Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Palmer Wins Prize + Vito Acconci Poem + TO Drama

Michael Palmer Receives Wallace Stevens Prize
I'm usually behind the curve these days on literary and other kinds of news, but I did see on Charles Bernstein's blog that poet Michael Palmer (1943-) was recently awarded the Academy of American Poets' 2006 Wallace Stevens Prize. This $100,000 prize is one the most important literary honors accorded to an American poet can receive. Palmer is one of the leading experimental poets of his generation, a frequent collaborator with artists in other genres, and a translator of Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French poetry. His most recent volume, as I noted in my previous post, In the Company of Moths (New Directions, 2005), was a finalist for this year's Griffin Poetry Prize. His other works include The Promises of Glass (2000), one of my favorites; The Lion Bridge: Selected Poems 1972–1995 (1998), which collects poems from his major early books; At Passages (1996), which was his first book with New Directions, I believe; and the landmark volumes Sun (1988); Notes for Echo Lake (1981); and Blake's Newton (1972). The Academy of American Poets citation notes Palmer's decided lyricism and avant-gardism, which is consistent throughout nearly all of his work, which often appears to embody Pater's (or was it Nietzsche's dictum) of language aspiring to the condition of music, as well as Zukofsky's idea of poetry as "upper limit music, lower limit speech." At the same time, a consistent current of critique, of poetic conventionality and of the politics of the larger society, has been central to his poetic oeuvre. (I once sat in on a little pre-reading workshop (those were the days!) that Michael Palmer conducted at the Dia Center for the Arts, and left impressed by his friendliness and breadth of knowledge.) The specific citation reads

Michael Palmer is the foremost experimental poet of his generation and perhaps of the last several generations. A gorgeous writer who has taken cues from Wallace Stevens, the Black Mountain poets, John Ashbery, contemporary French poets, the poetics of Octavio Paz, and from language poetries. He is one of the most original craftsmen at work in English at the present time. His poetry is at once a dark and comic interrogation of the possibilities of representation in language, but its continuing surprise is its resourcefulness and its sheer beauty.

The judges for this year's prize were Robert Hass, Fanny Howe, Susan Stewart, Arthur Sze, and Dean Young. Previous recipients include W. S. Merwin, James Tate, Adrienne Rich, Anthony Hecht, A. R. Ammons, Jackson Mac Low, Frank Bidart, John Ashbery, Ruth Stone, Richard Wilbur, Mark Strand, and Gerald Stern. In the dozen years of the award, no writer of color has yet been honored.

Current Bookshelf:
All Aunt Hagar's Children, Edward P. Jones
American Culture Between the Wars, Walter Kaladjian
Assembling Alternatives: Reading Postmodern Poetics Transnationally, Romana Huk, ed.
Black Gold of the Sun, Ekow Eshun
Blackness without Ethnicity, Livio Sansone
Graceland, Chris Abani
Incubation: A Space for Monsters, Bhanu Kapil
Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation, Aldon Nielsen
Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings of Vito Acconci, Craig Dworkin, ed.
Lick Creek: A Novel, Brad Kessler

Poem: Vito Acconci
It's not that rare for creative writers to draw or visual artists to write, but it is fairly rare for a person who makes her or his name in a particular area of the arts to then move into a different genre, make his or her name, and then self-reinvent and do so yet again. The poet, videographer and filmmaker, conceptual and performance artist, and now acclaimed architectural theorist Vito Acconci (1940-) is one such person. Acconci studied literature and creative writing at the College of the Holy Cross and later the University of Iowa, and began writing experimental poetry and prose in the 1960s, before turning several years later to other artistic genres and forms in which he made his name as something of an enfant terrible. Nearly a year ago, I posted on his (in)famous 1972 performance piece "Seedbed," which the artist Marina Abramovic revisioned and performed (and which Mendi L. O. of SWEAT commented on); in addition to that work, Acconci is also best known for "Following Piece,"

Here is one of Vito Acconci's poems, "'Re'," from the 1960s. (If you click directly on it you can enlarge it.) My initial thoughts upon seeing it were its echoes of the standard format of Sappho's poetry, as well as Mallarmé and Dickinson, and of the ways in which the typographic possibilities of the typewriter (this having been written long before PCs) and the process of writing were incorporated into its form.

TO Suicide Attempt (?)
OwensI have to add what's probably circulated quite a bit by now on the Web, the news that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and the controversy-generating "NFL's most misunderstood man" Terrell Owens's (right, allegedly attempted suicide last night by taking an overdose of pain pills. I'd initially heard on ESPN that he was suffering from a severe reaction to the medication, but shortly thereafter on The Raw Story site I saw that the story had changed. And now he's officially denying that it was a suicide attempt. Who knows--but he is getting the attention he appears to so badly crave. On a sportlist I'm on, we've debated TO's prior crises, as a San Francisco 49er and a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. My thought was that some of his public spectacles over the last few years have been steady cries for help, and though it appears this most recent action may have resulted from immediate issues, the larger issue of his emotional issues still probably ought to be addressed.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Monday Roundup

What a weekend it was, or wasn't. I was excited that C was going to be visiting, but the airline shenanigans I've been encountering regularly for the last two years struck again, this time effectively grounding his flight and causing him to have to postpone his trip by a week. This time, Continental cited "thunderstorms," though I later learned that there had been tornado warnings, which should have disappeared by 8 pm at the latest, because by then the evening sky over much of Chicago, though cloudy, was rainless and by just an hour later it had turned into a cool and lovely early autumn night. Oh well. One of my students sent me a frantic email last week to say that she had missed class because she was delayed in Newark, and I totally sympathized; I'm not sure what the airports' and airlines' excuses were then (the usual "wind" I get as a response whenever I'm stuck at O'Hare or Newark Liberty seemed utterly improbable), but I am going to start tallying the excuses the airline personnel come up with and then try to verify it against official weather forecasts. I guess "poor logistics" and "overbooked runways" and "general incompetence" wouldn't sound as definitive or satisfying.

My computer is up and running again, thanks to the incredible work of computer repairman Mark at Nabih's, Inc. in Evanston. So far, although I've had a problem with every Mac laptop I've used, I've received exemplary repair service, both from Apple and the Apple Store (which replaced a dead machine last year), and from the authorized repair people. I will say to all J's Theater readers what you've heard more than a few times: back up your hard drive, print out documents after you've revised them, and don't hesitate to use email services like Yahoo!, Gmail and others to send yourself documents that could possibly be lost. Better that they're sitting on a server somewhere than lost forever.

SeismosisI have been meaning to post a better photograph of Seismosis's cover, so here it is. We actually tossed several different versions around, including one that had fewer images, but in the end this was the one we and the publisher settled on. I love how Chris's drawings play off each other and appear to be undergoing a pictorial transformation, which is one of the themes the book itself explores. One of the books this one directly engages in a conversation with is Erica Hunt's and Alison Saar's Local History, which I found at St. Mark's Bookshop some years ago, and puzzled over with delight in my initial reading. Erica's texts were a bit more uniform in style than mine are here (as I wanted to enter the realm of the concrete, so to speak, in some of them, and nearly do), and Saar's drawings were expressionist representations reminiscent of her sculptures and mixed media constructions, while Chris's drawings are almost like the ghostly string impressions of his more representational drawings and paintings, but the spirit is similar, and we definitely hope that anyone interested in contemporary American and African-American poetry and visual art pick the book up, step into it any point (though it does have a thematic and conceptual arc), and puzzle--with delight.

