Thursdays at Readers Poetry Series: Deema Shehabi & Dennis Bernstein

Join us every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in our Readers Bookstore Fort Mason for our weekly FREE poetry series! Browse books and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to internationally acclaimed poets and artists such as Jonathan Richman, David Meltzer, Diane di Prima and California Poet Laureate Al Young. The series is  curated by Friends’ Resident Poet Jack Hirschman. For a full line-up and more information please visit our website at

Proceeds from our bookstores benefit the San Francisco Public Library

This Thursday, April 30, we are excited to have Deema Shehabi & Dennis Bernstein read!

DeemaShehabiPoetDeema K Shehabi is a poet, writer, and editor. Her full collection Thirteen Departures From the Moon was published by Press 53 in 2011. She is also co-editor with Beau Beausoleil of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here (PM Press, 2012), for which she received the Northern California Book Award’s NCBR Recognition Award. During 2009 – 2013 she worked with Marilyn Hacker on the great poem sequence Diaspo/Renga (Holland Park Press, 2014). Her poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies such as The Kenyon ReviewLiterary ImaginationNew LettersCallalooMassachusetts ReviewPerihelionDrunken BoatBat City ReviewInclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry, and The Poetry of Arab Women. Deema’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart prize four times, and she served as Vice-President for the Radius of Arab-American Writers (RAWI) between 2007 and 2010.

Dennis_BernsteinDennis J. Bernstein lives in San Francisco and has been a long-time front-line reporter, specializing in human rights and international affairs. Bernstein is currently the host/producer of  “Flashpoints,” a daily news magazine syndicated on Pacifica radio. He is the recipient of many awards for his investigative reporting, including the Jessie Meriton White Service Award in International Journalism, The Art of Peace award, for his Natioan Radio Production of the Road to Hiroshima, the National Federation of  Community Broadcasters Gold Reel award for his groundbreaking reporting on the Iran Contra Scandal, the American Arab Anti Discrimination reporting award, Media alliance/Media Bash Investigative Reporting award, and  his investigative reports have been recognized by Project Censored many times. In 2009, He was chosen by Pulse Media as one of the “20 Top Global Media Figures of 2009.”

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Going into the City, reviewed by Byron Spooner

Going into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, A Memoir

by Robert Christgau

Reviewed by Byron Spooner

 robert-christgau-imageBack in the days right after the extinction of the dinosaurs, when I was still new to New York City, it was a pretty frequent thing to spot Robert Christgau riding his crappy-looking bike around the East Village, his shoulder-length hair flapping in the breeze, or to espy him hanging around CBGBs, Hurrah’s and the Bottom Line, where he exuded a mad, if unabashedly boyish, exuberance; like some kid who just couldn’t sit still. My music friends and I read him and the merry band of critics he edited in the Village Voice where weekly he affirmed that writing (and reading) about popular music didn’t have to be an exercise reserved exclusively for teenyboppers debating which band member they’d most like to help them with their homework. Christgau’s guys were light years beyond the sycophants at Rolling Stone (although not as funny as the smartasses in charge at Creem and Punk). I even submitted some of my own badly-typed reviews over-the-transom-style only to get one of Christgau’s encouraging, personal, helpful, well-thought-out rejections in return. His Consumer Guides were for years the second-most-important fixture in my bathroom.

