Thursday, July 07, 2016

Black Lives Matter, Summer 2016: Sterling/Castile/Robinson--

Union Square, July 7, 2016
Photo © by Jack Mirkinson 
UPDATE: Tragedy begets tragedy...last night in Dallas, Texas, during a peaceful protest against the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, a gunman or gunmen ambushed and shot five police personnel dead, and wounded 7 others. Also injured were two civilians, including a mother who was trying to shield her son from the bullets. Police officials identified the gunman, a 25-year-old African American US Army reserve member and veteran, Micah Xavier Johnson. The shooter allegedly was angered by the killing of black people and wanted to target white police officers in retribution.

After a standoff with police, they sent in a bomb squad robot, armed with an explosive device, and killed him. Police and social media had initially misidentified the gunman as an African American man who had who was openly carrying his registered weapon. (This begs the question of whether open-carry and concealed weapon laws do not apply to or for African Americans, Latinxs, and others, and only for white people.)

I mourn the deaths of these officers, and continue to grieve for the people I list below who were killed by the police or in police custody. The answer is not more violence, but an end to it all, and if that means that we have to rethink and then rebuild the very foundations of this society, built on domination, violence and oppression, then we must do it. But peacefully. And that means we have to begin by addressing one of the root problems in all of these deaths: guns, and their easy availability in the US.

On and on and on it goes. State-sanctioned police murders of black people. Veterans, lunch room workers, fathers, daughters, loved ones, people seeking medical help. Supply the category and someone searching through the roster of those slain can find a name to fit. This has occurred my entire life, in various forms, usually leading to marches and protests, calls for accountability and legal and technological changes, prosecutions of the police (which rarely happens), and occasionally, as happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, as in Miami and other cities in the past, uprisings. It is no less painful to witness, to live through today than it was when I was a child or teenager.

These last few weeks, these last few days, have filled with the names of the newly dead: Alton Sterling in Louisiana. Philando Castile in MinnesotaAngelo Brown and Stephanie Hicks in Illinois. Darius Robinson in Oklahoma. As the Guardian's statistics show, over 566 people have been killed by cops or while in police custody this year. The Huffington Post points out that 136 black people have died at the hands of cops. The highest rate in 2016, 3.4 per 1 million people, is among Native Americans, with African Americans dying at only slightly lower frequency at 3.23 per 1 million people. As horrifying as last year's numbers were, this year's should give us pause to reflect, and a charge to act.

I've written on here before about how these deaths represent a slow genocide playing out before our eyes--or some of our eyes--and how what these state-sanctioned killings, which mirror the state's brutality elsewhere in the world, underline again and again, as the Black Lives Matter movement has pointed out, is how dehumanized and disposable black people--and brown people--remain in this society, a fact that not only the Donald Trump campaign's imagery, rhetoric and surrounding discourse testify to on a regular basis, but also the toothless responses from Democrats and Republicans alike. (As BREXIT, the rise of the nationalist right in Europe, the Brazilian coup and state-sanctioned police killings there of black youth and teenagers, the fanatics in the Middle East, and so on make clear, the same could be said for the globe as a whole.)

While technology has allowed witnesses to these state killings to record and broadcast via social media imagery of what occurred, offering proof to what has too long been viewed by people not directly affected as mere anecdote or exaggeration and creating documentation, as well as a space for witness, memorialization and mourning, I also think that the subsequent hyper-circulation and replaying, as the news media often do, of the deaths can habituate and inure us to the deaths of these victims and magnify the suffering their loved ones feel, while only increasing the centuries long trauma at the core of this society. We have to look directly at what is happening, but to the extent possible, avoid turning these tragedies into spectacle. Moreover, they attest that our melancholia and fear are not groundless; it arises from the danger and blood that saturates the very ground we walk on every day. Many of us rightly fear that we are a cop's bullet or baton away from becoming a meme and statistic.

These deaths also underpin the ironic force and truth at the core of the statement that cannot be proclaimed enough, "Black Lives Matter." That this statement of affirmation has been turned inside out points to the perverse social and political logic in which we live. Like the deaths, the iconic phrase, and the movement that has arisen around it, demands that we realize and act upon the truth in the statements STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE & STOP KILLING US!

Here is a powerful poem by Jericho Brown that captures the horror and tragedy of these state-sanctioned killings and deaths in a way that only poetry can. The poem is called "Bullet Points," and I have borrowed it from Buzzfeed, where I first saw it. The copyright is Jericho's and Buzzfeed's.


Monday, July 04, 2016

Fourth of July Poem: Jay Wright

Jay Wright at Rutgers-
New Brunswick, 2006
In place of a prose post about the Fourth of July, I thought I'd cede the space to a poet: Jay Wright (1935-). My very first post on this blog, 11 years ago, was a tribute to him when he received the Bollingen Prize, and I often think that I should post his poetry more, and occasionally have done so, but the ones I want to post tend to be quite long. 

