December 8, 2011

Innisfree Café & Poetry Bookshop: A Piece of Boulder’s Heart.

A young man sits at the front of the café reading a book and sipping tea.

He glances out the window at two girls.

They are laughing, a whoopee cushion in the hands of one, and chatting with two seated boys.

“In 1901,” Maura explains, “Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If she can decide to do that one day then I think I want to become a stand up comedian.” I turn my back and blow up the whoopee cushion. I release it every so slowly while Maura regales the gentlemen with details of Annie’s journey into the barrel and over the rush of water.

We have come to the café not just for folly. We are looking for a poem I heard about written by a local taxi driver. It’s tacked to the community bulletin board. Upon entering, we catch eyes with the young man whose smile says he’s noticed our ploy. I set the whoopee cushion on a stool beside him and lower onto it before introducing myself. He replies in a British accent. He is reading Darwin, admitting to rereading every sentence because of Darwin’s affinity for double negatives. We chat for a bit about his time in Boulder visiting from Wales. He goes to take a phone call outside. I scribble on the back of the whoopee cushion receipt telling him to leave a note for us in an E.E. Cummings book.

After we hop on our bikes and carry on, he asks Brian, the shop owner, to help him locate the right book. Brian notices him slip a note into it.

Two weeks later Brian remarks upon this when I ask him if he met a certain British chap that frequented the shop.

“He flew this morning,” I say. “We made good friends. Maybe I’ll have to go to Wales and Ireland for a short spell of rolling green hills, wild coast, good food and bad weather and more leeks than I’ve ever seen.”

“You’ll have to let me know if you do go,” he says. “I’ll put it in the Innisfree archive.”

Sometimes we meet people that remind us of all the stories we have to tell. And like fire, we begin to burn through what has kept us from sharing them.

It is of no wonder to me that travelers stumble upon Innisfree and choose it to spend their handful of time in. An immediate welcome is felt when ducking in off the street from the day’s routine or a night too cold to stroll. The wooden shelves are full of poems born from many minds and hearts. The staff is happy to be working and ask a genuine “how are you?” I’ve held up the line more than once recounting my entire morning. Taped to the cash register is a money bill with hammerhead sharks instantly making it my favorite foreign currency. On the walls is rotating art made by community members. The atmosphere is vibrant and primed for serendipity.

The shops arrival on the corner of 13th across from the University was solidified in a fleeting moment of choice. Brian and his wife Kate saw the space advertised on Craigslist and shortly after, were off to sign a lease. Their dream was now a budding reality.

“There have been 8 shops in 8 years in this corner. This place is a little haunted.” Brian says.

“It seems ghost friendly.” I reply.

“We hope they stick around and read.”

The idea of opening the 3rd poetry bookshop in the United States came and went for Brian and Kate in the their daily lives. In Brian’s 20th year of teaching he seriously considered the venture.

“These landmarks and numbers make you stop and think do I continue on this path or diverge? The stream was slipping away if we were going to try it. I saw both my parents pass away and it spoke to me about time. All of these mixes of force and we said, “We got to do it.”

I wondered what allowed for the space to serve as a community commons, unique from so many zoned out coffee shops I’d experienced.

“We thought about things that are human sensitive, textually and visually, to make the space special. To the credit of this area there is a lot of creative energy. We opened the door to what people are doing artistically, personally, and politically to support a small shop. One of our top goals is community. We put some forces out from our hearts and people have those forces, too.”

Do not be fooled by the poetry only selection. It is not specifically catered to the already poetry inclined. Anthologies provide a launching pad of beautiful, accessible poems for the weary or novice poetry peruser.

“They are marvelous and crafty, and can be garnered from having never read poetry. My sense is Innisfree doesn’t put on airs. We welcome people from whatever situation they are in. What are you looking for? Where can we guide you? People come in who have lost and pull someone aside and we put books in hands.”

This human approach to business and commerce is what birthed the coffeehouse hundreds of years ago and perhaps, is why it is still a gathering ground today.

People in earlier centuries would huddle around caldrons of brewing coffee over the fireplace then suddenly someone would break out in poem. The coffee shop transformed civilians into preachers, poets and storytellers.

In 17th century England, Charles the second ridiculed the existence of such places. He said, “Coffee shops are where the disaffected meet.” He was threatened by the prospect of civilians gathering and exchanging political news and ideas contrary to government.

If Charles were alive today he would be flabbergasted by the staying power and popularity of the coffee shop. By courtship he would be baffled. “Hey, Charles. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?” He’d be too busy doing his hair anyway.

“People are craving to share.” Brian says. “People are craving to listen. It’s really democratic. There is no set philosophy to the shop. It offers a diversity of readings from many backgrounds. There is a universal opening. There is no higher arching hand picking and sorting.”

The store features a section for local writers. “This town hungers in really beautiful ways for locality. To have a tangible place to tell your friends to see your work is really special.”

Every time I walk past the shop I can’t help, but smile. I wonder how many notes are tucked in books. I wonder whose meeting for the first time and what adventures it will lead to. I wonder how many hearts are being soothed making connections from their footsteps in through the door to the lines in a mug-ringed book.

Sometimes we wake up and decide we will do something great, or special like cannon over a very large waterfall in a barrel. Sometimes we cross paths with someone and its funny, beautiful or of no particular consequence. And sometimes life extends to us an offer of adventure and discovery in a book we never thought to open.

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