Yes, I deserve this

roses and cards from friends near and far

Anyone who works long and hard and seriously at their chosen art form deserves recognition.  Anyone.  But I am not anyone and I am so glad to have received the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers.  It was a balm, a boon, and a joy to share with friends on May 23rd at the Century Club–so venerable, the balcony looks towards the Chrysler Building!  Strands of my life from Loft Jazz world, The Poetry Project, Bomb Magazine, Mabou Mines,  Vermont College, VCCA, Rhodes College, CUNY, St John’s Church in Park Slope, Cave Canem were all there. So many people, I did not get to greet everyone.  They came from Boston and Long Island and one of my hometown friends ws there! Nicole Peyrafitte posted part of my acceptance speech, thus the title of this blog.

My hair stylist Nadia Vassell made my hair look fab; a Lancome rep at Saks did my makeup.    I wore new clothes that Janet Goldner helped me shop for. I was happy.  I am thrilled and tired and glad that the ceremony and brouhaha are over.  I have plans for this good fortune, mostly paying bills and giving myself that cushion because I’ve had many many many rainy days and no cushion.  I do not come from money or a pedigree.  There are no relatives who went to Harvard or Spelman or even FSU!  I am the first person in my entire family to go to and complete college. I come from Forrest City, a small town in Arkansas in the Delta that is barely holding on, but was once a site of major cotton plantations and the ancillary businesses resulting from that.  Cotton is still there and rice and soy beans and corn, but people Black or White are not “on the land”-huge machines do what hundreds of poorly paid people did 50 years ago.  But the land is where my mama resides in a graveyard in the South end of town and land is what I co-own with my brother and sister in town.  And land is large and flat and green. I come from a verdant and violent place.

So I deeply appreciate the judges selection of my work. It means that you can come from a small place in a small state and make it big (well Bill Clinton did that first, but hey, he’s not a poet) in your chosen field.  I am not “big”, but this says that my work is important. And they give me money too! I am so pleased that this “win” is only about selection from a small universe of nominees and not one of us knew we were up for this prize.  This is about merit and spirit and recognition and yes, I deserve this.  Any poet who has been writing and publishing and editing and reviewing and caring deeply about language and the people who explore and explode it, deserves recognition.  So whomever receives this next year–enjoy the roses, the cards, the love and acclaim from friends and more scrutiny than one can possibly handle.  For now, the recipient is moi and moi is pleased and glad to have made an excuse for wonderful friends to celebrate and be joyful on a balcony in mid-town as the sun set and everyone dressed up!

Selfie with Lee Briccetti, dir. of Poets House

The day after May Day thank you Jacob Lawrence with event link!

03311520130501152026a03301519020330151954a If I could say that someone waved a magic wand around me, I would say it is because of Jacob Lawrence, an important artist whose work continues to refresh the imagination to this day.  I first saw half of the Migrations Series in the 1970s at the Philllips Collection in D.C.  I think because of Richard J. (Rick) Powell, who was then a artist/scholar/curator kind of guy.  I was stunned.  These little paintings told stories about the South and the very real reasons that Black people left-had to leave.  The next time I saw the panels was at the Whitney I think along with other series, The Builders, etc.  Again, the stories in colors vivid and bold lines–the generosity towards Black folks, the pride of Black folks, the folk of Black folks–his painting allowed the narrative to sing through.

So when Elizabeth Alexander  (she’s the very tall imposing diva next to moi) asked me to create a poem in response to the Series, I was both excited and terrified.  How to do justice to this work?  How not imitate in words what he had already done in paint?  How to add to the discourse on the Black Migration?  How.  Last August when I was the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, I re-looked at each of the panels and realized that Panel 57 was what I returned to.  She’s the only single female figure in the entire series.  She’s wearing white.  There’s a cross in the picture.  I thought of my cousin Hassie, who was head Usher at the Baptist church she attended.  I thought of the aunts who came down from Chicago and Detroit looking fly.  I thought of the harsh beauty of the south and the hard heartedness of southern white leadership.  And then I realize that the best way into the poem was through scent.  If you get the catalog you can read “Lave”.  If you attend the exhibition, up till September 7, you can hear me and the other poems read our work in one of exhibition room.   You can hear great music in other rooms (I am in a picture with the great opera singer, Kevin Maynard)  On May 1, May Day, International Worker’s Day, we read at the Museum of Modern Art.

