a good morning-those first real blooms

public art work-Bed-Stuy

This morning was a pretty one–sun shining, warm.  Storefronts on Fulton closed until the shopkeepers open them up.  Folks clustered at bus stops on their way to work.  Many people smiling  because sun was shining and it was warm.

Brooklyn is loudly branded as a place for hip White people and hip Black people and occasionally others are mentioned.  But it is a place for ordinary people who get up in the morning and go to work in banks’ back offices; for the MTA; clerks at Macy’s or Bloomingdales or in the countless restaurants, bars,hotels, sports centers,  juice joints, etc. that make up the “hospitality industry”, and a few work in fashion or media. Paychecks, bills, families,rent or mortgages to pay.  So a warm Wednesday morning was most welcome.  In Whitman’s prologue to Leave of Grass he catalogues jobs Americans do (did) and it is good that he did.  We have a record of those jobs. We have a picture of the people who made their living.  We now do some of what they did: we serve food or perform in theaters or exchange money.

Today, the Poetry Foundation posted my essay in the Harriet blog:      https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2017/04/colloquy-1-words-on-freedom-confusion-resistance-poetry/

and I hope people read my work.  I am glad to  be part of that industrious mix all the way from Brooklyn.

The cold, then warm, then cold weather is making our green and blooming friends most unhappy–they just want to bloom and get on with it and a few hearty blooms are fighting for show and a flowering tree across the street from a row of daffodils –we all want Spring. Even the plants are working hard.

the only tree flowering

corner yard, Bed-Stuy

purple salutes the green

Poetry Month -musings on my first week!

Whitman statute, Whitman Birthplace Huntington, LI

On Saturday April 1 I read in two very different venues: Passaic County Community College in Paterson,  New Jersey, as I was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize and Howl Happening, a East Village arts gallery for a book launch of WORD: An Anthology which featured poets and artists or poets as poets and artists. It reminds me that like Whitman, I contain multitudes.  From the broken city across the Hudson where mill building stand, while wood frame houses fall from fire, neglect, despair to the shiny overpriced formerly bohemian EV where I grew up as a young poet and writer and became the woman I am.  The poets range from the academic to the anarchic–I seem to fit in with them all.  I thank Whitman for that inclusiveness of words and tempo and ideas.

Why because on April 7, I took part in the Walking with Whitman series organized by George Wallace for the Whitman Birthplace and Historic Site in Huntington, LI.  Going to LI is not without trepidation.  It’s a haul and I found one of the few express trains there.  I also encounter the not so gentle racism of the place. I sat down in the train car, took out my book to read on the train and this nice middle-aged woman said, “this train does not stop at Jamaica” assuming that somehow I must be on the wrong train.  I politely told her I knew what train I was on and where I was going.  The provincialism of suburbia always amazes me.

But a new friend picked me up at the train station once I got there.  His car had heated seat (nirvana) and off we went to this lovely center which has a beautiful yard, that was the original one for Whitman’s family.  And all things Whitman and a great list of poets in residence there.  I got there in time to hear the “open mic” which was pretty good–most of the poets were middle-aged or older, one very young person.  Then some pleasant music and then George Wallace introduced me and it was one of my best readings.  I read for about 40 minutes & was given an ovation-my first ever. And it was genuine and surprising and I am glad that it was.  I’ve gone to many venues where poets gin up things emotionally or otherwise to get an audience up and off their feet, but I don’t do that, at least not intentionally.

Afterwards there was a Q&A & the questions, the things on people’s minds are the things on mine:-how are we to be poets in this difficult time; how are we to create; what can we do to sustain ourselves and how and what must we do to consider the Future. Whitman talks a lot about the Future in his work, we do as well but it almost always dystopian.  We have to start to think well if we could make a better place for humans and all other creatures and be of good cheer in this cosmos, well what would that be like?  What does it mean to be inclusive, to allow for a range of expressions of sexuality, talent, civility? What will the family be like 50, 100, 200 years from now, that is if humans are still around.  I don’t know.  But I have faith that many of us are working hard to do as poets have done since the first one sang–we create, we present, we hope to connect. We seek knowledge and we hope for love.

