Good Luck Tonight, Baby Bruh Dwayne!

A little while ago, I had a blog post called “I Heart Uppity (Part One)” and if you followed the comments thread, you noticed I had a rather emotional (at least to me) exchange with a brother I called “Dwayne.” He was disturbed about my saying that I would never date a man who’d been to jail.

That brother is a wildly talented young man named Reginald Dwayne Betts, the author of A Question of Freedom, which has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Debut Author. I am positive it will win tonight. I just got a mojo feeling.  I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not.

I will take a chance here and say something directly to Dwayne. And this is not because he is all pre-famous now and I need a loan or nothing.  This is because this has been on my heart for a minute, even since Dwayne wrote me in the comments.

Baby Bruh Dwayne, I want to be a sister like Socrates Fortlow talks about in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. I want to kick you in your behind when I see your doing wrong, and kiss you on the head when your doing right.

Dwayne, I see your doing right. I see you, Black Man.

I see how hard you are working as a husband, father, and community/cultural activist. I see your trying to be a brother with a big “B,” and I want you to know that what you are doing is important work. Essential work. And even though you and I are going to disagree on some aspects of my being uppity (smile) I want you to know that your big sister loves you and she is so proud of you.

Good luck tonight! And, I know you gone have on a seriously cute outfit, so take some pictures!

Love,
Honorée

*Hustle Alert Update: NEA Fellowship in Poetry Deadline is MARCH 4!*

Hey Y’all:

I totally forgot to include that the NEA in Poetry deadline is March 4! That’s next Thursday! And you need to go to the website RIGHT NOW. I mean right this minute, because they have some strange, annoying online submissions thing that takes a few days for you to enroll. I tried it last year and it was a caution. But once you’re enrolled you’re always enrolled, and you don’t have to go back every year to enroll again.

Here is the link to the website. Once you get on there, go to “Grants” on the right side of the page, and then hit “Apply for a Grant.” And then, you’ll see a list of categories. Yours will be “Literature.”

Next Thursday doesn’t give you much time to get your poems together and your statement. But you can do it! I believe in you.

Good luck and “bon chance” and all them good mojo things!

*Hustle Alert: Feb. 28/March 1, 2010 Deadlines!*

Hey Good People, I’m trying to come back slowly here, and thank y’all so much for your patience. I just appreciate all y’all so much.

The end of the month deadlines always get me going, whether I want to or not. You know how I feel about paying those bills. I’ve got few pieces of advice before I present the deadlines, and forgive me if you already know these things, or if I’ve said them before.

First, if you’re snail mailing, be sure to include a business-size self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) in your packet of materials, whether the prize guidelines ask for one or not. I like to do this even if it’s not part of the guidelines because sometimes, you get little extras back, like a note of encouragement on the piece of paper listing who actually won the prize. And most times, let’s face it, the person who won is not you. That’s just the numbers game, and you can’t let the numbers intimidate you and stop your flow. Sooner or later, it WILL be you who wins.

So the little note of encouragement from someone taking the time to be nice, when the prize committee had five thousand submissions to trudge through could be just the high point your day needs. You never know.

I always include a self-address stamped postcard as well, because that way I have proof that my submission was received. And I put a little note down at the bottom listing the particular prize before I include it in my prize packet, because you NEVER receive a receipt back from these prize places, listing how much you paid for the entry fee. And so, when you get your postmarked postcard back, that will act as your receipt, in case you don’t have a canceled check or money order receipt. Then all you have to do is look up the prize name online and print out the guideline page, staple it to your postcard, and that counts as a receipt.

You know, one year I must have spent $2000.00 on prize entry fees. I’m not exaggerating. This was back in the day. But I didn’t know how to be organized then, so I didn’t have check carbons, and I had forgotten to save my postal receipts. And this was before you could look up everything online. This was back when you had to first send in one self-addressed stamped envelope to get the prize guidelines, and then send in another one with your prize packet. Talk about some worked nerves.

