Nearly forty people in fifty years have edited the Poetry Project Newsletter, most in two-year stints held successively between 1973 and 2019. I asked the living editors, past and present, to tell me about their favorite PPNL issue that they didn’t edit themselves. In their replies, you can hear what enlivened their imaginations while they were heading up the journal. I like that a couple points stand out for writers across the decades: Frances LeFevre’s ingenious years editing the Newsletter in the late 70s, or the genre of the Newsletter interview. — Kay Gabriel
BRENDA COULTAS (NL Editor 1998-1999)
Issue #144, edited by Lynn Crawford (Feb-March 1992): Because it feels good in my hands and pleases my eyes, I love the calendar with a Lori Landes drawing titled After the Revolution: woman in a bathing suit reading on a beach under palm trees.
Folded into quarters, heavy enough paper, meant to be posted on your wall like the Poetry Calendar, a broadsheet of all the readings for the month. Poets running to St Mark’s bookshop to grab one from the foyer.
And #144 was published a couple of years before I joined the staff. So I think of the poets I just missed meeting, like Joe Brainard who read in the “James Schuyler: Hymn to Life” evening.
GREG MASTERS (NL Editor 1980-1983)
When I arrived on the scene in the mid-1970s, I was drawn to Ron Padgett’s Newsletters as they showed me a community—with notices of personal milestones alongside the lit stuff. That model guided me when I was awarded the reins: to stay aware of the [actual] social network while sharing the work of a loose-based but vibrant collective of poets who were regularly attending readings and taking the workshops at The Poetry Project, and extended far and wide as well to connect with compadres with similar tastes.
ELENI SIKELIANOS (NL Editor 1998-1999)
We so didn’t know what we were doing or how to do it, but what a gift we got in doing it. We were often in the office till dawn trying to put the thing together, getting it wrong. The December/January 1998/99 issue: Ashbery’s short text on Pierre Martory’s passing, Lorenzo Thomas’s memoriam (which we misspelled) for Tom Dent, C.S. Giscombe’s “The Shape of the Wolf,” Mei-mei’s piece, or Isabelle Pelissier’s images floating through the calendar… Ah! Remembering how Barbara Guest told me she invented a word in her talk—let’s say it was “startling,” because I can’t remember which word it was—she wasn’t bragging, she was confused, and I was confused because it was a word I thought I knew. There—the possibility for re/inventing an ordinary word, in the flux of language and world, in the hands of a poem denizen. Now I know: of course she invented “startling.”
BRENDAN LORBER (NL Editor 2005-2007)
How was it to receive the very first Newsletters, with their samizdat-adjacent mimeo confirmation that the poets are up to something? Especially #4 which whips up the 2nd Ave vortex through fresh-faced weirdo advocacy, apartment swaps, gossip, errata, and the Newsletter’s first article (reprinted in hot dragon fire from The San Francisco Book Review) Tom Veitch’s “HOW I WON THE BIG TABLE PRIZE AND GOT MY HEAD PUSHED IN.” Subsequent issues, rife with magic mirror portals, owe a lot to #4 and editor Ron Padgett who built the wry frame on which contemporary accounts of love for poetry and among its practitioners are sourced and amplified half a century later.
JOHN RUFO (NL Editor 2019-2021)
Reflecting on a Community Meeting that took place in early November 1977, Poetry Project Newsletter Editor Frances LeFevre says: “The Project is not doctrinaire or tightly organized, but it is dependent on the hospitality of St. Mark’s church, the responsibility of the poets who keep it going, and the money that has to be raised for its maintenance.” Not “tightly” organized, but organized nonetheless, however loosely, with hospitality, responsibility, and maintenance conducted by poets who see the work of poetry as prolonging the party (including setting up and breaking down tables/chairs), a sustenance with a metonymic mindfulness. Basically: it’s fun, and it’s work too, and the work is fun and vice versa, and you get it in the mail. It’s this attitude that buoyed me along as Poetry Project Newsletter Editor for a while, forty-plus years after Frances LeFevre put together Newsletter #50. The way structures of teeming change but echo at once: around the edges of what it means to get together and to make sure we can get together, forty years after today.
