I don’t ever tell people to have a “blessed” day because I believe that any of us at any moment can be in a state of grace. That said, today felt blessed to me even though I did not make it to church. It is Advent and in some ways it the season of yearning of waiting for something good to happen. Whether you believe Jesus was born in a manger, etc. is beside the point. That the myth is of humble birth surrounded by those who work with animals while Mary & Joseph are on their way to pay taxes and add to the census is pretty amazing. We live in a world where the poor, those who work in the fields, those who must travel far to perform civic duty of any sort are scorned, ridiculed or ignored. We do this at our civic and spiritual peril. To yearn for something good to happen to have that good embodied in the birth of a boy in a stable is a tale told with joyful music. Tomorrow the solstice, winter truly begins and we need the quiet, the darkness to understand the moments when we truly are in a state of grace. #mylittleChristmassermon My granddaddy who was a Church of God In Christ pastor. He would be proud. Peace and may the shortest day bring you the longest dreams.
It is November and it is bright or gray depending on the day and precipitation. The Northeast has the kind of light that dazzles. And then there are days that truly chill your bones. And then so much carnage, Beirut, Paris, Kenya–the ugly angry work of men intent on inflicting pain suffering and death. How to respond? We must with creativity, liberality, generosity and intelligence as in discernment. So let us stay with dreams that are not nightmares.
First, I yet again am the first feature of a new journal. This time quotidienbee started by Shanna Compton and the wonderful people at Bloof!. Here’s the link. https://medium.com/the-quotidian-bee/self-portrait-as-shop-window-da5fadc3a952/. I know that David Rivard will just love this. Also, my poem “Dancer” was posted on poets.org’s Poem of the Day site.
I just heard that I will be receiving a grant for my work from a wonderful Fund for women writers–am waiting for the announcement to post.
I am very proud that The Future Imagined Differently is up and does with very little what others spend millions on. http://aboutplacejournal.org/
Wonderful poets from Shelagh Patterson to Tai Allen to Christina Olivares to Sharon Mesmer are a few of the writers featured and great artists such as Denise Milan and Janet Goldner are presented.
And I look forward to reading December 9 I will be reading at The Poetry Project with Susie Timmons. These are all dreams come true for me.
We are living in violent times. We are also living in times where many among us are looking deeply at how we make this world–how we hold what is dear to us and work to bring harmony and peace. War is not to taken lightly and the greatest nightmare is the kind of rhetoric coming out of many of those now running for the Presidency–we need wise people not easy bellicosity. Let us work to be as intelligent, generous, and creative as we can be. Let our dreams flourish and those nightmares wither.
But handle I must. Many readings and events for my new book A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems, starting with Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon on September 20. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor has asked me to feature at The Glitter Pomegranate new space at the Bedford Y with Gregory Pardlo and Lynne Procope on the 25th.
During that time I will be finishing up The Future Imagined Differently issue of About Place Journal. It is going to have interesting art, writing, music–it will go live the first week of October.
And starting on October 25, WORDS SUNDAY returns to Calabar Imports Bed-Stuy on Tompkins Avenue which is becoming a nice place to walk about –new bars, restaurants,boutiques, but I miss Mr. Jimmy’s wonderful old fashioned variety store which was hijacked by developers. Indeed, there has been a lot of developers hijacking of space and time and beauty in this neighborhood-the “new builds” are uniformly boring, bland, sad and they all charge too much. The mostly young White people who give away considerable chunks of change for these boring, bland buildings are not hipsters or particularly hip they just look sort of generic as a White guy I heard describe a White woman on the train the other day. I was surprised. But its 2015 and the ways in which things shape shift are definitely on the unexpected side. First up: JP Howard and Nicole Callihan.
