Friday, December 29, 2006

Film Review: Dreamgirls

For whatever reason I've found writing each new blogpost like pulling teeth without anesthetic. Perhaps that's a sign that I ought to go on hiatus for a while, or join the legion of ex-bloggers. I originally saw Jstheater as a means in part for cultivating mindfulness, but that premise is based on having some free and fertile space in your mind in the first place. Perhaps it's time for to refocus, or just observe from the sidelines, especially if crazy commentary becomes the norm. I guess I'll decide in the new year.


DreamgirlsYesterday C. and I went to see Dreamgirls, Bill Condon's film version of the Broadway musical show written by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen. The movie received tremendous hype from the moment it was announced, and as I wrote in a prior blog entry, against my will I found myself succumbing (though I didn't drag C. to one of the $25 pre-release screenings). I want to echo many of the reviews and appraisals I've read online raving that the film was great and Oscar-worthy, but to tell the truth, I thought it was good-to=okay in almost all aspects, except one: the singing. But I'll get to that in a minute. The story, as anyone who has ever tangentially heard of Dreamgirls knows, is a fictionalized version of the Supremes' Motown story, with characters modeled on Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Berry Gordy, and more broadly a metanarrative of late 20th century Black American popular music. Set primarily in Detroit and Hollywood, the Dreamgirls film explores the ugly public and personal sides of the music industry, as the most talented singer in a 1960s all-female R&B trio--first the Dreamettes, later the Dreams when they've "grown up"--robust, real Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), finds herself jettisoned for the more conventionally beautiful yet less vocally powerful or expressive Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles). A central theme in the story is the battle between authentic, soulful, vernacular Black music, which Effie's singing, like James "Thunder" Early's (Eddie Murphy, in his best dramatic performance ever), embodies, and "crossover" music, which is what propels the reconstituted Dreams and then Deena individually to stardom and, along with their ruthless manager, Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), to tremendous wealth. Dreamgirls aims to dramatize this struggle, as well as related economic, social, and cultural struggles in condensed form, and succeeds to a point through its truncated plot and the actors' performances, but fails to do so with the very material medium embodying this deeper sociopolitical and aesthetic tension, the music. C. noted to me how many of the songs sounded like the parodies in Jennifer Lewis's hilarious film Jackie's Back, and I instantly agreed, which made me realize that even in the stage version, which I saw years ago, many of the songs were a liability in this regard, though it really struck me far more as I watched the film unfold.

There's little variation between the Dreamette's talent show song and almost every other one in the movie, which you could not say about the R&B of the early 1960s versus the Motown sound of the late 1960s or the extraordinarily rich variety of Black American music falling under the general rubrics of R&B, soul, funk, jazz, blues, rock, and pop from that period forward. Dreamgirls' chief musical exceptions mark the film's high points: Effie's two songs, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" and "I'm Changing," which Jennifer Hudson TURNS INSIDE OUT. Her voice is, simply put, astonishing. Sista works! Her singing of the first song is one of the most thrilling musical performances I've witnessed on film in years, and the second demonstrates that she should have won American Idol (and any other singing contest she entered) zooming away. In fact, her singing made up for any quibbles I have with her as an actress (and I'm aware that she's a newcomer), and would be the main reason I'd watch the film again. Just to hear her voice was worth the price of the ticket, and--pace Jennifer Holliday!--I am going to buy the CD tracks just to listen to her again. One unfortunate aspect to her brilliant vocal moments is that the first exposes the dramatic fall-off in the script; after "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," the film lists forward towards its climax, and the mini-climax moments--which I won't reveal in case there's any Jstheater reader who's never seen the stage musical, hasn't seen the film, and doesn't know the plot--just don't really pack the punch they might.

But Dreamgirls does have other appealing elements. The first is Eddie Murphy, who not only sings well, but imbues his character with nuance and feeling beyond what the plot offers. Thunder's failure to fit in, to relinquish not just what he knows, but who he is and what gives life--and soul--to his music, is tragic, and Murphy takes us almost all the way. Beyoncé Knowles, who's been commodified five times over in her pop star career, shows that she can carry a role, and when allowed, that she can sing. For most of the film she buries her voice in her role as an ensemble singer, but in her pedestrian solo vehicle, "Listen," she sparkles. It's not a great song, but Beyoncé lets the world know she can sing. It goes without saying that the film also showcases how beautiful she is as well, and as the film enters the 1970s period, she starts to glow. Annika Noni Rose played the third member of the original trio, Lorrell Robinson, and she too showed she could hold her role and sing. When she, Beyoncé, and the replacement Dream, Sharon Leal, as Michelle Morris, harmonize, they elevate the songs they're singing, and when Hudson joins the mix, it nearly induces bliss. Maybe it was just me, but the whole time I watched Jamie Foxx and Danny Glover, I kept seeing Foxx and Glover as opposed to the characters they were inhabiting, which isn't to say that they weren't good, but I couldn't shed my sense of them as stars playing characters for most of their time on screen. In Foxx's case, I think the absence of any possibility of mimicry was the issue; in Ray, he became Ray Charles, whereas in this film, he was more transparently a star in character. He does sing as well as he did in the biopic, even though the songs offer less for his voice. Keith Robinson plays the fourth major male character, Effie's brother C.C., and he arrests mainly with his acting and his half-smile; of all the main performers he has the weakest voice.

Despite Robinson's comparatively weak voice, the film's strength lies in the singing, and to a lesser extent, in some of the performances. Murphy deserves an award of some sort for his canny turn, and if acting as it's traditionally understood is set aside and vocal performance can substitute for it, Hudson also deserves an award. I'm not sure about an Academy Award, but she deserves something--certainly a Grammy and other music awards are on the way. Beyoncé merits praise for embodying female glamor as it's rarely depicted these days onscreen. One treat is Loretta Divine's brief appearance (she sings!), and it got me thinking, why didn't the director try to find tiny roles for Sheryl Lee Ralph and Jennifer Holliday (if she'd have taken one) as well? That would have been a wonderful lagniappe. Nevertheless, though it doesn't live up to its prerelease hype or most of the rhapsodic reviews I've heard or come across on most accounts, the singing actually does.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Kwanzaa + Recent Notes

Habari Gani: Happy Kwanzaa! (Ah, the days when I had to recite the seven principles!) It's also Zoroasht Diso for adherents of the Zoroastrian faith.

My first impulse after noting that Hanukkah has already concluded and that Christmas was yesterday is to note how quickly the holiday break is whizzing by, but instead I'll say that although I was doing university-related work right up to the hour I got on the plane and have been doing it since then, it's been wonderful to be able be home with C, relax and concentrate, even if briefly, on my own projects, and indulge in a little of what scholar and author Elizabeth Nuñez calls "dreamtime." Since we're on the quarter system, classes resume on January 3, 2007; I've finished up my new syllabi (I'm teaching 3 workshops, two undergraduate and one graduate, this upcoming quarter), have prepared my sourcebooks, and am nearly recharged. I may have to get a new eyeglass prescription, however, by the time the end of the quarter rolls around.

