(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)
Last night, I was accused of being a “Northampton Nationalist.” I accept that label, with pride. Northampton is the city where I live and it is a wonderful little place, with a vibrant downtown full of the arts and restaurants and music clubs. The outskirts where I own a home is a peaceful place. It is a neighborhood of giving and supportive people. I love that we are raising our family here.
The comment about my nationalism came following a Letter to the Editor that I wrote to the local newspaper on the topic of our city’s Poet Laureate program. It was published yesterday morning. This is the second time the city has chosen someone who does not live within our city for the post and it completely befuddles me. I know the reason — they want a higher profile — but I can’t fathom why we can’t have someone who lives here representing poetry for our residents. (The two Poet Laureates who are the outsiders are this year’s Leslee Newman — a talented writer and educator — and Martin Espada — a fantastic political poet). We even have a very active Poet Society that puts on shows and readings and events.
The playful accusation came during a large block party called The Spring Blues, in which more than 150 neighbors, complete with hordes of kids, gathered together to eat 35 pizzas and try to win an assortment of prizes (ie, junk) in a fun-filled raffle that also raises money for our neighborhood civic association. We did not want the cast-iron potbelly stove nor the doggy shade tent, but we came home with a box of baseball cards, 15 small rubber duckies, a large fire truck (the catch of the night for the three year old), a white stuffed bear and a potato gun (there’s gonna be trouble, I can tell).
Eight people at the party pulled me aside to agree with my letter to the newspaper, so I guess I was on to something.
Here is my letter:
I am writing to both praise and question the city’s Poet Laureate program. I heap plenty of kudos on the initiative because, as a writer and as a teacher of young writers, I think the role of a City Poet is such a wonderful concept. I love that we as a city can celebrate writing and poems in this way and that the Poet Laureate is designated to act as a sort of ambassador into the world of rhythm and rhyme and verse. What I don’t understand is how we can be choosing Poet Laureates who don’t actually live in Northampton and then call them the Northampton Poet Laureate. This is not to be considered criticism about Leslee Newman, who is a fantastic writer and who works diligently with others to promote the power of writing. (I also understand she used to live here but no longer does). I know there may be a desire for a higher-profile person on the part of the selection committee. But I believe that we have such talent in Northampton itself and such a diverse group of writers that we should be able to choose someone who is now living in the city and who is part of our city life to be the designee. It strikes me as wrong that we need to seek talent from outside our community. I would rather have our poets come from within the city itself.
Peace (in pizza and life slices),