Here's a poem from his début book, The Homecoming Singer (Corinth, 1971), which was reprinted in Transfigurations (LSU Press, 2000), a volume that should have received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics' Circle Award, and every other major poetic honor. History will, I hope, be the ultimate judge in favor of his greatness; the poems are the testimony. 

"Crispus Attucks" is Wright's meditation on the Revolutionary War hero, who the first person to die in this country's first, decisive battle for freedom. A few years ago, while conducting research for a novel, I came across John Adams's dismissive description of Attucks, which was part of his trial defense of the British soldiers who killed the patriots during the Boston Massacre

Twenty years before, as that post also reveals, Attucks had run away from his master in Framingham; clearly freedom was on his mind, or as Wright calls it, the prelude to his "impulsive miracle." This was also his personal and mortal sacrifice, which helped this country to achieve the liberty it trumpets to the entire world. Too often, as Wright makes clear, we forget its first architect. Let's honor him today.

Crispus Attucks
CRISPUS ATTUCKS

When we speak
of those musket-draped
and manqué Englishman;
that cloistered country;
all those common people,
dotting the potted stoves,
hating the king,
shifting uneasily under
the sharp sails
of the unwelcome boats,
sometimes we forget you.
Who asked you
for that impulsive miracle?
I form it now,
with my own motives.
The flag dipping in your hands,
your crafted boots
hammering up the unclaimed streets,
all that was in that unformed moment.
But it wasn't the feel of those things,
nor the burden of the American character;
it was somehow the sense
of an unencumbered escape,
the breaking of a Protestant host,
the ambiguous, detached
judgment of yourself.
Now, we think of you,
when, through the sibilant streets,
another season drums
your intense, communal daring.

Copyright © Jay Wright, 1971, 2000. From Transfigurations: Collected Poems, Louisiana University Press, 2000. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Translation: Poem: Mustafa Stitou

© Pieter van der Meer /
Tineke de Lange
I'd originally planned to post this poem 5--yes, five--years ago, but like the 75+ other draft posts in my queue, some from almost 10 years ago, time to do so eluded me. As a result, it's been waiting to be completed, so here goes. It's by Mustafa Stitou (1974-), a Dutch poet of Moroccan birth. I first came across his work when I picked up a copy of his second book Mijn gedichten (My Poems, 1998) at a little Amsterdam poetry store during a trip to the Netherlands in the late 1990s.

I'd taught myself basic Dutch--enough, in fact, to fool a postal worker there, but with such a heavy German accent that she thought I might be from that country--and was convinced that I might be able to read, if not translate Stitou, Astrid Roemer (1947-), and other Dutch-language writers of color, especially immigrants from the global South, but of course, learning the basics of a language to be able to read street signs and order food and be fluent enough to read, let alone translate, are two different things. And this is true even for languages like Dutch and English, which are linguistically quite close. When I think of the current immigration and refugee crises in Europe, the failures of integration and the ongoing social and political marginalization of black and brown Europeans, it strikes me that hearing their voices is even more important now than ever.

All of which is to say that I nevertheless decided to try to translate at least a few of Stitou's poems, whose linguistic inventiveness and play intrigued me. He has won a number of major Dutch poetry prizes, and continued to publish, with his most recent book, Tempel (Temple), appearing in 2013. Below is a poem about teenage love from Mijn gedichten; such is my Dutch that any infelicities are mine, but I think you get a sense, however imperfect, of his artistry. (When I return to JC I will look for the original Dutch, which isn't online, to recheck it.) You can find more of his work in the original and translation if you click on his name above.

PALPITATIONS





You

 bright


  transparent and immaculate
     little sight

glim
 glimpsed
  in puberty

through the present moment

laughed at me
one time
 or five

by all the swarming voices
 that besieged me
  --my pooljourneydaydreaminess

even with
 the lightning feeling
  while my humor grew
   immature!

Going bald from the world to drift
without party kilos
 my life's evening complete?

In the Almere Music District you stepped off

But I definitely didn't see you
that spring
 among the talk show
    audience

Train nymph
 are you writing my life?
I can really cook






Copyright © 1998, 2016, from Mustafa Stitou, Mijn gedichten. 
Translation © copyright John Keene, 2011, 2016.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Marfa Photos II

A few more Marfa photos!

At Stellina's on opening night
(among our dinner companions were
Judy Miller and my former classmate
from my senior year poetry class
with Ishmael Reed, Elizabeth Wurtzel)
The front yard 
The giant male turkey, on its way (away!)
Home-baked bread
At the St. George Hotel,
before Timothy Donnelly's reading
Poet Timothy Donnelly, reading
on Sunday afternoon 
Tumbleweed Café at left,
laundromat at right 
A coy bunny rabbit,
almost blending into the gravel 
The Hotel St. George (me at right),
photo © by C
The façade of the Judd Foundation
Sleepy downtown Marfa street




Monday, June 27, 2016

In Marfa (Photos)

Last week C and I headed down to a part of the world I'd never visited before, Marfa, Texas, where I'll be for the next month or so, thanks to a Lannan Foundation residency. (Thank you, Lannan Foundation!) Since the residency does not include family and friends we arrived a few days early to see the town and environs together, before I embarked on my stay. I had only a rough sense of Marfa from various books, films, TV reports, articles, and personal accounts I'd read or heard over the years, but I knew it was small--it is, with roughly a little over 2,000 people--and full of artists--it is the home of several arts foundations, especially the Judd Foundation and Chinati Foundation, as well as numerous galleries--while also being a Southwestern town not far from the Mexican border.