I unfortunately won't be able to attend, but I urge everyone who's in New York to attend two great readings coming up at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church. Tonight, Patricia Spears Jones, whose new book Femme du Monde came out this summer, will be reading with Dara Wier. Patricia is an old friend of mine and a gifted poet who always leaves her listeners with some lyric treats. On Wednesday, two poets I've looked up to since my youth, fellow St. Louisan Quincy Troupe, and Victor Hernández Cruz, will be reading from their work. Listing them among the major poets of the last 40 years hardly does either justice. Both were important figures in the development of the New York poetry scene in the 1960s, and Quincy later went on to enrich San Diego's literary and cultural life in numerous ways, while Victor provided the foundations on which several generations of Puerto Rican and Nuyorican, Afrolatino, and Latino poets in general have constructed poetic homes and a canon. If you have the time, don't miss them.

Brathwaite and BookI've been meaning to give props to my former professor Kamau Brathwaite for winning the 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize, one of Canada's highest literary awards and one of the leading international poetry prizes. His newest volume, Born to Slow Horses, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2005, merited the honor. (The finalist list was impressive, and included American poet Michael Palmer, German poet Durs Grünbein, and the Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail.) Like his most of his work of the last few decades, Born to Slow Horses employs his innovative Sycorax (Dub) version form(at) in lyrics that explore his constant themes: islands and exile, travel and home(lessness), roots and Diaspora, and the constant voyaging he (the spirit, the soul) undertakes between them. I've only had a chance to skim the volume, but specific, recent concerns, including the trauma of 9/11, are present here.

Today is the 100th anniversary of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's birth; he died in 1975. Miles Hoffman argues in today's Los Angeles Times that of the European classical composers active 1950, Shostakovich is one of the few whose music will stand the test of time, and that the focus should be on his art and not on the broader question of politics. Shostakovich's superficially accessible, often complex, and frequently emotionally affecting compositions do have a toehold in the contemporary orchestral repertoire. Of the 15 symphonies, several of the ones that were popular in his lifetime (the 1st, 5th and 7th) and several he had to suppress or treadily warily around (the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, 13th) are among the small pool of works that break the spell that the German-Austrian Baroque-to-Romantic tradition still appallingly casts over most American orchestras. His various concertos, choral pieces, string quartets, and incidental music for films and ballets also appear regularly on program lists. The issue with Shostakovich hasn't tended to be so much the music, which is often catchy and mostly devoid of the the formal experimentalism that so vexes contemporary classical music critics just as it sent Joseph Stalin and his cronies in apoplexy, as the politics surrounding it; was he an adherent to the Soviet regime or wasn't he, do the music's intermittently ironic, strident, sarcastic, vulgar, and ridiculous moments reflect an extraverbalized critique of the regime or are they just aesthetic idiosyncrasies of the author? Should we believe the infamous Volkov volume or should we take it with a grain of salt? I tend not to give these questions undue attention, thinking of Shostakovich within the context of his life and times. His torturous, shifting position, it seems, had as much to do with self preservation as it did with preserving the conditions in which he could create his music and have it performed. Upsetting Stalin was a matter of life and death, and Shostakovich knew this, thus public groveling; but then why after Stalin's death did he formally join the Communist Party (in 1960) or produce a ostentatiously patriotic, bombastic work like the 12th Symphony, "The Year 1917," which I once read a music critic describe online as "shoddy" and a mess? (Was Shostakovich intentionally subverting the theme in the work's construction?) On the other hand, he could create a work like the 9th Symphony, or the 13th, which were official slaps in the face to the guiding political and aesthetic orthodoxies of the Soviet state, the "Babi Yar" poems by Yevtushenko and the plaintive tone of the symphonic chorus capturing and mirroring something quite painful and profound of that era and preceding ones. I'm not sure I agree that all that should matter is the "art," which seems like a dangerous aestheticist position if there ever were one; the context of the music remains important, especially at a time when authoritarianism is growing in our own society. Also, the music, however beautiful, is intellectually incoherent without the full context. I do agree, however, that 100 years from now, if if the world hasn't been blown to smithereens or fried in an atmosphere that's akin to a pressure cooker, if anyone's still listening to music from the European classical tradition, Shostakovich's frequently thrilling, sometimes exasperating oeuvre will be among it.

Senator George Felix Macaca Allen just digs a deeper and deeper hole. In addition to the uproar he created when he viciously insulted a young opposition campaign worker of Indian descent named S. R. Sidarth (he initially claimed the unusual term he used, "macaca," a known slur against North African people of color that's also used by US skinheads and others, came from "mohawk," then that he'd made the term "macaca" up, then he admitted to right-winger Marvin Olasky that he'd heard it from his mother, only it meant "clown," etc.), he's since come under fire for outrageous statements and a testerical response to a reporter's query about of his Jewish ancestry during a debate a few days ago. In particular he claimed that a reporter's clumsy question (following on his repeated citation of his grandfather Felix Lumbroso's having been imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp--perhaps he genuinely didn't know why, though I doubt it) about his grandfather's having been Jewish equalled the casting of an "aspersion" (huh?)--then the self-loathing racist scumbag announced that he'd eaten "ham sandwiches" and his mother, who had told him about her Jewish faith, had cooked "pork chops" while he was growing up (I'm just quoting him), and tried to claim that he knew what minorities experienced, etc. Yeah, sure. Now three former teammates from his days on the University of Virginia's (go Wa-hoos!) football team have emerged from the woodpile to assert to a Salon reporter that Allen, a California native, regularly used the "N" word; one of them, Dr. Ken Shelton, who's been willing to go on the record, also says that Allen once stuck a severed doe's head into a Black family's mailbox. (Allen's sister has previously gone on the record about the noose-hanging, Confederate flag-philic Senator's sadism and cruelty towards animals.) All of the hyper-Confederophilia and association with the white supremacist Conservative Citizens Council now makes much more sense. I said years ago when he was running for the governorship of Virginia that he shouldn't be elected to any office (and ironically enough, dog catcher would be one of those), but I especially hope that these new revelations (and whatever other ones seep out) push Virginians on the fence to pick the lesser of two not especially appetizing choices; Allen's opponent, former Republican Jim Webb, has made ignorant, idiotic statements about women in the military and can't seem to figure out where he stands on affirmative action (he seems to support it for African Americans only, or rather he supports a class-based system, or rather it should be abolished completely, or rather...), but he would still be a better option, by several orders of 10, than Senator "Ethnic Rally"....

