From the second you walk in the door, Dogfish feels different than any other poetry night.
That might have something to do with the fact that you’re walking through a proper front door. Dogfish avoids the cramped back-room vibe of many a reading by taking up residence in Jessica Kinnison’s actual St. Roch residence. It feels like walking into a house party because, in most of the ways that matter, it is.
“Jessica bought her house solely because she wanted to host events there,” explained reading series compatriot Cate Root. “She was very influenced by a reading series in Pittsburgh called Gist St. She really liked the homey-ness of it and the community that was built in this non-traditional space that wasn’t a bookstore or a library.”
Since 2015, Kinnison and Dogfish co-founders Alex Jennings, Taylor Murrow and Root have filled the home on a regular basis with featured writers, local fixtures and open mic-ers with the promise of beer, food and a space to share whatever it is you’re proud of that month.
“It’s very important to me that it’s not just another academic space,” Root explained, saying that she and her partners strive to make sure that it’s a space that fosters sharing the process of working on words and creating.
New Orleans can be an insular city as it is, and doubly so for cliques within it. But Dogfish has managed to avoid the trap of turning from an open community of writers into a walled city. Part of this might be due to the sheer openness of Kinnison’s space. The concrete-floored and vault-like home is tailor-made for mingling and passing through before and after the featured sets. But the biggest credit for keeping Dogfish fresh has to go to its organizers, who go out of their way to bring in exciting voices and interesting work that will offer an in to varied residents of the city.
“It’s just a thrill to me to have somewhere to invite people at any time. It’s a way of inviting people in to the world,” Root said. “Without people just showing up, Dogfish is just me and Jessica and Taylor and some friends. That would be a nice night but it’s not magical in the same way that it is to bring in these real forces of nature.”
Root said that one of her biggest joys is how the night has kept from stagnating over the years, regularly bringing new faces into the space and fighting off the creation of yet another small scene.
“I’m excited every time that the emcee asks the audience for a round of applause if it’s their first time at Dogfish,” Root said. “The fact that it’s always a pretty good proportion, a third to a half of the crowd, always makes me feel great.”
Those new audiences are rewarded for coming into the fold with writers who are willing to go out on a limb. Root said that the booking process for the night’s featured speakers happens well in advance and they are careful to not book people who won’t mesh with the spirit of the night. Dogfish tries to encourage people to share work while it’s fresh or to revisit old work that has stirred new passions.
“We don’t really try to have someone who’s just putting in another stop on their book tour,” she said. “We just try to get people when they’re not in full promotions mode, when they still feel very connected with that artist who feels like they’re alone.”
This month’s Dogfish is a healthy mix of old and new New Orleans. The featured speakers for August are lifelong local poet Nordette Adams and NOLA-via-Kenya transplant and 2018 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion FreeQuency. The reading series kicks off on August 16 at 7 p.m. Learn more on Facebook or at Dogfish’s website.