After the Hainesport Township election altercation, I gave my version, Scott Cooper gave his (see bottom left), and Deputy Mayor Tony Porto gave his (see top left), calling me a complete liar.
I like being called a liar even less than I enjoy being smeared with vulgar, sexist Kermit the Frog memes.
But what our esteemed township committee had forgotten is that the township building lobby has security cameras. And that the footage is subject to the Open Public Records Act. So we were able to submit an OPRA request and get hold of the footage.
Which speaks for itself. So again, I won’t editorialize much. I don’t need to. Except perhaps to say that Tony Porto doesn’t appear on the footage at all, does he?
One glorious afternoon last week in Madison, CT, I was gathered with the amazing women of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Seminar (Shout out to Maryann Corbett, Jean Kreiling, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Wendy Sloan, Kathryn Voorhees, and Kyle Potvin, who came down for a day) when Kathryn voiced a thought that many of us were thinking.
“This conference is too good,” she said. “I can’t get any down time, because I don’t want to miss anything. Everything is brilliant.”
If you have to hear a criticism of a conference that you, personally, have poured your heart and soul (not to mention time and money) into, then that would be the one you want. But let’s unpack that a little, shall we?
During the day at Poetry by the Sea, apart from the 1-3 pm Workshop/Seminar slot, there were pretty much always two things happening simultaneously, giving participants a choice of what to attend. Kim’s astute scheduling meant that for many there was often an obvious choice, but sometimes people were clearly torn. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Todd Boss’s excellent presentation of the Motionpoems project, for example, but I had to miss the first participant reading at which several of my friends were represented.
I was on two panels myself (Negative Reviews with Quincy R. Lehr & David Katz, which, somewhat ironically, got highly positive reviews, and Editing Poetry Journals with Allison Joseph & Anna Lena Phillips Bell, marvelously chaired by Allison), but that meant I had to miss Artistic Collaboration with Elizabyth Hiscox, Michael Bergmann, Morgan Post & Jo Yarrington, and later June Jordan at 80, with Brian Gilmore and Wendy Scott Paff. I had elected to take Richard Blanco’s one-day workshop, which was inspirational, but therefore had to forsake Young Adult Poetry with Marilyn Nelson & Helen Frost, and Translation, with Laura Marris, Todd Portnowitz and Carina del Valle Schorske. And the list goes on.
Furthermore, when we got to the portions of the day where only one thing was scheduled, it was typically unmissable. Consider Ange Mlinko’s incisive Poetry by the Sea Lecture in Poetry, or Spotlight Readings with X.J. Kennedy & Patrick Phillips, then the completely unforgetable Mahogany Browne (and her daughter, Amare) & Gregory Pardlo, or our Kimiko Hahn Keynote, or our Faculty readings (Dick Davis, Allison Joseph, Terri Witek & Cyriaco Lopes, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, A.E. Stallings (Her new heartbreaking refugee poems!), Marilyn Taylor, Annie Finch, and Joshua Mehigan), or Russell Goings’ and Quentin Talley’s The Children of Children Keep Coming. Dempsey Hall was always full, and I counted two standing ovations.
Therefore, yes, people were on the go from morning to night. But I don’t think they were really complaining! That’s what poetry conferences are meant to be like, after all–intense, joyous, inspirational celebrations of diversity and excellence, all taking place in a gorgeous setting with a shell-strewn beach and a jewel-bright sea.
So, thanks again to our Founder & Director, Kim Bridgford, for a marvelous conference, to Board members Natalie Gerber, Kat Gilbert & Cherise Pollard, Ned Balbo, Tom Cable & Russell Goings for their hard work, enthusiasm, and support. And to anyone reading this, I ask you consider three things:
Come join us next year, Tuesday May 23–Saturday May 27
Like us on Facebook. We have 981 likes! 1000 would be an awesome milestone!
Sponsor us. We are non profit, so it’s tax-deductible, and you can give online. We just want to make it possible for anyone who wants to join us in 2017 to do so regardless of circumstances.
