Syllable: A Monthly Night Of Words And Music At Little River Restoratives

Marshall Mallicoat, like Wallace Stevens, works at an insurance company in Hartford by day and writes poetry in his spare time. On a recent Sunday evening, he reads some of his poems to an engrossed, audience of about 60 people at a darkened, small tavern in Hartford:

Forgive my absence at this tardy dawn.

I've gone to trawl the wrack for cast-off things:

old televisions sets like ersatz gravestones

before a curbside Christmas tree turned brown,

the promise of its sobriquet now broken

(that is to say, ever green).

Along the fenced-in lot someone has strewn

a few loose teeth, as if to grow bone trees.

Beneath this shade I stop to gaze upon

an ill-kept street corner memorial

with plastic flowers, empty liquor bottles —

the rain-soaked portrait now illegible

like the inscription on a Roman tomb

rubbed bare by countless cursory impressions."

The audience claps and hoots their approval. One or two snap their fingers like beatniks. Behind the bar, a bartender mixes drinks with nary an ice-cube rattle.

Mallicoat is followed by a reading by Sonya Huber, a Fairfield University professor whose essays reflect her battles with chronic pain. Up next is Kem Joy Ukwu, a fiction writer whose narratives focus on flawed relationships. Singer-songwriter Lauren Bolstridge concludes the evening.

This night of words and music is the latest installment of the literary reading series syllable,which begins at 7 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month at Little River Restoratives, at 405 Capitol Ave. in Hartford.

The series puts writers of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, as well as musicians in front of a respectful, appreciative and sometimes sassy audience.

"We encourage people to engage with the writers and be supportive but fun," says poet Brett Maddux, also the host of the evening. "It's a bar, not a library. We can make noise here."

Founded 2011

Syllable was founded in 2011 by Julia Pistell, who at the time was in charge of writing programs at Mark Twain House & Museum. It began in the same location, when 405 Capitol Ave. was La Paloma Sabanera. That coffeehouse, a hub of literary and artistic activity in the city, closed in 2013. Then syllable moved to Hartford Prints! on Pratt Street, where events happened every three months.

This year, Pistell brought in Maddux and fiction writer Melanie Pappadis Faranello to help her run the event. Syllable resumed on a monthly basis and returned to its birthplace, now Little River Restoratives.

The series started out small at La Paloma and keeps growing. Pistell is both nostalgic for the old days and excited about the future.

"Growth and change are important and I'm very happy with how much people love it," she says. "I both miss the tiny, inclusive version of syllable that existed with people holding big mugs of coffee, and I'm overjoyed that so many people are discovering it for the first time in its new form."

Maddux, whose day job is a special assistant to Sen. Chris Murphy, published the poem collection "Regent" last year. A transplant from Iowa, Maddux has embraced the bookish vibe of the Insurance City.

"Hartford has such a history of writers, Twain, Stevens, such a rich literary history," he says. "It's good that we're doing something consistent to show off people who are currently doing interesting things."

This night, Maddux keeps the mood in the bar light: jeans and a T-shirt, standing on a chair to get people's attention, dropping a half-dozen f-bombs. Ukwu shares in the relaxed feel, holding a "Well-Read Black Girl" tote bag throughout her reading and sharing personal fears and anecdotes.

"I think it was wonderful," says Ukwu, who is from New Jersey. "It's important for spaces to offer opportunities for artists to show their work and for people to commune and talk together."

Little River usually is closed on Sundays, but co-owner Chris Parrott opens for syllable. "Brett Maddux had a book release party here and I loved the crowd and the connection to that community," he says.

"There should be more occasions for people to artistically enjoy and creatively think," says Thien Nguyen of Hartford. "And it's nice to relax and wind down on a Sunday night."

December Event

December's syllable event will be Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at Little River. The readers will be poet-songwriter Susanna Rich; journalist Rand Richards Cooper; essayist Yelizaveta P. Renfro; nonfiction writer Danusha Goska; and essayist Christine Kalafus. The readers will read their own work and also will read from "Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents," an anthology of memoirs, essays and poetry by 65 first-generation Americans.

Syllable accepts submissions of short stories, novel excerpts, essays, poems, comedic writing, genre fiction and other literary forms at No reading can last longer than 10 minutes. Three or more writers are selected for each reading. In the subject line of the email, list your name and the title of the piece. In the body of the email, briefly explain who you are and why you'd like to read. Put the submission in the body of the email or attach a document. Both published and nonpublished pieces are permitted. If the piece has been published, indicate so in the email. Details:

More Reading Series 

The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, a summertime tradition at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, is the region's most famous literary reading series. But where can lovers of poetry and prose read aloud go during the spring, fall and winter? In addition to syllable, held the first Sunday of each month at Little River Restoratives in Hartford, here are some others:

The Charter Oak Readings at Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave. in Hartford. At the next gathering, on Dec. 3 at 3 p.m., poets Julie Choffel and Sarah Nichols will read. An open mike will precede their presentations. Free.

Connecticut Poetry Society, Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., holds events from September to June. At the next event, on Jan. 27 at 10:15 a.m., the poetry of Gertrude Stein is the focus. Free.

Tell Me Another: Gifts, at which storytellers will share their stories about gifts, will be at Hartford Flavor Company, 30 Arbor St. in Hartford, on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. $20.

The Roar Reading Series happens the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Storrs Center at University of Connecticut. The next event, on Dec. 4, will host short story writer Aaron Tillman, essayist Christine Kalafus and writer Edmond Chibeau. Free.

The Mishi-Maya-Gat Spoken Word & Music Series, which will resume in March, is held at Manchester Community College's MCC on Main Art Gallery, 903 Main St. All events are from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Free.

The Wintonbury Poetry Series, which includes an open mic, is the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. from October to April at Wintonbury Library, 1015 Blue Hills Ave. in Bloomfield. On Dec. 21, it will host David Mello and June Sidran Mandelkern. Free.

Institute Library, 847 Chapel St. in New Haven, holds readings on the third Thursday of each month from The Poetry Institute. Includes open mic. The next event is Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. The Institute Library also features a "Listen Here" series at which classic short stories are read live by actors from New Haven Theater Company. $5 for each event.

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