From “Livin’ for the City” to Midnight Cowboy, Paul Simon to “Piss Factory,” Bruce Springsteen to The Great Gatsby, to Lush Life and I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp popular culture is rampant with stories that can be roughly categorized as “A Stranger Comes to Town.” Robert Christgau’s memoir, Going into the City (Dey Street Books, 2015), tells “A Stranger Comes to Town” story that takes place in the lower Manhattan of the sixties and seventies; young writer arrives in the city with little clue and carves out a place in the bohemian underground, fame follows. In this and other aspects it is directly comparable to Patti Smith’s Just Kids; Christgau and Smith were contemporaries, habitués of the same scene, and probably crossed paths over the years, though you’d never know it from either’s book. Just Kids is the better book, and the deeper one, because Smith develops Robert Mapplethorpe as a character, giving her someone to bounce off of, grow with, making the book as much about him as it is about Smith and New York City. By contrast Going in to the City doesn’t develop Christgau’s lovers and girlfriends—or his fellow writers for that matter—in any depth; they exist to move the story along and to contextualize and explain his reactions and emotions. Smith also keeps her eye squarely on the ball; writing plainly and well about the various characters inhabiting the Village and discovering her creative process in a fashion that keeps the reader wishing they’d been there with her—or making them believe they were. Smith’s Chelsea Hotel is alive where Christgau’s East Village, a very lively place indeed in those years, is flat, just a place where he lives. Instead of actual characters Christgau writes discursively about his studies of Coleridge and other ancient poets, and the evolution of his thinking on a variety of subjects, most of them obscure, seemingly for the sake of obscurity. It’s surprising that he dwells on this given that he seems to have arrived late at some of the great movements of his age—feminism, the peace movement etc. He name checks other writers and thinkers, semi-obscure to semi-famous, most of whom people outside New York intellectual circles will never have heard of nor particularly care about. He even tells us his IQ (twice!) making one want to holler “Awright awreddy!”

But it is when Going into the City attempts to go personal that it really looses its way going into detail (meaning ‘on and on’) about his social/love/sex life. Especially egregious is the detailed confessional of his beloved wife’s dalliance with a colleague, whom he names, while Christgau was distracted working 90 hour weeks pulling together the ‘70s edition of his Consumer Guide compilation. This lack of focus is weird coming from someone who can cram more ideas and information into a twenty-five-word capsule description of a record as anyone in print.

One wonders at such choices. Throughout the book there is precious little insight into the music world, which is what I presume everyone buying the book is looking for. Back in those prehistoric times when I’d see Christgau pedaling gawkily up St. Marks Place, I probably wondered what was going through his head—maybe what he thought of the new Ramones album or the latest Al Green, what it might be like to have a conversation with him—but I don’t think I, or anybody, ever thought, “What’s his sex life like?” though that’s one of the main questions his memoir seeks to answer.

THE WORLD’S LAST RODEO, a poem by A. D. Winans




Strange this trip back in time

Not with flesh and blood But in disguise of words


The muscles the cells changing

Dying and yet somehow surviving

Traveling through a warped time tunnel

Through an origin you cannot remember

Because there is no you to remember it

Walking behind my shadow

Shedding the years like

A snake sheds its skin.


I who have never called myself a poet Never clothed myself in consonants

In vowels, in similes, or metaphors

Yet planting the words on the page

Like a florist prepares a bridal banquet

A tender arrangement of flesh and bone

At war with the demons who leave behind

A Custer massacre of words


I race the clock like a hungry dog

Sniffs a gourmet meal

Left feeling like the last sentinel

The last paying customer

At the last movie show


All these years an explorer

Set out to discoverer a new world

Blindfolded without map or compass


The Holy Grail a shameless slut

Hides between the keys

If a grand piano

Bits and pieces of an unsolved puzzle


The poems arrive like

A migration of birds

Words given birth in another galaxy

Poems mated with a full blood moon

Left cooking these strange images Like a fry cook scrambled

Over easy


Waking at three in the morning With half recalled dreams My eyes a heat seeking missile

Honing in for an invisible kill

Feeling like a junkie

Over come with tremors

An aging cowboy trying

To roll a cigarette atop

A bucking bull

At the world’s last rodeo



Best Things of the Week 4/27/15


Best Things of the Week

by Byron Spooner

April 27, 2015


Best Thing I Saw All Week: SFJazz Poetry Festival curated by Ishmael Reed: We skipped Saturday’s San Jose poets out of a mix of snobbery and a simple need for a break in the four-nights-running affair, but the much-anticipated Sunday of San Francisco Poets more than made up for it. Sharon Doubiago combined the intensely political with the intensely personal, reading entirely from her latest book, The Visit, “A book-length poem in the tradition of investigative poetry that takes on both the Church and the State in a complex search for justice and reconciliation of crimes and the abuse of power past and present as told through one man’s story – a full-blooded Shuswap-Lillooet Indian convicted of a crime he claims he did not commit.” Former SF Poet Laureate devorah major read her ecstatic James Brown poem, which catches the rhythms and jubilance of Brown and makes you want to pull out all his CDs and turn ‘em up, a wonderfully honest love poem to her husband Greg, who beamed in the audience and a smart piece about the sudden proliferation and near hegemony of crows in San Francisco where until recently they’d been virtually nonexistent. Current SF Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia doesn’t read, he recites from memory. He did a terrific Lenny Bruce poem I don’t recall ever hearing and a bunch of old favorites including “Homage to the Cockroach Poet.” Tony Rodriguez inexplicably projected a PowerPoint presentation pimping his latest book, which didn’t sound good and was not even poetry anyway, briefly marring the evening by causing everyone to think, “Just what the hell does this guy think he’s doing up there?” Read more »