Poetry by the Sea 2016 was brilliant, and with your help, Poetry by the Sea 2017 can be even more inclusive, even more diverse. I’d say it could be even more brilliant, but then when would we sleep?
While Kim and I were corresponding over our latest addition to the Poetry by the Sea schedule, poet and spoken word artist Mahogany Browne as a spotlight reader, I found myself pondering the broader issue of diversity in general, and how it relates to the two conferences with which I have been intimately involved.
Diversity at Poetry by the Sea
18 months ago, when we were first planning the conference, something we were 100% committed to was this idea of diversity at Poetry by the Sea. When Kim took over as the Director of the West Chester Poetry Conference, one of her tasks was to increase the diversity of that conference, not only with respect to the faculty and panelists, but also with respect to the attendees. And Kim did that. She brought people like Natasha Trethewey and Julia Alvarez in as Keynotes and speakers, she made arrangements with Cave Canem to give younger African American poets scholarships, and she put more women on panels. Ironically, when Kim was removed from her position as Director (which we know now was because she revealed financial irregularities that WCU wanted to cover up) some long time attendees (read older white men) theorized that it was because she had allowed the conference to be taken over by “fringe elements.” Diversity, it would seem, is not for everyone.
So, one of the wonderful things about starting a new conference from scratch is that we were able to be as diverse as we wanted, without having to fight a rearguard action from people who preferred the status quo. Diversity at Poetry by the Sea starts at the top, with key board members Russell Goings and Cherise Pollard. Our faculty (Dick Davis, Anna M. Evans, Joshua Mehigan, Steven P. Schneider, A.E. Stallings. Annie Finch, Natalie Gerber, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Allison Joseph, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Marilyn Taylor, Terri Witek with Cyriaco Lopes) represents a broad variety of people too—men and women, gay and straight, various ethnicities. Our spotlight readers (in addition to Mahogany) range from X.J. Kennedy through Patrick Phillips and Gregory Pardlo. We have a specific panel on June Jordan at 80, but more importantly, you will never walk into any Poetry by the Sea panel and see yet another bunch of white men, with maybe a token white woman thrown in. Naturally the Cave Canem scholarships migrated with Kim, and this year we are pleased to announce that they have been awarded to Keith Wilson and David Mills. (You can see the full schedule here.)
Basically, having this level of diversity at Poetry by the Sea makes it feel like the world looks, which is not like almost any other poetry conference. And we are proud of that.
We have some amazing Poetry by the Sea people! Last year they said a world-class conference couldn’t be put together in just six months, and we proved them wrong, because finding amazing people has proven to be one of Founder & Director Kim Bridgford’s greatest talents. With the advantage of a full twelve months to plan, this year’s expectations were even higher. But guess what? Poetry by the Sea people are being recognized on a weekly basis for their outstanding contributions to the world of poetry.
Robin Coste Lewis Wins National Book Award
The NBA shortlist was decided only a few weeks after Kim secured the spotlight readers for the conference, and we were blown away when we realized two of our readers (Patrick Phillips was also nominated for Elegy for a Broken Machine) were finalists. I immediately put Voyage of the Sable Venus on my Xmas list! Then, of course, we were beyond thrilled when Robin won! Here’s an interview with Robin about the book, but personally I can’t wait to hear her read from it on Friday May 27 (and sign my copy!).
Richie Hofmann Makes Top Ten Debut Poets List
Richie Hofmann (Second Empire) is on the first of our two New Books panels, which kicks off the conference on the afternoon of Tuesday May 24th, so I suggest you plan to arrive early. It should be a stellar panel, hosted by John Foy and also including Ned Balbo (Upcycling Paumanok), Tara Betts (7×7: Kwansabas), and Quincy R. Lehr (TheDark Lord of the Tiki Bar). By the way, Jenna Le (A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora) is on the second New Books panel on the morning of Friday May 27th, and is also making headlines.
