Tina Chang Named Poet Laureate of Brooklyn

On February 3, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz announced at his annual State of the Borough Address that Tina Chang of Park Slope has been named the new poet laureate of Brooklyn.

Chang, the fourth poet to hold the position, was chosen from a field of 22 applicants from across the borough. Chang read her poem "Praise" (full text below) to more than a thousand guests at the Address, held at the Park Slope Armory.

"I am thrilled to appoint Tina Chang to this position, and she will truly embrace the role of Brooklyn's poetic ambassador," BP Markowitz said. "She has dedicated her life to poetry and is passionate about reaching and educating diverse communities. We heard from many talented and dedicated applicants for the position of Brooklyn poet laureate, and one thing is certain-our borough has no shortage of people with a gift for the written word."

"I see myself as an ambassador and activist on behalf of poetry," Chang said. "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."

All submissions were reviewed by members of the Brooklyn Poet Laureate Recommendation Committee, which then submitted a short list of finalists to the borough president. Besides Chang, the list included poets Tracie Morris and Jessica Greenbaum. "The committee did a tremendous job of identifying the best candidates for poet laureate," BP Markowitz added.

Chang 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. She currently teaches at Hunter College and Sarah Lawrence College, and has collaborated with M.S. 51 through Poem in Your Pocket Day. She co-founded an annual collaborative reading series between the Asian American Writers' Workshop and Cave Canem, to bring together writers of Asian American and African American descent.

Ken Siegelman, who served as Brooklyn's poet laureate from 2002 until his death last year, envisioned the honorary position to include a commitment to public outreach. During his tenure, Siegelman established Brooklyn Poetry Outreach, a monthly event at Barnes & Noble, to shine a light on the borough's wordsmiths. He also hosted poetry writing workshops at Phoenix House.

Chang envisions the possibility of creating an Adopt-a-Poet Day at Brooklyn middle schools, at which established poets of varied backgrounds would host writing workshops and student poetry readings. Chang also has ideas for an interactive website to connect poets to their community, a virtual space where Brooklyn poets could promote their work.

Members of the Poet Laureate Recommendation Committee were: Julie Agoos, coordinator of the MFA Program in Poetry at Brooklyn College, where she is Tow Professor of English; Robert N. Casper, programs director for the Poetry Society of America; Linda Susan Jackson, poet and associate professor of English at Medgar Evers College; Dionne Mack-Harvin, executive director, Brooklyn Public Library; and Anthony Vigorito, poet and retired teacher who assisted former poet laureate Ken Siegelman with Brooklyn Poetry Outreach.

Criteria for the position required that every applicant for the position be a Brooklyn resident with recognition as a poet, as well as a demonstrated commitment to using the position for community outreach and projects that promote poetry and/or literacy in the borough of Brooklyn.

Tina Chang
Brooklyn Poet Laureate

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

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