Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween (Random Stuff)

Not much to report, just wooooooorrrrrrkkkkkkkk! But the quarter is halfway to its end, or at least I think it is. It feels like classes have been going for four months, not one and a few weeks. Things are sort of a blur. Nevertheless, yesterday I dropped by the Dittmar Gallery at the university's Norris Center to hear Fall visiting writer in residence Ed Roberson read his work. There was supposed to be an accompanist, but s/he wasn't able to make it, so Ed created his own music, starting out with new poems before reading a series of pieces of his collection City Eclogue, which I'd read before but which felt like revelations as he read them. (He'd read before at the university, several years ago, with Cecil Giscombe, but those were earlier poems.)

Among the stalagmites of books here in Chicago I cannot locate my copy (and none were for sale), but when I do, I'll post one of the poems that most struck me this reading, about a guy in a chemistry class Ed taught years ago. He had on mismatched shoes, which signified the loss of a friend to gun violence--and what Ed does with that premise is remarkable. The thing I realized hearing him read these poems was how much life they took on through his voice; not that he performed them, per se, but his inflections and emphases made me want to return to the collection and read it more slowly, something I rarely have had time to do over the last half-decade. A colleague suggested a few years ago that everyone ought to read slowly, and I thought to myself, but how on earth then is one to keep up with the flood--literal, not figurative--of required reading, let alone everything necessary to be even passably current with contemporary literature, art, scholarship, and everything else? But back to Ed's reading, here are a few photos I took with my new phone. (I had to junk the old one, since it got to the point where my conversations with everyone were sounding--to them--like I was 20 leagues under the sea.) Aren't they much better? Maybe several years of carrying the other phone around in my pocket, with keys, coins and everything else, just scratched up its lens too badly, though I don't think it ever had a particularly great camera.

Ed reading his poems

Ed answering questions--he announced at the reading that he'd been elected to the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Conference Hall of Fame.


At lunch yesterday one colleague asked another about my blog, and it was described as a spot where I posted translations of work that hasn't been translated elsewhere. In part that's true, though I haven't posted any translations in a while. But I recently mentioned to Reggie that some of my translations of stories from Brazilian writer Jean Wyllys's collection Aflitos are going to be published next year (spring?), and as I told him a while back, based in part on some of the translations of Alain Mabanckou's poems that appeared on here a while ago, I was invited to provide translations that were used, I believe, at the PEN International Writing Festival earlier this year. This got me thinking about how this great it is to have this resource to post the translations, even in their rawest form, and perhaps, when I have some free time, I can post some more. I may be wrong, but I don't think lots of people are translating a lot of the great non-English language work out there from across the Black diasporic literary world, whether creative or critical, so I feel that in addition to be an enduring interest of mine, it's also an important, necessary and vital form of intellectual engagement.


On Flux, a microblurb about Seismosis!

Monday, October 29, 2007

R. B. Kitaj RIP + Film Review: Lust, Caution

I was sorry to hear of the recent passing of R(onald) B(rooks) Kitaj (1932-2007), one of the important contemporary British figurative artists (though born in the US) of the late 20th century. I associate Kitaj and his work, especially the paintings, drawings and prints, with several generations of visual artists who were closely aligned and allied with writers; in Kitaj's case, he had close links to a number of poets who came to note from the late 1950s through the 1970s (cf. the images below), and was a published poet himself. Critic Jed Perl offers a moving tribute, entitled "Impassioned," in the current New Republic; here's a quote:

Kitaj was a connector, an engager, both in the complexity of the themes that he embraced in his painting and in the richness of the social world that he inhabited. He had the old-time bohemian feeling for the life of art as an adventure to be savored, to be approached with a certain deliberateness, and maybe even with a certain sense of ceremony. Whether you were going with him to an exhibition in London or, more recently, after he moved back to the United States, having a glass of juice with him at the little table in his kitchen in Los Angeles, there was a sense that something important might happen--that feelings and ideas were in the air. His houses were themselves works of art, especially the house in LA, where rare prints hung next to art postcards and newspaper clippings and there was one room devoted to the great Jewish writers and another dedicated to Cézanne, whose lithographs were among Kitaj's treasured possessions. As he was talking he might rummage in a jam-packed bookcase and pull out some rare set of film magazines, bought years ago in London for a ridiculously small sum. He was a polymath, with a reverence for information and ideas that was all the more acute because he had learned so much of it on his own. He certainly brought the ardor of the audodidact-intellectual to his letter writing.

"A Day Book by Roger Creeley" ( Portfolio including 13 signed & numbered graphics: 8 screenprints, 4 etchings, 1 lithograph, 24 in. x 16.3 in, 1972), Viviane Bregman Fine Art.