Micheal O’Siadhail, a workshop leader at the inaugural conference, is making a guest appearance this May on the Saturday morning to read from his newest collection, One Crimson Thread, a book that Thomas McCarthy of the Irish Times calls “one of the most elegant pictures of faithfulness that I have ever encountered.” Greg Pardlo, last April’s surprise winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (Digest) will also be chairing a panel on Saturday morning, in addition to reading with Robin on Friday. So that’s it then! I’ve just given you reasons both to arrive for the beginning of the conference and to stay until the end!
But here’s the thing: although we can single out the people above because they have made recent headlines, the truth is that all Poetry by the Sea people are pretty special. Obviously we have venerable workshop/seminar leaders like Dick Davis, Joshua Mehigan, Steven Schneider, and A.E. Stallings (a top candidate for the Oxford Professorship in Poetry earlier this year), and panels chaired by luminaries like Rachel Hadas, Marilyn Nelson, and Willard Spiegelman. (I can’t name everyone! But the aim is to have the full schedule online early in the New Year.) Still, what really makes the conference work is the community of Poetry by the Sea people who come to participate, who listen, ask questions, and then read their own poems in the participant readings, who breathe in the fresh air and restoring atmosphere of Mercy by the Sea with us.
I just can’t wait to join the amazing Poetry by the Sea people next May!
Last week, West Chester Poetry Conference Founder Dana Gioia was named Poet Laureate of California. I am not here to pass judgment on the man or the poetry (Noting in passing that I love the triolet sequence “A Country Wife,” if nothing else) but I do want to call attention to the remarkable omission of Gioia’s achievement in co-founding the West Chester Poetry Conference from the bio in the article covering his selection.
As others have said to me, maybe this isn’t such a big deal? After all, who in California would have heard of West Chester? Maybe it just wasn’t relevant to the people involved?
Why has West Chester Poetry Conference Founder Dana Gioia scrubbed this fact out of his bio?
Let’s be fair here: all writers continually tinker with our bios. Sheesh, as an editor, I can’t tell you how often a Barefoot Muse Press book or a new issue of the Raintown Review is about to go to press and I get a request to change a bio.
But to remove the fact that you co-founded (with Mike Peich) an important Poetry Conference which ran successfully for 20 years suggests to me that you might have insider knowledge about a soon to be breaking scandal.
A media guru I admire told me not that long ago, “Make sure all your great content is on your blog, rather than on Facebook or on some random networking site, because that way you own it and it’s always there for you.” How right he was!
That’s why, when I was contacted recently by a Philadelphia Inquirer journalist writing a story about the resurrection of the West Chester Poetry Conference, even though I was at the fields watching my younger daughter’s JV field hockey game, I was able to make some salient points and then say, “Go search my blog on West Chester. That should give you everything you need.”
I invite readers of this blog to do that exact same thing. You will find some positive posts, from Kim’s era, and then the outraged, horrified reaction to her reassignment, and then the more measured stuff I’ve been posting since Kim and I created Poetry by the Sea.
Obviously I did not conceal my alignment with Poetry by the Sea from the journalist, but she did choose not to mention it in her article, which got some tongues wagging. Hey guys, not my call!
I’ve also been getting some grief over on Eratosphere with people who are naturally big fans of Sam Gwynn and want the West Chester Conference back. I’m fine with that, too. I actually wish they would engage more. I want to discuss the issues involved whereas they just want me to shut up and stop making them feel bad about wanting to attend the WCU conference, notwithstanding how badly the administration treated Kim.
Not this girl.
Animals Are Passing From Our Lives by Philip Levine
It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.
I’m to market. I can smell
the sour, grooved block, I can smell
the blade that opens the hole
and the pudgy white fingers
that shake out the intestines
like a hankie. In my dreams
the snouts drool on the marble,
suffering children, suffering flies,
suffering the consumers
who won’t meet their steady eyes
for fear they could see. The boy
who drives me along believes
that any moment I’ll fall
on my side and drum my toes
like a typewriter or squeal
and shit like a new housewife
or that I’ll turn like a beast
cleverly to hook his teeth
with my teeth. No. Not this pig.
