Against the odds, the Poetry Project Newsletter has been running for fifty years. The Newsletter’s longevity is a testament to the labor and imagination of the nearly forty editors who’ve run the publication since 1972, and to the vibrant community around the Project whose inventive writing, feverish activity and enticing gossip has given us something to print.
Being real for a second, the collective activity of the Newsletter’s readers, writers and editors has produced something basically unique among poetry periodicals. It’s a journal for serious poetry and arts criticism that’s free to access online and in print, and that you don’t need an advanced degree to write for. It’s also a community news bulletin. Issues from the 70s advertise empty rooms in poets’ apartments or congratulate new parents on their babies; former editor Gillian McCain ran a much-loved gossip column in the 90s called, fittingly, “Dirt”; and in the interviews that typically fill the Newsletter’s pages, you can hear the friendships and social contexts that animate just about anybody’s life in poetry. Finally, the Newsletter’s five decades and 272 issues* form a remarkable archive demonstrating how several generations of poets, concentrated in but not limited to the community surrounding the Project, have thought about writing, culture, politics and each other. Reading back through the archive, someone might see references to court support for anti-nuclear demonstrators, arguments about mimeograph printing, letter campaigns opposing Reagan-era austerity cuts to the NEA budget, vocal support for poet Ernesto Cardenal and the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua for which he served as minister of culture, favorable mentions of Jack Spicer, total ignorance of Jack Spicer, the rise of Language Poetry, remembrances for Joe Brainard, Tim Dlugos and other AIDS deaths that rocked the Project community, an excerpt of Thulani Davis’s opera about Malcolm X (reprinted in this issue), dozens upon dozens of interviews with both currently beloved and forgotten poets, and a write-up of the People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street.
This issue, we make merry of a long half-century with celebrations of the Newsletter’s illustrious past alongside new work that carries forward our tradition of rich anomaly. Check the amazing cover art, Brainard’s Pansies from 1968. (Do hang this on your wall, please.) Ron Padgett—the original editor—returns with a note of origin, and several other editorial alums offer poetry and recommendations of their favorite issues (many of which can be read at poetryproject.org/publications/newsletter—get immersed!). Arianne Ayu Alizio’s shares a series of poems, chosen by Daniel Borzutzky for this year’s Brannan Prize. Former Newsletter editors Betsy Fagin, Marwa Helal, and Ted Dodson share poems as well, and two more works of poetry come to us through new translations: three from Fernanda Laguna’s Pañuelo de mocos, translated by Alexis Almeida; and Hung Hung’s “Another Life”, translated by Chia-Lun Chang, who interrogates the act of translation in an accompanying essay. Shiv Kotecha reports from the “battle” that Jack Spicer’s poetry, in Daniel Katz’s phrase, “wage[s] against itself.” An anonymous forest defender updates us on the Defend the Atlanta forest movement. And we have critical writings on several new works, including a few inspired takes on recent releases from important forebears: Ted Berrigan, H.D., and Lewis Warsh.
Our Newsletter is open, alive, shifting, weird, failing, succeeding, trying, burning, decomposing, reminding you why you love poetry, inciting you to read something different and write something new. Fifty years is a long stretch for a community paper—we look back on it with pride, criticality, fascination. While the next fifty years seem poised to bring important moments of struggle and change in the world at large, we hope this paper can remain a space for human beings, in our strength and vulnerability, to bring something spirited to the challenge of those moments. We’re here for you, truly, and here because of you**. Join us in offering a little love to a filthy old rag.