One of the more challenging things I've done since I've been home was to revise a story I'd written ten years ago, when I was in graduate school, and submitted to a literary journal, which accepted it but didn't publish it, because the journal itself didn't appear. But now it will, in early 2007. I hadn't even realized that the journal was forthcoming or that my story was still included in it, since I hadn't heard from any of the editors, who're different from the original group, but first a friend told me that he'd gotten wind the issue was finally going to appear, and then I got confirmation from the publisher that it was definitely on the way, and my story was still in it. I requested the see the edition the journal had, and it turned out that it was one of the earliest versions, from around 1996 or 1997, before I'd revised it as part of my final grad manuscript. That is, it was in rather crude shape, full of all sorts of errors, technical problems and anachronisms (it was very much contemporary to 1996, a moment before ubiquitous cell phones, people hooking up online, etc.) that I probably didn't see years ago, but spotted immediately upon reading it through now. One major problem with the piece was the overgrown foliage of language that I realize now I simply couldn't cut my way through back then. Another was the unclear motivations of the characters. Because the journal, now a book, is going to press within a few weeks, I hunkered and down and after about seven days produced a version that is passable. It's quite different from the last few stories I've written and published in theme (it deals with a closeted married man--when I first wrote it, I vividly recall one classmate telling me that "the closet" was passé), style (it's a fairly straightforward realist story), and tone. I think the story's still not what it could be, but I don't think it's a total embarassment any longer.

My blogging ebbed to nothing in part because of this pressing project and because it was as if I'd reached the zero phase of my mental capacities after addressing the last of a few administrative projects a several weeks ago. Despite the desire, I couldn't find the energy to post at all. I particularly wanted to write something about the end of The Wire's stunning, tragic fourth season, and also about Sleeper Cell, a less well-made but really interesting show I've been watching off and on. I'd also wanted to write about my ongoing love-hate relationship with TV in general, and my aim to keep it off more than on in 2007. And there's so much else.... I still haven't written a few reviews I'd hoped to complete, on Clean and other films, or to post a link to an article on an African-American woman's views of race and her experiences in the Dominican Republican that Anthony M. sent C. and me, or to talk about my long-ago love affair with the journal October, which never ceases, or to rant about the inconsistent St. Louis Rams, but in time, in time.

I was very sorry to hear that James Brown had passed yesterday morning. There are encomiums to his genius all over the Net (thank you, Audiologo) and I don't have anything special to add beyond the fact that I always saw him embodying, in his music and everyday performance, the blues and soul as living, inextinguishable material and spiritual aspects of Black life. Another was the unifying power of his music (umoja, you know). One important element of Brown's performative embodiment was and is its political power, and I noted in nearly all of the TV mentions of his life and achievements that there was little discussion, except by the activists he inspired and mentored, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, of the political component of his work. Catchy anthems like "Don't Be a Drop-Out" or "Say It Out Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" signified not only Brown's belief in Black uplift and the mood of the time, but also a centuries-long history of struggle for racial dignity, cultural pride and social and political self-determination. (He was, however, not averse to taking politically conservative stances such as endorsing Richard Nixon, but his complexity reflects the richness and complexity of the culture he so powerfully brought to life.) For so many reasons he will remain an important, iconic figure, for African America, for Blacks across the Diaspora, and for the US more broadly: his groundbreaking career and musical innovations; his personal artistic and financial success and the success he helped to create for Black/American popular music, and for popular musics across the world; the complex life narrative he created for himself and lived out; and his support throughout the years not only for younger artists, but also for activists and community leaders, but all Black people. May you rest in peace, and thank you, James Brown.

I also saw that Ahmet Ertegün, the co-founder and longtime visionary behind Atlantic Records, passed away two weeks ago. Ertegün's name first entered my consciousness when I would read the liner notes on some of my father's innumerable jazz LPs--I can't even who the artists were or the LPs--and wondered who this person whose unusual name (to me, back then) kept coming up was. The constant references to the name led me to suppose he possessed legendary status. This was long before Googling, and I didn't think to ask anyone or try a reference book, so it wasn't until I was a teenager and starting reading Andy Warhol's Interview magazine that I saw a picture of Ertegün and his wife Mika, and did some checking to learn that he was an impresario, to put it simply. At Atlantic, which his brother Nasuhi later joined, and others, this Turkish diplomat's son produced and issued records by many of the major popular musical artists of the 20th century, and also wrote a number of influential blues tunes. Among the great Black musical artists who worked with Ertegün were early R&B and blues artists like Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Joe Turner; jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Hank Crawford; and, through Interscope Records, rappers like 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G. Other musical artists who put out music under Atlantic or its affiliated labels include Led Zeppelin, Sonny and Cher, Marky Mark, Nine Inch Nails, and Frank Zappa. Ertegün later played a central role in the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and outside of his musical interests, was also soccer enthusiast who helped to establish the New York Cosmos soccer team, which brought immortals Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer, and a host of other soccer stars to New York and national TV screens during the 1970s.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

NJ Approves Civil Unions + Af-Am Trove in LA + Greenfield Responds Badly + Wilson Harris's New Book

New Jersey Legislature Approves, Gov. to Sign Off On Civil Unions
One of today's biggest bits of news was that the New Jersey Senate, following the state Assembly, had approved a same-sex civil unions bill, which will now go to governor Jon Corzine for his signature, and he has said he'll sign it. (No surprise there!) New Jersey will become the third state, after Vermont and Connecticut, to legalize civil unions. The legislation is the result of an October 25, 2007 directive to the legislature from the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that same-sex couples were not being treated equally under the New Jersey's constitution. Lawmakers had 90 days to devise a solution, and what they developed comes close to providing near equal rights and benefits under state law, though it does fall short of full equality, as did not use or provide for civil "marriage"; only Massachusetts, among the 50 states, DC, and US territories, allows gay marriage. Today on NPR I heard a representative of the New Jersey legal establishment arguing that because of the legislature's failure to fully provide for equal rights, including in name, the law could be brought, through lawsuits, before the US Supreme Court. According to some polls, 60% of New Jerseyans support same-sex civil unions, while about 50% support or oppose gay marriage equally. I personally think the civil union legislation was a huge step in the right direction, but the state legislature should have gone all the way and approved civil marriage. They certainly could have made the argument about ending all de jure discrimination in the state, but have blown that opportunity for who knows how long....

Black Trove in Los Angeles
In today's New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer writes about the late Mayme Agnew Clayton, a Los Angeles-based former university librarian who over the span of her adult life amassed one of the finest collections of African-American literature and artifacts to be found in the world. Among the rare and remarkable pieces in her collection is one of the few signed first editions of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), a foundational text of African-American literature and the second book published by a woman in the American colonies. Ms. Clayton, who collected the materials on a modest salary, passed away just two months, and now her son, Avery Clayton, is attempting to honor his mother's lifelong effort and showcase her collections by creating a museum and archive in a former court building in nearby Culver City, California. As Steinhauer relates the situation so far, Mr. Clayton has rented the building for a dollar, and has raised about $15,000 of the projected $565,000 necessary to run the museum center properly. (So he needs money!) Once the projected Mayme E. Clayton Library and Cultural Center is functioning, which Mr. Clayton hopes to accomplish by 2008, viewers will be able to examine and view the more than 30,000 materials, which also include a wide array of documents, prints, and posters, ephemera, films and videos, photographs, sound recordings, making it the premier archive of African Americana on the West Coast. I've already put a research visit on my wish list!

