Watery Words: Poetry Reading On The Gowanus Canal

GOWANUS – For a second year in a row, the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and the Gowanus Souvenir Shop hosted a poetry reading Wednesday morning on the Gowanus Canal as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club and Gowanus Souvenir Shop present “Watery Words: Reading Niedecker on the Gowanus at Dawn,” as part of 2018 Brooklyn Book Festival (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

At 7:30am on the misty morning, six volunteer readers paddled over to the Carroll Street Bridge on the polluted canal to read poems by Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) who’s been called “the Emily Dickinson of this century.”

“This morning is really the perfect example of how many different moods the canal can have and we’re sort of capitalizing on that by bringing the poetry of Lorine, a poet who is often overlooked,” said Gowanus Dredger Brad Vogel. “She lived by water and you feel that in her poetry. She also had sort of a hard-scrabble life, so you feel a sort of angst sometimes coming through but also an attempt at release and peace through water and nature. I thought that was perfect for Gowanus.”

“We look for someone who has some sort of aquatic connection to Gowanus,” Vogel explained of his selection of Niedecker. “Many of her poems explicitly mention water or aquatic things…. We’re excited for more people to get to know who she is.”

For last year’s inaugural poetry event, approximately a dozen readers gathered on the canal to read another water-themed literary work. “Last year we had a blast reading Virgina Woolf’s The Waves out here,” Vogel recalls. “It’s really just something different. People remarked on having a chance to come down and do something they don’t normally do.”

Vogel came upon the idea to read poetry aloud from canoes on the Superfund site as a way to attract people to the canal. “Here at the Dredgers, we’re always looking for ways to activate the waterfront and bring people down to get to know the Gowanus because it’s important for there to be a connection between people and this body of water, even if it’s polluted, so there’s a continued pressure on public officials to clean up the waterway.”

Todd, a member of the small audience assembled on the Carroll Street Bridge on Wednesday, enjoyed the reading, saying he thought it was wonderful seeing people read poems about water from canoes on the canal. He was not familiar with Niedecker’s poetry prior to the event and said he’d look for more of her work.

The event’s cohost and owner of the Gowanus Souvenir Shop, Ute Zimmermann, said of the morning poetry reading, “It’s exactly the perfect kind of event that we love at the Gowanus Souvenir Shop, because it’s a little odd and not your typical thing.”




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Pamela Wong

Pam was a staff reporter at Bklyner, covering North-Western parts of Brooklyn between 2016 and 2019. She also writes about art at arthag.typepad.com.


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