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Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines

My name is Marty Denton and I am a singer/ songwriter/poet from McGehee, Arkansas. I am 67 years old. I am CEO of Trip Jct Records LLC. I have songs on Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, ITunes, Amazon, ITunes radio and many more. Many artists have recorded my songs. I also write poetry and have over 700 songs and poems in the Library of Congress. I have published poems on many retail sites. This collection is presently at:

Tribes’ Steve Cannon is at it again

photo by bob holman Steve Cannon at Marjorie Eliot’s Parlor Jazz Series in Harlem.

BY BOB HOLMAN  |  After being evicted from A Gathering of the Tribes, his gallery/performance space/crash pad, 18 months ago Steve Cannon, the Blind Professor of Loisaida (that’s Nuyorican for the Lower East Side), has settled in as scholar, documentarian and éminence grise. But now he’s got a new cause and his activist roots are showing.

“A statue or memorial for Allen Ginsberg in Tompkins Square Park! It’s got to happen!” he’s shouting into the phone and into the ears of the two assistants, one city nurse and the usual crew of poets and artists arrayed in his living room at 745 E. Sixth, Apt. 1A, right at the corner of Avenue D.

The man who The New York Times saw as the gateway to alternate culture now wants to ensure that the icons of his neighborhood do not disappear into the current gentrifying Fog of Forgetfulness.

The lecture continues — “Look at Ukraine! The George Washington of Ukraine was a poet, and they got statues of Shevchenko everywhere! They even got his bust up over there on Second Avenue, by Veselka! Derek Walcott’s statue in St. Lucia. Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ is up in Harlem. Bob, you told me about the Mahmoud Darwish Park in Ramallah — you can have poetry readings there! We need a statue of Allen to keep poetry in Tompkins Square Park!”

I drop by Steve’s place with Adam Falkner, the brand-new director of Urban Word, the after-school writing program that sponsors the city’s youth poet laureate and has young poets reading during halftime at Knicks games. (Used to be a young poet was someone who qualified for the Yale Younger Poets Prize — under 40. Now, it’s a 12-year old.)

Adam’s never had the chance to meet this living legend before, and he’s loving Steve’s instant karma critiques. Who wouldn’t? Already Adam is talking about getting some Urban Word youths to read to Steve.

“It’s amazing how you guys move from scene to scene, from Lincoln Center to a Downtown bar,” Adam says, “from Tribes to PEN to the American Academy.”

“That’s nothin’, that’s a book,” Steve says. Adam gets it. 

He also gets that Steve has been lending a hand to young artists for decades — that generations of Lower East Side poets have been mentored by this man — Paul Beatty, Tracie Morris, Reg E Gaines, Saul Williams, Sara Jones. If artists had stars in the sidewalk here, they’d lead to Steve’s front door, to A Gathering of the Tribes, with its renowned David Hammons living room.

Would that the city had got Steve Cannon a little bit more before he was evicted last spring from the gallery/performance space he ran for 25 years on Third and C. Tribes was a one-stop culture chop shop — fresh art on the walls, a constant stream of visitors, live music and poetry performances, a publisher of a great magazine and a series of poetry books. Oh, did I mention that Steve Cannon is blind (“The only admittedly blind gallery owner in New York City”), black and 80 years old?

On our way Uptown to hear the jazz concert in Harlem, Steve is a nonstop rant. Ishmael Reed — an old friend of Steve’s, they founded a small press together, Reed Cannon Books — is in town.

“I know he’s going to show up and bang on the damn piano and go on complaining about ‘Hamilton,’ ” Steve predicts. Then he starts in on another old pal, David Henderson, who is moaning about the Dark Room Collective, how they’re erasing Umbra, referring to the collective of black artists who stayed avant-garde and Downtown while LeRoi Jones moved Uptown, became Amiri Baraka and started the Black Arts Movement.

“And we need a statue of Baraka, too!” Cannon preaches on, “over in Newark.”

But with Baraka’s son, Ras, as mayor, wouldn’t that smell a bit of nepotism?

“Hell no, Bob! It’s a gift to the community! Ras is doing a great job — surely, you read that piece on the front page of the Times?”

I inform Steve of the new Baraka tribute album that poet Thomas Sayers Ellis of Dark Room Collective has released, terrific contemporary jazz renditions of Baraka poetry, “Heroes Are Gang Leaders/The Amiri Baraka Sessions.”

“Get Ellis to resurrect Umbra!” says Steve.

And speaking of jazz, he sharpens his intentions to a whisper, “Bird’s got to be down here, too. You know he died here. Gotta have a statue of Bird!”