So, I never got credit on my taxes. Don’t get me started on that, and don’t be no fool like I was, ok?

Keep all them little pieces of paper connected to your hustle, even if you just throw them in a shoebox. A good accountant (or even just your first cousin who does your taxes) will be able to help you get a little refund back come tax time. Prize entries are what are called “self-employed business expenses.” And you are self-employed if you work as a writer and even just get $100 a year from a reading you did at a coffee-shop and only five people showed up and two of them were your parents.

If you believe in a higher power, it don’t hurt to lay on some hands before you give your prize packet to the postal worker, either. And if your postal worker believes in God, have him or her lay on some hands, too. Don’t laugh at me, please. I used to have a special mojo lady who worked at the post office who won me FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS in prize money over the years.

I loved that lady so strong. I would stand in line and if some other postal worker became available, I would wave the people behind me forward to that other postal worker and say, “You go ahead. I’m waiting on her,” and point to my mojo lady. I’d pray a few seconds and give my packet to her, and she’d say, “I’ve got a feeling about this one.”

Next thing you know, my prize check was in the mail. Let me tell you, it was a sad day for me when that lady retired from the post office.

If you don’t believe in God, you can always get your friends who do believe to pray. That’s what all my atheist friends do, and it seems to be working out quite nicely for them. I don’t think atheists have a union or anything, so you can’t get in trouble for cheating.

Finally, you need to check the prize guidelines–it’s too late to send a SASE for guidelines, so just check the website—to make sure whether your entry MUST BE RECEIVED by the deadline or POSTMARKED by the deadline.

There’s a serious difference, because if you are sending in something for a February 28th deadline and it must be received by that time, you need to send in your submission by like, tomorrow by priority mail, because the 28th is on a Sunday.

Ok, here are the deadlines–and here’s some virtual mojo laying on of hands for y’all!

Association of Writers & Writing Programs Award Series (book publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee:  $25
Web site: www.awpwriter.org/contests/series.htm
E-mail address: chronicle@awpwriter.org

Dream Horse Press American Poetry Journal Book Prize (book publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $25
Web site: www.dreamhorsepress.com
E-mail address: dreamhorsepress@yahoo.com

Fence Books Modern Poets Series (book publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $25
Web site: www.fenceportal.org

Fourth Genre Michael Steinberg Essay Prize (journal publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $15
Web site: www.msupress.msu.edu/journals/fg
E-mail address: genre4@msu.edu

Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award For New Writers (journal publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee:  $15
Web site: www.glimmertrain.org

The Ledge Fiction Award (journal publication)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $10
Web site: www.theledgemagazine.com
E-mail address: tkmonaghan@aol.com

Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest (conference)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $15
Web site: www.sumlitsem.org/slscontest.html
E-mail address:  mike@sumlitsem.org

University of Wisconsin/Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowships (residency)
Deadline: February 28, 2010
Entry Fee: $45
Web site: creativewriting.wisc.edu

Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Poetry Prize (book publication)
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $25
Web site: ahsahtapress.boisestate.edu
E-mail address: ahsahta@boisestate.edu

Binghamton University Book Awards (book publication)
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Web site: english.binghamton.edu/cwpro
NO ENTRY FEE!

Del Sol Press Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize (anthology publication)
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $16
Web site: www.delsolpress.org
E-mail address: robcontestdsp@gmail.com

Gulf Coast Writing Contests (journal publication)
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $20
Web site: www.gulfcoastmag.org
E-mail address: editors@gulfcoastmag.org

James Jones Literary Society First Novel Fellowship
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $25
Web site: www.wilkes.edu/pages/1159.asp
E-mail address: jamesjonesfirstnovel@wilkes.edu

PEN Northwest/ Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency
Deadline: March 1, 2010
Entry Fee: $15
Web site: www.johndaniel-author.net/mdb-res.php
E-mail address: johndaniel48@yahoo.com

Good, Strange, Right-on-Time Blessings

I didn’t expect to be talking again to y’all so soon after my sweet poet-friend, Lucille Clifton passed, but something happened, and I wanted to share it with y’all. Please give me a minute to go around the barnyard with my story, because it takes me a minute to tell something from beginning to end. All my friends know this about me. Miss Lucille definitely knew.

