Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

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Poet of the Month: Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

posted: 2.10.10 by archived

Audre Lorde, born on February 18th, 1934, was just as admirable for her activism as for her poetry. Indeed for Lorde the two were inextricably connected.

A native New Yorker born to Grenadian parents, Lorde attended high school and college in Manhattan. As a child she dropped the “y” from her given first name, “Audrey”, because she liked the symmetry between the “e” endings of her first and last names. What poet wouldn’t do the same?

Starting in the 1960’s, Lorde became a civil rights activist. However, as a black lesbian woman, she struggled with racism in the feminist community, sexism in the black community, and heterosexism and homophobia everywhere. Her essays urge her readers to stop fearing the differences between individuals—the fear leads to exclusion, and one group almost inevitably declares itself superior to the other.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 1980 she published The Cancer Journals, a nonfiction memoir of her cancer experience. She also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in the same year. In 1991, she was named poet laureate of New York state. She continued to write poetry and essays until her death from cancer in 1992.

You can read Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” in Sister Outsider on Google Books.

Listen to a 1977 clip of her reading “A Song for Many Movements” at Poets.org.

The Poetry Foundation has a biography and full text of eleven of Lorde’s poems.

Lorde’s poems and life can show students that not all poets are on a Search for Truth, or trying to Create Beauty, or Express their Innermost Feelings. Sometimes these pursuits are abstract to students: what do they have to do with the real world? Why should anyone study them?

Audre Lorde used her search for truth, and the beauty of language, and her personal experience, to tell people about injustice and try to change American society.

As she said to poet Mari Evans in “Conversations with Audre Lorde,”

“So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either/or position…I loved poetry and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

Happy Birthday, Audre Lorde!

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Jim Carroll: 1949-2009

posted: 10.7.09 by archived

by Cecilia Seiter

Poet, musician, and author Jim Carroll died of a heart attack in New York on September 11th of this year. He was best known for his memoir, The Basketball Diaries, about his high school years playing basketball for a private school, while simultaneously supporting his growing heroin addiction. The New York Times has a good obituary; The Guardian writes about Carroll’s poetic legacy; for a more personal remembrance, with pictures, poetry, and an interview, try poet Tom Clark’s blog.

While learning more about Jim Carroll’s life, and reading some of his poetry (I picked up Fear of Dreaming, which contains selected poems from 1969-1993) what struck me was how inextricably linked his life and works were to New York City. Born on the Lower East Side, spending his adolescence in Inwood at the northern tip of Manhattan, and going to high school on the Upper West Side, Carroll had the run of Manhattan from a young age. The poetry workshops on St. Mark’s Place, which he attended starting in 1965, encouraged his writing. And, what better place than Manhattan during the sixties and seventies to find the mix of art, drugs, and rock and roll that were so influential to his work?

In many of his poems, Carroll refers to specific streets and and places in New York, as if to let the reader in on the places where he hangs out. These references also ground the poems in geographical reality, and invite the reader’s knowledge of the street or neighborhood to  enhance the experience of reading the poem.

You could do your own walking tour of Manhattan based on Carroll’s poetry, though the streets aren’t the same anymore. In a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone, Carroll himself said,

The New York that’s in my poems is the New York that’s in my head…I walked past Times Square the other night and it was just like being in Vegas or something. But it wasn’t the sleazy Vegas. I can remember when I was a kid going up to Times Square and it was this breathtaking sense of depravity, which I think every kid should go through and be exposed to. Now, it’s more like Disneyland or something.

Jim Carroll is definitely worth watching and listening to. You can hear him read his poem “Heroin” here, thanks to the Paris Review (who first published his poetry in 1968, and published excerpts from The Basketball Diaries in 1970). This video, from the film Poetry in Motion (1982), shows Carroll reading “Just Visiting”, from “The Book of Nods” (the clip ends with some bonus footage of Charles Bukowski).

A final thought on writing poetry (versus playing basketball) from Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973:

Poetry has too many variations. Mr. Frost was right about one thing: there are always promises to keep, and variations on that theme. With basketball you can correct your own mistakes, immediately and beautifully, in midair.

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blog-photo Cecilia Seiter is an associate editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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