Charlie Parker is another of Steve’s icons to be memorialized. Steve helped start the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, and for years there was a huge poetry celebration in the Tribes backyard as part of the Lower East Side’s annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.

“Tribes did it, we’re in the history books,” Steve reflects. “I am content. I’ve got it figured out so that the books should all come out by June of next year. And then I know what my job is. After 25 years it’s second nature, I can do it with my eyes closed. Don’t forget, Bob, that I started Tribes the year after I retired from being a professor,” he says, pointing directly to his Medgar Evers (CUNY) College Professor Emeritus diploma on the wall.

“Yes, Gil Scott Heron was my student,” Steve notes. “But when I felt that energy around the Nuyorican when it reopened a block away — location, location, location!

“Then there was the time that Zoe burned down my house, but that’s another story.

“The deal is gentrification. Speaking in generalities, here, but Vipin took me for a walk the other day, and Avenue B was filled with drunks. Drunks at brunch — what could be worse? They weren’t talking about poetry and music, it was sad. They were talking about bulls— gossip, uninventive and borrrring. I’ve seen the neighborhood change, and change again, and change after that. But it was wave after wave of artists that came into Tribes. Leaving that place, well, I just left the hassles. Artists were being more demanding, and not giving back like they used to.

“O.K., I’ll say it,” he continues. “It’s a change for the worse. I mean I still hear the young artists — ‘I just got out of school, I want to be a poet, where do I go?’ And what’s happened here on the Lower East Side — look at Williamsburg, it happened there, and Bushwick I hear is now just as bad. You know and I know that artists will always find a way. But for Tribes, that job is done. What we did for black poets and Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Asians, Indians, I sure do miss Diane Burns, that’s part of it. That’s why Tribes got started, let’s be upfront about that. But it’s never been about the blacks, whites, anybody. It’s been about everybody. That’s it. What do you hear about in New Orleans, my hometown? It’s the same thing — gentrification there. The Times had that poll, did you see it? Seventy percent of white folks thought New Orleans was back after Katrina, and 70 percent of black folks said it wasn’t. The population has shifted.

“My advice for young artists is the same as always, it’s D.I.Y., Do It Yourself,” Steve offers. “Publish it yourself. Put your art up on the sidewalks in Tompkins Square Park, use the subway. Let the city be your gallery, your book, your stage. You got some friends around you? Throw a reading, throw a party, just do it. Gather your own tribe. If you’ve got the numbers, go ahead, start an organization. Get a place and show your films. If it’s large enough, invite the dancers in.

“When I stopped teaching, I dedicated myself to the community to encourage the young people. Encourage — that’s it. Someone says no to you, don’t accept it. Prove ’em wrong. I want people to know that I’m still here: 212-777-2038 or just drop by 745 E. Sixth, push the buzzer 1A, and come in and introduce yourself. Be part of the new Gathering of the Tribes. E-mail? Sure. gatheringofthetribes@gmail.com. Tell them the Blind Guy sent you.”

Press

A man who runs a gallery and salon in the East Village that has managed to survive even as the neighborhood’s bohemian past fades recently got some startling news from a visitor. Why, the visitor asked, was there a large metal sign on the man’s building announcing that it was for sale?

The gallery proprietor, Steve Cannon, who is blind, said he knew nothing about the sign. But he quickly asked a friend to call the real estate agency that had put it up.

The agent said the building was being offered for nearly $3 million, Mr. Cannon said. Furthermore, he added, the agent had told his friend that it could be sold without tenants.

Mr. Cannon, 75, was naturally alarmed by the news. He had sold the three-story federal-style town house on East Third Street between Avenues C and D to its present owner in 2004 believing that he would be able to occupy the second floor for at least a decade.

“I was surprised,” Mr. Cannon said on a recent afternoon as he sat inside his second-floor apartment. “Before that day, I thought everything was cool.”

The news sent shudders through generations of poets, artists, musicians and others, who felt a strong sense of devotion to A Gathering of the Tribes, a gallery and salon in the building, and to Mr. Cannon. A former humanities professor, who taught for 25 years at city university campuses including Hunter College in Manhattan and Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, Mr. Cannon decided in 1991 to turn the building, which he had bought for $35,000 in 1970, into a salon and open house where practically everybody was welcome.

The people who gather there have held art shows, published a literary magazine and arranged readings in cities around the country. For about the past 15 years, they have also organized a monthlong Charlie Parker festival at the gallery held in conjunction with an annual concert in Tompkins Square Park.

