Saturday, September 29, 2007

2007 Rugby World Cup

If you're looking for a sport to follow and you're not getting into the Major League Baseball season's final games (despite the Mets' near-collapse and the Cubs' possibly accursed presence), you find it still to early to champion a National Football League team, you cannot believe the National Hockey League exists and opened its season in Britain, you felt disappointed by the US Women's Soccer World blowout at the hands of Brazil and the drama surrounding the game (poor Brianna Scurry!), and you don't really care about NASCAR, the new quicker cricket, what's left of the tennis and golf seasons, etc., there's always the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

RWC 2007, a perfect combination of athleticism and beauty, is underway in Europe, and is nearing the end of the first-round games. The top teams are New Zealand's "All Blacks" squad, which is 4-0; Australia, which is also 4-0 so far; Argentina; South Africa, which walloped the highly ranked England squad, with the stunning Jason Robinson; and, it appears to some surprise, Fiji, which defeated Wales to make it into the next round.

The United States team, featuring a very diverse lineup, has had a rough tournament so far, losing all three of its games, including matches against Tonga and Samoa, against whom player Fifita Mounga suffered a terrifying injury. Their final match will be against the above-noted South Africa, which doesn't bode well for a win. There's always next time. Meanwhile, I'll keep following the scores and perhaps post again after the next or a subsequent round. Will it be New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, England, or some other squad?

PARIS - SEPTEMBER 28: Paul Sackey of England breaks away to score his team's second try during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool A match between England and Tonga at the Parc des Princes on September 28, 2007 in Paris, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)LENS,

FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: Jason Robinson of England scores the opening try during the Rugby World Cup 2007 match between England and the USA at the Stade Felix Bollaert on September 8, 2007 in Lens, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

LENS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: Salesi Sika of the USA is pursued by Jason Robinson of England during the Rugby World Cup 2007 match between England and the USA at the Stade Felix Bollaert on September 8, 2007 in Lens, France. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

ST. ETIENNE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 26: Takudzwa Ngwenya of USA breaks past Elvis Seveali'I of Samoa to score a try during match thirty two of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Samoa and USA at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard on September 26, 2007 in St. Etienne, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

ST. ETIENNE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 26: The Samoan team do The Siva Tau (Samoan War Dance) prior to match thirty two of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Samoa and USA at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard on September 26, 2007 in St. Etienne, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 22: Juan Manuel Leguizamon of Argentina goes over to score his team's second try during Match Twenty Six of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Argentina and Namibia at the Stade Velodrome on September 22, 2007 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: Luke McAlister of New Zealand and Mils Muliaina (L) in action during Match Two of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between New Zealand and Italy at the Stade Velodrome on September 8, 2007 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

PARIS - SEPTEMBER 09: Bryan Habana of South Africa goes past David Lemi of Samoa during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool A match between South Africa and Samoa at the Parc des Princes on September 9, 2007 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

LYON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 11: Mamuka Gorgodze of Georgia takes the catch during match nine of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Argentina and Georgia at the Gerland stadium on September 11, 2007 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

ST-ETIENNE, 9 September - Pedro Carvalho (POR) during match seven of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Scotland and Portugal at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: Rodney So'oialo of New Zealand is tackled by Sergio Parisse of Italy during Match Two of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between New Zealand and Italy at the Stade Velodrome on September 8, 2007 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: The New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to the start of Match Two of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between New Zealand and Italy at the Stade Velodrome on September 8, 2007 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 23: Doug Howlett of New Zealand dives over the line to score a try during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool C match between Scotland and New Zealand at the Murrayfield Stadium on September 23, 2007 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 29: Sitiveni Sivivatu of New Zealand scores the opening try during Match Thirty Four of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between New Zealand and Romania at Le Stadium on September 29, 2007 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

Fijian team training (no photo credit available)

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 12: Mosese Rauluni of Fiji makes a pass during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Japan and Fiji at Le Stade on September 12, 2007 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 16: Seremaia Bai of Fiji escapes the tackle of Dave Spicer of Canada during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Canada and Fiji at the Millennium Stadium on September 16, 2007 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 16: Seru Rabeni of Fiji hands off James Pritchard of Canada during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Canada and Fiji at the Millennium Stadium on September 16, 2007 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Gabiriele LovobalavuSeru Rabeni of Fiji is tackled by Adam Freier (R) and Phil Waugh (L) of Australia during match twenty seven of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Australia and Fiji at the Stade de la Mosson on September 23, 2007 in Montpellier, France. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Ifereimi Rawaqa of Fiji catches the line out throw during match twenty seven of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Australia and Fiji at the Stade de la Mosson on September 23, 2007 in Montpellier, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

