To: General Membership and interested parties
From: Chinee, Grand Poobah /Moderator
Re: un-agenda and no-minutes of the not-meeting (or letter cum sigh of resignation)
Gather round poets, lovers of poetry (and poets), and the pathologically curious while I tell you a tale of a little bookstore that could and then couldn’t when ‘could’ wasn’t enough. It’s a sad tale, one that affects all who enjoy the heft of a printed volume in the cradle of their palm. The book is dead — at least in the configuration that collects information, prints it on paper and binds it into single or multiple volumes. Long live the book! Information is no longer solely available in the bottleneck of the printed page, bane of the dyslexic and the functional illiterate. Literacy is here to stay but has become multi-literacy in that a reader now scans more than just the linear scrawl of print on paper.
This news, if it is indeed news, is on the verge of going stale. The bookstore will soon join a category of antique store where the past is available for the nostalgia trade and interior decorators. Hopefully there will always be libraries but even their emphasis on the printed word is shifting toward ethereal electronic sources. The generation that once converged on the retail book shop to grasp the shiny cover of the latest tell-all bestseller or crime thriller in eager hands is aging. That which was once thought to be an undeniable necessity as were harnesses, hayforks, and horseshoes is being left behind on the roadside of the information superhighway.
It was such an insensible future wave that crashed upon Susan Ryan’s River Reader bookstore in little downtown Guerneville at the outer reaches of the west county universe. To say that it was located off the beaten path might be an understatement. That neck of the woods is certainly affected and dependent upon the tourist trade. Unfortunately tourists are not always the literate types or they have found convenience in simply placing an order to a faceless app more to their sense of leisure and entitlement. The literate and their bookstores thrive in the more densely populated urban environs of course, and so a drive of a half hour or more for anything other than the generality of looking at scenery is a bit much to ask. Even for those living in the winding road redwood wilds, the task of gearing up and getting to town for more than bare necessities is often a chore. Although Susan and her bookstore offered ample opportunity and reason for a trek to the edges of civilization, few availed themselves of the occasions of literate entertainment so generously offered.
To be a literary outpost in a wired age is a disadvantage. How swiftly technology changes the way we do business and each new change institutes another detour to our approach. What was once the standard of literacy is now a quaint measurement, an historical guide, less and less common, the province of specialist and collectors. Susan Ryan valiantly did her best to stay afloat in the face of a triple whammy of the technoconomy, ‘remote’ location, and general apathy.
The loss of River Reader bookstore for the literate gentry hiding out in the smoky damp hills is more than inconvenient. Bookstores are not merely commercial enterprises, they are cultural assets. This little shop out in the middle of BFE had become a resource and a focus for writers to display their wares, conduct lively readings, and hang out with others of similar verbose persuasions. River Reader encouraged those who practice their craft and sullen art and exposed the resident talents to the neighborhood and beyond. The importance of such a venue is immeasurable, and now that it is gone, its presence sorely missed.
Sadly, though not as deeply, The New Black Bart Poetry Society must also say adios, a victim of its own altruism. Thanks are due to those who participated in person and those who sent encouragement along with their regrets. Many in attendance at the historic first and last meeting recognized the potential of the Society’s proposals for lively discussions regarding the art of poetry outside of the academic purview. Perhaps a seed was planted.