Jason Koo, executive director of Brooklyn Poets, cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the poetry salon and workshop space on Saturday. From left: Paula Gil-Ordonez Gomez, Brooklyn Poets; Emily Blair, Brooklyn Poets; Koo’s wife Ana Maria Farina, holding their two-month-old baby Zoe Koo; Jason Koo; Kate Chura, president of the Montague BID; Cindy McLaughlin, Brooklyn Heights Association; Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Director of Neighborhood Outreach Luc Saint Preux; and Brooklyn Chamber’s Ambassador Ken Marable. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
A large and enthusiastic crowd gathered in Brooklyn Heights on Saturday for the ribbon cutting of Brooklyn Poets, a new poetry salon and workshop space at 144 Montague St.
Visitors sipped Prosecco, browsed books, took in a workshop and nibbled on snacks from Lassen & Hennigs. Roughly 40 poets gave readings into the night, including special guests like MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Edward Hirsch; former Brooklyn Poet Laureate D.Nurkse; and current Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang.
“The opening went far better than I could’ve hoped for or even imagined,” Brooklyn Poets’ founder and Executive Director Jason Koo told the brooklyn eagle. “I thought people would come, but I didn’t think so many people would turn out for the ribbon cutting, and I didn’t think the place would be packed from the very beginning. It was standing-room-only for the free workshop I led after the ribbon cutting, and it stayed that way until the last set of poetry readings.”
That a nonprofit like Brooklyn Poets would be able to set up shop on the historic shopping street was made possible because long-time property owner and businessman, Tony Bates, met the group halfway on the rent, Koo said. Bates is the operator of Bentley’s Shoes, which is on the ground floor of 144 Montague St.
“I want to thank our landlord Tony Bates for giving us a great deal on the space. I really feel like we’re total impostors here — there shouldn’t be a nonprofit poetry on Montague Street. I never thought it would be possible for us to be here, but somehow it is,” Koo said. Board President Isaac Myers III found the space and brokered the deal, Koo added.
Koo was joined at the ceremony by his wife, fabric artist Ana Maria Farina, and their two-month-old baby Zoe Koo. Officiating were Kate Chura, president of the Montague Street Business Improvement District, and Cindy McLaughlin, chair of the Brooklyn Heights Association’s Public Realm Committee. The BID and BHA have been working for several years to help revive the street. Recent successes include the upcoming return of the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange to the street, and the successful opening of the popular French bakery L’Appartement 4F.
Luc Saint Preux and Ken Marable from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce presented Koo with an illustrated map of Brooklyn showing the organization’s new location, and a bouquet of gorgeous red roses, courtesy of James Weir Floral Company.
Koo, a second-generation Korean American, gave credit to his parents, who came to the US from South Korea in the 1970s. “My dad came here with like $20 bucks in his pocket,” Koo said. “Just the fact that I’m standing here and opening a poetry nonprofit on Montague Street is because of my immigrant parents from South Korea, and all the sacrifices they made.”
Open mic ‘Yawps’
Brooklyn Heights has long been one of the New York City’s most literary neighborhoods. Opening here was a dream for Koo, who has enormous admiration for Walt Whitman and another Brooklyn Heights wordsmith, Hart Crane. Koo founded Brooklyn Poets ten years ago on Walt Whitman’s birthday, May 31, but the organization never had its own space until now. Brooklyn Poets provides classes, small workshops, readings and innovative open mic events called “Yawps.”
‘This is a big deal’
“I’m a poet and just checking out the new digs!” Fred Schwartz, who traveled to the event from Sheepshead Bay, told the Eagle. “It’s nice to see them finally have a home.”
Melanie Lee, a member of Brooklyn Poets, told the Eagle“I am here because this is a big deal, this brick-and-mortar space.”
Her friend Angeline Davis, who lives in Downtown Brooklyn, said she came because, “I haven’t been writing as much as I should. So, this is to get my blood pumping again.”
“I heard about this through a Facebook group called ‘We Live Near the Brooklyn Bridge,’” said writer Delilah Twersky, who attended with Jen Klockner. “We’ve been here for about two years now, and we’re both writers, so we’re very excited to come and see what this space was all about.”
Klockner said, “We live right around the corner from here, so we’re really excited to have a physical space like this that we can take advantage of and write in, and there’s a class today that we’re going to take.”
“Brooklyn Poets is one of the first institutes that really welcomed me,” said Itiola Jones, an instructor with the organization. “It feels very momentous for the borough, and also for everything he [Koo] is doing for contemporary poetry.”
Park Slope resident Angela Lockhart-Aronoff said she has been taking workshops at Brooklyn Poets since 2016. “It’s just my life, and I’m now a poet. I have a lot of stuff being published here and there — not a book yet, but I’m really happy and it wouldn’t happen without Brooklyn Poets.”