L’chaim, L’chaim to Life
In 1981, I moved to New York City to be with the poets. On one of my first visits to the Poetry Project, I was introduced to Lewis Warsh by Mitch Highfill.
Both Mitch and I were enthusiasts. Lovers of poetry, wide-eyed and quite open to all the poetry streaming in at that point. We didn’t quite fit in with the St. Mark’s scene, but we fit in enough to keep coming back to the Project, stubbornly finding our way.
On one of those first visits, I met Lewis Warsh, who couldn’t have been more affable and relaxedly receptive. I became a big fan of Bernadette Mayer’s work with the publication of Midwinter Day and soon after Mitch and I were invited to their apartment for Marie’s birthday party. That was the start of friendship with Lewis and Bernadette and, by gentle extension, their family. It was a process of reading that slowly introduced me (Mitch was way ahead) to the variability of form, humane voice, and mystery of Lewis Warsh’s poetry. I loved Information from the Surface of Venus. One of my absolute important books of poetry by someone I knew. I read it and re-read it and tried to imitate its tone, shapes, and spectrum of intangible subjects and objects.
Lewis never sought one’s opinion or pressured you to read his work or seemed to even evaluate the friendship based on those dynamics. He always just seemed present, aware, and level about his own process, history, and sense of things. He was a kind of role model without ever intending to be.
Over the years, we all went through life changes. Lewis wrote in several new forms. His readings were always great, perhaps in part because of the cadence of his voice. I can summon it immediately. Like Ashbery in a way, but deeper. Sustained, undramatic, accessible. Relaxed and melancholy. Melancholy in the way that his work’s great theme, it seems to me, is the movement of life, the mysterious rhythms between humans of unknowability and communication, then blockage, then sudden openings, and how what we remember of the seen world of this changeable universe fixes our emotions. I am moved to discover how widely and deeply Lewis Warsh helped young poets. I am grateful for those packages over the years of United Artists books of poetry, usually precious first books. Grateful for Liquid Affairs by Mitch.
How wonderful that he had the love of an extended clan of Warsh, Mayers, and Kat. Lewis encouraged us to have a baby and he kept at it over the years, asking when. Our son Jackson was born and Lewis was like, isn’t it great? Didn’t I tell you? Perhaps one of his deep identities was as a venerable Jewish Mensch, always valuing life and continuity, despite all.
KIMBERLY LYONS most recent books of poetry are Capella, Approximately Near (Metambesendotorg), and Calcinatio. Her poems and essays have recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Doris, Unarmed, Middlelost issue 1 (online), and Talisman. She has an essay in Message Ahead: Poets Respond to the Poems of Jonas Mekas (Brooklyn Rail Editions).