WORDS SUNDAY has presented in Bed-Stuy: Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gregory Pardlo; brilliant poet/performers: Janice Lowe, Alexis DeVeaux and Tai Allen. Plus poets: Rachel Levitsky, Michael H. Broder, Terence Degnan, Soraya Shalforoosh; Ekere Talle, Jason Schneiderman, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Robin Messing, Renato Rosaldo, LaToya Jordan, R. Erica Doyle, Alan Felsensthal, Jacqueline Johnson and Janet Kaplan. I love that all of them either currently do or have lived/worked in Brooklyn.
I hope to see all kinds of great people at events I participate in or curate–It is a blessing to make work that people want to read and hear.
And I am deeply pleased to have my work in the great mix of work that is out now. White Pine Press has done a great job with my book and Sandra Payne’s art work sets the tone.
You wake up to the phrase “salt lick”
You realize you know not one thing
About salt licks—you know salt
And lick but together? How does
The salt lick lick salt?
You know you are moving
To the land of word games
Or musical instruments
Unstrung, battered—too much play
Each day the gleaners walk side walks
In search of bottles. They separate
Already separated bags to find precious
Glass, that is plastic. They hate the cans
They know the places where beer
Overwhelms soda; where huge milk
Cartons say children, many children
Live here. They do not whistle when they
Work. They do not lick sweat
Off tired arms. They go about
The business of poverty with grace
And noise. Early morning dragging
The weight of others waste.
forthcoming in Tribes anthology with art work by Yuko Otomo
HAPPY DANCE IN MY HEAD HAPPY DANCE IN MY HEAD
This year has been one of my most productive and I am so pleased to have my newest full-length collection: A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems covering work from 1975 to the present! It’s been quite a trip. I am looking forward to getting this new book into the hands of readers. My publisher Dennis Maloney has created a wonderful promotion:
To celebrate the release of our latest volume in our Distinguished Poets Series, A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems by Patricia Spears Jones, if you order from the White Pine website we will include another White Pine title of our choosing with your order.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips says of this collection: “There is a wise and dangerous fire in Jones’ poetry that harkens back to James Baldwin and, further back to the Old Testament: the past–both a highly personal past and an expansive civic past–”
So check out my new book! Read, let e know what you think. Enjoy
On October 5, The Future Imagined Differently Imagined for About Place Journal went live at http://aboutplacejournal.org/
Poets, essayists, artists, composers are included from Myra Sklarew, Marcella Durand, Shelagh Patterson, Margo Berdeshevsky, Tony Medina, Purvi Shah, William Nixon, Ras Moshe Barnett, Jason Kao Hwang, Robbie McCauley, Beverly Naidus and the great Brasilian artist, Denise Milan.
Happy Dance Happy Dance
today I came home to my messy apartment filled with a sense of cheer. all day long “I feel free” rolled about my head–darn, I never got to see Eric Clapton live. but if I had i would have pretty much rolled about in “I feel free”. Mostly this is because I was getting my hair done by my stylist, a young woman I deeply admire. Nadia Vassell is one of the rare Black entrepreneurs in the very now gentrified Lower East Side. Tai Allen, a fine poet and designer is working on a beer/wine festival–people make money in all kinds of ways. Charmaine Bee, a terrific artist has her own Gullah Girl Tea on the side. Atim Oton now has four stores and is running around probably working on Store #5. I think all of these young(er) Black people are so smart, so energetic and disciplined and they make me pleased to alive to see them make a difference. They make me smile. They give me hope.
Someone sent me a link to a piece I wrote in 1998. It’s about poetry and how one could use poetry. Lorenzo Thomas urged me to write this essay. He is my poet/spirit being. I miss him. His encouragement kept me going when things went wrong. If he had not ask for this work, it would have been written. Enjoy.
