In Po-land, you can adopt your parents, even trade them, but we've chosen Walt Whitman and Gwendolyn Brooks as our Ur 'rents because they represent so fully our mission. Here's why:
Walt: personifies the American self-publishing spirit. He was a printer in Brooklyn when he completed his first book, which he proceeded to print himself. He then reviewed the book, and published the review, pseudonymously, in his paper, the Brooklyn Eagle, and guess what-it was a rave! I'll never forget when Kenneth Koch literally waltzed into the US Poetry Course at Columbia, tossed his arms around himself, gave a big squeeze, and shouted, "Walt! I love you!" to begin his Whitman lecture. I'd never heard anyone on a first name basis with a dead poet before. Whitman is that kind of poet - read him, and he'll speak to you, directly. Then you'll call him Walt, too! For a real treat, join the annual Poets House Bridge Walk in April and hear Galway Kinnell read Crossing Brooklyn Ferry as the sun sets on the Brooklyn Bridge. This, just a few blocks away from where Walt lived in Brooklyn Heights. We imagine him cruising the gay bars on the waterfront. PS- the LiteBrite window of Walt in the Club was made by the artist Steve DeFrank. First person to mention this to the barkeep gets a free drink!
Gwen: who died 2001, sigh, a major loss, a national Treasure who never was fully appreciated. If only the Club had been open earlier we could have feted her the way she deserved! Her "We real cool" poem (Seven at the Golden Shovel) is guaranteed to open ears of kids of any age to the possibilities of poetry. She obstinately refused to go with large publishers, staying with Haki Madhabuti's Third World Press, giving props to both the small press world and the African American scene in South Chicago. We all loved her. Just listen to Michael Warr, Patricia Smith, Quraysh Ali start to speak of her - a friend, a model, a Mother of Poetry. I got to spend time with her in the early 80s when she read with Ntozake Shange at St. Marks. Zake went first, raised the roof, said how great it was to kick her poems and then to hear Ms Brooks' "poem poems." "Well," allowed Gwen, she would read her "poem poems, which she proceeded to, not only raising the roof higher higher higher, but also building a new Church of Poetry below it. When she came to the Nuyorican, ten years later, 1991, she gave a great reading and then stayed for the Slam, hooting and hollering, and then stayed through the entire Open Room, not leaving till 3am. That's the what she was. Her poetry is the same: so generous, so solid, so direct and so true. Who better to be Mother of Us All?