All I want for Christmas is to publish a new poem by Rita Dove. I’ve been pretty good. Love, John
For as long as I’ve been a literary editor—in the neighborhood of 21 years now—Rita Dove has been on my Christmas wish list. That is, I’ve been nagging her for 21 years. The Christmas miracle has arrived this year, and I’m thrilled to unveil a new poem by this living monument to American poetry. Rita, and her wonderful husband, Fred, have been kind and friendly to me over the years, and for that I am forever grateful.
Many of you know that I served as Toni Morrison’s personal assistant for nine years, and this has created a special place in my soul for the world of writing by black American women. There is a contemporary line of such writers that I keep in my head and heart. It might be a different line for others, but for me the line starts with Gwendolyn Brooks. I will never forget the few minutes I got to talk to her at a Dodge Poetry Festival in September of 2000 (she would die that December). She had just finished signing books for a nearly endless line of admirers that snaked across the grounds. She signed every book, and she didn’t have to. She made a powerful impression on this fanboy that day. Lucille Clifton was also a great joy for me, allowing me to first publish a grip of her poems in Kestrel, where I began my editing career. Among these poems is the famous “jasper texas 1998.” Lucille’s kindness will always inspire me.
Another fortunate occurrence has been my friendship with Natasha Trethewey. When I first heard her read at a Cave Canem event at the New School in NYC in 2001, when Shara McCallum introduced us, I was struck—immediately—with the truth: she was next in that line: Brooks, Morrison, Clifton, Dove, Trethewey. That has come to pass.
I am a lucky man to have rubbed elbows with all of these folks, in one way or another, to have learned from them, to have gained a bit more humanity than I might otherwise have garnered. I am lucky, too, to have been able to publish Clifton, Trethewey, and now Rita Dove. I am blessed to have been their friend.
Merry Christmas, Joyous Holidays, and Happy New Year. Bless y’all, everyone.