Last month I was sucker-punched. A hit man didn't come after me. The roof of my house didn't fall in. My family didn't stop speaking to me. I didn't find and then lose the love of my life in the same week. The world didn't even end. That would barely have scratched my solar plexus. No, it was much worse.
On a spring-like day, I, along with millions of resident and former New Yorkers, sleepily reading the "New York Times" or the "New York Post" online or on the subway, learned that WNBC, Channel 4, the NBC New York City station, was firing long-time news anchor Sue Simmons. (The "Post" first reported that Simmons' contract would not be renewed in June.) For more than thirty years, Simmons and Chuck Scarborough have been co-anchors on WNBC. Simmons and Scarborough are both 68. Scarborough's contract has been renewed. Scarborough seems like a good guy; he's a great anchor. But one can't help but wonder if age discrimination is involved here. (FYI: Simmons is still as hot as ever. Every viewer on earth with a hearbeat has a crush on her.)
It's difficult to convey the feelings of loss, sadness and outrage that anyone who has ever watched Simmons anchor with Scarborough over 32 years felt on hearing this news. Over the course of her Emmy-winning career Simmons, the leading local anchorwoman in the United States, has covered serious news, interviewed everyone from school children to politicians to the late Etta James. Along the way, she's performed her annual hilarious groundhog impression on Groundhog Day, fallen off her chair (and laughed about it) while feigning sleep during a boring segment, and gained notoriety by unleashing the F-bomb during a station promo (when she didn't know it was being aired live).
It's easy to sneer at news anchors – to think that they're all like the shallow news anchor portrayed by William Hurt in "Broadcast News." Yet, there are anchormen and anchorwoman who are good, hard-working reporters, who care about their communities. The very best anchors elevate anchoring into an art form. This is the case with Simmons and Scarborough. Watching Simmons is like watching a jazz musician. She's smart and sassy like the late Lena Horn and improvises like Ellington. Simmons is, as Ellington used to say, beyond category.
"It is difficult to get the news from poems," William Carlos Williams famously said.
This is true. I turn to TV, radio, print and on-line papers and magazines and blogs when I want news. I go to poetry to be consoled, to be engaged – in search of outrage or meaning in the news. I'm a freelance journalist and a poet. When I write a poem, I don't want it to be a news story, and when I write a commentary or feature story for a newspaper, I'm not striving to pen a poem. Yet, I think we poets, those of us in the "po biz," too often look down our noses in journalism. From the great heights of Mount Olympus, the news and those who give us the news appear totally disconnected from our lofty art. Especially, if the news reporters work on TV.
But gathering and reporting the news is an art as much as a science, and TV work can be as much of an art as poetry. Whether in a great sit-com such as "30 Rock," a fabulous drama such as "Mad Men" or in the case of a great news anchor like Simmons.
I don't know about you. But my poetry is as much influenced by terrific newspaper writers and inimitable broadcasters as it is by works by great poets. Good news writing and broadcasting involves rhymn, word precision, striking images and word (as well as visual) pictures.
There is of course the literal physical city where we live and work. Equally important, for us poets, there's the city that exists in the mind's eye and ear. Great broadcasters like Simmons live and work in both our literal and inner city. I'm not worried about Simmons, who's ,reportedly, one of the highest paid local anchors in the country. It's just a sad time for our city.