Sunday, February 25, 2007

Drawings: Blair, Wright, Bernstein, Man on the Train

A few more sketches from the vault.

Sydney Blair administered the MFA program down at U.Va., and was a great colleague. I think this drawing may have been at another reading, though I didn't note which one. The "de espaldas" probably comes from the fact that I was reading José Balza's La mujer de espaldas at the time.

Charles Wright is a lovely, genial person, and one of the major contemporary American poets. I drew him at one of his readings down at U.Va., where he's the Souder Family Professor, and looking at the date, it coincided with the happier period of C's and my sojourn down there. After hearing Charles read, I became a great fan, and was really happy when he was finally honored with the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Black Zodiac (FSG). I consider his entire poetic opus of the last 15 years or so to be a long and entrancing serial poetic monologue.

Charles Bernstein is another one of the leading American poets and poetics theorists, and his lecture at U.Va. was memorable for many reasons, not the least of which was that it merged the essay and poetry genres--this is much more common nowadays with the growth of the creative nonfiction genre--and at one point, he read a "warped" section of the essay in a warped manner, which is to say, he mimicked a warped tape as he read and performed the text. Perhaps this isn't so remarkable, except that rather than doing so before a room full of poets, he did so before a room full of English professors (unlike at the current university, when poets like Bernstein came to read, a sizable portion of U.Va.'s English faculty and grad students would show up). I sort of remember some of the people in attendance being momentarily surprised, but then they knew they were going to hear something different from Bernstein, and they did. (I should find out where that essay appeared.)

This young guy sat next to me on a train trip north, I believe, to New York (or was it Boston? Washington? Philadelphia?), and was fairly chatty. Then he fell asleep, and I sketched him as quickly as I could. He was quite beautiful, as I think the drawing conveys. I don't remember where he disembarked.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Drawings: Strand, Kazin, Weheliye

Since I haven't really had any time for entries of late, I thought I'd post a few drawings. The first two originally appeared on my old NYU website (which disappeared back in 2001).

The other day, at lunch with visiting poet-in-residence Heather McHugh and my colleague Brian Bouldrey, we were talking about the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (as the earliest readers of this blog know, he was the second or third poet I mentioned, after Jay Wright). The discussion of Rilke jogged my memory about Mark Strand, and more specifically led me to tell about how, some years ago (1994 to be exact), I heard Strand read from his work down at U.Va. I'd been reading Sleeping with One Eye Open, Reasons for Moving, and Darker, which was my favorite poetry book for about a hot month, partially because of its style, which seemed so mysterious and fresh at the time (and these books were his three earliest, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and thus superannuated by the time I'd come across them), and because he'd spent time in Brazil and was translating one of that country's major poets, the late João Cabral do Melo Neto, a poet of soil and stones if there ever was one.

Strand was at U.Va. that spring I believe as one of their distinguished Rea Lecturers, and he'd published his collection Dark Harbor and won the Bollingen Prize the year before, so his visit was a big deal. In his comments to one of the students, he dismissed Rilke by noting that great poet's emotional immaturity, and pointing out that mainly adolescents were likely to get worked about Rilke, or something to that effect; I don't believe I protested vocally, though the peremptory tone soured me a bit on him as did his first comment upon seeing my drawing, which was that I'd drawn the shoulders too narrow (though he was right, they are). Nevertheless, he did sign the drawing with an arrow. He also actually uttered the comment I penned in below the image, though not merely to me, but to everyone present. It was pretty funny.

"I am developing a cold while I stand here. I might die." Charlottesville, though a wonderful town in many ways, can have that effect on some.

To the right, I see now, I was taking notes on Black visual artists of the 1960s and 1970s, as part of my "investigations." One I noted was Paul Keene, of Philadelphia. We unfortunately have never met. (And then there's a recipe just below that, for South African curried chicken....)

I didn't remember drawing this picture of Alfred Kazin, who I do recall, however, giving a reading down at the University of Virginia. He was reading from Writing Was Everything, which had only just appeared. I'd heard much mention of Kazin's greatness in several of my undergraduate American literature classes (in my freshman year I conned my way into a course on Modernism taught by Joel Porte, and the shock of the new--as well as the burden of the reading and paperwriting--was all mine) as well as in essays on the mid-20th century flowering of the (in)famous New York intellectuals, so I was determined to hear him read. At some point I began sketching, and thus the drawing. It wasn't the most interesting lecture I heard during my time down there (there were many, but two come immediately to mind; one by Charles Bernstein, and I'll post the image tomorrow, the other by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, whom I did not draw, as I sat there both spellbound and confused, trying hard to follow the train of her argument--"the subalternity of the subaltern," a concept I'm now quite familiar with), but Kazin did give me a little blast of New York City long passed and past, leading me to read a few chapters of his book, as well as his earlier Walker in the City.