On Saturday I went to see Ang Lee's new film Lust, Caution [Se, Jie] (2007), which has been generating a great deal of controversial over several sexually explicit scenes (and yes, they are explicit by movie standards, though in the increasingly pornotopic society we live in, most of them, save one, barely merit an eyeblink), including earning a NC-17 rating, but also mixed-to-poor reviews, like this one, or this one. After reading a few of the reviews, I have to wonder if I saw the same film. Rather than a musty historical drama or a "monotone...spy drama," Lee's film is a compelling dramatization of the dangers that fuzzy-brained idealism, especially when reason gives way to passion, which it usually does when sex is involved, and the stakes are more than theoretical. The film takes place during the Japanese occupation of China during World War II, and revolves around a small group of university students who evacuate from the mainland to Hong Kong, and start up a theater group whose aim is to build up patriotic fervor among Chinese residents and exiles of that British colony. The troop succeeds all too well, and decides, in a tragic turn at least some of them come to rue, that instead of playacting, they ought to be acting against traitors and collaborators for real. Wang Jizhi (Wei Tang, in one of the most moving performances I've seen in some time), a virginal young semi-orphan--her father has moved to Britain with her younger brother, leaving her on her own--agrees to play the fictional wife, Mrs. Mak Tai Tai, of a pseudo-businessman, in order to snare collaborator Mr. Yee (Tony Leung, the star of Wong Kar-Wai's masterpieces Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and 2046), a cool, beautiful, terrifying creature who eventually proves that no brutality is beneath him. I won't give away the plot, but events initially foil the theater troop's clumsy attempts to kill Mr. Yee, who heads off to Shanghai; when the plot resumes four years later, in Shanghai, thinks unfold in such a manner that it's clear Wang and her conspirators, which include the Chinese resistence, have no idea what they've gotten themselves into; not only bodies, but spirits are shattered by the end of the film.

Ang Lee isn't a director I look to for any sort of formal innovation, and the structure of this film bears this out; it's fiction or screenwriting 201: rather than strict linearity, the film starts in the unfolding present, jumps backwards to fill in the plot (and what a plot), then returns to the present, repeating what we've seen before just in cases, before moving towards the climax, which has been amply prepared for up to this point. But form here is only the basic container for what's most important, which is the underlying idea, stunning dramatized. As with his previous film, the landmark Brokeback Mountain, this film is about conviction, principles, desire, and love--and sex, really--under very difficult, or more aptly, impossible consequences. Here, not fully understanding the consequences spells the worst trouble, for all involved. The wannabe patriots, Wang as spy-and-lover, and even the chilling Mr. Yee, all fail to grasp the outcome of what they have dared to undertake, and the sex, as the literal objective correlative and embodiment of risk, assumes tremendous power beyond any prurience. Every moment of the over-the-top sex here is essential, especially when we hear Wang describe, to the evident dismay and regret of her fellow plotter and the disgust of the resistence chief, how it's not only physically and psychologically destroying her, but how totally compromising it is. This is nobody's playacting.

As for the acting, I focused on Wei Tang and Tony Leung, and they did not disappoint, though Joan Chen, as Leung's disengaged wife, also shines. Tang convincingly moves from ingenue to a far more complicated character, glamorous and controlled on the outside, but roiling within. Leung always appears to be roiling, his expression as tight as a tripwire, and when he explodes.... In this film that word had multiple valences, and while I don't want to find ethnocentrism under every bushel, I wonder whether if this film were set in Northern Ireland, say, and instead of Tang and Leung, it were, say, Naomi Watts and Justin Timberlake (not that he'd be qualified to play such a role, but then again, has that ever stopped Hollywood?) rolling around nude, banging and panting and nearly breaking bedframes, the critiques would be so peremptory? Lee has already suggested, perhaps too defensively, that the film would meet with negative criticism; it isn't perfect or even close, and has some clunky parts--particularly some of the historical scenes, but it is a great deal better than so much of what's out there, and the acting is one reason why.

Other critics have noted that this film is insistently political, and directly germane to our current crises in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and world; though it's set 60 years ago in a foreign country, China, that we continue to exoticize while also ignoring at our peril, it's one of the most powerful critiques of the jingoism, amateur cowboy warmaking, and failed long-term thinking of this current administration's overseas adventures I've seen in a while. If the Bush administration is the happy-go-lucky and horribly incompetent theater troupe-cum-conspirators, then I guess Wang would be our military, and, as more than a few very knowledgeable military officials, analysts and scholars have put it, our military under George Walker Bush, Dick Bruce Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the neocons, has been, to put it bluntly, f*cked.

Obama's "Favorite" Reads the Homos

Some of us are Black, some of us are gay, and those of us who are both aren't worth giving the time of day....

The Obama Gospel Concert Hate Tour
Mr. McClurkin is the preacher who had said he was gay but was “cured” through prayer and tonight he was the star act in a parade of star acts, which included the Mighty Clouds.


The whole controversy might have been forgotten in the swell of gospel sound except Mr. McClurkin turned the final half hour of the three-hour concert into a revival meeting about the lightning rod he has become for the Obama campaign.

He approached the subject gingerly at first. Then, just when the concert had seemed to reach its pitch and about to end, Mr. McClurkin returned to it with a full-blown plea: “Don’t call me a bigot or anti-gay when I have suffered the same feelings,” he cried.

“God delivered me from homosexuality,” he added. He then told the audience to believe the Bible over the blogs: “God is the only way.” The crowd sang and clapped along in full support....

Mr. McClurkin’s support for Mr. Obama could signal to some black evangelical voters that race and religion are more important than Mr. Obama’s support for gay rights.
And there's more:

A September poll conducted by Winthrop University and ETV showed that 74 percent of South Carolina African-Americans believe homosexuality is "unacceptable."

Michael Vandiver, president of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement said that he was disappointed by Obama's refusal to take McClurkin off the bill, but that he hopes it will be an opportunity for new dialogue.

