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Poetry Heritage Continues At Duff's


Popular Duff's poetry readings have been around since 1972



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Karen Duffy stands outside of her restaurant at 392 N. Euclid Ave. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
February 01, 2012
First of all, yes, Duff's Restaurant at 392 N. Euclid Ave. is still open and serving lunches and dinners Tuesdays through Sundays and breakfasts on weekends. Yes, the restaurant is for sale, but owner Karen Duffy and 35-year business partner, Tim Kirby, intend to be there until a new owner is found. Duffy hopes such owner will keep the 40-year-old neighborhood tradition alive.

One of those important traditions revolves around Monday evening poetry readings when only the bar is open. Poetry readings were started by Dan Duffy, to whom Karen was married when the couple opened the restaurant in 1972.

Over the years, notables such as William S. Burroughs have read from the same shaky podium in Duff's window as do latter day newcomers like St. Louis Poet Matthew Freeman who had a special reading at Duff's on Jan. 23 to celebrate his newest book of poetry.

(Burroughs was the renowned Beat Generation poet and novelist who grew up on Pershing Avenue in the Central West End).

Margaret Atwood, Howard Nemerov and Arthur Brown read there. Television journalist and public commentator Bill Moyers filmed a reading in 1989 at Duff's that featured Quincy Troupe. Troupe, a native St. Louisan and author of many books of poetry became a poet laureate of California, but was later stripped of the title because he did not hold the degrees he had claimed.

River Styx holds a monthly reading for published poets, usually on the third Monday of the month. River Styx, an entity since 1974, descended from the original Duff's Poetry Series. St. Louis poets Michael Castro and Howard Schwartz had a hand in beginning River Styx.

Richard Newman now edits the River Styx literary magazine and schedules poets for the readings. On Feb. 20, the series will feature poets Marc McKee and Alison Pelegrin. Shara McCallum and Richard Burgin are scheduled for March 20. Admission is $5.

"Karen Duffy has been the patron saint of poetry for over 37 years," said Newman. "She will be sorely missed by the whole community and especially the literary community, but I understand that her marrow-bones must be tired and sore by now."

River Styx also offers a Hungry Young Poets series during the summer months. Each of those programs features a half dozen poets under the age of 33.

Chance Operations, a new poetry group, occupies the podium in the window under the stained glass Duff's sign usually on the last Monday of the month. Featured poets for Jan. 30 were George Stair, Jennifer Kronovet and Sally Van Doren. Chance Operations replaces a disbanded group of young poets called Get Born. On Feb. 27, featured poets will include Matthew Freeman, Lisa Ebert and Treasure Shields Redmond.

In December of each year at an annual ceremony and dinner at Duff's, a new Warrior Poet is inducted by a group called Word In Motion. The recipient receives a sword and joins the honorable council that chooses the next year's performance poet honoree. David A.N. Jackson was honored with a sword and a reading at Duff's on Dec. 12 (a piece of this event can be found on You Tube).

Karen Duffy: History And Transition

Karen Duffy grew up on Warner Avenue in Richmond Heights. While attending Rosary College in Chicago, she majored in Latin and Greek and she met and married Chicago native Dan Duffy. In 1971, the couple decided to sell everything they had in Chicago and go to Europe for a year. Together with their son and daughter, they spent a year living in a van and traveling. Kate turned 3 in Paris and Patrick celebrated his fifth birthday in Morocco.

(Kate Duffy, now Sania Cate Ejjed, has become a Muslim and in 2007, married a Moroccan man at a wedding her whole family attended in that country.)

On the last leg of a flight back to St. Louis to visit Karen's family after the year in Europe and Morocco, the Duffys met a man who lived on Lenox Place in the Central West End. He told them the neighborhood needed new businesses.

They rented an apartment above an antique store and Bissinger's candy store on McPherson. With no experience behind them, they began to renovate a vacant storefront around the corner on Euclid next to Ultra Alternate (now Rothschild Antiques).

In July of 1972, Duff's Restaurant opened. Karen Duffy kept the books and did some of the cooking. Dan was the people person, she said. He attracted the poets and people from the neighborhood to try the restaurant.

The marriage did not last. Dan Duffy moved to the country and later to a new career as a grade school teacher on the Big Island of Hawaii. Karen Duffy kept the restaurant going. She married Charlie Struckhoff in 1981. Struckhoff brought four children from his previous marriage. All of the Duffy and Struckhoff kids put in time working at the restaurant when they were old enough.

Tim Kirby's son, Brendan, currently is general manager.

The restaurant has expanded twice. In the early years, a neighboring business moved so that Duff's could add bar space. In 1990, Duff's was able to add the space to the south where Europa Restaurant had been in the 1970s.

Karen Duffy has been a follower of the poetry at Duff's, but said she has written only one poem in her life. That was in college and she remembers receiving an "A."

"My goal in retirement is to read some of the books I have collected all the way through," she said of the many signed books of poetry with which she has been gifted during the past four decades.

Duffy keeps ample scrapbooks of news clips and performance programs at Duff's.

Duffy, who will turn 67 this month, said her decision to sell the restaurant was made last year when her husband had a heart attack.

"I knew that I needed less restaurant stress and more time to spend with Charlie," she said.

Only one of the 11 children she and Charlie and her business partner have among them has been interested in taking over the restaurant and at present, he doesn't have the funding necessary, she said.

"I am hopeful a new owner will treasure the history of our literary community," said Duffy. "I hope they will recognize the importance of Duff's tradition in the neighborhood. The soul is what is important. I hope that it continues."

Duffy keeps ample scrapbooks of news clips and performance programs at Duff's.

Duffy, who will turn 67 this month, said her decision to sell the restaurant was made last year when her husband had a heart attack.

"I knew that I needed less restaurant stress and more time to spend with Charlie," she said.

Only one of the 11 children she and Charlie and her business partner have among them has been interested in taking over the restaurant and at present, he doesn't have the funding necessary, she said.

"I am hopeful a new owner will treasure the history of our literary community," said Duffy. "I hope they will recognize the importance of Duff's tradition in the neighborhood. The soul is what is important. I hope that it continues."

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