On a road trip about a decade ago, my spouse and I pulled our rental car over just south of Kerby, Oregon, along the Redwood Highway. We made a U-turn. Nobody spoke for a few minutes, as we made our way back.
"What the heck is a burl?"
"I'm not sure."
We pulled into the gravel parking lot, already crowded with a bus and a dozen other cars, to park across from the yellow sign that had caught our attention: YES…IT'S A BURL! Indeed that turned out to be true. Pretty much everything in this bizarre little store called It's a Burl was, or had been, a burl.
See, a burl is a weird outgrowth on a tree, a bulbous or knotty place where the tree grows against its own grain. Burls are highly sought after (I read in Wikipedia) by woodcarvers and furniture makers, for their peculiar characteristics, their beauty, and rarity. They are supposedly best suited to hand carving, because machine work is difficult, thanks to the way the grain is twisted and interlocked.
< This is a burl.
That was a good trip. We didn't buy anything, but we saw a bunch of funky stuff. Stuff that the woodworker owner had created with some mystical burl-transforming eye he'd cultivated, or been born with. Oddly winding torsos and elvish faces. Chairs with so many legs they were sort of creepy. Mirrors, bowls, dolphins, owls, benches, boxes, mermaids, pipes. All handmade, and unlikely to resemble anything anywhere else.
< This is Berl's.
I don't know the story behind the name of Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop. Presumably it has nothing to do with odd knobby wood. As the name does suggest, Berl's is a bookstore in Brooklyn. It's owned by poets Farrah Field and Jared White, who have probably been asked at least fourteen times if it's 'really a smart idea to open a niche bookstore, because, you know, Borders died.' (See the interviews with them in Publishers Weekly and Brooklyn Magazine.)
But Berl's is not a typical bookstore. It's a weird outgrowth. The handmade and micropress poetry you'll find there is not likely to be found (all in one place, anyway) elsewhere. At Berl's each object is prized for its peculiar characteristics, its beauty, its rarity. The chapbook, which most bookstores won't even stock, gets face-out digs along spacious display shelves. The tiny-press poetry collection gets a handmade stand on a table. It's a gallery, a chapel, an experience. Nobody at Berl's cares about Nielsen BookScan or UPC codes or how big your print run is. At Berl's poetry is all.
Farrah and Jared started Berl's as a pop-up, at the Brooklyn Flea, but always thought maybe someday they'd move into a permanent space. And now they have. How lucky is Brooklyn?
Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop
126A Front Street
DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY 11201
They're throwing a GRAND OPENING shindig on Saturday, November 2, with readings by Latasha N Nevada Diggs, Julian Brolaski, Idra Novey, Alex Dimitrov, Timothy Donnelly, Sampson Starkweater, Christian Hawkey, Joanna Fuhrman, Dan Magers, Stacy Szymaszek..and so many more. It's a day-into-night kinda thing, from 3 PM on. Here are the full details.
If you can't wait that long, I totally get it. I'm going tomorrow. Please come out, say hi, take in the wonder that is Berl's. It's like poetry heaven, except nobody has to die.
< Bloof at Berl's: Wednesday October 23 at 7:00
Also coming up at Berl's!
- October 24, 2013 Poor Claudia night with Andrew Durbin, Travis Meyer, Emmalea Russo, and Lucy Ives, 7 pm
- October 25, 2013 The Bratty Poets Series with Arielle Greenberg, B.C. Edwards, and Lauren Hunter, 7 pm
- October 27, 2013 Reading with Stephanie Anderson and Zach Barocas, 5:30 pm
- October 31, 2013 Spookiest Bummer Reading with Ian Dreiblatt, Anna Gurton-Wachter, Geoffrey Olsen, Chana Porter, Nicholas DeBoer, and Jamie Townsend, 7 pm