"This is not a protest of Senator Obama, but rather a vigil in opposition of Reverend McClurkin and his statements on homosexuality," Vandiver said before the concert. "We're also here to show our support for Rev. Andy Sidden."

Sidden is the white, gay pastor added to the concert bill as a last minute compromise by the Obama campaign. Sidden's appearance was notably brief and anti-climactic: He said a short prayer to the auditorium at the very beginning of the program, when the arena was only about half full, and then he left.

Obama, while not present, appeared on a videotaped message to the crowd, saying, “The artists you’re going to hear from are some of the best in the world, and favorites of Michelle and myself.”

McClurkin said during the concert that he had been introduced to Obama by Oprah Winfrey.

All BFFs of Oprah's, sounds like fun! But wait, there's more! Now Obama's once again spouting right-wing frames. Yippee! (Good people of Illinois, just think, you could have worked to elect Alan Keyes rather than wasted time and money on this wannabe triangulator!)

Part of the reason that we have had a faith outreach in our campaigns is precisely because I don't think the LGBT community or the Democratic Party is served by being hermetically sealed from the faith community and not in dialogue with a substantial portion of the electorate, even though we may disagree with them.

(Pssst: just in case they don't get it, the Black faggots and dykes can just go to hell!)

The somewhat astounding thing is that Obama supposedly had the Black male primary vote in South Carolina sewn up, and was really vying for Black women voters. And as should be clear to anyone with half a brain, neither he nor any other Democrat, including John Edwards who was born there, is going to win South Carolina in the general election under any circumstances. But hey, kicking Black gays under the chassis may win some White and Black evangelical votes in Arkansas, Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, and uh, somewhere else, so that's all that matters, right?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Sox Win Series in 4 Game Sweep

Big Papi David Ortiz, Julio Lugo, Manny Ramírez, and Bobby Kielty celebrating Kielty's homer in the 8th inning. The Red Sox won their second World Series in 4 years, in a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies (, Reuters Photo)

This Week, Pt.2: Int'l Writers + Waldrops + Anti-War Rally Downtown

Friday morning I flew back to Chicago, in order to participate in the university's International Writers Day, a series of events coordinated and hosted by the Center for Writing Arts and Center director Reg Gibbons. He and Assistant Director Stacy Oliver got things going that morning when they brought the six visiting writers, Nirwan Dewanto (from Indonesia), Hamdy El Gazzar (from Egypt), Ksenia Golubovich (from Russia), Lawrence Pun (from Hong Kong), Aziz Nazmi Shakir-Tash (from Bulgaria), and Lindsay Simpson (from Australia), to meet with poet Robyn Schiff's advanced sequence creative nonfiction class, and my advanced fiction class. All of the writers are currently residence at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, and were in town for events at the university and in Chicago, at the Chopin Theater. After introducting themselves and their work, they conducted a discussion with our students, who had read their work and came prepared with sharp questions about their backgrounds, their work in genres, the role of politics, and related topics.

Golubovich's responses really struck me. She spoke about being a writer from different countries, a writer living in and on borders; an ethnic Yugoslavian whose family had fled Tito after World War II, she was born in the Soviet Union and lived now in a different country, and had a British stepfather who, from her 15th year, expected her to speak and be smartly amusing in English. (Her English was excellent, but then all five of the non-native Anglophone writers were fluent.) Her work, she said, faced the "idea of the border," and one of her challenges was the question: "how do you make yourself whole?" She continued by noting her and other writers of her generation's work redeeming language from its abuse by the state, and suggested that in writing there's always politics, and if not, "it's bad writing." In response to a subsequent question, she spoke about how she and another writer had engaged in the task of translating one of Bruce Chatwin's travel works, heavily influenced by one of Russia's greatest poets, Osip Mandelstam and his wife Nadezhda, back into Russian, and how this "double process" (Russian-->English-->Russian) created a new Russian, something--and language and idiom--that had not existed before. In effect, it changed and enriched her Russian. She pointed out that the Russian translation of The Catcher in the Rye in the 1960s had been fundamental for a generation of writers; the idiom it created influenced these authors as much as and perhaps more than any native Russian works or culture.

I also was taken with Aziz Shakir-Tash's statements about being of Turkish ancestry in Bulgaria. Though Turks were once the majority there, during the Ottoman Empire, after the First World War and Bulgaria's independence, Turks became a minority and it was in this context that Shakir-Tash grew up. As it is, he not only writes in Bulgarian and Turkish, choosing the latter in part because of the much larger pool of readers (70 million+ vs. 8 million), but also English (and he read some droll micropoems later that day) and Arabic, for which he was one of a few translators in his country. He felt that in light of the historical closeness of Bulgarians and Turks, who in a nationalist fervor that is well known across the globe, now hate each other, literature might serve as a bridge by revealing their shared history and experiences, and above all, humanity. "If they know each other they won't fear each other." If only this were true, though I admired his conviction (and hold it, against reality, unfortunately, myself).

After the class concluded, we headed to lunch, and were joined by the most of the rest of our creative writing faculty. It was great to break bread with the visitors, and I had an opportunity to chat a little with Golubovich, primarily about music; Pun, discussing films, particularly those of Wong Kar-Wai (though I confessed to him that Tsai Ming-Liang was perhaps even more of a favorite); and El Gazzar, who gave a colleague and me the names of some of Egypt's best younger fiction writers. I had to run to an afternoon class, my introductory fiction course, so I headed there and after we conducted a scheduled story workshop, we headed to the writers' reading and question and answer session, some of which I photographed below. Though I was exhausted by the end of the event, I also felt tremendous energized, and only wish that it were possible to have more of these sorts of events taking place all the time, particularly with creative people who were so open.