In my last blog post, I let y’all know that Miss Lucille was incredibly important to me and that I loved her so much. I can’t even describe how much I loved her. It was that much.

One of the reasons I did love her is that she was really sweet, really real, and really wise, all at the same time. She didn’t have to remind you she was wise. When we would talk on the phone, stuff would just come out her mouth, and I’d be thinking, “This lady is deep to the nth degree.” But she didn’t get all high-handed and remind you of how deep she was. That’s what made her deep.

And she had visions, too, that would come true. Let me give you an example.

A year and a half ago, right after Barack Obama won the presidential election, but before the inauguration, I called up Miss Lucille all excited. I’d had a vision that a poet we both knew was going to be the inaugural poet at Barack’s inauguration.  I’d seen somebody—a woman—standing up on the podium and I was sure—positive—it would be that poet.

I must admit, I was pretty pleased with myself.  About fifteen years ago, right around the time I became a serious writer, I had started having strange dreams and waking visions, and I had begun to think of myself as some sort of Super Special Person Endowed With Unmatchable Gifts.

Tangent: you know, when you are a poet, you have to work on yourself to stop taking everything you think and do so seriously, because you can start to become obnoxious and intolerable. I was knocking on the door of that address around the time this happened.

So I tell Miss Lucille what I had seen in my vision, and she said, “No, Honi, it’s not going to be that person. It’s going to be Elizabeth. I just feel it.” She was talking about our mutual dear friend (and my mentor), Elizabeth Alexander.

I actually tried to argue with Miss Lucille. I gave her all the reasons that I was right. I would never have said she was wrong, but I did want to tell her that I was right. And she was real nice about it. Some other older person would have cussed me out, probably, but Miss Lucille was kind and patient with me, all while still maintained that the inaugural poet would be Elizabeth Alexander.

The next thing you know, I’d heard on the news that Elizabeth had been chosen as the inaugural poet. And of course, my mind was blown. Though I was happy–ecstatic– for her, I gotta tell you, I was thinking, “Have I lost my mojo? Is it gone?”

Another tangent: you know, a poet has a hard time understanding, “It’s not always about me. The world does not spin on my jenky little axis every moment of the day. Forget about my mojo; let me celebrate the accomplishment of my dear friend and mentor.”

I’m a work in progress, y’all. And this story has a good ending. Just bear with me.

Anyway, I called Miss Lucille up again, and I said, “Miss Lucille, I just knew I was right. I’m sort of confused right now.”

And she said, “Well, Honi, your mojo is strong. But I’m thirty years older than you, and so my mojo is just a little bit stronger than yours. But yours will get there.”

I told you she was deep.

Another time—this was three years ago if I remember right—I was fussing on the phone to Miss Lucille about how I felt like people were ignoring my writing, poetry and fiction.  Looking back, I want to slap myself upside the head for my arrogance. I was talking to Lucille Clifton, who at that time was in her late sixties. It took her thirty years of writing to win the National Book Award. She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize twice, and never received it.

Let me say that again: Lucille Clifton never received the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. To most American poets—black, white, and everything else—this is a travesty of the highest order.

And there I was, complaining to this lady, six years after my first book was published because I wasn’t making six figures and wasn’t full professor (like some of my friends) and I hadn’t won the Pulitzer. But even while I was complaining about what I didn’t have yet, I’d already won some awards and people were paying me pretty good money to come do readings. I was getting my piece of the poetry pie, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

That day, Miss Lucille told me something I will never forget. She told me, I needed to stop focusing on money and the prizes and focus on the writing first, and that if I focused on the writing, I would be recognized eventually the way I wanted. She told me that I would be recognized not only as a poet, but also, as a fiction writer. She was nice with it, but she had a bit of steel in her voice that day, which wasn’t a usual thing for her.

