Connecting the Community Through Independent Bookstores
by Aleathia Drehmer
The first year of the pandemic was a year of self-discovery. Introversion had been a way of life for me and in my naivete I thought a shutdown would be right up my alley of comfort, but what it showed me was that I loved people more than I had imagined. It showed me just how many places I went in a day and the interactions that I fostered.
It had been11 years since my last book of poetry was published in 2010, so when Looking for Wild Things (Impspired, 2021) arrived on my doorstep, I was ecstatic. The feeling of holding a book in your hands with your name on it never gets old. It’s a summation of hard work and burgeoning hope that the poems inside might touch a reader. I’m not the best at upselling myself or my craft and I don’t believe in convincing someone they need to read my poems. People should want to read them on their own. My desire, whether I know the outcome, is to have changed the way one person looks at the world after reading one of my poems. The change doesn’t have to be life altering and can be tiny and personal. This makes me feel like I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
In all my years of writing, I’ve never had a local place that would display my books for purchase. Finding myself on the shelves of a bookstore has been on my writer’s bucket list for a long time. I could place a big check mark next to that box when Card Carrying Bookstore and Gifts in Corning, NY gave my book a chance. In a generation full of online shopping, audiobooks, and big box bookstores, it is the independent bookstores that are leading the charge against the disappearance of the book. In Corning, Card Carrying (as the locals call it) has created a safe space in this community for feminism, body positivity, LGBTQ+, and youth.
The store opened a few years ago with titles big on feminism, with an extensive selection of non-fiction and a handful of fiction. Standing in that store for the first time overwhelmed me. I felt uneducated and as if I were an imposter to my gender. The staff has always been open and eager to give direction, but it wasn’t until they added Bethany Hammond that the store really came alive. I grew up in a house where my voice didn’t count for much—a voice that never spoke out against infractions against me or in service of my safety. I was instantly in awe and appreciation of Bethany and her ability to be open and positive and vocal about what matters in this world.
Bethany draws you in with her excitement for reading and her expressive love of books, and let’s not forget the best array of funky glasses you’ve ever seen. She continually tries to connect with the members of our community through books and is always ready to dive into any topic or give a book recommendation.
Card Carrying has become one of my favorite day-off destinations as the shelves have grown to include the best that fiction offers, including a large section of Young Adult and children’s books. There is still an amazing non-fiction section filled with books on gender equality, feminism, body positivity, activism, LGBTQ+, and books filled with positive political messages. There are book clubs for adults and teens which help to sustain community involvement and teach kids the value of books and discussion. They are building a new vision for our community that will strengthen us.
When I mentioned to Bethany that my first book of poetry in 11 years was going to be published at the end of 2021, she immediately said the bookstore would buy copies to sell. I left the store that day feeling overwhelmed with joy that someone would take a chance on me based on my character alone. Before Christmas that year, they gave me a feature reading (their first for poetry) in the store. Because of the pandemic, the showing was smaller but perfect for me as it has been a long time since I read publicly. This small event could help set the stage for more poetry events to happen in Corning.
In March this year, my second book of poetry, Running Red Lights (Gutter Snob Books, 2022) was released and, again, they agreed to sell my book in the store. We discussed another feature reading, but we landed on hosting a poetry open mic to get the community involved in National Poetry Month.
On April 28th, Card Carrying Books will hold its first ever poetry open mic and they asked me to act as the MC of this event, which will be a first ever for me, as well. I’m excited to see who turns up to read and what the people of this community have to say. If you would like to sign up for this one poem per person reading, you can fill out this form here. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what type of poetry you create, but be mindful that hate speech of any kind is not tolerated inside this store. It is a safe space and always has been.
For this event, Bethany has ordered an array of poetry with an emphasis on feminist poets that will be available to purchase alongside both of my books. Please come enjoy some poetry and share your work with us. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project, hoping that it will spawn more like it in the future.
Without the above mentioned event happening you would not be reading any of the articles that have been featured on the Southern Tier Life website, as the editor found me only after Card Carrying posted about the open mic event. I can’t stress enough, the power connecting with your community and the people in it can have over the direction of your life.
Before I end, I will leave you with a poem from Running Red Lights (Gutter Snob Books, 2022):
Staring down a white-tailed doe
Small town factories put the hard line
on faces. All of them in a vertical destruction of youth, skin hanging there like a wrinkle in time.
Generations pulling long hours
sucking in black death,
It is all tattooed on the inside of lungs,
painted over eyes, along the jaw
clenched unknowingly in earned pain.
The subconscious is the only faction
aware that there were once dreams
of something more than making rent and car payments,
of cigarettes and six packs
Support your local independent bookstores and continue to keep alive the art of paper books. Join me next week for my final article where I talk about my micro zine project Durable Goods and how I resurrected the zine out of retirement to foster poetry for troubled youth.
About the author
Aleathia Drehmer lives in Corning. She will share her thoughts on the art of poetry throughout April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Learn more about her at www.aleathiadrehmer.com.