by Jhon Sanchez
Unlike John Casquarelli, my dear friend and classmate of the MFA program, I don’t like taking pictures very much. I don’t even use my phone camera and rarely take selfies. But I remember when the photos were taken. It was after a reading at the Bowery Poetry Club that our MFA classmates took a picture. I was in the back next to Professor Warsh, who hugged me. I felt his arm across my chest as he tapped three times on my heart.
After failing the bar exam and struggling to find an apartment in New York, I felt Professor Warsh’s confidence that I could write my MFA thesis, that I could pass the bar, that I could write my dreams. Indeed, this was his personal advice to me as well as a practical writing exercise. He said, “Dreams need attention.”
I have to say that Professor Warsh read almost all my work on poetry. I, on the contrary, fell short of reading his fiction, his non-fiction books, and more importantly, his more than twenty books in poetry. Probably, I may not need it if I was listening to him about his life as a young poet, his marriage first with Ann Wallman and later with Bernabe Mayer, to his latest wife Katt Lissard.
He taught us the peregrine life of poets in New York, a world unknown to me. I imagined him moving from Saint Marks Cathedral to the Bowery Club and going around all the bars and venues in the East Village to read poetry because “That’s what a poet does.” I was afraid, though, of reading before an audience with my heavy Spanish accent.
Every day during the MFA program, I asked myself, how could I be a poet? I cannot even pass the bar exam? But he was right there to convince me that I could write, and once he said to me, “Jhon, you have a great quality: You never think about syntax.” I’m not sure this sounds like a compliment… but for a poet, it is. Poets are looking for the other way that language can be, for the meanings that a sentence can embrace. Poets are warriors against the rules, the grammatical rules, and against any other rule, indeed, because the greatest weapon is the question mark. Some poets are equipped with all the dictionaries, training, and techniques to dominate that Goddess called grammar. Other used guerrilla tactics to ambush her. A few like me are like Mr. Magoo, who goes around as the world of grammar collapses around us, but somehow we survive: the poet survives.
Yes, professor, I have survived. I’m still writing. I don’t belong, like you, to the generation of New York School Poets. But I descended from you.
As a member of Pressenza’s crew, it is a great honor to render this homage to one of the greatest American poets and our dear friend and teacher, Lewis Warsh, who died on November 15, 2020. His friends and students write to his honor. This tribute will be published in two issues in our Cultural Notebook: First on May 2, followed by the second rendition on May 30.
Pressenza has the privilege to publish this collection of great pieces. It broke my heart to read the “letter to LEWIS” by Lisa Rogal and to know more about the life of Professor Warsh. Desiree Rucker writes in her poem “Fetch”,
“Yes, Professor, I am working.
I am now, as you once were,”
Thank you, Desiree. For reminding me that Professor Warsh once also a worker like you, like all of us. I feel more like him. Paraphrasing the Desiree, I also verified thirsty lives.
My article has to be short, so I cannot describe each of the pieces here, and it is better to read them individually or rather to see them—like in the case of Andrea Libin’s collages. But there is one title that probably says everything we all want to say, “A poem for you Lewis and a list of some of the things you taught me,” by Christine Gangs.
Thank you, Professor. You are missed.
About the author:
Jhon Sánchez. A Colombian-born, Mr. Sánchez, arrived in NYC seeking political asylum where he is now a lawyer. His most recent publications are “United Tombs of America” (Midway Journal) y The DeDramafi (Storylandia, issue 36 available on Amazon). Last year, Teleport published his short story ‘Handy.’. He was awarded the Horned Dorset Colony for 2018 and the Byrdcliffe Artist Residence Program for 2019. In 2021, New Lit Salon Press will publish his collection Enjoy Pleasurable Death and Other Stories that Will Kill You. For updates, please visit the Facebook page @WriterJhon