Wheatley's signed Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Marissa Roth/New York Times)

Greenfield Responds to Criticism, Wrongly

After perversely comparing the semi-casual style of Senator Barack Obama, one of the frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, to that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and fielding considerable online criticism for it, CNN pundit Jeff Greenfield has responded by attacking...bloggers. That's right. It's the keyboard-tapping rabble who're responsible for mistaking his "joke" for what it evidently was, another mainstream media preemptive attack of slander, innuendo, dissimulation, and disinformation against a leading Democrat--and in this case, not just any Democrat, but the only African-American US Senator, whose middle name happens to be Arabic. Although we've seen such attacks for years, against Bill Clinton (murderer! rapist! thief! draft dodger! pothead!), his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton (shrew! witch! Co-President! Lady Macbeth!), Al Gore (where it was particularly effective--earth tones! Naomi Wolf! Love Story! Internet "inventor"!), John Kerry (those questionably earned medals, that un-American windsurfing!), Howard Dean (screaming nut! leftwinger! blogger tool!), and many more, we are supposed to believe that Greenfield wasn't tossing a few briquets into the fire the right wing has already started and stoked by attempting to make Obama as alien as possible, linking him quite unsubtly to one of the most outrageous, anti-Semitic foes of the current administration. As Audiologo notes in my comment section, it initially seemed that once Senator Odreamy Populist-Appeal-to-All-People had shifted rightwards towards Obama Inc., the media might moderate somewhat on hammering Illinois's junior senator, but conversely, his high poll standings and ability to energize Democratic and independent voters have made him even more of a threat, which the mediocracy and its corporate overlords clearly recognize--and let's not forget, unlike Saint McCain, Obama also was correct on Iraq before the fact, which is sure to improve his appeal as W Bush's Iraq catastrophe continues to spiral out of control. In addition, this is one Negro they haven't figured out how to Rev. Jesse-Rev. Al-Cynthia McKinnney-ize just yet, but they're trying damned hard.

I'll believe Greenfield when he and the hacks at the major newspapers, CNN and other media outlets stop their clowning and start acting like they have good sense. But it's unlikely; their corporate bosses, Obama Inc. or no, like and push such narratives and many of these highly paid pundits believe them. Just look at how they slaver over Republican St. John McCain, an avowedly notorious right-winger who has been repeatedly wrong on every issue, including Iraq. McCain hired a known racist to rev up his ultimately failed 2000 presidential campaign, though he was successfully race-baited and lost in the South Carolina primary; but he's back to his old tricks, hiring the sleazy GOP operative whose racially polarizing TV and radio commercials helped to sink Harold Ford Jr.'s Tennessee Senate campaign and who supervised the person convicted in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race phone-jamming scheme. Have you heard any of these media pundits "joke" about McCain yet, or compare him or his clothing style or mode of speech or anything to some crackpot around the world? What about His Hollowness, Mayor Rudy Giuliani? Or Golly Begeesus Sam Brownback? Keep waiting....

Wilson Harris's Newest Novel

I was under the misstaken impression--and I believe that I read it somewhere, which may have underlined my belief--that one of my literary icons, the Guyanese-British writer Wilson Harris (b. 1912-), had published his self-described "last" novel, The Mask of the Beggar (Faber & Faber, 2003) a few years ago. A ferociously difficult and dense text, that novel, like its immediate predecessor, The Dark Jester (Faber & Faber, 2001), represented the utterly distilled quintessence of a lifetime's explorations and work, so densely compacted and rich with ideas, questions, paradoxes, and rhetorical intricacies, and so pared of plot, drama (in the usual fictional sense) and incident that it functioned, I thought like a fictionalized essay. It was and is a text that, despite its brevity, could inspire a career's worth of study. Of course this is true of nearly all of Harris's fiction and theoretical texts, but The Mask of the Jester, more so than the novels preceding it, like Resurrection at Sorrow Hill, or Jonestown (one of my favorites, a masterpiece by any measure), felt shorn of almost everything except the bones, so to speak, of Harris's art. Yet a few days ago, I received the most recent novel by Harris, The Ghost of Memory (Faber & Faber, 2006), which, based on an admittedly cursory review, has such a comparative lightness of touch and many of the elements of his prior fictions, including the multiplicitous central figure or figures drawn from history (here, it's Columbus), the movement through mimetic temporality and space (here the story manages to involve the passage through paintings in a museum), and the insistently profound, multivalent inquiry into the human condition that he manages in his inimitable way, that it's convinced me he might not be ready to stop just yet. (A friend nevertheless has said that Harris told him this will be his final novel.) I hope he won't, and as I think about the totality of his oeuvre, its innovation and achievement, I return to my conviction that as fine a writer as Orhan Pamuk is, Harris and a host of other authors are more deserving of the Nobel Prize. (Swedish Academy, Wilson Harris is 85....) It's one of several books I'm going to try to complete during my brief winter break, if I can.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Flightmare 1,000.0 + Ciro Rodriguez Lo Ha Ganado + CNN Gores Obama

Flightmare, the Neverending Story
I won't go so far as to say I've glimpsed Purgatory, but I would imagine that unlike Dante's, More's, Shakespeare's, or Baraka's versions, it looks and feels and smells a lot like the interior of O'Hare Airport. I am once again stuck here, waiting for a delayed flight that was supposed to take off at 6:10 pm, but has been pushed back to 9:30 pm or later. For close to the last three hours I've sat in or strolled about or galumphed around this recycled air-filled, dazed people-thronged, artery-bursting fastfood vendor clogged mini-maze of a terminal, trying to beat back the threat of a cold and to not get upset because what was years an easy and fairly drama-free, two-hour trip has become a phenomenal nightmare. The standard excuse I receive when I ask one of the ticketing agents or call Continental about the delays is "the weather" or "the air traffic control weather"--which makes no sense. The standard response used to be "the wind," which is totally unconvincing for the Newark portion of the trip, since I have spent about one fourth of my life living less than five miles away from Newark Liberty International Airport AND NEWARK AND ITS AIRPORT DID NOT AND DO NOT HAVE WIND PROBLEMS!!! The kind and always information liberal representatives of Continental, however, want me and everyone else to believe otherwise. (Chicago is another story, but I've landed in a rainstorm at both of its airports, in a snowstorm, in what felt like the beginnings of a tornado. The delays were always more common coming into O'Horror, but still not as frequent as they've become.) Tonight, however, I heard another explanation, which made me want to burst into laughter and scream at the same time. Tonight, a voluble epresentative of Continental assured me and everyone in earshot that Mayor Richard Daley, now vying for his sixth term, was to blame for the delays. That's right, His Windiness is the source of O'Horror's and Newark Illiberty's inabilities to land flights on time. Why? Well, as this supersapient woman understood it and felt the need to expatiate at the top of her voice, Mayor Daley craves expanding O'Horror (and not building a new one in the vast fields of Peotone, which was and is Jesse Jackson Jr.'s pet project), so he has [fill in the blank] which now slows down flights at Newark and O'Horror. But of course! I thought about mentioning the simple problem of Daley's lack of control over the air traffic controllers or the FAA or Continental Airlines or its semicompetent fellow carriers, and how flying had once been fun and how even People's Airlines used to be able to get you where you need to go on time, though their planes had duck tape on the wings, and how Continental was quickly racing towards the bottom to vie with Delta and United and American as the worst airlines in the country, but I decided not to waste my breath. Instead, I popped a Xicam lozenge and then, like the rest of the flying sheeple I went back to my little uncomfortable spot, called C. for the umpteenth time to tell him what was going on, opened up my computer and started typing away (as the man sitting near me complained in a stage whisper about his wireless connection then segued into talking about how "huge" and "fat" he felt (???) and how he usually biked 100 miles in the Texas hill country near Houston when spring came to raise money for charity, and then uttered sounds every so often, which I thought about recording but decided not to), and it's only 9 PM, so I have at least another hour to go....

