Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Earthquake in Chile

I didn't want another week to pass before I completed a post, but as I've noted before, I'm teaching 3 classes this quarter, two of them fiction-writing courses, and one is a novella-writing class (which extends, semester-length, into the spring quarter). This means a mountain of reading, and rereading/editing/marking up. There are also a lot of other things to read through (work by ongoing grad students, administrative takes, new graduate students' materials, etc.), with the result that I just haven't been able to finish a thought on here, though I've started several. I've also found that since returning in January, beyond dates or university meetings, which I have not missed, I cannot keep dates in my head; they swirl around, and March becomes April, things that are happening at 5 pm I keep thinking are happening at 6 pm (EST), or if they're on a Saturday my mind makes it a Sunday. I'm not sure what's causing this chronological disruption, but I have had to resort to reading my calendar faithfully every day just to be sure I'm not mistaking one event's date for another.


Post-Earthquake Chile
I want to register my sincere sympathies for and with the people of Chile, who suffered one of the strongest earthquakes on record early yesterday morning. As the news reports are making clear, the 8.8 Richter scale offshore quake cut a 400-mile gash underwater, caused severe damage to several of Chile's largest cities, including the capital, Santiago; Concepción, one of its largest; and Curico, one of its most important historical sites; and the port of TahualcanoAP reported that:

President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile but said the government had not asked for assistance from other countries. If it does, President Barack Obama said, the United States "will be there." Around the world, leaders echoed his sentiment.

In Chile, newly built apartment buildings slumped and fell. Flames devoured a prison. Millions of people fled into streets darkened by the failure of power lines. The collapse of bridges tossed and crushed cars and trucks, and complicated efforts to reach quake-damaged areas by road.

At least 214 people were killed and 15 were missing as of Saturday evening, Bachelet said in a national address on television. While that remained the official estimate, Carmen Fernandez, head of the National Emergency Agency, said later: "We think the real figure tops 300. And we believe this will continue to grow."

Bachelet also said 1.5 million people had been affected by the quake, and officials in her administration said 500,000 homes were severely damaged.

In Talca, just 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the epicenter, people sleeping in bed suddenly felt like they were flying through major airplane turbulence as their belongings cascaded around them from the shuddering walls at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT).

A deafening roar rose from the convulsing earth as buildings groaned and clattered. The sound of screams was confused with the crash of plates and windows. Then the earth stilled, silence returned and a smell of damp dust rose in the streets, where stunned survivors took refuge.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Photos: Lincoln Park Conservatory

It's been a monster of a week, and I haven't had any time to finish the various daily posts I've begun, one of which was simply photos, with minimal commentary, of Carnival/Carnaval and Mardi Gras celebrations around the country and globe, so instead, here are some shots I took--meaning they're very easy to link to--from a recent trip to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, one of the Windy City's real treasures.  While I can't be in Brazil, or Trinidad, or Dominican Republic, or even New Orleans, I was able to spend a little time amid the flora from those places and other parts of the world, which really did lift my spirits after the last few weeks on end of gray coldness, broken by...snow!  It's not the same as costumes and steel drums, or the sun really annealing you in all that joy and fun, but the color and warmth at least will suffice, especially since it's snowing (again) here, but really sticking this time. (The cars in the alleyway just a marble's toss from where I'm sitting as I type htis are already completed entombed in white.)

But, back to those plants and flowers:
The entryway pond
The entryway pond
Sausage tree pod
A sausage tree pod
A camellia
Orchids, in the orchid room
In the fern room
Newlyweds being photographed in the fern room
Pitcher plant
Pitcher plants, in the orchid room
Cattleyea (sp?) orchid
A cattleyea orchid, one of the most popular variations
Vanilla plant
Vanilla plant
I want to say these were daffodils, but I may be wrong
Japanese camellia
Another pond
One of the ponds
Red wing azaleas
Flamingo flower
Flamingo flower
Someone snapping a photo of downtown Chicago
Outside, (another photographer facing) towards downtown Chicago
The beach (Lake Michigan)
A few weeks back: the beach and Lake Michigan (under a tarpaulin of snow)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy St. Valentine's Day + Mulled Wine

Happy Saint Valentine's Day! 

