Letters From the Director and Program Director

Letter From the Director

10476404_980968548579883_4297119470493232639_n (1)The Poetry Project is preparing to celebrate a landmark year next season. The 2016-17 season will be the 50th Anniversary. Poet-run and still vital, and with our archives at the Library of Congress! Whoever decided the Project needed to be staffed by working poets was a genius. Poets are probably the only people who would work so hard, often by the seats of our pants, to maintain this location for the action of poets reading their work to audiences. I’m using the word location versus site as preferred by Patricia Spears Jones for being more fluid. No seasoned organization can take its relevance or vitality for granted. One rooted in live public readings of innovative poetry needs to understand how to be alive in real time.

The Poetry Project, of course, started small, local, amongst friends and associates, and steadily it built many bridges to get to all the places it needed to get to. The metaphor of “bridging” may be well-worn, but it describes a particular kind of work— making contact with your materials, sweating, carrying yourself across, then meeting “others” and discovering, or unearthing. Historically, there are times when the Project did this more and less, but dialogue and inquiry have always been valued highly. The Project’s staff works to extend the best moments in the past into a sustained reality, now and into coming decades.

The poets we are featuring this season excite me so much I get chills looking at everyone’s names listed together on the calendar. Our curatorial team is deeply engaged, knowledgeable and big-hearted (see their statements on page X), and I hope you’ll support them by attending a reading by a poet who is new to you as well as readings by poets you already love.

We are poets living in a country that refuses to face its failures. The ills of racism, police brutality, violence against the LGBT community, especially now, trans women of color, gender equity and equality in general are problems poets are well equipped to engage and challenge each other and the public with through invigorating language and performance. Audre Lorde says it beautifully in the beginning of the documentary The Berlin Years: “poetry is the most subversive use of language that there is because it attempts to bring about change by altering people’s feelings.”

How do we “make the world safe for poetry” (Anne Waldman), and “what is the primary duty of repair? (Akilah Oliver). These questions guide us, as does the image of the uncompromising poet, the new poem in her hands, and the audience that has gathered to really listen.

-Stacy Szymaszek

Letter From the Program Director

IMG_1658 (1)Summer is long. It begins with an infant and a deadline and it ends with a toddler and a deadline. Such is the way of the working mother/poet—always was, always will be. But there‘s something new at The Poetry Project, for me and for you.

I begin this season as The Project’s first ever Program Director. I’ll continue to curate and host Wednesday Nights: the general look and feel of my presence will be no different. But this shift – from part- to full-, less to more – offers me a chance to reflect on what’s become a pretty long association with The Project. How and why and by what fortunes, good and bad . . . . Here is also a chance to thank Stacy Szymaszek, who has shared her wickedly joyful, deep and faithful sense of poetry with me for more than ten years. Thanks, Stacy, for your trust and friendship, as you, and steadiness, as Director, without which I couldn’t do a thing here. Because the thing is, programming at The Poetry Project isn’t administration (although we do our share): it’s making a display of certain kind of hope for how poetry can get written and received. Stacy and I are in aesthetic accord surprisingly often, but when we aren’t, we reason about what course would be best for our audience: this is an ego-free zone.

And because the world has changed. The Poetry Project is a small but important part of a larger world inside a larger world. I, like every poet writing today, feel the small and large effects of a contemporary wakefulness about race, gender, violence and longing for new kinds of understanding and peace. We’re thinking about what’s happening out there/in here. We’re really thinking.

-Simone White

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.

Credit: Dana Scruggs

Simone White

Simone White is the author of Dear Angel of Death, Of Being Dispersed, House Envy of All of the World and the chapbooks Unrest and Dolly (with the paintings of Kim Thomas). She teaches in the English department at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Brooklyn.