Spotlight: Poet, Publisher Jeffrey Cyphers Wright


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright is an artist, critic, eco-activist, impresario and publisher, but is best known as a poet. He received his MFA in Poetry after studying with Allen Ginsberg at Brooklyn College and taught there for several years. He served on the Poetry Project Board of Directors and also taught there. From 1987 to 2000 he ran Cover Magazine, the Underground National. He won Theater for the New City’s poetry contest in 2014. Wright is the author of 15 books. Recent titles include Blue Lyre from Dos Madres Press, Radio Poems from The Operating System. and Party Everywhere, a handmade and limited edition collage and poetry book created in residence at EMediaLoft. Wright currently writes criticism for American Book Review and ArtNexus. He is a long time resident of the East Village in New York City and recently won a Kathy Acker Award for writing and publishing. He produces literary events at KGB Lit Bar and La Mama ETC in conjunction with his art and poetry magazine, LiVE MAG!

John Wisniewski:  What are you working at currently, Jeff?

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: Well, I’m trying to publicize my latest projects. “Blue Lyre” came out this year from Dos Madres Press. I just had an album, Later Than You Think, come out from Eat Records in Jacksonville. And Fell Swoop in New Orleans just published “Fake Lies”. Those poems will end up in a collection called Dopple Gängster which is the new stuff I’m working on.

Although the poems are stand alone, they call and echo each other. They’re about a central figure moving through the landscape, who tries to maintain an upbeat spirituality and the struggle to share that sensation.

The poems, when they’re done, arrive at a place that is part mirror and part projection. They are a critique of our times while offering sage observations in compressed, musical phrases. They try to be fun and deep simultaneously.

John Wisniewski: What may inspire you to write?

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: Compulsion. The danger and fear of a blank page. The immeasurable beauty of four o’clocks. Duty. A sense of gratitude to the universe for my blessings—that needs to be expressed in a meaningful (and dare I say “useful”) way.

And relationships with people inspire me. Activites, comraderie, sharing experiences and literature over time. Parties. Politics. Amour. Sex. I’m the original New Romantic. And other poems often inspire me. My girlfriend says, “You should read twenty poems for every poem you write.” Good advice.

John Wisniewski: .Does writing come to you easily or is it a difficult task?

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: Writing is like being married to a pen. Being a poet is a way of life. You see and feel things that you may want to transcribe (and transform). You look for things or moments or thoughts to record and wonder what you’re trying to say. What’s the “message.” And then you boil it down, getting closer to the message but then masking it. Sometimes I work for days on a sonnet.

And sometimes, it more or less spills out. So, to answer you question, paradoxically, it’s both easy and difficult. If it weren’t deceptively easy, it would be too much work, for me anyway. But it is exciting to create something. Like making Pinocchio, I suppose. It’s magic.

John Wisniewski: What was the experience like, studying with
Allen Ginsberg?

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: I knew Allen for a decade before I studied with him. He had written a preface for my book “Take Over.”  My good friend Bob Rosenthal was Allen’s secretary and that made it easier for me to get to know him. Also, I had a patron when I ran Cover Magazine—Lita Hornick. And she took us out to dinner together sometimes.

Allen always seemed very engaged and earnest. When I studied with him at Brooklyn College, he took his job as a mentor very seriously and he came at it differently than the academic faculty. He didn’t follow the normal procedure of an MFA graduate program and he would give us homework. Once he told us to write some Sapphic odes using something like anapestic trimeter. I didn’t do it. He told me, “If you’re not using meter, you’re writing by the seat of your pants.” Which I thought was a great way to write.

I always tried to hang out with Allen as much as I could and would offer to run errands for him. Once he sent me out to kill time with Herbert Huncke before a reading at the college. And another time with Michael McClure. So that was amazing. I got them to draw in my special notebook and sign it.

Allen knew so many people that he couldn’t remember the other students names very well. He called one woman “Moonface” the whole semester. That was amusing to we students, but very insensitive.

Of course I loved Allen dearly. It was a supreme honor to have known him. I was also able to publish his work several times. Cover Magazine portrayed him as a defender of freedom in one of his later interviews.

John Wisniewski: Are there any movements in poetry that you like, perhaps in NY?

Jeffrey Cyphers Wright: Well, New York is such a generator. I’m a third generation New York School/ St. Mark’s/ New Romantic with a side of Surrealist Beat. What I like about the “scene” now, is that you can find every kind of writing. Spoken word, Neo-formalist, avant blank, experimental, hybrid texts, ekphrasis, Oulipo followers, Unbearables, Flarf.

And what’s happened in this “postconceptual” phase is that there are spaces for these predecessors to all blend together. And that’s exciting. And of course, it’s great to be able to go out and hear live readings. KGB Lit Bar is amazing. Sidewalk Cafe and Parkside Lounge are super bohemian hotspots. Berl’s Poetry Bookstore in Dumbo is a treasure. And galleries are hosting readings too. Howl Happening. Live Mag! (my current “baby”) is hosting an event there in January. There are so many readings to check out in New York.

I actually get a lot of work done at other people’s readings. Luckily.

Next up: Live Mag! issue 15 hosts “Freedom Writers” at La Mama.


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