Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tell CNN, No Propaganda + AWP Doings + Poem: Yusef Komunyakaa

I'm at the AWP Conference in Denver, and have been listening, learning, reading, thinking, writing, meeting, greeting, signing, notetaking, photographing, reconnecting, remembering, laughing, buying (too many books), acclimating, eating, sleeping, draggling, and walking--lots of walking, through, as I count it, five distinct neighborhoods of the Mile High City. I have several entry stubs I plan to post soon, but let me note before I do that or complete this entry that, to shift gaits (as opposed to gears--recall, I've been walking):

Once again, CNN is considering participating in a scare campaign to gut Social Security. They are planning to run IOUSA, a testeric deficit-fright documentary funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Recall also that when George W. Bush was president, Vice President Dick Cheney famously stated that "deficits don't matter." They never do when Republicans are running the country, into the abyss. Now that we once again have a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of Congress, the deficit frenzy is approach and surpassing the same pitch as it did in 1992, when Bill Clinton was in office. (Yes, it happened then.) Clinton left the country with a surplus, which Bush-Cheney promptly burned through like kindling, before amassing a $1 trillion+ deficit to underwrite unfunded tax cuts, his wars, and so much else. Unfortunately, Obama seems both prone to listening to the Washington echo chamber and to splitting the difference at every step, meaning that he appears to have bought into this frenzy. CNN, trying its best to mimic Fox News (and shedding viewers in the process), is also striving to do its part. But let's join the Campaign for America's Future and tell CNN, nope, you aired IOUSA once; we don't need this propaganda disseminated anymore. We have more than enough pressing problems, and while the deficit isn't the least of them, it's also not the most important either.

Since Obama and the Democrats will not make the basic argument--intuitive though it is, and economically sound--that the more people who're employed the more quickly the deficit will drop, because employed people PAY TAXES--the rest of us will have to make to everyone who is unaware of this basic fact. There is no need to gut or slash Social Security, or privatize it using casino financial system typified by Wall Street and much of the global economy. Medicare will undergo necessary restructuring as a result of the recent health insurance reform bill. So, please, tell CNN, no thank you. Please also urge others you know to do the same as well.  We all owe the USA, but the deficit scare project isn't the answer or one we want them to contribute to.


This morning I went to two panels, the Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry panel. (I wasn't able to wrest myself out of bed to make the Conceptualism vs. Flarf fest at 9 am.)  The anthology, edited by poet Camille Dungy, is a trove of poems written, as the title suggests, over the last four centuries (from Phillis Wheatley forward), by black poets, and today's panel, organized by Cyrus Cassells, featured G. E. Patterson, Amber Flora Thomas, Greg Pardlo, and Janice N. Harrington, all of whom appear in the volume.  All of the panelists spoke about their work and the poems of others in the volume, Gar Patterson evoked the "poetry of the subjunctive" in speaking of the work of several poets, Evie Shockley, Ed Roberson, and others in the anthology, that he particularly admired.  Amber read several poems that drew upon her experience growing up in a rural environment; one focused on the killing and skinning of rabbits, which, she suggested and showed through the poem itself, deeply shaped her ars poetica. Cyrus cited one of Janice's poems to talk about the "permission" that black poets often confront in writing about certain subjects, including nature, and asked her to read her poem, "The Colored Woman Cannot Speak," which she did, before he invited Gar to read one of his poems in the volume, and then he read one of his own, based in the Georgia Sea Islands. It felt like a perfect panel to experience being in Denver, where, at least for me, the natural world is so evident, its forces so apparent, in my body.  While I'm no longer as winded or tired as I was the first full day I was here, my body still feels different, I feel different, and its nature's power that's the source. Just before slate of sessions ended, I slipped into the Translations of Contemporary Poetry from Latin American panel, chaired by Kristin Dykstra, which featured Urayoán Noel, Monica de la Torre, Daniel Borzutzky, and Juan Manuel Sánchez, who were answering the last few questions posed. One that I caught involved the possible tension between Latino writing and Latin American writing, and whether one threatened the other. All of the writers who responded argued that this was not the case, and Mónica went on to note that as a multilingual writer working in and out of several traditions, she felt that these two categories weren't exclusive, that the idea of a "mother" tongue was problematic for her, and that translation ultimately was about desire (a point raised in our panel the previous day), and thus all sorts of translations were and should be possible.  To a question about Spain still be the hub of Hispanophone publishing, Daniel responded that the writers on the dais, and many others, were challenging and changing this notion, with multiple sites of publication and dissemination occurring all the time.  After this panel, I went and purchased my copy of Black Nature, which some of the poets featured signed, and a few more books (by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, John Beer, Annie Finch, Dorothea Laskey, and others), then walked Duriel Harris to her appointment and am now prepping to head back to Chicago.  At the first panel, Amber mentioned Yusef Komunyakaa's (1947-) poem "Yellowjackets," which I'll post here.  I've previously featured Yusef on this blog, adore him and his work, and, because he needs no introduction, here is his poem. Enjoy.


When the plowblade struck
An old stump hiding under
The soil like a beggar's
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up
& Mister Jackson left the plow
Wedged like a whaler's harpoon.
The horse was midnight
Against dusk, tethered to somebody's
Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not
The way women shook their heads
Before mirrors at the five
& dime--a deeper connection
To the low field's evening star.
He stood there, in tracechains,
Lathered in froth, just
Stopped by a great, goofy
Calmness. He whinnied
Once, & then the whole
Beautiful, blue-black sky
Fell on his back.

Copyright © Yusef Komunyakaa, from Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Camille Dungy, editor, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010. All rights reserved.


  1. The Black Nature reading and discussion was also a highlight of Split this Rock in DC this year...

  2. I missed it, so I'm glad I caught the panel at AWP. It's a great anthology. Ed Roberson told my colleague Reg Gibbons and me that he'd already used it for a class, and that someone else he knew had as well.