This is one of the most recent drawings I've done (2007); it's of my colleague Alex Weheliye, who, as I noted a few posts ago, read a few weeks ago at the university from his book Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke UP, 2005), through the Center for Writing Arts, which another colleague, the amazing Reg Gibbons, administers these days. Alex is ferociously brilliant, and his book has interesting insights in pretty much every sentence, so as with my sketches of Duriel Harris, Ronaldo Wilson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and a few other people thinking on a higher plane, I both took notes--which start below the line barely visible at the bottom of the drawing--and allowed some of Alex's words to hover around him. I don't think I could find a black pen that afternoon, so I went with blue, but it turned out okay. And the shoulders aren't too narrow....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Info in Recent Emails (Phyre, Glave on Jamaican Near-Lynching, Morgan Monceaux, Hebert, MiPOesias)

Since I no longer know whether I'm coming or going and really have zero time to write original blog entries, I'm going to post a few things people have forwarded to me and let the various things I've been thinking about steep.

The first is from Charles Stephens and others who've been working on Phyre, a LGBT celebration that's taking place this week (February 18-24, 2007) in Atlanta, Georgia.

From the site:

What You Need To Know About Phyre=(fire)

America’s fascinating history is rich with heroes and heroines that have built the foundation of her democracy and her freedom. As a result of the contributions of these sheroes and heroes, we are a better, much fuller and dynamic country. While American history brilliantly documents the contributions, as well as the perspective, of European males succeeding in the “new-frontier” or struggling in the Great Depression, the history nearly omits the existence of African-Americans who too were part of the foundation. When African-Americans have documented our history, we are limitedly successful because much of our history has been erased, denied, or forgotten. During February, while the nation dedicates time to remembering and honoring our African-American past; a coalition of community partners, PHYRE, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is honoring African-American history by dedicating the week of February 18, 2007 - February 24, 2007 to celebrating and remembering lesbian, gay, and bisexual African-American women and men who too have shaped the American mosaic through their contributions in politics, social justice, film, art, music dance, religion, and literature.

As African-American communities move forward with creating institutions, building monuments, memorializing and celebrating our greatnesses by demanding visibility, inclusion, and recognition, PHYRE’s vision is to expressly add that our history is rich also because of contributions from African-American persons who among them are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. In the words of Alice Walker, “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.” The PHYRE project aims to assure that the truths about lesbian, gay, and bisexual African-American’s is known, understood, and celebrated. As the truths become more and more evident, America and all her children will be free.

During the week of February 18 - 24, 2007 PHYRE will celebrate the truths by hosting an array of community-wide events that honor and remember African-American lesbian, gay, and bisexual American history. The events are arranged to promote dialogue, as well as, to promote cross-cultural awareness of the contributions of African American lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. The organizers plan on making this tribute an annual event that is rooted in Atlanta, but stretches across all communities in the United States, with hopes that within Black History month, America will dedicate one week to honor the contributions of its black lesbian, gay, and bisexual past. All events will be free of charge and open to the public.

For more information contact the PHYRE Information Line at (678) 280-7750, visit us on the web at, or via MySpace at

The events include a silent auction, a film series, tributes to the ancestors, and other important cultural and spiritual work, so if you're in Atlanta, please check them out.


Another recent email comes from author Thomas Glave, who writes about having spoken with one of the young men who was nearly lynched in Jamaica just a few few weeks ago. As reported in the Jamaican Observer (and extensively on Rod 2.0's excellent site, C pointed out to me), three young men found themselves trapped in a pharmacy as a frenzied crowd of 2,000 quickly gathered outside and began calling for them to be cast outside so that they could be killed. The pretext was that they were too overtly flaunting their (homo)sexuality and flouting the social codes of the deeply heterosexist and homophobic society in which they live. Police rescued the young men, but Thomas reports on what happened to one young man after they were delivered out of the hands of the mob.

Warm greetings, all. Please excuse this "mass" email. Here is some *awful* news -- *again* -- from Jamaica. Today, I called one of the guys who was attacked; he's physically OK, but, as you can imagine, going through a lot in other ways. This article doesn't even come close to describing how vicious the police were to him in particular, calling him names "dutty nasty battyman," for example (literally "dirty nasty faggot"), cursing him, hitting him in his stomach with their rifles, and hitting him in his eye and on his head. After they took him to Half Way Tree police station -- where they told him not to show his face again if he knew what was good for him -- he found his way to Medical Associates Hospital, not far from where the whole thing happened, where he was treated for his injuries, and released.

He called friends in New York and Switzerland, asking them to call the police in Jamaica; it's because of the calls from "foreign," some people believe, that the police came at all and got the guys out of there. Those of you who know the "connected" people in Jamaica in the LGBT community will be able to find out more by talking with them.

Rod notes in his most recent entry that Jamaicans Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG) is now demanding an investigation into the allegations of police violence and taunting at the Half-Way-Tree station, where some police supposedly warned the young men never to set foot again.