Hopefully, this link will take to what was one of my proudest moments as a poet and a Black woman who has lived long enough to know the harsh beauty remains in the South as does menace towards Black people, poor people–but I also know that the struggles have moved North, have taken a more complicated hard heartedness.  But like our ancestors, we keep moving and when needed like the laundress, we find work, we do the work, we stand on whatever ground we can.

Again, I thank Elizabeth Alexander.  Leah Dickerman, Sarah Kennedy, Jennifer Harris and a great crew at MOMA; the film studio guys, the really nice guards, the wait staff for any and all dinners, the whole sense of conviviality.  Because ultimately, Lawrence shows how Black people embrace life in all of its complications from loving to loss; from brutality to struggles for justice.  We really do keep on keeping on.  And if you cannot embrace that simple thought you are starved of humanity.  Praises to the Ancestors.  Praises to the poets.

The reading was live streamed on youtube, here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdPZ5Wag9BM#action=share

 

the thrill of departure

I taught a poetry workshop for Poets House using “departure” as a way to allow writers to take a different direction; try new things. Everyone has certain ways of seeing, feeling–I know that I do.  And any time I am asked to try something different, called to create from another vantage, I embrace the process.  But I know it may not work.  There is always risk in not making good or hopefully great work. Of having your writing in the company of others who have been deemed valuable.  I know that my work is well-regarded and for some deeply admirable.  But I am not a prize receiving poet.  The New York Times does not know my name.  My last book, Painkiller, of which I very proud received like 3 reviews.  And yet, I am completing A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems for White Pine Press.  I would love to get prizes and the monies attached.  I would love to get the praise.  But my work as a poet has been to keep going despite neglect or rejection–it is not about giving up hope. It is about thinking that maybe in the language I choose to work with, I bring something new, different, engaged to the discourse.  I am not glib.  I cannot reduce my work to a sound bite–that does not interest me.  What does is that thrill of departure-the step towards something possibility familiar, but often completely unknown.

When Elizabeth Alexander asked me to write a poem in response to Jacob Lawrence Migrations series, I was deeply touched.  This was not expected and I was not sure of what I’d do; how I’d do it.  I had written a poem in response to Lawrence’s “Builders” series-a gorgeous, hopeful group of paintings.  That poem was published in Black Renaissance Noire, thanks Quincy Troupe.  But this was different and when I was at VCCA this past August, I was able to pull together the strands of thinking about Lawrence’s work and a panel in that celebrated series and make a poem.  I will always be grateful to my fellow VCCA residents who heard the poem read aloud for the first time and my good friend Deborah Wood Holton for her insightful first reading.  I will read the final version, May 1 at MOMA with Elizabeth, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rita Dove, Tyehimba Jess, Crystal Williams, Nathasa Tretheway,  Terrence Hayes, and Kevin Young.

A few days ago I stood in the recording studio at MOMA holding the catalog and marveling at the hard work done to bring Lawrence’s work to a new generation; a large audience.  From what I have heard from everyone who worked with him, he was a deeply kind, generous and hard working man.  An artist whose gifts are giving with love and great honor to the ancestors.  I am grateful to him for showing what vision and work whether quickly seen or gained over a lifetime means.  It means that the thrills keep coming year after year after year.  The show opens April 3.  I hope you go see it and see the work of artists living and gone–depart from your own vision. See where the colors, lines, figures take you–the journey may be long or short, but it will be different.

At MOMA, with Jacob Lawrence catalog, January 2015

At MOMA, with Jacob Lawrence catalog, January 2015

 

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.

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. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2014/09/meet-the-boys-and-girls-on-de-battlefront/

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: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2014/08/what-can-poetry-do-part-2-kelle-groom.html

Earlier this summer I was able to review Dawoud Bey’s exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery for Tribes.
http://www.tribes.org/web/2014/08/07/patricia-spear-jones-reviews-dawoud-bey-at-the-mary-boone-gallery/

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       www.jmu.edu/furiousflower

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 https://www.facebook.com/artistsforferguson 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