Pun reading his short story "What Exactly Did I Lose?"

Golubovich reading from a project that constituted a tribute, in part, to her British stepfather

Shakir-Tash and Golubovich listen as Dewanto (center) answers a question

El Gazzar, Simpson and Pun ponder a question after the reading


Yesterday afternoon, I was still beat, but I got up and after spending time doing some cleaning and shopping, and also reading student work, I headed down to the grand Harold Washington Library (the main branch of the Chicago Public Library) to catch Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop, exemplary poets, critics, translators, and publishers, as part of the Chicago Poetry Project's yearlong reading series dedicated to translation. And who better to launch such a series? They are extraordinary figures in the world of contemporary American literature, particularly experimental writing (talk about people deserving of MacArthur Foundation Fellowships!) and through their Burning Deck Press publishing house have published a wide array of US authors, from Walter Abish and Robert Coover to Marjorie Welish and Xue Di, while also bringing out numerous works in translation over the years. They're also two of the most welcoming people I've ever met, gentle, sage, full of knowledge lightly offered, encouraging, witty, and great storytellers. I can still recall vividly a story Rosmarie told, while I walk around with a few Keith's apothegms in my head as well. Like a number of writers I know, I think of their literary activism--which it is--as a model, and try not to miss them when they pass through. (I met Rosmarie and Keith during the year I taught in Providence, where they've lived for nearly 40 years, where Keith has trained generations of writers and artists at Brown University during that period, and where together they've run Burning Deck Press, one of the signature small presses, for decades.) Poet John Tipton (whom I sketched at his reading last fall) introduced them pithily, and then they read, Rosmarie first, then Keith. Below are a few photos, both of the reading and the library, which is one of my favorite spots in Chicago. (How often do you hear someone say that about a library?)

Rosmarie Waldrop, who started by reading some quotes by Edmond Jabès, whom she translated and knew well

Rosmarie Waldrop, holding up a copy of Curves to the Apple, published by New Directions in 2006; it brings together three of her most acclaimed volumes, The Reproduction of Profiles (1987), Lawn of Excluded Middle (1993), and Reluctant Gravities (1999)

Keith Waldrop, reading some of his translations of Baudelaire's poems from Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen

From the mezzanine level, looking at the main floor of the Harold Washington Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library

Descending the escalator at the library


After I left Keith and Rosmarie's reading, I headed to the Fall Out Against the War Anti-War Rally, which was at Federal Plaza, just a few blocks away. It followed an early-afternoon staging and rally at Union Park, from which participants marched downtown. The Federal Plaza Rally was one of 11 regional marches and rallies; the others were in Boston, Jonesborough (Tennessee), Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle. One of the speakers noted that perhaps 30,000 people were present (the crowd was vast, and people with placards were visible on streets many blocks away), though I overheard a cop scoffing that the speaker had "smoked too much pot" and that the crowd was about 10,000, which was what the traditional media (both the local TV news and NPR) announced. (Maybe they read straight off the script that cop had seen.) The wall of cops was incredible; in addition to the Chicago Police Department contingents, there were traffic cops and what I guess were details from Cook County (the county containing Chicago, Evanston, and few other suburbs) and who knows where else. There were probably even federal and state entities there, for exactly what reason who knows. I doubt it was to protect the marchers and rally participants. I got to hear several of the speakers, and they spoke not only about the ongoing disaster in Iraq, but about the looming threat of a US military attack on Iran, which increasingly seems possible given the worsening rhetoric coming out of the White House and Congress. I kept thinking that despite thousands of people out there in Chicago and more than a hundred thousand at other rallies, and despite the widespread sentiment, quantified by polls, against continuing Iraqmire or attacking Iran, if the people in power are set on doing this, they will. They are unconstrained by the popular will and have been since they seized power in the 2000 election. I know this sounds cynical and defeatist, but I'm not sure what else to say, at least at this point. My faith that the leading Democratic presidential candidates, like the Democratic Congress, will do anything to stop this craziness, is at an ebb. Congress seems to keep falling all over itself to do George Walker Bush, Dick Bruce Cheney and the Military-Industrial Complex's bidding. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see so many people, from all over the Midwest, and from all points on the political spectrum, converging to express their collective hope and determination to ensure that we follow a more peaceful road than the current belligerent one.

Chicago's famous Federal Plaza, the site of the rally, with the Alexander Calder "Flamingo" stabile sculpture, and buildings (Everett McKinley Dirksen Building; the John C. Kluczynski Building; and the Loop Post Office) designed by one of the greatest modernist architects, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The stage from a distance (the speakers were barely visible unless you got close, though you could hear them blocks away)

The stage, and some of the signs (note the Alfred E. Bush/George W. Newman) Impeach sign)

A "peace" standard bearer (and behind her, one of the many people carrying a Ron Paul sign)

Lots of buttons for sale

People milling about during the speeches

On my way back north, crossing the Chicago River

On my way back I encountered this lone protester highlighting another issue; take note!

