Panoply Books in Lambertville is the kind of shop that all book lovers hope to find while wandering in a picturesque river town on a warm summer afternoon in New Jersey.
The shop on Union Street smells of old books and — as its name implies — seems to be overflowing with art books, first editions, and ephemera to catch the eye, including a casually placed vintage 1950s-era copy of Paris Review touting an interview with Norman Mailer on its cover.
Panoply is run by Roland Boehm, whose style and approach are noted on the store’s website (www.panoplybooks.com): “Panoply is not a typical bookstore either in content or design. We have created an atmosphere conducive to exploration and discovery. Books are seamlessly integrated side by side with decorative art forms, both as objects and as a source of inspiration. We are tireless at searching for rare books, specialty items, and unique materials we know our customers will enjoy.”
The store is also interested in those who write, and Boehm hosts poetry readings from time to time. The next one is the initiation of the Panoply Books Poetry Festival set for Saturday, September 12, at 6 p.m., in the small yard adjacent to the bookstore.
Boehm has the distracted manner of someone whose head is always in a book, or perhaps in thought about shipping one. He calls the poetry reading series that has inhabited his shop since 2010 “a labor of love,” then recites a mordant joke about how instead of advertising a poetry festival that serves wine and cheese refreshments, it should advertise “free wine and cheese” to the public, and then hold a poetry festival.
So maybe it’s a good thing that Vasiliki Katsarou is at hand. She is a New Jersey poet who grew up in Massachusetts in a Greek household — both parents were born there. Her 2011 book, “Memento Tsunami” — a collection of poems she says “reflects a nostalgia for origins as well as a 21st-century visionary impulse to reconcile disparate worlds” — is full of references to her Greek heritage. “It kind of works its way into my poems,” she says. “We usually go every summer to visit aunts, uncles and cousins.” Her late father was an engineer and her mother was a homemaker and seamstress.
Yet there is more, including her New England education at Harvard and Boston University and her time in France, studying at the Sorbonne and working in cinema, an interest touched on in her poem “Cineutopia” (also her E-mail name).
In addition to “Memento Tsunami,” her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, wicked alice, Press 1, and U.S. 1 Worksheets. She is also a Geraldine R. Dodge Poet in the Schools in New Jersey and was recently appointed communications strategist for the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University.
She and her husband, Anthony Lutkus — the international sales and marketing director for Penguin Random House and the designer of her “Memento Tsunami” — live in Annandale, Hunterdon County, with their son, Paul.
“Initially my connection was to Princeton and the US 1 poets,” she says. Lambertville was a discovery. “We were drawn to it like a magnet,” she says.
Katsarou says elsewhere that the origins of the Panoply reading series developed through artistic and personal connections: “Boehm was a friend of a friend. At the time of the very first reading, I was working with Ragged Sky Press of Princeton, and looking for a venue to launch a book by a poet I’d edited from San Francisco. When that reading went well, I decided to organize another, and Rollie [Boehm] was generous enough to agree.”
The bookstore series has included former New Jersey poet laureate Gerald Stern, poet and professor of English & Creative Writing at Princeton University James Richardson, the New Jersey-based International Book Award for Poetry recipient and author of 23 books Adele Keeny, Geraldine R. Dodge poet B.J. Ward, and others.
About this new event, Katsarou says, “This is the first time we’ve had a poetry festival at Panoply. There will be 20 poets and some of them will be audience members who have come frequently to our readings. It’s being called informally ‘The Love Reading’ and the poems they will be reading are about love.”
The list of poets for September 12 reflects Katsarou’s observation that “there are many, many poets in this area. It’s a beautiful area, an inspiring area to live in and work in. There’s a deep well to draw from.” That includes Joanne Leva, executive director of the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, poet laureate program; Michelle Greco, also a photographer, educator and blogger; poet and editor Paul Nash; Denise LaNeve, co-founder of the North Jersey Literary Society; Hayden Saunier, an actor and the 1991 Bucks County poet laureate; Sandra Becker, current Bucks County poet laureate; North Jersey poet James Keane; Cool Women poet Juditha Dowd; and others. The format will be free form, with each poet reading one poem, followed by a reception.
Katsarou’s path to becoming a poet is a familiar one. “I probably started in grade school,” she says. “I wrote poems in my 20s and probably just kept them in a drawer.” She became fluent in French while in grade school and began polishing her work while in Paris. “It gave me an identity as an outsider because I was not part of that culture, she says.
At that time she began reading Marcel Proust’s works and began to appreciate “how far you can push language to express what you want to express,” she says.
About her film work, she says it is “mostly documentaries. I worked on one or two feature films that were shot in France and Greece.” She adds that “Fruitlands 1843” is a film that was “shown at various film festivals.” It is about the life of Bronson Alcott, the father of Lousia May Alcott and the creator of a short-lived utopian school outside of Boston called Fruitlands.
“Most of what I’ve done is related to writing and poetry,” Katsarou says. “I’ve worked for Ragged Sky Press,” the Princeton publisher of “Memento Tsunami” and a book due to be published by the end of November, “Dark as a Hazel Eye: Coffee and Chocolate Poems,” which she co-edited and contributed to, joining a list of other poets who read at Panoply. The long list of contributors includes many poets familiar to attendees at readings by US1 Poets.
The new book’s title is from a quotation by the 19th century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher: “A cup of coffee — real coffee — home-browned, home ground, home made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the Java: such a cup of coffee is a match for twenty blue devils and will exorcise them all.”
The connection again is personal — with fellow New Englander Beecher reflecting Katsarou’s inspirations, which she says includes “the beauty and complexity of Proust and Henry James; the twisted idealism of New England Transcendentalists like Thoreau, Alcott and Emerson; and the testimony about ‘Greekness’ from poet George Seferis, these all inspired me to write these poems.”
Panoply Books Poetry Festival, Saturday, September 12, 6 p.m., 46 North Union Street, Lambertville. Free, call 609-397-1145 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.