Beloved Boulder Poetry Scene community space, Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe, recently announced that they are closing on September 27th after almost 10 years in business, presumably due to the effects of The Pandemic…
One need only look through the comments on their social media this weekend to see how much the bookstore meant to people over the years. It certainly has played a particularly significant part in my life.
I remember sometime in early 2011 driving these college guys in my taxi down 13th St on The Hill and passing the sign for the new Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Cafe.
“Yeah, like that’ll last,” one of the guys said and they both laughed.
As a poet who’d just started going to Innisfree’s brand new weekly open mic started by my friend Troy Suben, I couldn’t help but take it personally. I didn’t say anything to them about it. I just went straight home to write something about how they were complete assholes and read it with gusto at the next mic to a cheering audience as a way to sooth myself.
I realize now how new to the adult world those kids in the cab had actually been, subconsciously reassuring themselves with a pose of certainty in who fails and succeeds. But I took them dead seriously at the time, and for the next few years I took it upon myself to help prove them wrong in whatever way I could.
I was a never-miss regular at the Tuesday open mic, and by the fall of 2011 fell into becoming the backup host, a gig which sometimes lasted for months at a time, first subbing for Troy and then later Forrest Lotterhos all the way up thru 2014. I also attended many of Innisfree’s featured poetry events and organized my own, like MeToo! Nights (all first person, must say “MeToo!” if you relate) and ‘The Death of Taxis & Shit‘ (at which I played Bob Seger songs while dressed like a baby).
I brought the absolute best I had to that stage with chair-standing, costume-wearing, 80’s pop-blaring, fierce-voiced performances (my own reassuring pose), and hoped that I was part of the reason Innisfree was packing the house every Tuesday, and the bookstore seemed to be generally thriving.
In truth, it had almost everything to do with the energy of the owners, Brian and Kate Buckley, who met in a college poetry class back East and in 2010 rolled the dice on their mutual dream to have a poetry-only bookstore like Grolier’s in Boston, which was a meaningful spot for them. It was they who envisioned the welcoming and inclusive community space, with ethically-sourced coffee, a great team of well-trained baristas, and a wide selection of poetry books, (with the odd book of prose or non-fiction here and there.)
While Kate was more behind the scenes, Brian was often involved inside the store, where I got to know him. Look… we talk about how wonderful people are, especially when they pass on (or in this case their business does), but Brian Buckley is one of the best models for how to be a human being that I’ve ever known. Whenever I’ve spoken to him he’s treated me like their most important customer, and I’m not alone in that. He listens to everyone with complete focus and genuine compassion. He’s never shy about showing gratitude, often empathically thanking you for… I dunno, just being there. And he’s also tremendously generous (when I sold my early books there he didn’t even take a cut) and committed to social justice causes, especially with the indigenous community.
Brian’s also obviously a lover of poetry. I remember bringing my college English class there for a field trip one semester. Late local poetry legend Jack Collom was actually supposed to lead a workshop with them, but he had to cancel for health reasons, and Brian stepped in at the last minute to help out. He spoke to the class about his and his wife’s journey in creating the bookstore, and shared with us some of his most cherished poems and even wrote with us. I was particularly moved when Brian told us about his father, a working class Irish man of few words, who rarely expressed emotion except when reading the work of poets such as William Butler Yeats, who’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” a simple but powerful yearning for refuge in ‘the deep heart’s core,” became the store’s eponym.
The poetry-only bookstore, one of just three in the entire country, was that Yeatsian sanctuary for many in Boulder, not just poets but anyone seeking that kind of energy space. General bohemians, college students, activists, meet-up groups, techies, tourists, and more could often be found there.
Even when they had to move from the original location across the street to the Buchanan’s building in early 2016 they didn’t seem to miss a beat, enduring past so many other short-lived Hill establishments. And before you knew it nearly a decade had gone by and Innisfree was still surviving with no end in sight. As of early 2020, if those cab kids from years ago were still in town it seemed like they’d be forced to chow down on a big helping of American Crow.
However… those dudes were broken-clock right about one thing – Nothing lasts.
I don’t know the exact details of Innisfree’s closing. Considering Boulder rent they probably had a small margin of error, and when COVID threw everything into upheaval and the open mics were cancelled and business in general slowed down they just couldn’t weather it. Maybe we could’ve done more to help save them, but it seems like it’s probably no one’s fault. Just time being time, taking things away like it does.
As I approach 40 years old this November, I find myself in a constant low level state of grief for all the things in the first half or so of my life which seemed like they should’ve been more permanent than they were. Those open mic madman performance days are slipping further and further into my past. Innisfree had several different hosts after me, a steady stream of fresh baristas I couldn’t keep up with, and countless new poets replacing countless old poets who’d moved on to other places and pastimes.
Hell, I’m even writing this from hundreds of miles away in Arizona, due to Coronavirus migration, and have never felt more out of the local poetry loop. And even then I hadn’t been motivated to write anything for BPT since another moment of peak grief when Jim ‘The Man of’ Steele died last year.
I’m unable to drop by the bookstore and get a hot chocolate or Martinelli’s apple juice like I typically did. I can’t buy one last book of poetry in person. So all I can do today is think of Brian in those early days pinning up my poem about the young taxi cynics on Innisfree’s bulletin board, saying, “Thank you, Jonathan, thank you.” And me saying “What do you mean? Thank you.” And I think of how eventually it got covered up with other poems and announcements. And how eventually they took that board down all together when they moved locations. And how now that location is no more.
It does sound as if Brian and Kate will still continue selling poetry books online and also host virtual poetry events, and I’m sure the resilient Boulder Poetry Scene will evolve with new spaces and people and technology, but man… is this sad right now.
Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery is the Editor-in-Chief of Boulder Poetry Tribe. You can find more of his work at jonathanbluebirdmontgomery.com