This Week, Pt1: Als on Baldwin + Reading @ Temple

It's been such a busy week a barely know where to begin. But I'll start with Hilton Als's (at right, in a horrible cellphone photo) provocative talk, "The Exile," which was part of this year's One Book One Northwestern series, focusing on James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain. I've been following Als's work avidly for some time, both his journalism in the The New Yorker and other venues (The Village Voice many moons ago), and his strange, compelling study, The Women (which I hope to teach one of these days). Much in line with his journalism, Als's talk, which included a brief fictional addendum that imagined Baldwin at cocktail parties, was as much about himself and his attitudes towards Baldwin, writing, Black folks, and the vexed relationship between artmaking and socialization as it was about Baldwin. He suggested that Baldwin was torn between two poles: the desire to be alone, and make his art (which a writer must do), and the desire to be social, loved, and, extending from this, famous, and he related this to the quandary many writers face, which is that they expect to be loved for their work, with the work become a kind of prosthesis for the ultimately unloved self. Fame increases the attention and phantasm of love, but doesn't in the end constitute it, and for Baldwin, he ended up becoming something he said he wouldn't but also was unable to achieve the level of accomplishment he aspired to in the genre that was most important to him, prose fiction, or the form, the novel.

Als began by describing how he thought of Baldwin as he watched a news report about the horrific immolation that Betty Shabazz suffered at the hands of her grandson, her husband's namesake, Malcolm Shabazz, and he rather controversially linked this moment to Baldwin by stating that the Black gay boy is regarded at times as a little Malcolm Shabazz, setting the Black house aflame with our difference (well, perhaps not so controversial, as our own Senator Barack Obama has decided to prove); he went on to add a bit about Black gay boys also going after a white Jesus of our own, which was even more problematic, though I think I grasped what he was saying with this as he later discussed Eldridge Cleaver's infamous homophobic attack on Baldwin's work as representing a "racial death wish" and, echoing Baraka's denunciation of the Black middle class in many of his works of the late 1960s, as "the apotheosis" of a "Black bourgeoisie," separated from their culture. Further ironizing this reference, Als talked about Norman Mailer's dismissal of Baldwin's "perfumed wit," or to put it more broadly, his "high faggot style," which Als noted that he loved. Baldwin, however, got his revenge in an essay, "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy" (title?). From here Als explored personal thoughts about his own relationship with Baldwin, and had already noted that Baldwin was born out of wedlock, as was he (Also was also, I think I heard him say, an adoptee), and was, ina basic sense, an alien in his own family. Despite these parallels, Als felt he wanted to dislike Baldwin more, and I picked up a strong sense of what, of all people, Harold Bloom described as an "agony of influence," with Baldwin not merely an ancestor and predecessor, but the source of an ongoing "agon" for Als. It is true that every Black gay male writer writes under the star (in all senses of that word) of Baldwin (and Hughes, and Nugent, and Cullen, etc.), but for Als, it seems, the relationship transcends the historical and is continually contestory. (Personally I've never wanted to "dislike" Baldwin at all, and when I was younger I reverenced him; I much more aware of his literary failings and his personal imperfections, but he remains for me, as for so many writers, a towering and essential figure. He was, I should add, the spark that light the fire that became the Dark Room Writers Collective, among other things, though his influence was also central to the Other Countries and related writing groups of the 1980s. I also have never been the sort to flee the other Black gay person--or Black person, for that matter--in the room, but that's for another discussion.)

Also tied up his talk by noting that Baldwin's unpublished letters were one of the great unknown masterpieces of American literature. Unfortunately, his family won't allow them to be published because they shed a negative light on their father, who was not his, which led to the rhetorical bow: "even a bastard can be reclaimed by his family." The house in flames, but the arsonist redeemed. I wasn't too sure about this bit, but overall it was an engaging talk--underlined, as was necessary, but Als's performance of it, as interesting and necessary to the lecture as the text itself--and one of the highlights, at least to me, of the fall. (It was also delicious to hear Als invoke his good friend, another Black gay male writer, Darryl Pinckney, as he read Baldwin's Just Above My Head, which Robert Reid-Pharr successfully defends and explicates in his new study Once You Go Black, and which my university colleague Nick Davis also defended in a question he posed to Als. I specifically asked about Black gay male literary geneology, activism, and the place of writing, both in terms of Als and other writers--from Sterling Houston to young Black gay writers of today--and got a sort-of answer; it's a topic that my former colleague Dwight McBride and Devin Carbado broach in their anthology of several years ago, and which still calls out for considerably more treatment.) After the event I got to meet Als and kee-kee with him for a hot second, which was a real treat, but I also got to praise him in person for what I still consider to be one of the best and more outrageous journalistic pieces to appear in a mainstream US publication, his profile of André Leon Talley. As soon as I mentioned it, he knew I had picked up the underlying frequencies in it completely. It will, he says, be in a book that's on its way. I can say with utter sincerity that I can hardly wait to read it.


