First Poet Laureate, Yonkers NY
Mayor Spano, Councilwoman Shanae Williams, other dignitaries, MY Blue Door Art Center Family, my family and extended family members, my poetry and jazz families, And all of you who are braving this up and down weather we are having and are here at the Unity Fountain.
We are celebrating the establishment, the beginning of this honored position of Poet Laureate – a position that will be here long after my ashes are scattered into the Hudson from a can of bustelo coffee.
Each poet laureate after me will bring new energy and projects for our vital Yonkers city. Poetry will now have its’ place in the everyday fabric of our lives- hopefully not brought out only on special occasions.
A poet laureate may be defined as “ a poet appointed to and holding an honorary position in a city, state, region, country”
Joy Harjo, is in her second term as the United States Poet Laureate and is creating a new Library of Congress collection and an on-line map featuring the first Americans, Native poets and their poetry.
Willie Perdomo, whom I had the pleasure of reconnecting with and hearing read recently is the Poet Laureate of NYState
I believe that every village , city, hamlet and borough should have a poet laureate. We border on Mount Vernon where my sister poet EJ Antonio lives, Hastings- on- Hudson where my son Matt and Shanae Williams had the same english teacher, our neighbor south is Riverdale AKA the bronx where Jacqueline Reason, former coordinator of Children’s Workshops and co-editor of the Community Writing Project Journal for BDAC lives.
How did this Brooklyn girl get here to Yonkers? How did I discover and get to my love for and craft of poetry? I promise you audience -no maudlin anecdotes. But a longer speech than I intended.
It won’t be a bumpy Mae West ride, however it’s important to know how this on the fringe kid from Flatbush made her way up the Hudson to the last zipcode I will ever have. Thank you University of Robert Gibbons for that super writing prompt.
This is important. I could always speak.
And my career as a Speech therapist began at CUNY, Brooklyn College. I entered college at 17 and spent my freshman year being overwhelmed and not ready. A drop out early in my sophomore year ( still living at home my mom who thought I was going to college each day I left our Brooklyn apartment.) Six months off did it. I worked and returned to college and met my mentor, Prof.Oliver Bloodstein in my first speech class. I was hooked and my profession was chosen. As a young person we do not always have a clear path. Change directions- it’s ok.
Let’s skip through the next 30 years- I became a Speech Improvement Teacher with NYC, then a college instructor, then a professor, marriage, a son, divorce and after an extended child care leave, in my late forties I returned to college teaching at Borough of Manhattan Community College ready to support my son- I was a Speech and Communications professor, not a poet, not a writer .
Like Amanda Gorman, the young presidential poet laureate, poetry had not entered our lives- didn’t talk/speak to us until in her case a mentor professor, in my case a student –both of us given a volume of Sonia Sanchez’ poetry. Mine was Homecoming, a slim yellow early collection of sister Sonia’s, also teaching then at BMCC. I opened that volume lent to me by the student and Sanchez’s words spoke to me, spoke to my life and I was hooked on poetry.
I then studied my craft like crazy- bitten and smitten.
I workshopped at the Writers Voice at the Y in NYC, Bard College’s Institute of Writing and Thinking, Howard University with the Hurston Wright Institute, Pine Manor College, the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center in Sleepy Hollow where I would start-up Po’Jazz (Poetry in Partnership now Playdates with Jazz).
Jacqueline Johnson is here and it was up those steep stairs at the Frederick Douglass Creative Art Center on West 96th St. near West End Ave.in the NAACP building and studying with her that my craft was honed.
I became a poet and writer in my mid-life years no crisis just another change in direction. I will be 85 in July. 40 plus years of poetry and still teaching as an Adjunct Assoc. Prof. of Speech at CITH Cuny in the Heights for BMCC. You are never too old to move your life in new directions.
Poetry is alive in Yonkers, and I must give well earned shout-outs:
Poets & Writers- without their financial support workshops would never have happened.
ArtsWestcheter –receiving the Yonkers Artist Initiative Grant in 2021 rewarding financially the staff of the Community Writing Project Journal( thank you volunteer grant writer Marcia Klein) Marcus John,poet in residence at the Hudson River Museum and Open Mic Host BDAC,Yonkers Arts on Neperan has poet in residence and my former mentee Phylisha Villanueva, the Power Lab on Ludlow, Katori Walker and Evan Bishop – each project they create honors Yonkers.
Blue Door Art Center where I will continue to be Poet in residence and do my job with this honor.
I am going to share a short poem of mine.
I want you all to know and I strongly believe:
We are all Artists
We are All Writers
We ARE ALL POETS.
And now the reading.
SLIVER OF GLASS GOLDA SOLOMON
LIKE A GLASS OF MILK THAT SLIPS
THROUGH YOUR FINGERS, YOU CAN
SWEEP UP THE LARGER BROKEN PIECES,
LIQUID SLOSHING FINDS CRACKS TO HIDE IN.
A SLIVER OF GLASS CAN FIND YOU YEARS LATER,
AND IN THE FRESH WOUND
IN THE RED BLOOD
A FOUND MEMORY.