Poet Of The Week

Angela Lockhart-Aronoff

     April 15–21, 2019

Angela Lockhart-Aronoff began writing at the age of eight. As her artistic interests grew, she earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Florida State University and later a master’s in educational theatre from New York University. She is the recipient of a Ford Foundation summer teaching fellowship at Wesleyan University, where she developed an interest in writing children’s literature, and has directed youth theatre productions at the Boys and Girls Club and the AMAS Repertory / Eubie Blake Youth Theatre in Harlem. Together with her late husband Kenneth Aronoff, she founded the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Living Lessons, an educational theatre company that toured the tri-state area. After Ken passed on, Angela turned her writing interest toward poetry. Her work has been published in several anthologies and in the chapbook What Is It You Think You See? She has also directed performance art for the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus and the World Fellowship Center in New Hampshire, and used her training from the NY Writers Coalition to lead creative writing workshops in shelters as well as at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and the Weeksville Heritage Center. Currently, Angela has returned to her interest in writing poetic books for children of color.

Taking Leave

 
I am delayed with a MetroCard
of insufficient funds due to congestion ahead.

Grateful for the rare subway seat to watch
the girl in brand-new high-top tennis shoes,

bright red, like her lipstick, looking terrified
as she watches two brothers twirl and twist

their version of the break dance in a subway car.
Reminding me of my young poet’s life

wearing bright red lipstick, never once terrified
dancing in boots with heels on concrete platforms

transferring at the next stop, Bryant Park
and the 42nd Street station.

Up and down the cement stairs and hard flights
of many steps in and out of the tunnels,

on and off the bus,
climbing out of the cab and gazing up

at the towering Bank of America
while walking slow along Old Lincoln Way.

Nature must not win the game,
but she cannot lose.*

Now it’s the shortness of breath and the pain
in my joints, trying to keep up and navigate

the city sidewalk pace. All my moving
energy spent searching for new stations

of creativity, terrified
my willful muse is eating me alive

as I stroll along the Seventh Avenue
“Walk of Fame” past the Garment Worker.

Still, my drive to write rattles on each day
on my way to work in the city, walking
among the tourists and their rolling luggage.

But today, I slip through the closing doors
of mass transit. Taking leave

to head back home to the park
and the hills of Brooklyn.

*NYC subway mosaic of a quote by Carl Jung

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

In 2016, I participated in a Cave Canem workshop called “Across Cultures: Capturing the Motion of the Mind” led by Jason Koo. On the last day, Jason encouraged us to write a “walking poem” based on what he’d taught in what I experienced as a life-changing workshop. In the following days, I expanded my writing practice to observe, research, take notes and pictures, and later attempt to write poems of my daily walk to and from my work in the city. A few months ago, Jason led a Brooklyn Poets Yawp to challenge the community to write a poem for the Walt Whitman bicentennial celebration. I worked (reading, researching, taking notes) on the Whitman poem for a few weeks but (after several drafts) I had to suspend that effort, to focus on my participation in Jay Deshpande’s “Guided by Surprise: The Poem’s Ending” workshop. I can write a poem to death, and I thought I might do better if I learned how to consciously end a poem. I wrote “Taking Leave” in Jay’s workshop and was pleased when it became my walking poem! It also turned out to be my simple nod to Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” I love when poetry workshops pay off like this!

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a poetry manuscript I began several years ago. I use the manuscript as the basis to learn how to craft better poems. My writing practice is always the same one I use for the walking poem. Brooklyn Poets workshops are always the means for moving the manuscript forward. Last summer I started participating in workshops at Poets House, and recently stepped up to a Kwame Dawes invitation to write (and send him) a haiku a day for a hundred days. All I can say is the haiku is having an impact.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day (for more than twenty years) is waking up (every day) to write down whatever is on my mind into my journal. Seven years ago, I realized I was running out of time if I wanted to be a full-time poet/writer by the time I retire and return to San Antonio. Now a good day includes my journal writing but also reading more, researching, studying, workshopping and learning to improve my craft as a poet. Insight is a good day. Feeling good about the writing I produce in a poetry workshop or a class is a good day. Getting better at trusting my instincts and my voice as a writer is a good day. Getting what’s in my head and heart down on the page is a good day. Good days are when I accomplish most of this before I go to work in the morning and what I can accomplish (no matter how small the task) before I go to bed at night.

