I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of community, community in the poetry world and the community I grew up in as a teenager, the punk rock scene at the turn of the 20th Century in Pennsylvania. There used to be a number of venues across the state where under 21ers could hang out on a Friday and Saturday night and listen to their best friends’ bands bang away on the snare drum and hammer power chords for a sweaty, sloppy 40-minute set. I had a number of venues that I went to as a teen, Café del Soul in Scranton, Homebase and Café Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre, and after I migrated to Philadelphia, I caught shows a the TLA, the First Unitarian Church, and a number of other venues across the city. I can’t count how many bands I’ve seen over the years, and I can’t say one power chord-charged set stood out to me the most, but what I do remember the most are sidewalk conversations before or after shows. I remember the first time my friend mentioned Emma Goldman outside of Café Del Soul when we were in high school. I know that conversation sent me to the library, where I researched Goldman’s activism and learned that there is indeed a different, better way to live. I remember discussing the first time I heard the Clash, and I remember mourning the untimely deaths of Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer with friends.
NEPA Scene noted that this week marks the five-year anniversary of Café Metro’s closure in Wilkes-Barre, which was really the last venue standing in the area, and also the longest running, at 14 years. They posted a link to a short documentary about the venue, which you can watch here, and I encourage you to do so.
Following the recession, so many venues nationwide have closed and funding for the arts has dried up. Programs have been slashed from school budgets. I worry about this because where do all of the young writers, musicians, and artists go? Where do they find community? Sure, they are interconnected, thanks to social media, but interaction behind a screen does not compare to curbside conversations and meeting people face to face.
I feel fortunate that as a poet, I get to read in different spaces. I’ve visited a lot of communities where things are happening, where people have taken it upon themselves to really invest in their local art scene. I have seen friends all across the tri-state area and beyond expend energy building something. Due to their inspiration, I started a reading series four years ago that is still going.
But what about all-ages venues for younger folks? What about their scene and community? There are no venues left here, and that is the story of a lot of towns across the country. My hope is that they will start something new and they will grow up to take energy and pour it into something positive.