NANTES, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 29: Akapusi Qera of Fiji makes a break during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Wales and Fiji at the Stade de la Beaujoire on September 29, 2007 in Nantes, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

LYON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 08: Yuki Yatomi of Japan is stopped by the Australia defence during the match three of the Rugby World Cup 2007 between Australia and Japan at the Gerland stadium on September 8, 2007 in Lyon, Fance. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

BORDEAUX, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 25: Christian Loamanu of Japan is snagged by James Pritchard of Canada during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Canada and Japan at the Stade Chaban Delmas on September 25, 2007 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Society of America Uproar + Events Today & Tomorrow

Well, the news is out. As Motoko Rich reports in yesterday's New York Times, the selection of Yale professor John Hollander to receive the Society's prestigious Frost Medal, and the aftermath involving the Society's board chairperson, has led several members of the board to resign, including the board chair himself.

First, Walter Mosley, who needs no introduction, stepped down after the board decided to name Hollander, in part, as he noted, because of the gross conservatism of the choice. (Hollander had, unfortunately, been proposed three years ago, though the award went, it appears, to Richard Howard.) This led to the board's chair, the financier, William Louis-Dreyfus, attacking Mosley in written form with accusations of "McCarthyism," for his decision, which he claimed was based on Hollander's extra-poetic racist comments over the years. After his verbal assault, Elizabeth Alexander, Rafael Campo, and Mary Jo Salter, boardmembers and three of the leading contemporary American poets, also stepped down, and Louis-Dreyfus accused them of McCarthyism.

I'll get back to the story in a moment, and while I cannot speak for any of them, I must note that Hollander is definitely on record making racially inflammatory and racist statements over the years, and one has to wonder, in concert with Walter, that given all of the poets so vital to our society and literature who are of Hollander's generation, why on earth would the poetry society waste an award on this man? Seriously, can you name one book, let alone one poem Hollander has written, or even what kinds of poems and subject matter the man focuses on? (Okay, you may recall those concrete poems that were in poetry anthologies back in the day, but when I asked this question of people back in 2001 at an event at which he was appearing and about which I'll say more below, not one person could do so, as opposed to nearly every other poet--Thylias Moss, Michael Palmer, etc., who was on stage that day.) Previous winners include Maxine Kumin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Galway Kinnell, Sonia Sanchez, Stanley Kunitz, John Ashbery, Adriennne Rich, William Stafford, Donald Hall, Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Sterling Brown, Robert Creeley, Robert Penn Warren, etc. I ask, is John Hollander in this category? I have two senior poetry colleagues at the university, and could name three dozen other senior poets off the top of my head who are more deserving. This selection feels almost like it was pulled straight from the pocket of a certain other Yale professor who will remain nameless (HB).

But back to the news, in reaction to the poets' resignations, Louis-Dreyfus then stepped down. As Rich reports,

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, who runs an international commodities trading and shipping firm and dabbles in writing poetry, said he resigned partly to protest what he regarded as an “exercise of gross reactionary thinking” among the other board members who left in the wake of the award to Mr. Hollander, a retired English professor at Yale.

When Mr. Hollander was considered for the award three years ago, some members raised comments he had made in interviews, reviews and elsewhere that they felt should be examined when judging his candidacy. In one example, Mr. Hollander, writing a rave review in The New York Times Book Review of the collected poems of Jay Wright, an African-American poet, referred to “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican and Central American.” And in an interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” a reporter paraphrased Mr. Hollander as contending “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.”

Other board members said they felt that such comments were not characteristic of Mr. Hollander’s views or had been misinterpreted. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus said that even if the comments were representative, they were irrelevant criteria for judging the Frost Medal, just as he would argue that Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism should not detract from the literary appreciation of his work.

