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.

California dreaming on a chilly day

Yesterday, I knew I had truly returned to New York City.  It was cold.  The trains were not running–turns out some guy who stole a cell phone was hit by an F Train (served him right) and I got home to an email telling me NO, you are not getting that Fellowship that you’ve applied for a gazillion times.  Aah, but from last Wednesday to Sunday morning of week before I was in L.A. and I had a ball.

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley had a party first day in Echo Park, a charming enclave with actual Victorian houses–some beautifully dressed up and appointed, others falling down, drunken ruins of buildings. Aah. The poets, writers, artists who gathered were charming and lively-the food delicious and I won a bottle of wine for coming the furthest (from Brooklyn) to this party.  Thanks Brett Hall Jones, et al.  I so look forward to serving as one of the staff poets with Kazim Ali who was there and Sharon Olds, Cathy Park Hong, Juan Felipe Herrera and Bob Hass, the director this June.  I went to Squaw, 3 times during the 1990s and many of my best poems started there.  To return as a teacher is really a blessing–I think Galway Kinnell is smiling about this.

AWP was held in the Convention Center and well I hung out in the Book fair and ran into good people I don’t get to see like Prageeta Sharma and people I see often like Reggie Harris.  There were many major conversations about poets who are going through difficult times and how the community is poorly dealing with all the mess of it.  Sad.  Poets House presented a spectacular program on poetry and protest with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Luis Javier Rodriguez and Naomi Shahib Nye. There was a lot of candy at many of booths and tables (I took as much chocolate as I could really take).  I saw a good friend whom I need to reconcile with and we did.  L. A. was good for that kind of thing.

I read with Black Earth Institute Fellows: Lauren Camp, Taylor Broby, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Marcella Durand (woo hoo) and Melissa Tuckey at this weird bookstore on Sunset Blvd.  Getting there including getting the Uber driver to find us on Figuroa in front of the Convention Center–there are different kinds of blindness in L.A. and many one way streets.

I moderated Out of L.A.: A Tribute for Jayne Cortez that was organized by Laura Hinton who has done some serious scholarship on Cortez’ life in LA. as a young woman.  Aldon Nielsen, Jennifer D. Ryan-Bright and Pam Ward were the other panelists and they all contributed deep understanding and knowledge about Cortez’ development, but it was Mel Edwards who flew into the L.A. to attend the panel who pointed out that Cortez was NOT a member of the Watts Writers Workshop which was started post the riots of 1965 and enhanced info about the artistic scene that Cortez was a significant member of.  Love, courage and freedom–those are the words I think of when I think of Jayne and she is deeply missed.  Latasha Diggs is organizing several programs in Cortez honor that will take place in New York City this April.

What I loved the most was moving about downtown–the roundabout way to get to the Double Tree Hotel to meet a filmmaker doing interviews with poets for an upcoming documentary and seeing a Hindu wedding procession at it’s start; looking at the stream of L.A. Kings fans in their sports gear; a handsome man (designer/carpenter/gorgeous guy) talking with clients/friends outside a beautiful Japanese restaurant; martinis with my one my best male friends at the pretty Noe’s bar at Omni California Plaza;  bouganvilla on the side of massively ugly buildings; kissing a man I care about; running into a poet I’ve not seen since my first visit to Squaw.  In weather warm enough for daytime roaming, but too cool for nighttime hanging w/out serious sweaters, clear skies, and massive billboards with moving parts trans human–Blade Runner with out the murkiness.  Northern California was indeed cold and damp at night, but Southern California was simply cold.

I sold out my book,  A Lucent Fire: New & Selected at the White Pine Table.  I bought books by dear friends and new ones.  And best of all I kept running into Patricia Jabbeh Wesley who is the most exuberant poet/scholar ever.  You must read/hear her.

Poets at VIDA

VIDA table. Melissa Studdard, Patricia J. Wesley

VCFA's Table-everyone was great

VCFA’s Table-everyone was great

Myra Shapiro bought my last book at White Pine Press Table

Myra Shapiro bought my last book at White Pine Press Table

Poet friends

Black women make beautiful poets: E. Hunt, H. Mullen, T. Foster & E. J. Antonio

Crystal Williams & Matthew Shenoda in red lobby light

Crystal Williams & Matthew Shenoda in red lobby light

So many dear friends new friends so many poets and artists and writers and dreamers and hustlers and then at 5:30 or so on Saturday the EXODUS  out of the Center began–I was waiting for a parting of the escalators.

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

 

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?

 

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. www.poetshouse.org.