Reggie Harris wrote to alert me and others to an article this past Saturday in the Baltimore Sun on Morgan Monceaux/Master Nagrom (at left, Sun photo by André F. Chung) an artist and activist we know who is finally get some measure of his due for his artwork, which includes his ongoing Black Divas series, a group of paintings of noteworthy Black classical singers, some of the totally forgotten, for which he conducted extensive research and on which he has been working furiously, especially since he experienced another flare-up of a very serious illness. Half a decade ago, I went to Nagrom's studio in Rhode Island, and had the opportunity to see some of his work and chat with him. Among the many impressive projects I recall were the First Lady series, which I thought must have taken a herculean effort to complete and some of which were displayed at the National Portrait Gallery last year, and his erotic paintings and drawings, which received a solo show at New York's LGBT Center a few years back. The Vietnam veteran and former theology student has published several books and, according to the article, isn't setting a deadline anymore: he says of life in general, "Each step takes you closer to a realization of who you are and what you're here to do." Here's to hoping that he has many more years left of thinking, dreaming, creating, painting.


I also received a press release from Barbara Kensey of Kensey & Kensey Communications (, on a forthcoming play by Tsehaye Geralyn Hebert, whom I met two years ago at Chicago State University's annual Gwendolyn Brooks Conference for Black Literature Creative Writing:

“Visual Connections” All-Woman Photography exhibit in eta Gallery

CHICAGO (January 19, 2007) eta Creative Arts Foundation presents “Bedtime Story,” a tale of love, loss, redemption and hope in a Louisiana hamlet written by Tsehaye Geralyn Hebert and directed by Kamesha Jackson. Opening Thursday, February 15 thru April 8, 2007, show times are 8 pm Thursday through Saturday; 3 & 7 pm Sunday at eta Square, 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue. The popular “2-for-l” tickets Thursdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm continue, subject to availability, except opening and closing nights. This production is partially supported by ComEd. General admission is $25 w/student, senior and group discounts. For tickets and information, call 773-752-3955 or visit the web site at

Set a few years after the riots of 1919 in the Louisiana Bayou, a Grandmother’s innocent bedtime stories are the key to what unearths long held secrets that threaten the foundation of the Gremillion household.

“This play poses and grapples with the question – Can love truly heal all wounds,” says Kamesha Jackson, the director. “Tsehaye Hebert’s Bedtime Story is a beautifully woven tale full of characters that (almost) anyone can relate to on some level.”

Adds Hebert, “It’s a love letter to my family, my state, my African American southern roots and to survival beyond anything we can imagine.”


Poet Sandra Miller, the editrice of 1913 Press and 1913: A Journal of Forms, and publisher of Seismosis, has sent out another announcement for 1913 Press's Rozanova Prize.

"All writing is collaboration."
...I think Robert Kelly said that.

1913 says:
There's till time to submit to
for a collaborative and/or visual book,
to be published in a beautiful perfect-bound edition by 1913 Press.
Winner also receives standard royalties contract and 25 copies of the book.

are as open modalities as you want to make them.

(Cross-outs, cut-ups, collage, conversation, wiki-work, decollage, bricolage, multi-authored texts, non-authored texts, hooked on homophonics, anxiously influenced work, chance...)

Please see 1913 a journal of forms and 1913's book publications for fine examples:
Seismosis by John Keene + Christopher Stackhouse
and Sightings by Shin Yu Pai

DEADLINE: March 13, 2007
$20 entry fee

ALL entries will be considered for publication by 1913.
All contest entrants will receive a copy of the winning book.

Multiple entries are accepted, but must be sent under separate cover

either online:

or by mail to:
1913 Press
Box 9654
Hollins University
Roanoke, Virginia 24020

Please email the with any questions at all.

1913 looks forward to the opportunity to read your work...and collaborate!

*After Olga Rozanova (1886-1918), Russian avant-garde (Cubo-Futurist, Proto-Suprematist, Neo-Primitivist) artist who began constructing book art objects in 1913, in collaboration with Kruchenykh, Klebnikhov, and Malevich. Rozanova died young and unexpectedly, a week before the October Revolution anniversary.


Finally, I just received word from poet and scholar Evie Shockley, announcing the new issue of MiPOesias, which she edited:


i invite you to celebrate with me and the contributors among us: ~QUEST~ : A Special Edition of MiPOesias Magazine featuring new work by African American poets has been released! check it out:


don't miss the audio components of this issue -- most poets have mp3s of their poems that you can access on their individual pages, but on the MiPO home page and/or the cover page of the issue, a podcast compiled of readings by each of the poets who recorded audio will load and play. you can also download this podcast from the iTunes store for free; search the podcasts for MiPoesias.

don't miss the amazing artwork of krista franklin on the cover page!

there is some really exciting work in this issue! enjoy --


The lineup of contributors is amazing! They are:

