The Shop on the
The Cornershop was the perfect name – just that lovely old
time sense of “hanging out on the corner,” that place
where all the action is, where all comes to cross this way and that.
For me, most immediately important was the fact that the whole business
was out of the usual academic and/or institutional frame. The arts
might find a place in such context, but it would always be a small
one, at least in my experience. The moment the arts are themselves
dependent upon an organization for their wherewithal, then that
is the master they serve, however usefully, unobtrusively, “for
the greater glory of god,” or whatever.
It was just that I felt art, whatever, began at the beginning. It
was grassroots by nature, no matter the tradition it came to recognize
and find place with. Perhaps because I came from a small New England
town and had so lived where people made do during the Depression,
it seemed to me almost a rule of thumb that you depended on your
own resources for what you needed – just that if someone gave
them to you, they could also take them away and/or tell you just
what you could do with them. That’s working for the man again.
I recall the first time we all talked over the possibility of getting
some sort of place specific to the Poetics Program and its people,
which would be their own authority, off campus, well into the city
– as it happened in an old edge indeed just off Niagara Street
which runs along the river and is largely an old Italian neighborhood.
Houses here are still insistently “single dwellings”
and despite the poverty there is a persisting sense of neighborhood.
So someone coming in is really looked over, not hostilely but particularly.
But this gets ahead of the story, because Anya came away from that
first meeting thinking my emphasis on “company” had
to do with starting a small business, a “company,” which
in some manner unclear might serve our mutual purposes. So she expectably
stayed away, thinking of her own plans and possibilities, all of
which finally led to her finding the place, which was to become
The Cornershop and then, with friend Lara and others, securing it
and moving in. I think our great dog Sophie, a Bouvier who Anya
used as a bear in her early Buffalo-Russian movies, probably knew
more about what was going on than I did.
Then it was there, so to speak, storefront and all. I remember going
over to one of the first genial gatherings, an opening for some
show of art, and even as one found place to park on the street adjacent,
it was clear that this was a communal place and that it had settled
into what was around it, presuming it had ever been otherwise. For
me it was the beginning of an active refreshment of all the senses
of community and art I’d missed in the formal situation of
university provision. It was intimate, it was spontaneous, it was
accommodating, and it was for real – even as were the crunky
“club houses” we used to make in the woods when I was
kid, from fallen trash trees and such. There we could stay as long
as we wanted, do what we wanted – and it was that aura, call
it, which came to settle in the Cornershop around us all.
I remember the British poet Tom Pickard reading there, a late improvised
circumstance but with our now determined company all there and listening.
It was lovely, in fact, as good as it ever gets. There were for
me many other evenings of like kind – the discussion of Ronald
Johnson’s work by various of our company, for example –
and shows, and films, and just collective evenings of talk.
They say, “It takes a heap of living in a house to call it
home…” But at times the “home” is just there
waiting and this was surely one such. It took eyes and wit to know
it – Anya’s and Lara’s most particularly –
but once found, never forgotten. So be it – and so it was
May 15, 2004