Spring will hang you up the most

April is often the cruelest month for me.  Poems and mss get rejected.  Lovers leave.  Money gets tight even when the budget is followed.  And those lovely budding plants means serious allergy reactions.  So that song “Spring will hang you up the most” makes sense esp. when sun by Sarah Vaughn or Betty Carter, women whose knowledge of the world was vast and whose emotional reserves were deep.  I am old enough to have seen them perform live although for some odd reasons I’ve never seen Aretha Franklin and it was only a year or so ago that I finally saw Chaka Khan.  But those magic voiced women from jazz vocals glorious era–the daughters of Billie and Ella, they were sublime. Spring hangs on the sublime. And this April there was affirmation and prizes and forthcoming money and an outpouring of love and respect.  This culminates on May 23rd with an awards event in mid-town Manhattan, where I will read some poems and thank everyone I can think of and feel a bit like Sally Fields’–You like me you really like me!

Every artist goes through those times when the world is dis-pleased with the work being done.  You write free verse, everyone angles for form.  You speak of the current trials and tribulations, others say poetry must transcend the times.  You transcend the times, others write their current trials and tribulations.  All any poet, no matter the style, can do is seek some version of truth in language, in line, in rhythm and rhyme, in a jumble of sounds that mimic sidewalk chatter or words as spare and austere as a French garden.

A part of me is learning to accept affirmation, to see that years of work has found favor and that more people will read my work.  Another part of me hopes that I have the energy and good health to continue make work worthy of a wide audiences of serious readers, thinkers, et al.  And now I really cannot hide behind the wall of indifference that often greeted me or my poetry for so many years.  It’s a challenge, but a good challenge.  I am happy to have good challenges and problems.  As Dickinson pointed out “Success is counted sweetest. . .”

Tulips at BBG

Emperor Tulips, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

No longer quick

Over the past several years ghosts and spirits (the words, the concepts) have found their way in my poems sometimes invited, sometimes not.  I remember many years ago hearing Ishmael Reed respond to a questioner’s skepticism about worlds other than the one we encounter daily.  He said that we live in many worlds and at times we can enter the other ones when we are open to that visit (poor paraphrasing on my part here).  I think I understand what he was saying.  There’s a membrane between the living and the dead.  When I was a child, the Episcopal creed used the phrase “the quick and the dead”—that “quick” has been altered to simply say “living” but the sound of “quick” is more focused and startling.  I can remember it 45-50 years later.

At this moment when so much of my life is overfull with accolades and support, I think of ghosts, of those whose showed me ways to move, to write, to think, to act.  Who listened to me and understood what I was trying to do and who said, keep going.  Their love and dedication and stories and gestures, their tender mercies towards me kept me from going under, fading away.  Oh how I wish they were here:

David Earl Jackson

Peter Dee

Brenda Conner Bey

Lynda Hull

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Weiss

good friends make life a little sweeter

Audre Lorde

June Jordan

Lorenzo Thomas

Ruth Maleczech

David Warrilow

Julius Hemphill

Butch Morris

Jayne Cortez

Ray Hill

Betty Ruth Merrick

Adrienne Weiss at one of my Cafe Loup birthday bashes–she had fun.

Brenda Conner Bey in the middle.

Brenda Conner Bey at Book Fair, 2009-2010?

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

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.

2016 a year of departures

We all need solace.  We all need to say farewell to many who have meant so much–personal friends, family, celebrated artists who help make our lives comprehensible.  Yesterday, the announcement that Laurie Carlos, performer, director, teacher, world-class provocateur finally succumbed to illness and only a few days after the sudden passing of Monica Hand, a fine poet and artist.  But also after the passing many friends’ parents, siblings.  And it is three years since my Mother departed and nine since my brother’s eldest was lost to us on Christmas Day.  Yes, we need solace.  I go to church.  I pray.  I hope that I live as well as I can by Christ’s commandment to love others as one loves oneself.  In this day, these times, that can almost seem impossible. But I try.  And faith was something that George Michael seemed to struggle with–unlike Leonard Cohen and David Bowie and Prince, his was not the music that inspired me, but that song worked.

We are at a cosmic crossroads–the planet literally in danger from humans greed, stupidity and lassitude.  Our nation will have what may be one of the worst Presidents in its history–making this globe less safe.  Prayer and protest may help as part of resistance to policies that will make poor people poorer and endanger water, land and air.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I think of the artists I’ve known who have said farewell this and other years as returning to the stars from whence we came.  As Joni Mitchell sang: “we are stardust/we are golden and we got to get back to the garden.”

