Tuesday August 25 would have been the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective’s annual business meeting. If you’ve never been to this glamorous affair, we bring the bank statement and the organizational documents out for review and correction. We talk about our goals, our successes, and our failures.
COVID-19 happened and is still happening. We did not hold our annual Grand Slam, not for the first time ever but for the first time in a while, very unexpectedly, and after having a lot of traffic to our beautiful public standings page. Things are HARD for people in a hundred different new ways.
I’ve recently arrived at a pretty sad place in my own personal ‘quarantine’ and I’ve been thinking so much about the repercussions of harm in the lives of individuals and organizations. We made the wrong call on a venue this year. There have been interpersonal conflicts in our community – none rising to a conflict resolution proceeding, but those conversations were had. I joined the PPC as it was becoming incorporated. “It’s a first step to becoming a 501(c)3!” I’m fascinated by governance. I write more letters than poems. I have tried to use my power to influence my neighborhood and city officials for better, for equity. I have leveraged relationships with local elected officials to directly and indirectly support PPC programs and events. I still hold a volunteer position on a commission of Mayor Peduto’s office. I worry – am I complicit in the grotesque actions of the Pittsburgh Police outside the mayor’s house this week? I am currently the only resident appointee. Should I resign in solidarity for Black Lives Matter protesters, leaving the commission in the hands of city employees and non-resident nonprofit representatives, who have so often turned away from historically redline and borderline neighborhoods like the ones I’ve always lived in?
Anyway, harm. How to minimize harm. A lot of my work with the PPC has been to codify organizational values and structures to minimize harm in the community. Using people’s pronouns and avoiding gendered and binary language minimizes harm. Establishing codes of conduct can minimize harm. Governance, from an anti-racist and collaborative angle, can minimize harm. My track record at this is not perfect. Like Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I have a lot of shame over the things I did when I did not understand systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and additional forms of othering the way I do now. My personal anxiety is a lot like that meme where you try to think of all the worst things that can happen so you’re prepared for them in advance!! I then write them into bylaws, and procedures manuals, and communication templates. I don’t want anyone else to make the mistakes I and historical members of this body have made. No one is perfect, so we lead as a team. Governance is not the enemy, per se. (Governance developed by and steeped in white supremacy is the enemy.)
We call our leadership team the PPC board. This probably most conjures images of a wood paneled room filled with old white dudes in suits. I wish that weren’t so, but that’s where the world still is. We could call it something different, but that wouldn’t change the fact that we are just a group of people who message back and forth about how to keep the PPC programs running. We often self-refer as the benevolent dictatorship. We pay the PPC more often than it pays us. Our community keeps us all going sometimes. The group piece workshop this week turned my funk around a bit. Our group was small but mighty, and reviewing some spectacular pieces from across the country sparked the joy I feel when we get together for an event.
What we do at the poetry show is singing and feeling and being close… All the things we are advised not to do if we can avoid it. We will probably not be back performing in person until at least the spring. We have not undertaken the writing of new explanations of all our events because we want to do all the things we did before, and someday we might. Until the weather gets cold, I will be hosting 2-3 people per slam outdoors and distanced on my patio. It’s not accessible by anyone who cannot navigate 6 uneven steps, and it’s a half mile walk uphill from the Sheraden bus station, so it’s easiest to get here by car. Basically, it’s not what we like, but it’s what we have. Please email to RSVP for patio poetry (weather permitting) September 15, September 29, October 13, or October 27. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support of me and of the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective.