Poets Reading for Poets: Highlights from PTNYC’s Bernadette Mayer Benefit

by: Aimee Herman & Daniel Dissinger
all photos by: Samir Abady

Words and Worlds collide as PTNYC faculty and friends read the works of struggling poetic icon, Bernadette Mayer, and presented several of their own inspiring works.

Check out some highlights below!

Aimee Herman: The process of remembering includes many parts. Imagine memory as a body. All limbs do not have to be present in order to conjure up an image. So you bend an arm and see a face or you lift a shoulder and hear a voice:

 “we behold, so many Gnostic beings landing at our doorstep ready to start something or else there’ll be a rainbow or parhelion or fire or with the party to put an end to hunger as they say in the old days and should we have a rent strike.”  (Bernadette Mayer)

Daniel Dissinger: Can a collection of words have an impact on the body?  If a poem is let loose in a darkly lit room, is it possible this poem can be received hundreds of miles away?  What does the soul remember of childhood, winter, and dreams? 

Aimee Herman: Poetry Teachers NYC recently hosted an evening celebrating the poems of Mayer, in addition to removing and articulating our own poems. A large tree in the shape of a small wooden box sat on a table at Milk & Roses bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, ready to hold the collection of coins and paper currency to help Mayer have a winter free of frostbite and a body free of starvation.

Daniel Dissinger: In order to protect our cultural icons, our artists and communities, we must stop trying to wait for others to act. On Jan. 30th, Poetry Teachers NYC took action!  With the help of poets Aimee Herman, Peter Rugh, Joyce LeeAnn Joseph, Sara Nolan, and Sam Jablon, a younger generation of artists stepped up to lend hand, soul, and word to a poet who laid the ground work.

Aimee Herman: Bernadette Mayer curves her voice onto computer screens or from bound books, all the while wrapped in a quilted garden of patched warmth. There are holes in this security blanket like the cracks found in memories. What do we choose to memorize? And what is the fuel we need to press it out of mind and onto page. Oil. Ink. Firewood. Steno pad. Food. Sleep. Transport.

On this night, we heard so many poems that deconstructed the narrative of bodies, letters of protested prayer and even a homegrown rap wrangling up the attention of all those listeners in the candle-lit room. 

Daniel Dissinger: What does it mean to be part of a community?  I see it entangled with family, friends, ghosts, echo; I see it as a space which transcends lineage.  This is why it was such a privilege for me not only to read with a group of talented artists, but to be able to help Bernadette Mayer, a member of this enormous family of poets I feel indebted to, as well as deeply connected.

We have to take care of one another.  Maybe this is more than just about this particular reading; maybe this is about how we, as citizens, have to be aware of our responsibility to one another.  These are critical times we live in, but the pressures of everyday anxieties can be lifted just by simply acting neighborly.

Aimee Herman: Humans often have a difficult time asking for help. Everyday, we dig our fingerprints into the earth and what remains can be found in stained cracks on sidewalks, stolen roots of wildlife, smoky entrails in the sky.

On this night, we let go of our fear of asking.

Some of us need more help than others. Some of us spend more time purchasing paper for poems than bread and fillings for meals. We remember our own necessities when we honor another’s.

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