I've crossed the 2,000 tweet barrier, with a brief note about Tarell Alvin McCraney's impressive duo (from his Brother and Sister Plays trio) of plays I saw today, The Brothers Size and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet, but I don't have time to blog about them, or the short film and accompanying talk on "Princess Vivian" I heard my colleague E. Patrick Johnson give this past Thursday, or a number of other things that have been rolling around my head, like the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the tragic training crash of Nodar Kumaritashvili, one of the Georgian lugers, so instead, for all who are dealing with the cold and may need some fortification, here is my annual post on how to make delicious mulled wine.

Mulled Red Wine (hat tips go to Toni A. L. and Krista F. and James Earl H. and Donald A. for their delicious versions).


2 bottles of merlot, red zinfandel or a similar wine ($5-9 range, not too cheap, not to expensive)
2/3rds cup of sugar or honey
zest from 1/2-1 orange
10 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup of brandy or cognac (not too cheap*)
+ non-reactive pot, muddler/spoon, non-reactive bowl/mortar, stirring spoon, mugs/coffee cups/warming cups.

1. Pour the red wine in a non-reactive pot (non-stick, tempered glass/Pyrex, stainless steel, etc.), and heat over a low flame. Avoid very cheap wines, since they grow unpalatable when heated, and avoid aluminum, which will react with the wine.
2. With a vegetable peeler, zester or paring knife, zest the orange, making sure to avoid the white backing of the peel and rind, since there's less flavor and it can be bitter.
3. Muddle (or mash with a pestle or spoon) the zest/peel, releasing the oils, in a non-reactive (glass, porcelain) bowl or mortar.
4. Add the zest/peel to the wine.
5. Stir in the sugar, making sure it dissolves, then add the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
6. Add the 1/2 cup of brandy or cognac (the better the quality, the better the taste--and it adds real bite).
7. Heat until the wine is steaming, but try not to let it boil.
8. Set it aside, let it cool, and then ladle it into mugs, and enjoy!

Also, you can use this recipe to mull cider (with the added brandy punch) or dry white wine (which might be a bit...unusual at first to the palate!), so see what you come up with. A little fortified elixir is a good thing on a cold night.

*I did once buy very, very, very cheap "French" brandy, to save money, and let me just say, it wasn't like "honey" in the slightest but it did "burn the throat." I believe I could have used it as turpentine, had I need to strip anything. Aim for $7 range minimum if you can afford it.

(And remember, if you have more than a glass, designate a responsible driver, hire a cab or hit the public transportation!)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Remembering Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

I didn't learn until this evening that poet Lucille Clifton passed away this morning. Just a few weeks ago I'd posted a congratulatory note here to her on her receipt of the Poetry Society of America's Centennial Frost Medal.  As J's Theater readers know, I'm a huge fan of hers and was fortunate to have this extraordinarily humble, generous, wise, perspicacious, funny, gentle, and fierce poet as a teacher, briefly, for several summers (1998-99) at the Cave Canem Foundation's Writers Workshops, where I was able to see up close how deeply and broadly she did see, into poems and people. Ms. Lucille, as we called her, once took a fellow poet's poem that was as forbidding as anything any postmodernist might have dreamt or typed up, and patiently read it, studied it--the rest of us were puzzling over it--and after rearranging several stanzas, offered in her kind way a suggestion of what resulted that brought amazement to all of us, including the poet: the poem was now not only highly original, but comprehensible, moving, a real accomplishment. I witnessed her do this again and again, which is to say, teach, even with work that was very unlike her own. It's probably fair to say that every poet who came into close contact with her, as a teacher, learned a tremendous deal, not only about how to write, but to think, about humility, about generosity, about how one's life is central to one's work, even if it's nowhere or everywhere apparent in the surface of the poem.  I often use the word "lovely" to describe people and artworks I like, in part because I love the word and because I think these fellow human beings and works are full of love, and Ms. Lucille was truly lovely, in the sense of being full of love despite the many difficulties she faced over the years.  She conveyed this love, of self, of life, of others, despite the hardships, in part through her work and in part through her wonderful stories, which she shared when she taught or read. One of the best conversations I ever saw, which brought tears to mine and others' eyes, involved Ms. Lucille and Ms. Sonia Sanchez, another remarkable poet and teacher. I use the word love too because I love how Ms. Lucille carried herself in the world, how she would wield her fierceness when necessary, how she used it to deflect the pain she probably felt at times when people could not appreciate how she distilled language into something often astonishing. She wrote about being a woman, being black, being a black woman from a working-class background, being a daughter and mother and wife; she wrote about living and surviving, surviving the loss of her mother and cancer and all the other things that life brought her; she wrote about the larger issues we as a society face, including the events of September 11, 2004; she wrote about the necessary courage to speak the truth, her truth, through writing, which her readers recognized as soon as they entered her poems.

