#AWP18 Featured Presenter Q&A with Patricia Spears Jones
AWP | February 2018
Event Title: A Reading by Rick Barot, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, and Patricia Spears Jones, Sponsored by Poets House
Description: Join Poets House for a reading by three award-winning poets, representing the rich diversity of contemporary American poetry and range of lyric and sonic landscapes. A conversation about their work and the role of poetry in our culture will follow the reading. Executive Director Lee Briccetti will introduce the event. In 2017–2018, Poets House, a national poetry library and literary center based in New York, celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Participants: Rick Barot, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Patricia Spears Jones
Location: Ballroom B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, 4:30 p.m.– 5:45 p.m.
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
A: I hope to go to the reading celebrating the amazing Barbara Deming Fund. The Fund has supported my work and work of many women writers and on the tiniest of budgets. The Fund is one of those projects that truly makes a difference in writers’ lives. And I do want to see the publishers at the bookfair, mine and others, and thank them for keeping poetry and literary writing alive.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: First off: Tyehimba Jess' Olio. John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in Convex Mirror—and yes it was a delight to teach the book and to be reminded of how engaged in many worlds Ashbery’s best work is. June Jordan's Directed by Desire, and I’m looking forward to reading We’re On: A June Jordan Reader, especially since I am on the panel. Lyric Sexology by Trish Salah, a transgender poet and scholar from Canada. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson, one of the many fine books published in the Brooks Centenary. The Golden Shovel, an anthology of poems based on the form developed by Terance Hayes that pays homage to Ms. Brooks. The Market Wonders by Susan Briante, whom I met at 2016 AWP. And The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, which may well be a mediation of loss, but to me, it is really a wonderful love story. I love the murder mysteries of Louise Penny because she puts poetry in each of them using words from Leonard Cohen and Margaret Atwood for her Ruth Zardo character, probably the foulest mouth woman poet character ever made.
Q: What are a writer’s main responsibilities in this particular cultural moment?
A: Whenever I see questions like this I remember what Garcia-Marquez was supposed to have said about the responsibility of revolutionary writers—to write well. I would also say to not be afraid to distance oneself from the cultural moment—to allow yourself to breathe.
Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: Yes, it most certainly has. New York State has supported the work of individual artists through various entities. The New York Foundation of the Arts, grants and other forms of funding, have often come into my life and the lives of others just as we were wondering how we were going to pay the rent! Moreover, the NEA supported literary presses and organizations for several years before the political winds blew too cold. That support allowed many presses, especially those that published writers from so-called marginalized communities—writers of color, queer writers, and women outside mainstream writing—to get started. I worked for CCLM, the forerunner of CLMP, and can attest to how useful that support was for the journals in the 1970s and early 1980s. Federal and state support of the arts is a way of saying we as citizens take our culture very seriously and are invested in its ability to thrive. Right now, that kind of investment is way too small.
Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs, now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: It is a mixed bag. On the one hand there are many writers, teachers of writers, and programs in which they work. But are there more readers—serious, engaged readers of poetry? No one really knows. There has also been a build-up of celebrity programs, which means that while there is always been competition for students, there are few ways to counter the perception of the quality in those outside the top tier. There are great teachers and great writers just about everywhere, and the obverse is also true. But one could say that about any endeavor at this point in time when branding, marketing, and the garnering of prizes trumps other qualities. This is an American problem, not just one for AWP.
Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP18, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: I hope to see good friends and I hope we talk shop. Please, please, please Linda Rodriguez, make it back to AWP! I also love seeing Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph—they are like the Prince and Princess of AWP to me. There are colleagues from Black Earth Institute coming: Ann Fisher-Wirth and Melissa Tuckey are two of them. And it is always great to see the Brooklyn based presses: Belladonna, Ugly Duckling, et al. I’ve met many authors famous and otherwise, it is really my colleagues that make AWP bearable. And most of all, I do hope that Rita Dove comes this year, because she does the best stroll around the bookfair.
Patricia Spears Jones is the author of four poetry collections, most recently A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems. She is also the author of five chapbooks, two plays for Mabou Mines, and was the recipient of the 2017 Jackson Poetry Prize. Jones teaches at the City University of New York and Adelphi University.
(Photo Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)