Brooklyn's vibrant poetry scene is about to get collected.
On April 20, Brooklyn Arts Press and Brooklyn Poets will collaboratively publish Brooklyn Poets Anthology, which compiles poetry written by contemporary poets from, or living in, Kings County, New York, in an initial 1,000-copy print run. The anthology, edited by Brooklyn Arts Press founder and publisher Joe Pan and Brooklyn Poets founder and executive director Jason Koo, collects upwards of 250 poems by a total of 170 poets. The book will be the inaugural volume in a series; Pan and Koo said they had nearly enough material left over for another volume.
Pan and Koo bill the anthology as the first "devoted to celebrating the many contemporary poets who call [Brooklyn] home." Both acknowledge there are prior collections focusing on the borough, but found none specifically dedicated to spotlighting contemporary Brooklynites and their poetic work.
"We were familiar with Broken Land, which is a wonderful anthology covering Brooklyn poetry historically," Pan said. "We searched the WorldCat database and asked around, and I ended up sitting down with a research librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and working with them. We found a couple earlier collections tied to magazines and such, but no book of this scope, depth, or intention."
The subject is dear to Pan and Koo both, who live in the Williamsburg neighborhood, are poets, and have businesses named after the borough. (Brooklyn Arts Press won the National Book Award for poetry last year; Brooklyn Poets offers poetry workshops and hosts multiple monthly reading series.) The idea came to them, they said, during a night of drinking under the Manhattan Bridge.
"One night in DUMBO, in 2014, I think we began talking about how great it would be...for BAP and Brooklyn Poets to put together an anthology of Brooklyn poets," Pan explained.
Soon after they discussed the idea, Koo and Pan began using their connections to solicit poems. By May of 2015, the duo had launched a submissions hub using the workflow service Submittable, where unsolicited work could be submitted.
“We wanted this anthology to be as inclusive as possible, because we both knew that neither of us knew all the poets in Brooklyn,” Koo said.
The criteria Pan and Koo used, to determine who is a "Brooklyn poet" and who is not, is whether the author "currently lives [in Brooklyn] or has deep ties to the borough." Pan explained that "deep ties" constitute someone who was "born here or lived here a decade or more."
He added: "In the end, we hit 432 pages, but had to exclude poets we really wanted in there," Pan said. "Maybe ten or so poets represented in the anthology aren’t even in Brooklyn anymore...and at every reading I go to in Brooklyn I meet a poet who just arrived here last month."
Although the anthology focuses on a very specific geography, Pan and Koo wanted the book to represent a diverse set of authors, viewpoints, and levels of experience. “Of course, it’s an ongoing process, so hopefully with the next volume we’ll be able to extend the reach even further," Koo said.
Some poets in the collection are at the height of their careers, others are rising stars, and some had never been published before. Former American poet laureate Philip Levine and former and current Brooklyn poet laureates D. Nurkse and Tina Chang were included alongside emerging writers such as Morgan Parker, Tommy Pico, and Ocean Vuong.
Koo noted that, in the end, more than 40% of the volume's contributors were poets of color, and more than 60% of the contributors were women or LGBTQ poets. Pan added that the subjects, aesthetics, and voices were as distinct as the poets themselves—with one exception: "You’ll find more subway poems here than elsewhere, that’s for certain."
This article has been updated with new information and edited for clarity.