My abiding appreciation of her really began back in 1995, when I was teaching 7th graders in New York City, and quickly learned that a few poets spoke directly and immediately to both them and me: Stanley Kunitz; Langston Hughes; Nikki Giovanni; Willie Perdomo; Nicolasa Mohr; and Lucille Clifton. The students could see and hear and feel in the poems of hers that we read from The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1992), which had only just appeared a few years before, that here was someone who knew how to take her life experiences and turn them into art. I want to repost the second poem in the book, "june 20," which captures the candor and simple but never simplistic power of Ms. Lucille's art:

june 20

i will be born in one week
to a frowned forehead of a woman
and a man whose fingers will itch
to enter me. she will crochet
a dress for me of silver
and he will carry me in it.
they will do for each other
all that they can
but it will not be enough.
none of us know we will not
smile again for years,
that she will not live long.
in one week I will emerge face first
into their temporary joy.

Copyright © Lucille Clifton, 1992, 2010. All rights reserved.
Lucille Clifton with two of her daughters
and her granddaughter before the Ruth Lilly Prize event

A few years ago, Lucille Clifton was in Chicago to receive the Ruth Lilly Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, and I blogged about it, snapping photos as I'm wont to do, and offering one of my little writeups that probably sound to some readers like boilerplate. I mention that event because Ms. Lucille read some of work and spoke to the audience, showing her customary graciousness, bravery, and dignity, and letting everyone know that the award, which had never gone to a Black woman writer, was very well deserved.  I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to be present when Ms. Lucille received that honor, and to have witnessed her being in the world. She was one of the very best, in so many ways. I can only thank her, and know that her work will continue to live on, in me and many others.

Lucille Clifton was born Thelma Lucille Sayles in Depew, New York, in 1936, and grew up in Buffalo. She graduated from high school at the age of 16 and won a scholarship to Howard University, where, as she noted in interviews and public discussions, she was a contemporary of Toni Morrison and Amiri Baraka, and got to know with Sterling Brown. She later attended Fredonia State Teachers College, where she met her husband, Fred Clifton, and began writing poetry, a pursuit that would really flower when the great African-American poet Robert Hayden selected her poems for the YW-YMCA/Discovery Award, which led to her acclaimed first book, Good Times: Poems (1969). She went on to publish a dozen volumes, including Good News About the Earth: New Poems (1972), An Ordinary Woman (1974), Two-Headed Woman (1980), Next (1993), The Terrible Stories: Poems (1996), and Voices: Poems (2008). She also published two memoirs,  Generations (1976) and Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987), and many books for young and adolescent readers.  Ms. Lucille taught at Coppin State University, University of California-Santa Cruz, St. Mary's College, Maryland, and Duke University, among other institutions, and was the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. As I noted, she also taught at the Cave Canem summer workshops. Over the years, both inside and outside the classroom, she nurtured so many poets of all ages, and encouraged them to read widely and critically, and to write to the limits of their ability. Her many honors have included the 1997 Lannan Literary Award for poetry, the 1997 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the 1997 Los Angeles Times Poetry Award, the 1999 Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award, the 2000 National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, and three Pulitzer Prize nominations. Lucille Clifton lived and wrote and taught for many years, and we are all the richer for it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pan African Film and Arts Festival in LA

If you're in Los Angeles, the Pan African Film and Arts Festival is taking place this weekend and into next week.
Today there's a Studentfest (in the morning), an Art Market that runs until 9 pm, and a Seniors Connection gathering that'll be held in the afternoon. This evening, however, is the highlight, beginning with a tribute ceremony at 7 pm, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (4718 Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles), which will hosted by CCH Pounder.

Actor and director Glynn Turman (Cooley High, The Wire, A Different World) is slated to receive the 2010 Pan African Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award; director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, A Man Apart) will receive the Pioneer Award;  Tatyani Ali (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Love That Girl) will receive the Beah Richards Award; actor Nate Parker (The Secret Life of Bees, The Great Debaters, Blood Done Sign My Name) will receive the Canada Lee Award; Nollywood superstar Nigerian filmmaker and founder of the influential African Academy of Motion Pictures Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima will receive the PAFF/African Channel Visionary Award; and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will receive the Community Service Award, which will be presented by PAFF Co-Founders Ayuko Babu and former Good Times staple Ja'Net Dubois.

