Among the number of literary organizations popping up or marching on, few are catering to the digital world so many writers and editors have become accustomed to.
Brooklyn Poets is a nonprofit literary organization celebrating and cultivating the poets, poetry and literary heritage of Brooklyn. With activities like Instagram-based photowalking tours and an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, Brooklyn Poets is one of the few literary nonprofits incorporating social media practice within the larger scope of their more traditional events like poetry workshops, a reading series and a poet’s retreat in the Hamptons. The Yawp, a monthly workshop and open mic, was named “best poetry event in the borough” by Brooklyn Magazine and “one of the most innovative literary events in the city” by Time Out New York.
“I wanted a network that professional poets would want to be a part of,” said Jason Koo, the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets. “Where they would mix with amateurs in the way that professional and amateur photographers mix on Instagram.”
Koo recognized that communities were being constructed through Instagram and aimed to create that same feeling for poets. What initially began as an idea to build a directory of poets writing and living in Brooklyn became a fully-fledged social network where “students” (less experienced poets) could connect with mentor poets.
Rather than have a static list of names and bios, Koo wanted something live and evolving, something that would drive readers to return to the site.
“I saw two main needs based on my own experience and what people would ask me for through Brooklyn Poets,” Koo said. “One, students were looking for mentors to critique their work, but without having to take a workshop or apply to a writing program. There were so many people I met—and still meet—through Brooklyn Poets who expressed this desire to have an established poet they liked critique their work. Maybe just one or two poems—just to know what they thought.”
Additionally, Koo saw that many teaching poets were looking for additional work. There were, and are, many talented poets teaching for very little money at several schools while students are looking for mentors outside of the classroom setting.
“My hope is very simple: that the Bridge connects these groups. The Bridge itself was very complicated to build—but the idea behind it was and remains simple: to connect student and mentor poets.”
A student can browse work by a poet and if they like it, can select that mentor and make contact. Mentor poets can set their own rates for different levels of review: one price for two or three poems, one price for a chapbook, another for a full-length manuscript, and so on. Unlike some MFA programs, students are not locked into working with someone who may not be the best fit for them. For students, there is opportunity to work with a variety of mentors, and for those mentors, there is a place to post workshops and to create even smaller communities of poets within The Bridge.
“Put all those poets together on one networking site and I think we’ll see creativity bloom,” Koo said. “When some of our country’s strongest teaching poets are on there leading by example.”
Within a dwindling job market, Brooklyn Poets is putting emphasis on mentorship and the positive impact it can have on young poets. Likewise, mentor poets benefit not just monetarily, but are able to use their skills and talent in new ways to foster the future of poetry. Where the majority of social media sites are infiltrated by cynicism and superficiality, The Bridge is designed to place value on the written word and to condemn surface dismissiveness.
“My hope is that the Bridge creates a more craft-oriented poetry community that values teaching and mentorship and shows those kinds of things are actually cool and fun,” Koo said. “I’m hoping the Bridge is one social media site that thrives on craft and attention and care and community.”
Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, and The Rumpus, among many other publications. She is a columnist for pioneertown and Entropy; a contributor to American Microreviews & Interviews, The Conversant, and The Angle; and the co-editor of HOUND. She received her MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newcity has named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.