2014 LIVING IN THE LOVE ECONOMY/THE FUTURE IS IN OUR HANDS

This is a year when airplanes dropped out the sky and just disappeared.  Where Russian troops in Crimea pretended to not be Russian troops in Crimea.  Where ACA almost died under the weight of lousy internet interface.  It is a year with news of horrific rape, murder and abduction and it ends with rape allegations against an aging comedian.  It  is a year when

a generation of poets, activists and actors in their 70s, 80s and 90s left us and where younger ones died by their own hand or via drugs.  It was a year that seem to to be like a over heated dressage-many obstacles to leap over; many traps to gallop through.  This is the year I learned to be used to be an orphan, a position I so do not like being.

All of those awful, terrible, scary things were backdrop to what may be one of my most productive and accomplished year:
I have a new chapbook, Living in the Love Economy from Overpass Books, young people who are graduates of Long Island University–they studied with Lewis Warsh, who was on of my first poetry instructors when I came to NYC in 1974!  The book launch at Berl’s was well attended and I was able to get Anselm Berrigan and Erica Hunt to share the spotlight.  I thank them all.

Chapbook from Overpass Books.

Chapbook from Overpass Books.

Poems were published in The Cataramaran Literary Reader, The Recluse from The Poetry Project and The Mas Tequila Review.

Serious literary interviews were made with me by  Lewis Warsh for The Otter and Rochelle Spencer for Mosaic and The Brooklyn Poets interviewed and featured me for the Brooklyn Poet of the Week (that was fun).  The most interesting interview was actually a dialogue with Afaa Michael Weaver for the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s archive. And after harrassing, well gently needling Metta Sama, she pulled together this extraordinary convo that Monica Hand, Tracy Chiles McGhee, Raquel Goodison and Ruth Ellen Kocher on women’s creativity, artistic production and well read it at http://theconversant.org/staging/?cat=782.

Rich Blint of Columbia University asked me to participate in a panel for the The Year of Baldwin portion of The Harlem Bookfair. Aimee Meredith Cox moderated the panel and I have to say again that she may have been the best panel moderator I have ever encountered.  It was a lively and fresh conversation between me, Christopher Winks and Kiese Laymon.  And earlier in the year I participated in the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College–that was fascinating esp. seeing Derek Walcott up close.

I blogged for the “Harriet” blog for the National Poetry Foundation in September.  What did I know that in September the #Ferguson protests would start up; that I would have some impact on supporting the work of activists or that I’d write up Maya Angelou’s Riverside Church Memorial or that I’d talk about Sonia Sanchez’ 80th birthday or have the chance to report on the Furious Flower Poetry Conference with a focus on what happened after the public events took place! Reading and participating at Furious Flower was important for me as a poet, esp. as a Black poet.  I also wrote literary reviews for books by Tony Medina and Yuko Otomo and arts reviews on Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems.

In August I had the great gift of 10 days at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I put together a next to final draft of my New and Selected Poems with the great help of the VCCA staff–thank you again.  I got to know Kelle Groom, Nichole Parcher, Joelle Wallach and other poets/composers, visual artists.  And in October, I was able to fulfil my duties as a Senior Fellow for the Black Earth Institute and share in the wonderful hospitality of Michael McDermott and Charlotte Taymor in Wisconsin. The BEI gave its first ever award to Joy Harjo who was skyped in for the event–ah technology.

And also at VCCA I completed a commission–a new poem for a literary supplement to the forthcoming re-installment of The Migrations Series, Jacob Lawrence’s groundbreaking work that will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art.  I thank Elizabeth Alexander for placing me in this august group.  I had written about Lawrence’s work in an earlier poem which Quincy Troupe published in Black Renaissance Noir.  It was a great opportunity and pretty scary-like will I pull this off?  I did.

And I also worked with Atim Oton who is bringing her CALABAR brand to my hood, Bed-Stuy and so for the popup I developed a reading series, WORDS SUNDAY and it was really successful,  But special shoutout to Janice Lowe who was in the first one, I want you back for a larger audience come Spring 2015.

And finally, I did readings for Paul Romero’s Bryant Park Series, most notably a “Lunch Poem” one with Jocelyn Lieu, Lydia Cortes, Jessica Greenbaum and Sharan Strange. And with Mark Statman for Neil Silbrerblatt’s Voices in Poetry series in Katonah.  Rowan Ricardo Phillips brought me to SUNY Stony Brook, where June Jordan and Cornelius Eady  advanced contemporary poetry.  Getting to know Rowan and his work has been a boon.  Also read “The Day Lady Died” for the Frank O’Hara Lunch Poem Publication Anniversary event at the Poetry Project.  And at the end of the year I read at KBG with Shanna Compton–it was a night rich with verbal fireworks and deep emotions.  There was more, but it’s cold.  It’s December 31. It’s time to sum stuff up.

