Monday, March 13, 2017

"FEMINIST SUPERHEROES" Jayne Cortez and Adrienne Rich

Next up was New York City -- The first evening I was over at Saint Marks Poetry Project to talk about Lorenzo Thomas with a small, eager band.  I met poet Lydia Cortes there, whose books I had read over the years.

But the main order of business was Friday night over at the CUNY Grad Center, where the tireless Laura Hinton had organized an event in the wake of her edited volume Jayne Cortes, Adrienne Rich, and the Feminist Superhero, an event sponsored by The Lost & Found Series.

I was up first, with a talk about Cortez.

In the course of this powerful evening, I met up with poets I'd known before, like Patricia Spears Jones, poets I'd known but never met, like Steve Dalachinsky, China connections like Qinghong Xu, and new folks like Janelle Poe, Virginia Vasquez and Emilie Rosenblatt.

There were musical performances by long-time heroes of mine, Bill Cole, Joe Daley and Warren Smith.  These musicians had worked with Jayne Cortez in the past, and it was a rare thrill to hear them give her poetry yet new improvisatory might on this night.

Bill Cole brought his didgeridoo. 

Friday, March 10, 2017


Last Fall I was among the crowds on the mall to witness the opening of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Blacksonian as we've come to call it in the months since. Perhaps most moving of all was seeing the numbers of people with their walkers and wheel chairs, some of them people who had been here for the March on Washington, come back to the nation's mall a half century on to mark the long awaited opening of this monument to a too neglected history.  Now, as the AWP was winding down, I finally had an opportunity to enter this museum for myself.

Like most, I worked my way up from the bottom, starting in the lower depths, in the darkness, confronting the relics of a slave ship, placards noting the histories and cultures of Africa from which the first African Americans had been violently ripped. Fitting that the tour that begins with the slave ship can end, many floors above, with the Mother Ship, astral sign of the bottomless creativity and unbounded aspirations of a people.

There were a lot of us that day, as every day, and some found curious the fact that I seemed to be taking photos mostly of documents and books.  Couldn't I have read them in a library?  I could have, and have . . . but seeing them here meant something different.

Seeing for example that familiar chart that had been such a powerful tool in the Abolitionist struggle, unfolding from its book as so many had read it then -- Seeing the handwriting on a slave owners inventory, followed by an original copy of Banneker's almanac, or a first edition of Phillis Wheatley's poetry, or a proclamation made by Toussaint Louverture . . . 

and here in a case lay Nat Turner's Bible!

One thing that brought me up short was a simple case containing an embroidered sack. Ashley was a nine-year-old girl who was sold away from her mother, Rose. Ashley's mother placed a dress, some pecans, and a braid of her own hair in this sack for her daughter to carry away with her. They never saw each other again. There is nothing I can say; you have to go and stand there with it yourself.

As you work your way up through the floors of the museum, you slowly ascend into your lived history, no matter how young you might be. I was already feeling the waves of recognition and pain seeing the room dedicated to Emmet Till, passing the model of a mid-century lunch counter, pausing in front of the case that contained the Klan's by-laws. But the museum's designers have given us a true ascent; as you rise within the building, you witness the rise through freedom to a possible future.

and so my long walk up through the building's exhibits eventually brought me not only to people I have known, but to events I was part of -- Like African Liberation Day, 1977.  Today's gentry may have reverted to calling it Meridian Hill Park, but to those of my generation it is still Malcolm X Park, and that's where we gathered, year after year.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

AWP 2017 - D.C.

Always ambivalent about AWP, I have to concede that the thing has gotten more expansive and open-minded with the years.  I hear far less open hostility to innovation than used to fill the corridors in years past, and the making space for more interesting work that first became visible in the book exhibit hall more than a decade ago has now spread to the panels.  It remains true that you will hear endless rounds of nebulous and  blurby language coming from the podia, as if we had all just graduated from some MFA grad seminar on writing poetry reviews, but there is an ever increasing portion of truly interesting work spread among the hundreds of sessions. I'm still irked that AWP was the only national conference to reject a propsed panl on Gil Scott Heron (this year they had plenty of room for Prince, though), but I find more and more of worth each time that I attend.

The first session I went to was on writing long poems, though I was primarily there to hear R. Erica Doyle, whose Proxy made a tremendous impression on my first reading of it.

But I was also on a mission to touch base with D.C. writers I had not seen in ages. In the exhibits I ran into Jody Bolz, who is now co-editor of Poet Lore, the oldest continually publishing poetry journal in the USA. Her co-editor is E. Ethelbert Miller.  I first published in the journal decades ago, before their editorship, and have only recently sent work there again, which will appear shortly. It's a very short poem. Just around the corner was Rick Peabody, who I had also caught up with at last year's AWP in Los Angeles, editor and publisher of Gargoyle and of Paycock Editions, author of I'm in Love with the Morton Salt Girl. Back in the 70's, I won a poetry prize from Circus Maximus magazine. Both Rick Peabody and Ethelbert Miller also appeared in that issue. We were all to become poetry friends soon.

I would have gone to the panel on D.C. poetry anthologies anyway, but I especially wanted to meet up with Grace Cavalieri, who I had not seen in thirty years. Grace was a moving force in Pacifica Radio in D.C., the long time host of The Poet and the Poem. I had appeared on her program back in the day, and participated in the music and poetry fund raisers she had organized, about which I will write more elsewhere.  Grace is still at it, and still organizing poets for good.

and I'll admit, much of a Prince fan as I am, I only went to the Prince session to say hi to Tisa Bryant. She was, as always, shall we say, encyclopedic.