Update: I finally did get back to New Jersey; I'm at home now, and it's 2 AM. Continental, you're doing a heck of a job!

¡Ciro Rodríguez lo ha ganado!
On a good note, Democrat Ciro Rodríguez defeated incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla in their Texas US House runoff race, giving the Democratic Congressional caucus a 30th, new vote, and another progressive member! Rodríguez had previously served in Congress, representing a San Antonio district, then lost his seat to Democrat in Name Only Henry Cuellar, who's voted for quite lots of anti-consumer legislation and even sat with the Republicans at this year's State of the Union speech. His attempts to unseat Cuellar had twice failed. But because of the Tom DeLay-ordered redistricting shenanigans, he got another opportunity after a federal court ruled that the newly drawn district might harm Latino voters, and redrew the district in a way that favored Rodríguez. This, coupled with the increased unpopularity of Republicans among Latinos, led to his strong 55%-45% defeat of Bonilla. The victory also certifies the Republicans' worst midterm losses since the Watergate era. (Who was spouting all that claptrap about how the new Democratic Congresspeople were all conservatives?) Congratulations to Rodríguez!

CNN Gores Obama
It never takes that long for elements in the mainstream media to show their nutty, racist colors. Article A: CNN has taken to split-screening Senator Barack Obama with Osama bin Laden! And Saddam Hussein! Now, they weren't the first launch onto the His-Middle-Name- Is-"Hussein" meme; Republican operative Ed Rogers had already latched onto this fact; his full name, for the record, is Barack Hussein Obama Junior, meaning he is named after his father (you know, like Albert Arnold Gore, Jr., or Edmund Gerald Brown, Jr., etc.), a Kenyan economist, and the "Hussein" is a family name. Yet this small fact has sent the seahorse-brained mainstream media punditry and rightwingosophere into a frenzy. His middle name is HUSSEIN, did you hear that? His middle name is HUSSEIN! HUSSEIN! Even though the US could never get enough of its favorite party-loving Middle Eastern monarch, King HUSSEIN of Jordan. And ole' Saddam HUSSEIN was a great pal of Ronald St. Raygun and George HW, starting wars with Iranian mullahs and gassing Kurds and Shiites and all kinds of wild and crazy stuff St. Raygun and Poppy just thought was dandy, until it wasn't. (But then St. Raygun also thought Osama bin Laden was pretty dandy too, calling him and the other mujahadeen "freedom fighters" and lavishing millions of our tax dollars and publicly-funded weaponry on them, while HW and W both had close personal relationships with the bin Laden family, so close that...but you already know all of this, despite the best interests of the media to keep their mouths shut about it.)

Oh--and we can't forget the Obama-Osama thing. When the natural pol initially ran for his Senate seat, some Republican wags tried to make hay of the similarities between Obama* and Osama (the first being a Luo name, the other Arabic, but both languages are primarily spoken by brown people, so hey, what's the difference? ["Sunnis...Shiites...I can't tell them apart"--Trent Lott]), though it obviously had little effect on the voters of Illinois. Obama has also been proactive about defusing negative (if not idiotic) commentary about his name, calling it "funny" while going on to note that the issue shouldn't be his name but his politics and policies, a simple point his potential constituents grasped fairly quickly.

Now Jeff Greenfield, one of the putative "liberal" newspettifoggers (though "putrid" would be more like it) has decided to participate in the budding wacky rhetorical war, consisting of winks and codes and the like, the usual visual regime of insinuation and insult that's waged without open acknowledgment, on Obama, just as the "liberal" media went on its rampage against Al Gore Jr., I suppose to damage him well in advance of the 2008 election. Greenfield came up with the utterly bizarre suggestion that Senator Odreamy was mimicking the style of...Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--the Holocaust-denying president of Iran (I will try to write about the spectacle taking place there tomorrow) who, like our own Crackpot-in-Chief, receives direct messages from God, which is covered in the DSMV, though I can't recall the exact syndromes! Huh? Then Jeannie Moos on CNN...well, I'll show the screen caps, courtesy of TPM Café, which also has the YouTube link:

Senator Obama, I think it's clear that they're really terrified of you, a young, brilliant, handsome, witty, engagingly charismatic Black man, and with these utterly inane and dizzy and ultimately dangerous people, who foisted the WORST PRESIDENT EVER upon us after engaging in their two-year assault against Al Gore, it's only going to get worse, I can assure you now....
*I seem to recall that one of my undergraduate classmates, who was from Kenya, was named Obama Obama, although he might actually have been a classmate of several good friends of mine, who were a year or two years after me. As to Obama Obama's whereabouts, I have no idea.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Quraysh Ali Lansana @ Second Sun + Other News

Quraysh Ali Lansana at Second Sun
I told Krista Franklin today that Naïeveté Studios were becoming my second home in Chicago, and it felt that way today as I was back there to hear fellow poet Quraysh Ali Lansana read from his poetry. Q is a professor at Chicago State University and one of the primary forces behind Chicago State's annual Gwendolyn Brooks Conference Writers' Conference for Black Literature and Creative Writing. It's usually in that capacity that I see him in the city, but he's also the author of two collections of poetry, a children's book, and several chapbooks, and the editor or co-editor of several more, including Roll Call (with Samiya Bashir and Tony Medina, 2002), which included two of my poems. Just a few years ago he published the highly regarded volume They Shall Run--Harriet Tubman Poems (Third World Press, April 2004). He's also a musician, and teaches poetry to Chicago schoolchildren when he's not raising his own family. This afternoon he read early personal poems and very new ones in the same vein, a combination most poets usually don't try except when reading a collected anthology or similar volume, yet his selection worked very well. I mentioned to him during the post-reading affirmation period that his condensed language managed to spring entire worlds forward, which made the poems sound and feel richer than their deceptively brief presences on the page might portend. As always, the crowd was full, there was delicious food, quite a bit of art filled the walls and display nooks, and the winter-dispelling hot wine, which manages to render the December winds a little more bearable, flowed freely as always.