A. Van Jordan
Aracelis Girmay
Brandon D. Johnson
C.S. Giscombe
Camille Dungy
Carl Martin
Cherryl Floyd-Miller
Christian Campbell
Christopher Stackhouse
Derrick Weston Brown
Douglas Kearney
Duriel E. Harris
Ed Roberson
G.E. Patterson
Geoffrey Jacques
giovanni singleton
kim d. hunter
Kyle G. Dargan
L. Teresa Church
Lenard D. Moore
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Marilyn Nelson
Meghan Punschke
Mendi Lewis Obadike
Opal Moore
Raina Leon
Reginald Harris
Reginald Shepherd
Tara Betts
Thylias Moss
Tonya Foster
Treasure Williams
Tyrone Williams

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Recent Readings

though not mine, just the ones I've attended in the interstices of my work-related reading. Here are photos from of the recent Chicagoland events I've been able to catch::

Fiction writer Frances de Pontes Peebles, a native of Recife, Brazil, reading from her novel The Seamstress, set in Brazil's northeast region, at today's Naïeveté Studios Second Sun reading. The novel will be published in January 2008.

Poet, fiction writer, healer and all around beautiful person M. Eliza Abegunde Hamilton introducing Frances de Pontes Peebles, at the Naïeveté Studios Second Sun reading (Reconstruction 747, the arts and goodies fare, was also yesterday and today.)

My esteemed colleague Mary Kinzie, reading poems to benefit the undergraduate Dance Marathon, at Café Ambrosia, on Friday.

My esteemed colleague Brian Bouldrey, reading a selection of his forthcoming book, Walking Across Corsica, to benefit the undergraduate Dance Marathon, at Café Ambrosia, on Friday.

One of my newest colleagues, Eula Biss, reading from a creative nonfiction work to benefit the undergraduate Dance Marathon, at Café Ambrosia, on Friday.

Q musing, as Michael read.

Michael Warr reading from his work, at his reading with Q, on February 1.

Quraysh Ali Lansana, reading with Michael Warr at the Spot, an event sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago, on February 1.

Lisa Buscani, director of the Poetry Center of Chicago, the sponsor of Q's and Michael's reading, performing one of her poems.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama's Officially In + Inland Empire

It's officially official: this morning, Barack Obama (at left, AFP/Mandel Ngan) launched his campaign for the presidency. On a superfrigid day in Springfield, the Illinois state capital, in front of the Old State Capitol building, before which Abraham Lincoln began his anti-slavery campaign in 1858, the 45-year-old Democratic US senator promised to transform the political landscape, end the war in Iraq, and bridge the partisan divide. Despite the hellish temperature, the enthusiastic crowd numbered in the thousands. Obama appealed to the audience, and more broadly to American voters, to elect him as a representative of a new generation, with a fresh and clear vision and the will to enact it. He acknowledged his relatively brief tenure in office, which has become a standard/conventional wisdom talking point against him, yet argued that his demonstrated leadership skills and determination to unite the country and put it back on track were what the US needs--and regardless of how you feel about his candidacy, his point is well taken, especially after eight years of the current quasi-fascist horrorshow, which may include a third war, against Iran, as its capstone.

A great quote:

For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

The primaries are a long ways off, and the odds against Obama are long (though recent polling shows him in second or third place in key primary states, and matching up well against the Republican media darlings), but his election would be revolutionary, constituting a social and political landmark in American history.

Update: Obama's already being attacked by...the Prime Minister of Australia! That's right, he's only a primary candidate at this point, but a foreign leader has jumped into the fray to attack him. John Howard, Australia's right-wing, pro-Bush PM, obviously feels so threatened by Obama (WTF?) that he felt the need to issue this statement. Is he suffering from hallucinations that an Aborigine (Black Australian) might be in a position to run the US? It's pretty bizarre, but let's see what other friends of W decide to launch criticisms of him.

Meanwhile, Steve Gilliard, whose News Blog I check every day, repeats the meme that he has no experience and that, according to some Black people (this time Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Nation crew), he's not down enough. Oh, and he adds that Lincoln was a racist, and since Obama delivered his remarks in the racist's hometown, etc. In the comments more than a few people contexualize Lincoln's feelings about slavery, Black people (and bodies), and so forth, but Stanford historian George Williamson wrote a highly informative book about this topic, and if you read it you'll all you want about Lincoln's issues somatic norms and so on.