Following the ceremony there'll be an 8 pm Spoken Word performance.

This year's featured films include the following, and will play at Culver Plaza Theaters, 9919 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles (films begin screening at 10 am each morning):

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday (Mandela + RI's/US's 1st Black Gay House Speaker + Food Stamp Nation + Faulkner's Sources + RIP Alexander McQueen)

I realized I can probably recall the things I want to post about by scanning my Twitter feeds, because since it's so fast and easy to register a fleeting thought or some link of interest in 140 characters or less, I have taken to doing so. So here are a few things that I noted earlier, and a few that I didn't.


It really has been 20 years since Nelson Mandela (Madiba) was released from prison, initiating the political and social transformation of the apartheid state, into which he'd been born, into one of the most progressive democracies in Africa. Today South Africa hailed the 91-year-old former leader (above, with his wife, Graça Michel, in parliament today. Photograph: Schalk Van Zuydam/EPA)  for his vision, courage, generosity, grace, and above all, leadership. As the post-apartheid state's first president, he established a record that neither of his successors have been able to match, but to which all national leaders might aspire. At the South Parliament today, before an address by the new president, the scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma, parliamentarians of all colors broke into songs of praise of Mandela, honoring his achievements and, as the Guardian UK suggests, striving to summon the unity, harmony and societal advancement that his tenure, against so many odds, represented. I should add that I can recall the day he was released; I was at the annual Celebration of Black Writing in Philadelphia, then sponsored by Robin's Book Store, and the late Dennis Brutus announced from the stage, to a chorus of cheers and applause, and disbelief that quickly turned into joy, that Mandela would be released.  I cannot say what I thought at that moment beyond my recognition that something utterly momentous was taking place, but it was clear, as had become year the previous year with the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the longtime commonplaces that had shaped the years of my childhood were changing before my eyes. Mandela was then, as now, not just the symbol, but the living embodiment, of greatness and promise, and whatever struggles South Africa continues to face, he gave its people, his people, a tremendous start and advantage on resolving them. As a praise song might begin,

He is Madiba the magnificent.
Leader of leaders, bearer of the future,
Father and husband, first president and prescient visionary.
With him the nation shed its shackles on the prison yard soil,
With him the nation walked free into its possibility,
With him, the magnificent, the people's lands
might belong to them again, might bear fruit again,
might bear the weight of new foundations, new dreams....

Monday, February 08, 2010

Illinois: Can't Touch This + Some Lit Links

(Updated with YouTube video below)

One of the big non-Super Bowl buzzes yesterday was the suggestion that New York governor David Paterson was going to resign, because of a sex-related scandal, which the New York Times was set to reveal today, only Paterson denied he was resigning, he met with the NY state Democratic caucus in a closed-door session to tell them he wasn't resigning or something like that, and no Times article appeared. My thought was, if the man did not commit a crime and his actions involved his private life, why should anyone care? Evidently some in the media are still hot and bothered by, as the British wonderfully call them, "sex romps" and
"sex rows," but given all the other crises this country faces, and the Woods/Sanford/Ensign/Spitzer/Craig, etc. scandals, does anyone really care about Paterson's love life or who he shtups, especially if his wife doesn't? At least for now, no, it seems, and so Love Gov #2 will remain in office, until he loses his primary to Andrew Cuomo, and heads off for fun and assignations in the sunset.

But--New York has nothing on Illinois. As I told C today, yesterday, political theater unfolded in a Chicago bar during the Super Bowl half-time when Illinois's newly elected Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, Scott Lee Cohen offered his "resignation"--let me stop there, and repeat, "nominee" for Lt. Gov.--by which I mean, he was dropping out of the race, leaving his slot open for the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, current governor Pat Quinn, to replace him. Quinn had replaced the impeached Rod Blagojevich, aka Blago, who tried to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Blago, remember, was elected twice after the departure of George Ryan, who is now in jail on multiple corruption charges.

