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Feliz L. Molina

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Interview With OWS Poetry Anthology Editor Stephen Boyer

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 11:49 am

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The Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology was born at the beginning of the OWS Movement. Following up from last Fall, how has the OWS Poetry Anthology progressed since it started eight months ago? What kinds of modifications has the Anthology experienced? Is there like a timeline of its creation?

Stephen Boyer: A lot has changed so much since then! We were all heartbroken mid-November, when the NYPD came and squashed the park, and the poetry anthology and I were there for the whole event. I read poems to the officers as they hit people with batons and destroyed the beautiful experimental world we had all worked so hard to create. The next morning an officer asked me what I had been reading from and I explained to him that I was reading from the OWS Poetry Anthology and he seemed interested. He explained that they thought I was performing some sort of weird exorcism. And in a way, I guess I was, as the goal was to try and pull from within them their humanity so they would stop brutalizing people as they stand up for their rights.

After the park ended, the anthology went through a major shift. When we were living in the park, the anthology solely existed there and one copy was at Poets House -- a public collection/ safe place for poetry. Poets House is downtown, really close to the park, and the anthology being there allowed people a sneak peak into the park without going there. But most of the people that read from it ended up going to the park afterward, so it enticed people that otherwise would not have come by and the people I talked to that had that experience were all so thankful to have been prodded to see the park for themselves. Anyway, after the park ended, since we weren't out there anymore as a library, it seemed natural to put the anthology online as a PDF. I still have the original two, and I lug them to actions with me and occasionally drop them places for people to look at, but mostly the anthology is now living online with instructions for people to print and disseminate. It's been good to have it online, as it reaches people all over the world, but at the same time, it's sort of limiting to have it online because it isn't physical anymore. And so much of the Occupy Wall Street movement is about taking physical space, about reclaiming the commons and I think it's imperative that there be a HUGE book of poems made of and for the commons to be in the physical.

What's happened to the People's Library -- its diffusion and expansion?

SB: The People's Library is one tough library. The cops have seized library books countless times now. They've even seized children's books. It's insane. Honestly, the library is such a vast conversation in itself that it's way too much for this one question. Since the raid, The People's Library been popping up at most actions and is carving a home for itself in the back room of a bookstore downtown called Unopressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. I wrote a long story about the library for the Occupied Wall Street Journal a few months ago and I suggest everyone check out the People's Library blog for regular updates.

What's the breakdown of the $40,000 goal to publish and distribute the Anthology for free?

SB: The $40,000 will primarily go toward printing with some other expenses being shipping/handling and paying for all the cool perks being offered. And you got to remember THIS IS A BIG BOOK. It's over a thousand pages now and by the time we add in all the new poems and change the formatting to be double-sided, it could still be around a thousand pages. I'm guessing it'll be about 700 pages. Unfortunately $40,000 can't print that many copies of a 700-page book. But let's just say we raise, $55,000.00!!! The team I work with to clean up and compile the anthology will first get together and enthusiastically freak out together and then we will place the order. For $40,000 we could get 1,600 copies of the anthology if we buy them at $25 a copy. So what seemed like a lot of money actually doesn't get very far. I could pass out 1,600 copies in NYC in just a couple weeks. Depending on how we print the anthology and how big it is at the end of the campaign (we're still accepting poems), will determine the cost. It looks like each copy of the anthology will cost about 12-40 dollars, depending on the quality. Personally I'd like to produce a quality book, as this is a historical document, but it'll really depend on how much money we raise. If we raised, say, $100,000.00 we could then print around 5,000 copies or even more if we got a better deal for the large sum of money and then we could really get them all over the world. And that's the goal here, to get copies of the anthology to libraries, special collections, and occupations all over the world. This is a book made by anyone that felt compelled to contribute to its pages and it's going to be printed the same way. It's a book for collectors, poetry lovers, and independent thinkers everywhere.

Are there other kinds of anthologies that have attempted a similar kind of approach to the Anthology? What's so unique about the OWS Poetry Anthology is the way in which it birthed itself. How does the production/dissemination of the anthology mirror the effect of the OWS movement?

SB: Well the movement strives to create free economies. A free economy is a tricky thing as people show up and enjoy the hard work and say stuff like, "wow this is soooo groovy, everything is soooo free and easy" but it's not actually free. Someone has to initiate the capital and decide to make it free. It wasn't just farted into existence. My friend and I often joke about that because it's a lot of really hard work to create a free economy and so many people act like Patti Smith just raised her leg and poof, "food!" If only it was so easy! It's serious work to maintain a concerted effort toward freeing the commons and to refuse to privatize or work for a selfish motive. Like, I've compiled this huge document and could potentially sell it to a publisher and piss a lot of people off but instead of working toward that, we're publicly pulling together a campaign to give the anthology away. Also, I'd like to add, this money is going to a local print shop in the Lower East Side called The Source. They've been in the LES since the early '80s and have been working with poets and musicians ever since opening their doors. They're a cool spot and if possible, I'd just like to point out what potential partnerships the OWS Movement is for small businesses and this being one example.

You mentioned that its a historical document, but now that a chunk of voices from OWS will be encased in book form, does the publication of it mark some kind of closure or anticipate an opening? Will there be another anthology to come and does the publication of the anthology mark an end?

SB: The first poem submitted was the first poem in the anthology. It's the poem by Stuart about being on the Brooklyn Bridge the day hundreds of people were arrested. It's the reason it's the first poem. The poems have gone in mostly by order and just about all the poems were submitted via email. A few poems were submitted by homeless people that I typed for them since they don't have access to a computer or Internet.

I've really tried to limit submissions to the anthology via email. However, people have handed me poems and other OWS related bits of paraphernalia that will or have already made it into the anthology. People from all over the world have contributed, in various languages and styles. It's impossible to give a demographic as I only know contributors by name. The anthology was being updated on a weekly basis until about the beginning of December. Around then, contributions started to slow down and I started updating it on a more sporadic basis. Whenever it seemed I had about a hundred pages worth of contributions, I decided to update it.

I feel the publication of copies of the anthology marks it's ending. It had a beautiful run. People contributed to it for eight months. I've done the majority of work keeping it alive and if someone wants to start another anthology, more power to them! It seems like the momentum behind the Poetry Assemblies has waned and it seems like the movement is trying to redefine and recreate itself. With May Day approaching, the movement will gain momentum in a direction yet to be determined. And I hope to have the anthology that was largely inspired by the events in Zuccotti Park as a physical document to pass around this Spring and Summer to inspire and lead more people toward action. If it means a new anthology will begin, I'm not yet sure. I live my life largely basing decisions on intuition and am awaiting May Day before I commit to any long term summer action beyond getting the anthology to as many people, special collections and libraries as possible. There are so many poems here and I want them to be accessible to readers. So in a sense, this marks the beginning of the anthology as it will go from being a space for writers to contribute to, to an object for readers to continue to be engaged and be inspired by Occupy.

Stephen Boyer is the editor and compiler of the OWS Poetry Anthology. .

Photo by taken by Lee Ann Brown at NY Public Library, Jefferson Branch where there is currently an OWS Poetry exhibition for National Poetry month. On April 14th from 2pm-5pm there will be an open poetry reading at this location.