Louis-Dreyfus could have argued that among the Frost Medal's prior recipients, one can find Wallace Stevens, a remarkable and central American poet, whose racism and anti-Semitism is woven into the fabric of his poetry, but who was deserving of--well, some huge honor (he did win many of the major poetry and literary awards), though perhaps Louis-Dreyfus was unaware of the award's history or, as I've learned over the years about a number of readers, doesn't consider Stevens's work to be especially racist (cf. T. S. Eliot). One can make a case for differentiating the artist and her or his art, to a degree. Instead, he made really outrageous and insulting comments, which Elizabeth Alexander addressed directly and respectfully, noting in a written statement that:

“Mr. Louis-Dreyfus’s persistent mischaracterization of the words and intentions of PSA board members including myself surrounding the awarding of the Frost medal and subsequent private board business is disturbing. I resent his inflammatory invective and willful misstatement of events. My own life’s work is guided by and devoted to principles that are utterly anti-‘reactionary’ and counter to anything that might remotely be deemed ‘McCarthyism.’”

I applaud Mosley, Alexander, Campo, and Salter. I also noted the following on the Cave Canem list:

Just a side note: I'm not sure if anyone here remembers the "What's 'American' about American Poetry" conference some years back, at the New School University, but during one of the panels, Hollander made reactionary and racist remarks about poetry's origins, suggesting that it did not come from such things songs we hear in childhood, conversations heard in the kitchen, etc. "Our origins are not in gestures and songs," or something to that effect, as a direct counter to what Thylias Moss, I believe, had stated.

Thylias and Sonia were the primary people who challenged him (and there may have been others, so my apologies if I'm blanking), and I can't remember if they were both on the same panel as him or if Sister Sonia was on a later one and brought up his comments to repudiate them, but both were superb. This was right after 9/11 and around the time of the brouhaha surrounding the elitist structure of the former Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, which finally led to real changes in its leadership and governance. At any rate, his remarks at the conference are just one awful John Hollander moment I'll never forget.

Here's the poem I wrote, nothing special, but it contains his and others' remarks (i.e., it's a found poem), including commentary by some young hipsters there bemoaning the fact that there was nothing left to write about (in November 2001, mind you...):


We're fed up with tolerance
and writing about whores
shooting up
there are no poets of my generation
waiting for something to rebel against
on 137th Street and 7th Avenue
a brother was crossing the street said
a white silence
which is metaphysical
and a black silence
which is social and political
I am not suffering
the language of power
behind the poems
only ghosts
of Charles Bernstein
he doesn't want to engage
the book of Generation X
the Beats have already done it
coming from deconstruction and all that
French theory
when anyone appears
to strike a pose
aren't you the sister who was reading
Allen Ginsberg
I come from another context altogether
there is so much vitality there
as you can tell
from my accent and shit
but really it's about living
language poetry
to give you another example
a children's game in France
songs and gestures are not our origins
but I am a mestizo
and went to Iowa
reclaiming language
from the seat of power
two white women
just resigned
two black women
who will not be silent
aren't you the sister was reading
Allen Ginsberg
can you say something
about history and how you feel
this competition over anxieties
infects us all
or Janey, who knew
from Hurston
it's a shame the organization
sells only so many copies
(and a heated discussion ensues
because Eros is in there too)
we are waiting to rebel against
smart bombs and cynicism
poems are mere ghosts
of my generation
there's nothing left
behind the words
but fragments
Burroughs and someone else
that's new
beginning with Native Americans
amidst the white middle class
between the two silences
an accident can happen
a difference that never comes
as a work of fiction
only ghosts
are silenced
behind the poems
with heroin
and vernacular
but you are too young
to be dropping bombs on Mesopotamia
like hiphop
to be cynical of the world
you can change
hearing Judy Grahn at a women's gathering
only one poem please though
are there any studies
overthrowing Allende
erasing differences
concerning the audience
we keep coming back
to Eliot and Pound
to rebel against
the street and jazz
Africans in bondage
I think I break
behind the poems
an East Coast thing
only minstrels
and whores
are our precursors
of cynicism
don't read
Generation X
but look for me
translate my absence
into language
the words
the words
rebel against
the silent

*A Report on the "What's American about American Poetry?" Conference
at the New School: Many of these fragments are reco(r)dings of
statements by participants (panelists, attendees) at the Poetry
Society of America's conference of this title, held at the New School
University in New York, November 12-14, 2001.

Today they go to poet Sean Hill, whose poetry manuscript will be published by the University of Georgia Press. Sean's a gifted, award-winning poet, and also a member of the Cave Canem family. One of my favorite memories is of him, Reggie H. and me peering at Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts shortly after it came out, and being taken in particular with the "conceptual" poem (one of my favorites in the book), "Kansas City Monarchs," which of course was one of Jean-Michel Basquiat's touchstones.

