The Poetry Project

Letter from the Executive Director

Kyle Dacuyan

In front of the stone peace sign at St. Mark’s, next to Gordon Matta-Clark’s rose cage which the roses have escaped and subsequently engulfed, I notice recently the Church has placed a display with the known names of at least forty people enslaved by the early congregants of the Stuyvesant Chapel and St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. This ends with noting the enslaved people whose names we do not know yet. Or begins, it may be truer to say. What does it mean for culture to assemble and spill forth from a structure built through bondage and genocide. That is where we are. Where do we begin or proceed from this remembering -- a national question, even as we do our work to escape the cages of nation. And / but I pose this particularly to those of us assembled in our particulate church of language: the recognition that our specific shelter and incubator in its many perceivable and substructural materials cannot be separated from originating violences inflicted specifically on Black and Indigenous people, some whose names we know, more we do not yet. Bringing these violences to the surface of speech renders more visible our complicities in the violences continuing: the disenfranchisement, abuse, and murder exacted most specifically on Black people by the police and the state.

The moment and duration of our utterances issue and sustain the ruptures. What do the ruptures call into requirement and also possibility. We are reckoning, and reckoning I remember is language descended from repair, the resolution of a debt. A week ago I was here at the Church when people were smashing windows on the Bowery and 2nd Avenue, a group emerging triumphant from a sneaker store, someone yelling YOU HAD IT LONG ENOUGH AND NOW IT’S OURS. And I thought take it please. Everything, take it and destroy it. Insurgency is toppling all of the fictional claims we live inside of. We are reckoning with the violences of so-called order and its enforcement, the violences of monuments and erasure, the violences as well of cultural institutions which enshrine and enrich what we consider beautiful, or notable, or not.

Today is June 12, the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. And in the last 24 hours, we have heard about the deaths of two Black trans women, Dominique Rem’mie Fells and Riah Milton. I remember coming to St. Mark’s in the week or weeks after Pulse to be with poetry and dance here, a community of people mourning. Then and now the Church strikes me as radiant almost combusted with speech. “Saint Mark’s Church-in-the-Bouwerie” -- now I am referring to Anne Waldman’s poem, written on the occasion of the roof’s burning in 1978 -- begins with a parenthetical (the Church is speaking, center stage) and proceeds: “I am carrying hidden progress / interrupted by sobs / deeply under a flood of light.”

Everything on 2nd Avenue is boarded up. Gem Spa has gone out of business. Moishe’s has been gone awhile but the ghost of its sign is still there. Anselm Berrigan came by today and we talked under the portico. We talked about the neighborhood geographically and psychically, how important confluence has been from and to our particular radius of culture and community, what happens from lives and parts of lives spilling into one another. What will happen if encounter disappears, or has it already been disappearing, or was it ever. It strikes us this is the longest amount of time either of us have spent talking to someone in person in several months.

Anselm leaves and that is when I notice the names in front of the Church. I am thinking about these names, their presence here, and the material work institutions like a Church or a Poetry Project do to accrete or erode some atom of a culture. Change the space, change the experiences and conversations which happen there, change what ripples outward. I wish it were this clear. And / but it is. I am thinking about archive, the archive here specifically, what happened to the people whose names I had never encountered before, who never reappear among the records. And how more often than not the research leads me to find the people who have fallen through the gaps of our various scholarly and academic apparatuses have been poets of color. It is not just the scholarship. It is also the awards and the teaching positions, and also, I must be frank, the relationships and social circles.

I wonder what their experience of the room was. I think about all of the different ways I have felt the room before -- where centers are, where gossip is, and friendship and attraction, who is invisibilized and forgotten and ignored. And how this is bearing always in the moment on the archive of the future. I think about where the room is now, which we are holding and missing differently in each of us.

Two months ago, I had more fear about the future of gathering. But today I have faith in the intuition, conviction, and abiding newness of the collectivities which germinate out of The Poetry Project. Within 24 hours of the Mayor’s curfew, dozens of poets responded with readiness to support an overnight sanctuary here for protestors. There is both humility and commitment to put to work our resources of space and language. I am sitting in the yard, the real one, and I can hear a march in the vicinity. And here comes someone riding south on their pennyfarthing, someone else in the triangle talking to a python.

June 2020

#261 — Summer 2020