when people hear poetry, they can get over their fear of it. Poetry shouldn’t make people think they’re dumb and think it’s something they can’t explain."

Gilan said she has spent her life creating and advocating poetry that is rooted in common language.

"Poetry should be accessible to janitors and children as well as college profes­sors," she said. "It shouldn’t just be for five Harvard professors. It should tell the truth and not be pretentious."

Many of the younger poets who attend PoetsWednesday are students of Weil, who is an advanced creative writing teacher at Arts High in New Brunswick. They come to PoetsWednesday to find a larger community of poets in the area. According to the poets, it’s the only place in the area where they can find that community.

"It’s great to see everybody," Rosan­gela Briscese, a former student of Weil’s, said.

"Sometimes we’ll hang out after a reading. We don’t always talk about po­etry, but we have the poetry in common.

"The readings also inspire you to write. Especially if you know you have a reading coming up and you know you want to have something new to read," she said.

"I don’t know of any other place around here to go to read," David Sulch, 16, of Carteret said.

"The great thing is that it isn’t Barnes & Noble," Weil said. "There’s no censor­ship here.

"We have all ages, here," he said. "You’ll have an 80-year-old read and then a 17-year-old, and there’s all different kinds of poets. It’s open to everyone. It’s great."