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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section Two: Spirit

Patricia Spears Jones

Patricia Spears Jones
If the Fates Allow

One of the things about meeting and working with someone who is on a mission that one may not entirely agree with or understand is that one is made to evolve. You chose to do this and if you are unable or unwilling to change, then the enterprise suffers. Choosing to become a Black Earth Institute Fellow was both a leap of faith and a step into a vastly different world view.

In Lower Manhattan, the Irish Hunger Monument is poised near the river’s edge. You can stand on its top and look across the Hudson to New Jersey and possibly beyond. The grasses and flowers cover a place of names—people who left starvation in Ireland for the U.S. and elsewhere. They were fleeing towards nurture; towards food and work, and bringing song and story.

Song and story seems to be what Patricia Monaghan’s work was all about. Many kinds of songs—those from the Celtic tradition (o bards) and the Labor Movement (Union Maids) and also The Great American Songbook-so that Cole Porter and the Gershwins and Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hart—and those songs connected all of us to the poetics of the oracular. The mimetic –yes you can remember a Porter song because of the rhyme and the emotionality of those Celtic ballads. The feelings of loss, longing, anguish—some woman is left behind by a soldier, a lover, and a brother—so very sad.

And then story. What narratives matter? How do they tell us where we were and where we may be going? I can see why the Goddess becomes a touchstone—the stories of feminine power are many and masked. Monaghan’s scholarship in this area is innovative and necessary. Like the work of Lucy Lippard, the art historian who has recovered images of feminine power throughout her work, Monaghan asks that we question the ways in which the stories of power are presented, delivered and acted upon. If not, we are doomed to the kind of militaristic, masculinist worldview inculcated in every part of our social and political life. What can counter this cultural sensibility? How can these ideas be undermined, changed? And at what cost?

The Oracle is a sage, diviner, prophet. A poetics of the oracular would demand wisdom, divination, and the ability to foresee. Does it? Can it? How could this be possible?

I think that Monaghan’s greatest gift was pushing me and others to ask these and other questions. Whether the questions focused on the ways in which we treat the land, air and water or whether we have the information to challenge those who seem hell bent on despoiling the land, air and water, these seem so simple. And yet, as the Obama Administration prepares to possibly okay the KeystoneXL Pipeline; as the war in Syria demonstrates the staying power of despot and the protests in Turkey shows how despots gain that kind of power, we continue to RESIST. That poets were deeply involved in the very active public protests in Wisconsin, at Occupy Wall Street, in Tahir Square and wherever despots and despoilers operate shows our willingness to create wisdom, seek spiritual congress and foresee a future different from the ones that are offered up-the technological, consumer driven, ultra individualist one dependent upon military prowess.

When I was asked to write a poem for a blog for Obama’s First 100 Days, I found myself looking up the Fates and what these Goddesses really symbolized. Fate has never been something that I took seriously, but feminine power; the idea of how we look at mortality and this new President who happened to look more like me than Patricia Monaghan made me take the chance to explore how the Fates might feel in the 21st century. Towards the end of “What the fates allow” the speaker wonders about the ways in which change takes place and offer a small opening for a new way to look at who we are and where we may be going:

How this experiment in democracy became formidable
And was almost lost in the dust and quiver
Of towers dashed, a crisis fraught for the corrupted
……………………………………leaving us with

This moment of scarcity, anxiety and change
Making some of us giddy and hopeful

No President, no matter his heart’s strength and his mind’s
Obsidian edge can do what we all must do.

Seek Lachesis’ wisdom. Beg the spinner’s forgiveness.
Offer up our desire for a world made whole
With threads from a stronger more flexible fabric,

Illuminated, our future shared differently.

Had I not encountered the poetry, the questions, the sheer use of feminine power in Patricia Monaghan, I would not have been able to make that demand. We can only have a different kind of future, if we, indeed, think differently. Patricia Monaghan’s vision for Black Earth Institute, her poetry, her scholarship encourages us to do that. To seek a future more aligned with the land, air, water and stars. To live in a future where grown women drink whisky and sing old love songs shamelessly, for the pleasure of company and the power of voice.
Patricia Spears Jones is author of Painkiller and Femme du Monde (Tia Chucha Press) and The Weather That Kills (Coffee House) and three chapbooks including Swimming to America (Red Glass Books) and two plays commissioned and produced by Mabou Mines, the internationally acclaimed experimental theater company. Poems are anthologized in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (W.W. Norton); Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (U of Georgia Press); Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (U. of Iowa Press) broken land: Poems of Brooklyn ((NYU Press) and Best American Poetry: 2000. She is editor of 30 Days Hath September, blog project at; Think: Poems for Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Day Hat and Ordinary Women: An Anthology of Poetry by New York City Women and is a contributing editor to Bomb Magazine. Awards received from The Foundation of Contemporary Art and The New York Community Trust (The Oscar Williams and Gene Derwood Award), the Goethe Institute and grants from the NEA and NYFA. Currently serves as Mentor for Emerge Surface Be, a new fellowship program at St. Mark’s Poetry Project and is a Senior Fellow at the Black Earth Institute, a progressive think tank.





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