Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Harrison & Harris @ Myopic + Short Takes

There're always about 10-20 things that I want to write about but don't have time to, so this evening I think I'll post about a reading I attended on Sunday night and then list some links to other news that I find to be of note.

On Sunday I dropped by Myopic Books, in the Wicker Park neighborhood, to see and hear Duriel Harris and Roberto Harrison read their work, though with Duriel, I should say perform, since she is a singer and performer, in multiple genres and media (as well as a scholar, video and sound artist, and conceptualist, with her fellow Black Took Collectivists Dawn Lundy Martin and Ronaldo Wilson), and always brings something more than extra. Harrison read first. Before the reading I knew nothing about him, except what Myopic's bio stated, which is that he's a native Oregonian who grew up in Panama, lives in Milwaukee, and co-edits a literary journal. He read a series of poems from his book Counter Daemons (Litmus Press, 2006), and what struck me immediately was that he seemed to be offering up a number short lines which permitted lots of rapid transitions, many based on jarring juxtapositions of imagery, but bound together by rhyme. It also struck me that there wasn't much variation in the tone or voice (not just his soft voice--he seemed somewhat shy) of the pieces, which reinforced my sense of their being serial poems. They washed over into each other, with the main aural anchors being sometimes striking images that resonated after he'd passed on to the next piece. Hearing them made me want to read them on the page to see what Harrison was doing, how they fit together, what the music broke down as and added up to.

Duriel went second, and as always lit things up. She mostly read from her new project, which she intends to have appear in multiple forms and genres. It's called Amnesiac, and she presented some of it at the Cave Canem10th Anniversary Celebration (and I've seen her read very early pieces of it in the past). A lot of it appears to focus on bodily and psychic traumas--on pain, on wounds, on the aftereffects of sickness, suffering, history, and violence--but what Duriel does is to construct a fascinating, dense and carefully elaborated architecture of language around each of these moments, their various articulations, such that you find yourself born along by the intricate fretwork of the lyric itself until that jagged piece of tooth, that tumorous mass nesting in the neck abrupts you, and you viscerally experience (at least some of) the materiality of the pain, its utter ugliness and the horror it evokes, which is at battle with the beauty of the lyric form itself, that Duriel seeks to convey. This is just one aspect of a really productive tension, I think, that Duriel is developing. She does this better than anyone else I know--it is a very corporeal, performative poetry, very much in search of what I would call hard and sometimes uncontainable truths. Another way of saying is that the work stages and aims to embody truths that are opposed to a unified, universalistic and universalizing notion of truth, particularly one based in or gesturing towards a transcendental or humanistic ideal. Her work is about as anti-Platonic (and I'd say anti-Kantian) as you can get--and she works it. At the same time, I would imagine that a reader or listener anywhere would hear or read one of these poems and register in its specificity its universal resonances. Who has not suffered? I'm thinking in particular of the one that conjures Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley and powerfully summons the plangent suffering the poem successfully embodies. She has many excellent examples (she read "Thritch," one of my favorites) in her first book, Drag, and I am looking forward to the new multiplatform project, which she has said will include a DVD. I especially want to see/hear/witness that.

Roberto Harrison

Duriel Harris

From left: Krista Franklin talking with Duriel's mother, Paul Carter Harrison (!) in the background between them, Rone Shavers, and Tyehimba Jess

(I also got to meet Duriel's mother and father, which was a real pleasure.)


South Africa's parliament, dominated by the African National Congress party, has approved gay marriage, making it only one of a handful of countries across the globe (Denmark, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain) to do so. In a sop to the religious clergy there, the law will allow religious and civil authorities the right to opt out of performing a ceremony on moral grounds. The legislation has another step before going forward to President Thabo Mbeki, who will sign it into law. South Africa's visionary Constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; let's see how long it takes the "beacon of freedom" to catch up.

Mexico City's assembly voted to allow same-sex civil unions, and the city's mayor will sign the bill into law. The new law will not permit gay marriage per se, but will afford gay couples numerous equal rights under the law. As in South Africa, Christian leaders, especially from the Catholic Church, and conservatives strongly opposed the bill, and the right-wing National Action party of outgoing president Vicente Fox and incoming president Felipe Calderón constituted the strongest political opposition to it.

At the same time, within the last few days, the government of Iran hanged a man on the charge of sodomy. According to Michael Petrelis, who quotes the Iran Focus site, Shahab Davirshi was executed in the city of Kermanshah for organizing a "'corruption ring', deliberate assault, and 'lavat'," which means sex between two men. Hundreds of people supposedly watched, and an influential cleric used the occasion to denounce gay marriage in the west, which he decried as a "weakness" of Western culture.

On a completely different note, the Democrats have elected their leaders in the Senate, and Harry Reid unsurprisingly will again be the Majority Leader. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin will serve as the number 2 in the Democratic Caucus. The Senate's standing committees will be chaired by a liberal lineup that includes Tom Harkin, Teddy Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Daniel Inouye, Dan Akaka, and Jeff Bingaman. Some of these senators are quite progressive, and the least liberal of this group, like Max Baucus, Byron Dorgan and Robert Byrd, are more liberal than the administration-enabling extremists they're replacing. "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman unfortunately will be chairing the Homeland and Government Affairs Committee, either in spite of or because he suggested, in a veiled threat, that he could switch to caucusing with the Republicans. One little noted point is that Republican Craig Thomas of Wyoming is suffering from leukemia, and were he to resign or worse, Wyoming's Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal, could appoint a Democrat to Thomas's seat, thus temporarily obviating the need for the Democrats to cater to the truculent narcissist from Connecticut. The House will be electing its leaders on Thursday, and a battle has arisen between Pennsylvania Democrat and veteran John Murtha, and Maryland representative Steny Hoyer. Both are socially quite conservative and both have ties to lobbyists, but Murtha has been extremely outspoken in the last few years on the war, and House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi is backing him over Hoyer, a decision that will seriously test her leadership abilities and power over the next few days. The Democratic House committee chairpeople should mirror far more the diversity of the US than the Republicans did, with women, African-Americans, Latinos, and very likely at least one Asian-American and one out gay person to assume leadership roles.

