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.

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:

Earlier this summer I was able to review Dawoud Bey’s exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery for Tribes.

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

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 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

Baldwin and me? July 11, 2014

book table HBF Fiction Festival, Columbia U.

book table HBF Fiction Festival, Columbia U.

This morning I participated in a roundtable organized by Rich Blint for the Harlem Book Fair Fiction Festival, The Year of James Baldwin and I think because Rich really wanted this discussion of Baldwin.  It was the first of three programs.    It had the lofty title, Inheritance: James Baldwin and His Literary Progeny.  Along with Kiese Laymon, the novelist and writer; Christopher Winks, the well-known academic and moderated by Aimee Meredith Cox, we delved into what Baldwin’s work and example has left us and how we are trying in our own ways to carry on work that deals with the human heart, the American psyche and the American empire.  We did not even touch on sexuality or gender issues too much.  Baldwin looms large for Black writers because in the 1960s and early 1970s he was the face of Black intellectualism.  He wrote beautifully, powerfully and yet he was in the streets too.  He talked to everyone and people listened.  He was hated and haunted too.  That’s the way it goes for a man who thought of himself as ugly and identified with Bette Davis because she has pop eyes and so must be ugly too.

Aimee Cox started the conversation by mentioning the idea of Baldwin’s life as representing a “probable impossibility” (I hope I am saying this correctly).  Given Baldwin’s background, poverty, etc. how did he grow up the eldest of nine children to become the man and the writer that he became.  Probable impossibility seems apt. But he did.  Over the past two weeks I have read two Baldwin novels and re-read several of his essays. It was not a total immersion by any measure, but these works remind me of why his voice-sensual, intellectual, cajoling, angry, loving, hinting at redemption, but not necessarily forgiveness remains vivid,loud and powerfully present. American literature would have been so much poorer if he had not had the career that he did.

This morning we talked about courage and cowardice; what is at stake in our lives as writers; as educators; as American citizens while our nation sinks into an even greater morass of mistakes inside and outside our borders and indeed on our border–the humanitarian crisis with thousands of children fleeing possible murder.  The appalling situation in the Middle East.  And the nihilistic GOP aka just say no to governance party.  We can only guess what Baldwin would say, but frankly, it is up to us to have our say on these and other issues.  Art is political because it involves communication with people; with setting up dynamics of dialogue started by the poet, the artist,  Will these dialogues lead to insights, new ways to thinking, some form of transformation or will we refine what is already there.  Today, other members of the panel explained to me what neoliberalism is because I see this word used all the time as a kind catchall for bad public (private partnership) policy.  I thank them.

Later, Pam Sneed, Mendi Obadike and Rashida Ismaili discussed The Artist Struggle for Integrity.  It was a very important discussion and some of the same issues:  Baldwin’s “preaching”; the uses of African American religious music-those hymns come up over and over in his work; the fact that “Baldwin identified as a gay man” as Pam pointed out were all important.  Right now artists/poets are struggle to being seen and heard in an era where many of potential artist are texting; have the same songs on heavy rotation; or just don’t read; don’t go to events, even free one.  Where many young people do not have the habit of having an opinion because nobody asks them what they think.  They should be asked and we need to start asking and sooner than later.  Forces are arrayed to make the lives of most people more difficult as salaries stagnate; wages rarely go up; collective bargaining is underminded; and those with wealth and power further consolidate their wealth and power.  I know this is a long piece, but well Baldwin makes you think about what we have had to face; what so many desired; what has happened and what still needs to get done.  I am honored to have been asked to participate in such an amazing program.


summer blessings and borders

This is a summer that is truly a summer.  The weather in late June seemed to as beautiful as the world’s activities grew more violent, volatile.  Something says to me the Creator is working overtime to provide humans relief for bad human activity–at the borders of the US and Mexico; Israel and Palestine; Nigeria and Chad–borders where children give them selves up; where children are kidnapped and murdered; where children are kidnapped, sold or murdered.  Borders where evil weaves a ugly web of lies, brutality, fear.  So to wake up for several days to bright sunshine and little humidity in Brooklyn–to roses blooming, birds singing, dogs being walked.  To wake up fairly healthy with things to do; students to teach; people to see; food to eat and wine to drink  is to have many blessings placed upon me.  But all blessings are provisional.  So are the bad human activity. Should we be Iraq? Should we help Nigeria find stolen girls?  Should we reduce our energy use so that fracking, etc. was not so profitable?  or is the phrase: “Could we”?  It is July 4th.  It is rainy and quiet.  My brother is staying home, mowing his backyard; my sister in Arkansas is planning her church work and planning to see friends. My eldest nephew is probably working overtime in a high end hotel in Dallas.  My nephews and nieces are eating barbecue and watching videos. in Texas and Tennessee. We are a small family spread around the U.S.  We are also feeling the loss of my mother who this year last year was still alive. Still engaged in the world of the living, but shutting down.  Later somebody in Bed-Stuy will attempt to show off the illegal fireworks bought most likely in Pennsylvania.  As a Southerner, I understand crossroads. But borders.  Borders are places of deep terror. Borders are where too many children are lost.

