Non-Standard Readings in Non-Standard Places

Gym stores, poetry and Birkenstocks? The UCSD Guardian takes you behind one of the most unusual literary experiences in the heart of North Park.

You are sitting in a darkened room, surrounded by a couple dozen people patiently waiting for the reading to start. Just like you, they are here on this Sunday night to share their thoughts, opinions and feelings, listen to poetry and get inspired. The setting is reminiscent of the literary salons that used to be popular during 17th-century France. But there are no women in intricately decorated court dresses and no men wearing cravats and powdered wigs — instead, the guests are dressed in T-shirts, pants and denim jackets. There are no chandeliers or paintings in gilded frames — all you can see in the room are shelves with magazines, Converses and Birkenstocks. And no, this is not Paris — this is North Park, one of the most vibrant districts of contemporary San Diego.

Like many other North Park-based projects, Non-Standard Lit, a literary soiree series, is a result of brilliant collaboration of the local cordon bleus. Two poets and writers, Adam Stutz and Mark Wallace, come together with Gym Standard, a shoe and magazine store, Elevator Teeth and Digital Gym, a nonprofit theater, to deliver the ultimate literary experience to San Diego residents. In this unique quintet, everyone does their bit: Gym Standard, which often hosts a variety of local events, serves as a space for the readings, while Adam and Mark look for poets and writers to read their work and come up with each Non-Standard Lit’s topic. Justin Fogle, aka Elevator Teeth, prepares posters, and Digital Gym provides chairs to accommodate the 25 to 30 guests.

Thanks to the effective cooperation within this power team, San Diegans get an opportunity to familiarize themselves with both local poets and prose writers and authors from all over the United States. Previously, Non-Standard Lit hosted Hanna Andrews and Eryn Green, both of whom are poets and professors from Denver; Ben Doller, a UCSD professor and author of three poetry books; Rae Armantrout, a Pulitzer Prize winner from San Diego and many other literary artists. All of these authors are performing out-of-pocket to do far-from-standard readings, which allows all literary gatherings to be free and open to the public. Following yet another salon tradition, literary nights at Gym Standard are accompanied by post-reading discussions at Tiger Tiger, a bar located on the next block, since good conversations never take place on an empty stomach and are even better if accompanied by alcohol.

Photo used with permission from Adam Stutz
Photo used with permission from Adam Stutz

This public reading at a shoe store (stock up on your gym sneakers!) may first seem like an avant-garde venue to host a literary recital, but when you have two leading writers in the lineup, you can only expect the event to take off running. This Saturday, Marco Anthony Huerta and Roman Lujan, both acclaimed poets and translators of Latino descent, will be kicking off the fall reading at Non-Standard Lit. If Huerta sounds like a familiar name, it’s because he is a second-year MFA candidate at UCSD’s creative writing department. After “killing his lyrical self,” Huerta’s creative texts are formed on the basis of appropriation: He creates them through Wikipedia pages, books and various source documents, re-inventing the words to find new meaning. Like Huerta, Lujan is a Mexican poet and literary translator based in Southern California. The extensive list of his works, which include two anthologies of Mexican poetry and Twitter posts, written mainly in Spanish, make it obvious that Roman Lujan is devoted to writing in the language of his ancestors, while currently residing in Los Angeles — where he is currently working on his doctorate at UCLA. What language will the poet choose for his Gym Standard recital? Find out on Sunday, Oct. 4, at 5 p.m.!

Non-Standard Lit is a truly exceptional event that can turn your Sunday night into a 21st-century salon experience, all free of charge.

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