On Thursday I gave a poetry reading at Temple University under the auspices of their Creative Writing program, directed by Samuel R. Delany; poet and scholar Rachel Blau DuPlessis (and later, her husband Bob) was my gracious host. It was the first time I'd been to Philadelphia since the MLA Conference a few winters ago, and the first time I'd been to Temple, I think, since my cousin graduated from the Tyler School of Art. (Though my flight from Chicago was delayed an hour and the SEPTA train I was supposed to take broke down, leading to an hour-long wait, I still had a ball.) I read with a talented graduate student, Emily Skaja, and it was a fun reading on so many levels; Chip introduced it, Rachel's students were there, one of my former students from the university brought his wife, and poet and publisher Sueyeun Juliette Lee, now living in Philadelphia and doing her Ph.D. at Temple, was also present. Oh, and the audience was pretty full--for poetry, by an unknown quantity, on a Thursday! Thanks again to Rachel, Chip, Emily, and everyone else to who came out, and here are two pics over the Schuylkill (the second by Rachel--thanks!); Philadelphia's a city that I've always liked visiting quite a bit, and I look forward to going back there again in the future.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Obama {Hearts} Gospel Homophobes

""The gloves are off and if there's going to be a war, there's going to be a war. But it will be a war with a purpose? I'm not in the mood to play with those [gay people,] who are trying to kill our children."
--Donnie McClurkin on the 700 Club

"After you've done all you can, you just stand.
Don't give up, don't give in, you just stand.
Oh, Mr. President, tonight, you just stand."
--Donnie McClurkin to President W, in 2004

"There are many other things to be done to break the curse of homosexuality...."
--Donnie McClurkin, quoted in the Chicago Tribute

"There are countless people who are discontent in this lifestyle and want to be freed from it. They were thrust into homosexuality by neglect, abuse and molestation."
--Donnie McClurkin, quoted in the Chicago Tribute

Mary Mary

"They [Gays] have issues and need somebody to encourage them like everybody else - just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute?"
--Mary Mary, in an interview

(And yes, I know about Rev. Harold Mayberry, Hillary Rodham Clinton's anti-gay supporter, but I'm holding him to a higher standard.)

National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Responds to the Obama-McClurkin Gay Gospel controversy

Monday, October 22, 2007

Presidential Politics Anyone?

I've mostly stopped posting about the current presidential race and politics in general, because I really don't have the time and I've gathered (perhaps wrongly) from the lack of reponse that this topic isn't that interesting, or, more accurately that my unoriginal opinions aren't that interesting. To merit commentary, that is. Since I'm not at all interested in the "horse race" narratives, nor in the constant obfuscations and dissimulations the traditional media like to engage in, and since I don't have time to delve deeply into the Democrats' proposed policies, I sometime wonder if there is anything else to say. I realize, above all, that unless I'm offering something new, other blogs that have devoted readers and commenters who really are energized by political discussions are the places people will head.

Still, I have to note that it's already clear to me the Republican presidential field (which now includes Alan Keyes, for God's sake!--doesn't that say it all?) is a steadily worsening horrorshow of ignorance, racist and sexist pandering, delusion, authoritarianism, and incompetence, that could actually leave us in a worse position than we're in today, if that's possible. All the Republican candidates save Ron Paul zealously support the Iraq War. They endorse torture. They advocate (even more) theocracy. They think the Autocrats have generally done a great job. (There's no punchline.) They have zero clue about economics or the tenuous state the US economy is in. They advocate openly homophobic--and in the cases of many of them--racist policies. They have no plans whatsoever to alleviate any of a number of current crises the country faces, be it health care or our infrastructure problems or immigration or worsening relations with Russia. Their pandering and dishonesty and hypocrisy would be breathtaking were they new, but unfortunately this is now the mainstream Republican way. Any one of them has the capacity to be so awful that they will make George W. Bush look like William Howard Taft (that is, nothing to write home about but still better than the worst ever). In fact, Rudy Giuliani at times acts so bizarrely and Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo make such dangerously outlandish statements that it's unclear that they're sane at all. John McCain (he of the "Bomb, bomb Iran" chant) recently claimed that the Constitution enshrines Christianity as the state religion while Mike Huckabee proclaimed to an audience that the majority of signers of the Declaration of Independence were ministers. (ONE WAS.) I ask, Are these people insane? Seriously?

And yet the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, increasingly disturbs me with her neocon dalliances (I don't have a problem with her "personality," her "laugh," her being a woman, etc.--Lord knows, we could use a competent president of any gender, and a truly progressive female president would be a miracle), particularly on the issue of Iran. She has the gall to claim that her recent vote for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution did not give W a free pass to bomb Iran, as if we're supposed to accept that. How gullible does this woman think we are? I'm not surprised by her NeoConning, or her ties to lobbyists, particularly those affiliated with the defense industries, which can only be salivating over her (and Obama's and Edwards's) comments about not pulling the troops out of Iraq as soon as they can. Over all, as I have said before, I think she would be a marked improvement over the current White House occupant. Nevertheless, the steadily cementing narrative of her indomitability as the nominee, her rightward positioning (cf. her husband's infamous "triangulation strategy" and both their longstanding ties to the quasi-Republican Democratic Leadership Council), and the media's obvious delight at this fact, make me worry.

Which brings me to Mr. Second Place, Barack Obama, who's fading to third as I type this entry. I've more than once made it clear that he has been one of my top candidates. He's smart, he's expressed real vision and ideals in the past, he's one of the most progressive members of the Senate (which unfortunately isn't saying that much), and he would probably be a pretty good to excellent president. At the same time, he also gives me pause; his campaign is not especially effective, he often fails to get out in front of issues, he seems overly cautious, he has a horrible block on the issue of gay marriage, and he constantly is whining about Hillary Clinton's campaign and cheering about how much money he's raised without putting forward a compelling political narrative that would galvanize voters and make Clinton's "inevitablity" moot. It's as if he thinks being smart and handsome and visionary is going to get him over. He has to know better, doesn't he? Doesn't he?