I’m confessing something else here: I didn’t believe Miss Lucille. I thought she was just trying to keep me together in a nice way. I really did.

It took two years for me to really understand what she meant about not worrying so much about worldly things—I had stopped caring about what my friends had that I didn’t have. Or, I did for the most part. We writers are full of ego, and yes, sometimes it stung when a friend was published in The New Yorker or won some $50,000 prize that I hadn’t or one of my friends was nominated for the National Book Award or one of my friends new book was coming out from a big press (and not a small university one).

I’m human and it stung, but the good news was, it stung only for a minute. The first time it stopped stinging all day long, I thought, “Don’t I feel about things strongly anymore?” The second time it happened, I knew I had just stopped investing needless energy in something I couldn’t control. And I stopped feeling eaten up with doubt about my talents and with jealousy.

I realized that I might not have what some people have, but I have more than most, and that it’s downright ugly to complain about what you don’t have when you have good things in your life. It’s just not right. So, I just got back to focusing on my own work and trying to make it better. And I am paying my bills, which is always a spectacular event for a single, black woman.

Fast forward a year.

A few days ago, I was traveling to attend Miss Lucille’s memorial service in Maryland. As I always do when I travel, I take along materials to write with. Miss Lucille told me a few years back that “you should always be open to the poem.” She said always carry something to write down your thoughts and words that come to you, and no matter when they come, stop and write them down.

I’ve remembered that over the years. Sometimes, when I am talking to somebody on the phone or in person, a string of words will enter my mind, and I will interrupt the person in mid-sentence and say, “Excuse me, I have to write this down.” Then, after I write it down, I apologize, because I do have a little bit of home training, despite some of the stories I’ve told you in this blog post.

When I travel, I will always buy a book to keep me company, too. Reading someone else’s words sometimes helps me to spark my own words, words Miss Lucille told me I should always be ready for. So, three days ago, when I was preparing to board the plane for Miss Lucille’s memorial service, I bought a book. I couldn’t settle down to read it in Maryland, because it was a hectic and sad couple of days. I was on the plane coming back when I pulled out the book from my big lady’s purse. It was the Best American Short Stories 2009 anthology.

I decided to flip to the back of the book to the “100 More Distinguished Stories” section, to see if I recognized anyone’s name. This section is essentially the short list for the anthology, and even though there are one hundred stories on the short list, to be selected is a really big honor, because thousands (many, many thousands) of stories have been rejected even for the short list.

I guess you already know what I am going to say. I saw my name on the “100 More Distinguished Stories” list. They had left off my accent, but I didn’t care. There was my name,”Honoree Fanonne Jeffers” and my story,”Easter Lilies in the West Room” which appeared in PMS: Poetry/Memoir/Story 2008.

A story and not a poem.

I’ve been writing fiction for fifteen years. It took me five years to even get my first story published. And throughout those fifteen years, one of my biggest dreams—ever— was to see my name on the “100 More Distinguished Stories” list—at the back of this anthology. I’m not playing with you here.

I’d wanted so much for my poetry, before I found my artistic mind where I lost it. I’d wanted money, fame, the adoration of my peers, and stellar credit. But for my fiction, all I’ve ever wanted was to see my name at the back of this particular book.  I probably would have peed my pants if they’d actually included my story in the front of the book. And that wouldn’t have been cool, because my seatmate was kind of cute. And he told me he was a doctor. I wished I’d asked for his number.

I’ve been sad about my friend and mentor. I’ve been missing her strong. She made me smile all the time, and she made me feel loved. And though she was beloved of many people who weren’t black, and she loved a lot of people who weren’t black, she was that quintessential down-to-earth sister that makes the black community a source, a font, of something great and sometimes even divine. That makes our community sometimes not all right, but always okay. At least for me.