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Poets connect in ways unexpected.

audience Poets House Gala, 26 Bridge Street all photos by Patricia Spears Jones

audience Poets House Gala, 26 Bridge Street
all photos by Patricia Spears Jones

On Monday evening I was able to join many poets and poetry enthusiasts for the annual Poets House Gala that follows the Bridgewalk.  I was one of the featured poets in the late 1990s so I feel as if I am part of a very special group of poets to have read work on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Lee Bricetti and her staff (Stephen Motika, Jane Preston, Reginald Harris, Krista Manrique, and several others) make what I know is a massive endeavor look very easy.  Got there just as Mark Doty launched into “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, Whitman’s poem that Galway Kinnell read each year until he could no longer join the proceedings–he is missed of course and I know he was sending good vibes to the audience and to Mark.  The high point of the evening was the winner of the Poetry Out loud National Recitation Contest Anita Norman’s recitation of  a Stanley Kunitz poem.  She worked that poem in front of an audience that a) knew the poem well and b) knew Stanley.  The ovation she received was well deserved.  But this is when things gets strange–Norman. I went over to speak with her and her father and found that he is the son of one of my former classmates and his grandfather was my elementary school principal.  Poets are connected in all kinds of ways.  Thom Lux and Vijay Seshadri also read well and Naomi Shahib Nye’s acceptance speech for the Elizabeth Kray award was tender and full of humor.  Great to Laureanne Bosselaar, Ira Silverberg, Dave Johnson, Kevin Young, Cornelius Eady and Sarah Micklem, Hettie Jones-I could go and on.  Poets House is important to poetry, to New York City, indeed to the globe.

This past Sunday, Pentecostal Sunday, I left church and got on the subway from Brooklyn to Harlem to meet with Holly Hughes BFA students who are getting an immersion into NYC arts.  It is always interesting to meet students of the arts.  They ask interesting questions.  They see things differently or they walk lockstep w/ whatever trends there are.  It is always tricky to look at, critique and create culture.  So they were there to see Carrie Mae Weems Museum Series, a group of large scale photographs there were not hung at the Guggenheim during her retrospective.  They should have been at the Guggenheim.

But also there is a terrific show When the Stars Began to Fall which is up until the end of June.  As a Southerner who has lived Up North for decades, I am also pleased when Black artists from the South or artists interested in the South are exhibited.  I really enjoyed the David Hammons piece which consists of several bottles in which he has created pieces representing his take on the Delta-here it is lightning in the bottle.  Lightning bolts are common –given the quick and harrowing thunderstorms that arise in the Delta so to see them is in a bottle (contained, yet powerful) makes me smile.

detail David Hammons assemblage

detail David Hammons assemblage

And while the Weems display is very powerful as her black clad figure stands in front of museums from the Pergamon in Berlin to Project Row House in Houston–that one is odd as it is modest,new and in a part of Houston that remains stubbornly proudly Black, I was also pleased to see the work of Beverly Buchanan.  Ms. Buchanan has been creating sculptures that mimic, deconstruct, examine Southern vernacular architecture.  Her father was a Agri agent and she used to join him on his rounds and so saw many farm houses throughout North Carolina.  Years ago, I saw her work and was inspired to write “Shack with Vines” one of the poems in  “Why I Left the Country” suite.  There was something about the shack’s fragility and its necessity that she was able to convey.  Her more recent works are more deconstructed, but they are made of materials that are fragile.  She continues to explore how for many shelter is makeshift, modest and can at any moment be blown away or burned down.  At any moment.

detail from Beverly Buchanan installation

detail from Beverly Buchanan installation