Mark Doty, Richard Michelson, me after Paterson Poetry Prize reading.

medallion Walt Whitman Birthplace, Long Island

Palm Sunday

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a day of celebration and foreboding in the Christian calendar. One that shows triumph, jealousy, pride, fear and treachery in the making. Holy Week is one of the great dramas. Today I talked with my sister who is a CME pastor about her plans for the week and we both talked about Maundy Thursday–which follows The Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus at Gethsemane. I said to her it is not Judas’ who most bothers me–his treachery is so well-defined. It is Peter’s–who as Jesus said betrayed him three times all out of fear. There are many Peters in this world–who claim they will do the right thing the just thing the loving thing, but cowardice and fear are very strong. Peter was forgiven but he had to work hard to regain that trust. How many Peters of this world have each of us forgiven. How many times have we out of fear betrayed out best selves? No one ever said a spiritual path of any sort is easy. But it is a path.

Window, St. John’s Episcopal -Park Slope

April brings fire and rain

The assassination of Martin Luther King was a day that broke a forward motion leaving many shards, some picked up and moved forward, others still deep beneath the soil. I still remember the silence on the streets of Memphis the day after the riots. I remember the tanks and rifles. I am trying to carry one of those shards. But the ones under the soil–they poison us all.

 

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

New Year New Blues for The Lady in Blue

Shawl

Shawl by Marion DiCaires Lake bought in 1976-77

The new year starts with defiant slogans, poems and anxiety and the sore winners telling everyone to get over it-like get over slavery; get over rape; get over racism; get over violations large and small.  Get over it.  Thus words of resistance and feelings of anguish.  So I think this is a good time for the blues. Gutbucket or glamrous–old school or new.  We need to have a feeling place, something our voices can stroke.  An American invention that despite going in and out of favorite keeps bringing us some of what we need and now we need a lot.   I think Laurie Carlos knew and understood how to re-shape the blues for modern times.  Take Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday on up to Koko Taylor sprinkle with La Lupe and Celia Cruz (ah salsa) and she wasn’t a musician. She was a consummate actress and director.  Her work with Robbie MacCauley and Jessica Hagedorn was innovative-game changing.  A maker of theater and a serious mentor to a generation of young artists after he moved hometown New York City to new hometown Minneapolis, which is where I last saw her.  Her transition is wrenching.  The shawl in this picture is one I bought from Marion DiCaires now Marion DiCaires Lake because Laurie did not think it bright enough.  She was the Lady in Blue in the original cast of For Colored Girls and she was  amazing.  She also looked much like her cousin the incomparable Diana Sands.  So a New Blues is upon us and the Lady in Blue has joined many others making art among the stars.

HAPPY NEW YEAR Bonne Annee Yall

roses at the home of Anne Waldman, New Year’s Eve, 2016

Today starts a new year in the Western calendar and a chance to look forward.  We all know given the coming Inauguration that it will not be easy and for many of us it will bring way to much pain.  But, we can deal with it by staying vigilant and helping those who are in greater need; by constantly demanding justice; and by doing what ever it is that we do best: write poems, sing songs, heal the sick, minister or counsel, open businesses that offer things people need, paint, sculpt, develop policy that encourage and support the polity.  We can do those things.  Who knows at the end of this year those seeking progress, justice, and environmental health may be seen as the clear winners.  We can plant our gardens not only for sustenance but for beauty: BREAD AND ROSES works for me.

FAREWELL 2016

Lights, Macon Street, Brooklyn 2016

Two days ago I wrote this on FB: I live in a city where Arabic music plays on “new sounds”. where sirens rove the night air. where friends chat on sidewalks or take weeks to meet for 2 hours in a bar. i live in a city often characterized as cold and dark and and expensive and lonely and terror ridden. and for some this city lives up to these negatives. but i live in a city where i have a tea for my girlfriends. where i find beauty in unlikely places. where music good or bad is played on the subway platforms. where at times you can see real stars. and those stars are twinkling this night, so many talented people who lived in, danced in, made love in, laughed in and gave of their considerable gifts to this city left this plane for what is that higher realm. but the city has their traces and i live in the city where those traces surround me. I am thankful to be part of stardust.
Poet Patricia Spears Jones says farewell to 2016

but of course, there is more.  I am grateful for the many opportunities I had to share my work and collaborate with fellow poets and artists.  I traveled three times to California and read in places where my work was heard and honored.  I talked with young people and old people and many folks in between.  I wrote poems that grew from hanging out in Coney Island to ones dealing with the hangover of the Presidential Election.  I kissed and hugged and dreamed and dared to do things differently.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it did not.  Many good people I know and love are gone.  But many remain.  And new ones are coming.  What was it that Laura Nyro sang:  “and when I die/there’ll be one child born to carry on.  So for Vertamae and Monica and Laurie and countless others, I hear those infants’ wailing.

PEACE

Christmas dinner, East Village, 2016