C and I had a wonderful time together, seeing many of the tourist and off-the-grid spots (including a trip to nearby Alpine, home of Sul Ross State University); sampling the restaurants; enjoying cocktails at the famous Hotel Paisano, where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean lodged during the filming of Giant (1956); and encountering all kinds of interesting people (see below). He has since flown home, and I am settling in, reading, writing, battling giant male turkeys (I won, without any physical violence), observing unflappable bunny rabbits, and, when I need breaks, watching the finals of the Copa América, which Chile won via penalty kicks, 4-2, over Argentina.

If you happen to be in or near Marfa, I'll be on the air with KTRS 93.5 Marfa Public Radio this Friday, July 1, at 6:30, and reading this upcoming Sunday, July 3, 2016, at 4 pm at the Hotel St. George, home of the Marfa Book Company. Even if you aren't passing through, consider a visit. It's worth seeing!

A few photos (I'll post a second set) tomorrow!

Heading to Marfa from El Paso 
At Chuy's Restaurant in Van Horn, Texas
Some of the mountains near Marfa
US Border Patrol station, on the
way to Marfa (inside Texas's borders)
C at the famous Prada Marfa
installation, created by Berlin-based
artists Elmgren & Dragset,
35 miles outside town
Vandals had cracked the Marfa Prada
installation's glass! (Why?)
A weather plane/dirigible/drone,
in the high desert outside Marfa
At the Hotel St. George, Marfa 
The Marfa arch, downtown 
Desert flora, with a lizard
hidden somewhere in there
One the peaks on the way
from Alpine, Texas
Eagles band artist
Boyd Elder (at left), with friend
outside the Hotel St. George
C photographing some of the wild beans,
at the Chinati Foundation
Judd's 15 works in concrete
(it was blazing out there!) 
Me standing between the sculptures
Me sketching at the Chinati Foundation,
among Donald Judd's giant sculptures
A selfie with C at the Chinati Foundation

A fur-lined car outside
Food Shark, a great truck restaurant
Former New York Times report
Judy Miller, asking C a question
about a Marfa location

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Recent Counternarratives Notes

天恩's Tweet of their live sketch of my reading and conversation
with Naomi Williams, author of the marvelous novel
Landfalls, at Asian American Writers Workshop, May 4, 2016.

It has been over a full year now since Counternarratives was originally published in hardcover in the US by New Directions, followed by a May 2016 paperback edition, and two months since it appeared with Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK, so it's very good news to me and my publishers that it continues to generate positive reviews and responses.

Among the recent US notices was Lucy Ives' brief and praiseworthy mention in her online New Yorker discussion of Danielle Dutton's new novel Margaret the First: A Novel (Catapult, 2016), "How Archival Fiction Upends Our View of History," in which she also praises Marlon James's multi-award winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2014). This is excellent company by any measure.

To quote Ives:
Keene’s polyvocal narratives masquerade as “primary-source documents” and present convincing first-person testimony, while at the same time establishing undercurrents that undermine the victors’ tales—and any hope that we will ever fully settle on the truth.

***

While in Los Angeles for the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference, I had the opportunity to chat about Counternarratives with Michael Silverblatt for his renowned KCRW FM program Bookworm. Though our conversation flowed like spring water and exceeded the allotted time, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. The result satisfied me tremendously, and I hope it's the same for Bookworm's and KCRW 's listeners. Many thanks to Michael Silverblatt, Alan Howard, Connie Alvarez, and everyone at KCRW, as well as Mieke Chew at New Directions, and Alan Felsenthal at Sound Cave.

You can find the conversation here.

***

Last December, Daniel Green posted on his blog
The best book I read in 2015 was John Keene's Counternarratives. Since I will have a review of the book upcoming in Kenyon Review Online, I will not delineate its virtues here, except to say it's the kind of challenging, formally innovative work that is also simply enjoyable to read. In the meantime, an interview with Keene from On the Media: https://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/ondemand/533522
This is the highest praise, so I was curious to see what his review said about the book. It has now appeared at Kenyon Review Online, and is quite laudatory. Thank you, Mr. Green. Here is his conclusion:
In its engaging, often exhilarating use of alternative or unorthodox forms, Counternarratives abundantly demonstrates what “innovative” fiction at its best can accomplish: sometimes narrative content that challenges longstanding presumptions can be adequately expressed only through equally challenging extensions of form.
***

On the UK side of the Atlantic, the Times Literary Supplement "Summer books" section, which went live June 22, 2016, included a shoutout by editor Ben Eastham, who included it in his reading picks, noting that it sits at the "summit" of one of his stacks of books. Since his review is brief I'll quote the heart of it, which says that
Keene is among the contemporary American writers pushing at the boundaries of fiction, his angry, exhilarating stories about race and American history another counter-example (if it were needed) to the lazy assumption that literary innovation should be confined to the ivory tower.
Thank you, Ben Eastham and TLS!