Lastly, my friend Dave and I were chatting on Saturday, and apropos of a discussion of Hillary Clinton's runaway race in New York and her future plans, he mentioned that he thought the potential Republican ticket in 2008 would consist of John McCain, who just capitulated on writing violations of the Geneva Convention into US law as part of the Senate GOP "Gang of Three's" agreement with the Bush administration, and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dave thinks this will be a tough tandem to defeat, especially given how much the media laps up the "maverick" right-winger McCain, and how regularly Rice skirts any substantive criticism despite her disastrous record as National Security Advisor and now chief shill for the Bush administration's incoherent and inept foreign policies. We both agreed that the only person who could defeat Hillary in a primary would probably be Al Gore, which led us both to propose that his running mate be Senator Dreamboat himself, Barack Obama, as he's the only candidate we can see who'd neutralize whatever strengths Rice added to McCain's electoral chances. (I think this should be the ticket anyway, but the Democrats will probably work their damnedest to field Bland and Blander to lose a third straight election). With Obama on the ticket, Gore would probably do no worse than he did in 2000, while winning a few more states (though maybe only 1 or 2 in the South, like Arkansas and Tennessee). We also agreed that the highlight of the election season would be the debate between Rice and Obama--unlike the kabuki pairing of Republican Lieberman and Republican Cheney in 2000, or the snoozefest in 2004 (John Edwards's earnestness vs. Dick Cheney's growling lies)--this one would probably offer a substantive contest of ideas and some rhetorical fireworks. I've already agreed to host a viewing party should this become an eventuality. Were Gore and Obama to be elected and were a Democratic Senate in place, I'd say one of the first orders of business, if Senator Clinton agreed, would be to appoint her to the Supreme Court. That would be the act that would provoke nightmares among the Karl Roves and Phyllis Schlaflys of the world for years to come, and would ensure a powerful, symbolic counterweight to the rightists who now dominate. On SCOTUS, Hillary wouldn't have any reason to perform her usual "balancing" act, and she could let loose as she once did, before the media and her opponents came after her with guns drawn. And after her? I'd love to see Associate Justices Kimberle Crenshaw, Elana Kagan, Paul Butler, Enrique Moreno, Kendall Thomas....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rec Room + Computer Kaput + Seismosis Is Here

Reading + Ailing Computer
Last night I read at the Rec Room, at Black Rock Bar, in a group reading called "Ultra Magnetic," curated by one of the smartest people I know, writer and editor Rone Shavers. The other readers were poet Erica Bernheim, and friends and fellow CC members Toni Asante Lightfoot, Krista Franklin, and Tracie D. Hall. The announced sixth reader, Nancy Ferguson, ended up not reading, because her printed died, and I was able to commiserate, because my computer died yesterday as well. As it turns out, this is the fourth time in roughly four years that I've had problems with a laptop in Chicago; I'm not sure what's up, since I try to take very good care of my them (well, not counting the occasional dusty screens), handling them gently at all times, but I also learned the hard way, several years, about backing them up, even though C has urged me to do this since Day One. When I lost a series of short stories and an entire novel section several years ago, I was devastated, but now, I do periodically back up the computer, so should things turn out for the worst for this machine (which I got as a replacement from Apple last fall), I have everything saved but a very few files (i.e., my new syllabus, etc.). I also recognize that like any machine, computers do break down and there're few preventive things you can do to address certain hardware problems. But I also wonder about the chances of encountering "logic board" errors with such frequency--and since this is the first week of classes the fritzed computer couldn't happen at a worst time--especially given that an old iMac we have, and my very first Mac, a little SE30, which we finally got sent to computer heaven a years ago, were far more robust. Perhaps those machines were the luck of the draw, and the subsequent Mac laptops just haven't been.

Seismosis Is Here
Me with Seismosis
Since my camera's kaput too, I had to use my cell phone to snap a shot of me with the newly arrived copy of Seismosis, my collaboration with Chris Stackhouse, which is finally now on its way to retail, library and personal bookshelves. Both the publisher, 1913 Press, and the distributor, Small Press Distributor, have sites up for the book. I almost couldn't believe it when I saw the box in the department main office, and have been grinning since then. It's wonderful to see this project--which was one of the most enjoyable things I've ever worked on and in which I pushed myself in terms of my sense of aesthetic limits in response to Chris's drawings--finally appearing in its complete form (though the little chapbook was beautiful); the care the designer and publisher invested really show, which is to say, the design and production are exquisite. Now, it's out into the world!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First Class + Renegade Craft Fair + Congrats to Colleague

In the Classroom
Today was my first day in the classroom this quarter, and I thought it went very well. This is the largest class I've ever taught at the university, and the first specifically falling in the Topics in African American Literature category (my other literature classes have been Topics in Theory or Topics in Contemporary Literature, the latter with major elements of African-American and African Diasporic literature). This class is also the most racially, ethnically and gender diverse, and the students appeared to be engaging with the lecture. I was so excited, as I told C., that I woke up this morning before the alarm went off, and when I was done, I my shirt was soaked, as if I'd run several courses around campus. Now I just need to figure out how to use the "smart classroom" plugs so that I can stream music and images from my laptop to accompany the discussion...

Renegade Craft Fair
Sunday, my cousin Raquel and I headed over to Wicker Park to check out the Renegade Craft Fair. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the fair was superbly organized and range of items fell heavily into a few areas--handmade jewelry; handmade books and paper products; silk-screened clothing; handmade and painted clothing; semi-fine art, often using nontraditional materials; reconstituted and recycled products--with a strong anti-commercial and green emphasis, it was of consistently high quality and very affordable. In my ignorance (i.e., I skimmed the flyer), I'd assumed that most of the vendors would be from Chicagoland, but quite a few came from all over the country, as well as Canada, and by the time we left, I was wishing that the fair organizers had a permanent spot somewhere, a sort of mini-Merchandise Mart, nearby. One of the best aspects of the event was seeing poet, musician and artist Krista Franklin, who had a stall. Excerpts of her collaboration with cellist Alison Chesley are audible on Drunken Boat's issue number 8 online site. I didn't snap a photo of Raquel and Krista, because my camera, a gift from C years ago, has started to act up of late and wasn't being cooperative during the visit. I got one picture, but it's not really worth posting.

Deval Patrick Wins Massachusetts Democratic Primary
He was running behind early in the campaign, but 50-year-old former Clinton administration official and corporate lawyer Deval Patrick has won the Democratic primary, and is poised to become Massachusetts' first Black governor. From what I tell of the Boston Globe's report and returns, Patrick, an avowed social progressive candidate despite his business background, defeated the Democratic Party insider, Attorney General Tom Reilly, and third challenger, businessman Christopher Gabrieli, by a sizable margin, winning not only Boston's wealthy suburbs, but Cape Cod, western Massachusetts, as well as the city of Boston by more than 50%. He now faces Lieutenant Governor General Kerry Healey, who is planning to spend millions of her own dollars to retain the office for her party.

Congratulations to Dr. Jennifer Richeson
One of my young and dazzling colleagues, social psychologist Dr. Jennifer Richeson, has just learned that she's won a Charles D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the "Genius" award, for her innovative and groundbreaking research on the behavioral and cognitive consequences of prejudice and racial stereotyping. The foundation site has more information on her work and well-deserved award. Dr. Jennifer Richeson, congratulations!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Tomorrow, Classes Begin

Tomorrow is the first day of classes, and I'm very excited about my course, an undergraduate African-American literary studies class entitled "Topics in African-American Literature: Passages in the 20th Century Black Literary Avant-Gardes." It was extremely difficult to winnow the works I wanted to look at, and as always I originally designed something close to a graduate course, but now it fits the 10-week quarter schedule, we'll be looking at works of poetry, fiction, dramatic writing, and cinema, as well as cross-genre texts, and the social-intellectual-aesthetic constellations will move from the Harlem Renaissance through to Afrofuturism, touching upon creative works by Nugent, Hughes, Tolson, Atkins, Kaufman, Joans, Jonas, Kennedy, Baraka, Cortez, Shange, Gladman, and Hopkinson. The selection of critical texts was also tough, but I have taken somewhat conventional route for my sourcebook and handouts at least, pairing some standard texts on the historical Euro-American avant-gardes, by Poggioli and Bürger, among others, with historically focused texts on the moments I'm exploring, and some less conventional critical texts on African-American literature and cultural production, especially experimental and innovative writing, by figures such as Locke, DuBois, Hunt, hooks, Carroll, North, Taylor, Nielsen, Neal, Johnson, Muñoz, Moten, Nelson, and others. The first class is always like an amusement park ride--perhaps a little scary at first, but always fun and exhilarating by the time the clock hands indicate that it's over.

