This has been one of the most amazing years in my whole life. I read at venues that deeply connected me to the American poetic tradition: The Walt Whitman Birthplace; the Poetry Center of Passaic Community College; the UA Poetry Center; the Fine Arts Work Center. It has taken 4 decades of work to get to these places, but I am the poster child for persistence and persist I did. I thank all of the organizers and audiences for their hospitality and generosity and embrace of my work. In February, I was at AWP on a panel about capitalism! And I read from TRUTH TO POWER from Cutthroat Journal, one of my fine volumes emanating from political turmoil of these times. But more importantly, I got to hang out with Joy Harjo-we have known each other for 4 decades and this year she received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the most prestigious for American poets and then I received the Poets and Writers Jackson Prize–little did we know that on the day before my birthday in February.
In May I celebrated with many of the bestest friends over 3 generations at the20th Century Association in mid-town on day of perfect weather and with my face composed by the lovely lady at the Saks Lancome counter to receive the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize. What an amazing gift –the dollars help, but the recognition was the most important thing. And it was a joy to share the moment with so many people who just wanted to celebrate. This on top of the gift of a residency from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. It seems that people found me and decided that it was my turn to get some of the glittering prizes. I worked hard for these gifts. I am pleased to have them.
And I have to say it was amazing to hear Bill Murray read my poem “Life Lessons” at the Poets House Gala.
I’ve used Walt Whitman as a way to engage writers to think about the current political situation through the lens of Whitman’s prose! It works. It worked at FAWC; it worked at Gemini Ink; it worked at the Poetry Center. I will continue to use Democratic Vistas as a piece to argue with and utilize.
And I used it as a way to enter teaching a graduate poetry workshop at Adelphi University, where I was treated with respect and where resources were presented to me. I had wonderful students and easier (but more expensive) commute.
Because of my work since the 1970s with a range of poets and artists, I too have embraced the necessity to organize against the current cultural political stance as clearly seen in conservative politics and media. So I’ve been quietly organizing a group of poets to start the real serious work of insisting on what American identity is. We need to take identity back from these narrow minded bigoted and greedy racist, sexist, homophobes who now run way too many things and claim their Americanness. So look out for projects from American Poets Congress, we are going to do some serious things in conjunction with the many powerful things that are happening in this nation. #Resistance is importance, but our Insistance on what should be American ideals, mythologies, identity–that’s going to be the fight for our future.
I thank you for your encouragement, your talent, your fierce belief in the better in us. I was so glad to see my family in May–my brother, sister and I visited our mother’s grave for the first time together since 2013 when we laid her to rest. My siblings are accomplished and spiritual and loving and hard working–we are our mother’s children. They are blessings in my life.
I have great faith in my Church Community, the members of Saint John’s Church in Park Slope have opened their hearts to many who are truly down trodden and broken. There has been much healing there. But I really have great faith in the poetry and arts community. We do important things just by demanding language that speaks truth. May you and your family have love, light and laughter in this year’s end. May we all have renewed strength to do the work we need to do as creative and compassionate people in 2018.