The Poetry Project

A Note on the Poetry Project Newsletter

Ron Padgett

In late 1972 something got me to thinking that there was a flow of interesting information on The Poetry Project grapevine but that its transmission was haphazard. You might be desperate for an apartment and not know that the person sitting next to you at a reading was looking for a sublettor. Or that an exciting new underground publication was coming out of San Francisco or Toronto. Information about the Project’s own activities wasn’t easily available to people living beyond metropolitan New York. A newsletter might fill in some gaps.

When I approached Anne Waldman, the Project’s director at the time, with the idea of publishing a newsletter, she responded with her usual spontaneous energy: “Great! Do it!” Leaving the newsletter’s monthly creation entirely to me, she surprised me by offering to scare up an honorarium of $25 per issue. (Given the Project’s meager budget, I had assumed that I’d be doing it pro bono.) With a zeal typical of many of the young people around the Project, I quickly wrote the first issue, designed a simple format, typed the mimeograph stencils, and ran them off, using the mimeo machine in the St. Mark’s Church’s main office. Collating, stapling, addressing, and mailing the modest two sheets of paper was, compared to the mammoth issues of The World magazine being assembled at the Project in those days, a breeze. I felt no editorial pressure nor did I envisage a future for the newsletter, as it was such a modest venture and one that depended on the existence of The Poetry Project, whose funding was always precarious. In other words, I saw the newsletter as potentially useful but no big deal.

Issue #1, December 1972

The activities announced in the first issue included news of the upcoming featured readers (Charles Reznikoff, Nicanor Parra, Sonia Sanchez, and Robert Kelley), the Project’s free workshops (conducted by Bernadette Mayer, Steve Malmude, and Lorenzo Thomas), and new publications, mostly from small presses, with work by Joe Brainard, Katie Schneeman, David Anderson, Paul Auster, Johnny Stanton, Tom Veitch, Tessie Mitchell, Edwin Denby, Lewis Warsh, Philip Whalen, Anne Waldman, James Schuyler, John Koethe, Kenward Elmslie, and many others, as well as a note on two upcoming shows by George Schneeman, one at the Fischbach Gallery and one at Holly Solomon’s 98 Greene Street Loft (with a celebratory reading there by Ted Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Steve Katz, Maureen Owen, Dick Gallup, Anne Waldman, Lewis Warsh, Larry Fagin, Peter Schjeldahl, and me). The subsequent issues I edited were along the same lines but more densely packed, with a greater variety of information and tone, some of it rather cheeky.

The single best thing I did in the Newsletter—I’m going to brag here about something I might not deserve any credit for—was to send out an appeal asking some publisher to take on the work of Charles Reznikoff. I had met him recently at a private dinner where I learned that he had been reduced to getting his work typed up and then printed by a neighborhood shop and that he had to correct the numerous typos by hand. He was around 78 at the time. To me the injustice of his situation was heartbreaking. I’ve always fantasized that when the newsletter’s call went out it was heeded by Tom Clark, who in turn urged Black Sparrow Press to come to the rescue. Which they did. Reznikoff lived until early 1976, long enough to see his Collected Poems in production, and eventually Black Sparrow issued his complete works, poetry and prose.

Overall I got a lot of cottage-industry satisfaction from producing each issue, but after bringing out seven of them I felt it was time for someone else to take the reins, partly because I thought the editorial point of view should be freshened up periodically. Thus in the fall of 1973 Bill MacKay took over and the Newsletter began what turned out to be its long evolution, as reflected in its sequence of editors, its upgraded means of production, its larger formats (and its digital existence), its increased readership, and its wider cultural, social, and political focus—an evolution from what could be seen as a feisty neighborhood bulletin to something much larger but forever feisty.

#270 – Fall 2022