For those in the New York area:

Today, the music of words:

YC: MiPO Reading--Harris, Girmay, Stackhouse--9/28
Friday, September 28, 2007

Heralded as one of three Chicago poets for the 21st century by WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Duriel E. Harris is a co-founder of the Black Took Collective and Poetry Editor for Obsidian III. Drag (Elixir Press, 2003), her first book, was hailed by Black Issues Book Review as one of the best poetry volumes of the year. She is currently at work on AMNESIAC , a media art project (poetry volume, DVD, sound recording, website) funded in part by the University of California Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies Race and Technology Initiative. AMNESIAC writings appear or are forthcoming in Stone Canoe, nocturnes, The Encyclopedia Project, Mixed Blood, and The Ringing Ear. A performing poet/sound artist, Harris is a Cave Canem fellow, recent resident at The MacDowell Colony, and member of the free jazz ensemble Douglas Ewart & Inventions. She teaches English at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.

Aracelis Girmay writes poetry, fiction, & essays. Originally from Santa Ana, California, she earned degrees from Connecticut College & NYU. Girmay is a Cave Canem Fellow & former Watson Fellow. Her poems have been published in Callaloo, Bellevue Literary Review, Indiana Review, and Ploughshares , among others. Her book of poems, Teeth, will be published by Curbstone Press: summer, 2007.

Christopher Stackhouse the author of "Slip" (Corollary Press, 2005) and co-author with writer John Keene on the collaborative book "Seismosis" (1913 Press, 2006), which features Keene's text and Stackhouse's drawings. He is an editor for literary journal Fence Magazine, a Cave Canem Writer Fellow, a 2005 Fellow in Poetry New York Foundation For The Arts, and Bard College, Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, M.F.A. Writing Candidate.


766 grand street
brooklyn, ny 11211
(L to Grand,
1 block west)

And the music of music:

This Friday September 28th 2007
179 MacDougal St (@ 8th St), New York
10pm - 6am
$5 before midnight / $15 after midnight / $10 Reduced List until 1am (email
100 advanced tix good for priority admission all night for $8
King BrittKing Britt
Drawing on a deep and personal connection with the free jazz movement
of the 60’s & 70’s, KING BRITT (above left) presents an evening of cosmic and spiritual jazz on vinyl. The legendary DJ and producer behind countless remixes and the Sylk130 Collective will be delving deep into his crates for a connoisseur’s selection of the finest sounds and textures the expansive genre has to offer.

Friday’s party celebrates the release of THE COSMIC LOUNGE Vol 1 a Rapster / BBE CD collection of vintage jazz which brings together tracks from the likes of Don Cherry, Doug Carne, Eddie Henderson and Grachen Moncur III. The disc is available in stores now.

HANK SHOCKLEE (above right), sonic alchemist behind the boards of Public Enemy and countless others will join King in a very rare guest DJ appearance.

“The best Free Jazz plumbs depths that are so deep I feel like the sound approaches the infinite breadth of the Cosmos” –King Britt

For more info check:
The Cosmic Lounge
King Britt
Hank Shocklee
Music Is Love
BBE Music


GLAAD Black LGBT community Media Essentials Training
Kartina Parker - Media Strategist for Communities of African Descent, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Sat., Sept. 29; 11am FREE
Doubletree Hotel Campbell Center
8520 North Central Expressway

The Black LGBT Community needs to be ready to place their personal stories to counteract stereotypes and homophobic press coverage. Learn how to increase visibility of Black lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender personal stories in the media. This primer will teach media terminology, protocols, and interview techniques.

For more info, e-mail

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Classes + Myanmyar + Strike Over + Kehinde Wiley Busts

It's the first day of classes, and so far, so good! Such smart students, all of them are avid readers, and among the writers they listed as their favorites were Dostoyevsky, Ellison, Hemingway, Kerouac, Flaubert, Melville, Vonnegut, Murakami, and Salinger. Who teaching writing wouldn't want to start with such a baseline!

(That's me at right, in my office, in front of the Luis Luma painting and Ella Turenne's Neg Maron print.)

