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Occupying Poetry With a People’s Anthology

by Jillian Steinhauer on April 2, 2012

OWS poetry anthology

An early version of the OWS Poetry Anthology (all photos courtesy Stephen Boyer)

The Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology is over a thousand pages long. It features poems by Adrienne Rich, Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg, and by countless lesser and unknown writers from around the world. The work is in multiple languages. And it’s coming to a library near you.

OWS librarian Stephen Boyer has started a campaign to print the anthology and get copies into as many libraries and public collections as possible, funding the endeavor through Indiegogo. The target sum? A hefty $40,000.

OWS librarian Stephen Boyer

OWS librarian Stephen Boyer speaking at a press conference in front of books from the People's Library damaged in the Nov. 15 eviction of Zuccotti Park and recovered from a New York City sanitation depot (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

“To some people this seems like a ridiculous amount of money to be raising on behalf of a book, but this isn’t an ordinary book,” Boyer wrote in an email to Hyperallergic. “This is a historical document, a huge text … and it’s the largest document to come from the Occupy movement.”

The anthology, Boyer explained, is open to “any and all” poems, mirroring the larger OWS movement and its desire to include any and everyone, in particular marginalized voices. “It is not exclusively a political anthology though, as I don’t see the Occupy Movement exclusively as a political movement either. The movement is a move toward a better world, socially, and in the anthology you see a lot of poems celebrating life or joyously describing aspects of society that are often marginalized and those poems allow you to rethink your preconceived notions.”

Boyer added that a lot of poems reflect people’s struggles during the recession. And, somewhat mysteriously, “there are enough scatological references in the OWS Poetry Anthology for a masters student to examine that and make it the focus of a dissertation.”

The first library to receive the anthology will be the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library, which is located in Greenwich Village. Boyer will decorate part of the space with OWS poems in celebration of Poetry Month (April) and host an open poetry reading on April 14 from 2 to 5 pm. He sees the event as a golden opportunity to bring together members of OWS and the West Village community, which he said “has a long history and seems eager to pick our brains.”

Although he has been in touch with publishers about printing the book in a more traditional way, not surprisingly, no one was crazy about an anthology whose only criteria for inclusion is simply submitting. What’s more, Boyer and OWS will give away the copies of the anthology for free, something a publisher with a shrinking budget and a thousand-plus-page book on their hands would no doubt be less than thrilled about.

Boyer said that a “very kind poet” covered the cost of printing the first copy (about $40), which includes color photos and will be done as professionally as possible. OWS will give the book to the Jefferson Market Library at the April 14 event. Anyone else interested in the anthology can either donate $100 or more to the Indiegogo campaign or pick one up, once they’re printed, at the People’s Library, now housed at the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books store in the West Village. According to Boyer’s estimates, if the campaign raises $40,000, he and his team can make 1,600 copies. If they raise more, there will simply be more copies. More poetry for everyone!

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