***

In addition to the TLS's mention, another British publication, The New Internationalist's May 2016 issue included a concise but praiseworthy review of Counternarratives, which became Counter Narratives, in keeping with the book's title on Fitzcarraldo's cover. (The review, unfortunately, is only accessible to subscribers.)

***

Lastly, the French version of Counternarratives is slated to appear from Éditions Cambourakis as Contrenarrations on August 17! I had the pleasure of reading Bernard Hoepffner's precise and exacting translation, which manages, I think, to capture the spirit of the book and most of its style, but in ways that are profoundly French, so if you are in France in a few months then, please grab a copy! It does not yet have a cover (several good options are under debate), but the Advanced Readers' Copies are circulating, so below is a photo.




New York Fashion's Bill Cunningham: RIP

Yesterday the news broke that longtime New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham had passed away, at age 87. Cunningham's fashion posts and videos were a staple of the Times' fashion pages for several decades, and one of my weekly online destinations for years. Rather than a long tribute I'll direct readers to the sparkling 2010 documentary about Cunningham's life and work, Bill Cunningham New York, which Richard Press directed and cajoled Cunningham, thankfully for viewers, to participate in. It was streaming on Netflix a while ago, but should be available on DVD via that service and others, and at libraries. Its portrait of this simultaneous complex and bare-bones man, who elevated street fashion photography to an art, is poignant, perhaps even more so as the diverse, sometimes chaotic New York he chronicled through the lens of its fashions is being hypergentrified out of existence.

Below is a great clip of the animated Boston-native Cunningham speaking about what he considered the greatest fashion show of all time, 1973's "The Battle of Versailles," the "competition" pitting five  French haute couture designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Christian Dior) against the US's ready to wear stars; one of them, the then-young African American designer Stephen Burrows, and his spectacular  models, stole the show and electrified the French elites and the fashion world, as Cunningham relates, so moved at one point by the revolution he and everyone was witnessing on the catwalk that he cannot speak. So far we've come, so far we've gone backwards, so far we still have to go.  But we will have Bill Cunningham's New York (and Paris and Milan) fashion photographs as guideposts from the past, and templates for the future.

Friday, June 24, 2016

BREXIT

UPDATE: After an extraordinary series of machinations among the Tory Party's leadership, Theresa May, who was Home Secretary in David Cameron's second cabinet, has emerged as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She is the second woman PM in British history, and faces the difficult task of unwinding the country from the European Union, even though she publicly, if quietly, supported the Remain camp. 

She won the post after Tory Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove appeared to turn against his Leave ally, Boris Johnson, challenging him for the vote. That knocked Johnson out, leaving May, Gove, and Andrea Leadsom, another Eurosceptic Tory who was further to the right than either of her two opponents. She made heteronormative comments about motherhood that were considered insensitive to May, and also is alleged to have inflated her record, so she removed herself from the race, leaving May as the sole candidate. 

May has begun to clear out Cameron's cabinet, in the process making bizarre moves that include appointing the known racist and xenophobe Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Also out has been one of the UK's major champions of austerity, George Osborne, who has stepped down after a six-year run as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Both the Labour and Liberal Democratic Parties have called for a general election soon, to certify May's position as head of Parliament. Neither opposition party looks ready to offer an alternative to the Brexit vote, nor does either one have an answer for Scotland's push to become independent, so in addition to leaving the EU, the likelihood of a shrunken UK seems increasingly likely.

ALSO: I corrected the typos in the post below!
.
***
(Image © BBC.com)

Heckuva job! Yesterday the British people faced a major vote on their future, and chose by a 52% to 48% margin to have the United Kingdom leave the European Union. The "Leave" vote dominated in most of England outside the major cities, particularly the capital, London, and in Wales, achieving a goal that UK Eurosceptics had pressed for since Britain joined the EU in 1973. On the other hand, Scotland, which nearly two years ago voted to remain part of Great Britain, voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU, as did the heavily Roman Catholic western counties of Northern Ireland. Only months ago, polls showed the "Remain" position in the lead, but last night's vote was decisive, with a 72% turnout and 17,410,742 votes in favor of withdrawing vs. 16,141,241 against. (Strangely enough, the UK's leave vote total was almost identical to its 1975 vote, at 17.3 million, to stay in the EU.)

