The City Always/Never Changes

  • By Dan Brady
  • August 8, 2022

On those who leave and those who stay.

The City Always/Never Changes

The thing about a city is that it stays. People, administrations, styles, trends, businesses, whole modes of living — they all come and go, but barring anything truly catastrophic, the city remains. The city changes all the time, sure, but the city stays. It’s an anchor, a set thing.

You always hear that DC is a transient city. That’s what people say. Every few years, the city turns over. People move on, and new people move in. I’ve been here for nearly 20 years, and I can see there’s some truth to that. If I think back on my writer friends from the early 2000s, probably about 80 percent have moved away.

When Barrelhouse, the magazine and small press I’ve been editing poetry for since 2005, first started, all the editors lived in the DC area. Now, there’s only a handful; everyone else scattered. The members of my writing group, all of whom gave me invaluable feedback on the poems that became my two books, are all gone.

It’s sad, but I have a lot of good memories. Plus, nowadays, when people move away, you don’t really lose contact. You just lose that everyday shared reality that comes with being in the same place. I guess I shouldn’t say “just.” It’s a big loss.

I moved to the DC area from New Jersey in 2004 to attend grad school at George Mason in their Master of Arts Management program. Coming out of college, I knew I wanted a life in the arts, but with everyone going their separate ways after graduation, how could I find my new community?

It turns out it wasn’t that hard. I found Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Gargoyle pretty quickly. I started going to the In Your Ear reading series. Meeting people was easy. They loved poetry. I loved poetry. Instant friendship.

There’s a benefit to being someone who stays. You start to take the long view. It’s easy to see how an idea or a style started in one group of writers — or even by a single writer — became something bigger to the community. You see the evolution of things. And yes, you see things fade away. But that’s part of life. Call it revision. When you take something out, you open a space for a new iteration, a new twist. That regular refreshing keeps the community going and growing.

I always knew I would stay. Part of what I love is that there’s always so much going on here, and so many different, overlapping poetry scenes. I can have my face melted by some of the hottest spoken-word performers at Busboys and Poets’ open mics. I can find out all that language can do at readings over at Bridge Street Books. I can rub elbows with the highest echelons of contemporary literature at the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library. And I can stay home on a Tuesday night and tune into Readings on the Pike for the most exciting writers in the independent scene.

Or I can maybe pop into DC Writers Salon and let some creativity out. Not to mention the DC Lit Crawl, the Writer’s Center, East City Bookshop, Planet Word, the Inner Loop, Rhizome DC, Conversations & Connections, and everything else. Why would I ever leave?

What I’m most excited about, as one who stays, are those who arrive. People are always arriving, either moving here or growing up and into the world. All the new writers and readers bringing new life, new ideas, even if they’re only passing through, shape our community and our city. I hope they stay. I hope everyone stays.

Those who leave also leave a mark on the community, and the community leaves a mark on them. They come back as heroes when their books come out. And when our books come out, we visit those same writers in their new cites. We continue to exchange work and support each other because we shared something here in this city of ours, at least for a little while.

The city stays and the city stays with you. Always.

[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]

Dan Brady is the author of two chapbooks and the poetry collections Strange Children (2018), Subtexts (2022), and Songs in E——, winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry and forthcoming from Trnsfr Books. He is the longtime poetry editor of Barrelhouse, a literary magazine and small press based in DC. Previously, Dan served as editor of American Poets, the journal of the Academy of American Poets, and worked in the Literature Division at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he received a Distinguished Service Award for his work on the Big Read, the largest community-reading initiative in U.S. history. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife and two kids.

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