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

can’t sleep too much on my mind

The Furious Flower Poetry Center is housed in a little house in Harrisonburg –part of James Madison University.  Never has so small a space held such a large role.  I just got back from the third Furious Flower conference that brought poets and scholars of the African diaspora (majority American) to this well-to do city in the midst of the mountains of Virginia.  A place where most of the people are Republicans.  Where people talk football, hunting and yes education, law and order and too much money in politics.  You can see that money in the terrible political ads.  I got there on the Amtrak to Charlottesville which was on time as if to mock the lateness of the same train a month earlier when I went to VCCA.

halfway to the conference

halfway to the conference

I am so pleased to have been invited.  I’ve been writing and publishing for four decades.  I write because I want to try and make large work on intimate issues–at least I try.  I don’t quite fit an of the critical stance and maybe my work never will.  I just don’t know.  But I was asked and I am happy to have read with truly fine and important poets: Jericho Brown, Camille Dungy, Mendi Obadike, Remica L. Bingham-Risher, Tyehimba Jess, Samantha Thornhill and A. Van Jordan.  Our group brought a diverse range of poetics and strategies, but we were all well versed in how to present words.   But it would have been great if we had been presented at Wilson Hall as were the other major readings.  It would have been great if we had been introduced.  But by Saturday everyone was close to exhausted–much to consider by some super considerable people.   Despite these small issues, I am so glad I was there.  And I was happy to sign the conference booklet–there are people who get all of the names.

And so there we were many of my bestest friends-there were we were chatting and gossiping and sharing of work old and new.  But so much so much it makes sleeping almost impossible as words and phrases and images reel about my mind:  Rita Dove telling us “this is not my hair.”; hearing Nikki Giovanni go on and on about space travel and champagne; watching Marilyn Nelson walk across the ballroom floor to get her award using an elegant walking stick; watching my main men: Tony Medina, Major Jackson, Thomas Sayers Ellis who were festive, pensive, observant depending.  Medina’s performance of the poem/tribute for Amiri Baraka, which I first heard at Barka’s funeral was well done.  Thomas Sayers Ellis performed with Luke Stewart (bassist) and James Brandon Lewis (saxophone) including his piece in honor of Chuck Brown, the founder of Gogo.Ekere Taille read well w/ her elders and Jessica Care Moore let her song King join her when she read in the Baraka tribute.  Kwame Dawes gave a great talk as did Brenda Marie Osbey.  The intelligence quotient was quite high. The focus on the Black Arts Movement impressive, but other Black cultural trends were also considered

I could go on and on, but I have to stop and figure out what does any of this mean.  I think for me it means I am part of the discourse. That I have entered the charmed circle of poest and writers who are read, taught, discussed on a regular basis that makes me feel very good.  We read. We talked to each other.  We exchanged email addresses.  We drank and ate and danced and felt so much gratitude to have the chance to be together.  Dr. Joanne Gabbin has created a powerful entity, may it continue.

many poets at Wilson Hall

many poets at Wilson Hall

Summer season may be over, but summer was BUSY

Patricia Spears Jones

Patricia Spears Jones

 

Throughout this summer, I have been ridiculously busy.  I taught summer school –I so needed the money.  But it allowed me to stay very focused as well.  But I am so pleased to have  had the great gift of getting a sponsored residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts where I placed poems for A Lucent Fire: New and Selected for White Pine Press in one file.  Dennis Maloney like every other editor and publisher had to put up with my kvelling (love that Yiddish word).  Fortunately, I had my hard copy (books, etc.) because I lost 167 pages that I had worked on for about five-six hours before the cutting and pasting started.  I think I cut and pasted over material, but that file DISAPPEARED. The staff at VCCA and the computer folk at Sweet Briar College really helped me.  The file could not be recovered, but scanning and re-inputting (another four-five hours) and now the poems are in a word doc and pdf  with Mr.  Maloney.  I also wrote some new poems and completed a commissioned work.

