Pocket Lab Reading Series at Rogue Buddha

​Tonight, the Pocket Lab is hosting its 12th reading series over at Rogue Buddha Gallery. The event, which brings together local and national writers with a focus on new and experimental work, will host four poets: Emily August, Molly Sutton Kiefer, and Dan Boehl and Chris Tonelli, who are founding editors of poetry publisher Birds, LLC. Not only is the happening a chance to hear some great poetry, but it's also an opportunity to hang out amidst Michael Thomsen's weird carnivalesque art in one of the coolest galleries in northeast Minneapolis.

We recently took a moment to chat via email with MC Hyland, host and founder of Pocket Lab Reading Series. Hyland is a poet, letterpress printer, and bookmaker. She also runs DoubleCross Press, a publisher of chapbooks and broadsides.

How long has Pocket Lab been going on?

The first Pocket Lab reading was in the summer of 2009. My friends Farrah Field and Jared White--both wonderful emerging poets--were coming through town on a reading tour, and asked me where they should read. We decided the most fun thing would be to plan a reading. So, I emailed every poet in town that I knew (which at that point was not very many poets; I'd only lived in the cities for a year), and asked my friend Nick Harper (who runs the Rogue Buddha) if we could use the gallery for the evening. We had so much fun that we decided to keep hosting events, and Pocket Lab was born.
What makes it unique from other events like it?

I think of what I'm doing with Pocket Lab as being very much inspired by Paula Cisewski's Imaginary Press series, which finished up shortly after I moved to Minneapolis (I believe her last reading was in the winter of 2008 or 9?). I try to balance local and out-of-town readers, and the writings I choose tends to skew a bit more toward the experimental end of the spectrum.It tends to be a place for early-career writers, though usually ones who have already shown a real commitment to their craft.

It's mostly poetry, but we're also not afraid to mix it up. We've had playwrights (Kristoffer Diaz and Deborah Stein), fiction writers (John Dermot Woods, Mark Ehling, Joseph Young), and essayists (Jennifer Tatum-Cotamagana and Brian Oliu) read too, and we've even had a performance by singer-songwriter Eliza Blue. I'm interested in building connections between the Minneapolis and the national writing scenes, as well as between simpatico writers in different genres. One thing I'm proud of is the way the series has helped me to find a community here, and how it's become a meeting place for some of the Twin Cities writers that I find inspiring.

I think that one other thing that's special about Pocket Lab is the amount of love that my partner-in-crime Jeff Peterson puts into the amazing fliers he designs for the readings. I feel like seeing what new and beautiful thing he's created always gets me pumped up for the next Pocket Lab.

Is the series connected at all to Rogue Buddha or is that just the space that it takes place?
It's connected to the Rogue Buddha inasmuch as I love that gallery, and Nick, who runs it. He's an incredibly generous force in the Northeast arts scene, and I feel very lucky to get to hear so many writers in his beautiful space.

Two of the readers are from Birds LLC--can you say something about that press?

Birds, LLC is an exciting new poetry press that started publishing books a little over a year ago. They have five editors based in four different cities: Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh, and Austin, TX. They've been getting some real buzz around their books, which are lovingly edited, beautifully designed, and feature the work of some of the best poets of the generation that's currently in their late 20s to late 30s.

Matt Rasmussen, the editor who lives in Minneapolis, is a great local poet and a former Pocket Lab reader. We'd been talking for a while about bringing out some of Birds' poets. Chris Tonelli and Dan Boehl are both editors for Birds and authors whose books have been published by the press. I'm really looking forward to seeing them read. I just finished Dan Boehl's book Kings of the F**king Sea, which follows a narrator who sets out on a pirate ship captained by Jack Spicer and crewed by Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns. It's a dark, but also hilarious book, which contains some beautiful full-color images of art by Boehl's collaborator, artist Jonathan Marshall.

Something I like about the Birds' books is how they're willing to let poetry coexist with more visual forms of expression. Another book of theirs is a collection of poems and comics by poet/comedian/all-around funny lady Sommer Browning.

The Twin Cities have a reputation for being literary.  Do you think that reputation is well earned?

Yes! I think the Twin Cities is an amazing place for writers and artists of all kinds. It's not just the long winters, though I think they may provide a little extra incentive to all of us who do things that involve holing up in our offices/studios/etc., there's a genuine interest in and support for the arts here, financially as well as audience-wise.

As a writer and reader, I find the area to have an embarrassment of riches. I've met so many writers here that knock my socks off. And I love that we have three nationally prominent and long-established small presses (Milkweed, Coffee House, and Graywolf), plus newer ones cropping up all the time. My first book was published by Lowbrow Press, a new local press,  and I know it wouldn't exist now if I didn't live in a place where there was the same kind of literary culture. I met the editor at a reading, and then he read some of my work and invited me to send him a manuscript. Where else would something like that happen?

Do you think readings like this encourage people to read more? Who comes to these things?

I always hope that people will come to Pocket Lab readings because they like Rogue Buddha, and want to see what's happening there. There has been a little bit of overlap with the visual arts community, but I'd say that the majority of our regulars are writers themselves. I feel okay about that; hearing new work by talented writers is what keeps you sharp. I think a lot of the people who come to Pocket Lab readings are looking for something a little weird, and we try to serve up a bit of that every time. 

The Pocket Lab Reading Series is tonight, July 7 at 7 p.m. at Rogue Buddha (357 13th Ave., NE, Minneapolis). And check out the video below of MC Hyland performing: