This is the stunning sight that came into view when I drew back the curtains in my hotel room in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago. Since I was in town to speak on the subject of the visual in poetry by African American women, it seemed somehow fitting that I found myself greeted by Saint Benedict the Moor. St. Benedict presides over Pittsburgh's Hillside District, and appeared to be welcoming all of us who had come to town for the LIFTING BELLY HIGH conference, hosted at nearby Duquesne University, a conference on poetry by American women after 1900. My own talk was to address poetry considerably after 1900 -- mostly after 2000.
This was yet another chance for me to touch base with the traveling colloquium of poetry people I've gotten to know over the years, but it was also an opportunity for me to hear poets I'd been reading for quite a while but had never seen read from their work, such as Dawn Lundy Martin, who read the first night, and Claudia Rankine, who read in a mutlimedia performance across town at the University of Pittsburgh on the second evening of the conference.
Also on hand were poets whose works I'd been reading and whose public performances I had attended often over the years: Kathleen Fraser, Elizabeth Willis, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, the list goes on and on. I had missed both the landmark Page Mothers conference at U.C. San Diego years before (I was supposed to speak there but decided to have heart bypass surgery instead) and an important, related conference at Bard (that one I had not even heard of till too late to attend) -- There was no way I would have missed this one.