It was a different time. It wasn’t that I thought writing poetry was a viable career option–it was that I didn’t think about career options at all. It was a lucky time. My friends and I studied what fiercely attracted us: avant-garde cinema, philosophy, theater, painting (and even though we were sons and daughters of parents of modest means), without thinking too much about our (financial) futures.
I wrote sensitive-young-woman poetry. It wasn’t good–and I’ve rarely liked the equivalent photography–but I loved reading great poets: Richard Hugo, Wendell Berry, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, W. S. Merwin, Wallace Stevens, Anne Sexton, Galway Kinnell.
And of course, Florence Anthony (1947-2010), who had named herself Ai (love in Japanese) and whose first collection, “Cruelty” still stuns me. She taught briefly at SUNY Binghamton, taught me to be brave about making work (even though I’m sure she knew my future would be elsewhere). As my advisor for my end-of-semester reading, she helped me find a way to speak my poems aloud. And just before my reading began, Ai, dressed as always in her layers and patterns, beads and turquoise, took a silver bracelet with a smooth, striated green stone off her left wrist and put it on mine.
I have photographed few poets so I’m particularly pleased that one of my portraits of W. S. Merwin was selected and is an element of the elegantly designed cover of “Until Everything is Continuous Again,” a collection of essays by 14 American poets on Merwin’s work, recently published by WordFarm.
Inaugurated in 1996, April is National Poetry Month, and like Black History Month and Women’s History Month, tries to push the margins closer to the mainstream: “to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”
A light-filled place to join in the celebration, Poets House in Battery Park City, has a 50,000-volume collection, frequent readings and events.