I'm certainly not proud of the fact...
....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?
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...