David Powers stands at the front of the small, bright white room, the rough but elegant found-wood sculptures of Norman Jabaut hanging serenely around him. About a dozen guests sit cozily amongst pink, white, and red chairs, waiting attentively for the young musician, artist, poet and MC/DJ to begin.
Out of his element, without the usual hip-hop beats behind him, Powers’ voice retains a raw and musical quality to it as he recites his poems, kaleidoscopic narratives that zoom in and out, weaving their way from the J train platform, through Brooklyn and Manhattan, out towards the sun and the universe and back into apartments, bathrooms, alleys. He speaks with eyes closed, calm and articulate, with his hands moving in rhythm as if to punctuate his words.
Powers, 29, was one half of last week’s Third Thursdays Reading Series, hosted by Jason Andrew and Deborah Brown of Norte Maar’s recently opened gallery, STOREFRONT at 16 Wilson Avenue. The second reader, Jonathan Goodman, is an established poet and professor, who read selections from both published and yet-to-be-published collections.
“It’s nice to see a show as good as this in Bushwick—I think Bushwick has a lot to teach Chelsea,” Goodman said after his introduction.
His poems, tighter and more traditionally literary than Powers’, served as a pleasant juxtaposition to the younger artist’s work—though both poets’ work shared a delicate, measured quality that made them not as disparate as one might have imagined
“I’m really happy to be paired with a rapper. I though [David] was really excellent. Some of the things he was saying were very close to some of the things I was saying—just in a different style,” Goodman said. “I really believe that writers, no matter where they are in terms of their career or background, should connect with younger people.”
“I think what happened is that the Lower East Side just kept going east, across the water into Brooklyn, and now it’s as far east as Bushwick,” he continued. “It’s a pretty funky neighborhood. This is where poetry survives, in places like this among young people. So I’m really happy to read, especially with such a great show here.”
Powers, who Andrews first met when he watched him talk some cops out of breaking up a party, entered the hip-hop scene in high school, when he came up on kids rapping in the bathroom when he was cutting class.
“It just sort of swept me. I fell into hip-hop almost by chance. It was at a time in my life when I think I needed some sort of expression. I was going through a lot of difficult things. And when I heard the power of words and just being in that space—that was it. I walked into those freestyle bathroom sessions and I never left.”
“Everything affects me,” he continued. “I capture words from feelings of just being alive in this city with so many things that come at you all the time, be it negative or positive—I think the beauty of the city is that there are so many things that you can’t even explain, so many feelings and emotions and thoughts that are constantly bouncing off everybody in the city. I think as a writer I just try to capture pieces of moments of time and try to find the truth in them, and hopefully that will affect other people.”
The reading was the second of the Third Thursdays series, an attempt by Andrew to add diversity to the STOREFRONT gallery space.
“We’re only open on the weekends,” Andrew said. “I think it’s really important to be able to program in many different ways. One real love of mine is poetry and writers. I think there’s a great forum for that in Manhattan. But in Bushwick, unless you’re going to be working with the library, there really isn’t this kind of historic engagement with salons and galleries, which have always integrated visual artists and writers, so that was really the impetus behind Third Thursdays. We want our space to be accessible on more than just a visual art level, and this really helps round it out.”
Though there were only about a dozen in attendance, the small audience made for an intimate and affecting reading.
“Everybody was excellent,” Powers said. “There are always a lot of good people and soul at whatever Jason puts together.”