The vote spells the end of David Cameron's six-year tenure as Prime Minister and head of the Conservative Party, since he had called the national referendum partially to decisively quell an intraparty struggle between the Conservatives' dominant, elite neoliberal faction and its vocally Eurosceptic, far-right flank, and to consolidate his power as PM after having been reelected just 13 months ago with an increased Parliamentary majority. Now he's out of a job, and his party is in disarray. The successful leave vote also may endanger the position of main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who unenthusiastically supported staying in the EU, which was also the stance of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Tim Faron.

(Image © BBC.com)
The main political beneficiaries of the vote appear to be former London mayor Boris Johnson, a controversial MP, known racist and xenophobe, and longtime rival of Cameron's, as well as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage, who lost his UK parliamentary seat but ironically currently holds one in the European Parliament in Brussels. Tussles over the UK's EU membership had created problems for Cameron's two Tory predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and have now brought Cameron down as well. He has announced he will resign once the Conservatives have chosen a new leader, by this coming October. Corbyn's battle to retain his post will like ensue as well; he already has faced stiff challenges from the neoliberal wing of the Labour Party over his strongly Leftist positions and statements.

The "Little England" voters, particularly hit hard by globalization, the global financial crisis, and just as importantly, Conservative austerity under Cameron and his Treasurer and Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, chose the path emphasized by UKIP, which was to blame immigrants and decry directives from and treaty obligations to Brussels. Many issues, such as the EU's mishandling of the economic downturns in members states like Greece, Spain and Portugal; its central policy ensuring the free flow of EU member state citizens to wealthier countries like Germany and Britain; and its inability to provide a viable program to address the continent's influx of refugees and immigrants from outside the EU all combined to produce a potent brew that "Leave" voters swallowed wholesale. Despite the EU's stumbles, younger voters on the whole supported staying in, while voters above 50 supported the "Vote Leave" position, and ethnic, racial and religious minority voters unsurprisingly supported continued EU membership, while a sizable Britain's still overwhelmingly white electorate did not. This "populist" nationalism, which has clear parallels with Donald Trump's success in the GOP primaries, bodes ill for the stability of the UK as we know it. Queen Anne and her Stuart predecessors might not be the last British monarchs to hold a personal, rather than governmental, reign over the UK's constituent parts.

As predicted, the markets reacted with shock, with non-US exchanges suffering huge losses and the Dow plummeting 600 points. The leaders of the "Vote Leave" have already begun to backtrack somewhat on their claims about the financial benefits of Britain's independence, but they also face a more shocking scenario in that the UK itself could splinter, with Scotland once again holding a referendum to become an independent country, and, contrary to decades of tension, Northern Ireland, or at least parts of it, merging with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, to the South. While full Scottish devolution would probably mostly entail major administrative and bureaucratic challenges, any sharp changes in the sovereign status of Northern Ireland could reignite sectarian violence of the kind that marked the country for decades. Britain's vote could also spur a push by Eurosceptic and ultraconservative parties in other member states, like France and the Netherlands, to quit the Union. Whether Scotland can block the referendum's results is unclear. Also, calls for a new referendum have gained 2 million votes so far, and it's also unclear whether a popular referendum can override the will of Britain's elected Parliament. Unlike the the US, the UK has no written constitution (time for one!), and lawyers, legislators and historians will have to hit the books to figure out whether the referendum is binding or not. (Imagine if it turns out that it isn't!)

(Image © BBC.com)
The risks to Britain's economy and society are real. It has benefited from maintaining its own currency, which fell by 11% the day after the BREXIT vote, but its links to and avoidance of trade barriers non-EU states and across the globe face have helped its economy tremendously over the last 40 years. EU membership has also helped London become one of the world's global financial capitals; as an EU state with less regulation and a strong national currency, it has become a major spot to park money and speculate, all of which could change if the EU assumes a harsh stance on trade policy.

Withdrawal from the EU may also exacerbate xenophobic and racist elements in the UK, particularly given the putative leaders of the Conservatives and UKIP; neither Johnson nor Farage has hesitated to use overtly racist rhetoric and discourse to further their aims. Once Cameron's successor takes over, she, he or they will have a set timetable to follow, with roughly two full years expiring as the UK unwinds itself from Brussels' embrace, and renegotiates all manner of relationships with the EU's constituent states.

At the same time, the European Union must figure out a way to resolve its internal economic and social problems lest it too begin to splinter. The euro--and Eurozone--remains a major issue. Britain had avoided the euro debacle of the last few years, but it now enters very dangerous territory. How it and the EU's leaders respond in the near and long term will determine its fate.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quote: Michelle Cliff + RIP


-- Copyright © Michelle Cliff, from "If I Could Write This in Fire I Would Write This in Fire," from Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983. All rights reserved.

(In memoriam to Michelle Cliff, who passed away on June 12, 2016. Born on November 2, 1946, in Kingston, Jamaica Cliff would go on to a long and important career as one of the major queer Jamaican-American and Caribbean-American novelists, short story writers, and essayists of her generation.
Michelle Cliff (1946-2016
Cliff's articulations of feminist and queer intersectionalities in relation to history and society played important roles in the development of Black Diasporic feminist thought and writing, and her ongoing experimental approach to her fiction, like her political engagement and ethical example offered models for all who have followed her. Her partner, the great poet Adrienne Rich, predeceased her in 2012.

