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Creating Community

I suppose there are poets who don’t need contact with a community of other writers, but I’m not one, and most of the poets I know aren’t either.

It’s not even that I need community, or contact, or want it; but I’m better if I know it’s there.   Not happier, just better — like knowing that you could take a trip tomorrow to somewhere nice, even if you don’t take it.

The point is, community is not a random thing, like people from different towns who happen to meet one night on an accidental street corner.  If it works, it’s because it is institutionalized, known, anticipated:  THERE, like a tree or a mountain seen out the window.

It takes a lot of activity to make a community, a lot of intense, planned activity to make something so casual and open and inviting that everyone can participate.

Steve Kuusisto and I created an award this year to honor people who are creating that sense of community here in Syracuse and Central new York.  Steve and I are co-editors / publishers of Nine Mile Magazine and Books (and this blog, and the podcasts).  The award is “For significant contributions to the art of writing and poetry.”

Phil Memmer

This first year award was to someone who certainly deserves it, Phil Memmer.

We considered many people for the award, and chose someone who is a poet, an editor, an executive, a teacher, an educator, a podcaster.  An incredible resume.  I want everyone to know about him, and about his important work.

Phil is known to most of us as the distinguished poet of four terrific poetry books, and as director of the Downtown Writers Center.  But that’s only part of an extraordinary resume.  He is also executive director of the Arts Branch of the YMCA, which provides studio art, dance, music, and writing at area Y branches and schools.  The program has served hundreds of people each year, including about 900 youths in after school programs and about 12,000 children since the perigean began. It is one of the busiest arts programs at any Y in the country.  The Downtown Writers Center under his leadership has run the CNY Book Awards since 2012, and is now also publisher of the literary journal, Stone Canoe.   This is an amazing set of activities, and it is all about, as Steve and I saw it, the incredible important task of building community.

William Carlos Williams says somewhere that “That which is possible is inevitable,” but of course, that’s not true.  It is possible to have a great community of writers and artists in Syracuse—but it is not inevitable.  We think we’re on the verge of a Syracuse Renaissance, that it is possible because of the extraordinary efforts of Phil Memmer & others.

There’s a great quote from Phil that shows another reason we selected him, in addition to resume and achievement.  It is attitude: Everyone has heard the old saw about “thinking outside the box.”  Well, Phil says:  The key thing is doing outside the box. 


i will post more later about community and the need for it.  For now, I want to share how delighted we are in the incredible work being done by our colleague Phil Memmer.

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