Poet Everett Hoagland at the Fresh Ink Festival of Writers

The following are some pretty loose notes I recorded while listening to an amazing poet deliver the keynote address at the Fresh Ink Writers Conference at Naugatuck Valley Community College. Everett Hoagland is a wonderful, visionary poet of witness and a very good guy, a true supporter and advocate for poetry and justice in the world. You should all have his book, which is entitled Here: New and Selected Poems (Leapfrog Press, 2002) as well as the book he edited, Ocean Voices: An Anthology of Ocean Poems (Spinner Publications, 2013), which includes amazing work by Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, Catherine McLaughlin, Askia Toure and others, including Hoagland himself.

I scribbled these notes down as Everett delivered his keynote address, which was a mixture of poems, stories, jokes and meditations on the power of art and the importance of poetry to social justice. I suppose it’s a mixture of ideas and lines I heard Everett say, and thoughts that occurred to me while he was speaking. He is a talented, generous, and important presence in poetry today.

Friday, April 19–2:04 P.M.–At Naugatuck Valley Community College, The Fresh Ink Writers Conference. Keynote speaker: Everett Hoagland. [Slate gray sky rippling behind and above the trees through the window, after teaching a workshop on the lyric poem during which we discussed “The Diameter of the Bomb” by Yehuda Amichai, to commemorate what happened last week at the Boston Marathon, and how one can take the specifics of an awful event and attempt to make art out of it. After waking up to that crazy manhunt, Boston completely shut down, “a shelter in place” order from the Governor, and in essence, our new reality, which is of course the reason that Boston streets haven’t been this empty since the British Navy was in the harbor.] Scraps from Hoagland drifting through my little blue book:¬†Spiritually, this is where I am coming from. . .or else we will go down into the black pit of hate at Ground Zero. . .too, too utter for words. . .layered tectonic silences. . .two tough cafeteria tongue sandwiches. . .scissors of silence. . .it can’t skat, chat, can’t bebop. . .to some parallel universal eye. . .beware of poets who tell you they know why they do what they do [quoting, I believe, Michael Harper]. . .the first draft can be vital. . .any poet has an aggregate of voices within them. . .who wants to hear spoken language when it can be lifted to music and transported into our ear that way. . .even poetry is a kind of aural world view. . .the piece is called “The Blue Eye” [or was it “The Blue I”??], and I’ll get to that later. . .and that little ditty is called “The Third Degree”. . .it’s about innocence and experience; it’s about love and hate; it’s about conformity and rebellion-what else is there?. . .subject of this sharing. . .a Big BAM theory of creation [Black Arts Movement, of course]. . .many of us rejected European names that came from slavery. . .many of us wore and still wear Dashikis. . .it spread like black fire across this country. . .all that black mouthy bog. . .free poetry–free of the slave ship’s choke hold. . .poems are like children; some get jealous of others, so please hold your applause until the end. . .What do I mean by “A Blue I?”. . .There are reasons why some young people are committing suicide. . .we the people are all different and all the same. . .now we are engaged in a great struggle with ourselves. . .”The Blues: a laughing-to-keep-from-crying response to adversity [Langston Hughes]. . .The Blue Narrator in Black Fiction. . .Langston Hughes was the original blues poet. . .”Woke up this morning, blues all around my bed. Said I woke up this morning, blues all around my bed. Woke up this morning, blues was in my head”. . .[Idea for teaching: “London” by William Blake and “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. . .a willow trembling full of quiet wind. . .small black bird doodled flying against the gray sky. . .a charm of finches, a denouement of thieves. . .small black fluttering against the sky]. . .I’m gonna take you South before I lighten and conclude the presentation. . .[18 wheeler flashing dirty white behind the pine trees, on the highway. . .a girl with long black hair and black eyes, brown skin. . .the music]. . .the blood-soaked cotton gag. . .you are a steel blue guitar. . .hammer, soft as cotton, and as strong. . .playing your gun metal blue voice, your skin, playing your blue steel guitar. . .crazy!. . .lift every voice and sing. . .it was sung in churches; it was sung in predominantly black schools. . .often we only had that poem, by James Weldon Keyes, to keep us warm, to keep us strong. . .we sang to it: we protested to it; it helped us to make this country better. . .don’t ever let anybody tell you that poetry can’t do anything, can’t make stuff happen. . .[duck flying by against the same gun-gray sky]. . .all people should be free. . .much ado about a little something. . .as in Bird, and Dizzy’s famous “Salt Peanuts”. . .[What I heard was “Soul Peanuts,” which is also cool to my ear]. . .Sweet Jesus that honey train!. . .Every old man has a boy in him. . .We’ve only two poems away from the end. . .by creeklight, by birdsong, by dusky dawn. . .the real thing slowly rises through me then. . .You see, we poets are brothers, sisters. We keep our word by giving it away. . .Yes, I write everyday; on the other hand, poetry comes to and through me occasionally, on the wind, on a song. . .[Small potted fir tree moving in that wind like a woman in a long dress, kind of gyrating]. . .I live by the ocean. . .and I love the ocean. . .on the East shore of the Middle Passage. . .I hold the shell to my ear and hear the ocean’s endless roll call in my ear. . .just as waves of seawater roll and tumble down around my ankles, tossing driftwood and seaglass and small scoured skeletons on the beach. . .whenever I hold the scroll of a conch shell to my ear, I hear nothing but the ocean’s endless call. . .That’s a sea-blue eye; or is it a sea-blue I?

[I told you the guy was brilliant.]

Sam Witt

 

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