Among my favorite of her works of fiction are her first book, Abeng, published in 1985 and which I first came across when I was in college--though not in a college class, but on a bookstore shelf--and the very playful and inventive The Store of a Million Items, from 1998. Her last book, the novel Into the Interior, appeared in 2010.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Quote: Robin D. G. Kelley (on Cedric Robinson)

"When Cedric [J. Robinson] submitted his dissertation for approval, the faculty did not know what to make of it. One by one, individual members resigned from his committee citing an inability to understand the work. No one could reasonably reject a thesis so sound, elegant, and erudite, but few were willing to sign off. Only after Cedric threatened legal action was his thesis finally accepted—nearly four years later. Finding a publisher proved equally frustrating. When SUNY Press finally released the book, now titled The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership in 1980, it was thoroughly ignored and soon disappeared. (Fortunately, the University of North Carolina Press brought it back into print with a brilliant foreword by Erica Edwards, giving the book a new life and the attention it deserved thirty-five years ago.)"

"As they awaited Stanford’s decision, Cedric accepted a position as Lecturer in Political Science and Black Studies at the University of Michigan from 1971 to 1973. His appointment was partly the product of student struggles waged by the Black Action Movement the previous year. Cedric and Elizabeth joined a community of radical and progressive blackmarxismintellectuals, including Harold Cruse, anthropologist Mick Taussig, Africanist historian Joel Samoff, cultural critic Marshall Sahlins, and Archie Singham, noted scholar of Caribbean and African politics. Elizabeth returned to school, earning an M.A. in Anthropology from U of M. Together they devoted much of their energy to the graduate students, hosting regular seminars and workshops in their home, feeding and nurturing a generation who would reshape Black Studies. Darryl Thomas, then a first-year grad student in Political Science, found these gatherings invaluable: “That community remained a source of strength and survival long after the Robinsons’ departure from the university in 1973. The workshop exemplified how to pursue the type of interdisciplinary research and scholarship originally imagined by the students and faculty members who led the insurrections that created Black studies."
-- Robin D. G. Kelley, "Cedric J. Robinson: the Making of a Black Radical Intellectual," Counterpunch, June 17, 2016.

(Cedric J. Robinson (b. 1940), one of the towering figures in the development of Black Studies, died on June 5, 2016.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mourning the Orlando Massacre Victims

Several days have passed and I find myself still heartbroken, reeling really, in the wake of the horrific mass murder this past Sunday, June 12, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Not long after 2 AM EST, gunman Omar Seddique Mateen slaughtered 49 people, and wounded 53, on the club's Latin Night, before police finally killed him several hours later. Nearly 90% of those slain were Latino, with the rest being Black American or both, and nearly 50 percent had familial links to Puerto Rico. The youngest victim was 18, and the oldest was 50. One of the murdered, 49-year-old Brooklyn native Brenda Marquez McCool, is said to have shielded her son from death by urging her son to flee rather than come back to get her, and thus also be killed in cold blood. (I should note that I cannot type this sentence, let alone think about or read it, without tearing up.) The Pulse Nightclub shooting was one of the deadliest mass shootings in the US since the 19th century Civil War and massacres of Native peoples, and the early 20th century anti-black riots.

Here, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinelis the full list of the murder victims, with brief stories about their lives. Every single one is poignant and worth reading. Please let's not ever forget them. If you are interested in helping out the families of the deceased and wounded, you can do so here.



Out for a night of fun and joy, in a space they thought was safe--multiply so, in that they could be themselves as Latinx and Black queer people where their sexual orientations, gender identities, and intersectional presentations of self would be affirmed; where they could be themselves as working-class queer people in a society and larger culture that regularly demeans, marginalizes and dehumanizes them; and where they could be themselves in a space where their race and ethnicity would not subject them to the erasures of the mainstream white LGBTIQ community--the 300+ people at Pulse instead found themselves in a killing field. How many of us brown and black queer people have been in these very spaces, carefree, shedding the burdens of the day, of everything, for music, dancing, companionship, laughter, the possibilities and enjoyment of friendship and love?

Instead, by early Monday morning, the news was of so many lives cut down, so many at the beginning of adulthood and in their prime, once again by homophobia, and common to so many instances of recent mass murder in the US, gun violence.