But the best thing about VCCA, about any artists colony is meeting fellow poets, writers, artists and composers. At VCCA, I met Kelle Groom a terrific poet and memoirist.  She’s been visiting/living in colonies for over a year as she works on a second memoir.  She read three of the memoir pieces that I have been working on and really gave me some wonderful advice.  I hope that I will be able to take that advice.  I also met two different Black American classical composers there–one lives in Brooklyn and I hope to hear his work in the near future.  Nicole Parcher, Ann Ropp and other artists let me in on their process and work. Rod Val Moore and I read our works and drank very delicious gin and tonics on our last night at the Center.   Two weeks in a place of mountains heat lightning bees butterflies good people good food hard work.  #gratitude

by Patricia Spears Jnes

by Patricia Spears Jones

This summer I was asked by The Poetry Foundation to blog for Harriet and the first one is up (one glitch in a sentence near the end, but I can live with that) so please check this out and comment if you want to. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/09/meet-the-boys-and-girls-on-de-battlefront/

I am also mentioned a couple of times in Kelle Groom’s blogs for Best American Poetry. Here’s one that I think you will find of interest: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2014/08/what-can-poetry-do-part-2-kelle-groom.html

Earlier this summer I was able to review Dawoud Bey’s exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery for Tribes.
http://www.tribes.org/web/2014/08/07/patricia-spear-jones-reviews-dawoud-bey-at-the-mary-boone-gallery/

And on September 13, Kristen Gallagher and I will read our works at the Greenpoint Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library noon-2:30 p.m. 107 Norman Ave Leonard Street Brooklyn, NY 718-349-8504

and for the first time I have been invited to participate at

Furious Flower: Seeding the Future Of African-American Poetry    James Madison University

Furious Flower Poetry Center       www.jmu.edu/furiousflower

And as with many of you, I have been involved with the protests regarding the murders of young Black boys and men and girls and women, particularly at the hands of the police, who are “public servants”.  Metta Sama started the Artists Against Police Brutality –a facebook group which has grown and one of the projects was a https://www.facebook.com/artistsforferguson with many art works, poems, reflections, etc.  I strongly suggest you check out this work.

Like I said, this has been a very busy summer season for me and I know for you.  I am grateful for all the opportunities I have received.  I look forward to producing more (if my joints allow).  I really do think my Mama is working double time on my behalf and I am so glad she is. She would be proud of the work I did with the commissioned poem.

 

while in the mountains

I am at a lovely place called The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  It’s in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I’ve been here before.  It is a place for doing the work that doesn’t quite get done when like you get up and go to work or you get up and look for work or you get up and wonder how the hell will I make it through one more day.  So this is truly a gift to be in a place of beauty.  Where artists, composers, poets and other writers get up and work all day on what they need to.  Me included.

While here, the tvs are often off and the news is not constantly heard.  But even here, the horrors of this August are upon us. The Israel/Gaza conflict; the brutal policing of Black and Brown people including children; the murder of citizens; the acquisition of even greater wealth, all of these things are heard/seen/felt/ deflected if need be.  Artists rarely get this kind of time and space.  We are all grateful.  But it is almost feels as if the whole world needs some time and space to work on things creative, life enhancing, beautiful. Without this side of the proverbial coin, we’d all be as cynical as the men (mostly) and women who wage war; brutally police; make lives difficult for ordinary people.  It is a new century, a new millenium and yet we find ourselves talking about medieval shit–beheadings and such.  Really, this is the best these “rebels” can do.  I think all of those really awful video games have become all too real or have inspired aspects of behavior that no one quite anticipated.  I do a lot of praying.  I don’t know if it helps.  But you know what it helps me.

Okay, now I must get back to work.0824141812

Harlem is a small town

When I first came to New York City, Harlem seems a forbidding place, mostly because I lived downtown and going uptown even for 35 cents was a chore.  Most of my community, artistic and otherwise lived below 14th Street, mostly on the East Side.  But Harlem is where Black people lived, worked and in the mythology of NYC, made the Harlem Renaissance.  But that was decades ago.  And yet, artists friends took me up to the Studio Museum, which was housed in an old studio, upstairs on Fifth Avenue.  Down the street was a seriously good Latin restaurant.  The pawnshops and nail salons and cheap furniture stores that dotted 125th street looked like the pawnshops and nail salons and cheap furniture stores on 14th street.  There really is something about cross roads.

