Here is our introduction for Rena Rosenwasser, delivered by Farrah at the event:
I was looking up the map of Berkeley out of curiosity this afternoon and found the actual Kelsey Street, an unassuming one block span at the edge of the hills just south of the university campus. Dotted with a mix of evergreens and palm trees and sort of Pacific rim-ish arts and crafts-y houses it seems resonant with the press, which out of generosity and will and invention has created and continues to create its own axis as a platform for diverse women writers and is especially strong in supporting a kind of trans-national work that crosses or perhaps explodes boundaries. Writers such as Cecilia Vicuña, bhanu kapil, etel adnan, mei-mei bersenbrugge, Barbara guest… etc.
In a sense (I’m reaching slightly) there’s maybe a Californian utopian sensibility of the press but at the same time Rena, as founder/editor, grew up in NY and I see that urban heritage at play in her book ELEVATORS. (The elevator and the skyscraper are much in the mix here and it’s so nice to welcome her to NY’s only poetry bookstore for this reading!)
ELEVATORS is a traveler’s book, full of Italian cities, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Egypt, and this cosmopolitan-ness seems to climax in the title poem by thinking on the elevator. Elevators suggest transcendental aims and the book certainly speaks to this, though it often seems that the elevators of the book take the reader not to some office space in the sky but to connect people. She writes “turning Eiffel’s bridge vertical”. It makes me think of Philippe Petit’s wild tightrope walk between the world trade center towers and in a sense this is the work of the poet and of the editor, this act of belief of imagining a community into existence. Rena writes in this vein about how the grid of Manhattan began as “pure potential” – and this mapping was a “most courageous act of prediction” framing unimagined buildings and existent activity.
Rena’s biographical note describes her as “traveling extensively as she supports and collects the work of contemporary women artists” and perhaps it’s her own travels that inform these lines from the second long poem in ELEVATORS:
“words transgress. Depart from their usual fittings. If I nudge them they might travel anywhere.
I think here Rena is drawing an analogy between a life celebrating travel and the work of poetry to set words moving, to send them on a journey. The etymology of the word ‘transgression’ has to do literally with stepping across and this celebration of crossing borders or rendering borders obsolete is surely the innovative spirit behind Kelsey Street and behind Rena’s work. We’re so happy to have her here at Berl’s.