Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her “Subject to Debate” column, which debuted in 1995 and which the Washington Post called “the best place to go for original thinking on the left,” appears every other week in The Nation; it is frequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. In 2003, “Subject to Debate” won the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. In 2011, Pollitt won the American Sociological Association Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues. She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.
Pollitt has been contributing to The Nation since 1980. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, “Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me…” won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she won a Whiting Foundation Writing Award the same year. In 2013, her column won a Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as did her 1993 essay “Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?”
Pollitt has also written essays and book reviews for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Harper’s, Ms., Glamour, Mother Jones, The New York Times, and the London Review of Books. She has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, CNN, Dateline NBC and the BBC. Her work has been republished in many anthologies and is taught in many university classes.
For her poetry, Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her 1982 book Antarctic Traveller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been published in many magazines and are reprinted in many anthologies, most recently The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006). Her second collection, The Mind-Body Problem, came out from Random House in 2009.
Born in New York City, she was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brooklyn College, UCLA, the University of Mississippi and Cornell. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Barnard and the 92nd Street Y, and women’s studies at the New School University. She lives in Berlin, Germany. (The Nation)
Katha Pollitt is another new poet to me. I sort of wiggled into this poem like I would wrap up in a warm blanket in a snow storm. Why? Because I KNOW this neighborhood. We moved into our house when it was built in 1973. As the subdivision started to fill up we got to know everyone — all of our neighbors. His nibs coached all their kids in little league and they collected here at our house as I was the only stay-at-home-mom/car pool in the neighborhood. Little by little the kids have grown up, moved away, and started their own families. BUT a large majority of their folks are still here around us. We’re still exchanging Christmas gifts and keeping tabs on each other after all these years. (For gifts this past Christmas I gave them all a pound of bacon, a box of pancake mix, a bottle of syrup, and a Bacon Press with a PIG on it! 😀 ) And though the theme is just a little different, when I happen to wander outside I usually see them up and down the street. And you know what? We’re all getting old just like in this poem! So it just feels like home to me.
The Old Neighbors
The weather’s turned, and the old neighbors creep out
from their crammed rooms to blink in the sun, as if
surprised to find they’ve lived through another winter.
Though steam heat’s left them pale and shrunken
like old root vegetables,
Mr. and Mrs. Tozzi are already
hard at work on their front-yard mini-Sicily:
a Virgin Mary birdbath, a thicket of roses,
and the only outdoor aloes in Manhattan.
It’s the old immigrant story,
the beautiful babies
grown up into foreigners. Nothing’s
turned out the way they planned
as sweethearts in the sinks of Palermo. Still,
each waves a dirt-caked hand
in geriatric fellowship with Stanley,
the former tattoo king of the Merchant Marine,
turning the corner with his shaggy collie,
who’s hardly three but trots
arthritically in sympathy. It’s only
the young who ask if life’s worth living,
notMrs. Sansanowitz, who for the last hour
has been inching her way down the sidewalk,
lifting and placing
her new aluminum walker as carefully
as a spider testing its web. On days like these,
I stand for a long time
under the wild gnarled root of the ancient wisteria,
dry twigs that in a week
will manage a feeble shower of purple blossom,
and I believe it: this is all there is,
all history’s brought us here to our only life
to find, if anywhere,
our hanging gardens and our street of gold:
cracked stoops, geraniums, fire escapes, these old
stragglers basking in their bit of sun.
Picture Source: The Nation