This afternoon, after weeks of wanting to go see it, I finally traipsed down to the Music Box and caught David Lynch's Inland Empire. As I described it to C tonight, I can't really describe it except to suggest that, after one viewing, I think it primarily is Lynch's tone poem of the nightmare(s) of Hollywood, with Laura Dern standing in as his (or someone's) alter egos. But then Laura Dern (Nikki Grace/Susan Blue) is only one of several actors and actresses who occupy the screen in a dizzying round-robin fashion. After a confusing intro, which includes a transaction between a prostitute and john in Polish, both with blurred out faces, in black and white, and people in rabbit suits in a sitcom, the film appears to settle on semi-firm footing with Grace Zabriskie (Visitor #1) appearing, in full derangement mode, at the mansion of Dern's Nikki Grace, a rich but unemployed actress, to spew what could only be considered a disorientingly scary prediction about Grace's upcoming role, as Susan Blue, in a film with the ridiculous title "On High in Blue Tomorrows...." And scary only barely encapsulates the delirious horrors that ensue, as Grace, on set with Justin Theroux's Devon Berk as Billy Side, under the direction of Jeremy Irons's Kingsley Stewart (with a dour Harry Dean Stanton as Freddie Howard in tow), begins to fall too deeply into her role, which is to say into her own inland empires, and out of reality altogether...though Lynch, as in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and his other quasi-realist creations, poses important questions about what the "real" really is. One of my university colleagues mentioned that she'd felt almost continuous unease throughout the film, and I can echo her assessment, adding that I had to cover my eyes more than once; kept mistaking mini-climaxes for the real thing; and still have no idea what the scenes in Poland (as opposed to in Polish) or the rabbit family or the thuggish circus crew represent, though other viewers may have readily picked up on the semiotic web connecting them to the rest of the film. (I wonder if Lynch fully knows himself, or if he regrets having not cut the strange Diane Ladd--Laura Dern's mother in real life--talkshow scene as well.) The actor Peter J. Lucas, who played Dern's husband, Piotrek Krol, creeped me out to no end.

The best things about it were Dern's performance, which entailed both range and stamina, which she supplied in full measure, and the film's almost nonstop tone and sense of menace, as well as its hallucinatory movement as narrative, in and against time; Lynch literally transcribed his nightmarish fantasy of Hollywood, as one infernally bad marriage/(hetero)sexual transaction for pay, boundless in every way, directly into a loose(ly) script(ed) form. The accordingly matching affect, it would then seem, would be something profounding and unremittingly disquieting. It struck me that this was a kind of apogee of experimental filmmaking that we seldom see--though Lynch welds his lyrical visual poetics, glazed here by digital video's fuzzing technlogy, with what could only be called drama in the archetypal sense, and, more specifically, were there not hints of (sentimentalized) resolution, tragedy. Instead, what he's produced is an ironic comedy whose language game is always partially concealed, veiled, hidden, though he gives us many pointers, so it does no justice to call it beautiful or brilliant or anything else, because what on earth could these terms mean on anyone's terms but his? And yet any one of them, as well as far harsher appraisals, might be appropriate too--and that, I think, is part of his point. I want to see it again, just to see if I can piece together more clues, but I'm glad I caught it before it disappeared.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Imagine the Sound

Yesterday, amid my student meetings and stacks of reading, and after attending a mind-stirring lecture and Q&B by my colleague Alex Weheliye from his remarkable, award-winning study, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke UP, 2005), I had an opportunity to see a movie I'd heard of but never caught, Imagine the Sound (Ron Mann, 1981), which explores the work of four important figures from the black/music avant-garde of the late 1950s through the early 1970s, Cecil Taylor (one of my favorite artistic avatars), Archie Shepp, Paul Bley, and Bill Dixon. Another colleague, Kevin Bell, whose extraordinary study of transatlantic modernisms, Ashens Taken for Fire: Aesthetic Modernism and the Critique of Identity (Minnesota, 2007), has just appeared, had secured the VHS tape via interlibrary loan (the university unfortunately does not own a copy), and after he rolled the department's video equipment up to my office, he, poet Ed Roberson (!!!--author of the indepensible collection Just In: Word of Navigational Changes: New and Selected Poems, Talisman, 1998, and many other amazing works) and I spent a little chunk of the late afternoon watching and enjoying it. (Kevin's class will get to see it next week.)

For anyone who is a fan of or fascinated by some of the musical innovation of the 1960s, Imagine the Sound is a must-see. Although it only focuses on four key figures, all male, it presents rarely seen material, including Cecil Taylor performing one of his "dance poems" and several solo numbers, Archie Shepp reciting-singing a poem for Malcolm X, and Bill Dixon expatiating on any number of topics in a magnetizing fashion. The performances and commentary by Taylor or Shepp alone would be worth the effort required to get ahold of the video, but Dixon also is a highlight, and his words were a revelation to me. In addition to his trumpet performances, which range between mechanical moans of various kinds to expressive whispers and shrieks, he talks about his experiences starting out and how he had to learn to channel his anger into and through his music, his and the other musicians' pre-commercial foci and the larger field of artistic ferment that was taking place in New York during the 1960s (the Judson Church dances, performance art, the painting scenes, etc.), and his desire to start his own "institute," among other things. Although I often experience brief moments of disabling nostalgia and belatedness when watching such documentaries (as when I recently watched the mesmerizing but problematic 2006 Peter Rozen "great men of art" documentary on late 1950s-mid-1980s New York artmaking and the Henry Geldzahler circle, Who Gets to Call It Art?), I felt energized after the film ended, and Kevin, Ed and I chatted briefly about the narrative, the aesthetic, sociopolitical and performative spaces and dialogues these artists opened up and continue to open up (and all three are still alive, as far as I know), and how we and others are still coming to terms with it. (This was a key theme in all the documentees' commentaries, but especially in Taylor's and Bley's.) It was the sort of afternoon I imagined I'd experience all the time once I cast my lot with academe, but unfortunately, such moments happen all too rarely....