Drawing: Man's Profile, PATH

I was trying to remember when I'd applied the watercolor gouache to this drawing, which puckered the paper, though I like the effect; I did note I ran out of time. But it's always hard to draw on the train, because once it's underground it really flies and rocks, taking those tight corners with near caroms. It reminds me of drawings I did years before of C., which were on thicker paper. The wrinkling creates a halo, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jonesing for Edward P. Jones + Chomsky's MySpace

(Edward P.) Jonesiania
Edward P. JonesJames Tata features links to Wyatt Mason's praiseworthy Harper's Review review of Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward P. Jones's (right, receiving the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) newest collection of stories, All Aunt Hagar's Children, which I just picked up but haven't read; an interview on After the MFA with him concerning the particulars of his career; and Our Girl in Chicago's laudatory appraisal.

A quote from the interview:

I just didn’t have any confidence in anyone, you know — no offense to the people at the ground level of a lot of these literary magazines, but some guy in college or grad school, comes in grumpy and no matter how good your story might be, he might go “well, I don’t want this story,” and just say “no.” And even when I had finished all the stories — you know one or two of these stories had already been published, but everything else was brand new — my agent had sent them out and no one gave a damn. The only magazine that cared to publish, out of all of those stories that had not been published, was the Paris Review.

It was nice because I knew once I did have the agent and he was going to get stuff out there, I knew I would never again, ever send anything out. And I haven’t. And I won’t.

I want to add that last fall, at the 15th Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Conference at Chicago State University, which honored the late Octavia Butler, I had the opportunity to meet for the first time both Edward P. Jones, who struck me as a very gentle, humble, and friendly man, and another writer whose work I think is extraordinary, James Alan McPherson. In fact, it was a pretty remarkable experience; in addition to these two writers, I also delivered brief a brief talk about Butler's work, and got to meet her as well.

Guess who's on MySpace?
I'm not on MySpace, but I've noticed that increasing numbers of people I know are. As was the case with blogging from 2001-2004, while I really enjoyed certain people's blogs (Bernie's, Charles's, one of my students', etc.), I resisted starting one myself. And then, I fell in with the crowd, and here we are. (I still have resisted the trend towards sexpottery....) Nevertheless, my friend Eric H. sent me a link to what I would have considered to be one of the more unlikely pages on Noam Chomsky. It's his, it's official, and I have to say, I like the fact that he's taken this route, which I read as a way of reaching people who might not otherwise know about or come across his political work. (I cannot imagine that many MySpacers will be dipping into those books on linguistics. Two links of his that caught my eye were: Count the Black Vote and Stop the Wars.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tyrone Garner RIP + The Aristocrats

Tyron(e) Garner RIP
GarnerOnly through surfing Keith Boykin's blog did I come across news I'd completely missed: Tyrone Garner, one of the two plaintiffs (the other was John Lawrence) whose lawsuit led to the historic 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, recently passed away. Garner and Lawrence, who were represented by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, brought their case after being charged with a Class C misdemeanor following a bizarre police arrest. The 6-3 Supreme Court ruling, which reversed the execrable 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision that permitted state sodomy laws, was and continues a social and political landmark decision. Featuring far-reaching language by majority opinion writer Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy that furthered privacy rights, it struck down the remaining state-wide sodomy laws (effecting on a national basis the decriminalization of oral and anal sex acts in 13 states) across the US, and thus helped to further erode the legal bases for many of the civil discrimination laws (or absence of civil protections) that are still on the books. (Keith's important 2003 meditation on Black LGBT life after Lawrence v. Texas is available here.) Terrance of Republic of T, Pam of Pam's House Blend, and Coffee House Studio are some of the other bloggers who were on it right away. Garner was only 39 at his death. Given how important this decision was and what Garner, a working-class Black gay man, laid on the line to litigate it, I would hope that LGBT organizations in particular, as well as all organizations that value equality under US laws and personal freedom, would be celebrating Garner's important role and his courage. The very least we all can say to honor Tyron(e) Garner's memory is: Thank You.

The Aristocrats
After months of juggling it in and out of my Netflix queue, I finally saw The Aristocrats, which explores an extremely scatalogical joke that is legendary among a certain group of American comedians. While it was fascinating to see the array of permutations in which the joke could be performed, the film ultimately struck me as, well, a joke that went on too long and fell flat. I found that after hearing it the first time, I wasn't really laughing, and the intercutting of talking heads, some of them quite annoying, didn't help things, nor did the botched and uninteresting versions. (Mario Cantone, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Paul Reiser, and George Carlin were among the especially awful.) Only Wendy Liebman's and Martin Mull's revisions of the joke, problematic as his was, actually made me laugh out loud after the first five minutes, while the other versions that touched upon race were unfunny, while the wallowing by some of the comedians in extremity, which felt forced in more than a few cases, started to grate on me. Especially telling was the paucity of comedians of color; Whoopi Goldberg seemed pressed to recount her version, while Chris Rock looked baffled about his presence in the documentary. I don't think I'd recommend it--Google a clip of Gilbert Godfried's 2001 (or 2002) Friar's Club Roast of Hugh Hefner, and you've pretty much got the entire film in a fingernail.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Whiteout in Harlem + Banksy Brings It in LA

The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Bloggerdom in Harlem

Thanks to Terrance (Republic of T)
More at Culture Kitchen.
And at Steve Gilliard's News Blog.
I can't forget Andrés.

Samo SAMO©

Banksy's Necessary Art
Guantanamo at DisneylandI have to give it to the semi-anonymous artist (or artists) known as Banksy; having sneaked paintings into major New York museums last year and dropped 500 doctored versions of celebucipher Paris Hilton's début CD in London record stores this summer, Banksy managed a week ago to place a blow-up doll, dressed like a Guantánamo Bay detainee inside the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disneyland. The Guantánamo effigy sat undetected for 9o minutes--during which park visitors, including children, certainly saw it--before it was removed. (Banksy has previously spraypainted Guantánamo images on walls in Britain.) Now the artist(s) will is having a three-day show, "Barely Legal," which runs through Sunday in Los Angeles. The New York Times's Ed Wyatt covers the show, focusing more on the mystery of Banksy's identity than on the politically salient aspect of the artist's work, which insistently aims to reveal the hidden, brutal undersides of the triumphantly capitalist, conformist and hypercommodified Anglo-American societies by eluding the pervasive system of surveillance and turning the spectacle against itself. Wyatt does quote Banksy at one point: the artist distills the works' diverse aims into a sentence that bears repeating, especially as political art has itself become yet another object of easy commodification and consumption:

1.7 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. 20 billion people live below the poverty line. Every day hundreds of people are made to feel physically sick by morons at art shows telling them how bad the world is but never actually doing something about it. Anybody want a free glass of wine?


