....that approximately 13 seconds after Charles Simic was named poet laureate, I went alookin' for him on YouTube. And I discovered that he is the only person with a heartbeat who hasn't been captured by a cell phone camera in bad light and plastered across cyberspace. He is simply NOT THERE.
That was very disappointing. You see, every time a laureate gets his wings, I launch into an intensive study of his writings, background, muttered wisdoms and, yes, his voice. I'm convinced there's a prescribed path to the big office, and I wanna be on it.
You heard right. I've got my eyes on the prize. I want to follow proudly in the footsteps of the 12 white men, 2 white women and one black dove who've been undisputed sultans of the stanza. But every couple of years, when I study up on the current laureate, I find I've got a long, long way to go. All I need to encourage me is the appointment of a a young chipper whose stature seems vaguely attainable. Instead I get this:

Number of published books: Simic, upwards of 60, 18 poetry tomes. Me: Upwards of 5 (well, 6), 4 poetry, several crookedly stapled 4-page Kinko's chapbooks.
Enviable awards: Simic, Pulitzer Prize, Wallace Stevens Award, MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. Me, One National Poetry Series title, a Pushcart, jumped one straight hour of doubledutch in 4th grade and got to keep the jumprope.
What others think of us: Simic--“His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears.” (James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress). Me--"She's a speech pathologist's wet dream." (Matt Siegel, Gulf Coast) I don't know what you're thinking, but that feels pretty much like a tie...
Now, I'd like all of you to hum "Climb Every Mountain" while I re-commit to my goal of being poet laureate someday. Understandably, the odds are stacked--I'm black, female and--at least in the case of Simic--I've got about 20 years to write 50 more books, woo the Pulitzer committee and get the MacArthur folks to realize my astounding genius. And I'm already on YouTube. At least twice.
That's not too much to hope for, is it?
Is it?

Originally Published: August 4th, 2007

Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (2017); Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle...

  1. August 4, 2007
     Kenneth Goldsmith

    Once again, if it doesn't exist on the internet, it doesn't exist. Hence, this new Poet Laureate doesn't exist.

  2. August 4, 2007

    (as he hums carly simon's "let the river run")
    you sure have my vote.
    (let all the dreamers/wake the nation)

  3. August 4, 2007

    Nope, not too much...

  4. August 5, 2007
     Reginald Harris

    Patricia, you've got my vote!

  5. August 5, 2007
     D. Violeta Miranda

    And if you do NOT become Poet Laureate, is your contribution in this life really lessened? Be, Patricia, just Be.

  6. August 5, 2007
     Jeannine Hall Gailey

    Jilly Dybka links to a very revealing US Map of Poet Laureates: apparently, it really helps to live on the Eastern seaboard, specifically, near NYC:

  7. August 6, 2007
     Manda Manda

    Yo, Patricia, here's how you get the MacArthur. Seems easy enough. We've just got to find these "nominators," give them copies of your books and it's a wrap! ~ Lubs, Manda
    How Fellows are Chosen:
    Each year, the MacArthur Fellows Program invites new nominators on the basis of their expertise, accomplishments, and breadth of experience. They are encouraged to nominate the most creative people they know within their field and beyond. Nominators are chosen from as broad a range of fields and areas of interest as possible. At any given time, there are usually more than one hundred active nominators.
    Nominations are evaluated by an independent Selection Committee composed of about a dozen leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, and for-profit and nonprofit communities. Each nomination is considered with respect to the program's selection criteria, based on the nomination letter along with original works of the nominee and evaluations from other experts collected by the program staff.
    After a thorough, multi-step review, the Selection Committee makes its recommendations to the President and board of directors of the MacArthur Foundation. Announcement of the annual list is usually made in September. While there are no quotas or limits, typically 20 to 30 Fellows are selected each year. Between June of 1981 and September of 2005, 707 Fellows have been named.
    Nominators, evaluators, and selectors all serve anonymously and their correspondence is kept confidential. This policy enables participants to provide their honest impressions independent of outside influence.
    The Fellows Program does not accept applications or unsolicited nominations.
    There are no restrictions on becoming a Fellow, except that nominees must be either residents or citizens of the United States.
    For more information
    Questions can be e-mailed to 4answers@macfound.org.

  8. August 7, 2007

    Last night I parked my Element along the Hudson River, sipped from an illegal goblet of wine, and read Simic's "The Voice at 3:00 AM" from cover to cover.
    It was pretty friggin' good.
    Reading Billy Collins made me groan.
    Reading Ted Kooser made me want to bake a pie.
    Reading Charles Simic makes me want to....well, read more Charles Simic.

  9. August 30, 2007
     Cheryl Whitehead

    Patricia did you see Simic's "House of Cards," in Best American Poetry 2006? That poem is absolutely breathtaking.
    And don't forget you're poet laureate in higher places, for example a school in Miami where the kids adore you and think you're the best thing that ever hit the planet Earth. Just remember that!