HAPPY HOLIDAYS–leaving the ROOSTER Year

Joy Harjo and me, off site reading, 2017 AWP DC

This has been one of the most amazing years in my whole life. I read at venues that deeply connected me to the American poetic tradition: The Walt Whitman Birthplace; the Poetry Center of Passaic Community College; the UA Poetry Center; the Fine Arts Work Center. It has taken 4 decades of work to get to these places, but I am the poster child for persistence and persist I did. I thank all of the organizers and audiences for their hospitality and generosity and embrace of my work.  In February, I was at AWP on a panel about capitalism!  And I read from TRUTH TO POWER from Cutthroat Journal, one of my fine volumes emanating from political turmoil of these times.  But more importantly, I got to hang out with Joy Harjo-we have known each other for 4 decades and this year she received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the most prestigious for American poets and then I received the Poets and Writers Jackson Prize–little did we know that on the day before my birthday in February.

Selfie with Lee Briccetti, dir. of Poets House

In May I celebrated with many of the bestest friends over 3 generations at the20th Century Association in mid-town on day of perfect weather and with my face composed by the lovely lady at the Saks Lancome counter to receive the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize. What an amazing gift –the dollars help, but the recognition was the most important thing. And it was a joy to share the moment with so many people who just wanted to celebrate. This on top of the gift of a residency from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. It seems that people found me and decided that it was my turn to get some of the glittering prizes. I worked hard for these gifts. I am pleased to have them.
And I have to say it was amazing to hear Bill Murray read my poem “Life Lessons” at the Poets House Gala.
I’ve used Walt Whitman as a way to engage writers to think about the current political situation through the lens of Whitman’s prose! It works. It worked at FAWC; it worked at Gemini Ink; it worked at the Poetry Center. I will continue to use Democratic Vistas as a piece to argue with and utilize.
And I used it as a way to enter teaching a graduate poetry workshop at Adelphi University, where I was treated with respect and where resources were presented to me. I had wonderful students and easier (but more expensive) commute.
Anthology of poems for Gwendolyn Brooks

Anthology honoring Gwendolyn Brooks-so glad to be in this.

Because of my work since the 1970s with a range of poets and artists, I too have embraced the necessity to organize against the current cultural political stance as clearly seen in conservative politics and media.  So I’ve been quietly organizing a group of poets to start the real serious work of insisting on what American identity is. We need to take identity back from these narrow minded bigoted and greedy racist, sexist, homophobes who now run way too many things and claim their Americanness. So look out for projects from American Poets Congress, we are going to do some serious things in conjunction with the many powerful things that are happening in this nation. #Resistance is importance, but our Insistance on what should be American ideals, mythologies, identity–that’s going to be the fight for our future.
I thank you for your encouragement, your talent, your fierce belief in the better in us. I was so glad to see my family in May–my brother, sister and I visited our mother’s grave for the first time together since 2013 when we laid her to rest. My siblings are accomplished and spiritual and loving and hard working–we are our mother’s children. They are blessings in my life.
My mma's grave, Arkansas

Mama”s grave, Forrest City Ark. Memorial Day, 2017

I have great faith in my Church Community, the members of Saint John’s Church in Park Slope have opened their hearts to many who are truly down trodden and broken. There has been much healing there. But I really have great faith in the poetry and arts community. We do important things just by demanding language that speaks truth. May you and your family have love, light and laughter in this year’s end. May we all have renewed strength to do the work we need to do as creative and compassionate people in 2018.

San Antonio has many accents

Riverwalk, San Antonio

one of the many bridges over the river.

I am not sure what I was expecting when I agreed to be a featured speaker and workshop leader for the 2nd annual Gemini Ink Writers Conference.  I knew that I would be paid okay and I’d have a hotel room and meet some really great writers from all over the country because that is what conferences do.  But I had no idea of how much I’d like San Antonio.  The hotel was straight out of the 1950s and yes it was LBJ’s campaign headquarters.  The Tiki Bar was small and tacky-the music was great or awful depending on the lounge lizard on the floor.  The staff was attentive or not depending.  San Antonio is majority Latino, but you can see that power is in the hands of Anglos.  And the place is all about male vanity.  Indeed, the hats, boots, well ironed cotton shirts–every man had some sort of attire that said this is who I am or what I do.  And women dress to please them. The heels high. The necklines flattering.  Or they dress to defy them.  Either way the patriarchy is rules Texas even in its gentler form in San Antonio.

That’s the human sort of thing, but what was thrilling was the shape of the city, the architecture, the sun blasting all creatures, buildings, streets and water.  There was this engagement with the river and the street and the sun that really enthralled me.  The heat is serious.  The colors are bright and then blasted by the sun light.  The black and white mural on Navarro Street seemed to say-we have to seek the very basic of colors–black and white, all the others wil

Mural-San Antonio

l be bleached away.  The conference was a great success I think.  But for me it was revealing–a reminder that the history of this nation is varied and complex and one 300 year old city can showcase the greatness and the smallness of our ideas, ideals and civility.  It was pointed out that 25% of the local Hispanic population is illiterate.  It was also explained to me that there is no unified school board, no citywide

support of public education.  That illiteracy rate goes to show how power is not shared in San Antonio and why there are many many people exploited each and every day even as the flowers blossom and the river curves its way into the heart.

Riverwalk Tile mural

Tile work is important in San Antonio