Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Occupy the Poetry

Occupy Wall Street placard. September 2011.


On September 17, 2011 a group of people got together in the heart of the world's financial district. New York City's Zuccotti Park. A movement was born — Occupy Wall Street. Looking back through the lens of history what was the legacy of Occupy Wall Street? To some it gave a generation a voice, to others it was a waste of time. The legacy of Occupy Wall Street is probably best expressed through poetry. It is the poetry of Occupy Wall Street that encapsulates that moment, that fervor and the passion of poets living and dead.

The poetry of Occupy Wall Street — much like the movement itself  — was not limited to New York City writers, poets and dreamers. It came from around the world. It came in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Urdu, German, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch. It would come from the voices of 448 poets consisting of 721 poems. It came from one place. The heart.

In the words of acclaimed poet CAConrad,"This Anthology is one of the most important fucking documents around!"

But there was one person who made it all happen. His name is Stephen Boyer.

We spoke when Occupy Wall Street was still leading off the nightly newscasts. Stephen lived in Zuccotti Park for almost two months, first arriving on September 29, 2011 and staying until the occupiers were forced out on November 15. The idea for the poetry project was, "Spur of the moment!" and grew out of the Friday night poetry assemblies in Zuccotti Park which the Occupiers had renamed Liberty Square.

Poems were compiled in a three-ring binder...then another...and another. The Occupy Wall Street Anthology is a chronological opus, that begins with the thoughts and words from the first poetry assemblies. Poetry submissions were received at Liberty Square and online through The People's Library. Two binders stayed with Stephen — the head librarian of the People's Library — while another binder was on display at the nearby Poets House in Battery Park City.

"I'm continually amazed by the beauty inherent in the submissions," said Boyer. "The Occupy Wall Street Anthology, incorporates so many different types of poems, it's one of the freest compilations I've ever encountered." As word of the Anthology spread, so did its star power. "Adrienne Rich is super famous! As is Lawrence Ferlinghetti. As is Wanda Coleman," states Boyer rhyming off a list of famous poets who have submitted new pieces."As is Kevin Killian. As is Dodie Bellamy. As is Eileen Myles. As is Germ. As is everyone that has a poem in the The Occupy Wall Street Anthology. It's full of superstars!" As for Boyer's favorite poem in the Anthology, he states, "I really, really really love the poem that goes, "Fuck You Ayn Rand"! The poem is titled, An Open Letter to Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum by Mike Cecconi.

"Reading poetry is such a freeing exercise," said Boyer who before Wall Street studied writing in university and attended poetry workshops held by Bellamy and Killian. Since Occupy, Boyer published his first novel in 2013 — Parasite.

"The People's Library and the The Occupy Wall Street Anthology have become my life, more or less," he said at the time. "I've never personally embarked on anything so grand in my life. And I hope that I did the document justice in my attempt to get it out into the world."

Stephen Boyer did do justice to The Occupy Wall Street Anthology. While efforts have been made to publish the book, it is available free of charge as a PDF in keeping with the roots and ideals born out of one autumn in New York City.


Mark Butkus