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hynes | Obama + Ann Richards ‡ + The New Generation

Hynes | Obama
Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, a major political figure in the state with ties to all the most powerful Democratic politicians, was the party's official pick for the Senate seat that prickly Republican Peter Fitzgerald vacated in 2004. It's likely he might be sitting in the US Senate had he not had to face then-State Senator Barack Obama, who trounced him (and a handful of other Democrats) in the primary, and then went on to a historic victory in November 2004. Although the usual tendency in Illinois is to nurse political antagonisms and then strike back when your opponent is vulnerable (even if it's a family member, etc.), Hynes did a remarkable thing today: in a truly moving valentine (which the reactionary Chicago Sun-Times published today), Hynes urges Obama to run for the US presidency in 2008. I mean, he really loves him some Obama (as a majority of Illinoisans do--his approval ratings are among the highest in the US Senate). Hynes notes dreamy Obama's undeniable charisma, his popularity (did I say he trounced Hynes), his leadership potential, and his larger political vision, which melds a progressive view of society with careful bipartisanship, arguing that they are what the Democrats and the nation need not only to mark a turnaround from the 8-year deep abyss of Bush Republicanism, but also as the embodiment of the promise inherent in the larger political vision of a prior president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. This aspect of Hynes's paean, his calling for a living politician to openly serve not only because of his leadership skills but also overtly because of his symbolic power and the political and cultural capital it contains, fascinates me; to put it another way, Obama as president would represent a kind of payment of a historical promissory note (though the realities of racial and ethnic, gender and class conflict, of social inequality and hierarchization, and so on, will hardly have diminished by 2008). And Hynes isn't off base, in some key ways. One potential outcome of the centuries-long battle for Black freedom and equality in this society, which predates Lincoln by 200 years, is, at some point in our future, a Black head of state; as politicians of any color in this country go, Obama is one of the better ones, which it pains me to admit isn't saying much, but then the current political context, which continues to shift ever further to the right, verges on a limit case. It's hard to know how far along legislatively Obama might be were the Democrats in power; he has been somewhat active, to the extent possible, and his statesman-like visit to Kenya gave notice of his willingness to take risks, even if he hasn't gone as far over here. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next two years; if Al Gore were to run again, he'd be the favorite, and John Edwards also has the inside track, but a host of bland, uninspiring, even-more-cautious-than-Obama, which is to say, center-right Democrats, like Mark Warner and Evan Bayh, are already lining up to jump in. And then there's John Kerry....

Ann Richards RIP
I always think of her as the sharp-witted and tongued, colorful former Texas governor who wowed the crowd at the 1988 Democratic convention and then had to suffer the humiliation of being defeated by the empty zealot who's since become the Worst President Ever. But what I only vaguely knew but have learned from several obituaries is how much of a socially progressive pathblazer Ann Richards was during her term. According to Yahoo! her record was significant:

As governor, Richards appointed the first black University of Texas regent, the first crime victim on the state Criminal Justice Board, the first disabled person on the human services board and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. Under Richards, the fabled Texas Rangers pinned stars on their first black and female officers.

Ron Kirk, the black former mayor of Dallas, said Richards helped him get his first political internship during a state constitutional convention in 1974 and later, as governor, made him secretary of state.

She also presided over a fall in high school dropout rates and a supposed rise in test scores. The Yahoo! obit goes on, however, to list her strong support of NAFTA and the doubling of the state prison system, which are two low points, in my opinion. Nevertheless, her 4-year record represented a sea change for Texas, which has since barreled in the opposite direction. Just think of what might have happened had she defeated Bush in 1995; he might have decided to run another oil company (into the ground)...

The New Generation
Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark (elected earlier this year, at left), Adrian Fenty, Mayor of Washington, DC (just elected Wednesday, at right): How successful will they be in enacting real social and economic change and in marking a political break from their predecessors?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Drawings: 3 more from 2001

A man on the moving PATH train (where I've spent so many hours of my waking life)--in my note I say that I'm going to find Kevin Young's book (I assume I mean his extraordinary To Repel Ghosts)

A woman in the NY MBTA 14th St. subway station

Man on the PATH train, Journal Sq. station

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On Yesterday + On Today + On Election Day in November

On Yesterday
Yesterday I didn't take in almost any of the 9/11 coverage. I didn't listen to it on the radio, I didn't really watch it on TV (though I did have the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, which featured a panel discussion (that had almost no people of color and few women!), on in the background, but I wasn't paying much attention to it), and while I skimmed a few blogs that discussed it movingly, I felt like I didn't want to dredge up and write up my memories of that day, which I've recited to people--to family members and friends, to students, online--more than a few times, so I'll leave it to others to give their accounts and their current thoughts on their experiences then.

I still believe my best written response to the attacks was a brief piece I published back in 2002 or so in Ulli Baer's 110 Stories: New York Writes after September 11 (NYU Press). At the time I wrote the piece, called "Pariah," I was struggling with a profound sense of limbo--I was commuting up to Providence from New Jersey, staying in a little inn that was homey but not really a home, and wondering what the future, my and C's futures, the City's and New Jersey's futures, and the nation's held, especially after the horrific attacks. Almost instinctively I knew that George Bush would plunge us into a disaster of his own making, and yet though I wanted to capture this in prose or verse, I couldn't. Until one night, lying on the bed in the guest house in Providence, I envisioned a transcript of a sort that I now think could have been recorded in one of the secret European prisons or on a plane by one of the people dragged onto and drugged on one of the rendition planes, and I just wrote, until I realized I couldn't go any further. Thus was "Pariah" born. I saw it then and still view it as part of a larger piece, which I haven't yet been able to complete, but hope to, though I have incorporated the form and style into another piece which functions as a fuller work of fiction. Of course one epitaph can hardly suffice for the complex web of emotions and memories of that day or of all the days that preceded it--I still find myself telling people at times that on a clear day or night, for six years, C. and I could see the twin towers, along with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, from our front porch at our former apartment in Jersey City, or that only the year before, I'd read in the Barnes and Noble with Asha Bandele, and the televised version of that reading ran for months on a New York public access channel, but right after 9/11, I worried about them ever running it again, because it struck me as being macabre for words, an emanation from a gravesite--just as the little animated gif I created back in 2001 hardly can either, but, in my case, for now, they must.

Primary Day
Today is primary day in nine states, and there are several high profile races I'm watching carefully. In the US Senate races, incumbent Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton faces token opposition from a genuinely progressive candidate, Jonathan Tasini. She is going to win a landslide, and will be easily reelected, but Tasini's platform, which includes a strong critique of Iraqmire, has gotten her attention.

In Rhode Island, DINO Senator Lincoln Chafee is struggling to hold onto his seat against a strong challenge from the right, in the person of Steve Laffey, a businessman and former mayor of Cranston, who has support from the extreme right Club for Growth. The Republican National Committee has dumped millions into this race to save the patrician Chafee, even though he has regularly opposed Bush, even going so far as to write in George H. W. Bush's name in the 2004 election (and Poppy would be an improvement over Junior). The Republicans desperately want to hold onto the Rhode Island seat to maintain their majority, because if Laffey wins he's sure to lose to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in the general election, while Chafee is just "liberal" enough to be competitive. I wish Chafee would switch parties and be done with it; he'd be to the left of Lieberman, Bill Nelson, and a handful of other Democrats, and he'd be assured of reeelection till he retired.

In Maryland, Democrats Congressman Ben Cardin and former Congressman NAACP director Kweisi Mfume are vying with 16 other candidates for the nomination to face Republican Michael Steele and replace retiring liberal Democrat Paul Sarbanes. Steele, one of a small cohort of Black Republicans running in national and gubernatorial races this year, has been faltering in the polls of late, because of a series of gaffes, but he would still be competitive against Mfume, while his chances against Cardin look bleaker. Were either Mfume or Steele to be elected, they'd be the first African-Americans popularly elected to the Senate from a former slave state since Reconstruction, and a Mfume win would also mark the first time a Black Democrat had won a national race in the South. Both Mfume and Cardin are on the left of the Democratic party, but Mfume's harassment scandals while heading the NAACP may give Cardin the edge, though the counter to this is that Maryland's large African-American and African voting population may give Mfume the edge. Either one would be an acceptable replacement for Sarbanes, and would help to shift the Democratic Senate caucus further left.

In Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar is leading the Democratic challengers to replace the very rich and somewhat cuckoo Democrat Mark Dayton (he attended that bizarre, inexplainable Washington "coronation" of Unification Church cult leader Moon a few years ago). Klobuchar's politics are progressive and she's leading in the polls. In Arizona, wealthy businessman Jon Pedersen is the leading Democratic candidate to face incumbent Republican Senator John Kyl, who has consistently voted on the far outer right reaches of his party.

In other races, New York's Democratic primary pits populist attorney general Eliot Spitzer against the Quixotic Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi. Spitzer, whose battles against corporate malfeasance have been hugely successful, has a huge lead in the polls and if he wins will rumba to victory, since his Republican opposition is non-existent. In the race to replace Spitzer, political heir and former Clinton Cabinet member Andrew Cuomo faces former mayoral candidate Mark Green. I still resent Green's racial politics in his run against Mike Bloomberg, which backfired and led his loss, so I hope Cuomo triumphs; either man has the inside track to the job. In a Minnesota race for a House district seat that includes Minneapolis, a Muslim, Keith Ellison, who has the party's backing, is facing a tough challenge from three other Democrats. (Would he be the first Muslim elected to the US House? Does anyone know?) Also, Washington, DC is selecting a new mayor today. I'm not familiar with either of the candidates, Adrian Fenty or Linda Cropp. Neither name rings a bell from the time we lived in Virginia and regularly caught the DC media.

Republicans argue for GOP loss this fall
I came across a link to a provocative Washington Monthly forum, "Time for Us To Go," which features prominent Republican and right-wing thinkers publicly criticizing not only the Bush administration's failures, but arguing for the defeat of the Republican-led Congress in November, on various grounds. Some of the pieces are quite sharp, though their characterizations of Democrats sometimes are unfounded or descend to caricature and stereotype, and in any case, I'm very suspicious and skeptical of anything penned by any self-described contemporary American "conservative," and especially ones named Richard Viguerie or Jeffrey Hart. Still, I recommend these pieces. Christopher Buckley's could even give the Democrats a few useful talking points and ideas.

Drawing: Man Reading, Factory Café

A man reading at the Factory Café on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Leaving Home + Susan Sontag's Diaries + Drawing: Jeffrey Wright

Leaving Home, Off to Chicago
This is always the most difficult period of my year, leaving C., our home, and our two little cats, the spaces and places where I feel most comfortable, settled, at home, and creative, and returning to Chicago. Wrenching is putting it mildly. When I was younger, I thought a peripatetic life would at the very least be interesting, but I've come to realize that there's a huge difference between journeying out from one set place and living in two discrete places, one of which is in a city you're not particularly fond of, especially during the long, cold, isolating winter months. I love my job, especially teaching my classes and working with my superb students, but increasingly more complicated process of airplane commuting, the regular reorienting myself to a completely different place, and the act of recentering myself in order to live and write all take their toll.

I'm at the airport now, waiting to board the plane and overhearing a woman sitting next to me talking loudly, with a mix of both exasperation and astonishment, about how she had to surrender bottles of water and perfume! One man noted that he'd had to take his laptop out of his bag. (Where has he been the last half-decade?) I tend to imagine that everyone is aware of what's going on, but I guess not. As usual, I just heard that the flight to Chicago has been delayed by forty-five minutes, which is par for the course (they haven't used the usual preposterous excuse of "wind" in Newark or Chicago so far, so perhaps they're casting about for something equally implausible.)

Susan Sontag's Diaries
Today's New York Times Magazine features excerpts from Susan Sontag's late 50s and early 60s diaries. (I surreptitiously snapped the photo at left at the Met Museum's tiny but enthralling On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag exhibit earlier this summer.) They are, to put it mildly, riveting--or at least I think so. In them she states unequivocally what many of us knew but which she did equivocate on publicly and even after death. Here are her words on the subject:

Dec. 24

My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me.

It doesn’t justify my homosexuality. But it would give me — I feel — a license.

I am just becoming aware of how guilty I feel being queer. With H., I thought it didn’t bother me, but I was lying to myself. I let other people (e.g. Annette [Michelson, film scholar]) believe that it was H. who was my vice, and that apart from her I wouldn’t be queer or at least not mainly so.

. . .

Being queer makes me feel more vulnerable.

You can't be more definitive than that. I've only skimmed the entries, but her wrestling with her self, her record of the struggle of self and artistic creation, her ever lapidary appraisals, and her accounts of her social life (all sorts of people make appearances, including a young but even then cringe-inducing Allan Bloom, her early lover [Maria] I[rene] Fornes, and a nutty Robert Lowell (how fascinating to read her brief entry and compare it to the accounts in the Lowell-Bishop letters, or the biographies of him), are magnetic, and in their specificity and mundanity render her even more appealing. I can't wait till the full book is published (in 2008 or 2009, according to the brief preface), and I am hoping that the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, or some other entity will publish even more of them. They also remind me that there's something to be said for keeping private records, for the power of revelation (after death or at least late in life), as opposed to the simultaneous, public, continuous baring of the self--or at least performances of various kinds of selves, the theatricality of self-presentations--that's so common today, especially online.

Drawing: Jeffrey Wright

Here's the drawing of Jeffrey Wright, I mentioned yesterday, from the staged reading of excerpts of Topdog/Underdog in the summer of 2001. As the drawing reminded me, I was drawing in the dark, but it still came out okay, I think. C. took me to see the Broadway production for my birthday, so I'm guessing that must have been the following year.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Drawing: Robert Menendez

Going through my files in preparation for the return to Chicago, I came across a drawing book from the summer of 2001, which was a mixed period for me. I'd left two jobs I'd held for several years that February to take a wonderful visiting stint at the university where I later was hired full-time, and by June, I was back in Jersey City trying to reacclimate myself. I also spent my last year at Cave Canem, after not being able to attend in 2000, but I found it a struggle to write poems. (My workshop with poet Toi Derricotte had an uncanny aspect, in that she asked us to describe the sort of house we wanted to live in, and a few years later C and I ended up finding a house which, at the time, I didn't realize satisfied most of what I'd written down for Toi.) More than anything, I felt mildly unsettled, as I was trying to figure out what I would do when September rolled around. I ended up receiving an offer to serve as a visiting assistant professor at another university in easy commuting distance from New Jersey and New York, and it turned out that my first day of classes was September 11, 2001, but that's a story for another day. From the images in the book, it turns out that I'd drawn quite a bit that June, but when I looked at the drawings, I couldn't really remember doing them, except for the one below, and one of actor Jeffrey Wright, at a staged reading (with Don Cheadle) of Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog at the Public Theater. (I'll post that one tomorrow.) This one shows Menendez, then my Congressman, speaking at a workers' rally at Journal Square. His staunch anti-Castro stance had been enough for me not to vote for him in the past, and although he may have expressed a strong pro-labor position, at the rally, I don't recall it. I've come around as has he, though not on the Castro issue; nevertheless, I'll be voting for him this November.
Bob Menendez

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kehinde Wiley Busts at CerealArt + Michael K. Williams on Playing "Gay" + Schwarzenegger on "Hot"-Blooded Latinos

CerealArt, a Philadelphia gallery, writes to say that it will be issuing the first two in a series of three busts by artist Kehinde Wiley (1977-), who is probably best known for his striking portraits of young Black men, usually evoking vernacular and hiphop culture, which are painted in a style that fuses appropriations of the religious iconic tradition and Renaissance to 19th century portraiture. The busts, pictured below, move the imagery from two to three dimensions.