What bought you to Brooklyn?

I moved to New York City in the winter of 1982 to pursue a degree in educational theatre at NYU. I lived in the East Village between 2nd and 3rd Aves. After studying abroad, my rooming situation fell apart; I moved to Brooklyn with a friend and shared an apartment in a two-story limestone on 8th Ave and Garfield in Park Slope. I would move again to Fort Greene and Boerum Hill and eventually back to Park Slope. I love living in Brooklyn.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I live in a pre-war, rent-stabilized, fourth-floor walkup in the South Slope area of Park Slope next to Windsor Terrace. I have lived there for the past twenty-nine years. My neighbors and I have all grown older together and look after each other. We resist the changes of gentrification happening all over Brooklyn, but especially in our own apartment building where we banded together to create a tenants’ association to run off a mean management entity, which we did successfully with another building also being terrorized by the same entity, our local council member and the NYS Attorney’s office. Those of us with leases are safe for now and closer neighbors for the effort. But everything must change. Around the corner, the old Pavilion movie theater is now named the Nitehawk, and the Circles restaurant next door is being demolished brick by brick to build who knows what. These days I like to spend more time walking in Prospect Park, which seems to grow more and more beautiful every year.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Soon after the September 11th attack, several of my neighbors and I stood watch in front of the corner store owned by a Middle Eastern immigrant family. I will never forget that defining Brooklyn memory for me.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

A poetry community means I no longer sit alone writing and staring at the ceiling which I did for way too many years. Now, I am a member of three poetry communities where I thrive as an older African American female poet. These communities include Cave Canem, the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Brooklyn Poets, where a lot of my actual growth as a poet has occurred. Last summer, Poets House finally became a place where I felt safe and supported as a poet. I am with these poetry communities because they encourage diverse expression and mutual respect and support.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Charles Butler invited me to read as a featured poet in the neighborhood and then had my work published in a local newsletter and encouraged me to read at Nuyorican Poets Café.

Kim Brandon and Rita Wilson have curated a writing group I attend (when I can) at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture for several years.

Jacqueline Johnson is a poet and quilter (like myself) who worked with me on one of my quilting poems as part of a CUNY continuing education class. Jacqueline is one of the first poets who always asks me what I’m reading and working on.

Patricia Carragon, whom I met several years ago when I started to read my poetry in public, curates Brownstone Poets readings where I have been featured. One of my poems will be included in the upcoming Brownstone Poets anthology for 2019 (yay!).

Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, a Cave Canem fellow, introduced me to the zuihitsu form of writing at a Women Writers in Bloom workshop in Sugar Hill, Harlem. Cheryl has offered guidance for several of my poems that express themselves in the voice of the “Geechees” from whom I descend.

Robert Gibbons is a poet of extraordinary knowledge, energy and drive. We mutually support each other.

Last but not least: Candace Williams, Esther Lin, Marwa Helal, Michael Brown, Noel Quiñones and Gabriel Ramirez. We all bonded in the Cave Canem class Jason Koo taught a few years ago. I keep up with everyone on social media, buy their books and show up when I can for their poetry readings.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

All of my mentors are forces of nature. Each one influences me differently.

Michael Lally is the first published mentor who could actually see and accept me in all my complexity, give me permission and assurance that I was indeed a poet and to trust my voice. He helped me to see myself.

Juliet P. Howard (a Cave Canem fellow) was there when I decided that writing poetry alone was not a productive option and joined her Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon. Juliet is a mentor who is like a sister who encourages me to get out in public and learn to engage more socially as a poet. Her poetry salon introduced me to published contemporary women writers nationwide. Meeting Robin Coste-Lewis a few days before she won the National Book Award for Poetry for her debut book Voyage of the Sable Venus was a life-changing experience for me as a writer. I am always grateful for Juliet curating that experience.

Patricia Spears Jones is from the South (like me) and a mentor who has me reading more poetry and challenges my ability to use what I read to inform my poetry. I met Patricia at Juliet’s salon in Sugar Hill, Harlem. Patricia has introduced me to the writing of important female poets I would never have known to read without her guidance. She is generous with her writing experience and always encourages me to publish my work. Patricia is a strong assertive southern African American woman like the women I pay attention to in my family. I am grateful for her presence.

