Bringing Back the 'Inner Spirit': BPC's Poets House Reemerges from Calamity

The Cornelius Eady Group plays in the reading room during the reopening celebration on Jan. 27. Eady, center, a poet, playwright and songwriter, served as the Poets House interim executive director during the building's reconstruction and its remote programming. Performing with him in the trio are Lisa Liu and Charlie Rauh. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 29, 2024

Poets House is back, and then some.

Ravaged by a flood in August, 2021 and closed even longer since the pandemic, the rebuilt literary refuge and Battery Park City home to more than 80,000 volumes of poetry sprung back to life on Saturday, Jan. 27 with a festive reopening party and ribbon cutting. 

“Think about that number 80,000 for a second,” Rob Arnold, Poets House’s executive director, told the crowd gathered for the celebration. “That’s 80,000 points of view, 80,000 new ways to tell one’s stories, 80,000 moments of time, of emotional truth and clarity.

“Eighty thousand distillations of our shared humanity,” he added.

The 10,000-square-foot building housing those volumes now has more to offer than ever. Made possible through a capital campaign and grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, the two-floor Poets House boasts 40 percent more shelving as well as a new reading room, and a special collections center that makes rare books and materials available for the first time.

In addition, the tiled ceilings, including a drop ceiling above the lobby, were opened and reimagined to minimize the possibility of water pooling above them as well as making recurring leaks visible. 

The popular main reading room overlooking Rockefeller Park, with its long tables and comfortable chairs, was barely affected by the flood and is largely unchanged.

“When we were brought in, the scope of the work was mostly about repairing the building,” said Eirini Tsachrelia, the project’s architect. “The focus was, lets repair and do small things to bring this space back. So when the New York State Council on the Arts funding and other financial support came in, this turned into a real project for us, where we could actually propose to make such large interventions, like on the ceilings.”

Architecturally, she added, she was determined to give “this inner landscape, this inner spirit, back to Poets House.

Already shuttered and reeling financially from the pandemic, water from a broken pipe in an upstairs apartment in River House, where Poets House is located, had cascaded into the space from the fire stairs and elsewhere on a weekend in August 2021. The water rained down for 40 hours, unchecked, before it was discovered. Mold spread under floorboards, above the ceiling, and into the drywall. The inundation destroyed the elevator. Miraculously, nearly all of the collection was spared. The renovation is said to have cost close to $3 million.

Speaking to the gathering, Arnold recalled the bromide that challenge is an opportunity. “I like to think of the last four years as just being full of opportunities,” he said to laughter, then added, “I’m sure we’re going to find more and more opportunities to keep making Poets House better and stronger and more accessible to our community.”

Poets House, 10 River Terrace., is open to the public Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 7 pm, and 10 am to 6pm on Saturday.