There currently are conflicting reports about the terrorist Omar Mateen's background and actions on the night of the massacre, but what is clear is that he is a native of New York City, and moved to Florida as a child. His parents are immigrants from Afghanistan, and the day after the murder, Mateen's father claimed that his son's response to witnessing two men kissing publicly might have been a factor in his decision to launch his rampage. Mateen was twice married, and has one child; his first wife, who now lives in Colorado, alleges that he beat her and was often angry, and that she had to be rescued from him by her parents. The FBI twice investigated Mateen, but supposedly dropped its investigation for lack of evidence. Despite this background he was still able to buy semi-automtic weaponry and deadly ammunition with relative ease. His second wife appears to have known about Mateen's plans, and allegedly even cased the bar with him and tried to dissuade him, though whether this is true has yet to be established. Whether she will be charged an accessory and conspirator is unknown. During a lull in the rampage, Mateen is alleged to have pledged allegiance to ISIS, and reports suggest that he had previously avowed support for the Taliban and Hezbollah.

Within a day of the massacre, witnesses came forward to say that Omar Mateen had frequented the bar and had repeatedly gotten so drunk he had to be carried out. A former classmate at the police academy told a reporter that Mateen had asked him out, and because the classmate was closeted he did not accept Mateen's overtures. Alongside this, there have been accounts that Mateen cruised people on gay male dating and sex apps, like Jack'd, and his first wife's Brazilian fiancé told a Brazilian news program that she told him Mateen was gay and that his father had called him an anti-gay slur. At least one account I've read, however, states that the FBI quashed all of these facts, but I find it hard to believe that so many people could have misidentified the wrong person. Whatever the case, and no matter to which religious or political group Mateen had affiliated himself, homophobia, cis-heterosexism, and a toxic form of macho masculinity, coupled with easy access to guns, appear to have fueled this terrible tragedy.

Once upon a time I would have said that a horrific event of this kind would occasion real change in our politics, towards a saner approach to the proliferation of guns, to hysteria about Muslims and immigrants, towards a shift against racism and homophobia. As we have seen time and again, however, over the last decade and a half, the opposite seems to be the result. Both parties appear to be in the thrall of the National Rifle Association. The GOP, which controls Congress, and its tribune, presidential candidate Donald Trump, are using Daesh and Islamophobia to gain votes and stir up fear. And although we have experience a sea change since the end of the 20th century on LGBTIQ rights, and have an African American president, we are neither post-racial nor post-gay, with racism, homophobia and misogyny still serving as potent toxins in the US body politic.

Where do we go from here? How do we heal? One step must be to be remember the names of those who were murdered in Orlando, to read up on their lives, and to vow to transform this society for the better, with one step being to vote, and urge others to, in November.

***

A few years ago, I wrote a series of poems recalling various gay/LGBTIQ bars in Boston. Here's one of them I've never published, but am doing so here, in tribute to the victims in Orlando.

NAPOLEON CLUB

Navy sky, white moon, red brick,
door and bell:  discretion was the precondition
for elegance.  Inside, gray hair peers

from every other head and open-collared chest.
There’s currency here in being the youngest.
I pass my dollars across the bar—no beer

for me though it’s butcher. A gin-and-tonic.
I sip and see how far my smile and wit and calves
sculpted in high school sprints can get me.

Nearby, men hover around a sleek black
grand piano, singing "My Funny Valentine"
in unison because it’s February, "Somewhere

Over the Rainbow" because it’s Judy.
On the dance floor beats tap gently
between the spinning bodies.  I ignore

the first two guys who ignore me, approach
a third brother, debonaire in his military-cut suit
and patent leather loafers, stout as a general,

ageless as a vampire.  To Duran Duran,
Gloria Gaynor we twirl out a sweat, mouthing
the lyrics to songs we recall without effort

into each other’s grins, glide closer, kiss,
return to bopping.  We agree that rhythm’s
a bridge to the soul and we'll cross it, grab

our overcoats, trot out into the Boston dark, fingers
popping to steps as hot as the groove in our hips, melting
night snow on the tips of our tongues: "Ain't no stopping us…."

Copyright © John Keene, 2000, 2016.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Copa América Centenário Soccer Tournament

US defender Deandre Yedlin
UPDATE: The US team, perhaps embarrassed by its sluggish opening game, showed up tonight with a completely different game plan. Playing with passion for 90 minutes, minimizing mistakes, and taking advantage of multiple opportunities, the US squad won by the astonishing score of 4-0 over Costa Rica, putting it in second place in Group A. 

The team secured goals by Clint Dempsey, who scored on a penalty kick; Jermaine Jones, who scored on a pass from Dempsey; Bobby Wood, on a set up by Michael Bradley; and substitute Graham Zusi, scored the fourth and final US goal. In defense, Brooks was particularly superb. The US's main weak point this game was Gyasi Zardes, who missed several key shots and passed a bit sloppily. But he did no real harm, and the US showed it could play superlative soccer. Now if only they can play even 3/4ths as well in their next three games, they could go deep into the tournament!

***

As Brazil staggers towards hosting its first Olympic Games, the first ever in South America, the USA is currently playing international athletics host itself, to national teams from across the Americas, for the Copa América Centenario. Established in 1916, the Copa América brings together the 10 teams from the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), along with roughly 6 teams from other confederations, includingThe Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), to which the US and Mexico both belong.