 

Sunday listening to music that mourns and dreams

Singer/songwriter Andrew Bird sings and plays violin and makes songs that mourn and dream. It is a time of dreaming and mourning. So much about the world is like the leaves scattered on wet sidewalks or puddles–decadent. The trees will in spring burst yellow buds and then green leaves if they live past a winter coming. I think this where faith comes in–existence is always in jeopardy; faith claims that some how the living will continue to live. These trees.
I visited Calabar Imports in search of something bright to send to a friend who is facing major health crisis–scarf, earrings and Heloise Aton was there and declared she’d only recently returned from South Africa. I didn’t know she had gone. She and two friends and a grand daughter went to Capetown and had many wonderful adventures–she walked with an elephant. I assume the elephants are used to walking with human tourists. I was impressed that she and her pals on a long trip to a wild life sighting met gay couple who found them kind and fun and asked them for homecooked meal –one of the couple’s birthday. They went and had much fun. New Yorkers can go pretty much anywhere, meet all kinds of people and just have fun.
Calabar Imports, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Calabar Imports, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

While visiting, a elder came in and she remembered he is a jewelry maker/seller from Niger. He had the most beautiful silver pieces including Taureg pieces that ought to be in the collection of say Jay Z and Beyonce, that is if they collect jewelry from Niger. I bought a pair of earrings which if they had been in a Manhattan store would have been $75 or more (the silver alone) and then Carl came in and found himself buying a beautiful ring–definitely for a man. An interesting conversation about jewelry trade and the loss of buyers–Boko Harum is in Niger too and wreaking havoc. It feels as if the spoiled brats of the world now have guns and stupid followers and rage and no morality. But you know they are so tough. They beat up people. Starve people. Rape people. Kill people and swagger and piss. Swagger and piss. I did not have the money to buy from this gentleman, but you know I had to –what few dollars I gave up might mean the difference between life and death for him or a member of his family. Mournings and dreams.

Carl’s new ring.
Now home with a bright scarf, earrings that I will wear at a reading along with the bracelet I always wear that I bought from Vicki Hudspith back in the early aughts. It is a cold day and an harbinger of a challenging winter–not just our moral and political weather is being formed. So

my new hat
I bought a new winter cap.
It was good to talk with Heloise and Carl and to think of my friend and her illness and to think of other friends who have faced similar situations with rage and fear and resolution and luck and love. We are who loves us. We must voice that love. This is a Sunday when many people understood who they are and how they are loved.  Something sweet comes through the scattered leaves and the political news.  We mourn the loss of beauty.  We dream new worlds where the sweets do no harm.
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Harvest and moons

After going to the Page Poetry Parlour performance of Janice Lowe for her brilliant volume Leaving CLE--where she performed her poem/songs with a stellar group of musicians–she’s a great composer/arranger as well as poet–I walked out into the late summer evening and beheld the slowly waning harvest moon.  Odd, cop car mid street at 9th Avenue and as I walked along past a building where I heard fantastic drumming (Michael Carven) I saw more cops, a WPIX van and asked two guys, what’s going on.  “Explosion” between 6th and 7th.  Masses of people were hanging at the corner , no one was panicking  just another night in Gotham-one with bombs and 29 people injured.  This is life during Wartime.  It has been that way for 15 years. And we continue to make art, make love, make our lives as best we can. So this huge moon like the strawberry moon in June reminds me of cycles and sustenance–that things pivot and yet stay the same.  There are terrible people who have time and bad intentions on their minds and we can no more stop them then we can stop the wind. They are not going to go away. So I say make your art–poems, stories, songs, paintings, installations, movies, whatever.  Make them.  Reap a harvest of new work to share.  This is nurture. This is the good intention that we all can do as we live our lives as best we can under whatever huge moon we see.9-16-2016 Harvest Moon over w. 23rd St. Chelsea

Item 65 poem and image

Sometimes you take the plunge when there is no water

here the divers-three divers on a board rise up out of sand

then fall into a blue day, made bluer by the cleansing

winds from the Caribbean.  We are witness to the falling

to the divers 3 in the sands of Coney Island.  John Ahearn

bids us greetings and farewells, sunsets and sunsets.

Sometimes you take the plunge when the water is not near.

Poem by Patricia Spears Jones–art by John Ahearn

Atmosphere by Coney Island,  July 2016

divers by John Ahearn, Coney Island

divers by John Ahearn, Coney Island