In response to an ACLU suit, the CIA is acknowledging that--get this!--the Bush administration secretly authorized foreign detentions and interrogations! Gee whiz whillickers, I'm shocked, I really am shocked! Who could ever believe it? Will we ever be able to have confidence in our leader again? Because this is the man who has operated with deadly determination and secrecy since taking office, who has engaged in potentially illegal warrantless wiretapping of private US citizens, who has trolled through Americans' bank records without warrant, who never adequately addressed his and his administration's failure to stop the 9/11 attacks or respond properly to them, and then took the country to the war based on grossly blatant lies, who started a war in Iraq that has turned into an abysmal quagmire, resulting in the lost of hundreds of thousands of American, Iraqi and other lives, who has bumbled while North Korea developed and now Iran is developing nuclear bombs (and both countries are in a stronger position than when he took office), who has found a way to transfer the tax burden onto middle and working-class Americans while enriching the superwealthy overlord class and corporations at a rate not seen in American history, who got this moribund sitting Congress to sign off a bill affording him and the Vice President the right to detain citizens and anyone else without due process, torture them, and so on, suspending habeas corpus, indefinitely. Oh, and on that same day, he also signed another very disturbing bill that allows him even greater power to nationalize the National Guard and station them on US territory. Yes he did. So really, who's even mildly suprised by this CIA revelation? One can only imagine how much worse it will all turn out to be when the rest of the rocks are turned over.

William Jefferson, who is facing charges of bribery, could not eke out a victory in his Louisiana House race, so he'll face fellow Democrat Karen Carter in a runoff. It's clear to me that everyone who can should help Carter out; Jefferson would probably appreciate having as much time with his legal support as possible, rather than being ignominiously convicted, like Bob Ney, while a sitting legislator.

The multiply adultering, sleazebag-connected, bad-judgment marked racist Rudy Giuliani has officially decided he wants to be president. Given that he'll have to pass through the burning-crap lined ring of the Southern, Talevangelist-dominated Republican Party, I don't think he has a chance in hell. But hey, George W. Bush got elected twice selected and elected, so anything is possible.

On yet another completely note, RIP artist Benny Andrews and journalis, critic, activist and scholar Ellen Willis.

The New York Times's Holland Cotter rhapsodizes on a David Hammons show at the Jack Tilton Gallery. Although Hammons's work can easily provoke ecstatic responses, one reason behind Cotter's enthusiasm is that it isn't only a Hammons show, but opens a window onto the rarely explored Los Angeles-based Assemblage movement, which included now acclaimed artists like Melvin Edwards and Betye Saar. It closes on November 22, and Cotter says it's not to be missed.

The Times is on a roll: Larry Rohter profiles Brazilian singer Marisa Monte (I love the pronunciation of her name, Ma-HEE-za MONCH-h), who's probably best known in the US as a member of "Os Tribalistas," the group featuring Timbalada star Carlinhos Brown that had some breakout hits a few years ago. The first time C. and I went to Brazil, I asked one of the people in a record store in Rio to pick out several really excellent CDs that I porobably would find in the US. The guy selected Bebel Gilberto's first album, which became a hit, and Monte's Barulinho Bom, which it took me a while to listen to but which I fell in love with. Now she's finally getting more international play. The guy had great taste and she's definitely worth listening to.

John Hope Franklin, the dean and doyen of African-American historians, and Yu Ying-Shih, a retired professor of intellectual history and Chinese studies at Princeton University, are co-recipients of the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity. I'm not familiar with Yu's work at all, but Franklin's landmark scholarship helped to create a new field, and has continued to contribute through an array of projects, including his memoir of a few years ago. It has also been essential for my own intellectual development. Congratulations to both of them!

There's a new TV show starring Taye Diggs. That alone is enough to make me type this sentence and the prior one; watch it, I'm not so sure. I did watch tonight's Dancing with the Stars, which featured former Dallas Cowboys superstar Emmitt Smith and actor Mario López, both accompanied by professional dancers, in the finals. Was anyone watching this really interested in the dancing?


  1. I've found myself catching parts of "Dancing with the Stars" and agree...the dancing is okay but I suspect a LOT of people were watching to see Mario's biceps and dimples, and thick Daddy Emmitt's EVERYTHING (although I was disapointed in some of the camera work/choice of shots in the first show of this week) I also want to know whose decision it was to have ES wear bicep straps coordinated to his outfits whenever Emmitt wore sleeveless shirts...not that I'm complaining, but it makes the fetishist in me wonder...:)

    Had the pleasure of meeting Mr Franklin earlier this year, and he is a true gentleman, as well as a great scholar.

    Saddened by the death of Ellen Willis!

    And Duriel and I had a conversation about her work on trauma and the body in NYC, which I found very interesting, intriguing, and filled with possibility. Am VERY interested in hearing and seeing more.

  2. I think it was Emmitt's decision to accessorize! LOL

    I'd love to meet Franklin. Ellen Willis's death is really saddening.