I have never made it a secret either that my loyalty to Kim Bridgford is 100% solid, or that this colors my motives in many of the things that I write and do. I happen to think she’s an amazing human being, and I am awed by the fact that she managed to put together the Poetry by the Sea Conference in under eight months, providing our community with a place to assemble after West Chester University abruptly moved Kim out of the Directorship, closed the Poetry Center, and cancelled the conference.
West Chester University has decided it wants to run the conference again in 2016, and this vast, corrupt institution has money to throw at the problem of making it happen. It sounds as if the scholarships will be plentiful, and panelists and chairs are invited to apply. They are counting on the fact that members of our community have short memories and are naturally forgiving people, inclined to give second chances.
Let me make something very clear: there has been NO resolution to what happened last September. The situation has not changed a whit, in fact. There is still legal action pending between Kim and WCU, which means she can still say nothing about what happened. There are still well-founded rumors of financial mismanagement at the Poetry Center, which is still the most credible reason for the sudden action. Remember: you can’t audit a body that no longer exists. Remember: Kim did nothing wrong and WCU mistreated her shamelessly. That still happened.
Make no mistake: if you allow WCU to buy back the conference with all this still hanging over its head, you are demonstrating the exact opposite of loyalty to Kim Bridgford, even if you believe you are only doing it out of loyalty to new part-time Artistic Director, Sam Gwynn. (Side note: In my opinion Sam is just a future victim of West Chester University and is not to blame for his role in this drama, but please consider the ramifications of the fact that his new part-time position has no authority to call for any kind of financial review.)
In September 2006 I suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack. I was 38, a non-smoker, otherwise in good health and of normal weight, so my only risk factor was the use of the oral contraceptive pill, Yasmin, which I had been on for four years at that point. Because that didn’t seem like ENOUGH of a risk factor to my doctors at the time, they conducted some tests and determined that in addition, I had a large Patent Foramen Ovale (hole in my heart) and a cystic ovary. This led to a year of medical procedures (including heart surgery) and general health discomfort which you can read about here and here and here.
The Bad Drug Yasmin
Re-reading my blog entries from that period it’s clear that at some point before May 2007 I had become convinced that the main villain of the piece was the bad drug Yasmin. I was at the forefront of women attempting to publicize their experiences and insist that the side effects of Yasmin included higher risk of a stroke-type event. Not surprisingly I was eventually contacted by lawyers who wanted to include me in a class action lawsuit against Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant responsible for Yasmin and its sister drug, Yaz.
They are now supposedly willing to settle some money (again without admitting liability) on some women who suffered ATEs (Arterial Thromboembolism). (Hint: a TIA is usually the result of ATE, not VTE.) So it’s perhaps not surprising that after 9 years last week my lawyers got in touch wanting me to sign some papers and such.
Effect of My PFO
Here’s the thing though, (and I apologize if this is too much medical science) the presence of a PFO permits a VTE to become an ATE. In other words the hole in my heart may well have permitted a blood clot which would naturally have been in the venous system to pass across to the chamber of the heart that pumped it up in an artery to my brain, causing the TIA. Yes, the lawyers know this. I have given them all the paperwork.
I don’t really care about the money. I just want justice and publicity, so that women don’t continue to take the bad drug Yasmin, which, incredibly, is still on the market.
Today I did my monthly stint at Care One, Moorestown, working with poetry and Alzheimer’s. When these sessions go well I find a deep satisfaction in seeing the residents stimulated and involved—I have recorded such experiences in poems like “Welcome Visitors,” the last poem in The Stolen From.
Unfortunately, there are days like today when the sessions do not go so well, and I thought it might be helpful to others working with this population for me to record some thoughts about the challenges of working with Alzheimers.