Q, during the reading

Part of the audience, right before the reading

During the reading: Tyehimba Jess (foreground), Krista Franklin and Emily Evans listening and reflecting

Karen Carter Loses, Democracy Wins (?)
The people of New Orleans overwhelmingly reelected their incumbent federal representative, William Jefferson, despite serious criminal charges hanging over his head, rejecting the challenge by Karen Carter in yesterday's runoff election. Or perhaps he was reelected because of them; Jefferson is an embattled sitting Congressperson, facing federal indictments for alleged bribery and other crimes, and in addition to convincing local and national Black politicians to circle their wagons around him, was able to rally a majority of Black voters and enough Whites in Jefferson Parish, on the southern side of the Mississippi River, to his cause. Despite a progressive history, including founding a "progressive Democratic" group, he attacked Carter's support for gay and abortion rights in the latter weeks of the campaign. The notorious, racist Jefferson Parish sheriff, Henry Lee, also came out harshly against Carter for calling attention to the fact that he forbade New Orleansians and visitors fleeing Hurricane Katrina from crossing a bridge to safety. How effective he can and will be in Washington, as he spends time dealing with lawyers and lawsuits, is anyone's question, and it's also moot how his fellow Democratic caucus will respond. The incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, has already removed him from one committee post. Had Carter been elected, she would become the first Black woman to represent Louisiana in Congress. If Jefferson is convicted, and the evidence against him appears damning, Carter very well could head to Washington, though not as soon as she or her supporters would have liked.

Mortgage Market Problems
Today on DailyKos there's a thorough diary on the problems in the mortgage market. The housing market is down in many parts of the country, and has softened considerably in Chicago, but much of the coverage I've seen has focused on sales and building, rather than on the banking side of things. The Kos entry, by bonddad, points to the collapse of the country's 11th largest sub-prime lender, Ownit, the serious problems that 2006 loans in general are having, and the rising price of credit derivatives, which are insurance policies of a sort for mortgages. This is bad news for the economy on many levels, but the mainstream media don't seem to be too interested in reporting it, at least not now when it might scare consumers away from racking up even more debt in pursuit of crap they hardly need and don't really want. But it's worth checking out.

Troy Smith Wins Heisman
Troy SmithAfter Rutgers' loss to Cincinnati, which knocked them out of the national race, I pretty much stopped following college football (they subsequently lost to West Virginia and thus were out of the Big East league championship race).

That is, I avoided it as much as I could, though since the university is in the Big 10 conference, I constantly heard about or saw the name of the league's and nation's most dominant team, The Ohio State University, which will play the national championship game against the University of Florida. This year's Heisman Trophy winner is the stunning young man at left (photo from Detroit Free Press, LOUIS LANZANO/Associated Press), Troy Smith, who has quarterbacked Ohio State to its 12-0 record.

Smith graciously thanked his teammates for their roles in his award, and also called attention to a friend's father, Ted Ginn, Jr., who has served as a surrogate parent for him. After a period of attitudinal problems in high school, Smith, with the help of this surrogate father, was able to turn his life around. He'll need every iota of fortitude and perserverance against Florida, a point he duly expressed after receiving the award.

Hell Welcomes a New Resident
That's how Steve Gilliard puts it over at the News Blog, and no, I don't mean Jeane Kirkpatrick. Instead, he and others are writing about the death of Augusto Pinochet, the brutal dictator of Chile for over 15 years, who managed to escape foreign and domestic prosecution for his many crimes, which included the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, in 1973. (There are many excellent books on Chile's long nightmare, but two of the best, fairly recent fictional ones that come to mind are by the late, extraordinary Roberto Bolaño: By Night in Chile and Distant Star.)

I say, Adios, carnicerote.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Photos: Kwame Dawes @ Naïeveté Studios

Here are few more photos from the Naïeveté Studios-hosted reading by and reception for poet Kwame Dawes.

Krista Franklin introducing Dawes

Kwame Dawes reads from Wisteria

Fans gathering and getting his autograph

In the kitchen, Toni Asante Lightfoot whips up some scrumptious hot wine

poet and professor Tracy Hall

People gathering to chat and sample the refreshments

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Poem + RIP: kari edwards

I just learned that kari edwards (1954-2006) passed away this weekend. She was an important experimental poet and a longtime dynamic transgender/body disruption activist. After hearing about her and her work for several years, we finally met a couple times at different readings, though I never had an opportunity to sit down with her and talk about her work. During the first year of this blog, I linked up to one of her blogs, Transdada, though she ran several others, including Transsubmutation and In Words. She published a number of books, including Obedience (factorybooks, 2005) and a day in the life of p (A a Arts, 2002), and appeared in a range of anthologies, including most recently Biting the Error: 40 Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, 2004), Best American Poetry 2004 (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and Bisexuality and Transgenderism (The Haworth Press, 2004).

In its most recent email, the Poetry Project included a selection from her book Obedience, which I'll reprint here:

this is duration

this is an indefinite continuation

this is a continuation of the indefinite

this is a claim number’s damp residue sealed dream

this is tomorrow’s tomorrow -
wandering in a murmur of midnight

this is duration spark

and this is duration on the edge of intimacy

this could be the sound of a child’s cry

the body that becomes ecstasy

Copyright © kari edwards, 2004, 2006.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Karen Carter + Obama Inc + Inland Empire + Kwame Dawes @ Naïeveté

Karen Carter for Congress
Karen CarterYou thought the 2006 midterms were over, right? No, I know you're up on things, and you know that Karen Carter (at right) is in a runoff against scandal-tainted, gay-baiting William Jefferson, in whose freezer the FBI just happened to find $90,000 of a $100K bribe that was allegedly meant for the Nigerian Vice President. (I wish I'd thought of that as a plot element.) Jefferson has not been convicted of anything yet, and is innocent until proven guilty under our legal system, which means that he can still run for Congress and act like he's doing his job, but why not help to ensure that can devote his full energies and time to defending himself and put Karen Carter in office instead? She needs your help to win her 2nd Congressional District race in Louisiana. If elected, she won't be so compromised that she can't work hard for the people of her district, who desperately need a representative focused on their needs and concerns in Washington, as well as one with an active and effective record of legislative success.

If you can, help Karen Carter out and give the Democratic caucus in the House one more voice they need.

Riding the President Obama Train
Last night, as I paused to break from my work work, I began to write a short fable about a young African-American Senator who once upon a time was a notably outspoken, progressive state legislator, and who, after dazzling viewers nationally with his stirring speech at the Democratic convention and winning election to the US Senate in spectacular landslide fashion, began moving quickly first to the center, and then to the right. Now, instead of addressing union halls and demanding a swift exit for our troops from Iraqmire, he's giggling with evangelicals and identifying faults among his fellow Democrats as he glides among rich potential backers and party hacks in an effort to prepare the ground for a possible presidential run.

Yet I came across a link to a long and involved essay, "Barack Obama Inc." in Harper's, by Ken Silverstein, on my projected fable's protagonist, Senator Barack Obama (above left, in front of the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois) and ended up scrapping what I wrote in favor of pointing readers to this superior, informative piece. After reading it, I considered the fact that Illinoisans are in a good position these days, since they have the liberal, very outspoken Dick Durbin in the Democratic leadership, which now has control of the Senate, and a charismatic, Grammy-winning, best-selling national figure, who floats above the fray but still can deliver some local goods when needed. On the other hand, Black Americans really lose out because since Obama has decided to be a national figure--in case he decides to run for the presidency--we have no one willing to take stands specifically on our behalf in that elite club of 100 as Carol Moseley-Braun sometimes would, or as Obama did before his rock-star echo chamber starting blaring. He has consistently opposed the war in Iraq, did speak out about Hurricane Katrina and has proposed some citizen and consumer-friendly legislation, but recently, while gladhanding George Soros and other amply moneyed friends in New York City, he uttered the sort of weak, triangulating mush about the horrific police killing of Sean Bell in Queens that Democratic voters--and not just Black ones--have come to dread from presidency-craving wannabes. Obama cannot be all things to all people, especially most Black people, and right now, he wants to be the bestest, most moderate Demopublican America could ever dream of.