Interview with David Meltzer

David is one of my favorite poets, always funny and personable. He’s extremely smart. — BJS  read here.

The Necessity of Books

All book lovers will recognize a little of themselves in this.  — BJS

Read here.

Beatnik Shindig in June

This should be a fantastic event.  Friends will be sponsoring and providing space for events. BJS.  Read here.

Best Things of the Week, 4/20/15

Best Things of the Week


by Byron Spooner


April 20, 2015


Best Thing I Saw All Week: SFJazz Poetry Festival curated by Ishmael Reed: On Thursday night’s Berkeley Poets, Robert Hass performed what a more religious man than I would call a small miracle at the top of the bill, delivering an ecstatic set of modern poetry that has to be one the best I’ve ever seen. (Reed thought so too, and said so at the end of evening.) Beginning with a startlingly honest dream poem, then a couple of elegies to departed family, where by poking around in grief’s back yard and jotting down the obduracy of memory, Hass created awe. He moved on to his nature poems, imbued with the sound of pines and scent of wind. In his intro Al Young rightly called him, “an American Master.” Young was all over it as well. Accompanied by virtuoso bassist Dan Robbins he stuck with his music poems, many from his 2008 collection “Something About the Blues.” Al swings like Sonny Greer under any circumstance but Thursday he seemed inspired by the building, the crowd, the accompaniment, and the constant sidewalk of passersby whose reactions ranged from indifference to fascination with only a plate glass window between them and wonder. He and Robbins pulled a couple of verses of “Sir Duke” out of their kit bag to close things out—boldly striding into the continuum of jazz poetry that runs from Langston Hughes to Kaufman, Joans, Meltzer and Baraka to Wonder and Young. At such a moment one wonders where poetry ends and jazz begins or if there is a line at all.

Best Thing I Saw All Week: SFJazz Poetry Festival curated by Ishmael Reed: Friday night was Oakland night with Tennessee Reed as reader/MC, April Sinclair, Theo Konrad Auer and Avotcja Jiltoilro. Between poems Auer pointed out that Ishmeal had hung out with Miles Davis and Jackson Pollack in New York back in the day and marveled at sharing the stage with him. When we ran into April in the lobby she was nervous and claimed to be uncertain about what she was going to read. She uncrumpled a piece of paper from her purse and read us a short piece about growing up over a tavern in Chicago. When the time came she read the piece to applause but it turned out to be merely a warm-up for her triumphant ‘Straight Outta Marin”—published in 2011 in Black California: A Literary Anthology—which was simultaneously very funny, sharply observed, sad and outraged. So what if it wasn’t poetry? It was true to the spirit of the festival. Introducing herself as “storyteller, wild woman, and bona fide sound junkie,” Avotcha closed the evening with her blues/jazz-inspired free form poems, evoking the music of Oakland, name-checking seemingly every singer, drummer, horn man, guitarist, and pianist who’d ever come through town. The poems grew into incantations that threatened to summon the shades of those long gone musicians. I’d seen Avotcja several times before but never in such high form. Sunday is San Francisco Night. Stayed tuned.


Behind the Image, a new poem by Peter Sherburn-Zimmer

Behind the Image


We’re not living in negative space today.

The edges are not that clean. One slight step

under the steps to heaven leaves us looking for the star.

It ain’t there.


Angel’s sweeten badly

on despair, regret

the sulfurs in their uniforms,

fix their hair.


Say stuff like:

‘Are those words on the table?’

‘Lovers weep

mainly for themselves.’

‘Shut the self off.’

–to pass the time away.

2015 Pulitzer Prizes Announced

The 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced today. Here’s the rundown–BJS. Read here: