The Poetry Project

Editor’s Note

Kay Gabriel

Here’s a line I love from a letter that the late, unbeatable Bernadette Mayer (1945-2022) wrote to her sister Rosemary, April 5, 1978. “I seem to be able to really practice [the] full use [of language] and I mean practice as it is a constant situation of still learning and teaching myself, I see this as somehow opposite to the poet who learns by revising and always trying to get it perfect.” The appetitive, searching, desirous curiosity that Mayer names here reminds me of the spirit that swept through St. Mark’s this past January 1, when a thousand people gathered at the Church for the thirteen hours of the Project’s New Year’s Day Marathon. The Marathon’s tremendous range of syntax, play, sound, and performance seemed to stretch the limits of speech and emotion, and that maximalism rhymes with Mayer’s work, which for over fifty years invented new possibilities for thought and language. Several readers invoked her presence, standing on the stage at the front of the Sanctuary where, while director here from 1980-1984, she introduced readers and welcomed the audience to the Poetry Project again and again.

In this winter issue of the Newsletter, we remember Mayer, who left us this past November. KB Jones’s cover art riffs on an image from Memory, Mayer’s 1971 multimedia project, while Mayer’s friends and loved ones offer their memories of her across the decades. And that’s not all: the spring issue we’re already at work on—and were, even before she passed—will be a Festschrift of sorts dedicated entirely to essays about Mayer’s work, collaborations she worked on with other poets, and experiments that take up her challenge to “work your ass off to change the language.” So look out for that, too.

In this issue, too, friends of the late D.C. poet Doug Lang (1941-2022) remember his singular contributions. Joss Barton and Casey Plett talk with me and each other about “raw and rude” DIY trans publishing against the backdrop of the anti-trans moral panic. Andrew J. Smyth takes up the “heretoforeuncontemplated languageflux” of Simone White’s or, on being the other woman. Krystal Languell talks to Anselm Berrigan about baseball poetics, Wo Chan and imogen xtian smith talk to each other about their new books, and Rachel James talks to Morgan Võ about the Cynic philosopher Diogenes and trying to make a lover come until it feels like a chore. Rounding out the issue: poems by Brontez Purnell, Aida Muratoglu, and the Unrestricted Interest collective; and reviews of books by Maureen Owen, Hugo García Manríquez, Cat Fitzpatrick, George and Chris Tysh, Barry Schwabsky, Matt Longabucco, River Halen, Mirene Arsanios, John Yau and the Joe Brainard show at Tibor de Nagy.

It’s such a chatty issue, like one of those episodes of The Nanny where Fran Drescher’s still talking when she leaves the set. That, too, feels aligned with Bernadette, whose published work in its entirety couldn’t be squeezed into a single bound volume, even a big one. It’ll have to be released in one of those majestic box sets, like Milton, Freud, or the Marx/Engels Collected Works. Who’s getting on that? Consider this your cue.

NOTE: The editors would also like to celebrate the life of Atlanta forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was murdered by Georgia State Troopers on Wednesday, Jan. 18, in what Kamau Franklin, founder of the racial justice group Community Movement Builders, has called a “political assassination.” They spent their time between Atlanta, defending the forest from destruction, and Florida where they helped build housing in low income communities. They were a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more. In Tort’s name, we continue to fight to protect the forest and stop cop city with love, rage, and a commitment to each other’s safety and well-being.

#271 – Winter 2023