This is why I think it's crucial that in the next election cycle we elect another African-American senator, and preferably a very progressive, outspoken one from a soundly blue state, who has no designs on the presidency. Harold Ford Jr. would not have been that person, since he was ideologically to the right of Arlen Specter, but Kweisi Mfume, despite his personal baggage, might have done it. It's too bad Deval Patrick was just elected governor of Massachusetts, or he'd be a good option. Perhaps New Jersey State Senator Nia Gill, one of Jon Corzine's alleged considerations for the seat that became Bob Menendez's, will run to replace snoozing doozy Frank Lautenberg, who is likely to and should retire after his term is up.

"extraordinary, savagely uncompromised"
So says the iffy Manohla Dargis of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE--and there's much more about this super-bizarre Lynchian dream that'll soon be on movie screens. I. cannot. wait. to. see. it!!!

Reception and Reading for Kwame Dawes at Naïeveté Studios
I'll post more photos tomorrow from the reading, which was excellent, but here's one of poet Kwame Dawes, as he was speaking, pre-reading, about "Miss Rosalie," one of the larger-than-life Sumter, South Carolina denizens whose stories and spirits animate his marvelous 11th book of poems Wisteria (Red Hen, 2006).

For people in Chicagoland, he'll be reading tomorrow at the University of Illinois Chicago's Institute for the Humanities, at 6 pm, 701 S. Morgan, and giving a lecture on "The Art of Bob Marley" at the Chicago Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington Street, with receptions to follow both events.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Post-Apartheid Fiction + Anti-Gay Repression Middle East + Spelman Opens Lorde Archive

New South African Fiction
My former student Brian O. hipped me to Rachel Donadio's piece, "Post-Apartheid Fiction," in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Its real focus is on the 30-something generation of South African Black male novelists (no female or mixed-race writers are really profiled), and in usual Times fashion, the central issue appears to be: who's going to be the next big thing, which is to say, who'll fill Zakes Mda's footsteps? Donadio selects Niq Mhlongo, one of the liveliest of the new vein of writers, while also mentioning two of the once bright hopes, now deceased--K. Sello Duiker (above, from, a suicide at 30 after a battle with bipolar disorder and depression, and Phaswane Mpe, who died of AIDS at 34.

She also touches upon the larger context, exploring the psychic and social toll the post-apartheid era and its successes, including the rise of a Black elite and middle class, and discontents, from increasing societal hierarchization and stratification to the scourge of AIDS, have taken on the emerging writer, and on the various kinds of negotiations, such as writing in English while speaking local, sometimes hybridized languages, for a public that is marked by extensive illiteracy and poverty, placing the books out of reach of the very people portrayed in them. Who, Donadio seemed to be asking--as Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee, who as one of the leading non-Black South African writers is briefly mentioned here, asked in one of the most important chapters of Elizabeth Costello when the eponymous White female writer confronts the Black African author who's performing his African literariness on the ship, in effect speaking for Coetzee himself and countless other African writers--is the intended audience or audiences? And what roles does such a literature play and what effects can it have? This got me to thinking about the different ways, short of translation into a different, more accessible medium (film, TV) the narratives might circulate and reach the mass of Black people there. I left with the sense that the complexity of the new society that has come into being may require a range of approaches and styles, and perhaps no single literary powerhouse will emerge anytime soon, which wouldn't be a problem; what's wrong with an array of voices, in concert and discord, reflecting the realities of the South Africa that now exists?

Prisoners of (Gay) Sex
Also in this Sunday's Times Magazine was Negar Azimi's "Prisoners of Sex," which looked at the circulation and rise of contemporary globally-informed gay identification and practices in some Muslim Arab countries and the accompanying brutal, sometimes deadly backlash. (The article focused primarily on men and said only a little bit about the problems facing lesbians beyond looking at the life of one woman.) Several aspects of the article interested me. One was what I saw as a quasi-Foucauldian* narrative playing out: as the globalized forms of gay identities took hold, in Egypt for example, supplanting prior local forms, and were publicly named and performed, new rhetorics and forms of repression also came into being, since what was not discursively identified could not be punished before, or at least in the same ways, and with the same rhetoric. One example of this was the film The Yacoubian Building, which showed a bourgeois gay man living out a life that might not be out of place outside Egypt, and it met with swift condemnation from religious conservatives and political opportunists, yet I imagine that more subterranean, local forms of homosexual desire and practices, which were not publicly aired or presented so overtly, might not have provoked such a clamor. (I'm not arguing for them, let me make clear--and as the article notes, this film has been a runaway hit.) The suggested conflict between the globalized gay identities and practices (and more broadly other kinds and forms of social liberalism), and concepts of religiously inflected nationalism was also fascinating. In effect, one way of reading the attacks on gay people was as a horribly misguided means through which to "defend" and "protect" the sanctity of the Egyptian-- Muslim Arab--nation from this pernicious Western form of (post-)modernity. (Of course there's a lot more to be said on this.) As a result, in an effort to end some of the persecution, representatives from the global gay rights movement chose not to appeal to universalist or Western notions, but to specific local beliefs, concerns and worldviews, particularly around the lack of popular, public support for torture, with some success. Scott Long of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign (IGLHRC) described it like this: "Perhaps we had less publicity for the report in the United States because we avoided fetishizing beautiful brown men in Egypt being denied the right to love....We wrote for an Egyptian audience and tried to make this intelligible in terms of the human rights issues that have been central in Egyptian campaigns. It may not have made headlines, but it seemed to make history." Yet Azimi makes clear that the conditions for further repression and oppressive measures are present, and that such an eventuality could very well happen at any point. He ends the with the following two paragraphs, which capture something central to his piece:

Today the Queen Boat continues to sit docked on the Nile, its name clumsily respelled “Queen Boot” in garish green neon. It is hardly the gay hangout it once was, instead catering to the very occasional budget tourist. Many dragged away by the police that evening five years ago have since left the country, and others keep a low profile, although there are signs that young people have begun cruising the Nile banks again and meeting on the Internet.

As I prepared to leave Cairo at the beginning of the fall, I received an e-mail message from M., the businessman from the Queen Boat, since relocated to the States. “I sit here, and the Americans talk about something called Islamic fascism, the Arabs go on about their values,” he wrote. “All of us, and I don’t mean gay men, I mean all of us who don’t fit the norm — democracy activists, queens, anything — it’s us who get branded as Western, fifth columnists. We pay the price.”

*Azimi does mention Foucault at one point, in fact, though only for illustrative purposes.

Spelman to Make Lorde Archive Public
Rod 2.0 posts on Spelman College's plan to make Audre Lorde's personal archive public. He points out that according to Lorde's will, her archive, which she bequeathed to the historically Black women's college after her death in 1992, was to remain closed until a biography of her was completed. That occurred in 2004 with the publication of The Warrior Poet. He goes on to note that the Women's Research and Resource Center, which houses the Lorde archive and is celebrating its 25th anniversary, will, according to its director, Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, be shifting its focus to combatting homophobia. What a wonderful step for Spelman College, for all interested in Lorde's crucial and pioneering work and in Black LGBT literature, and for increased openness and discussions, particularly around gender and sexualities studies, at historically Black colleges and universities!