Jason Koo is not only a mentor; he is also my go-to teacher. I used to be very insecure about not being an academically trained poet until Jason assured me it was probably a blessing. Guided by his excellent multilevel approach to teaching, I was able to let go of resistance and learn to write blank verse and the importance of narrative. Jason puts into words the answers I seek in writing poetry. Brooklyn Poets is my number one learning haven because of all the unseen Jason does for the Brooklyn Poets community he has created, and I am a devoted member.

Laura Pegram is a new mentor who expresses sincere interest in my writing. Last summer I participated in Laura’s The Art of the Short Story workshop with the hope I would get a better handle on syntax in my poetry, but also to take a step towards writing children’s books. I am humbled by Laura’s presence at this point in my life.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that have stood out to you and why.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Terrance Hayes talk about and read a part of an early draft of his book American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin at a Cave Canem event at the Weeksville Heritage Center. That was not the first time I heard him read his work, but this new work is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant and inspiring! To settle myself down I am now reading The African American Sonnet: A Literary History by Timo Müller, The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. DuBois by Arnold Rampersad, and studying the June Jordan essay “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America or Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley” from her book On Call: Political Essays. I think that’s enough to work on for the next two months or so.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Harold Bloom’s Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I prefer to read multiple books of the same theme at the same time, depending on what I am working on. I don’t plan my reading, so I date and document what I’m reading when I’m reading it in a big organizer. My reading tends to be inspired at random or by instinct depending what I am working on. Both physical books and digital texts work for me. I have as many books on my Kindle app as I do physical books in my home. As for notes, I take notes all the time, in little books, on my Day One phone app and in specific notebooks of different sizes for specific purposes.

I tend to read books as I buy them, but I rarely read a book from cover to cover unless it’s Toni Morrison or Alice Walker, or the late Dr. Maya Angelou. I have read most of Toni Morrison’s novels several times.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

Right now, I am learning how to write sonnets in a Poets House workshop with Bhisham Bherwani. I had resisted learning to write both sonnets and haiku because of what I perceived as pretentiousness in these forms. The use and importance of form was an idea Patricia Spears Jones introduced me to in one of her Brooklyn Poets workshops. Jason Koo’s blank verse workshop also helped to blow all that nonsense out of my head. I am now ready to learn all kinds of forms I am not familiar with.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I read and write in bed. I’ve been doing that since the age of eight. At first, I thought it was a little weird and tried I to write in other spaces as I got older, but when I read that Alice Walker is a bed-writer, I let go of all my head chatter about that.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

DUMBO: Memories, the smell of the old spice factories, Cave Canem.

Jay St and Bergen: An old stomping ground and now a favorite Brooklyn Poets Yawp hot spot.

Brooklyn Promenade: The view of the Statute of Liberty, the Staten Island ferry, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Skyline.

Prospect Park: Walking that three-mile interior road with all those trees.

Fort Greene Park area: The only brownstone I ever lived in was two houses down from where Spike Lee grew up. I used to see and greet him and his sister on that street back in the day.

Williamsburg, Bushwick, East New York and Brownsville: I used to work in service to these communities.

Red Hook: I like to ride the B62 bus to observe how the types of people change depending where they enter or exit the bus.

Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway: The library, the walk to the Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Garden. It reminds me of the military bases where I grew up.

Weeksville Heritage Center: I led a NY Writers Coalition workshop there. I also was present when Terrance Hayes was reading some of his early versions of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. The experience was exciting, and his new book is brilliant.

Flatbush and Vanderbilt Aves: Memories of Nkiru bookstore and where I use to have brunch with friends and get my hair braided.

Riding the J train from Marcy Ave to Broadway Junction: To witness changes in the communities I used to work in during the heroin, AIDS and crack epidemic.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the diversity of every human on the planet
And what I breathe every day you breathe. We breathe
For every neighborhood in Brooklyn that recognizes me as good
     and you as good, the hope of Brooklyn I have for myself to
     also be shared with
you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because Brooklyn is my poet home.