The Position of Brooklyn Poet Laureate
Although Brooklyn has a tried and true history of poets in residence—think Hart Crane, Marianne Moore and perennial favorite and poetic heavyweight Walt Whitman—the borough didn’t have an official poet laureate until Norman Rosten was appointed by Marty’s predecessor, Howard Golden, in 1979. Rosten was a critically acclaimed poet, playwright and novelist who was almost as famous for his friendship with Marilyn Monroe, about whom he wrote a book called Marilyn: An Untold Story. Rosten held the post until his death in 1995.
Award-winning poet and educator Dennis Nurkse was appointed Brooklyn poet laureate in 1996 and held the post until 2002. When Marty was elected borough president in 2002 he appointed Gravesend resident Ken Siegelman as the official poetic voice of Brooklyn, a position Siegelman held until his death in 2008. Brooklyn’s fourth poet laureate is Tina Chang; she is the first woman to hold the position.
The position of Brooklyn poet laureate is a non-salaried, volunteer appointment. Candidates for the position are evaluated by a five-member Poet Laureate Recommendation Committee who submit three finalists to the borough president. Candidates for the poet laureate position must reside in Brooklyn and have recognition as a poet as well as a demonstrated commitment to using the position for community outreach and projects that promote poetry and/or literacy in the diverse borough of Brooklyn.
Chang lives in Park Slope with her partner and son. When she’s not writing poems informed by the many riches of Brooklyn, she teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and Hunter College.
Tina Chang is Brooklyn’s fourth poet laureate and she is the first woman to hold the title in the borough’s history. Chosen in 2010 by Marty from a field of 22 Brooklyn poets, Chang is a published poet and educator with an MFA in poetry from Columbia University.
Although choosing a single appointee from the group of qualified applicants wasn’t easy, Marty and the five-member Poet Laureate Recommendation Committee were impressed with Chang’s commitment to public outreach. “She has dedicated her life to poetry and is passionate about reaching and educating diverse communities about poetry,” said Marty.
“I see myself as an ambassador and activist on behalf of poetry,” Chang said. “Over the past decade, I’ve given myself over to poetry completely, engaging students, teachers, writers, librarians, the young, the aging, as well as many people of diverse cultural and social economic backgrounds.”
As poet laureate, Chang has created an education program at Brooklyn middle schools, in which established poets of varied backgrounds host writing workshops and student poetry readings. Chang is also developing an interactive website to connect poets to their community, a virtual space where Brooklyn poets can promote their work.
Half-Lit Houses, Chang’s poetry collection, was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award and her poems have appeared in American Poet, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, among many other literary journals. She has also co-edited the poetry anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co). Her next poetry collection, Of Gods & Strangers, is forthcoming in 2011 (Four Way Books).
All night long there was digging, and the bodies like accordions
bent into their own dying instruments, and even after this,
after the quake, there was, in news reports, still singing:
A woman’s clapping was followed by another who shuffled
and dragged her own apparition through the ruined streets,
though each one knew the anthem the other was singing.
History taught them better. No one was coming.
The film crews had their sights on the large hotels,
the embassies. So they set to digging with their hands
and with the shoes of those who were no longer alive.
And with that, night fell and fell again
like an old black pot tumbling to the ground.
When a man dies, the first thing that goes is his breath,
and the last thing that goes is his memory.
I once saw this civilization passing through a great white door,
people weeping, then the weeping was followed by the sound
of tambourines rattling the air in a collision of ribbons
and bones, something that sounded like celebration
only livelier and more holy, voices rising, then a marching
into the dusty road of the next century. When shelter is gone,
find your solace on the ground. And when the ground is gone,
lift yourself and walk. And after all the great monuments
of your memory have collapsed, with the sky steady
above you, you shatter that too, with song.
BIRTHING A BOY
My child was once a thought and he had
no name, locked in the stall of my making.
The child was housed inside me for a long time,
held still in water, his limbs floating on a screen,
fingerprints intricate as aerial maps.
In my past life, I saw his hands pulling me
to being. I came alive rising through the underbrush,
then I breathed and found god’s bone, cracked
in pieces in my throat and my own voice
fused to answer him back.
I will love him completely, mythically. I will
place him in a basket lined with down. I will
chew the food before I place it in his bird
mouth. The nights I will not leave him,
his head ringing with fever.
His heft is now strong enough
to shake me awake. My morning opens
to the sound of him tumbling in his bedding.
Leaves let go of their winter branches,
then footsteps climbing into my life.
When he was born, there were mad horses
that was my body surging and great sparks
of unstoppable ignition. My forehead burned
with light. How I pushed him forth with one
last heave and, just like that, we were free.
For more information on Tina Chang visit her official website at: www.tinachang.com
Click Here to access the memorial page on life and legacy of the late poet laureate Ken Siegelman
To view works from other Poetic Brooklynites please click here