The Poetry Project’s New Year’s tradition continues

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IT WAS IMPORTANT TO ME be there for everything: reading Project Poetry’s annual New Year’s Day Marathon. Starting at 11 a.m. and ending just after midnight, fundraising is my favorite New York tradition, a sentiment echoed by many of the over 160 poets who performed remotely throughout the day on January 1, 2022. The Poetry Project – an institution by and for poets founded on the virtue of non-hierarchical community building – has existed since 1966, offering readings, lectures, workshops and intergenerational mentorship to emerging writers. Just two weeks ago, I invited a friend from out of town to be my rendezvous for the promised in-person festivities, which will take place at St. Mark’s Church, where I spent so many New Years days walking in and out of this great old stone building as the poets read, dance and make music in front of fluctuating crowds of kindred spirits. Then Omicron swept the city and my paper diary became an erasure grid. Marathon organizers announced that the day will be a hybrid of pre-recorded and live-broadcast offerings, a haunting throwback to the 2021 lockdown restrictions. So Tina stayed at home in Philly while I brewed coffee and s’ is crouching in front of my laptop, spending the first half of the day in Jeanne Dielman’s flirtation as I cleaned my kitchen of last night’s party dregs while the poets came to me via the laptop.

As the text unfolded, poet Sara Jane Stoner and I debated the thematic trends we saw emerge through the poems. She’s noticed plenty of talk about piss, ranging from aromatics in cat urine and Duchamp’s urinal reference to projected archival footage of the late downtown dean, Cookie Mueller, reading a funny story. and sad in 1989 about a man named Dodge who considers drinking urine a homeopathic remedy. for AIDS. For my part, I was particularly interested in the recurring tree pattern, particularly the eighty-year-old trees currently being razed at East River Park in downtown Manhattan as part of a flood protection plan. highly contested. Indeed, the first reader for the day was dancer / earth and water protector Emily Johnson, who begged viewers to follow the anti-demolition protest movement @ 1000people1000trees. Full of hope, but trembling: she asked, “What is the lovely break up?” Later that hour, her comrade Marcella Durand shared a room in honor of the decimated foliage. Farid Matuk, presenting a video poem featuring images of desert skies, a swimming pool at night, and the preparation of dolmaths observed in voice-over: “Trees are what possess poets. Scribbling her wisdom, I looked up the event chat to see this line picked up by other listeners.


Miguel Gutierrez and Marley Trigg Stewart.

As the sun set, I masked myself and took the marathon with me to the gym, grabbing the word ‘otherworld’ and feeling admittedly cynical as I watched the row of monitors from my elliptical cross trainer. TV howling variations on ESPN. I started to wonder what it would be like if I could ask management to filter the marathon, if muscular bodies performing slow reps would stop in the footsteps of their ritual and find something that looks like grace in inside these linguistic experiences. Or laugh through their macho concentration, like I did earlier that afternoon in my apartment when I watched Miguel Gutierrez slide a printed page in front of his camera with the following narration of what was to come:

in which I improvise a dance
where I am inspired
ghosts of my relatives who
died contemplating the
the enormity of life and the power and
fragility of this bag of meat I walk
through her in front of my
boyfriend, who can or not
choose to watch him lying on the sofa looking at one of his photo books

Miguel moved around the room, invoking a magical scene from a Fassbinder film, the royal touch of a Cabaret poster hanging above the lounge chair. As her playfully jaded lover leafed through this book – he appeared naked – the ASL interpreter watched him in blissful rest, and I rejoiced at the sparkling thoughts in his mind.

I brought these thoughts to the grocery store, laughing as I listened through headphones to former Poetry Project director Anne Waldman describe the “insane classroom of your own mind.” In the fall, I brought a group of undergraduates to see her perform alongside bassist William Parker and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis from her album. Sciamachia at the First Union Congregational Society and they felt nothing less than assailed by its tirade of lamentation and occult inflection against the ecological crisis, precipitating at the time a minor personal crisis regarding the limits of my ability to contextualize the rhetorical strategies of the old heroes to a new crop of knife-minded students.


Isabel Crespo Pardo and Eddy kwon.

In “Need Song,” a prerecorded performance my aforementioned friend Sara Jane shared in the early evening, she examined the cultural landscape: each side / risked foaming limbs for scum. “In his words, I recognize my own near-religious desire to be shattered by a transformative ordeal: not only to hear others, but to be irrevocably altered by their disparate truths which somewhat produces the effect of a frightening crop. locates another desire to be physically at St. Mark’s Church, ignoring the vibrations of my phone, pleasantly pointing at someone in a crowded room with whom I have shared a love, a cigarette or a revelation. inside nothing less than the walls of a temporary but extended agreement.

I stop at the corner of the Bank of America to listen to Lee Ranaldo play a little, very nice something about his acoustics. It had started to drizzle outside and my screen had gotten wet. Normally a dry-eyed citizen, I start to cry in the rain, the second time in the past eight hours I was made to spontaneously cry while listening to a distant stranger share a missive from my favorite country: the life of someone else. Next to my computer, dutifully continuing to stream what is playing on my device, is an open 1979 copy of Alice Walker. Horses make a landscape more beautiful. Inside is a poem called “SM,” and I’m not sure what those initials mean, but it has been overwhelming me all week. It seems to me to be a master key to the numbness problem. Walker writes:

I’m telling you, tit
I’m afraid of people
Who can’t cry
Tears left without shedding
Turn into poison
In the ducts
Ask the next soldier you see
Profit from a massacre
If it’s not the case.

People who don’t cry
Are victims of soul mutilation
Paid to Marlboros
And trucks.

Resist.

Violence doesn’t work
Except for the man
Who pays your salary
Who knows
If you could still cry
You wouldn’t take the job.

As I gaze at the bare branches outside my window and marvel that I haven’t noticed when they’ve shed all of their leaves, Pamela Sneed shares a new poem that virtuously goes from the perversity of Kyle Rittenhouse’s verdict to a gentle review- bitter of Halle Berry bruised. My sleeping pill just arrived, I bought Kay Gabriel’s Kissing other people or the house of fame in a fit of little decadence, and now Kyle Dacuyan, the director of the Poetry project, throws a glass of whiskey until the end of the night – $ 47,000 in the coffers. I make a New Year’s resolution to purge my poisons, say more “no” to what compromises my integrity, and pay close attention to this tree that has kept me company for the past ten years.


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