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 http://www.studiomuseum.org/exhibition/when-the-stars-begin-fall-imagination-and-the-american-south 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

May is here, but April was amazing

Before April–I had the great pleasure of reading from my new book, Living in the Love Economy at Berl’s Poetry Shop with Erica Hunt and Anselm Berrigan, two great poets and very good friends.  Joey Infante, et al brought my vision for this collection to a bright fruition.  I am so very proud of it  and the chapbook Swimming to America, from Red Glass Books  both serves as a platform to my New & Selected coming out in 2015 from White Pine Press.

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As I’ve often said, April is Cruel to Poets Month–there were so many readings and so little time esp if you are a poet!  So I did my best. Heard Cyrus Cassells in conversation with Charif Shanahan at NYU. It was a lively and reflective dialogue after a fine reading by Cyrus.  It was great to hear him talk about finding his voice after early and high praise. His new poems are taking even more lyric leaps.

Earlier in the month, went to the CUNY housed Chapbook Festival.  My new chapbook, Living in the Love Economy was on display and sold!  Song Cave, CUNY’s brilliant Lost & Found series-a must have for serious poetry scholars and readers–and of course Overpass Books were there.   Amiel Alcalay, et al read and discussed the latest Lost & Found series including 2 booklets of Adrienne Rich’s writing about teaching at CUNY in the SEEK program.

Brenda Hillman was in town and I got to hear her read at Berl’s Poetry Shop with Evelyn Reilly–a great evening brought to us by Belladonna Collaborative.

And finally, it was really wonderful to attend A Painter and His Poets: The Art of George Schneeman at Poets House on April 26.  Maureen Owen was in town from Denver; Bill Berkson, co-curator from Boston, Alice Notley in from Paris, and Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, Larry Fagin, et al from NYC.  Padgett who was the other c0-curator was an affable presenter and the readings and comments conjured a world where spontaneity and chance were as much a part of collaboration as talent and the ability to take risks.  In an era where folks are waiting for funding for . . . these poets worked with a painter who was open to words as they were open to his artistic vision.

 

Maureen Owen & Bob Holman, Poets House

Maureen Owen & Bob Holman, Poets House

I read in very disperate events:  the Ruth Malaczech Art & Impact event at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at CUNY Grad Center where the living members of Mabou Mines and other avant garde theater people discussed the life and art of the great actress and founding member of Mabou.  The Reading of the Inferno by Dante at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Maundy Thursday organized by Marilyn Nelson–saw some wonderful friends and it ended before midnight!   And  an Alice Notley  tribute reading for the Downtown Literary Festival; and finally for Nita Noveno and Sara Lippman’s fine series, the Sunday Salon with Terence Degnan, et al.  They posted a video. http://www.sundaysalon.com/video

And now it’s May–the sun is shining FINALLY and on May1, I saw photographs from The Birmingham Project by Dawoud Bey at The Mary Boone Gallery on Fifth Avenue.  Bey has grown as an articulate and fierce documentary photographer of the Black Experience.  His artistry is at its best in these works that were done in Birmingham in response to the legacy of the Black Alabamans who struggled for civil and human rights and the children who now live in the city.  It is a major work and should be seen and housed in a major museum and soon.

Carrie Mae Weems and Sandra Payne at Dawoud Bey's exhibition.

Carrie Mae Weems and Sandra Payne at Dawoud Bey’s exhibition.

Poems for humans’ use

I have always said that April is cruel to poets month.  Poets are reading everywhere. Some are writing a new poem each day–oh you productive ones.  Sometimes, we just post each others’ work on Facebook elsewhere.  It is that feast more than famine moment month.  But as a poet, I am pleased for the feast.   It is good to hear poets as diverse as Cyrus Cassells, , Scott Hightower, Julie Patton, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Anne Waldman, Simone White and that’s just the first two weeks in New York City.  At the end of March, I was pleased to launch my new chapbook Living in the Love Economy Berl’s Poetry Shop, a wonderful space for poetry books and all who read them in DUMBO, beneath the Manhattan Bridge and to attend the Center for Black Literature’s National Black Writers Conference.  I look forward to readings and events in April.  

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photograph by John Casquerelli

This past week I led a Master Class at the 12th National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College and I used “Mourning the Queen of Sunday” by Robert Hayden as the prompt. It is Hayden’s centenary and I envy Tony Medina and others who attended a conference in Detroit at Wayne State University.  Whether it Academy of American Poets poem-a-day; your local library’s Poem in a pocket Day or if in NYC, you visit the luminous as in daylight Poets House in Tribeca, open your mind and heart to the efforts of we would be bards.  You never know what you find there.  Some time powerful, forceful, feelingforce, thinkingforce, beingforce. Poems can generate great light or deep darkness.  That is good.  Poems are human made for humans’ use.