Letter from the Director

From the forthcoming issue of The Poetry Project Newsletter

Dear Readers,

In early October, we made a big announcement on our website and email list, but for those of you who get your news from this newsletter, I will be retiring from my position as executive director at the end of June.

I’m not one to feel that anything is perfect. However, my tenure at the Project for the past thirteen years (eleven as director) has never ceased to provide me with the sense of being made for something. A life in poetry was my imperative, and it took many years to hold my own as a poet, and to figure out how to make a living “in the field.” I got my dream job. Yes, everyone knows being an executive director of a nonprofit is hard, often thankless (often unseen), work. Yet even the challenges seemed to have an air of right problem, right time about them.

In my first “Letter from the Director” in Fall of 2007, I wrote that my goal was to keep doing what the Project does best—poets, readings, audiences. While an elegant goal to the core, it wasn’t ever to be graceful. Maybe I always had my shirt on inside out or backwards or something. There continues to be an array of challenges the Project must face. The world changed a few times during my tenure, and will again. I’m most proud that the Project with all of its laurels was able to summon the agility to turn ships around on dimes in order to respond to the times.

I recently looked at a nerdy notebook I kept in 2003-04. I made a list of poet’s names, at least 100 of them, that I was collecting from sources such as A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, All Poets Welcome, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. I would then read whatever Woodland Pattern Book Center had by them, or look for their work online. I think this is how I was brought into the New York City poetry fold so fast – via a memorized list of poets and their work, some famously known, most not, a map both practical and phenomenal. When I knew I was going to first meet Bob Rosenthal to shop for beans for the Marathon chili together, I brought in my copy of Cleaning Up New York and asked him to sign it.

Some advice to the next director is to bring all of your awe to the job. Don’t eat the bad apples. And, it’s good to help stack the chairs after readings at least for a few years. I keep hearing C.S. Lewis’s twist of a line from Corinthians (with my own twist): When I became a woman I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. Also great advice.

I’m so grateful to every former Director of the Project (soon to be a sub-lineage of 8) for making the impossible possible “on the level everyday,” and for reasons I’ll spend many more months trying to express to them privately. I’m also thinking of friend, ally, and former board member Ted Greenwald a lot these days, wishing to shake his hand after all of this. At least I can watch him in Les Levine’s “Poker Blues.” In the remaining 8 months of my tenure, I look forward to being present for what we do best— poets, readings, audiences. And reaching the fundraising goal of last year’s 50th anniversary campaign . We have $60,000 to raise by the end of the year to reach our $350,000 goal. You can learn more about our goals and make a donation right now!

Who’s next!? Our board of directors is conducting a national search for the Project’s next leader and will be accepting applications till December 15. Please visit our home page at poetryproject.com to see the job description with instructions on how to apply.


Stacy Szymaszek

Stacy Szymaszek

Stacy Szymaszek is a poet, and arts administrator/organizer, and teacher. She was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where in 1999 she started working for Woodland Pattern Book Center. She founded and edited seven issues of GAM, a free magazine featuring the work of poets living in the upper midwest. In 2005, she moved to NYC to work for The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, where she served as Executive Director from 2007-2018. Szymaszek is the author of the books Emptied of All Ships (2005), Hyperglossia (2009), hart island (2015), Journal of Ugly Sites and Other Journals (2016), which won the Ottoline Prize from Fence Books and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2017, and A Year From Today (2018 ). She is the recipient of a 2014 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and a 2019 Foundation for Contemporary Arts award in poetry. She is a regular teacher for Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, and mentor for Queer Art Mentorship.

Szymaszek is the 2018-19 Hugo Visiting Writer at the University of Montana and was a Poet-in-Resident at Brown University in fall 2018.