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An audience member applauds a performer at the first poetry jam event at Kate’s Cheese Co. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

Greenport’s artistic community has a new outlet with a poetry series that kicked off late last month at Kate’s Cheese Co. The emphasis is on building that community.

The three-hour Poetry Jam Summer Series welcomed guests from all walks of life to enter the shop for wine from Macari Vineyards, jams from Eat This Yum — hence the Poetry “Jam” — and an assortment of cheeses from owner Kate McDowell’s shop.

The idea for the event started over a year ago, when Dave Berson, a sailor known locally as “Captain Dave,” discussed with Greenport photographer Estefany Molina the village’s need for a safe space where artists could tell their stories. Ms. Molina, a poet herself, had been thinking about this for some time. After a previous series of poetry events ended at Poquatuk Hall in Orient, she began creating the event held last month.

The 28-year-old secured a sponsorship from Macari Vineyards and made the connection for the venue with Ms. McDowell, her former employer. Ms. Molina’s Greenport Gazette Instagram account, which compiles anonymous quotes overhead throughout the North Fork, was listed as the host of the event.

“I wanted to help bring other voices to the table,” Ms. Molina said. “One big question that I grapple with in my head — there’s this big question of what it means to be local out here and I feel like that’s changing so much.”

Verona Peñalba reads a poem at the event. It was her first time reading poetry for an audience. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

Ms. Molina hopes the events create a sense of community among the artists and the others who attend. The inaugural lineup featured poets Lucas Hunt, Yvonne Melania Lieblein, Billy Hands, Verona Peñalba and Mr. Berson.

Ms. Peñalba, a five-year village resident and painter, said she was nervous having never read her work to an audience.

“I felt the ambience was very inviting and relaxing,” she said. “I didn’t feel judged; it’s not a prize or who’s the best, it’s just sharing and connecting and being intimate with the people [who] were there, so I think it accomplished that feeling and it was very comfortable.”

Mr. Berson, a professional writer who played a number of folk songs at the event, said the poets of the night should be recognized for their courage.

“[None of us] write as an exclusive profession anymore,” he said. “We all have other irons in the fire … Billy Hands is an ace mechanic [at Orient Service Center]. Yvonne runs her family business [at Port of Egypt]. Everybody’s got other irons in the fire, but we all make the effort, in the constraints of our crazy days, to try to be creative.”

The event featured cheese, jams and wine from Macari Vineyards. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

Ms. McDowell, who used to run Kate’s One Hour Photo in the building, said the space has always been a cultural center for creative people. She hopes to keep that going with events like this at the cheese shop.

“I think there’s a lot of talent on the East End and it really lends itself well to poetry,” she said. “What I understand from speaking to the poets is there’s not really a venue out there for them to share their work.”

That changed with the first poetry jam, as the poets felt themselves connecting with the audience.

Mr. Hands said he realized this when at one point — during a piece he read about Vietnam — an audience member briefly interrupted him to put an end to background noise that was making it difficult to hear.

“I was like, ‘Holy cow, this cat’s actually listening to me, he’s caught on every word,’” Mr. Hands said.

The poets will be back for a second evening of readings on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. at Kate’s Cheese Co. Ms. McDowell said she will be promoting local marmalade and honey at the event.

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