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

 

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.”

 

Early December, light leaving, hope coming

Today I asked for prayers for Monica Hand, a wonderful poet who took her obsession  with Nina Simone and produced a wonderful debut collection me and Nina five years ago. She’s been working on a Ph.D the past few years.  She is not the only Black woman artist I know who is facing medical crisis and who has very little money.  We are mortal-a fact that I am reminded of daily as I wake with aches and pains that were not there 30 years ago–but more importantly because I can go into my address books and find people’s names/addresses/numbers who are no longer alive.  It pains me and many of my friends.  We see the generation ahead of us leaving and we are next and we know that.  But then there are the times when someone younger goes–no matter, it’s difficult.  It is sad.

It’s December.  A month of bright chilly days in which the light leaves bit by bit until the Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  It is also the month of Advent.  A month of prophesy and expectation–Oh come expected Jesus is one of the Advent hymns.  Prophesy and expectation are vastly different experiences.  As a poet, I find myself trying to bring these different experiences together–not in harmony, but at least in complement.

And so this past weekend I sat with fellow poets to plan programs that we all think are needed in these awful times.  We know that the best version of America is not expressed right now.  We know that men and a few women of great wealth who are joining the Trump administration have little regard to poor and working people. Most artists are poor, working people.  We know that the light is leaving bit by bit.  That “winter of discontent” is not a cliche this year.  From the marches in the street or the buying and selling of just about everything to imbibing many a spirit (bourbon, rye, whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila) we are all dis contented.  That our friends are ill; that our friends are burying their mothers, their grandmothers makes this December so much more difficult.  We know that little in our national experiment will benefit us over the next few years.

One of things that found interesting about reading John Glenn’s obituary that when he took is cosmic flight, he saw three sunsets and three sunrises.  So it seems great to remember about the Solstice is that once that short day is done, the light begins to return.  The sun will grow brighter even in dark days of January and February.  The light grows.  So I hope, our capacity to love, to live, to be good people despite the political era to come, will grow and shine much light.

lights in December

lights in December

 

no it is not a new world order

thumbnail_imag0172

Bakery in Harlem

Just a return to old ideas re-packaged and tweeted.  That is what the President-Elect and the GOP led House & Senate seems to me.  We now have a President who is sort of like the melancholy version of Ronald Reagan.  It is twilight in his America and he’s going to bring us through a long, cloudless  night led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, hell bent on reversing just about anything that progressives have done in the past 80 years.

As I always remember, don’t agonize, organize and there’s plenty of organizing going on.

And finally, Hillary Rodham Clinton w/ all of her “deficits” won the popular vote even with considerable voter suppression; misinformation; the FBI and WikiLeaks; and oh you know White Supremacy, sexism and fear.  White Supremacy so that Obama and his policies (even if they helped America out of the hole it was in) could be repudiated.  Sexism for well women seeking power is simply not allowed in America.  And fear of change, fear of people of color, fear of terrorism (forgetting that most terrorist activity taking place in America by mostly White Americans) and just fear.  I guess the most dangerous American is a White man in rural America with a serious gripe against just about everybody.

And now we have a President who seems to represent vices and very few virtues.  I suspect we will be protesting, organizing, petitioning, etc.  BUT I HOPE many consider electoral politics.  Progressive should be on city councils; school boards; in the Assembly, the Senate. governors mansions, etc.  and then the House and the Senate.  Don’t agonize, organize and find/support candidates.

Meanwhile, poets are writing, organizing and publishing.  Look for many ways the language works to undermine the oddness of this moment.