Follow Harriet on Twitter
Patricia Spears Jones to the Rescue!
Mosaic: Literary Arts of the Diaspora has a terrific profile of poet Patricia Spears Jones. Rochelle Spencer begins the piece by wondering why poets haven’t responded to the Great Recession with an outpouring of verse, as they did in the aftermath of 9/11.
About a month after 9/11, National Book Award recipient Lucille Clifton, in a reading at the New School with the poet Sonia Sanchez, shared a personal work-in-progress about the attacks –the powerful “a september song: a poem in 7 days.” Clifton ended up being far from the only poet to write about 9/11; in the years after many anthologies were published: Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets, September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond, and September Morning: Ten Years of Poems and Readings from the 9/11 Ceremonies New York City, among others.
Despite all that poets did to commemorate the national trauma of 9/11, we have yet to witness the same for the Great Recession—the worst economic crisis since the Depression of the early twentieth century. It’s true that no lives were lost, but lives were changed. And just as the Towers symbolized New York, the collapse of Lehman Brothers jolted the Big Apple into the center of the financial crisis. Yet, despite a small online presence and a scattering of individually published poems, poets haven’t mounted a John Steinbeck-like effort to make sense of the current financial crisis. This is as strange as it is terrifying: though New York is about as capitalistic and ambitious as any city can get, the poetry community has been lax about dissecting the pain and loss of identity that comes with prolonged joblessness.
Is there a need for a Great Recession poet? Which poet will finally write about the homelessness and the hunger, and worst of all, the unceasing fear that, from now on, this existence of pain and scarcity will become the new normal?
Perhaps the poet who will help us unpack and heal won’t be a native New Yorker, but one who was born and raised in the heartland, later traveled the world and so possesses the music of a southerner, the cosmopolitan experience of an international traveler, and the eye for detail of a transplant. Perhaps the poet who will chide us to laugh at our pain and rediscover our resiliency will be one who has received both a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Rhodes College, has been featured in the new Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry and The Best American Anthology for Poetry. Perhaps the poet who will rescue us is Patricia Spears Jones.
Spencer goes on to examine Spears Jones career, talk to fellow poets about her work, and talk to the poet herself about what it means to live in America today. We’ll leave you with just a taste of the latter, but be sure to head to Mosaic to check it all out.
“It is hard as hell to be a poor person on in America,” says Spears Jones as she sits on a bench inside the Midtown-based bookstore Chartwell Booksellers. ”The levels of contempt and humiliation and the daily manipulation of your time and body. We live in a city where people say there is only 6 or 7 percent unemployment, but 80% of the jobs are cleaning the toilet or serving someone at Starbucks or being a waitress. They’re all service jobs. And if you make more than $10 an hour you’re lucky. There’s nothing wrong with service jobs, but there is something wrong with a society that says this is the best we can do.”