Letter From the Director
The Poetry Project is preparing to celebrate a landmark year next season. The 2016-17 season will be the 50th Anniversary. Poet-run and still vital, and with our archives at the Library of Congress! Whoever decided the Project needed to be staffed by working poets was a genius. Poets are probably the only people who would work so hard, often by the seats of our pants, to maintain this location for the action of poets reading their work to audiences. I’m using the word location versus site as preferred by Patricia Spears Jones for being more fluid. No seasoned organization can take its relevance or vitality for granted. One rooted in live public readings of innovative poetry needs to understand how to be alive in real time.
The Poetry Project, of course, started small, local, amongst friends and associates, and steadily it built many bridges to get to all the places it needed to get to. The metaphor of “bridging” may be well-worn, but it describes a particular kind of work— making contact with your materials, sweating, carrying yourself across, then meeting “others” and discovering, or unearthing. Historically, there are times when the Project did this more and less, but dialogue and inquiry have always been valued highly. The Project’s staff works to extend the best moments in the past into a sustained reality, now and into coming decades.
The poets we are featuring this season excite me so much I get chills looking at everyone’s names listed together on the calendar. Our curatorial team is deeply engaged, knowledgeable and big-hearted (see their statements on page X), and I hope you’ll support them by attending a reading by a poet who is new to you as well as readings by poets you already love.
We are poets living in a country that refuses to face its failures. The ills of racism, police brutality, violence against the LGBT community, especially now, trans women of color, gender equity and equality in general are problems poets are well equipped to engage and challenge each other and the public with through invigorating language and performance. Audre Lorde says it beautifully in the beginning of the documentary The Berlin Years: “poetry is the most subversive use of language that there is because it attempts to bring about change by altering people’s feelings.”
How do we “make the world safe for poetry” (Anne Waldman), and “what is the primary duty of repair? (Akilah Oliver). These questions guide us, as does the image of the uncompromising poet, the new poem in her hands, and the audience that has gathered to really listen.
Letter From the Program Director
Summer is long. It begins with an infant and a deadline and it ends with a toddler and a deadline. Such is the way of the working mother/poet—always was, always will be. But there‘s something new at The Poetry Project, for me and for you.
I begin this season as The Project’s first ever Program Director. I’ll continue to curate and host Wednesday Nights: the general look and feel of my presence will be no different. But this shift – from part- to full-, less to more – offers me a chance to reflect on what’s become a pretty long association with The Project. How and why and by what fortunes, good and bad . . . . Here is also a chance to thank Stacy Szymaszek, who has shared her wickedly joyful, deep and faithful sense of poetry with me for more than ten years. Thanks, Stacy, for your trust and friendship, as you, and steadiness, as Director, without which I couldn’t do a thing here. Because the thing is, programming at The Poetry Project isn’t administration (although we do our share): it’s making a display of certain kind of hope for how poetry can get written and received. Stacy and I are in aesthetic accord surprisingly often, but when we aren’t, we reason about what course would be best for our audience: this is an ego-free zone.
And because the world has changed. The Poetry Project is a small but important part of a larger world inside a larger world. I, like every poet writing today, feel the small and large effects of a contemporary wakefulness about race, gender, violence and longing for new kinds of understanding and peace. We’re thinking about what’s happening out there/in here. We’re really thinking.