A man in a ski cap, jeans and ratty Adidas shoes slung his backpack higher on his back and walked into Atticus Bookstore and Cafe. Finding an open spot on the floor, he rang a bell and began a poem of his own invention.
“People of Atticus, I hope I will not offend when I say, ‘I don’t like poetry, I’m here for the free bread,’ ” he said.
April is National Poetry Month, and Atticus celebrated each Friday by offering a free loaf of bread to anyone who read a poem, giving away an estimated 100 to 200 loaves each week this past month. As part of the promotion, Atticus also brought in the Connecticut Slam Poetry Team for a performance on April 20 and staged a poetry reading with local writers on April 27.
Each Friday in April at 8 a.m., an Atticus staff member set up a podium near the counter, by one of the doors. Prospective poetry readers rang a bell on the podium to draw the customers’ attention and recited either an original poem or a selection from another poet.
People trickled in throughout the day last Friday to read poems by a variety of poets, from Ogden Nash to Shel Silverstein to Joyce Kilmer. The readers represented a diverse slice of the New Haven population, including elderly couples, high school students and families.
“We’ve had all different types of people, even little girls reading Robert Frost,” said Jill Powers, assistant to Atticus’ vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve had a lot of local New Haven poets and patrons who noticed it and got up to recite.”
Some people came to Atticus specifically for the promotion, while others stumbled onto it when they stepped into the cafe.
Robin Rotman LAW ’09, who came every week with two of her friends, learned of the promotion on the Internet. Conversely, two middle-aged women heard someone else recite a poem and then went up to read their own while waiting for their meal.
For one reader, the final poetry Friday coincided with his once-a-month visit to Atticus.
“I noticed that [some] girls got free bread, and I wanted bread, too,” said Ted Maturo, a student at the University of Connecticut. “I’m in a poetry class, so I figured, ‘Why not go for it?’”
He read Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” just before leaving the cafe.
Several patrons agreed that reading poetry was a nice change of pace. A group of semi-strangers dragged chairs around a table near the podium at 8 p.m., and, loaves in hand, read poetry to each other.
“I get caught up in work, and I always want to do poetry, slow things down,” said Dean Checkai, a visitor from Austin, Texas.
This is not the first time Atticus has offered free loaves of bread as part of a promotion. In November, they ran a similar promotion, giving a loaf to each patron who could prove with a sticker from a polling place that they had voted. Staff member Nick Civitello said Atticus hopes to celebrate National Poetry Month again next year, but in a different way.