Update: From Reggie H--> FYI: Brian Whitaker, author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, and Noa Sattath, the executive director of Jerusalem Open House (which hosted World Pride 2006 in Jerusalem), were interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air Wednesday 12/5. The interview is available on their website.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Beta Blogger + Beach Pics + Courting Segregation + Brooks on Beyoncé

Bedeviled by Beta Blogger
Since I temporarily lost my blog because of my attempt to switch to Beta Blogger, I've kept open my email updates to the thread I started on the Google Groups site, and almost every other day, at least one or two new bloggers join the thread, in complete panic, because their attempted switches to Beta Blogger have resulted in the complete disappearance of their blogs. Like me, they attempt to contact Blogger via its Help site, but receive no response. None. After repeated email appeals, they discover Google Groups Blogger Help Group, find the place to post, and start or join a thread as I did, at which point a Google employee responds fairly quickly and lets them know how to retrieve or refind their blog. This leads me to ask: why does Blogger even have the Help page if they're not going to respond to it concerning vanished blogs? Why not just put a big, blinking sign on it urging people to go directly to Google Groups Blogger Help if the Beta switch turns into a disaster? And why doesn't the Beta Blogger page contain extensive warnings about the potential disappearance of your blog if you try it? Wouldn't Google spare itself a lot of frantic posts, rants, and denunciations if they were up front about the problems people are encountering?

At the Beach in December
Before I began spending part of each year in Chicago, I had never lived in short walking distance to a beach. There are numerous beaches in Massachusetts and New Jersey, but none that I could reach from where C and I haved lived in less than a hour. The one time a buddy of mine and I visited Revere Beach, which was train ride away from where we were living at the time, we got so freaked out by how completely the people, stores and restaurants near there seemed trapped in the mid-1970s, down to a kitschy Shawn Cassidy mirror on the wall of a pizza shop there, that she and I ran as fast as we could back to the train for fear of getting stuck there. We could already feel the mullets starting to grow. The eastern edge of the city of Chicago is lined by an almost continuous beach that I like to stroll to when it's warm or even cool, since I find the churning waves and the rote that fills my ears to be incredibly calming, as well as beautiful. (I am never here in the summers, so I never experience the extensive beach culture--instead, we get the New Jersey kind.) Today, on the way to the university, I stopped (driving, however, not walking) by Loyola Beach, one of the northernmost in Chicago, to spend a few minutes at the vast inland sea, also known as Lake Michigan. It was far too cold (around 25°F in the sun, with a light wind blowing landwards) to stand outside longer than a few minutes, but I love visiting the lake, which up close feels like a sea, down to its steely immensity, sky-rimmed horizon (except on certain days, when points on the Michigan shoreline are visible) and the seabirds that gather on the docks and pilings and benches. Today, there were lots of gulls, and, though I've seen it numerous times, vast coats of snow and ice atop the sand. Since I still tend to associate beaches with summertime (unless I'm in the tropical place), it surprises me when I see a thick white crust atop the undulating sandy mounds. The snow does disappear the closer you get to the lakewater. I snapped a few pictures and then hurried back to the car before I froze, but the sight and sound of the water had its relaxing effect, as always.

The lake, a pier, and the snow-covered sand.

A lake view south towards the Chicago Loop

The shoreline path, looking south (the Sears Tower is visible just several hundred yards down this path)

One of the park courts, and Rogers Park's stolid buildings in the background

Worst Supreme Court Ever
Yes, that's hyperbole; there have been worse ones, such as the one under Roger "Dred Scott Decision" Taney, to give one example. The new right-wing majority on the court, however, was created by the Worst President Ever, an sobriquet for the Resident I began using a while ago, along with Warrantless Wiretapper (all but forgotten, like everything else he's had a hand in) and Emperor Katrina, and now the Washington Post, sometimes his court paper, has decided to come to its senses and validate this view in its Outlook section. Mostly. (He's competing against the likes of Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, James Madison, James Buchanan....) But that wasn't the aim of this entry; instead, I wanted to call attention to one of the effects of this horrible new court he's created, led by the genteel and nauseatingly ultraconservative John Roberts Jr. It's strongly considering helping to reinstitute segregation in public secondary schools. De facto, that is--but segregation nevertheless. Today's arguments before the Roberts court looked very bad for proponents of racially distributive school assignment plans to integrate students in districts in Louisville and Seattle. As the New York Times's Linda Greenhouse describes it, the question is not whether the plans will be overturned, but how far will the justices go. She described the new court's scrutiny of the integration plans as "hostile" and moderate-to-liberal justices as "visibly dispirited" by the line of questioning. For the conservatives, as I read Greenhouse, any accounting for race in the distribution decision-making to achieve racial integration was equated with segregation, though that would be the likely effect if the plans were struck down. This decision, if it turns out as Greenhouse augurs, is sure to be one of more than a few notorious ones with Worst President Ever's death-tainted fingerprints all over it. If there is any motivation to keep the likes of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, or some of the other Republican wannabes the media is slavering over out of the White House, let me utter one name: John Paul Stevens. Right now, the court has a quasi-swing vote in right-winger Anthony Kennedy, who is hostile to some progressive or liberal views but not others. With another far right authoritarian type of the Thomas-Scalia (who mocked global warming last week)-Roberts-Alito stripe on the highest court, Kennedy's views would be superfluous either way. We cannot let this happen, especially now that Worst President Ever spirals ever deeper into dystopian fantasies of his continued relevance. He, like many in the Republican Party (cf. second in command Trent Lott) has shown that he is going to be even more recalcitrant, truculent and dangerous, despite the national rebuke of his administration and its policies, especially regarding Iraqmire and the disintegrating situation across the Middle East.

Beyoncé, by Brooks
Dream GirlsI'm very much an anti-hype person, but I've been totally sucked in by the Dreamgirls pre-release press. I can't wait to see it, both because the original is one of my favorite musicals (I even found a way to weave Jennifer Holiday, singing one of the musical's anthems, into a poem), but also because I want to see how well this new cast animates the story on the screen. (At right, Annika Noni Rose, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson, from Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and chanteuse Jennifer Hudson are all receiving acclaim for their performances, but the supernova among them is the 25-year-old R&B babydiva, Beyoncé Knowles, who plays the Diana Ross-esque part she'd already assumed in real life with her now-defunct group Destiny's Child. I'm not a Beyoncéphile nor one of the constant critics of her style/voice/relationship/etc., but I've enjoyed her singing since Destiny's Child's début, including her first solo effort. The songs I began to hear from B'Day, the newest one, however, didn't really grab my interest, so I while I would catch some of the tracks on the radio, I didn't download any of them. The one day last week I was reading the New York Times, and came across Kelefa Sanneh's review of Beyoncé's new CD. His praise-tinged analysis of her song "Irreplaceable," which I hadn't heard, got me to check it out. And I disliked it, to put it mildly--and right after that it popped up every time I landed on a video channel or show on TV. Today I came across the brilliant Daphne Brooks's reading and historicizing of Beyoncé's B'Day, entitled "Suga Mama, Politicized," in the new Nation, and I found it so well-written and provocative that I just may give the CD another chance. Well, all of it except for "Irreplaceable."

