I completed the below poem on January 19, 1994. It is based on events which took place during a conference, “A Gathering of Artists”, which was held on the University of Delaware campus during the fall of 1993. The conference was focused on bringing together a broad-diversity of artists, whether visual, creative or performing — Basically, anyone you’d call an artist was invited to attend 2-days of workshops, forums and discussions. There was a modest fee of $25, as I recall.
As a founding-member and representative of AbleArts, a troupe of performing members with and without handicaps, I was very excited to exchange information & knowledge with other local artists. And, although I had confronted narrow-minded people throughout my life, I was completely caught off-guard by the words, and attitude, of Ms. E. Jean Lanyon during the conference.
Following the conference, I shared my upset with other members of AbleArts — Some of them suggested I should write a letter-to-the-Editor, which I never did. However, in January we had a snow storm (storms seem to kick me into action) which left me stranded in my apartment for several days. It was during my snow-bound state that I created the poem:
It was at “A Gathering of Artists” that we first met.
As she proclaimed herself “Delaware’s Poet Laureate”.
In both large and small groups that day
She took the opportunity to say what she had to say.
I reckoned that one who exhibited such power
Could be a valuable ally at some needful hour.
So, I told her I was a closeted-poet, kind of.
And, that others, like myself, created poetry for love
That we must recite in our own homes, while at night
Able-bodied poets gather in non-wheelchair-accessible reading sites.
(Ten years now, budding poets have read at O’Friels;
Upstairs, 2nd floor — Not in chairs with 4-wheels!)
Vehemently, she protested thus (Delaware’s Poet Laureate),
“Reading space is scarce. We’ve got to take what we get”.
“We can’t possibly be expected to accommodate all!
There are so many constituencies; yours is to small.”
“I don’t think you heard me, or understood”, I objected.
“My request is consideration when future sites are selected.”
“If mobility-impaired”, I asked her, “how would you participate?
Unable to climb stairs, shall someone carry the ‘Poet Laureate’?”
“I’m not important. It doesn’t matter about me.
The work must continue, it’s got to be!”
“I wont argue”, she said. And, then turned away.
“It’s not possible”, I thought, “what I’d just heard her say.
How could a poet, who should be sensitive and feeling,
Defend anyone’s exclusion?” My mind was just reeling.
In stunned disbelief, transfixed where I sat,
I viewed the departure of Delaware’s Great Laureate.
Former Poet Laureate (I have subsequently learned that her official title ended in 1981) E. Jean Lanyon and I almost met on the campus of Delaware State College several years after our U of D confrontation — Del State was scheduled to hold a day of poetry near the end of the Spring Semester and we had both been invited. In fact, Lanyon was to be the keynote speaker. Perhaps fortunate for her, the event was canceled before it took place and I got the opportunity to read in front of her!
I know the poem is a much greater retribution than a letter would have been. Even though I haven’t read A Gathering of Artists in public since my 2004 hospitalization, I have given more than 35 public-readings during my appearances with AbleArts; and at least 10 public-readings without AbleArts! I can’t begin to count the many other times I’ve read for friends and family.
Now, I place my poetic work into cyberspace — to be read by hundreds of thousands of people… How absolutely amazing! 😎