Update: Ron Mann, the director of Imagine the Sound, posted in the comments section to say that he's "just restored the film to HD and 5.1 Stereo Sound. It will premiere at SXSW, Austin TX March 07. For more info see"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Amaechi Comes Out

John AmaechiWhat a summery day we had in Chicago this afternoon: it reached 15 F. Meanwhile, in the wider world, the news includd the imminent coming out by a former NBA player (the first former NBA player to come publicly out of his own volition?) John Amaechi. A Boston native and the son of a Nigerian father and white British mother, Amaechi was reared in the UK, played college basketball at Pennsylvania State University, where was a two-time Academic All American, and wasn't drafted but still managed to have a 9-year career, for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and Utah Jazz, as well as in the European League. (A former coworker of mine went to college with Amaechi, and had only positive things to say about him.)

Since retiring three years ago, Amaechi has been a TV personality in Britain, and also runs a foundation, ABC, which aims to create sports opportunities for children throughout the UK. The news of his self-outing began building recently with the forthcoming release of his book, Man in the Middle, which purportedly will describe his experiences as a closeted professional athlete. In addition to running his foundation and his TV work, Amaechi has been very active in a number of social causes, has mentored young people, and is a practicing poet. He used to have a Website that featured some of his lyric stylings, as well as pictures of his friends and family, and other aspects of his life, though it's unfortunately been taken down. He also was named one of 100 Great Black Britons several years ago.

I applaud Amaechi's courage, and love that his coming out occurred during Black History Month. Now let's see if he'll be a lone wolf for a short time or a long while; how long will it take for any other ex-NBA players, and in particular, Black ex-NBA players, to go as far as he (or Dennis Rodman, who declared his gay-friendliness a few years ago) has? He certainly isn't the only gay former NBA player, and there must be some gay and bi men currently in the league.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Colts Victors (+ Prince + Mars Controversy, etc.)

I woke up this morning to the radio announcer saying it was -5 F this morning without the wind chill, but the icy climate here in Chicago may also be the result of the Chicago Bears' loss in yesterday's Super Bowl to the Indianapolis Colts. It was an auspicious game, marking simultaneously the first time an African-American head coach had made it this far and the first time two--Lovie Smith for the Bears and Tony Dungy for the Colts--would be facing each other. The Bears had dominated the National Football Conference, primarily because of their defensive prowess; their main weak point remains their less-than-top tier starting quarterback, Rex Grossman. In contrast, the Colts, one of the top American Football Conference teams, have one of the league's best quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, and best receivers, Marvin Harrison, but their defense for much of the season was horrendous. If the Bears' defense could keep the scoring low and if Grossman and running back Thomas Jones could put some points on the board, the Bears would have the edge; if not, then it was Indianapolis's game to lose. As the contest began, both teams would have to deal with Miami's relentless downpour.

As it turned out, after a spectacular opening few minutes, during which the Bears' kick and punt return star Devin Hester set a Super Bowl record for the longest touchdown return (92 yards), and after Grossman threw a touchdown pass to receive Muhsin Muhammad, fortune shifted to the Colts. Manning, Harrison, receiver Reggie Wayne (above right, with tight end Bryan Fletcher), and the two backfielders, Joseph Addai and Dominique Rhodes, repeatedly drove their team down the field, and while they could not get touchdowns every time, they were able to pass Chicago by the midpoint of the game 16-14, and pull ahead 22-14 after the half-time break. For much of the second quarter and second half, Chicago's Grossman could not get a handle on the ball, could not convert third-down possibilities, and simply looked off kilter. He slipped on the wet field at one point, and threw several interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter to backup defender Kelvin Hayden, that effectively sealed Chicago's defeat. After the getting the ball back, he threw another interception, and the Vince Lombardi Trophy went to Dungy (who unfortunately has cast his lot with the horrible homophobes of the American Family Association) and the Colts.