Now, Mr. Cannon and his supporters feel that their cultural pursuits, which were once inspired by the East Village’s energy and grit, may fall victim to the gentrification that has overtaken much of the neighborhood.

Faced with debt in 2004, Mr. Cannon sold the house on East Third Street to a woman named Lorraine Zhang. An agreement between them stipulated that Mr. Cannon could rent the second floor for $1,000 per month through August 2009, with an option to renew the agreement for five years at a monthly rent of $2,200, as long as he provided written notice of his intent to renew six months in advance.

Mr. Cannon said he thought that Ms. Zhang’s accepting of his rent checks since the end of the first lease constituted renewal. Ms. Zhang disagreed, saying Mr. Cannon and the gallery were still in the building only because she had allowed them to stay.

“I don’t want to give him trouble and ask him to move out, but legally I can,” she said.

A listing on the Web site of Marcus & Millichap, the real estate company hired by Ms. Zhang, listed the building for $2.9 million. The site said all four apartments inside were unregulated and added that a buyer could “potentially convert into a single-family town house.”

Mr. Cannon said he was exploring whether he had any legal recourse to oppose the sale in court. At the same time, he said, he would reach out to friends and arts patrons to see whether any of them might be interested in buying the building and turning it into an artists’ residence and cultural center.

Bob Holman, the owner of the Bowery Poetry Club, said the idea behind A Gathering of the Tribes was developed in the late 1980s, when Mr. Cannon and others began holding poetry seminars on the stoop of the East Third Street building. They were inspired by nearby performances at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, where loud, raucous poetry slams were changing the way the art form was viewed.

“To have this kind of poetry emerge in a world of advertisements and massaged neutral speech was a revelation,” Mr. Holman said. “And Steve lived it.”

Mr. Cannon became a mentor to a group of young poets, Mr. Holman said, spending hours on the stoop, listening to recitations, offering critiques and guidance and helping to shape raw emotion into literature.

After selling the building to Ms. Zhang, Mr. Cannon turned his apartment into a salon, where he fostered the artistic ambitions of younger people searching for a means of expression and a place to be heard.

One such group assembled on a recent Thursday night where they staged performances under the name the Catweazle Club, named after a similar series held in Oxford, England.

An organizer, Cal Folger Day, 23, who called Mr. Cannon “an indefatigable host,” said she preferred to hold events there instead of in a bar or at a theater because she wanted to be in an atmosphere where people gathered primarily to listen to one another, rather than to engage in commerce.

“We are not a moneymaker, however unfortunate, and neither is Steve,” she said. “So we decided to bring all the starving artists together.”

In one room, a few dozen people sat in chairs as a man sang a couple of songs, with his guitar and harmonica. A young woman and her dulcimer followed.

Mr. Cannon sat on the couch in the next room, listening and chatting with some of his young visitors.

“The real idea of Tribes is to be nonexclusive,” he said. “That’s why I always keep the door open to everyone.”

Tribes in the NY Times!

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It was 1970, a year after Steve Cannon’s novel, “Groove, Bang and Jive Around,” was published, that he used proceeds from its sale to buy a three-story townhouse on East Third Street, just east of Avenue C, with a brick facade and a hospitable stoop.

Over the decades, that stoop became a gathering spot where Mr. Cannon and friends, including many from the nearby Nuyorican Poets Cafe, held wide-ranging conversations that lasted all night. Those freewheeling discussions moved indoors in 1991, when Mr. Cannon turned parts of the building into a gallery and salon known as A Gathering of the Tribes. There, he and others published magazines and organized readings and art exhibitions.

“It became a center for poets, musicians and artists from all over the world,” Mr. Cannon said. “People realized they could be themselves there because it gave the feeling of being at home.”

Faced with debt, Mr. Cannon sold the building in 2004, with an agreement that he could continue living and holding events on the second floor. That arrangement began to fray in 2011, and last year Mr. Cannon, 79 and blind, moved out of his home of more than 40 years.

The photographer Gaia Squarci spent several weeks documenting life inside the Tribes gallery. Her images show Mr. Cannon’s comrades arriving for final farewells, helping to pack books and using saws to remove a section of wall that had been painted by the artist David Hammons.

Mr. Cannon moved into an apartment a few blocks away. He has continued to organize readings, but they are now held in other places. Friends still visit to work on an anthology of art and poetry that Mr. Cannon is putting together or to discuss their own projects. Sometimes, he said, they reminisce about the good times on Third Street.

“It’s the same spirit here,” he said, “Only there’s less room and fewer people stopping by.”

see it here.