My four years experience has made it very clear to me that the disease progresses at startlingly different rates in different individuals. I do my Creative Writing workshops in the community that houses the least severely impaired residents, and a couple of the participants have been with me since the beginning, without any noticeable further deterioration in their faculties. I have a great relationship with these people and I know they enjoy the sessions.
However, sometimes, new residents arrive and it becomes clear after only a couple of months that they need to be moved to one of the communities which offers more support (and less stimulation.) As John Zeisel explains in his highly recommended book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care, before one can start to communicate in a meaningful and therapeutic way with an Alzheimer’s patient, they need to be soothed and calm. Therefore the circumstances in which the patient is housed need to be adjusted so that they are as soothing and calming as possible. Unfortunately, one upset individual creates an atmosphere of unrest that rapidly transmits itself to all present. Behaviors include generalized cries for help, verbal assaults which may be directed at everyone or at specific residents, “escape-seeking,” and invasion of personal space.
None of this is conducive to reading and discussing poetry, or using it to stimulate recollections and creativity.
Unfortunately, as was explained to me today (a session during which at least 3 community residents showed one of the above behaviors, leading to disruptive exchanges between them, staff, and other residents) the staff encounter resistance from relatives when they propose moving an individual to a more support-driven community—a form of denial which is completely at odds with that individual’s needs, not to mention those of others in the community.
As an outsider, I can’t do anything about that. I have developed my own acronym to ensure MY behavior is as consistent as possible with the outcomes we are all trying to achieve.
Challenges of Working with Alzheimers: PARSE
Persevere: the participating residents feel that their experience is being disrupted and they are losing out if I pause because the noise level from non-participating residents, for example, makes it difficult to continue. So I simply adjust my own volume so I can be heard.
Accept: if I myself start to become upset at the interruptions, that only adds to the general level of upset in the room. I try to look completely unfazed.
Redirect: I say things like “Let’s get back to the poem now!” or to an individual “John, why don’t you sit down so we can keep talking about the ideas.”
Smile: the smile is universal body language for “everything’s okay.” Regardless of how I’m feeling about what’s happening, I try to keep a reassuring smile in place at all times.
Encourage: I encourage positive behaviors by always rewarding contributions: “Yes, that’s a great thought, Sarah! Let me write that down.” “Wow! You’re so good at coming up with rhymes, Josie! That will be a great one to use!”
Then I go home, write a blog entry, and pour a large glass of wine.
The Raintown Review Anthology has, believe it or not, been underway since 2009, yes, since the earliest days of the new editorial team consisting of myself and Associate Editor Quincy R. Lehr. (We’ve since welcomed on board Assistant Editor Jeff Holt, of course, as well.)
It was Quincy who volunteered to keep an ongoing file of our pick of the poems from each issue—the poems that surprised us, revitalized us, or brought tears to our eyes (Okay, that was mostly me.) All I did was agree to the plan, say yeah or nay to a few poems, and confirm that when we felt ready, Barefoot Muse Press would publish and administer it.
We felt ready early this year. We got the manuscript planned, Jeff invited the poets whose poems we wanted to publish (most of whom responded with an eager yes), and we even arranged to have the launch reading at Poetry by the Sea 2015.
And then, in March, my mum got sick and passed away a month later. Needless to say, the plans for the Raintown Review anthology went on hold. It was hard enough for me to be in England for 5 weeks looking after my Dad and coping with my mum’s hospitalization, while trying to distance teach my Poetry & Math class at Stockton, and continuing to manage the website and the registration for the Poetry by the Sea conference. Everyone was naturally very understanding, and the reading for the anthology at the conference went ahead with no physical book in sight!
But now at last the physical book of the Raintown Review anthology IS in sight! I’ve been working on the layout and the cover design today, as you can see, and the preliminary pre-order page is now up on the Barefoot Muse website. (Pre-order for $12 or $10 for additional contributor copies.) And, ladies and gentlemen, I am psyched, because the one thing you already know about the Raintown Review anthology—just look at that contributor list!—is that the poems are shockingly good.