Now, you may ask, why did Scott Lee Cohen, who was only selected for his candidate slot by voters over several different party-annointed hacks a few weeks ago, decide to "resign"? Why was he in tears, at the Hop Haus bar, with his family around him and son lying in his lap, announcing in the midst of the 44th Super Bowl, that for the good of the "people of Illinois" and the "Democratic Party," that he was stepping down? Why did most of the Congressional Democrats, and many other party brokers, want this millionaire pawnbroker (I'm not making this up), to remove himself so as not to sink Quinn's chances in the general election (against who knows which Republican, since that race has still not been declared)?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Orleans Wins Super Bowl 37-17

The Super Bowl has ended, and the New Orleans Saints (at right, TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE) won, defeating the much more heralded Indianapolis Colts 37-17. They ain't the Ain'ts (remember that era) any more. I watched bits and pieces of the game as I was reading school-related stories, and prepping for my new class, tomorrow (the novella-writing adventure!), so I missed nearly all the commercials that I didn't actively tune out, which I usually cannot do. These included the controversial Focus on the Family's Tim Tebow anti-abortion advocacy ad, which CBS chose to run while refusing (and lying about) gay dating company's site's ad. I did catch the wheezing, out of tune members of The Who (Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend), whom I thought weren't going to be performing because of Townshend's child-porn scandal, but for some reason or another, CBS and the NFL thought these folks, who were known back when I was a little kid for singing about drugs and the counterculture would be the best choice for 2010. What about the children, for real? After the orgy of consumerism and stereotyping the commercials projected, the anti-establishment message the Who geezed out was a bit refreshing, I think; did anyone else catch it?

Back to the game, New Orleans came through in the second quarter, controlling the ball for long stretches and racking up a near tie with two field goals, which turned the game around. That, followed by the daring offside kick to start the second half, and Drew Brees's 288 yards passing and 2 TDs, put the Saints in the lead, but the backbreaker was Tracy Porter's late 4th quarter inception of Peyton Manning (who was, as always, being proclaimed as the greatest ever before the game), who was leading a dramatic final drive to tie the score.  That gave New Orleans breathing room and the win. It was wonderful to see a team that has never won the Super Bowl, and which has had such a checkered history, finally walk away with the trophy. It helps too that the team comes from a city that was left to drown, before the country's and world's eyes, just five years ago, and which has been treated pretty shabbily since then.

I saw some folks posting on Twitter about how this victory might "help" New Orleans, but it realistically won't do squat for the many hundreds of thousands of people who're still feeling the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina, half a decade on. But it may give them a temporary good feeling, and might spur on more interest in the city and its ongoing problems. Its people still need the country's help, and we still need to be listening, and working with them, wherever they are.

s(NO)w + Art (Free) + Rogers Park ≠ Hipsterville + Klein/Agbodji Rule NYC + Super Bowl Prediction

Chicago, I'm glad to say, did not suffer the Snowpocalypse. Or "Snowmageddon," I should say. It's cold, but it's always cold in the winter. The sidewalks are paved with ice, but people here frequently don't shovel or salt the walkways in front of their homes (as people in New Jersey do), perhaps in the belief that they will not be sued if someone took a violent spill on the glassy lake stretching the length of their easements (perhaps New Jerseyans are more litigious?). There's residual snow from earlier in the week, but there always appears to be residual snow, even when the sun finally appears and the temperatures rise above freezing. It's just the way things are. It also didn't snow in New York, which was supposed to be buried alive. Instead, I imagine, people went about their business, and laughed once again at the frenzied excitement of the local media. Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, and parts in between and south do appear to have received the snow gift, though. The photos of Washington in particular look really beautiful.

˘ ˘ ˘

Since it a snowless Saturday, and it's free admission all month to the Art Institute of Chicago, I hopped on the El (which is now $2.25) and traveled down there. I was very glad to see that many Chicagoans, including many brown and black ones, were also taking advantage of the free admission; it was packed. I hadn't seen the new Renzo Piano extension, which sits behind the famous Michigan Avenue Beaux Arts façade, but it really is impressive, airy, bursting with light, easy to navigate, and almost cinematographic in the dramatic views it offers of Daley Millennium Park. It also serves the art well, at least to my eye, an impression which the smaller crowds in the contemporary galleries only heightened.
Yves Tanguy's "Untitled"(screen), 1928