VICKI HUDSPITH (NL Editor 1979-1980)
Besides being a great friend, Frances LeFevre brought a chatty, well-written newsletter loaded with local poetics history. In one of my favorite issues, February 1978, Frances spotlights poet Tony Towle and his work ‘Poetic Income.’ I think it gave us all some perspective on the financial rewards (not) of writing poetry. Frances delivered the facts; readings and important dates but she also gave us a little bit of an insider’s view of what it was like to live and work around The Poetry Project in those years! We all thrived and loved it so!
JOHN COLETTI (NL Editor 2007-2009)
Issue #91 (May 1982): The single poem, “Sleep Gummed Eyes,” from, I believe, A Few Days by James Schuyler remains among my favorites. That it was the entire front piece for this issue of the Newsletter is a delight; it felt as if it was framed and on a wall, as often his works were in collaborations with artists such as Jane Freilicher, and of a certain weight. “So be it.” Also, the great complement ending Bernadette Mayer’s review “I wish I’d written these poems,” is memorable—and a true feeling when reading work you admire, just as leaving a reading you say to an author, “I’m going to go write now after hearing you”—the highest compliment.
MITCH HIGHFILL (NL Editor 1995-1996)
The Poetry Project Newsletter serves the New York poetry community as well as the larger community of artists by publishing book reviews, interviews and essays, poems and sometimes gossip. What makes it work are the interactions with the community. When I was editing the Newsletter, I most enjoyed getting unsolicited reviews from an intrepid mix of readers. Tom Clark would send in reviews from the West Coast, for example. I came into the office once or twice a week to pick up the mail, always a treat. My favorite issue of the Newsletter was the first one I got in the mail, edited by Greg Masters (as I remember) in 1981.
NADA GORDON (NL Editor 2002-2003)
I don’t actually have a favorite issue, but I reached into the archives and selected Issue #28, edited by Ted Greenwald. I think it’s the earliest issue on the website. I am enamored of this sentence from Alan Davies’s review of Anne Waldman’s Fast-Speaking Woman: “The poems aren't optimistic, but their stubborn insistence is a biological push to a conclusion of some sort, from which point another poem can be sung.” It’s insightful really, since poems, categorically speaking, are odd compulsions, or perhaps records of compulsions, and this text of Waldman’s may be particularly so, as Davies points out.
LISA JARNOT (NL Editor 1996-1998)
April/May 1995, editor Gillian McCain: Gillian’s regular gossip column “Dirt” was always fun and all the issues she edited were sharp and sexy. This one was subtitled “to the film industry in crisis” and featured some very cool articles on the intersections of film and poetry.
MARCELLA DURAND (NL Editor 2003-2005)
I loved reading Gillian McCain’s gossip column, “Dirt,” in the Poetry Project Newsletter in the 1990s. I was kind of lost/searching/shy as a poet back then and even though I didn't know most of the writers mentioned, those bits of information, ranging from books published, people seen, babies born, felt the beginnings of a welcome to the Project. I think “Dirt” gave me the courage to sign up for what turned out to be a poetry- and life-changing workshop with John Yau, and to start attending the readings of those writers who seemed to lead such compelling lives.
JEROME SALA (NL Editor 1990-1991)
I love the “Newsletter interview.” Two examples: in the December 2007 issue (ed. John Coletti), Arlo Quint interviews the late Ted Greenwald. Greenwald shares not only how he writes, but, drawing on Project history, how a literary scene works. Then there’s Feb/March 2006, which features part 2 of an interview editor Brendan Lorber did with Noam Chomsky. We learn about cross-cultural elements embedded into our minds and thought. Both are “scoops” you couldn’t find anywhere else. This remarkable range exemplifies the Newsletter’s ability to deliver not just the poetry news but to dive into exciting controversies and ideas.