I turned off the sloppy broadcast, which for much for the evening featured water-fogged shots, after the fifth or six incoherent invocation of "God" by the owner, Jim Irsay (whose father infamously moved the team in the middle of the night from Baltimore), and Dungy--did they think they'd dropped down at a revival meeting? Was God not on Chicago's side as well?--but I do congratulate the coach on making history and finally vindicating his talent and skills, which had been called into question by critics and his prior employers in Tampa Bay. As I noted to sports-loving friends, perhaps this victory will also mean that football fans no longer have to hear the sportswriters and commentators harping on the fact that Peyton Manning, considered by many of them to be a deity alongside the Patriot's Tom Brady, had not won the Super Bowl. I would like to see Lovie Smith lead the Bears back next year, though he'll still have the problem of his inconsistent quarterback, and a much tougher schedule to negotiate. That is, if the Bears re-sign him (and they should do so as soon as possible), and if he doesn't return, that spells an opening for the Saint Louis Rams....

Added note: Commenter Eileen rightly mentions the halftime entertainer, Mr. Prince Nelson Rogers, and I must admit that I tuned out when he came on. I was a major fan of Prince's in my youth, had a crush on him, wanted to live in that paisley-park of a world that his music conjured up...but I haven't been too Princified in recent years, and I wondered, why weren't some new musicians, from the current generation of musical artists, out there? Prince did manage to add his take on instrument malfunction, though I've heard no outcry about it (the phallic usually seems to occasion less outrage than the mammary/vaginal), but in general, for me he quickly disappeared into the surroundings. (And he certainly wasn't going to be singing any of my favorites among his songs, like "Lady Cab Driver," "Controversy," etc.)

Also, I paid very little attention the ads. Often I muted them, so I missed the homophobic one from Mars, makers of Snickers and M&Ms, that's being harshly criticized on AmericaBlog. Did anyone else catch this one? I did notice several violent ads, including one warning about heart disease that was brutal enough to induce a cardiac arrest. I also found Coca Cola's attempts to commodify Black history disgusting and offensive; and given that the last thing that many African Americans--or anyone else, for that matter--need to be drinking is corn syrup and additive laden sodas like Coca Cola, whose production takes a tremendous toll on the environment, Coca Cola's ads were especially ironic. But it's not me they're thinking about; it's the millions of children, in particular, that they want to hook on their potentially teeth-rotting fizzy juice, whose consciousnesses they want to industrialize. Somehow, I doubt the American College of Dentistry or the American Diabetes Association would be happy without their assistance.

Update: Courtesy of Audiologo (thanks so much!), here is the link, from This Modern World, to Mars's offensive Snickers commercial.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chilly Chi + Turn Signals Please + Black History Month

Well, I've learned my lesson. I won't be commenting again on this blog about how unseasonably warm it is in Chicago, knowing full well my propensity for talking things up (as C will attest) and what this city and region, despite global warming, still have in store. Tonight It's 12F, without the wind chill factor, though I ventured out to a reading (which I'll blog about I hope tomorrow), I tried to spend as little time as I possibly could outdoors. This afternoon, between my morning and afternoon workshops, I decided (foolishly) to walk to the post office to mail some bills, and although I have never and will never have my face in a threshing machine, I was able to imagine the feeling just walking into the eastward wind. In addition, every morning, the sidewalks and my car have borne a light coat of snow and ice. It might not have been a White Christmas, but it's been a very White January.

Wherever in the vast plains those arctic winds are coming from, I wish they could go back. It is days and evenings like this that give me endless appreciation for whomever invented the radiator and thought of 7+ foot thick brick and concrete walls for houses and apartment buildings, and double-paned windows....


Another note about Chicago. Every day that I drive to and from Evanston, I say that I'm going to write about Chicago driving, even though I know full well from the statcounter associated with this blog that very few of my readers come from the Arctic City. But nevertheless, on the off chance that I have some Chicago readers other than my wonderful former students and a few colleagues, I am going to recommend one thing that even the worst drivers I have encountered driving in Boston (where, as I once told Reggie H. people were liable to drive backwards at upwards of 20 miles an hour down the street and then someone proceeded to illustrate my point, right then and there), or New Jersey (where the highways are basically raceways), or New York City (where you play a game sort of like Bumper Cars except that you never actually touch the other car, only at 10x the speeds), or Washington DC (which is a giant driving maze without walls), or anywhere else but Chicago appear to have learned during their period of learning how to handle an automobile. There is a lever which connects to a mechanism that creates a blinking light on either side of your car's front and rear lights. This mechanism is generally known as a turn signal or blinker. (I have no clue what the correct term is in Spanish, though I would guess it's something like señal de vuelta, maybe, maybe not.) At any rate, these lights are very useful. They indicate when you plan to make a turn left or right, be it onto a street or into an alleyway or parking lot, or if you plan to change lanes, or if you aim to pull into a spot to park. In every other place that I've lived, most of the drivers realize that the turn signal/blinkers are for these multiple purposes. But not, it seems, in Chicago. Change lanes, often no signal. You signal you're going to park, and someone pulls right up behind you so you can barely back up; or they stop in the middle of the city's narrow residential streets, as if waiting to pick up someone, and lo, here they come backing up, into what could be one or two different parking spaces--but without a turn signal. And the person in front of you slows down to a crawl, with their break lights on? Are they going to stop for some reason? No, they're making a turn! I'm not sure why this basic aspect of driving is so hard for some of the good people out here to grasp, but I'm appealing to them: please learn to use your turn signal/blinkers. Please. You're not only doing yourself a huge favor, but everyone else as well. Please!