I know that much of this year has been about violence, danger, death and protest.  I am sad about the danger, death and violence, but I am so pleased that protests are underway and not just here from Mumbai to Santiago Chile to Hong Kong to St. Louis, Missouri young people are awake and demanding their future–not one of fewer economic prospects, more debt; tyrannical police, environmental degradation; expensive consumerism and shoddy services–but one that may be more equitable, caring and creative.  The world has always been violent and dangerous, but cynicism simply keeps whoever is in power in power.  I thank young people for starting to say nada mas, no more.  Yes  #blacklivesmatter,  Yes #afutureisinourhands.  2015 HERE WE COME.

Year’s ending-horses still galloping

I know that the Year of the Horse will go into late January, so the galloping is not over.  We have been on a very wild ride.  The news of day has often been mysterious, horrific, terrifying or utterly silly.  Sometimes the same item can be described with all those words.  I know that it has been a wild ride for me and one that I treasure because I am breathing and too many people I love no longer breathe.

Florence Tate whom I only met in “real life” recently passed.  I knew her son Greg Tate for what seems like forever.  But his famous Mama I met via social media–she was a great presence on Facebook and intensely encouraging to me and many other writers, artists, singers, organizers, activisits and bon vivants.  The last time I saw her breathing was at the Funeral for Amiri Baraka–the kind of affair that brought his friends, enemies, former lovers, their children and just about anyone who was a who in the downtown/Black Arts Movement/literary scene to Symphony Hall in Newark.  I will also miss Galway Kinnell whose readings at Brooklyn’s Ferry Landings at the end of the Poets House Bridge Walks were so very very special.  His passion for life, for poetry for oatmeal LOL never left him. Like Baraka, Kinnell was a fighter for justice; a great teacher–they were poets who created communities and they both lived long enough to modify earlier excesses and mend some fences.

I can’t breathe #Ican’tbreathe has become a chant; an indictment; a statement of anguish and demand.  Eric Garner’s utterly unnecessary death at the hands of the NYPD and others who are here to serve people galvanized and continues to galvanize young people on top of those marching/organizing/agitating in Ferguson MO.  The parade of dead Black, Brown and occasionally White bodies at the hands of Law Enforcement (LE) has made a significant number of people who had otherwised kept their heads in the sand. look up and see that the police are more soldiers than peace officers and that much of policing has become occupation–the lastest military incursions by the Israel into Gaza serves as a kind of template, it seems to me.  These are ugly times.  Ugly times.

And yet I am writing on a chilly rainy day in Brooklyn, a piano solo-some minor league European composer’s work makes perfect background noise.  Today I went to the Museum of Modern Art to read “Lave” a poem commissioned for the catalog for One Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence Migrations Series which will open in early April at MOMA.  Elizabeth Alexander has done a great job of bringing Black poets with very different poetics together to honor and respond to Lawrence’s seminal work.  I know that this was a great opportunity; a great challenge.  I hope people will respond to our response.  I also saw the Robert Gober Retrospective.  Gober is White.  He’s Gay and he’s Young and very definitely breathing and I am glad.  His sculptures defy standards of beauty; his bodies are never complete; his anguish not extinguished; his fears what should be feared–bullies, killers of the mind as well as body–the title of the exhibition is The Heart Is Not  a Metaphor and you know what it is not  Pulsating, pumping, a muscle whose only job is to keep the body upright and moving, the heart is beyond compare.  And yet even Gober allows the heart, the hearth to become symbols for the ways we attempt to stunt pulsation; to destroy intimacy, charity, erotic impulse.

At the end of this Year of Baldwin; this Year of Losses, public and private; this year of Protests and Counter Protests.  The fighting t-shirts: I can’t breathe/I can breathe  the year when too many White People found themselves in a racial quagmire of their own making with no understanding of how to get out–I for one listen to the young people who started #blacklivesmatter; who demanded to be heard in at unneeded Al Sharpton organized march; who march and chant and tweet and demand to be able to BREATHE and to have a future.  Saludos to you.  May we all get off that horse when the Year of the Horse ends, saddle sore, yes, but ready to walk on this altered/altared earth. May we find a way to breathe together in justice, in peace.

