Local Spotlight: Pittsburgh’s Long-Running Poetry Reading Series Turns 42

Group photo from Madwomen in the Attic

Back row L-R: Doralee Brooks, Lori Wilson, Anne Rashid, Lisa Alexander & Kara Knickerbocker Front row L-R: Sarah Williams-Devereux, Susan Sailer, Jan Beatty, Jimmy Cvetic & Joan Bauer Photo Credit: Don Staricka

By Jason Peck and Mike Good

Over the years, the Hemingway’s Summer Poetry Series has played host for many of Pittsburgh’s literary luminaries in addition to countless up and coming writers. Writers like Jan Beatty (just last week, in fact) have read there. Joy Katz read there, and so too did Terrance Hayes. Also, Robert Gibb and Richard St. John. Ed Ochester.

The list goes on.

The movers and shakers behind every Pittsburgh writing group, community workshop, and the heads of Pittsburgh literary magazines seem to come and go. Yet, the quiet, unsung heroes—the organizers Jimmy Cvetic and Joan Bauer—continue to excel at finding writers and offering a welcoming space, and so, the Hemingway’s Summer Poetry Series churns on. The reading series has been consistently bringing writers and audiences together in the backroom of Hemingways in Oakland, every Tuesday evening since 1975. May 2 marked the first reading of 2017.

Since 2011, the readings have been recorded and archived by Don Staricka who created a blog for the series, www.hemingwayspoetryseries.blogspot.com, but nothing can quite capture the contributions the series has made to Pittsburgh’s local literary scene. With an unassuming setting, readings quietly occur in the backroom of a bar where the smell of fried food wafts in the air, and the shot pitchers are $5 apiece and college kids come and go. Perhaps, it is not the first place one would suspect poetry to be read.

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According to local poet and a frequent reader at the Hemingway’s reading series, Kris Collins, “The thing about the Hemingway’s series is that it has provided a model for all the rest of us who have created reading series in Pittsburgh.”

Collins continued, “Jimmy and Joan gave us all a model that encouraged a level playing field. Every season they bring together an amazingly varied mix of writers – academic and street level, teachers and students, old and young – and give them the same respect and attention.”

According to Bauer, the series originated from a gap in the University of Pittsburgh’s poetry schedule. While the university ran their own poetry series from fall through spring, a neutral party was needed to foster an independent reading during the summer. Enter Cvetic, who until nine years ago, maintained the series single-handedly while holding down a job as a county police detective.

“The series has continued because Jimmy stayed committed to it, all these years,” Bauer says. “He lives and breathes poetry.”

Each reading features a cross-section of the local lit scene. Groups such as Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange, Pittsburgh Poetry Society and Carlow’s Madwomen in the Attic can often be found there, to name a few. But the organizers pride themselves on spotting the rising talent and giving them a voice, and many aspiring poet have cut their teeth during the open mic that follows.

“Jimmy always said that Hemingway’s about inclusion, not exclusion,” Bauer says.

Tonight, May 22, 2017, Don Krieger, also a member of the Hour After Happy Hour will read with the Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange.

On May 2, we got to hear Lisa Alexander read a poem from Issue 6, “Over the Route 28 Guardrail Toward the Train Tracks“. Go Lisa!

We are so excited to share Joan Bauer’s haunting elegy, “On His Dresser” in the latest edition.

We salute the organizers and look forward to a fantastic summer of literature. Follow the blog and check out the audio archives.


Jason Peck edits fiction for the After Happy Hour Review.

Mike Good edits poetry for the After Happy Hour Review.

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