Poet Laureate Celebration

June 13, 2009

Farmingdale Public Library

 

Thank you so much for bestowing this great honor upon me. First, I'd like to thank the Nassau County Poet Laureate Selection Committee: Chairperson Paula Camacho, Beverly Kotch, Frank McKenna, George Northrup, and Judy Turek, for all their long hours of dedicated work behind the scenes on behalf of the poetry community of Nassau County. And I'd like to say a hearty kudos to Max Wheat for all he has done as teacher, poet, and poetry advocate, and especially for the Nassau County School Poetry Project, which culminated in the wonderful Young Voices anthology. I'd also like to thank Beverly Gilbert, Cultural Arts Director, who has given me the opportunity to work with the poetry community at the Mid-Island Y JCC, in Plainview, for the past fifteen years. I look forward to continuing my work there, as well as working with the many talented and emerging poets of Nassau and Long Island. And, of course, I'd like to express a deep thank you to my dear friends and family for their continued love and support, and for their rich source of material for my poetry. Keep it coming!

There's a renaissance of poetry going on in Long Island. But why in these turbulent times of economic woes, global warming, nuclear arms proliferation, ethnic warfare, why should poetry matter? It has no ax to grind, no ism of solution, no creed, no religious tenet to advocate. It represents no political party, no commercial product. So why should it matter? William Carlos Williams wrote:

                            It is difficult

     to get the news from poems

              yet men die miserably every day

                                for lack

                    of what is found there.

Poetry matters as the human family matters. It shows us who we are, warts and all. It offers promise of who we might become. It grieves for our fragilities and bigotries. It loves our vast capacious hearts. But it loves us in our smallness too, in our pettiness and weakness too. It shows us that beneath it all, this is our human story pressing, pushing through the walls of our hearts, massaging, easing the narrow tightnesses there. For poetry nourishes our understanding and compassion for the broad human spectrum by creating an experience that engages the whole person, heart and intellect, dissolving their boundaries. It sets its loose or metric foot upon the pulse of contemporary life, simultaneous with the life-beat of the singular individual, and its rippling expands outward to embrace more and more humanity, moving backwards and forwards in time, through our common needs, struggles, dreams. While it deepens our appreciation of unnoticed beauties in ourselves, our relationships, and in the resplendent living world, it can heighten our awareness of the discrepancies between our ideals and our realities, generate catharsis, and encourage new ways of seeing what we thought we already knew.

Christian Wiman, Editor of Poetry Magazine, has said, "We go to poetry... so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both."

As Nassau County Poet Laureate, I'd like to work with a posse of the many wonderful poets/teachers in Nassau to function as catalysts for a pilot program partnering schools, libraries, senior centers, community centers, organizations, so seasoned poets/teachers work with budding poets/teachers of all ages to inspire discovery of voice, honed skills, creative growth as readers, writers, teachers, performers of poetry. I envision older students working with younger students to strengthen community; "Stray Feet," a roving poetry show visiting senior centers, schools, nursing homes, libraries, community centers. I'd like to facilitate some poetry workshops on forgiveness, an engaging and critically relevant topic for this tumultuous age, in which participants explore how a wide variety of poets (Galway Kinnell, Jane Kenyon, Louise Gluck, Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, Etheridge Knight, Robert Hayden, Marie Ponsot, Wislawa Szymborska, Yehuda Amichai, Aurora Levins Morales, Miguel De Unamuno, William Butler Yeats, many others) have written about forgiveness from different perspectives through its various stages, from jurt, anger, denial, alienation, through insight, acceptance, moving on, healing, compassion, love, transcendence, so that participants dialogue and produce their own poems. Hopefully, a poetry anthology on forgiveness will be generated. Other plans include "The Children's Hour," "Teen Time," a scholarship for high school students in poetry and interpretive essays about poems, and finding a Poet's House for poetry on Long Island.

Thank you again for this great honor. I look forward to working with you. And thank you all for coming today to celebrate poetry.

Photographs by Robert Harrison

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