Finally, we have a new poet laureate!
After a grueling seven-month search prompted by the June death of balladry legend Ken Siegelman, Borough President Markowitz revealed in his “State of the Borough” address last night the identity of our new versifier in chief.
It’s Tina Chang of Park Slope.
Yes, that Tina Chang.
Chang will become the fourth poet to assume the illustrious post, which comes with no pay, but the admiration of a rhyme-hungry borough accustomed to the best in poetry.
In winning the coveted post, Chang beat out 21 other applicants.
“I am thrilled,” Markowitz said of Chang. “She will truly embrace the role of Brooklyn’s poetic ambassador. She has dedicated her life to poetry and is passionate about reaching and educating diverse communities.”
In a statement, Chang spoke of creating an “Adopt-a-Poet” Day in local middle schools and hosting various workshops. She also wants to use the Internet to connect Brooklyn poets to the community.
“I see myself as an ambassador and activist on behalf of poetry,” said Chang, a Hunter College and Sarah Lawrence teacher who 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.
“Over the past decade, I’ve given myself over to poetry completely, engaging students, teachers, writers, librarians, the young, the aging, as well as many people of diverse cultural and social economic backgrounds.”
So how good is this new Bard of Brooklyn? Well, Chang beat out The Brooklyn Paper’s reader’s choice, Sharon Mesmer, and is the co-founder of an annual collaborative reading series between the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop and Cave Canem that brings together Asian- and African-American writers.
Mesmer, for her part, isn’t bitter about losing the gig of a lifetime.
“I don’t know Tina personally, but I’ve read her work and really like it,” Mesmer said. “I think she’ll rock the poet laureate!”
Pressed to put that in less-poetic terms, Mesmer added, “I like the way Tina expresses emotion with language — she’s never sentimental or unoriginal, but always really vivid and true and surprising. She’s just a really good poet.”
Chang read her poem, “Praise,” at the State of the Borough speech last Wednesday to generally favorable reviews.
Judge for yourself:
“Praise” by Tina Chang
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.