On this trip, I decided to drift forward through the museum to see what I might come across. My first stops were at the architectural artifacts from historic Chicago, which included various pediments, spandrels, caryatids, gratings, and so forth, from buildings by important Chicago architects like Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. I found myself repeatedly impressed by the workmanship and intricacy, the delicacy and beauty, of many of these pieces, especially those by Wright, who was, as I need not tell anyone, a visionary. From there, I kept walking forward, into what turned out to the 1800-1900 European art galleries, which included furniture and other material artifacts, as well as many of the Museum's best and widely known treasures. I must say, it's one thing to see reproductions of Gustave Caillebotte's iconic 1877 painting "Paris Street, Rainy Day," or Georges Seurat's giant masterwork, "A Sunday on la Grand Jatte - 1884" (1884-86), for example, or Monet's various later paintings, such as the ones in London, or the haystacks, or the water lilies at Giverny, but it's another thing altogether to be able to look closely and deeply at them, to engage them and truly take them in, at length. Time really does fall away, and some opens up in the encounter, the exchange.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Friday Full Fare (Reed on Precious, 2.0 + Embodied Cognition + Killer Phones + Free Stuff)

I still haven't seen Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, though I suppose I'll get around to it eventually. Having read the book, I really have no desire to see the movie, though many people whose opinions I value, including a notable Black filmmaker, have told me not only that Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique (at right, Lucy Nicholson - Reuters), like others in the cast, turn in excellent performances, and I believe them, because Mo'Nique could act her way out of a lead safe, but that they thought the film was very good.

My old prof, Ishmael Reed, isn't having it, nor is he having Hollywood's praise for and hyping of this film, nor, for that matter, producers Tyler Perry and Oprah [Winfrey]. Back in November I mentioned (and updated in December) his full-blast critiques of the movie, and he breaks it down, in much more condensed form, in today's New York Times: "Fade to White." A sampling:

Redemption through learning the ways of white culture is an old Hollywood theme. D. W. Griffith produced a series of movies in which Chinese, Indians and blacks were lifted from savagery through assimilation. A more recent example of climbing out of the ghetto through assimilation is “Dangerous Minds,” where black and Latino students are rescued by a curriculum that doesn’t include a single black or Latino writer.
Yes sirree.

Any surprise that this film is also high on the Oscar buzz list?

About three weeks ago while discussing orality and literacy I was trying to make a point in class and reached for a name I usually can utter without pausing--UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff--but what came to mind was a completely different scholar and intellectual, George Landow (the hypertext guru, of Brown University) ["I said Landow when I meant Lakoff" almost sounds like a line from a Michael Palmer poem, doesn't it?], so I offered a verbal ellipsis, to be filled in later, to the class, and proceeded to the next point.

Lakoff is probably best known for his important linguistic insights and, perhaps more widely, for the brief moment of public attention he received when the Democrats, who for a host of reasons, are incapable of sustained effective messaging, turned to him after their 2004 electoral disasters to help craft their appeals to voters. New York Times writer Matt Bai even wrote a longish Times Magazine piece about it. Lakoff's ideas on "framing" incurred some caricatures and ridicules--he wants the Democrats to use special words and phrases to gull people was the gist--but his larger ideas, about how people cognize ideas and why frames are so crucial, how metaphors are embodied, and so on, which in fact would have and should be internalized by every liberal commentator, though they still aren't, got lost in the shuffle. (Cf. "Jobs bill" vs. "stimulus package," "Employment spending" vs. "Deficit growth," etc.) Republican messengers--"death tax," "death panels," "welfare queens," etc.--long ago figured this out.

More stuff + the free joint after the jump!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Afro-Pakistani Poet Noon Meem Danish + African-Iraqis Struggling

Moon Neem DanishAfro-Pakistanis. They exist. Have you ever heard about them? Or, in fact, that there's an Afro-Pakistani poet of fame living in Pakistan, a country we seem to hear about in the US these days only in conjunction with the ever-metastasizing "War" on "Terror." A few years ago, Lehigh University prof Amardeep Singh blogged about Noon Meem Danish, "an Urdu-speaking poet from Karachi who is of African descent," whom he'd learned about via 3 Quarks Daily. The original piece, which cited yet another piece in the online newsite Dawn, was entitled, "A Poet in New York," and read:

Whether you think of Lyari as Karachi’s Harlem or Harlem as a Lyari in New York, for Noon Meem Danish places provide a context but not a definition. ‘I am what I am’; he explains his signature with a characteristic mixture of pride and humility. Off-beat and defiant, he was a familiar figure in the literary landscape of the ’70s and ’80s. His poems expressing solidarity with the Negritude and the plight of blacks all over the world were referred to in Dr Firoze Ahmed’s social topography of the African-descent inhabitants of Pakistan. Karachi’s poet Noon Meem Danish now makes his home in the New York state of mind, and feels that he is very much in his element there. It is where I met him again after a gap of many years, as he came to the Columbia University to attend a talk I was giving. We made our way afterwards to the student centre, talking freely in the relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Noor Mohammed was born in Lyari in 1958. He received his early education in Okhai Memon School in Kharadar and soon metamorphosed into Noon Meem Danish, the poet.

