Did you know that until 1993, women were not permitted to wear pantsuits on the US Senate floor? Also, that it’s illegal to buy a mattress on Sundays in Washington DC? Why this is the caliber of trivia I summoned upon entering our nation’s capitol is unknown to me. Perhaps I didn’t want to be among the masses of folks taking themselves a little too seriously in DC, but I’d also like to think I was reaching. Grasping for something hidden in the thick of the power ties, the luncheon culture, the polic-making rigmarole. Does anyone live in DC who isn’t lobbying for power? I needed to get schooled.
It started by having an Anselm Berrigan reading at the DC Arts Center fall coincidentally into my lap. I virtually ran into him on 18th St. in Adams Morgan in an unwitting way that only a bumbling young person can manage. If I have a bias, suggesting Wave authors are the best around, it’s due in part to my endlessly bumping into them and being greeted with hospitality and warmth. With this as an entry point, I was both surprised and pleased that DC seemed to be leading me to more poetic than political ends.
I was hoping for some travel decompression in the form of both book-browsing and possibly an adult beverage, and for this I was directed post haste to Busboys and Poets just off the U Street Corridor. It was upon giving the shelves a going-over that I realized what being in DC meant about being at an independent bookstore: in a city at the confluence of world politics means a great bookstore must serve cosmopolitan reading interests. From studies on gender and body politics to scarcely-printed poetries of far-off nations, Busboys & Poets had a spread designed to make you jettison the idea that dominant culture is in the hands of the few.One White House sighting, a few galleries, and a Lincoln Memorial later, I hoofed among the busy-bodies over to Georgetown—seeking out the unsuspecting storefront of Bridge Street Books. I recognized some familiar faces from my run-in at Anselm’s reading, among them the seemingly omnipresent Rod Smith. Talk to Rod for a few minutes and you get an idea of his vast knowledge and experience in the industry. Take a look at the bookshelves he curates at Bridge Street and you’ll want to weep, you’ll want to live your life over again in a padlocked room fed only with material selected by his hand, you might just want to get the hell out of there before your head explodes. I chose the first and tried to muffle my sobs. As if the poetry section wasn’t enough to contend with—its dizzying Wave selection, poet after poet both underexposed and prevailing in the canon, editions I’d never thought actually existed in stores—then I had to try to compose myself throughout the rest of the store. It’s a staggering selection, truly, and once you see it you’ll wish every city had a Bridge Street Books.I had one more stop to make before leaving office. Politics and Prose would later be described to me as the place where Matthew Zapruder grew up playing tag with his brother among the stacks (sorry Matthew), and this would make sense as it felt a natural home for Wave to be absorbed into the world. Got caught thumbing the spine of Rodney Koeneke’s Etruria by Mark LaFambroise, who is exactly the kind of paladin of a bookseller you want to talk to on a trip like this. I got to talk with the whole P&P crew in fact—caught up on the industry while they sprang to action around me. The instinct of booksellers, the space they work in, the invested personal histories in that space and in the books they fill it with—it feels like the kind of place that DC would exalt as an institutional stronghold of independent thought. A home really (as illustrated, sorry Matthew) where, for 30 years this autumn, social, educational, and community concerns have guided the endeavor—bringing books to people and people to the best kind of book experience.