Crech, Bed-Stuy, photo by Patricia Spears Jones

Crech, Bed-Stuy, photo by Patricia Spears Jones

 

Holiday poem 2014

Feast

 

(in the back ground Otis Redding sings “Merry Christmas Baby”)

 

Oh the twinkling

Oh the twinkling lights

Each a color of delight

Morsels of sparkle, tasty fire

Feast.

Bed-Stuy Lights, Dec. 2014

Bed-Stuy Lights, Dec. 2014

Scorpion to Horse–November

November was an amazing month.  I organized and curated a literary program at Calabar Imports  in Bed-Stuy on Tompkins Avenue, which received some local press. http://www.bkmag.com/2014/11/04/crossing-border-in-the-brooklyn-literary-scene-with-poet-patricia-spears-jones/

Q&A w/ poets

Q&A w/ poets

What was great to me was that each Sunday different voices brightened an already very colorful space.  Janice Lowe and her actor friends performed a variety of pieces that she has written words or music or both for.  Uche Nduka showcased how cosmopolitan African writers often are. Michael Broder and Rachel Levitsky called their event the “queer Jewish poets” reading.  Cheryl Boyce Taylor and Jason Schneiderman opened up about grief and writing doing the Q&A and on November 30 was simply sublime.  Alexis De Veaux and Gregory Pardlo read from their new works which are brilliant and the Q&A gave great insight into their process.  I was so pleased to do this. And so grateful for their words.

 

I also read with Monica De La Torre at Pace University and Charles North’s introductions for both of us was beautifully crafted.  and I really loved being a Brooklyn Poet of the Week. http://brooklynpoets.org/poet/patricia-spears-jones/. Thanks to Jason Koo, et al.  And I led a great workshop at Poets House–one of my students is a budding rapper.

All of these great things are back drop to the the awful events in the past two weeks of November–Thanksgiving was difficult for people across the U.S.  While I did not think Darren Wilson would be indicted since it was clear that the apparatus for organized to get a non-indictment. But the lack of indictment of NYPD officers for the death of Eric Garner was even more enraging.  So with that I am so thankful for the PROTESTS that started in Ferguson and have been led by young people.  And that close to 200 protests took place after the non-indictment in Missouri and the hundreds of protests around the globe after the Staten Island decision is so powerful  #BLACKLIVESMATTER as a hashtag reminds everyone that all lives matter, but when Black lives are so easily destroyed believe you mean everyone’s life is in jeopardy.  The militarized police; the corporate character of political leadership; the refusal to legislate immigration reform; the continuing destruction of public education and the recent election of the White Privilege Party aka the Republicans will make the next two years extremely challenging.  But poets have been up to the challenge. On Facebook, Artists Against Police Brutality/Cultures of Violence have been really useful stitching together many different policies, programs, events and reportage.  In the twittersphere,much is being done.

As a Black Poet, I’ve written about the live of ordinary people for years and every once in a while an ordinary person is killed in ways that should never have happened.  Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and countless other boys, men, girls and women should be breathing.  Albert Murray would have something pithy about all of this, but one thing he would most likely agree with me:  We have much to do in this nation and “trusting” the police is not one of those things.

Albert Murray projected  photo by Patricia S. Jones

Albert Murray projected photo by Patricia S. Jones

November is for shutting down

Not running around.  Not starting new programs.  Not acting like it is always warm and easy and why isn’t it quiet. Well soon it will be-snow mentioned in the forecast, but all there is is a chilly November rain.  Despite that I went to Harlem for a program on the Life and Times of Albert Murray at the Schomburg Center.  A smallish crowd was there, but what was heartening was a smattering of young people as well as people more of his contemporaries.  Good panel, but the best was watching Mr Murray read about “Taking the A Train” that examines the issue of “home”.  And of course it was a love letter to Harlem, a place he lived for over 50 years.

Albert Murray projected  photo by Patricia S. Jones

Albert Murray projected photo by Patricia S. Jones

Each Sunday now I go to church which has been a great solace–have been missing my Mother a great deal and then I run back home and prepare to host a new series I curate WORDS SUNDAY at Calabar Imports Bed-Stuy Popup.  The shop brings some brightness to a rather drab part of Tompkins although slowly Tompkins Ave. is becoming a “destination” for certain types.  More and more I feel this neighborhood losing its style, its cool as the hipster types have morphed into Eurotrash or corporate go getters.  It makes for odd moments of levity or tension depending.  Last week featured Michael Broder and Rachel Levitsky, who on their own called it the queer Jewish reading.  So be it.  They were great.  I particularly loved Rachel’s prose–crafted, learned, funny at times.  This coming Sunday Jason Schneiderman and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor.  I hope I have enough energy to do them justice.