They write unironically (I think) of the busts,

The first bust is a Bernini influenced, Baroque style composition positioning a young man dressed in contemporary urban street attire styled as a 17th century monarch. The heroic pose is vigorously alive and imperious. The cloak, or hoodie in this case, is swept up, as if by a gust of wind, and the figure turns with resolute composure in the direction of the wind, as if calmly facing a challenge.

The 2nd Neoclassical bust is reminiscent of a philosopher in Rafael’s legendary "School of Athens". The strong, athletic young man dressed in street attire holds a book, scepter and a cognac bottle substituted for a wine jug. His soul searching contemplative eyes are have the feeling of Cezanne's "Still Life with Skull" or Rogier van der Weyden "Portrait of a Man Holding a Book." The composition is familiar but the influences are beyond easy recognition. The philosopher appears as a hero in pursuit of revealing the universal truth in the 21st Century.

Both pieces are for sale in limited editions of 250. Thoughts? Comments?

Other artists in the CerealArt stall include the late Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, Kenny Scharf, Laurie Simmons, Maurizio Cattelan, and Ryan McGuinness. CerealArt also is offering limited edition, quite affordable manga-influenced glassware by Yoshitomo Nara, and a deliciously kitsch resin jewel box by Kristen Hassenfeld. For more information and images, you can visit the CerealArt website, or drop in their gallery, at CEREALART, 149 N.3rd Street, Philadelphia PA 19106 T 215.627.5060 F 215.627.5061

Michael K. Williams on Playing Gay
Bernie sent along a link to a recent AfterElton interview with actor Michael K. Williams, who plays the sgl gangster Omar Little on HBO's critically critically lauded drama The Wire. Williams, a former dancer and choreographer, offers some fresh thoughts on his experience playing a character you seldom see on television or in other media. The interview mentions that he's been slammed by some people in the African-American community, while also receiving dap from young Black gay men who're pleased to see a depiction that breaks out of the usual stereotypes. Williams comments, like his acting, emphasize the fact of Omar's complexity, his humanity, and his refreshing self-acceptance, which I would say represents a particular representation of urban, working-class Black America that I've seen and lived but almost never really seen onscreen, especially in such a rich, authentic and positive light, until Omar. (Rod 2.0 covers this interview as well, and includes prior links to interviews with actor Keith Hamilton Cobb, the formerly dreadlocked former star of Andromeda and former B2K singer Raz-B, both of whom took their acting turns on Noah's Arc in equitable stride.) Thinking about Williams's stellar performances on The Wire and reading this and other interviews make me want to see Matt Mahurin's 1995 indie film MugShot, which Williams starred in, playing a wannabe photographer and gang member named Rumor who kidnaps a white photographer. There are only a few comments on IMDb about it, but two are enthusiastic.

The Black Field Hand's (Most Recent) Racial Gaffe
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just vetoed legislation that would prohibit negative portrayals of lgbt people in California textbooks, appears to have (again) joined the GOP hoof-in-mouth club with recorded comments from earlier this year that traffic in the sorts of ignorant essentialism so many people cannot let go of. Specifically, the LA Times obtained a tape containing comments about how "mixed blood" makes Cubans and Puerto Ricans "hot." The object of his racialist riffing was Bonnie Garcia, the lone Republican Latina in the California state legislature. Schwarzenegger, who is laying the groundwork for his reelection run next year, said that it didn't matter whether she was Cuban or Puerto Rican, because ""I mean, they are all very hot....They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it." He has a record on this subject: he is on tape rhapsodizing about "mulatas'" bodies and sexiness while at Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval, and allegedly uttered racial epithets about Black bodybuilders he was competing against. Of course he apologized for his racist remarks, and Garcia, in obliging hanky-headed fashion, stated that the grossly stereotypical and misinformed comments weren't a big deal because, she said, "Very often I tell him, 'Look, I am a hot-blooded Latina.' I label myself a hot-blooded Latina that is very passionate about the issues, and this is kind of an inside joke that I have with the governor."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Poem: Paul van Ostaijen

I haven't had any time to post much of late, since classes begin in a few weeks, but here's a translation of a very short poem by the late experimental Flemish poet Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1928), whose work has not been extensively translated into English, although New Directions did publish the posthumous volume Feasts of Fear and Agony back in 1976. I thought about van Ostaijen's work after reading an email from Reggie H. about a very interesting Edward Hoagland essay on fragmentation, open-field structure, poetic indeterminacy, and so on. Van Ostaijen, who had to flee Belgium because of his pro-Flemish independence views, died of tuberculosis in 1928. The poem below is to the famous Swiss-born French poet Blaise Cendrars (b. Frédéric Louis Sauser, 1887-1961), and despite its brevity, captures Ostaijen's poetic spirit and style, with its spatial openness, internal play on the word "klinken," which can mean both "to sound" or "vocalize" and "to rivet," and the final play on Cendrars's nom-de-plume, with its root meaning of "burning coals, ashes, cinders."

Aan Cendrars

Man loopt straat
luide stem tussen huizen
hij roept
klinkt klinker klaar
Blaise Blaise BLAIS -

gij zijt het

And my translation:

To Cendrars

Man walks street
loud voice under houses
he calls
vowel clearly sounds
Blaise Blaise BLAIS -
you are the
Copyright © Paul van Ostaijen, 2006.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lola Ogunnaike on Willi Ninja + Other Passings

My friend Dave and I always say that if there's anyone in the New York Times to chronicle, champion or eulogize you, it should be Lola Ogunnaike. She penned a short but memorable obit about Willi Ninja that's one of the better ones I've seen. My favorite paragraph was this one, which reminded me of a great term I hadn't heard in two decades:

As the “mother” of the House of Ninja — part dance troupe, part surrogate family — he became a New York celebrity, known as much for his quick wit and sharp tongue as for his darting limbs. His ensembles — a coat made of braided synthetic hair, a suit jacket with a skirt and Doc Marten boots — also turned heads wherever he went: “severe” is the word.

"Severe" is the word indeed.

Other recent passings: Dewey Redman, one of the major groundbreaking saxophonists in late 20th century jazz and father of saxophonist Joshua Redman. (First Redman CD that comes to mind: Dewey Redman's trio with Cecil Taylor and Elvin Jones on Momentum Space (1999) doesn't always cohere, but I particularly like "Is" and "Life As.")

Painter Buffie Johnson, whom I met during my short sojourn at Yaddo a while ago. She was ancient even back then, and I'm not sure if she was painting her giant flowers or not. But she was quite friendly, had some interesting stories to tell, and invited me to drop in if I was in Soho. (I didn't.) Now I'll be a bit more active in seeking out her work online and in museums.