Did you even know that Karachi had its own "Harlem"? Noon Meem Danish does have his own Wikipedia entry, which notes that one of his influences is Langston Hughes, and (after the jump), he's on YouTube (speaking in Urdu) too, from a June 2009 event:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pierre Joris @ SAIC + Free All Month: The Art Institute of Chicago

I am still confusing New York time with Chicago time, though I thankfully have not done it with my classes, but I do have to keep rechecking when all other events are happening, because although a month and a week have passed, my brain is still churning a hour ahead, and I somehow unchecked something on my phone calendar, which then reset every Central Standard Time event I'd keyed in to Eastern Standard time. That included events, like Pierre Joris's recent reading in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection (which I'll have to check out again at leisure) at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (it was jointly sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago and the University of Chicago), which I did nevertheless manage to make. Joris is a poet, translator, and professor at the University of Albany, and primarily known to me as one of the best translators of Paul Celan, through Joris's translated volumes of Celan's poems, Breathturn (originally published by Sun & Moon Press, 1995, and reissued by Green Integer in 2006), and Threadsuns (Sun & Moon Press, 2000). In 2005, Green Integer published a third volume, Light-duress, which received the 2005 PEN Poetry Translation Award. I also knew of him from the huge and hugely important anthology that he edited with Jerome Rothenberg, Poems for the Millennium, vol. 1 & 2: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry (2007).

According to the event bio, Joris, the author of 40 books of poetry and other works

in 2007 & 2008...published Aljibar and Aljibar II (poems, a bilingual edition with French translation by Eric Sarner, Editions PHI, Luxembourg). Justifying the Margins: Essays 1990-2006 came out in 2009 from SALT in the UK. His 2007 publications are the CD Routes, not Roots (with Munir Beken, oud; Mike Bisio, bass; Ben Chadabe, percussion; & Mitch Elrod, guitar) issued by Ta¹wil Productions and Meditations on the Stations of Mansour Al-Hallaj 1-21 (Anchorite Press, Albany). Other translations include Paul Celan: Selections (University of California Press) and 4×1: Work by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey & Habib Tengour translated by Pierre Joris from Inconundrum Press.
(Photos & more after the jump!)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Illinois votes + Amazon vs. Macmillan + Tissue as commodity + Golden Girls grow gays

Today's Primary Election Day in Illinois, and a number of key posts are on the ballot, from the US Senate seat, formerly occupied by President Barack Obama and now by his notorious successor, Roland Burris, to the Governors' seat, whose previous recent occupants include a convicted felon (George Ryan) and a man (Rod Blagojevich) who tried to sell the just-mentioned Senate seat to the highest bidder, was impeached by the state legislature, and will soon appear on a TV reality show, to various municipal and local positions, including one that almost no one outside of the state knows about but which has been a rag of contention for years, the powerful Cook County Board President's office. That seat is currently occupied by Todd Stroger, whose father suffered a massive stroke, thereby handing the gig to his son.

Since I vote in New Jersey, I'm a spectator in all of this, but I have to say that while I was somewhat frustrated with the lackluster options in the New Jersey elections that put Rovian Republican Chris Christie in office, I would feel even more disillusioned if I had to choose from the rogues' and hacks' gallery vying for these various Illinois seats. Let's just take the US Senate seat. On the GOP side, the leader is Mark Kirk, a sometimes moderate (by Midwestern standards), sometimes right-wing Congressman representing Chicago's wealth North Shore. Kirk was outed as gay, via a really sleazy media-leaked rumor, by one of his GOP opponents, a very nasty operator named Andy Martin, who has zero chance of winning. Facing almost no real competition Kirk, who ha moved politically to the right to secure the nomination, will very likely win the GOP nomination, where he'll face young, fairly progressive Democratic projected-winner Alexi Giannoulis, the current State Treasurer. (David Hoffmann, the state Inspector General, a former Federal prosecutor, and a truly progressive candidate with a clean (including anti-Daley) record, probably doesn't have a chance, but if he did, he would make the best Senator out of all the candidates.) Ironically enough, Giannoulis's family mint and former employer, Broadway Bank, is in serious financial trouble as a result of its lending policies over the last 8 years. During Giannoulis's tenure as Chief Loan Officer from 2002 to 2006, Broadway Bank jumped heavily into the subprime lending business and other risky banking activities. While Giannoulis has argued that he wasn't really involved in the problems that now place Broadway Bank on the brink, a review of the record belies this. As Treasurer he's done a decent job, particularly in the midst of the current economic calamities, which have hit Illinois, the nation's 6th most populous state, very hard, but his banking tenure, and his refusal to be explicit about his role in it, are troublesome.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Blogging On + On Publishing + Black History Month/Langston Hughes Day (Poem)

