As a child, Larry Robin hated poetry. He even dumped ginger ale on his stepfather’s typewriter. But eventually among the rows of bookshelves in his grandfather’s bookstore, Robin’s Books, his love for language emerged.
After taking over Robin’s Books for more than 20 years, Robin founded the Moonstone Arts Center in 1981. Since its inception, Moonstone has created educational art programs for adults and youth, hosted poetry readings and brought together a community of local writers, poets and activists.
Now, the 73-year-old “book addict” will see his five-year collaborative project, the Philly Loves Poetry Festival, debut next month. The festival will coincide with Poetry Ink’s 20th anniversary from April 14-17.
Workshops will be held at three different locations: Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, Brandywine Workshop and Art Sanctuary. Tickets range from $7.50-15 depending on the day, but some events are free and only require RSVPs.
“Our intent is to bring people together in such a way so that they hear an array of work,” Robin said.
The poetry community in Philadelphia, he added, is too spread out and separate from one another. There are more than 70 poetry organizations in Philadelphia, Robin said, but most of them “don’t know each other.”
Through Moonstone’s annual poetry reading series, Poetry Ink, Robin has been able to bring people together to “hear each other.” Now, his goal is to host an event that creates the “enthusiasm and connection” he feels is missing in Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia is such an interesting place,” Robin said. “We don’t show respect to our own and we have incredibly talented people who live here and they have to go to New York or Paris to get recognized.”
Robin, however, has worked to celebrate those poets. One of Moonstone’s first programs was a Celebration of Black Writing. Moonstone collaborator and personal friend of Robin, Lamont Steptoe, said the Celebration of Black Writers was the sole commercial event that honored black writers in the 1980s.
“Larry has always had progressive politics,” Steptoe, a radio, TV and film alumnus said. “Other programs weren’t progressive enough, so Larry just began to build something else.”
The first day of the festival will be devoted to female poets. Another day will showcase only readings from Sonia Sanchez, a previous Philadelphia poet laureate. There will also be panels and opportunities for student poets to participate in readings.
Eleanor Wilner, a poet and former associate professor at Temple’s Japan campus, said what will make Philly Loves Poetry different from other poetry festivals “is what has always been different about Moonstone.”
“Moonstone is without borders,” Wilner said. “It breaks down the separatism and false borders that divide us.”
Moonstone and Philly Loves Poetry is a collaborative project, Robin said. The festival will bring together more than 70 poetry organizations.
“It really kind of annoys me when people say, ‘Oh, I did this all myself,’” Robin said. “No one ever really does things by themselves.”
And Robin has never been “by himself” in the literary community. Through Moonstone’s programs, Robin and his collaborators have been able to reach an estimated 3,000 people per year, he said.
By 2020, Robin hopes to host hundreds of city-wide poetry events throughout April, which is National Poetry Month.
“I love good writing … and what poetry does is condense,” Robin said. “So, a good poem is like taking a good novel and reducing it to 10 stanzas. The trick is a good writer makes you feel something … and that’s what poetry can do.”
Jenny Kerrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.