Rebecca Weaver on The Loft in the 70s

From the The Loft website: “Incorporated in 1975, the Twin Cities’ The Loft Literary Center is the nation’s largest independent literary center. The Loft supports the artistic development of writers, fosters a writing community, and builds an audience for literature. Thousands of students register for Loft creative writing courses each year; thousands more participate in Loft readings and other events. Loft competitions, grants, and honoraria help authors pursue the writing life. Loft publications and its website bring the writing life home to literature lovers everywhere. The list of acclaimed authors who have appeared at the Loft over the years reads like a Who’s Who of American letters.”

Rebecca Weaver on The Loft in the 70s

Rebecca Weaver on pre-Loft literary activities

Be sure to check out what she has to say about literary communities at 7:15 of the second film.

Interviewed by Jefferson Hansen
Filmed by Jefferson Hansen
June, 2012

from The Urgency of Community: The Suturing of Poetic Ideology During the Early Years of the Loft and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

by Rebecca Weaver

One cold night in 1975, in “The Firehouse,” a renovated fire station used as a performance space near the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, Moore jumped up, bushy hair waving with the motion, and gleefully recited “At 7 a.m., Watching the Cars on the Bridge” to the raucous applause of about 40 people seated on the floor around him. The event was “A Sampler of Minnesota Poets,” a fund-raiser for the newly created Loft and a celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Most of the audience sat crossed-legged or on knees, in the center of the room, while some sat in chairs against the wall. The seating arrangement was a rough circle, with many of the audience facing each other. The poets who read were somewhat scattered throughout this arrangement. The audience and poets were dressed in 1970s student style, with a preponderance of sweaters over button-up shirts.[i] Poets including Phebe Hanson, Michael Dennis Browne, and Robert Bly took turns rising from the floor and reading or reciting poems that somehow engaged the theme of “sudden changes.”

In comparison to traditional modes of poetry performance, the Firehouse reading was not all that radical in the range of poetry presentations with which many contemporary readers are likely familiar. In fact, given the rise of slam poetry, performance poetry, and spoken word (and popular media’s broadcasting of these orally-based poetries’ most iconic images), this example might sound fairly quaint. As described by Lesley Wheeler in Voicing American Poetry, academic poetry readings tend to use a number of academic conventions taken from the model of academic lecture, such as a podium for the reader, the audience seated in orderly rows of chairs, and a lack of dialogic reciprocation between audience and speaker.[i] The Loft reading—the work of making poetry public—clearly demonstrate how the organization defined its community goals and aesthetics in the early years. Its readings, which stood in contradistinction to the typical traditional academic reading, worked to create spaces of representation for promoting specific visions of community to members and audiences and for negotiating the complex situations of poetry and politics in the 1970s. Unlike the quasi-religious and reverent setting of traditional poetry readings wherein polite audiences quietly listened to a single author delivering timeless beauty in a calm voice from a podium, early readings at the Loft noisily (and sometimes chaotically) brought their own version of beauty into community. Poetry was thus a creation of and for the community, and this was a major difference between such communities and more mainstream and official poetry institutions.

They also telescoped the values (and tensions about those values) of these communities and what they desired from poetry and their audiences. At the Loft, poetic practices enhanced a communal economics that supported the poets, a dismantling of traditional poetic hierarchy (where students became teachers and vice versa), and conventional ways of life were eschewed in favor of putting the work of reading and writing, of community building, first.

[i] Wheeler, Lesley. Voicing American Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (2008). 128.

[i] Mike Hazard, A Sampler of Minnesota Poets. Saint Paul: Center for International Education (1976).