A very close friend is angry. Let me start by saying that I love this friend. He has been one of the most loyal people in my life and a true friend. He wrote a blog about the state of poetry. It made me really sad. I am sad that he is so unhappy with what is going on in our little world of poetry.

That all being said, let me say this: I don’t totally disagree with some of what he said. I will disagree with the fact that he is failing to see that things are happening exactly the way they should. In the last five or so years, I have had a hard time finding my place in our world. I’m not young. I don’t go out nearly as much as I did 12 years ago. My tastes in things have changed and most of all (and most important) I have a daughter that needs me. Middle age sucks. You go from being hot to creepy very quickly. Writing the same poem over and over again is depressing. I didn’t write poetry for a long time because the words were not flowing as quickly as when I was young. I was a cranky eye rolling bitch. Something needed to change. I was what needed to change.

Mary PanzaThe change came over a few years and 94 HWTs.

I have hated some of the groups that have formed and haven’t paid homage to me. I hated some of the people. I hated myself. Frustration sucks. I have hated that I was such a mean girl and my attitude was for shit about the younger people coming up. Then it hit me. I am the problem. Things were going forward. The scene was coming out of our safe little chrysalis and spreading its wings. FUCK! Where do I belong? Is there a place for me at this ever-growing table. I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted to stay planted in the fun of what was. I was like the kid that peaked in high school and then for the rest of her life she stopped trying to do anything else because she became addicted to the attention. Popularity is a drug. Not only was I addicted to the attention, I demanded it. Trust me, I wasn’t popular for being nice either.

The change began (I say began because this has been a LONG process) when my daughter got bullied. I lost my mind. I was protecting my daughter. How could kids be so mean to each other? These girls and their mothers were as mean as catshit, make no mistake. What it did do is force me to hold up a mirror to my own behavior. I was a poetry bully. I wasn’t nice and I should have been. I wasn’t encouraging and I should have been. It occurred to me over these last three years that I do have a place. I don’t need to be mean or exclusive because I want to be a part of what is coming. These young writers, academic or not, have every right to be. People hide behind what freedom of speech ought to be. To me, freedom of speech is you and me having the right to say what we want. Period. To me, it means the right to exists whether I like it or not and I do (as well as you) have the right to hate it. What I don’t have is the right to do is tell you that you don’t belong in a scene that is greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t have to like what is going on but I don’t have the right to try to stop it. Oh, and by the way, I couldn’t be more thrilled with is going on. Our poetry scene is huge. Look at Albany Poets calendar. You can do something almost every night of the week if you so choose. Never in a million years when I was going to the QE2 readings with this friend did I think things would explode. The reality of it is that I should have seen it coming. It is doing what it is supposed to do: evolve and spread out. All voices should be heard. I have come to feel that if you run an event or an open mic that you need to make it at least welcoming. As a host of an open mic, I can’t be responsible for an audience reaction but I have to provide a space for everyone. You read your words and the chips fall where they may. Not everyone is going to like you. That shouldn’t stop you. Not everyone likes me and I have to learn to just keep going. Forward. Always forward.

Again I need to tell my friend that I truly, truly love him. I want to remind him that all those years ago we didn’t really pay homage to what came before us and maybe we should have. We didn’t. We were “FUCK YOU” all day, every day. We gave the finger to anyone who tried to help us or give us guidance. Mostly to our peril, truth be told. That is youth. Karma/ self-reflection/age is a douche canoe. You can either let it make you bitter or stronger. I never offer advice unless someone asks. If a young poet is reading something I don’t understand I will ask a question. I feel that all anyone wants is to be heard and maybe understood. I know that is what I wanted and I got that. It is my job now to pay that back and forward. I want to be a part of what is to come. I won’t be the pretty popular girl I once was. Now I can be myself. It is a relief. It is a happy thing to be inspired again even (and especially) when it pisses me off. I love you my friend and I miss seeing you. Please don’t stop coming out and listening to what is out there. There is a place for you always. Promise.