45 and the American headache

Anthology from Pam Ushuk,et al

Cutthroat Journal pub this amazing collection 2-2017. Proceeds go to ACLU

These days we have colds that linger.  Feet sore from marching.  Minds boggled by the long list of bad ideas paraded as policy that make America First.  I did not vote for the current President.  Indeed, the majority of voters did not vote for him, but the Electoral College gave him more votes that his opponent.  And now we have a political migraine and no real antidote.  Other than protest and engagement, which actually is a good thing.  For too long Americans, particularly liberal or progressive leaning Americans have been complasant or cynical and thus disengaged from politics and in the mean time the right has increased in power.  So we now have the perfect storm for all those bad ideas from access to health care to an un-needed border wall are now in play.  Also, the current President is calling for the elimination of the NEA, the NEH and the CPB, which is a middle fnger to creative people.

Here’s my NEA story -I applied 13 times before I finally got an NEA grant. The money wasn’t all that much, but it made a difference in the ways in which I was treated as a poet. I came up through the independent literary scene and so had a catch is as catch can kind of artistic life. But the NEA grant was critical because of the recognition it gave me. It is crucial because it funds journals that many of us are published in. At one time, it supported literary organizations across the country so that any one with a thirst for knowledge could take classes, hear writers, build their own idea of literary culture. But more than that, the NEA gave grants to organizations so that all kinds of musics could be presented: classical, jazz, new. Theater companies could mount new work. Galleries that presented work by artists of color or folk artists or craftspeople found support from Seattle to Memphis. That our nation considered cultural activity important enough to fund so that millions could visit galleries and museums, hear concerts, read new books of poetry or fiction, and annually celebrate American culture on the Mall in Washington, DC is extremely significant. It bears out our best ideals and brings forth some of most important ideas. Controversies come and go, but a nation that disrespects its creators: poets, dancers, composers, filmmakers, basket weavers, textile artists, architects, actors, welders, novelists,storytellers is a nation in decline. The NEA reminds us that our greatest measure is the power and glory of our artistic achievements.

Republicans are now the party of the Wealthy Only and a specific kind of wealth.  The rest of us do not count.  But we do if we protest, engage, and vote the party out.  Then the headaches will go away (miraculously)

International Women’s Month–for me it’s about friends

Joy Harjo and me, off site reading, 2017 AWP DC

For my birthday this year I left NYC and my usual confab of friends and went to the 2017 Conference and Bookfair organized by AWP.  I only went for 2 days of the 4, so missed many panels and events and moments to schmooze. But I did get to participate in the Truth to Power reading organized by Pam Ushuk and the wonderful people who put together Cutthroat Journal.  Joy Harjo, whom I missed started off the 2 hour event.  I’ve known Joy since we were young and upcoming poets in the mid 1970s.  She already had a couple of books out, looked like a model and was just all embrace the world.  We were at a CCLM aka CLMP meeting–I ran the Grants Program and she was one of the jurists.  We were in Austin, Texas and somewhere after a day of deciding how to give some money to several different kinds of literary magazines, we along with Cecilio Garcia Camarillo, a Chicano poet, decided to go dancing in a local rock and roll club.  As soon as we walked in the door we INTEGRATED THE PLACE!  And we had a ball.  Nothing like being in your 20s and dancing to loud loud music while folks drank beer and the scent of marijuana wafted through the club.  Good times!  I’ve not seen or heard from Cecilio since the 1970s although I hope he is alive well and writing.  But Joy andI have remained friends and it is good to see her still look like a model and write even more amazing books of poetry.

Next day I got to hang with Metta Sama who is a more recent friend.  She’s an amazing writer, critic, educator, caretaker and arts enthusiast.  My kind of people.  People who love knowledge.  Who care deeply & who have a strong sense of style.  We were able to get tickets through the help of other friends.  It was great to do this with her and pay her back for the great hospitality she showed me and the writer Meera Nair when we read and workshopped in North Carolina.

birthday at NMAAHC in DC

Outside the NMAAHC in DC on my birthday.

Good people.  Creative people.  People who love to dance make life worth living.  Great women poets and artists.

Soraya Shalforoosh and me at her book launch, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn 2014

Carrie Mae Weems and Sandra Payne at Dawoud Bey’s exhibition.

post reading at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, Dec. 2015 w/ Lydia Cortes

I have those people in my life. #gratitude.

Poet friends

Black women make beautiful poets: E. Hunt, H. Mullen, T. Foster & E. J. Antonio

Belladonna reading, March 2015

Kimberly Lyons, Laynie Brown, et al,March 2015

Waiting to Inhale–2017

The past 6 weeks have been to an assault on the collective nervous system of this nation and the world.  A new President with a variety of dicey dudes and former daisy dukes have moved in.  It feels like a parody except people are being deported; health care is being altered; houses of worship (mosques, synagogues and churches) have been desecrated and bomb threats called in across the U.S.  And people have been murdered.  It has been over several decades since the “peaceful” transfer of power has brought so much violence, fear and yes response.  We talk about backlash as exclusively on the right, but of course that is not true.  Many people: moderate, liberal, progressive and even further left are on line, on the phone, in the offices of their “representatives”,  in the streets.  Too early to call it an uprising, but #resistance is good.

In the meanwhile, poets have organized many events and are developing language in response to these tumultuous times.  As well we should.  The past few years have seen so much change–some very good; some very very bad–and our work as poets, writers and artists is consider those changes.  In the Raoul Peck documentary on James Baldwin, there is a passage where JB talks about being a witness and a participant–how they often bleed into each other.  Right now, whether we want to or not we are witnessing deep stresses on our democracy.  And we are participating as citizens in response.  No one other than the propagandists are writing the script.  None of us knows how any of this will turn out.  We have our hopes and our fears.

As a poet, I do what poets always do.  I write.  I publish.  I join in the festival of words that help all of live our lives.  I am grateful for the wit, wisdom, anger and anguished displayed over the past several weeks.

Over the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my work online and in a number of anthologies.  Here are three recent ones–check them out, get them, get them in your library.  You will be pleased with your choices.

T. Medina ed. antholgy

Tony Medina ed. this anthology of poems in resistance to police violence.

Anthology of poems for Gwendolyn Brooks

Anthology honoring Gwendolyn Brooks-so glad to be in this.

Anthology from Pam Ushuk,et al

Cutthroat Journal pub this amazing collection 2-2017. Proceeds go to ACLU