Last year, English creative writing professor Cathy Day introduced the New York Arts Program to a small group of her past students. Although Ball State University and the NYAP were not officially partnered, the two institutions worked together to allow one student into the program which sends students to live and intern in New York City for one semester. In exchange, the student gains 16 credit hours for his/her respective school. This past spring, Ball State alumnus Kelly Stacy was accepted into the internship program through which he interned at two poetry institutions. Below, Kelly recounts his experience in New York City and discusses the value of such a unique program. Additionally, before continuing to Kelly’s post, be sure to see the flyer below for upcoming informational meetings about the NYAP, which is now officially partnered with Ball State University!
In the spring semester of 2012, I had the opportunity to intern in the Bowery in New York City. Cathy Day, a Fiction Professor with Ball State’s English Department, connected me with this wonderful opportunity via The New York Arts Program (NYAP). The NYAP is an internship program that typically caters to private schools throughout the Midwest. However, with the help of Professor Day and Dr. Adam Beach, I had the unique opportunity to apply for (and eventually get accepted to) the internship program.
In the program, I lived in a five story walk-up brownstone in Chelsea. Though the quarters were cramped, I stayed in the center of Manhattan and had the pleasure of staying with about 30 other interns from across the nation. This was especially beneficial as I was able to gain insight from participants in all arts fields. The building was within walking distance of the High Line, an old rail line turned into a scenic walkway; Penn Station, one of the busiest hubs in the world; The Chelsea Market, a fish packing plant near the Hudson River docks that has been converted into cafes and health food stores; and Times Square, which was about ten blocks away. All in all, I lived in a prime location.
The neighborhood was good. Many of the streets, especially south, are still old brownstones, covered in ivy along tree lined streets. Although, the Penn Station area can be crowded and frustrating at times, not two blocks west are old warehouses converted into modern art galleries. You walk into a random gallery and there is a new Damien Hurst or Robert Irwin piece hanging on the wall. And what’s best of all is that the galleries are free. Just down four blocks on Twenty-Fifth Street is the old Chelsea Hotel, where artists like Dylan Thomas, William Burroughs, Edie Sedgwick, and Bob Dylan would basically squat.
While I was in the program, I interned with the St. Mark’s Poetry Project and The Bowery Poetry Club. Both are steeped in the long-standing New York School, Beat, and Spoken Word traditions.
The Poetry Project was originally founded in 1966 by poets Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg. The Project is known to have been a main stage for writers like Gregory Corso, Ted Greenwald, Jim Carroll, and Patti Smith. I worked in the Project’s office every Thursday. Not only did the shear amount of literature and poetry lying around the office help to better my own personal writing, but the experience also gave me a strong insight into what it takes to organize and manage a non-profit arts program. For example, it wasn’t until I began working with St. Mark’s, as well as with the Bowery’s non-profit arm, that I even had a basic understanding about grant research and the grant application process. Also, working for the project allowed me to gain insight into the importance of archival work, since they have collected most of their readings and newsletters since their conception.
When I first started working for the Project, I had to do a mailing for the program. While I was doing this, I sat at this small table on a balcony overlooking the main hall of the church. On the church’s stage were some people practicing a modern dance number. They weren’t playing music. It was just the soft thud of footfalls droning against the high ceilings. So, I started just going through the motions of putting these envelopes together, and I glanced down at the address line of one of the envelopes. It was John Ashbery–one of the greatest living American poets who has written poetry that not only shows the fallacy in humanity, but also urges us to move forward with optimism: “Make us visible. Lead us to the jackpot of redemption,/ The bonanza of enlightenment, seeing as how we wheeze and waver,/ For such examples, while not unknown,/ are all together rare.”
It was one of my first real connections in the city with the poets I’ve admired since I started writing. Even though it was only an envelope, seeing the address made me break the drum line of bare feet with a chuckle. I mailed something to John Ashbery.
Most of the week, I worked at the Bowery Poetry Club. The Club was started in 2001 by Bob Holman. The Club typically performs over eighty different programs in a month, ranging from poetry readings, burlesque shows, jazz concertos, art openings, and hip-hop concerts. The Club never had a day that was “regular.” Printed across the front of the door was the saying, “Everything is subject to change,” and that motto was realized on any given evening. All of the Bowery staff were artists or performers themselves. The doormen were poets and beat-boxers; the bartender played bass in a punk band; and the girl who worked the café was a funk singer. Everyone did something, and often the space would also act as their venue.
While I worked at Bowery, I started reading with the Urbana Poetry Slam at Bowery on Tuesday nights. The series was started by Christin O’Keefe Aptowicz in 1998, and includes poets like Sarah Kay, Taylor Mali, and Anis Mojgani. I did the slam or the open mic almost every Tuesday. Once, I knew that I had to give a reading for the upcoming Tuesday. A half-hour before the show nobody had shown up besides the other Urbana poets in the bar. I was walking back from the bar to the front foyer space where the café was located. I had to also sell pizza at the club that night, and the pizza guy had called me over for some help. When I walked up to meet him, the foyer turned from an empty, humming gathering of tables to pandemonium. The foyer ran out of standing room, and the line stretched down the block. By the time the event started, audience members were sitting on the stage around the mic, and all of the standing room available was taken. I couldn’t print out my poems because we were swamped. When it was my turn to read, I waded through the sea of people with my laptop held over my head and walked sideways all the way to the stage. When I was done, the audience all applauded. I had read to over three-hundred people. It was one of the most validating experiences that I had while I was in the city.
The whole city is almost amorphous like clay; you have to craft what you want out of it. There, I was bombarded with some activity, something, all the time. On the weekends, I liked to go to the Cloisters in the upper Manhattan— Washington Heights area. The Cloisters is a compilation of different monasteries throughout Europe. Originally built by the Rockefeller family, the Cloisters now house the Met’s entire medieval art collection as well as a series of European orchards. Also, I enjoyed the wide selection of experimental theater that is offered in the city. Many of the other students in the program worked in theaters throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn and either participated in or often attended way-off Broadway productions, such as Shakespearean method acting, director’s saloons, and productions that would use a whole bar as a stage, the players weaving through the audience. As a writer, New York provided me with a host of opportunities to expand my knowledge of the craft. There are so many book stores and libraries in New York City, including my favorites, the Poet’s House, a poet’s library in Battery, and the New York Public Library. Also, I was able to go to many different readings throughout the city, all of which were established in a literary tradition. Besides the readings at St. Marks and Bowery, I also attended readings at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café and the Cornelia Street Café. Cornelia Street was my favorite venue. To get to the performance space, I had to go down a back stairwell by the kitchen. The stairs wind down into a shotgun cellar with a tiny bar in the back and a small stage across the room. The ceilings are low and lit with rope-lights. The walls are packed with candle lit tables. It was the most intimate reading space that I attended.
Now that I have returned from the city, I hope to take the many skills I acquired and apply them to my own writing. Additionally, it has inspired me to organize and produce community art exhibits at local venues. When I left for the city, I wanted to see a place where art, writing, and theater were taken out of the closed academic circles and brought out to share with everyone. This is what I experienced in my internships. No artists were excluded, no audience members left out, everyone from all walks of life participated together to create something. I wish to take that lesson and build from it. I hope to go from here to foster that same kind of energy in wherever my future community will be.