Congratulations to the 24 recent recipients of MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowships! One is my colleague at the university, the rightly esteemed and remarkable fiction writer and poet Stuart Dybek; another is the New York-based artist Whitfield Lovell, who follows his partner Fred Wilson in receiving this honor (thanks for the h/t, Bernie); another is the blues musician Corey Harris; the playwright Lynn Nottage, whose Intimate Apparel received excellent reviews when it debuted several years ago; and vocalist Dawn Upshaw, best known for her work in opera and contemporary art song. Congratulations to them and to all the other recipients!

Ronaldo Wilson, one of the founders of the Black Took Collective, is the 2007 Cave Canem Prize Winner! Congratulations, Ronaldo! His prose-poetic manuscript, The Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, was selected by judge Claudia Rankine. Serena! F.I.E.R.C.E.ness, and I think it's fair to say that Cave Canem has shown how expansive its aesthetics are with this and last year's selection, of Dawn Lundy Martin's first book of poems! This year's runners up were R. Erica Doyle (!!!) and Nicole Terez Dutton. Congratulations to both of them too, so much fierceness in one year.

The protests in Myanmar, which I highlighted a few days ago, continue to gain international attention, especially now that the government's security forces have started to brutally suppress them. Again, I am impressed and moved by the courage of the Buddhist monks, held in the highest esteem by their society, to put their lives on the line to challenge the horrible, oppressive conditions and the military dictatorship that has imposed them in that country.

The US has propose new sanctions, but I keep hearing that China is the lone country that can put pressure on the ruling junta and its government, and supposedly China may have already done so, but after the defense forces attacked, shot and arrested a number of the monks yesterday, it's clear that China's input may have its limits, though perhaps harsher penalties, such as cutting off arms sales, political support, and other forms of cooperation may do the trick. But does China want to buttress pro-democracy efforts in a neighboring country when its own record is so horrible? Would it, and wouldn't that be telling its own people to try something according to the Tianenmen Square rallies and protests again, despite the country's economic successes? Would the business élite even support such a move, or are they too intimately linked these days to the Chinese government?

So what is to be done to help the people there? What can the rest of the world do? Will US sanctions have any effect at all?

I woke to the NPR news that the United Auto Workers (UAW) had called off its strike against General Motors (GM) because the two sides had reached a compromise during their all-night negotations. Supposedly the agreement hinges on GM creating a retirement health care benefits trust fund, to be administered by the UAW, that will relieve a huge financial burden from the carmaker's books. Hearing this I immediately thought that if we had single-payer, government financed, comprehensive, cradle-to-grave health care, there'd be no need for such a trust fund, and GM, thus relieved of one of its major competitive setbacks, would face having to produce better, more affordable, and more appealing cars. Note to Democrats: this is another gift horse staring you in the face. It also makes me wonder about the old pension system, which many corporations exploited for their own gain and little penalty, at the expense of retirees and US taxpayers. If GM had a real, well-invested, well-managed pension, this turn of events also would not have come to pass. But the world of pensions of old is gone; in fact, as we saw in 2004, we can never relax our vigilance about making sure that Social Security remains viable and properly funded. I'm glad, though, for the GM workers who were about to face a terrible hardship; at least for now they can sleep a little easier.

Yes, this isn't an original argument and it's so obvious it could be in a Bob Herbert column--I enjoy reading him, but you get my drift--but it looks like W will veto the SCHIP bill, which doesn't have a veto-proof majority in the House, because of the GOP, claiming that the $35 billion is too costly and that more American middle-class families will avail themselves of a public, government-funded program, and yet he's sent his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, up to Capital Hill to request $190 billion in additional funding for the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, if SCHIP fails to be funded, poor American children would be the first to suffer.

Gall, shamelessness and arrogance don't come close to describing this man and his government!

Senate Majority Reid vowed the other day not give in to more of Bush's shenanigans. I'll believe it when I see it, but as a Republican Senator suggested about SCHIP, the House should keep reintroducing the bill over and over, and forcing the president to veto it. Eventually enough Republicans will be embarrassed enough that rather than tethering themselves to his sinking ship, they'll join the Democrats to provide enough votes for an override vote. As for the war funding, tell the president absolutely NOT until the information and testimony the Democratic chairs have requested on a range of Iraq-related issues, such as the gross corruption, Blackwater's actions, the faulty equipment (this week brought the news that the infantry must contend with guns that frequently jam, unlike their opponents!), and so forth, are adequately addressed. And don't worry about the American people; we're quite aware of the scare tactics and demagoguery this administration is going to tuse.