Last Wednesday on a day that represented my break from teaching, I walked about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The day had begun soft, gray, moist, but once I got to the garden around 2 p.m. the sun began to break out a huge bright smile over this very walkable feast of a place. The Garden is undergoing rapid change–new plantings, old trees that fell during Superstorm Sandy. The variety of roses were in various stages of blooming and closing–the old roses slowly being brought back after a horrific blight. Yellows, pinks, reds, whites, lilac, even silver colors and climbing flowers make the garden one of the mirthful places in this world. I remember walking with my sister many years ago in the garden and we found varieties from 1919, the year our Mother was born. And ones named for movie stars and Presidents. But it is the Japanese Hill and Garden that I was really happy to see after too long an absence. White and purple irises were in bloom, and there have been recent prunings of the trees–in many ways the Garden is an arboretum. And the paths towards the Shinto Shrine, one of the oldest examples in the U.S. had been cleared and recent plantings made it seem particularly lush. All that green and the glorious orange red portal in the pond. I have prayed there. said good bye to a lover there. Called the names of those lost to terror or storm or old age. I had no idea that later on, so much terror would be unleashed but in Charleston, SC and nine Black American church people including Rev. Clementa Pinckney would be assassinated. Who could think of such horror while walking through the beauty of a garden, which is a very human made sculpture?
We can make gardens, but we have difficult time in these United States of looking at our history; at the brutal, vicious and violent treatment of African Americans and finding ways to end racism and brutality towards Black People. The assassin who sat for an hour in Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church did not expect welcome. Had no idea that Black people are polite and sharing. Seemed almost undone by courtesy. But not enough. The Devil’s work had to be done. Not a phrase used, but giving the religious overtones of this political assassination, Rev. Pinckney was a sitting state senator, it seems appropriate. The assassin is not mentally ill. He is filled with hatred and he had a gun (gift?) and he wanted that most American of celebrity–infamy. His name will not be mentioned here.
But if he wanted to trigger a war between the races, he failed. The race war is between Whites. This is where Whites of decency, generosity, civility are going to have to decide how much longer they can benefit from White Supremacy, an ideology that does not bother saying its name and ignore those Whites who are brutal, mean spirited, violent and racist who kill, maim in their name. Because believe me, Black people are done with this. We are not interested in being moving targets for angry White people. We know that White Supremacy exists and are done with explaining to the people who created this ideology what they are doing. We are most willing to defend ourselves, but as Richard Wright noted many many years ago, they got more guns.
So I am hopeful that with the demand to remove the hateful Confederate battle flag from South Carolina capitol grounds; with the commentary in social media from Blacks and Whites and Asians and Native Americans and others on hate crimes, racism that others also have come to that enough is enough moment. Because with the murders of decent, hard working, charismatic, generous African American citizens who were studying their Bible, a shift in the zeitgest is underway. America has and may never be “post-racial.” Barack Obama is President because he was the best candidate for the job and thinking people know that. But his election is but one of the many things that show how the zeitgeist is unfolding. We are at the start of a serious discussion about ending racism in this country. This is not a conversation on race–that is stupid. Racism represents the worst of America’s character and character can be altered, changed. Racism has got to go.
One of the best things about being a poet is that I am also a reader and a listener. And like many other readers and listeners, when given the opportunity, I enjoy organizing readings. Atim Oton, an entrepreneur and in her own way community activist decided to open a “Pop Up” of her store, Calabar Imports, in Bed-Stuy near my home. So I took the opportunity to create WORDS SUNDAY. A Fall Schedule ended with a great reading by Gregory Pardlo from his brilliant second collection, Digest which recently won the Pulitzer Prize and Alexis De Veaux who’s amazing career includes poetry, fiction collections, and an important biography of Audre Lorde. The Spring events started with younger, emerging poets Terence Degnan and Soraya Shalforoosh. Soraya, while volunteering with Four Ways Books asked me to read for their series a week before 9-11. Poets are elephants, we remember especially the kindnesses of our colleagues. And the final event in June included Janice Lowe, who I asked to start the entire series; Tai Allen and Ekere Tallie–they were lively and we had a great conversation about the continuing influence of the Black Arts Movement. I am proud of my work as a curator and hope to do more of this part of my work. Some pictures from WORDS SUNDAY, Calabar Imports Bed-Stuy Pop-up Brooklyn New York.
