It’s been a remarkable year for poetry at MoMA. I threatened to slather the Museum with poetry, and I did. By the time it was finished, I brought over 125 poets, novelists, essayists, artists, and musicians into MoMA to do public interventions. At the heart of my program was a series called Uncontested Spaces: Guerilla Readings in the MoMA Galleries, where readers would simply occupy a gallery and begin reading—no intros, no outros, no bios, no thank-yous. Just an unexpected happening in the gallery. Because the readings were held at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, most friends of the readers couldn’t come—all poets have day jobs—so the audience primarily consisted of random gallery-goers, who were not aware that they were listening to legends such as Rick Moody, Vito Acconci, or Maira Kalman. They would stop for a moment, scratch their heads and move on. It was beautiful. Guerilla Readers included: Vito Acconci, Charles Bernstein, Christian Bök, Stephen Burt, Melissa Clark, CA Conrad, Robert Fitterman, Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Maira Kalman, Tao Lin, Tan Lin, Rick Moody, Tracie Morris, Maria Mirabal, Eileen Myles, Ingo Niermann, Kim Rosenfield, Vanessa Place, David Shields, Stefan Sagmeister, Mónica de la Torre, David Wondrich and Steven Zultanski.
I asked John Zorn to come into the gallery and do a Guerilla Reading—just to read a poem in front of an artwork. John blew it up and turned it into a full-scale celebration of his 60th birthday, which we called [email protected]. With a stellar group of musicians (Carol Emanuel, Erik Friedlander, Dave Fulmer, Milford Graves, Chris Otto, and Kenny Wollesen), John gave five half-hour concerts in front of various artworks spread across the Museum. The highlight was a free-jazz duet between John and the legendary Milford Graves, performing in front of a Jackson Pollock. Yeah. Oh, and we made history, too. As far as anyone could remember, no live music had been performed in the MoMA galleries during opening hours.On Saturday, April 20, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m., I was given the entire fourth floor to stage a massive poetry event for National Poetry Month. I called it Transform the World! Poetry Must Be Made by All! My idea was to flood each and every gallery with nonstop poetry readings. I contacted several poetry organizations (Belladonna, Bowery Poetry Club, Exact Change, Fulton Ryder, Gauss PDF, The Poetry Foundation, Roof Books, St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Troll Thread, and Ugly Duckling Presse) and asked them to put a call out to the poets. They came en masse, over 100 of them, including Joey Yearous Algozin, Amber Atiya, Erica Baum, The Lazy Fleece Beast, Susan Bernofsky, Ilya Bernstein, Miles Champion, R. Erica Doyle, Lonely Christopher, Dan Colen, Byron Coley, Cecilia Corrigan, Corina Copp, Steve Dalachinsky, Darian Dauchin, Jordan Davis, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Jai Dulani, Marcella Durand, Betsy Fagin, Adam Falkner, J. Gordon Faylor, Yevgeniy Fiks, Rob Fitterman, Fulton Ryder, Drew Gardner, Peter Gizzi, Ariel Goldberg, Nada Gordon, Michael Gottlieb, Gary Graham, David Grubbs, Diana Hamilton, David Henderson, Barbara Henning, James Hoff, Cathy Park Hong, Smokey Hormel, Erica Hunt, Samuel Jablon, Lanny Jordan Jackson, Hettie Jones, Garrett Kalleberg, Damon Krukowski, Ann Joseph, Shiv Kotecha, Joyce Lee, Rachel Levitsky, Tao Lin, Sandra Lui, Trisha Low, Dan Machlin, Andy Martrich, Jamaal May, Steve McLaughlin, Kirill Medvedev, Joshua Mehigan, Holly Melgard, Nikhil Melnechuk, John Paetsch, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Jeffrey Joe Nelson, Idra Novey, Yuko Otomo, Nicole Peyrafitte, Marta del Pozzo, Kristin Prevallet, Liz Roberts, Kim Rosenfield, Michael Ruby, Leonard Schwartz, James Sherry, Jeremy Sigler, Emily Skillings, Rick Snyder, Andy Sterling, Gary Sullivan, Chris Sylvester, Stacy Szymaszek, Jennifer Tamayo, Anne Tardos, Catherine Taylor, Marina Temkina, Samantha Thornhill, Monica de la Torré, Edwin Torres, Genya Turovskaya, Divya Victor, Cecilia Vicuña, Simone White, Emanuel Xavier, Thuli Zuma, Lila Zemborain, and dozens more poets who crashed the event or joined in group readings. I invited the brilliant curator Mathieu Copeland to come into the interstitial spaces of the Museum and, with the help of students from the HEAD in Geneva, did two days of marathon performances of spoken texts in the Bauhaus staircase and environs.
The fun never stopped. I was given a chance to bite the hand that feeds me during my Poet Laureate Lecture (archived here). I was also invited to a Trustee meeting and encouraged to interrupt the director of the Museum as he was addressing them. Oh, what fun! And I was given a Gray Line Bus to drive around a gridlocked downtown Manhattan in the blistering late May sun, reading from Capital, my forthcoming rewriting of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. It was a disaster, but a beautiful New York disaster at that.
I suppose that I wanted to show that, despite its public reputation, there is—and has always been—a poetry that is every bit as contemporary and as challenging as the art on the walls of MoMA. In addition, I wanted to demonstrate the range and vitality of poetry in the United States today. After a year in the MoMA galleries, though, poetry still remains an uncontested, uncolonized, and deeply undervalued space—eternally un-recoupable—and therein lies its continuing strength and beauty.