The Poetry Project’s Half-Century of Dissent

“February 10, 1971, on a Wednesday night in the East Village, a full moon glowed in the wintry sky over St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. Inside, a group of New York’s most cutting-edge scene-makers gathered at the Poetry Project to hear a reading by poet and Warhol aide-de-camp Gerard Malanga. Andy was there, as was Lou Reed, along with poets Gregory Corso, John Giorno, Joe Brainard, and Bernadette Mayer. First up that night was a dark-eyed, lanky young poetess by the name of Patti Smith. An up-and-coming playwright named Sam Shepard, with whom she’d recently become involved, was there in support, as was her closest friend and collaborator, Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith knew she didn’t just want to read that night; rather, she wanted to electrify the audience with poems that possessed the power of rock ‘n’ roll. She invited the guitarist Lenny Kaye to play while she recited, and she decided to sing a few songs as well, including a cover of ‘Mack the Knife,’ in honor of Bertolt Brecht’s birthday. … After Smith’s performance, record producer Sandy Pearlman told Patti she should be singing in a rock ‘n’ roll band — and the rest, as they say, is history. But what was a major moment for rock was, in fact, for the Poetry Project, really just another Wednesday night for poets, artists, and musicians to find themselves in a venue dedicated to artistic detonations of all kinds. Smith wasn’t the first to use poetry as a tool for insurrection; that had been part of the Poetry Project mission from the beginning. Since its founding in the autumn of 1966, the Project has been one of the great American countercultural institutions — a platform for poetry run by poets, where dissent has always been the highest form. A buzzing mecca for those pushing up against the mainstream, the Project was always meant to be ‘a sanctuary for poetry — a safe haven,’ says co-founder Anne Waldman, who introduced Smith on that February night forty-five years ago and served as director from 1968 to 1978. … While some of the readers were anointed before they were handed the microphone, many found their feet by standing before the Project’s audiences, and even a too-brief list of the luminaries who have come through is testament to its power and necessity: Allen Ginsberg. Amiri Baraka. William S. Burroughs. John Ashbery. Alice Notley. Audre Lorde. John Wieners. Ammiel Alcalay. Ted Berrigan. Diane di Prima. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Laurie Anderson. Ishmael Reed. Lorenzo Thomas. Richard Hell. Dennis Cooper. Cecilia Vicuña. Kathy Acker. Ron Padgett. Jim Carroll. Anne Carson. Spalding Gray. …”
Insane Podium: A Short History 1966–, The Poetry Project, 1966–2012
W – The Poetry Project
Poetry Project

Patti Smith

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This entry was posted in Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs, Counterculture, Poetry, Street theater and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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