Jenn Koiter and so many things
Imagine reading your poetry in front of 130 faces on your computer screen, the largest audience you have ever stood or sat in front of. Imagine competing against established poets turn after turn to utter your words, and the nerve-racking wait for votes from strangers. Then imagine winning and being chosen to publish your first full poem collection, like Jenn koiter done just this year, with the DC Poet Project of Day Eight.
Day Eight is an exciting young nonprofit organization that started with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The small arts organization was founded in 2007 and is responsible for publishing a literary magazine, anthologies and collections of poetry. It’s a diverse organization that offers a variety of programs for our city’s writers and readers, including the DC Poet Project, which is both an annual open mic competition and a local reading series. The project, founded in 2017, is designed to support local poets, and it results in the publication of a new book of poetry each year by the award-winning author.
Koiter won the 2021 competition and its resulting collection, So much of everything, was posted on October 31st by Day Eight. Koiter, a 44-year-old Edgewood resident, heard about the DC Poet Project from a friend and on a whim decided to enter. She qualified for the final, competing with four other finalists, and was voted the winner on May 22 by the virtual general public. She received $ 1,000 and a book contract.
So much of everything explores the complex grief and loss Koiter experienced following the suicide of her ex-boyfriend nine days after their breakup. She spent a decade writing the poems, but only had one month to put the collection together after winning the competition.
“[The collection] was written over a span of over 10 years, so this is a crazy quilt from a book! said Koiter. “It contains found poems from mid-century female beauty literature, travel poems, religion poems, character poems, a long streak of elegies – and it’s not even not an exhaustive list. In a strange way, however, it definitely holds together. Koiter’s poems are compelling and modern, and she first surprises readers with a delicate blend of vulnerability and humor. In “AFTER THANKSGIVING” she writes:
I am eating
leftover cranberries in brandy
mixed with plain yogurt
not because I
particularly like them
my mom does
& I feel closer to her
when i eat them
that me when we speak …
Koiter is at home where fantasy meets sadness. Voices and characters weave their way through the collection, giving us an unusual narrative feeling for a work of poetry. It is as if she is whispering to us: âI have a story to tell. In “THE MESSY GIRL FORGETS HER DREAMS”, Koiter writes as a young schoolgirl:
you fell? You know,
if you hit the ground,
you won’t wake up.
Later in the collection, Koiter hits hard. “THE SURVIVOR” allows readers to begin to see where the collection is heading – on the deeply personal journey of someone who has lived through the unthinkable.
The detective closed your front door behind him
and walked calmly towards us
across the lawn. he did not hurry
because he had no reason to hurry.
This collection is overwhelmingly honest, bold in its proximity to ugliness, but still so beautifully and skillfully rendered. Koiter’s words linger, his voice is clear and strong. It fits perfectly with other DC Poet Project winners, including Kevin wiggins, John johnson, and Susan meehan, who have all written and published distinctive collections for Day Eight.
The victory and Koiter’s book, however, charted a lesser-known course due to the realities of the pandemic. As a member of the Board of Directors of Day Eight and Editor-in-Chief of Literary Arts Gregory LucÃ© explains: “The major impact [of the pandemic] was that we had to run the Poet Project virtually this year, and we just published a really nice book by the amazing winner, Jenn Koiter! Luce co-founded the project with the Executive Director of Day Eight Robert bettmann and has continued for the past 18 months to edit the anthologies and literary journal for which Day Eight is known. He expects the organization to continue to grow and evolve over the coming year.
âWe are currently in the process of moving the poetry edition to its own journal and launching a biannual print version. We hope to complete this project early next year, âsays Luce.
Bettmann has worked hard to expand the impact of Day Eight over the past 14 years, although the organization has struggled, like most arts nonprofits, to move on and continue to provide programming during the pandemic.
âIt’s really hard for us to stay in touch with donors when we don’t see people in person,â Bettmann says. âTheaters experience the same thing. It’s not just about ticket sales, but the fact that the people who attend an event are the same people who end up donating.
Bettmann is concerned about the ability to fundraise (and therefore provide programming) as a small nonprofit stuck, for now, in the virtual arts world. In addition to the poetry competition and reading series offered by the DC Poet Project, Day Eight works as a creative team to develop and secure funding for programs such as the Eco Arts Project, dance performances and even an editorial collaboration with the new Anacostia Swim. Club.
The organization relies primarily on private funding to develop its arts programs and publish books, and is overseen by an active board of directors that includes Luce as well as renowned DC writers. Grace Cavalieri, Ori Z Soltes, E. Ethelbert Miller, among others.
Bettmann and Luce are delighted with Koiter’s So much of everything, as well as the next anthology The great world of days, which is slated for release in March 2022. The two also hope that the DC literary scene will return to events in person as soon as possible, so that Day Eight can continue to do what he has always done: supporting and uplifting arts and artists of the city.
Jenn Koiter reads from So much of everything at 5:30 p.m. on January 30, 2022, at Reston Readings, at Reston’s Used Book Shop, 1623 Washington Plaza, Reston.