Rachel Levitsky reading photo by Paticia S. Jones

Rachel Levitsky reading photo by Paticia S. Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other great thing is I got written up in two different places in an article on WORDS SUNDAY at http://www.bkmag.com/2014/11/04/crossing-border-in-the-brooklyn-literary-scene-with-poet-patricia-spears-jones/ and I think it actually brought some people into the store!

And then I got to be BROOKLYN POET OF THE WEEK by Jason Koo and his Brooklyn Poets crew.  I got to pontificate and do some shout outs.  I said nice things about a former neighbor who passed away and I wrote a poem based on Jay Z’s Brooklyn Go Hard–not something I’d usually do.  So check it out http://bit.ly/1zGTOQI.

Did I mention teaching and a great reading at Pace University with Monica De La Torre?  No, well did that too. That I am teaching at Poets House? That I wrote a few mini-essays and even did some volunteer fundraising work?  Oh November, aren’t I supposed be prepping for hibernation?

 

Halloween weather

This is the year that I have been in places where Halloween is not about spectacle, but about the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. In Celtic Lore, All Hallows Eve is really New Year’s Eve–the old world goes/the new year comes and yes the living and the dead may speak.  Which is why Dios de los Muertos makes sense too.  There needs to be an understanding of the many worlds we move through.  Poets of course know this.  We do.  We may not always acknowledge that, but we do.   Without that intuited understanding of the many worlds we move through we would be bereft of word play.  We would not recognize the need for myths.  We would be diminished in our words and in our play.   One of my favorite uses of the mythic is Ishmael Reed’s masterful “I am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra” http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/i-am-cowboy-boat-ra

My favorite Halloween time was in the late 1970s’early 80s before AIDS and celebrity overtook the Village Halloween Parade.  In the early iteration, the parade was home made, artist organized-goofy, sexy and a true conversation between the living and the dead. When the Bread & Puppet Theater people met up in Washington Square around midnight and the hag became the maiden or was it the other way around; when drag queens wearing nurses uniforms tottered by on 5 inch heels across W. 4th St.; seeing The Royal Wedding at the corner of W. 10th & W. 4th–loved the guy as Princess Diana; when one group’s costumes were Victorian lamp shades just walking across 7th avenue South on the way to Christopher Street which post 10 pm. became a loud disco party.  Everyone was dancing, everyone was conversing with the living and the dead.   I guess the AIDS epidemic increased that conversation.  I miss many people who were stricken with the disease-smart, talented pleasure seeking men and women.  I am thankful for having known David Warrilow, Max Navarre, many others.

Now Halloween is a business, like everything else in America.  The business of costumes and how to videos and sugared and sugar free candies and fake spider webs and decorations.  I grew up with the hand made costume, the kind that make scenes in Meet me St. Louis and To Kill a Mockingbird so memorable.  Things change, not always for the better. But every year Halloween comes round. Every year a circle of the living and dead meet, dance and begin to survive winter.

Black Earth

Black Earth

Bicycle, bicycle

I can see my mother

Pumping her legs

A daily exercise

Thin pallet on the linoleum

Mosquitos on the other side

Of the screen door

She raises and lowers her legs

On a journey to better health?

I can see her,

See mothers  across  America

Their legs vigorously riding

Bicycles in air

Bikes with thick tires—

Sporting wire baskets

And  heavy brakes

Bicycles that said, if you pump

Hard enough, fast enough

I will take you where you need to go.

 

Gina Lollabridgida

Gina Lollabridgida

Patricia Spears Jones Reading at Bryant Park

John Keene blog post about the reading.

 

Word for Word Lunch Poems at Bryant Park + Jeffery Renard Allen at Powerhouse

Among the many treasures New York City offers year-round is the weekly Word for Word series at the outdoor Bryant Park Reading Room, right behind the New York Public Library‘s Schwarzman Research Branch. Organized by Paul Romero, the poetry readings occur on Tuesdays (and some Wednesdays) in the evening and Thursdays at lunch time from January through the late fall, , except on major holidays, and feature a diverse range of readers. This year’s lunchtime readings have been organized around specific presses and poetry organizations and groups, so poets published by Coffee House Press, Song Cave Press, WordTech Communications, and affiliated with CUNY and Blue Flower Arts have read so far.

My Angel #1

My angel refuses to be like the others

He removed his wings and is not on television

 

He’s a “he” which I find ironic

But then, to be spiritual in an age of religious

fanaticism is to be ironical

Continue reading