So when I saw my name in the back of the book, first, I squealed and scared people (including my cute doctor seatmate). And then, I made one of them old black woman sounds: “Umph, umph, umph,” that indicate that something profound has happened.

And for me, it had. Somebody liked my little story. The editor didn’t give me a dime for it, but I wrote it well enough for somebody to say, “Well done. I connected with your words and I enjoyed them.”

That’s all. But that’s all I’ve ever needed. Finally, I received the wisdom that Miss Lucille was trying to give me. So even though I’m still a little sad about my friend, let me share with you that today is a good day, indeed.

Ms. Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936-February 13, 2010)

Photo Courtesy Marlene Hawthrone Thomas

My good friend, mentor, second mother, and Black Poetry Mother Ms. Lucille Clifton died yesterday. To say I am devastated is an understatement, but I did not want to do my grieving in public. I don’t want to chastise other folks who are doing their grieving in public, but that’s not my way.

Then I realized that, if I just disappeared without saying anything for a week or two or even three, no one would understand except for my close friends. So, on this Valentine’s Day—which will never be the same again—I am posting about her.

This will be my last blog post for a few days. I hope you will forgive my absence and understand.

I guess I should say this:

It’s a soul deep, heart deep thing that I had for Miss Lucille. I’m not saying other people didn’t have it. But I’m just saying, whatever I feel, it’s mine, and I just can’t talk about it right now in minute detail, giving a blow by blow every ten minutes.

The only thing I can do is post a poem for her, and hope this is okay, because this is what poets do when someone goes. We poem about it.

I kept promising Miss Lucille that I would send her some of my Phillis Wheatley poems, but I never did. I kept telling her, “I want them to be perfect, Miss Lucille, before I send them to you.”

I hope she can read this, wherever she is. I hope she knows things ain’t never gone be the same here without her. I was thinking I had just a little more time to get myself together before she left us, but I didn’t. I never thought I could ever fill her shoes, but I guess I thought I would learn how to be a black poet in the world, how to be a human being, before the elders started leaving us.

I hope she knows how much I loved her and still do.

I love you, Miss Lucille. Honi loves you, so much, and always will.

Coda (She-Who-Gave-Birth-To-The-Poet, 1773)*

PHILLIS was brought  from Africa to America

a small creature spinning in the Year 1761

my hands reaching between seven and eight Years of Age

without any Assistance woman but still my child

from School Education and by only what she was taught

in the Family and don’t forget me or this piece of land

come here oh come back the English language

to which she was an utter Stranger my sweet girl

please don’t leave this stilled playground child child child

to the great Astonishment of all who heard her

touch my reaching hands This Relation is given

by her Master who bought her JOHN WHEATLEY Boston

walk to my side gentle sweet seed Ma is calling

stay by me

Italicized portions of this poem are from the front matter of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (London: Archibald Bell, 1773).

Have You Kissed Your Mentor Today?

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, so allow me a sweet roll call of the folks in my life who have pushed, pulled, and cajoled me to where I am today:

Hank Lazer, Afaa Michael Weaver, Lucille Clifton, Maggie Anderson, Sonia Sanchez, Elizabeth Alexander , David Lynn—and that distinguished gentleman on the left? That’s The Man, the renowned literary scholar, Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

All of those people whom I just mentioned are my mentors, some for a really long time, and others for a short time, but I would not be anyplace without them.

I wouldn’t own a car or have a job. I wouldn’t own my own home. I wouldn’t have one book, much less three. I’d be living in my mama’s basement, if it weren’t for my mentors.

You think I am exaggerating, but this is the truth.

As I move into middle-age, one of the issues that I’m wrestling with—along with the fact that my metabolism has slowed way down—is mentoring. Younger writers are now looking to me to be a mentor, and what’s becoming apparent is that mentoring someone is hard work.

First, let me be blunt: a lot of young folks need to remember their home training. I know they have it. They just sometimes forget where they misplaced it.