Wiley PaintingKehinde Wiley's work, drawing as it does upon current artworld and critical-theoretical trends and discussions around appropriation, the archive, Black and popular cultural studies and performance, and sexuality and gender studies, has fascinated me since I first saw it, but also confounded me somewhat as well.

His paintings (at right, a photo I took of his "Saint Andrew," oil on canvas, 7'x8', 2006 when C and I went to his "Scenic" show at the Rona Hoffman Gallery in River East, in Chicago) are physically breathtaking, especially when viewed up close, and increasingly polished in terms of their technique, while also deeply suffused with an irony-edged eros, but I feel like he's found a socially and commercially viable strategy and keeps, well, exploiting it, a strategy that's meant to appeal, rather obviously, to the powers that be in the artworld, while please the Folks along the way.

His evidently and playfully ironic use of Eurocentric references, both as ground (composition, figuration, etc.) and in the titles--which I think of as falling in a long and broad lineage, but in a specifically queer way to Bob Thompson, for example, though Wiley is very interested in aspects of mimetic realism and expressionism, whereas Thompson, who wasn't gay, was far more grounded in abstraction and the emerging color-field school--underlines this so forcefully for me. Nothing unusual there, and he's well within the mainstream, both of the past and of today. But were he engaged in a more resistent form of détournement, say, or using classical Chinese models, for example, would his work, whose technical achievement is undeniable, be as celebrated? Would it be dismissed as Afro-Chinoiserie, or not discussed at all? (And what would that kind of work, a more complex and provocative anti-Afro-Orientalism, say, look like?) As I said, Wiley's not the only person, in visual arts or any other area of the arts, who's doing this, but I can't stop thinking about it when I consider his work. We all to some extent work with the terms set before us, but where does the limit lie? Is it unfair for me, an admirer of his work, to introduce these questions into the debate?

I'm still very drawn to his work, and so when I received a recent email from Cereal Art in Philadelphia about the availability of a new set of his busts, including his "After La Negresse, 1872," I had to check them out. I've never seen this in person, but they appear to replicate the formal and thematic concerns of the large paintings in this new form, which I think increases the layers of irony (cast marble and resin busts, all white, etc.) and humor--to what end? I don't think I have an answer, but I'm enjoying looking at them.

Cereal Art is selling them as a "special project" at $1400 a pop. What do you think?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Summerfall in Chicago + This and That

When I left Jersey City last week, autumn had arrived. Cool days and cooler evenings filled my final week at home. In Chicago, however, it's still summery. Actually mid-summery. Every day the thermometer's crossed the 80°F threshold, and today it's so warm (90°F) I'm finding it difficult to believe that classes are about to start and October is just around the corner. Rather than calling this Indian summer, it's basically Summerfall. Or Sutumn. Or Faummer.

Jena Six Rally
From Los Angeles Times: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Last Thursday I wasn't able to head down to Texas to participate in the Jena Six protest and rally nor was I able to participate in the local demonstrations, so I signed up to call Louisiana state officials to urge justice in the case, in which six African-American teenagers were arrested, and one convicted as an adult, for an attack on a White schoolmate. The attack on the White student was the culminating event in a series of clashes that began White students decided to hang a noose from a tree, as an racially inflammatory affront to Black students who'd decided to sit under it (and to Blacks in Jena more broadly), and received only token sanctions as a result, their action being labeled a "prank." The case has rightly sparked international outrage, and last's week's public protest drew many thousands of participants.

Since I'm shy and not especially comfortable on the telephone, I was a little nervous about calling, but ColorofChange provided scripts and numbers, and I set to dialing. I can report that of the actual human beings I actually reached, all were unfailingly polite, some even apologetic, and one sounded exasperated, especially after I said that I was calling from Chicago, Illinois. (I think C said she probably was thinking "Damn Yankees!") This same person also said she would put me "on the list," which I assumed meant a list to be presented to the state official to whom I was lodging my protest, but then I also considered that the same list might end up in the hands of scary right-wing types (even though I realize we may be undergoing wiretapping, which I say with no little amount of horror and rage), so while I gave my name, she at least got a dummy phone number.

I do not for a minute think that my telephone rallying matched the commitment and courage of those who were present at the marches and rallies, or the bravery of the young defendants. I also think that one response by some of the officials involved will be what it was in before, during and after the Civil Rights movement: defiance, though they have been served a wake-up call, not only by the longstand Black leadership, but by a new generation of activists who are fed up by the persistence of racism in its most grotesque and spectacular forms.

