March 19, 2019

POSTED BY

Jose Fresan

CATEGORY

The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery

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It was the mid 60s, poetry flooded the streets of New York, readings were happening all around, but mainly around the bohemian mecca of the time, Greenwich Village. High rents and coffee prices started moving the bohemian movement east, to the streets now known as the East Village. In 1965, …

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It was the mid 60s, poetry flooded the streets of New York, readings were happening all around, but mainly around the bohemian mecca of the time, Greenwich Village. High rents and coffee prices started moving the bohemian movement east, to the streets now known as the East Village. In 1965, a group of poets including Paul Blackburn, Carol Bergé, Jerome Rothenberg, and Diane Wakoski, were left temporarily left without a poetry home. Luckily for them there was a uniquely special place waiting at the crossing of 10th Street and 2nd Avenue.

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St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, Second Avenue, Stuyvesant Street, and E. 10th Street, New York City, undated (ca. 1890-1919).

St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery has a long history of social activism, and has championed the arts since the 1800s. And there was no better time for the arts at Saint Mark’s Church than the 1960s. Reverend Michael Allen was weirdly a prominent figure in the art and social life of the East Village, he opened the gates of the church to artistic and social movements. “The artists and the poets were the ones doing theology, they were the ones telling the truth” he believed. So, in 1966 he opened Saint Marks Church to the wandering poets, and the Poetry Project was founded.

Readings and all sort of performances started happening at the church and its grounds. It became a community center for the arts, and a meeting place for the bohemian expression of the 1960s. Prominent figures such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and John Ashbery, among many notable poets, had readings on The Poetry Project. Lou Reed, in 1971 announced to the audience at The Poetry Project that he would no longer play music and would become a poet. That same year Patti Smith read, at the project, her poems for the first time, accompanied by Lenny Kaye on the guitar. From then on their careers in rock and punk music kicked off.

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Allen Ginsberg reads in the Sanctuary, ca. 1976 (Maureen Owen sits on the steps to his right). Courtesy St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund

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2nd Annual Marathon (1975) Photo: Jacob Burckhardt

The Poetry Project at Saint Marks Church-in-the-Bowery is living history and still running, showcasing poets from all around the world with 2-3 readings a week. The Project has seen some of the greatest talents rise within its walls, so who knows maybe you can run into the next Allen Ginsberg or Patti Smith on one of their readings.

You can see the readings’ schedule here, and make sure to say hi to Peter Stuyvesant’s ghost while you’re there.

You can listen to Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye’s infamous performance at the church here: