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.

Houston under water, America troubled

The news has been of Houston flooded and more rain coming.  There is a FEMA director which is good, that’s about it in terms of federal support.  The governor and mayor are fighting over the evacuate not evacuate issue.  Even with a natural disaster, we cannot get along.

Our President has set a divisive tone from his bizarro world take on the White Supremacists rallies in Charlottesville and the spirited resistance and response to Nazis, White Nationalists and Klan members and the death of law enforcement officers and the murder of Heather Heyer.  If ever someone wanted to illustrate a definition of the phrase “speaks with forked tongue” it would be of Trump at that news conference a few days afterwards. This is deeply disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising.  45 is a man of few words, but most of them hurt: Muslims, women, transgender people, refugees, migrants esp. from Mexico, and of course Black people–he was the guy who created the “birther” narrative.  But mostly he hurts this nation and so few in his party have either the power, courage or concern to actually stand up to him and his ilk.  The more obvious White nationalists are off the White House staff, but the ideas are there and will not go away.

I hate racism.   I work hard to uphold the beauty and power of my tribe: Black Americans are amazing group of humans.  Everything that could be done to humans has been done to us by those who adhere to White supremacy–even those who claim”I am not a racist”.  Well maybe you’re aren’t, but your comfortable life is based on institutional racism: it curbs competition for education, jobs, political power; it upholds the cultural idea of who is supposed to “look American”; it allows for policies that ultimately hurt everyone-esp. the militarization of police departments across this nation.

The irony about Houston under water and what will have to happen for funding to recover this part of Texas is that the very legislators who voted TO NOT FUND SUPERSTORM SANDY RECOVERY are now going to have to ask for help.  Many of these Congresspeople do not think climate change exists and they are often elected on their anti-science, anti-environmental, racist attitudes disguised as pro-law enforcement–they like the President speak with forked tongues.  In this nation and in this world, our troubles are man made.

Poet friends

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

In an era of intense #resistance to what is now the status quo, we need to remember how important it is to know history; to honor those who love and built our nation, not those who fought to tear it apart; that those in power esp. those who bully and dishonor their positions need to imprisoned, not pardoned.  #Resistance is important, but sometimes fighting back is also and ultimately, replacing those who create, produce and support racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-environmental, anti-science, anti-rule of law policies.  If we do not, the clownish concentration camp that Sheriff Joe once ran will be in every city and state in this country.  We deserve so much better than what we have right now.