events ephemera people about home

Behind the Factory
The shop on the corner—a light burning in the window—the window, to know how late you were. The radiator—throbbing amidst unfolded chairs. Never a venue as warm as this. But not “cozy”—nice bare walls. Neither bar-room brawl, nor the dusty bric-brac of bookshops. A clean, (sort of) well-lighted place. Comparable to East-West Gallery on Notting Hill in London, or to the Segue space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—though not as dry as either of these—Cornershop seemed singularly dedicated to the work of listening and seeing, when the heat was on. (No ulterior purpose here.) And it was definitely on, my first winters in Buffalo—on average every other week. With wine, with poetry, or virtue, as one chose . . . Perhaps my first Poetics memory at Buffalo: Linda Russo opening for Joseph Lease; Susan Howe and Robert Creeley scrunched in the front row, a full house of colleagues in Poetics, heady time. But my first visit to Cornershop had been two weeks earlier, for a projection of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, Ken Jacob’s Little Stabs of Happiness, with Tony “Velvet U” Conrad spinning Mondo vinyl. I love the smell of a hot projector, and Cornershop (like its cousin Squeaky Wheel) brought this close. (And it was a high point, in my six years at Buffalo, for crossovers between English Dept. and Media Studies types—as in Paul Vanouse’s demonstration of his audience-powered history machine, Terminal Time.) More than anything, as a site for material poetics, Cornershop was materials: celluloid, vinyl, circuits, paint and wax, plywood, gas, Labatt’s Blue or Cheap Chilean red . . . Anything could spiral out, skip a groove, rip a sprocket, blow the fuse, get spilled or cracked at Cornershop. Writers, musicians, artists, film-makers, we came out of thrift-store coats into our riotous skin, for a couple of hours. Art galleries can be deadly spaces for poetry: not Cornershop, where curatorial light came with human presence, drinks at cost (and plentiful), and the conversation as critical, or silly, as one liked. Mike and Natalie Basinski regularly touted Meow Press titles in the shop window. I admired Anya’s no-nonsense, personal vigilance over the beer cooler, the donation hat, the lightbulbs. Her sense of the minimum infrastructure requisite to a comfortable public art gathering, which is seldom comfortable. (Graham Foust, under his Scratch and Dent label, dished us up some wonderfully discomfiting fare: Geoff Ward, Joe Wenderoth, Magdalena Zurwaski, Ben Marcus, Jean Donnelly, Louis Cabri, Roberto Tejada, Edwin Torres, SM Gray . . .) Once I came to a Cornershop “Fashion Giants” Halloween party, ostensibly dressed as the Green Man, with leaves glued to my face. Only problem was they were red, Norway maple leaves, and with my bowler hat and shining eyes I must have resembled Freddy Kreuger, judging from the discomfited looks as I walked in. At the end of the evening, in her apartment upstairs, Anya could not resist reaching out to pluck the leaves from my face, one by one, as she’d been itching to all night. Linda Russo, with Chris Alexander, would soon initiate their Last Friday reading series (held the last Friday of each month) in their apartment. While such a salon venue was equally vital to Poetics—especially to our hearing of one another—and has continued in various incarnations to this day, Cornershop’s public disposition, and neutral, street-level space (where one could still wear shoes to poetry) was unique. Cornershop was also the particular inspiration, in its methods if not aims, for Steel Bar, the reading series Isabelle Pelissier and I ran for two years out of her studio—picking up, in some respects, where Cornershop left off. But much that was Cornershop could not, of course, be brought over. Cornershop’s location on the far west side, for example, just a couple of blocks from the Niagara River and that most picturesque borderline thoroughfare, Niagara Street, could not be duplicated. Santasiero’s on the corner, where the pasta swims in fresh garlic and tomatoes. The river flexing its muscles behind the brick screw factory. The low riders. I often drift west, in this town, driving past Cornershop on its corner that tells me I am almost there—at the very edge of this country. And every time, I look in the Cornershop window, hoping, as if by magic, to find the clock turned back, the company shoulder to shoulder, the radiator steaming, a word undressing itself very slowly between gathered ears.
Jonathan Skinner
Buffalo, Summer 2004