I don't think he does. I think he's caught up, like Narcissus, with the beauty of his own image--as the "uniter" or "third wayer" or something. But whatever it is, it's increasingly not working. The other night I was chatting with the poet Sterling Plumpp, who knows from some Leftist politics, and he suggested that Obama was just not doing what he needed to do, was not being outspoken, was not being the candidate who'd energized Illinois voters in 2002. I agreed--the metaphor that came to mind was a hologram, as if that's what Obama's project, as opposed to the "authentic self" that he feels he must conceal. I noted to Sterling that Obama seemed to be following the usual high-paid Democratic consultants' terrible advice, which usually spells trouble for presidential candidates, and that for whatever reason, he could not or did not want to break out of it. Reciting what is clearly conventional--and thus not really--wisdom, I said it was clear that Obama wants to "appear about the fray," though as I note above, I think there's really something to this.

Another way of putting it is that he's been trying to run a general campaign, and a subtle, timorous, and ineffective one at that, in the Democratic primary. Or perhaps he's running a Vice Presidential campaign, hence his reluctance to distinguish himself from his leading rivals. Part of this general/VP campaign attitude is the lipservice he keeps paying to evangelicals, particularly right-wing ones, at the expense of the Democrats' general and longstanding constituencies. I recognize that there are some Black evangelicals who want to hear Obama trumpet his faith and talk about God, as a way of validating not only his religious beliefs but his "authenticity" as a Black person (that this is still in an issue in 2007 is maddening, but so it is). Nevertheless, Obama appears to go the extra yard, to the extent that, as has been pointed out on other blogs, he is now going to tour South Carolina with the self-loathing homophobic homo Donnie McClurkin. I don't care what arguments Obama or his campaign give, there's no excuse for this. None. Today, however, he was defiant about hitching his star to McClurkin, or vice versa. If he thinks this is going to win him enough votes in South Carolina to pass Clinton, or enough votes anywhere to do anything, he has a real wakeup call coming.

It's clear to me that Obama could gin up Black votes--and Black voters, like a majority of American voters--by actively and aggressively pushing progressive politics and policies, especially if he wraps them in an appealing narrative. Right now, however, he seems unwilling to do that, and is taking a very problematic route. Ultimately I think it's not going to be to his benefit, but perhaps he needs to experience this firsthand. He'll sign his credibility over to a creep like McClurkin and in the end, will be the sucker when Clinton romps to the nomination. The sad thing is, it doesn't have to be this way.

To that end, I had to tell one of Obama's earnest campaign workers today that they shouldn't call me until Obama cuts McClurkin loose and gets his act together. The phone bank person got an earful, but perhaps that's the only way to reach them/him. Letters, emails and other forms of communication have failed, as have my refusals to give them any more money. Let's see if they get the message. Meanwhile, I did donate to Senator Chris Dodd's presidential campaign. Dodd, you may recall, took the courageous step last week of placing a hold on the Cheney-Rockefeller telecom amnesty bill. Although the Democrats still have not gotten anything close to coherent and complete answers on the administration's spying on American citizens, and although even more grave questions have arisen from the Nacchio-Qwest trial (such as why the administration allegedly asked Qwest to allow spying on Americans in early 2001, nine months before the September 11, 2001 attacks!), Democratic senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein acceded to the grossly unpopular president's and administration's constant drumbeat to give retroactive immunity to the telecoms, which are currently being sued. The wrongness of this step is obvious, but until Dodd stepped forward, the Democrats--including the other Democratic presidential candidates--remained silent. Supposedly now both Obama and Joe Biden are on record as supporting the hold, which might have to become a filibuster, since Majority Leader Harry Reid is said to want to push the bill through, so we'll see what happens.

But Dodd's star rose immeasurably to me. Help him out if you feel the same way.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Black Arts Movement in Chicago + Jordan & Jess at Poetry Center

This fall, the university has been especially lucky to have Ed Roberson as the Visiting Writer in Residence at the Center for Writing Arts, an autonomous division headed up by my distinguished colleague, author Reg Gibbons. Ed's residency is a huge deal, as the Center infrequently invites poets, and in the past (before Reg's tenure) seldom (never?) had a writer of color for a full quarter. (Mary Ann Mohanraj will be in residence in the spring.)