Around the Globe
Hugo Chávez coasts to reelection as Venezuela's president, loved by the poor because of his socialist revolution, despised by the middle and wealthy classes (and the US administration) because of his socialist revolution • Fiji has suffered its 4th military coup in the last 20 years, and Australia has sent warships but will not intervene - Four US servicepersons are killed when a military plane crashes in Anbar Province in Iraq, while over 70 bodies were found in Baghdad and other citiesEthnic cleansing and de facto partitioning is occurring apace in Iraq despite rhetoric to the contrary • More than 1,000 people are thought dead in the aftermath of the Phillipines typhoon • A US Marine is sentenced to 40 years for rape in the Phillipines • Gay unions near 16,000 in the UK • Bill Clinton becomes an honorary chief in Papua New Guinea as he helps to battle AIDS there

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Naïeveté Artists' Coop Galaxy Angel Trunk Show

Naïeveté Studios Open House
Naïeveté Studios/Artists' Co-op, the hosts of the Second Sun gatherings I've posted about several times, held their Galaxy Angel Trunk Show yesterday and today. The show-sale featured visual, video, sonic, print, plastic, and craft works by many of the artists affiliated with the co-op, including Niz[zo]; D. Denenge Akpem; E2 Photos & Deserts; HAJI Couture; Naïeveté Records; and Krista Franklin.

I wasn't able to attend last night's Galaxy Angel Afterparty, which featured DJ Itch 13, live performances, and an open mic, but I did stop by today and got to speak with some of the artists who were exhibiting, as well as a number of other Chicagorati who'd dropped by to stay warm, view the art, converse, select potential holiday gifts, and announce upcoming projects and events. I snapped a few photos when not sampling the delicious "hot," which the antidote, along with all the beauty on display, for the Wintry City's ferocious cold spell.

One of the displays, featuring Krista Franklin's work

People chatting, in front of a video projection

Niz's, E2's, and others' works

Some of Niz's LP paintings (the three in the second row are my favorites)

A tarot reading

One of the youngest revelers

More Virtual Chicago

Foster Avenue, Chicago, under a full moon (and 12°F cold)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snow + Reading @ Adodi Chicago

For those far away from the frigid heartland (it was 16°F last night), here are some pictures of this weekend's snowfall.

At the university

Heading to Chicago, one of the ploughed Evanston streets

An Evanston house lit up for the holidays

Chicago is at the end of the street and around the corner
Here are few photos from my Adodi Chicago reading today, in downtown Chicago. A decent crowd of people attended, and what was particularly gratifying was the discussion that followed the reading.

Looking over the text

After the discussion

Passing the cookies one of the members made

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Support World AIDS DayToday is the 18th annual observation of World AIDS Day, and the theme is "Keep the Promise." Back in 2000, heads of state made a promise not only to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS but also to begin to reverse its growth by 2015.

As one of the main coordinating sites for the worldwide observation of this special day notes, however, around 65 million people across the globe are living with HIV/AIDS, and the number of people affected, rather in decreasing, increases every day. More than 25 million people have died since the disease was first identified in 1981, with 2.9 million dying so far this year. Southern Africa and the Caribbean are the worst hit regions on the globe, but the AIDS pandemic touches every nation and colony on earth. World Heath Organization estimates suggest that if current trends continue, 117 million people will perish, making AIDS the third leading cause of death in the world.

"Where are you now, now that I need you,
now that I need you, now that I need you?"

Last year I posted a very, long personal entry, which included thoughts and poems about HIV/AIDS, but this year I'll take a different turn, posting some important links to check out, and offering part of this space to the late writer, scholar, critic, ancestor, and altogether fierce person Melvin Dixon (1950-1992), who died from AIDS complications 14 years ago. His first book of poems, Change of Territory, which appeared in 1983, dazzled me when I first came across it; there is nothing in it that deals directly with HIV/AIDS, and hardly anything that's overtly gay, but its record of journeys, of travel and exile, of presence and absence, of a search for names and places to call home, resonates I think very well with the journeys and losses of AIDS pandemic's 25 year span. I also want to evoke Melvin, whom I knew a little, because his life and death are emblematic to me of AIDS pandemic's ravages. He was only 42 years old when he died, a year older than I am today (at the time he seemed so--grown, as they say), and in his short life he was on the move: he had published two novels, an important critical study of African-American literature, and a book of poems, and he'd also translated the collected poems of the great Senegalese poet and co-founder of Négritude, Léopold Sédar Senghor. All that in 42 years. I often think of what he, like so many of the people felled by AIDS over the years, might have accomplished had he lived. He'd be in his late 50s, perhaps still teaching at Queens, certainly publishing more books of poetry, more novels, the essays (and more) that my colleague Dwight McBride has so finely edited with Justin A. Joyce (Melvin Dixon: A Critical Reader, Mississippi, 2006).

"Where are you now, now that I need you,
now that I need you, now that I need you?"

Bernie as always has a very thoughtful entry on the topic, as well as a World AIDS Day Blogroll. Several points he and others make are invaluable in addressing the ongoing HIV/AIDS's ongoing toll:

Educate yourself--read up on HIV/AIDS, and learn how it's transmitted, how it's treated, and how you can take care of yourself and others by asssessing risks, negotiating your behavior, and taking precautions.

Share your knowledge with others--share what you know, even if people do not want to hear it. You might be surprised. As the old slogan says and it's still true: Silence=Death.

Take responsibility for your actions--Acknowledge the risks of your actions, take precautions and take responsibility for your behavior.

I would add: GET TESTED regularly. Do not assume that because you look or feel fine that you might not be HIV positive, and don't assume the same of others. More than 38 million people across the globe have HIV and don't realize it.

A few other sites to check out:

Keith's Debunking of Myths About Black Men & AIDS + List of World AIDS Day Events

UNAIDS: A Joint United Nations Program on AIDS's World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day on MySpace World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day Resources at The Body

Two poems by Melvin Dixon (at right, portrait by Robert Giard, from

Angels of Ascent

to Robert Hayden

You know us, all of us, by the tracks
we left in Norfolk and Nashville,
Ann Arbor and Detroit. You know us
by the hollow of our screams
shuttling from street to street:
cautious Stefan, zany me, and Richard
with his chattering teeth on edge.

One of us stayed with you for a time
in Tennessee, someone you claimed
as "orphan boy" and hugged
late at night. Your words
conjuring mysteries of the body
sent him looking for kin.

And still we search. You hear us
hissing like the sea at shipboards,
whisking our arms in first flight.
Your name fluttering in our talk
"Robert Hayden gone a-movering,
movering home."

One in New Have I shook your hand,
held onto that flesh of words. You knew
what mystery children we are, how we ache
in dark and dreamy valleys of paradise
for absolute gravity, with no names
for the spaces we inhabit, nor any
last tears for being there.

from Hemispheres

Beware all round shapes:
earth, moon, sun,
kneecaps, elbows, eyeballs,
and the ridge of any man or woman
that can pull you in deep.
Beware globes of the body
moving on an axis
of easy pleasure.

"I can take you around the world,
to the end of the world," he smiled.

"Travelin'," I said.

Where are you now, now that I need you,
now that I need you, now that I need you?

© Estate of Melvin Dixon, University of Kentucky Press, 1983.