Over the last year I've gone through alternating or oscillating waves of planning to end this blog and feeling energized enough to continue it. The paucity of responses, especially since 2007, has only exacerbated my sense that blogging may be a waste of time, though I do enjoy it, and yet, at the same time my "followers" have increased, so I guess things aren't as dismal as I sometimes think.

I know that the rise of other social media--Facebook, where many longtime fellow blogging friends post anything and everything they find of interest; Twitter, where I'm now fully chartered (with about 1,800 or so tweets); YouTube; old standbies like Yahoo!, Hi5, Myspace, and yes, that now hoary gathering space Friendster; more specialized social media spaces; and parallels of these sites--have siphoned off interest from all but the most lively and focused blogs (like Rod 2.0, who's as sharp and hot as a laser always). Also, I acknowledge that my own postings have shifted, from the early art and lit-focused eclecticism to politics, which I know turns (some) readers off, especially if you can get much of the same, often with more in-depth reportage or more interesting slants, elsewhere. Moreover, I'm quite aware, as my few readers also are, that the Law of Diminishing Returns has taken hold here with each successive year (can that also be analogized to entropy?), with fewer posts ever year since 2005. So far in 2010 I've managed to make 22 out of January's 31 minimum daily posts, or achieve about a 70% posting ratio for the month, my highest January total since 2006, which I take as a positive sign, so I think I'll try to hang on for a little longer.

Posting is very difficult during the academic year; whereas I once had a bit of breathing room, things are less free these days, and I'm so often overloaded with classwork (I'll have 2.5 classes this quarter), and other work-related tasks, about which I cannot post at all for obvious reasons, but I do love blogging, so if you're willing to keep dropping in here, I really appreciate it.


Speaking of classes, I wanted to share a photo of today's blackboard from my English 392: "The Situation of Writing" class, which is required for all senior-year creative writing major. Today, we were concluding our discussion of the publishing section of the class (once labeled the "Doom & Gloom" unit, things have changed considerably since I began teaching this class), which included reading Jason Epstein's The Book Business: Publishing: Past, Present and Future of Books (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001)* and I thought that as I've done in the past, I'd go over how you publish a book. I do use the computer in my classes (the students are Tweeting each week, and I post most class-related materials to Blackboard regularly), including this one, but I do love turning to the blackboard from time to time. And so it was with this rough flowchart. "A," at the far left, was our fictional writer of "mystery fiction," a genre one of the students suggested; the rest is, I think, self-evident if a bit illegible. If you are unclear about how books have tended to reach to readers, it's yours to review.

*Reggie H. suggested this book, which I hadn't read before considering it for this class; in the past I've tended to teach André Schiffrin's The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (Verso, 2001), a polemic which turns on a narrative of steady decline, with a direr, more caustic tone, but I thought I'd try something new this year, and Epstein's volume is very informative and useful, even if it also at times is both disturbing (he worked for the CIA, he openly admits) and unguent in his unacknowledged privilege.


Langston Hughes signing a bookIt's officially Black History Month. I personally like to think of every month as Black or women's or Latino or queer or straight or Asian-American or working-class or immigrant or any possible identification history month, which is to say, all of these identifications should be in play always when we think about this society, its history, our collective and individual pasts, but given the realities in which we live, we still must take a lighthouse approach to guiding people along different paths other than the oblivion-laced mainstream one, which these identitarian-focused months provide. Certainly Black history--the Black history that is part of American history and the histories of the Americas-- remains a mystery to many (black and otherwise) as it always has, despite years of education. The discourse about Haiti's pre-earthquake political and social malaise, and the current lack of media discussion of the dangers of the US's presence there, show that only so much has seeped in over the years.