Today is the first day of Black History Month, which I was fortunate to have been introduced to formally as a grade schooler, during those heady days in the early and mid-1970s when cultural affirmation was beginning to take root in many parts of the country. This was also not too long after the heyday of the Black Arts and Black Power movements, and so in addition to my introduction to Black history in school--in a Roman Catholic school, mind you, that went on to rename itself after the nation's first Black* Catholic bishop--I also took "African" dancing lessons and Black drawing classes and the like. It was not only edifying, but incredibly fun. (Especially those dances.) As I was in a predominantly Black environment at the time (though I'd gone to a multracial, multiethnic Montessori school for preschool), celebrating Black history seemed natural; nearly all the teachers and the students were Black, and the few White nuns and Fr. Ed appeared to go along with it (again, this was a very different period from today). Lining the hallways were the posters about famous Black people (from Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to Mary McLeod Bethune and Ralph Bunche), and we learned a bit about famous Black people from Missouri, like our then-Congressman, Bill Clay, and Madame C.J. Walker, who'd lived in St. Louis, and George Washington Carver, as well as famous Black public figures, like the late Martin Luther King Jr. and Shirley Chisholm. (We didn't hear too much about famous Black entertainment figures from the state and city, like Chuck Berry, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, or Tina Turner, but then the emphasis was on certain types of role models, i.e., world leaders, scientists, and so forth, and not others, i.e., people in entertainment; Scott Joplin and Bobbie McFerrin Sr. were a few of the musicians whose work I remember hearing discussed, but I had to hear about the other famous St. Louis and St. Louis-area musicians, like Miles Davis, Clark Terry and Joe Bowie (of Art Ensemble of Chicago fame), and so on, at home.) I cannot recall if Anheuser-Busch had begun releasing its great Kings and Queens of Africa calendars and posters back then--I want to say they did, but I might be conflating memories--but I do know that non-American famous Black people, like Haile Selassie and Anwar al-Sadat were mentioned approvingly.

Then we moved to the suburbs, and I was no longer at a predominantly Black school, and wasn't getting any sort of exposure to Black history or culture outside my home or family or immediate neighborhood. I was in fact the only Black person in my class, and only one of three Black children in the entire larger new school I attended. (My new neighbors up the street had already all graduated from the elementary school and were away in high school, while the other neighborhood kids went to a different school named, appropriately enough, after Frederick Douglass.) If any discussion of Black anything came up in any of my classes for those first two years, I don't remember it at all. At the next school I attended for junior high, I was one of two Black students in my class, and one of a little over a dozen in all 7-12th grade classes combined. In English we studied grammar and read poetry and fiction, none of it by anyone Black. In history, we learned about the Greeks and Romans and British (though none of the Black denizens of any of those cultures). In Latin and French and Musical Education--well, no Black people turned up at all. Religion, same thing. (The North African St. Augustine was a year away.) Around this time my parents joined one of those organizations (not Jacks & Jills) which believed in bringing Black children, especially ones scattered about the suburbs, together to socialize. The organization or members hosted various events, and it was at one of the older kid's parties a few years later that I first heard "Rappers Delight." They also had a public recital, and though I was painfully shy, I did agree to participate in one of them. Around this time, I was becoming fascinated by Langston Hughes, whose work I knew about from early childhood on, though I didn't learn he was a native Missourian until reading one of those Black history posters. To me he was the most famous Black American poet (then and now), and though Nikki Giovanni was my favorite at the time, I considered Hughes to be the poet whose work I should try to publicly recite. (I also thought of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, but Hughes was more contemporary.)

So for the recital, I decided that I would memorize one of his poems, and I picked one of the most obvious, which I'd been familiar with from my prior Black history classes and books at home and at my godparents' homes: "Dream Deferred." To me, it is one of the central poems of the Black American experience, and though I was terrified to death by the prospect of reciting this short poem aloud, when the time came, I got up and delivered it, I think without faltering. The one comment I remember after that experience was that a woman complimented me on the performance and on wearing my afro combed back "like Frederick Douglass." I don't remember "Dream Deferred" by heart anymore, but one of the pleasures of my class this past fall was that I had the opportunity to read it again with students. Here it that poem, by an artist and figure I adore more and more as I grow older, (James Mercer) Langston Hughes (1902-1967), whose birthday is today:

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

And here is another poem by him, that captures in all its simplicity the spirit of Carter G. Woodson's original "Black History Week" and now, of Black History Month, "My People":

My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Both poems © Estate of Langston Hughes, 2007.