Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Brooklyn Has a New Poet Laureate

Tonight at his at his annual State of the Borough Address, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz announced that Tina Chang of Park Slope has been named the new poet laureate of Brooklyn. Chang, the fourth poet to hold the position, was chosen from a field of 22 applicants from across the borough. Chang read her poem “Praise” (see below) to more than a thousand guests at the Address, held at the Park Slope Armory.

Chang is the author of Half-Lit Houses and the editor of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond. She teaches at Hunter College and Sarah Lawrence College, and has collaborated with M.S. 51 through Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Brooklyn's last poet laureate was Ken Siegelman, who served from 2002 until his death last year. Before Siegelman, Dennis Nurske took the job. Norman Rosten, Brooklyn's first poet laureate, had the longest tenure, from 1979 until his death in 1995. He was appointed, in a stroke of genius, by BP Howard Golden.

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Tina Chang
Brooklyn Poet Laureate

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 heavy air, something that sounded
like celebration only livelier and more holy, voices rising,

and 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 

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