Bernard Wohl, a longtime advocate for the working-class people, the mentally ill and the elderly, and a dedicated member of and visionary in the settlement house movement. His Goddard Riverside Community Center was a driving force in creating housing and services for many who were displaced by the gentrification of the Upper West Side and parts of West Harlem.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Willi Ninja RIP

I've been away from blogging for a few days, but received news today from poet Latasha Natasha Diggs that legendary ball figure Willi Ninja, an internationlly acclaimed voguer, dancer, choreographer, singer, and stylesetter, had passed away. Checking over at Andrés's blog, I see that he has posted on Willi Ninja's passing, with a link to Keith's informative post, and Emanuel Xavier's blog (which is on MySpace, so you may have to sign up to view it). Keith links to Jasmyne Cannick, who writes a brief but moving tribute. Like many people, I first came across Willi Ninja's artistry when I saw the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, and from that moment I was a fan. I was pleased to hear years ago that his career had taken off, but very sorry to hear recently that he was dealing with major health problems. As anyone who has ever seen Paris Is Burning or who interacted with Ninja will know, "legendary" only touches the surface of his skill, creativity and grace. He was only 45 years old.

Ninja with House of Ninjans
Willi Ninja with members of the House of Ninja, at Patricia Field's 40th Anniversary Party, April 26, 2006 (photo from Andrew Der)

Andrés adds in his update:

UPDATE: Over on his blog, Emanuel Xavier has updated information about a funeral service for Willi Ninja to be held this Friday in St. Albans, Queens. At the time of his passing, there were some hospital bills that still had to be paid and friends are trying to set up a way for people to donate and help his mother cover some of these expenses. Additional information about donations and a possible benefit will be forthcoming. For the latest, you can visit Willi Ninja's MySpace page at which is being updated by Aimee. I will share additional information as it becomes more concrete.

Funeral Services for Willi Ninja
Friday, September 8, 2006 (7-9 pm)
Roy L. Gilmore's Funeral Home
19102 Linden Boulevard
Saint Albans, Queens, NY 11412

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Kenyan Gov't Responds to Obama Post?

Senator ObamaSometimes I'm surprised by responses to my blog posts, and the response below fits this category. Posted by under the tag "Government of Kenya," and linking to a Kenyan government URL (the Communications Office), it offers what seems to be that government's official perspective on both my reading and the substance of Senator Barack Obama's (at left, photo from the Moderate Voice) recent public speeches while in Kenya. I'll allow readers to draw their own judgments. I am curious to know, however, if the poster was really a member of the Kenyan government's Communication Office, or a Kenyan or Kenyan government supporter who is not officially affiliated with the state. I appreciate the response, and would also appreciate it if the poster identify herself or himself as an official spokesperson. (Below, Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, photo from Voice of America News.)

KibakiReader Essequibo (of Bougie Black Boy and Travlin All Alone) wondered how Obama's career might fare if he spoke out as forcefully as this at home. When I consider Obama's career and public rhetoric so far, I'd say that he has often spoken out, sometimes on very high-profile issues, such as when he was one of the first US Senators to speak out forcefully on the Hurricane Katrina disaster. He has also repeatedly and publicly criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policies, and was one of the first among the Senate Democrats in opposing the awful Social Security privatization scheme. At the same time, it's apparent to me that since taking his seat Obama has tended to be cautious and somewhat calculating, which I think arises out of his desire to maintain his national stature and popularity, which continues in spite of a few rough patches, and his high popularity and political influence in Illinois, which hasn't diminished at all. Despite public displeasure with Congress, Obama still has one of the highest approval ratings (70%) of any member of the Senate of either party, and his statewide appeal has held even outside the left-leaning Chicagoland metropolitan area. He has also been careful, despite criticisms of the Bush administration, to publicly maintain working relationships with Republican colleagues, much more so than Illinois's other Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin (who has been frequently reviled on the right), in order to have influence despite the Democrats' lack of power, and in order to craft useful bipartisan legislation, such as the recent bill he cosponsored with ultraconservative Senator Dr. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would allow public scrutiny of federal spending. This progressive legislation proved so threatening that two senior senators, Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, put secret blocks on it (Byrd relented and admitted he'd done so, after Stevens was unmasked).

If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, which is looking a bit dicey but not improbable, I foresee Obama becoming even more outspoken as he takes a high-profile leadership position. This would prime his way for a national run, perhaps for 2012. But if the Senate ends up with a closer margin, say 51-49 or 50-50, then Obama's public moderation and bipartisan cast would still mean considerable power and influence, especially with moderate Republicans, in thwarting the right wing of that legislative body's and the Bush administration's regular excesses. So all in all, I think he knows what he's doing, and his recent performance in Kenya was of a piece with this. I say this not cynically, but in appreciation for his skill as a politician.

Here's the post from the comment section:

Government Of Kenya said...

Senator Barack Obama indicated that he was visiting Africa to help nurture relations between the continent and the United States. His mission, therefore, was warmly welcomed by the Government and the people of Kenya. The fact that he has roots in Kenya endeared him to the people of this country.

However, during his public address at the University of Nairobi, Senator Obama made extremely disturbing statements on issues which it is clear, he was very poorly informed, and on which he chose to lecture the Government and the people of Kenya on how to manage our country.

We would like to make the following facts clear:

a) Kenya is no less vulnerable to terrorism than the United States or any other country. Kenya has in the past suffered incidents of terrorism because of our friendship with the United States and not because as a people, we are less efficient in the management of our security. Indeed, his own country and other countries with higher levels of development, have had more incidences of terrorism despite their sophisticated security systems. Therefore, blaming terrorist attacks in Kenya on possible corruption is highly misplaced and insincere. Using his logic, then, it follows that the terrorist attacks in the United States and other countries are as a result of corrupt border and customs police in his own country and other countries which have experienced incidents of terrorism.

b) The allegation that wanted Rwandese genocide fugitive Felicen Kabuga may have purchased safe haven in Kenya is an insult to the people of this country and negates the fact that Kenya, Rwanda and the United Nations have an excellent track record in collaboration in the search and apprehending of Rwandese suspects. This country has turned over to the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda the highest number of genocidal suspects for trial. For that reason also, this country cannot be a safe haven for any genocide suspect and especially Kabuga. If it was an issue of corruption money, as Senator Obama states, then the bounty of US$5 million (Kshs 365 million) being offered by the United States for the apprehension of Kabuga, would be irresistible to the alleged corrupt police. If anybody knows where Kabuga is, this Government would like to know so that we can apprehend him immediately and hand him over to the tribunal.

c) Senator Obama enjoyed the vibrant freedom of expression and wide democratic space existing in this country, during his tour. Instead of acknowledging this big leap in this country, he chose to dwell on none issues as far as the governance of this country is concerned. He ignored the fact that strengthening of democracy and institutions of Governance has been the strongest thrust of this Government. Today, every Kenyan can openly talk about and address issues of corruption without fear and associate himself or herself to any political party he or she chooses. Bold decisions have made to bring down the rate of corruption with great success. For example, the success in our fighting corruption is evidenced by the fact that Kenya is one of the best performing countries in Africa in the collection of public revenue and the economy has had a turn-around from near zero percent (0%), three years ago, to about six percent (6%) economic growth today. This cannot be achieved in a country, which Senator Obama says, is experiencing a “corruption crisis.”

d) Senator Obama also trivialized the harmony and peaceful co-existence that exists between different ethnic groups and races that live in this country, and chose to magnify tribalism as a major problem in this country.

During Senator Obama’s visit, the Government spared no effort in making his stay and travel all over the country enjoyable and fulfilling. Senator Barack Obama is welcome to come again to learn more about the country, the Government and the people of this country.