GILLIAN MCCAIN (NL Editor 1994-1995)
When I first moved to NYC in 1987, I discovered an intriguing-looking book called Homage to Frank O’Hara, which led me to The Poetry Project. I immediately became a member, and eventually gathered up the nerve to submit some poems to the Poetry Project Newsletter.
I remember exactly where I was standing when I started skimming the pages of the February/March 1990 issue, and discovered, on page six, a poem called “Biography.” Wait, Tony Towle—the Tony Towle—Frank O’Hara’s close friend—chose a poem of mine? I had arrived!
Then from 1994-95 I was given the honor of editing the Newsletter, and really arrived! Kudos to all former, present and future editors of this amazing publication!
MORGAN VÕ (NL Editor 2021-Present)
I would point to two reviews from early newsletters that I love: one is Alice Notley’s extended take on Edwin Denby’s Collected Poems, from issue #37, in which her entanglement with Denby’s writing is worked through in psychically wild, blooming somatic detail; the other is Lorenzo Thomas’s significantly briefer but enthusiastic, casual, sly review of The Gate of Darkness by Tsi-An Hsia, from issue #29. Each conveys the sense that the authors speak into a space where they know people. For me, that's the fundamental beauty of the newsletter form.
KAY GABRIEL (NL Editor 2019-Present)
Tim Dlugos’s period editing the Newsletter (1983-1985) is full of controversy, and it provoked some deliciously stern responses. That tells me the essays he was editing were felt to have real stakes, as when Dlugos (#112) offered ambivalent reflections on Guatemalan poet Otto René Castillo’s political poetry and Castillo’s translator responded ferociously (#115). Or when Dennis Cooper uplifted some Los Angeles poets he admired (also #112), a poet who felt himself excluded accused Cooper (#114) of simply promoting his friends, and Cooper responded, more or less, by arguing that poets make the interventions that we do because we want to reach beyond our own small aesthetic factions to have effects at greater scale. The issues are plenty juicy besides, but I think I most admire Dlugos for publishing essays about poetry that people believed were worth fighting about.
TED DODSON (NL Editor 2013-2015)
I have a soft spot for Corina Copp’s editorship, which were the first issues I was ever greeted with at the PP, though my favorite issue was one I remember getting that electric feeling from when I found it in a stack up in the church office while doing research before I came on as editor. It was issue #58 from October 1978, edited by Vicki Hudspith, which begins with an announcement of the infamous church fire of that July, a hopeful report on repairs and ongoing readings and workshops and anti-nuclear actions (including Allen Ginsberg’s, Peter Orlovsky’s, and Anne Waldman’s upcoming trial dates) and ends with John Yau’s image of the parallel vantages of a past and present self, the writing of the past and the object of the poem.
CORINA COPP (NL Editor 2009-2011)
There’s an exchange I’ve never forgotten from the interview Greg Fuchs did with Eileen Myles for one of John Coletti’s issues, #219, April–June 2009. “GF: Do you have any advice for writers?” “EM: Yeah, have an interesting life.” This conversation is about class, because everything is; I remember where I was sitting in the office. “EM: I know one should do this towering, phallic thing in their career, but I like having a wide, dilettantish, female career [ . . . .] Poetry’s like the root, like a cutting.”
Eileen used to bring cut yellow flowers to readings and hand them out one by one. Do you still do this, Eileen?
I’d also point to an essay I solicited from Sean Bonney about the UK poet Anna Mendelssohn (aka Grace Lake), #226, Feb–Mar 2011. This was really important for me to do, and I was so grateful for his labor; we also got to speak with her daughter, who gave us the photo of Anna. Sean really understood Mendelssohn as a poet of refusal. In Sean’s words, “The poem’s content, as an interrupting voice, comes from … convulsion, where the poem turns inside out, where the statement emerges directly from the rubble of poetic form, or indeed from institutionalized avant-garde politesse. The untruths that the language carries are pounded into garbage, are twisted out of shape, until the perpetrators of those untruths can no longer enter the language, and so that not new forms, but new statements can emerge. Or, as Mendelssohn puts it beautifully: ‘a poem of objects that live by magic.’”