what Moonstone Arts Center, a center that has no center and therefore no borders?
Everything swirls around Larry Robin, third generation with a bushy beard and now a former bookseller. His attraction, his Catholic interests, his enthusiasms, his constantly changing curiosities in art, education, politics, history and people make him – if not exactly the center, at least the disheveled maestro of Moonstone and the astonishing diversity of voices that defines him.
Eleanor Wilner, 83, a MacArthur Foundation scholarship recipient, sees Moonstone “as the democratic center of writing in the city, and Larry Robin as the Democratic rebel’s kind of master of literature – he’s open to anything and has done it. of Moonstone a place where everyone is invited to talk, to listen to each other.
Poet and photographer Lamont B. Steptoe, 72, a highly regarded American Book Award and Pew Scholarship recipient, calls Moonstone “my graduate school.”
This year, Moonstone turns 40, and its offspring, Poetry Ink, a reading and publishing program, turns 25, and Larry and Sandy Robin, partners in life and in Moonstone, celebrate with a week of readings on Zoom July 19 to 24, from 7 p.m. every night. The 300 poets who have participated in Poetry Ink programs for a quarter of a century have been invited to read. (Don’t worry, says Larry Robin, ânot everyone will show up.â)
There is also an anthology featuring works by all poets, published by Moonstone Press, another Robin company that publishes books of poetry and longer works.
“Oh, my dear brother Larry has become a Philadelphia institution,” said the famous poet Sonia sanchez, 86, a key voice in the black arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s and a supporter of Moonstone for 40 years. She was there, for example, in 1984, when several black writers from Philadelphia sat on the second floor of the old Robin Bookstore on South 13th Street, across from the porn store, and came up with the idea of ââa celebration. annual black writing. Larry Robin adopted him.
âHe did readings,â Sanchez recalls, âhe did book autographs, and also there was always a space for the kids, there were children’s books there, that’s it. It’s the single most important thing I’ve stepped into here in Philadelphia – every year you can count on Larry to do it. “
Sanchez’s first reading at the Robin Bookstore in the early 1980s was on a Saturday morning.
âWhen I first moved here, Brother Larry contacted me and I actually did a reading,â she said. âThey had all the readings, you know, upstairs. But I didn’t know it was really for little kids. I think the best place for me to do anything was to sit on the floor with the kids, right, and, and then we read some little poemsâ¦ that I had in my head. . So this was my first introduction to the work that Larry, Brother Larry, did.
Wilner compares Moonstone and the former Robin Bookstore on South 13th Street to San Francisco’s legendary City Lights Bookstore, run by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Ground Zero for West Coast Beat writers in the 1950s.
Poetry Ink began as the bookstore was going through very precarious financial times (even more precarious than usual).
Wilner and poet Elaine Terranova sent letters calling on the poetry community to join in support. The response has been overwhelming.
âElaine Terranova and I sent a bunch of chain letters, and they spread in such a way that things didn’t spread unless they were connected to all circuits in the city of writing, that cross all lines from the academic to the street, âWilner said. âAnd so everyone came together to save Robin.
âIt was the first ink of poetry,â she said. âAbout a hundred poets presented themselves. Everyone bought a book. And, again, we’ve crossed all the lines in this city that are meant to be borders and aren’t. So I just see it as a place that erases borders and supports freedom of speech at all levels. “
There have been a number of Robin-Moonstone ventures that have enjoyed considerable cultural – if not always financial – success. There’s the Moonstone Preschool, founded by Sandy, an artist and educator, in 1983. The annual celebration of black writing, a whirlwind of readings and workshops started in 1984, is now led by Art sanctuary in North Philadelphia and has become a full-fledged month-long celebration of the black arts.
The Paul Robeson Festival, the Cubano Festival, the Hidden History program – all were seeded by Moonstone and Larry Robin. Not to mention the multiple inks: Philadelphia Ink, Women’s Ink, Children’s Ink, Red Ink and, of course, Poetry Ink.
Poetry Ink is generally a six hour community festival focused on poetry, period, not formal or informal, professional or amateur, street or academic. You register, you read, in alphabetical order. No hierarchies. Moonstone also has a Poetry ink TV show on PhillyCam and a weekly reading series on Wednesday nights at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St.
This year’s serial marathon on Zoom will be exactly the same as past Poetry Ink events, albeit bigger, much bigger. And like the annual Encres de PoÃ©sie of the past, it is accompanied by a book covering the work of the readers.
âIt’s our biggest program and it embodies my philosophy, that’s what we do, is to invite everyone,â says Larry Robin, 78. “It’s not open reading, you have to register, but I’m not turning anyone down, then I put everyone in alphabetical order.
“And the reason is that you don’t have the opportunity to read with your friends and you don’t have the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, I only like so and so’ or ‘I only like the spoken word. Because you don’t know who is going to read before you and after you. It forces you to listen to people and styles of poetry and people with their own backgrounds that you could never have heard, but they were just the next person in line.
40 years ago, it’s fair to say that thousands of writers took the mic at readings sponsored by Moonstone, including South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus, American poet laureates Rita Dove and Daniel Hoffman, Amiri Baraka, Stephen Dunn, Yolanda Wisher (and all the other Philadelphia Poet Laureates). Pete Seeger has appeared twice.
âWhat I found really wonderful about Larry was that he was always up to date with what was going on in the country, not just in Philadelphia,â says Sanchez. âHe always had something to do during the year, and he had enough nerve to call me up and say, ‘Look, I can’t pay you nothing, can I. Can you come and do a panel with me, with a bunch of people, or can you recommend someone or can you bring someone with you? ‘
“And I would say, ‘Well, okay’. It’s my story, certainly from the Dark Arts – we’ve always done things like that, you know, because we thought it was important to bring this information to people, but he did it consistently. , and in the city of Philadelphia. “
For Steptoe, a Vietnam War veteran who has written extensively on this heartbreaking experience, Moonstone is important for “it’s radicalism.”
âUniversities in this area,â he says, offer programs that âare part of the academy and are very conservativeâ.
But âLarry’s celebration of black writing has always been about bringing in more shrill voices that kept the empire’s feet on fire. That’s what separated him from all these other literary things going on around this city. I was booked once in 2014 at Drexel University. And there was a professor over there who said, Lamont Steptoe is a radical. He is an activist. We shouldn’t expose our students.
But Robin’s philosophy, the one that governs all moonstone-related programs – from preschool readings – is that art feeds the brain. It is an essential part of education, regardless of age or institutional affiliation.
âHe was the first to make his bookstore a truly open bookstore for all writers,â Wilner said.
Sanchez, Steptoe, and Wilner will all be attending the Zoom celebration. Sanchez will read on Friday July 23, Steptoe and Wilner on July 24. But it all depends on who shows up. The 25th anniversary 2021 Poetry Ink Anthology, is available online on Moonstone.
Links to the Zoom reading of each evening, as well as a list of all the invited poets, can be found on the Moonstone website, moonstoneartscenter.org.