I’d like to think I never lost my home training when I was younger, but I’m starting to suspect that was not the case. Pay back is an [insert expletive noun], as you know, but I am not going to take this lying down.  I have decided to let the young folks know that you need to be good to your mentors, because your mentors don’t have to be there for you. I’m trying to tell you what I know.

Look, there are only two people who really have to be there for you when you break fool: God and your mama. And neither one of those people can write you a letter of recommendation.

Your mentors are there for you out of the goodness of their hearts. They don’t get paid for advising you or writing you letters of recommendation—in fact, that would be unethical. Since I bet you don’t even remember their birthdays and send cards, then you should assume mentors are there for you out of love and a sense of responsibility—and your short, jenky emails every once in a while.

Mentors stay strong with you even when sometimes, you act stupidly. They will tell you—sometimes gently or sometimes not—when you need to get yourself together.

Like, if you need a letter of recommendation, please don’t ask your mentor three days before the deadline. Or, lose the sky-blue resume paper with clouds printed all over and buy you some professional twenty-five percent cotton at the Staples. Or, don’t wear low-rise jeans to work, and please don’t wear a shirt that exposes your “Woman’s Gotta Have It” tatoo because Bobby Womack is your favorite singer.

Tangent: there’s a difference between a mentor and a friend who writes you letters of recommendation.  Sometimes, a friend who is at a different–let’s say higher— place in her career can get a bit pompous and claim the title of “mentor” when really, she’s just a good friend who does you a solid on a regular basis. I’ve made that mistake myself–being pompous– and I’ve had a friend who got high-handed with me, too. Let me say that pomposity can ruin a good friendship, and so, you need to be really careful asking friends for letters if you think they don’t know how to handle that sort of power.

But the key to knowing the difference between a friend and a mentor is that, every place you’ve been in life–emotionally, professionally, and probably even geographically–your mentor has been there already. There may be deep, profound love between you two, but you won’t ever be equals. You have to understand that and be okay with it.

As a mentor now myself, one of my biggest pet peeves is when some youngun that I’m mentoring asks for my advice, I give it to him or her, and then he or she wants to argue with me–in other words, tries to talk to me like an equal. That burns my biscuits, for real, because if you knew what I knew already, you wouldn’t have to ask me in the first place.

And further, if you don’t want my advice, what are you bothering me for? Do you think I am staying up nights, taking No-Doz, just hoping you are going to call me up with some foolishness?

About three out of four times when a someone starts “changing words” with me (to paraphrase Zora Neale Hurston), I will take the high road. But that fourth time—Shazam! (“Shazam!” is my word for when I go off and get very gangster. It’s not pretty. That’s why it’s italicized with an exclamation point behind it, ok?)

Dr. Ward was my very first mentor, and now, I understand all of his patient sighs over the years and his courtly, methodical way of speaking. He was trying to keep his cool. He was staying strong with an ignorant, cocky, insecure kid who really, really, really needed his help but didn’t have the sense to know it. His voice would soothe me and calm me down, and then, he would drop the serious science on a sister. (It was so deep, I needed all that alliteration I just gave you to let you know.)

So, this is an open love letter of gratitude to Dr. Ward and all those mentors of mine who have been there for me through the years, waiting for me to finally get some sense. I think I have some now. (At least, I hope I do.) And I’m trying so hard to make y’all proud.

Poetry Society of America, Don't You Like Black Babies?

Y’all, the Poetry Society of America is now the talk of the Colored People Poets of America today. Apparently, writer Fred Viebahn, the husband of poet Rita Dove, has sent an email of protest to the Poetry Society of America’s director, Alice Quinn about their gallery of baby pictures of poets. There are no African American/Black/Negro/Biracial of African Descent poets anywhere in this baby picture gallery. Here’s Poet Gallery One and then Poet Gallery Two. See for yourself.

I have included Mr. Fred’s letter below. (Hat tip to a Fabulous Poet Diva for sharing this email with me. I don’t know if she wants me to mention her name, so I won’t for the time being.)