Ed, whom I think of as a sage, is teaching two classes, and as part of his visit and the courses, he planned a one-day conference on the Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, with special emphasis on its history in Chicago. The event brought three of the central figures from the Chicago branch of that movement, writers Angela Jackson, Carolyn Rogers, and Sterling Plumpp, to campus to talk about their experiences as poets and activists. (This was pretty significant in that Chicago, where the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), was established in 1966, was an important center for Black Arts poetry and the Black Power movement--one of the key Black Panthers branches was in the city; Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated in a joint FBI Cointelpro-Chicago Police Department assault in 1969--and yet it is often passed over in scholarly and artistic discussions on this topic.) In addition, Ed invited his friend Sala Udin, who took many of the ideas he'd gained in the movement back to his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he's been an actor in the plays of his friend and fellow poet, and later one of the greatest American playwrights, August Wilson, while also serving as a city councilor and arts and community activist. One of his successes is Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Hearing the speakers talk about the history of the movement in Chicago filled in so many gaps in my knowledge. All spoke of the crucial roles that Gwendolyn Brooks and Hoyt Fuller played in encouraging artists, artmaking and activism. Sterling Plumpp's comments about his friendship and work with Dennis Brutus, then teaching at the university, and the relationship between African-American and South African poets, who were battling for freedom and an end to the oppressive apartheid system, was revelatory. He spoke at length about the intricacies of Left-politics and how these played a role in the positions people took, both in terms of the Black Arts movement members and the African National Congress. (I sometimes have to remind myself that at one point, Brutus, Jan Carew, and Leon Forrest all taught at the university--but simultaneously? I think of this constellation of Black creative writer-intellectuals with considerable awe.) Plumpp also noted that he wished he and others had taken on the issues of gender and sexism, and, as he put, "gender and sexual choice" (I think I transcribed that right) more forcefully. This led one of Ed's students, who prepared an excellent overview of the movement, to ask the panelists about their feelings on Fuller, who was gay, and despite the extremely problematic nature of the term "sexual choice," they all argued there was no hostility towards Fuller (who, Jackson noted, most did not know was gay), nor homophobia among any of them.

Concluding the event, my colleague Alex Weheliye gave a brief yet thorough response to the talks and panel discussion.

Ed Roberson introducing the speakers (Sam Greenlee and Sterling Plumpp are the two poets in the foreground)

Angela Jackson, offering a history lesson on the Black Arts Movement in Chicago

Carolyn Rogers, who Ed characterized as a "metaphysical" poet, talking about her experiences with the local poets

Ed, and the panelists (Rogers, Salah Udin of Pittsburgh, Jackson, Plumpp)

My colleague Alex Weheliye, who gave a fitting response


In addition to slipping in briefly to today's late afternoon conversation between Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez, whom I could listen to for hours (and who was one of the best workshop leaders I ever had) at Chicago State University's annual Gwendolyn Brooks Conference, I went to hear two poets I admire tremendously, A. Van Jordan and Tyehimba Jess, present their work this past Wednesday at the Poetry Center of Chicago's reading down at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a rainy night, I'd had a long day, and it took forever to get downtown from Evanston, and parking is scarce downtown, but I did get to hear Van and spend some time with both poets, as well as Tasha Tarpley and Toni, who brightens any room she enters. Cue the photos:

Van on stage, Jess in the foreground

Van answering a question from Francesco of the Poetry Center

Jess and Toni

Van signing books

Friday, October 19, 2007

Reading at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn

Here're some photos from the reading this past Sunday at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn with Chris Stackhouse and Geoffrey Jacques. It's always fun to read with Chris (though no simultaneous poems this time), and it was an honor to read with Geoffrey. C was there, as was our good friend Victor, and other friends like Tisa, Erica, Tonya, and Alisoun. Chris, Geoffrey and I ended up with a packed room and sold all the store's copies of our books (Seismosis flew out of there, as did Chris's book and Geoffrey's, paid in full!). All the photos are by C (thank you!).

Unnameable Books introducing the reading, Chris and Geoffrey at right

Chris reading (and rolling us in stitches)

The audience (Tisa in the middle)

Yours truly, and Chris at right

Geoffrey Jacques - "What ever happened to the beautiful language?" ("Viewers Like")

Me, having a great time afterwards

Tisa, snapping a photo outside


Mary Reilly!

Geoffrey and Chris

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kenna's "Say Goodbye to Love"

I've listened to this song countless times since I discovered it a few weeks ago. It's by Kenna, a young AfroBohoNerd Ethiopian-American from Virginia Beach who's put a few CDs out, but has had a hard time blowing up since his music doesn't fit easily into categories. (Malcolm Gladwell mentions him in Blink, I believe.) But his most recent effort, Make Sure They See My Face, produced by Neptunes Chad Hugo and Pharrell (Williams), is finally getting him some attention. Below's the direct YouTube link to a great KennaChannel version of his hot new song, "Say Goodbye to Love," featuring Kenna in all of his geeky cuteness. And here he is on Ellen. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Juicy Mother 2 at Bluestockings Book Store

Yesterday evening C and I went to the book party for Juicy Mother 2, edited by Jen Camper, at Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side. A strip from our dear friend Victor Hodge's Black Gay Boy Fantasy appears in the collection, and Victor drove up from Washington for the even. One of Victor's close friends, Dave Hooper, also from Washington, has work in the anthology, so we got to meet him, as well as Jen (whom I remembered from the old OutWrite conferences years ago in Boston); former DC Comics writer Ivan Vélez; DC Comics editor and Bitter Girl artist Joan Hilty; Hothead Paisan creator Diana DiMassa; and other artists in the anthology like Chitra Ganesha, Fly, Katie Fricas, and Carlos Quispe. Below are some photos from the event:

The packed audience

Juicy Mother 2 editor Jen Camper

A shot of one of Victor's panels

Carlos, Ivan, Dave (speaking), Victor, and Fly

Joan, Diana (quipping memorably), Carlo, and Ivan

Dave and Victor talking about working the for man (the federal government)

C relaxing outside

Victor, Ivan and Joan chatting and signing books