If I could say that someone waved a magic wand around me, I would say it is because of Jacob Lawrence, an important artist whose work continues to refresh the imagination to this day. I first saw half of the Migrations Series in the 1970s at the Philllips Collection in D.C. I think because of Richard J. (Rick) Powell, who was then a artist/scholar/curator kind of guy. I was stunned. These little paintings told stories about the South and the very real reasons that Black people left-had to leave. The next time I saw the panels was at the Whitney I think along with other series, The Builders, etc. Again, the stories in colors vivid and bold lines–the generosity towards Black folks, the pride of Black folks, the folk of Black folks–his painting allowed the narrative to sing through.
So when Elizabeth Alexander (she’s the very tall imposing diva next to moi) asked me to create a poem in response to the Series, I was both excited and terrified. How to do justice to this work? How not imitate in words what he had already done in paint? How to add to the discourse on the Black Migration? How. Last August when I was the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I re-looked at each of the panels and realized that Panel 57 was what I returned to. She’s the only single female figure in the entire series. She’s wearing white. There’s a cross in the picture. I thought of my cousin Hassie, who was head Usher at the Baptist church she attended. I thought of the aunts who came down from Chicago and Detroit looking fly. I thought of the harsh beauty of the south and the hard heartedness of southern white leadership. And then I realize that the best way into the poem was through scent. If you get the catalog you can read “Lave”. If you attend the exhibition, up till September 7, you can hear me and the other poems read our work in one of exhibition room. You can hear great music in other rooms (I am in a picture with the great opera singer, Kevin Maynard) On May 1, May Day, International Worker’s Day, we read at the Museum of Modern Art.
Hopefully, this link will take to what was one of my proudest moments as a poet and a Black woman who has lived long enough to know the harsh beauty remains in the South as does menace towards Black people, poor people–but I also know that the struggles have moved North, have taken a more complicated hard heartedness. But like our ancestors, we keep moving and when needed like the laundress, we find work, we do the work, we stand on whatever ground we can.
Again, I thank Elizabeth Alexander. Leah Dickerman, Sarah Kennedy, Jennifer Harris and a great crew at MOMA; the film studio guys, the really nice guards, the wait staff for any and all dinners, the whole sense of conviviality. Because ultimately, Lawrence shows how Black people embrace life in all of its complications from loving to loss; from brutality to struggles for justice. We really do keep on keeping on. And if you cannot embrace that simple thought you are starved of humanity. Praises to the Ancestors. Praises to the poets.
The reading was live streamed on youtube, here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdPZ5Wag9BM#action=share
Jacob Lawrence at age 23 showed a series of small paintings narrating the GREAT MIGRATION–the movement of thousands of Black people from the South of these United States to hopefully better lives in the North. This is the largest voluntary internal migration-all others were forced. I kept that in mind as I developed the poem, “Lave” which is part of the Poetry Suite commissioned by Elizabeth Alexander for the Museum of Modern Arts exhibition of the entire series for the first time in 20 years. One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence Migrations Series and Other Visions of The Great Movement North is now up at MOMA and it is worth seeing because it shows how active, innovative and politically engaged African American artists were during the Great Depression into War Years and beyond. We are still working through the power of their imagery, those ideas, and of course their challenges. This panel is the one I focused on when writing my poem, though others are in the poem as well. Every poet in the suite came to Lawrence’ work from their own perspective, just as artists came to their response to the growing urbanization of Blacks differently from Lawrence. My life is like a dream, sometimes at least when it comes to poetry.
On May 1, a Debut Reading of the Poetry Suite moderated by Elizabeth Alexander will include me and Rita Dove, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Crystal Williams, and Kevin Young.
At the preview exhibition, I had a chance to commune with my Panel, but I am sure when I go again, the gallery will be packed. Here’s the link: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2015/onewayticket/
May your life be a dream sometimes, too.