But before I do share this particular new letter, I gotta tell you that this is NOT the first time Mr. Fred has exposed these sort of “unconscious” racially exclusionary tactics of nearly all-white creative writing organizations that also grant money.

Twelve years ago, Mr. Fred forced a national conversation about the fact that the Academy of American Poets had NO BLACK POETS OR POETS OF COLOR on their board. And when I say “national,” I mean, it was on NPR and everything. I tried to find the link to the audio, but I couldn’t. (If anyone can find it, please email me with the information). So here’s the link to the article about it in The New York Times.

Also, there’s another NY TImes link in the letter but it doesn’t seem to be working. So you can click THIS one and it will take you to the article that Mr. Fred describes as the “tawdry little episode.”

Now, read how Mr. Fred is still dropping dimes and taking names in the 21st century.

—-

To: Alice Quinn, executive director, Poetry Society of America

Dear Alice,

In researching an article about American poetry for a German
publication, I just happened upon the Poetry Society of America’s online
exhibit “When they were very young”, of which the Society has now
published two parts showcasing childhood photos of American poets. What
struck me immediately is the _total_ lack of African-American poets
among the 28 depicted! I’m not only incensed by such
stunning insensitivity but dumbfounded by the Society’s obtuseness.
Wasn’t the PSA embroiled in a controversy just a couple of years ago,
when the Frost medal was awarded to John Hollander, a poet whose most
recent claim to infamy had been a number of arrogant racist
remarks? Have you learned nothing from that tawdry little
episode (http://www.nytimes.com/200 7/09/27/books/27poet.html)?

But here we go again. Watching this kind of ethnic brutishness crop up
again and again over the more than thirty years I’ve been in the United
States is disheartening, to say the least, especially when it involves
people who pride themselves on their poetic perceptiveness. Please don’t
add insult to injury by telling me there are several African-American
poets on a future roster but that you haven’t gotten around to digging
up their childhood photos yet. I’m sure it can’t be too difficult to
find youthful pictures of prominent African American poets. For example,
here’s an easy one: All you had to do is check my wife Rita Dove’s
readily Google-able and accessible website, where you could have found
a-plenty: http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/1952-1957/index.html
<http://people.virginia.edu/%7Erfd4b/1952-1957/index.html> &
http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/1958-64/index.html
<http://people.virginia.edu/%7Erfd4b/1958-64/index.html>. But maybe a
Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate doesn’t meet
the standards of a Society that honors people like Mr. Hollander, who
believes that “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets
today”?

Gazing at the assembled photos in the Poetry Society’s exhibit “When
they were very young”, I am baffled and profoundly saddened. What else
but plain racist is this exclusionary spectacle? Intentional or
inadvertent, the message is clear: We are most certainly not living in a
post-racial America.

All best,
Fred Viebahn

No Mitchell L. H. Douglas Podcast Today!

Y’all, I’m so sorry, but there will be no podcast today with Mitchell L. H. Douglas. Some nasty computer virus has got his poor computer all sick and so he can’t connect with the podcast sight, Talkshoe.com this evening.

BUT WE WILL BE RESCHEDULING HIS “You Gotta Read This” PODCAST!

Mitchell will be our only man podcasting in March, Women’s History Month, after he heals his computer. And that will be after the NAACP Image Awards, so he may have good news about the award. But even if he doesn’t, COOLING BOARD (his book of poetry) is still so good you think he channeled Donny Hathaway.

But I’M still here! And there will be another “You Gotta Read This” podcast next Tuesday, February 16! You know I can’t leave y’all hanging like that for two whole weeks, cause some of y’all have gotten addicted already to the crack known as “Good Books About Black People.”

And what an addiction to have, right? That’s one of the only addictions I know that’s not gone kill you. The other one is saving your money for when the Revolution and/or Revelation comes. If it’s the Revelation, you can just hand Saint Peter a big old check, and that will cancel out all the times you had premarital sex, hopefully.

And I’ll be getting back witcha this week, so take a breather and then come back and see me tomorrow.