The tournament has been played on an irregular basis since its founding, with a four-year gap between the 2011 and 2015 meetings. Although the US has hosted the Summer and Winter Olympics many times and the World Cup just once, in 1994, this is its first time hosting the Copa América. Games have been scheduled for stadiums in Chicago, East Rutherford (NJ), Foxborough (MA), Glendale (AZ), Houston, Orlando, Pasadena (CA), Philadelphia, Santa Clara (CA), and Seattle. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena has the largest capacity, at 92, 542, while the smallest stadium is Orlando's Camping World Stadium at 60,219.

The sixteen competing squads are: Group A: Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and USA; Group B: Brazil, EcuadorHaiti, and Peru; Group C: Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and Group D: Argentina, Panama, Chile, and Bolivia.  Going into the tournament, the US automatically qualified as the host and Mexico did so as CONCACAF champion. Additionally, Costa Rica quaified by winning 2014 Copa Centroamericana; Jamaica by winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup; and Haiti and Panama by winning playoffs in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina entered as the highest ranked team, while Venezuela was the lowest.

Brazil's Hulk
The games began last Friday, June 3, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara with the US facing off against Colombia. The Americans mostly played scattered, strategy-less soccer, with zero set-piece success, losing 0-2, though the American midfield Clint Dempsey did manage several shots that were near-misses, and goalie Brad Guzan played sharply enough to prevent a rout. In general, though, the US team, coached by the legendary Jürgen Klinsmann, was lucky not to have lost much worse. The Americans will need to stay vertical and stop hoping for penalty calls, pass much more precisely, make the most of every set play, and attack more, or barring a miracle they will go winless.

The following day saw Costa Rica and Paraguay play to a scoreless tie in Orlando. Both teams looked strong, with an emphasis on defense. Perhaps Costa Rica will find more pop going forward, but Paraguay did itself a huge favor by keeping the game 0-0. In the second game of the day, Haiti faced Peru in Seattle, and lost 0-1, on a superb header by Peru's Paolo Guerrero, who caught an open hole in the defense and struck. The Haitians, playing in their first Copa América, looked decent, and nearly equalized the game several times, but couldn't pull out a tie, let alone a victory.

In the third game Saturday, Brazil faced off against Ecuador. The Brazilians were more highly ranked and thus favored, and put on a one-touch passing clinic early on, but unlike in prior major tournaments, were unable to punch through a goal, finishing 0-0. Unlike in prior international tournaments whether they won or lost, they appear to lack a superstar scorer or playmaker of the kind (Pelé, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, etc.) that has often defined Brazil's national teams. Ecuador played solid soccer, and helped themselves tremendously as they'll face Peru in their next match.

Ecuadorian defender Gabriel Achillier
Sunday's matches began with Jamaica facing off against Venezuela. Though starting without their star Wes Morgan, who was exhausted from European play, the Jamaicans could have won the game given how well they were moving the ball, but Venezuela managed to score early on, in the 15th minute, when Josef Martínez snuck a goal past Jamaica's defenders and goalie, and that sealed things. The Venezuelans have given themselves a huge boost, and enter their next game Uruguay with a huge advantage.

Haiti's goalie Johny Placide
As for Uruguay's game against Mexico, Sunday proved a disaster. Things got off to a bad start when someone at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium played Chile's national anthem instead of the Uruguayan one. Then, 4 minutes into the game, Uruguay's Álvaro Pereira accidentally knocked the ball into his own goal, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead. Things only got worse. Uruguay's Diego Godín scored in the 74th minute to tie things up, but less than 10 minutes later, Mexico put together two devastating strikes, with Rafael Márquez scoring in the 85th minute to effectively win the game, and Héctor Herrera shutting things down with a goal in the 90th minute plus 2 of stoppage time.

The last set of first-round games occurred yesterday. Panama defeated Bolivia 2-1 on goals by Blas Pérez, who scored in the 11th minute to give Panama the lead, and then again in the 87th minute to put Bolivia away. In the matchup between Argentina, which features the spectacular Lionel Messi, one of the greatest living players and a star for Barcelona FC, versus a very strong Chile squad, neither team could break through in the first half, but Argentina gained the lead in the 51st minute on a goal by Ángel di Maria, and then Éver Banega put things away 8 minutes later. Chile did manage a goal in the 90th minute + 3 of stoppage when José Pedro Fuenzalida scored, but that was it.

Thus far, the top teams based on play appear to be Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica. We'll know after the next set of match-ups which of these teams are likely to advance, and whether Brazil can emerge as more than a talented but middling participant. Tonight the US faces Costa Rica and Colombia will go up against Paraguay. Tomorrow, Brazil will challenge Haiti, and Ecuador will go after Peru; Thursday, Uruguay meets Venezuela and Mexico battles Jamaica; and Friday, Chile will aim to shut down Bolivia to stay in the tourney, while Argentina will try show it's the team to beat as it faces Panama. If the US can avoid a debacle tonight at Soldier Field in Chicago, it'll be a highlight of the tournament.

Brazil's Willian