James Baldwin grew up in East Harlem.  Grew to hate it, left America, but then again, his family stayed near.  He stayed near his family.  In a very psychic way, he really never left Harlem. Paris, Turkey the world travels were ways to bring his issues to the larger world, but those issues  came from a specific place in America.  I am not sure of what he would make of 128th street where he went to school.  The well-appointed townhouses and brownstones have been spruced up. The beautiful green house across the street has one of the most perfect paint jobs I’ve ever seen.

by Patricia Spears Jnes

by Patricia Spears Jones

On his birthday, August 2 his family and the community that came out on an overcast Saturday afternoon to sing his praises and present a ceremony honoring the placement of a street sign on the street were glad for the cool breezes and the day’s calm.  I got there just as Sonia Sanchez was chanting Baldwin’s name.  At some point, she said that Baldwin did not receive awards for his work—but he did receive many grants, fellowships.  He would not have survived w/out that support and recognition.  I often think that we put too much on awards as if the National Book Award or a Pulitzer will assure your place in the culture.  Like on the tip of your tongue, could you tell me who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in say 2000? Or 1995 or 1978?  I could look these up, but is it Updike or Bellow or Morrison?  I don’t know.  I do know the work of these fine writers and I now know much more about Baldwin.

On his birthday, August 2 his family and the community that came out on an overcast Saturday afternoon to sing his praises and present a ceremony honoring the placement of a street sign on the street were glad for the cool breezes and the day’s calm.  I got there just as Sonia Sanchez was chanting Baldwin’s name.  At some point, she said that Baldwin did not receive awards for his work—but he did receive many grants, fellowships.  He would not have survived w/out that support and recognition.  I often think that we put too much on awards as if the National Book Award or a Pulitzer will assure your place in the culture.  Like on the tip of your tongue, could you tell me who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in say 2000? Or 1995 or 1978?  I could look these up, but is it Updike or Bellow or Morrison? I don’t know.  I do know the work of these fine writers and I now know much more about Baldwin.

by Patricia Spears Jones

by Patricia Spears Jones

As Rich Blint pointed out the street sign will not be put up for a while the city puts up all new signs on one day.  (as if by magic) so they provide mockups that can be shown to the adoring populace.  So on Saturday, the mockup was held up for all of us to see.  It is green.  Baldwin’s name is correctly spelled. His nephew Trevor Baldwin spoke eloquently for the family in accepting this honor.  And representatives from the National Black Theater, from the school where this event took place and where Baldwin went to school were happy and proud.  Black people mostly who know the family, knew “Jimmy” care about art and culture and Black history and Black people’s lives and this slice of Harlem and its volatile history were there.   And then I got it, Harlem really is a small town.  One where people do know each other, look out for each other, worry about each other.  And who see the town slowly change as newcomers with more money come in; people who may not understand how hard won the beauty of these blocks from 125th and up was fought for against red lining, racism, neglect and countless deaths from bad drugs, bad decisions, poor diet or a life spent working 2-3 jobs so that children only had to get one.  Baldwin understood that.  His love is often cited, his ability to not the need for that.  And I think like St. Paul who in First Corinthians 13 says “For now we see through a glass darkly”—that darkness must be acknowledged. It seems to me that all of this “transparency” and “illumination” that everyone talks about covers up more than darkness does.  There is not light at the end of a tunnel of light, there is blindness.

Baldwin understand like St. Paul that “the greatest of these is charity”, but he could also say that you can only love after you recognize the rage resulting from injustice, brutality, hatred.  He aspired to and achieved greatness as a writer, thinker, human being.  We can only hope that generations hence seeing the street sign will think, I need to find out who this James Baldwin is.  I hope that there will be many books, articles, oral histories, etc. along with his essential work available to those future readers.

Baldwin street sign

by Patricia Spears Jones