Love y’all strong,

Honorée

Happy Birthday, Alice Walker!

I’ve got a special place in my heart for Alice Walker. My mother, Trellie James Jeffers, was her seventh grade teacher back in the day in Eatonton, Georgia at Butler-Baker High School. Miss Alice even wrote my mama a poem back then, though she wasn’t my mama then, of course. And she didn’t have the last name Jeffers, either.

In a strange way, it’s like Miss Alice is member of my family, because I hear stories about her and my mother just calls her “Alice.” I hope she’s having a good day today and kicking it strong on this, on her sixty-sixth birthday.

"You Gotta Read This" w/Mitchell L.H. Douglas

Photo courtesy of David Flores

Ok, I’m happy the Saints won the Super Bowl, but I don’t follow football. Wait a minute–don’t y’all start boo-ing me, pretty please! I just can’t understand the game. I tried, but the rules go over my head. And my last man said he was going to explain but we broke up before he could. So my ignorance is really his fault now, isn’t it?

I wrote all day long yesterday instead of watching the game (I don’t have cable so really, I don’t have TV anyway to watch.) But still, I have a girlhood friend who’s from Baton Rouge, and I knew he was probably watching and I thought of him all day long yesterday. And I was happy for him when I heard the news.

Not only is it Black History Month, but you know all them African American folks down in New Orleans have taken off this week for an impromptu Mardi Gras in celebration of their winning the Super Bowl. It’s CRAZY down there right now! And then the REAL Mardi Gras starts next Tuesday. Ooh, Lord, it’s going to be one big Colored People and White Folks, Too party for the next ten days!

I adore those kind of parties, where folks of all colors are joined together, having a good time, because of their common love for something or someone. In this case, it’s the Saints. Wynton Marsalis was on Twitter today talking about his daddy taking him to him first Saints game when he was a little, little boy, and now four decades later, the Saints went to the Super Bowl. I hope he’s blowing his trumpet right now as we speak.

So, since a lot of y’all are going to be at home drinking in celebration anyway , you should join me for the Mitchell L. H. Douglas podcast on Tuesday, February 9 at 7:30pm Eastern Standard Time! You knew I was going to work that in some kind of way. Didn’t you see the header for the blog post?

Mitchell’s book, Cooling Board: A Long Playing Poem is just one beautiful book. And it was nominated for this year’s NAACP Image Award in Poetry. You can’t get much more fabulous than that.

See the dark blue badge right next to this post? You can click that and it will take you right to the podcast tomorrow. It may SAY the next podcast is at 6:30pm, but that’s because I live in a central time zone. If you click this link, you will notice it says 7:30PM. But remember, if you miss the podcast live, you can always subscribe to it on ITunes.

Here’s Mitchell’s fabulous bio and the cover of the book below. You notice I haven’t gone on and on about how handsome he is in his photo up top. That is because he is happily married to a very nice, beautiful lady and they have two children, and I know I wouldn’t want nobody making tasty remarks about my husband (if I had a husband, which I don’t. I talked about that in my last blog post.).

My policy with this blog and the podcast, too, is that married and romantically monogamous/committed men as well as men old enough to be my daddy do not get the tasty remarks made about them.

That’s enough said on that.

And just in case you are still mad at me for not being a football fan, you will be happy to know that Mitchell LOVES himself some football.

Mitchell L. H. Douglas is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). His poetry has appeared in Callaloo, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (University of Georgia Press), Crab Orchard Review, and Zoland Poetry Volume II (Zoland Books) among others. A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, Cave Canem fellow, and Poetry Editor for PLUCK!:The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem, is his debut collection. Before it’s publication by Red Hen Press, Cooling Board was a runner-up for the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, a semifinalist for the 2007 Blue Lynx Prize, and a semifinalist for the 2006 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Cooling Board is a nominee for the 41st NAACP Image Awards in the Outstanding Literary Work-Poetry category. The awards will be broadcast live on FOX February 26, 2010, at 8/7 central.