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Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Night in the Parrish, January 2017 (People's State of the Union)

This January I had a chance to participate in an event at the Parrish Art Museum called The People's State of the Union.  About 100 East End residents came together at the Museum that night to sit in small circles and tell their personal stories.  Similar gatherings were held in hundreds of communities around the country -  in schools and churches and even private homes.  The idea is for these thousands of stories to be recorded, shared and reflected upon in order to form a collective narrative, built from the bottom up, which can be presented as an alternative to the top-down State of the Union address delivered in Washington.  Poets are invited to participate in the these story circles and write about the experience.  A poet is then selected to deliver a Poetic Address to the Nation.  (You can read more about the PSU and the organization behind it here.)

Poetry for me is a very solitary pursuit so it's pretty unusual for me to participate in an event like this.  Yet I found the whole experience deeply and strangely moving.  Usually when one writes and reads poetry in public you tend to think of it as being a performance art.  But joining together with my neighbors in these circles, our voices mingled as we shared our stories and poems; what emerges from the process is something altogether different in quality, more ceremonial than performance oriented.  Perhaps another way to express the same idea: these stories and poems are more a celebration of what brings us together than a performance that sets any one of us apart.

Tonight I'll be joining ten other poets in reading our State of the Nation poems at the Parrish.  The reading starts at 6 pm so please come by and join us if you are able to.  This is one of the two poems I'll be reading tonight.

Friday Night in the Parrish, January 2017

If Long Island had tilted
A little bit further forward
We would all have been the first
To tumble into the chill Atlantic

My friends -- that’s how we perched
In our chairs that night
Right on the edge of
The eastern extremity

And I wouldn’t have wanted it
Any other way
We’ve always been
Staunchly inclined
In these environs
Buffeted by bad weather
And sometimes self-styled as
Sons and Daughters of Liberty

But now who can say
Which is worse
To feel so estranged
In the land of our birth
Or to be an immigrant
In an immigrant’s land
Scorned and cursed

Not always without fault
But always least inclined
To find fault with
Our fellow humankind
Circles within circles
Like mind with like mind

It’s at times like these
We rediscover our art
Our voices steady
Our vision clears
We reach for pencil and paper
Even as the world around us
Seems to fall apart

It would be treasonous
If it were otherwise
Is what the veteran
Said in the second circle
Sitting right beside me

Let it also be said we felt
Though dizzied  
And fearful
And that much better bonded
As sisters and brothers together
Possessed of the means to thrive   
Even amidst such volatile times


1 comment:

  1. Words to my soul! Wish I had been there. Thanks for sharing.