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.
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
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.