Louisiana's officials probably will respond to the threat of economic boycott, but they also probably realize that many of the supporters of the Jena Six are also strong supporters of those who suffered from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and cutting off the state of Louisiana could harm New Orleansians just as readily as racist district attorneys in rural parts of the state. So it strikes me that one of the best positions to take is to keep the pressure on, publicize the miscarriages of justice far and wide, and not let Louisiana's officials of whatever party off the hook. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Director of Tourism, top judicial officials, and everyone else in power should know that last Thursday was not the last hurrah--that won't come until all of the Jena Six are fully cleared, and there is a public apology and investigation into everything that occurred.

And, now that the New York Times has abolished Times Select, you can read Paul Krugman's take on the protests and on the electoral corner the Republican Party, through its Southern, a/k/a racist strategy, has painted itself into. (I would add that the Democratic Party and politicians also engage in racist discourse when they feel--wrong--the need to do so.)

And as Metta Sama noted in a recent email she sent, "it ain't just a Southern thang."

And as Reggie notes, the issue of Black on Black violence, and Black male violence against women, deserves a similar nationwide demonstration and rally.

LectorumSic transeunt ruae Novi Eborici.

Herbert R. wrote Reggie and me to pass on an article from Críticas saying that the landmark Librería Lectorum, the major Spanish-language bookstore in New York, has closed. Founded in 1960, the store can no longer afford the burgeoning rents on its strip of West 14th Street--that's right, rents are exploding on West 14th Street!--and ironically, the landlords are the sons of the store's founder, Argentinian Gerome Gutiérrez. The heirs no longer own the business, which was sold along with the Spanish-language publishing arm, Lectorum, to the publisher Scholastic, which now plans to shift the entire outfit to the online world, though there's a slender--nonexistent--possibility that they will find another storefront in New York.

Lectorum Publications president Teresa Mlawer says that street traffic has plummeted and the neighborhood has been gentrifying for years, but 14th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues was still fairly gritty when I walked it many times this summer, although it has changed somewhat even from last year. Still, it's no SoHo or Chelsea, at least not yet, and ousting the store will only help speed the gentrifying process. It's a major loss for New York's Spanish-speaking community and for the city's culture, on multiple levels, not least because of the disappearance of an important venue and meeting place for Spanish-language authors from across the city and globe, and because of the ongoing dismantling of 14th Streets's longstanding cultural economy, which is set to shift into another mode altogether.

I realize New York, like all vibrant cities, is always changing, and that from its origins it's revolved around commerce, but it still painful to acknowledge the loss of yet another key institution like this. I also think the Gutiérrez brothers ought to be ashamed, but is that even a valid emotion in our contemporary society? I visited the store several times this summer, primarily to look for books in Spanish by the late Roberto Bolaño, and I also recall one of the first times I went there, back in the 1990s, and found a book by the Dominican fiction writer and scholar José Alcántara Almánzar, and the woman at the registered, noting his back cover and glancing up at me, asked me if I was he! Given how bad my spoken Spanish was then and that I was flattered into speechlessness, I had to deny it with a headshake.

Neither of the two articles mentions that one block west, another Spanish-language bookstore, Macondo, remains, though it long has hand only a fraction of the texts as Libreria Lectorum, and on occasion I've almost had to wake the attendant who was working in there. I wonder how much of a lease and life it'll have as the relentless march of luxury condos and stultifying chain stories continues across every square inch of Manhattan's grid.

The New York Times's article on the store's closing is here.

Que nunca se la olvide, que siempre se la recuerde.

Re: the brouhaha surrounding the visit by the decidedly wacko, authoritarian, Israel-hating, democratically elected, figurehead president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to New York to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly, and his "roast" (to use C's apt term)/conversation/free-for-all today at Columbia University (which should not be punished by New York State politicians for hosting the talk), I came across a great quote from the comments section after Glenn Greenwald's post on this topic:

"History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure."--Thurgood Marshall

In light of the events this year and the past seven years, that "urgency" deserves scare quotes, BTW.

UPDATE: Here's a New York Times report on Ahmadinejad's bizarre riffs today, including his claim that there are no gay people in Iran (though they're persecuted, like the Baha'i and other religious, social and sexual minorities, and hanged there) and that the Holocaust was theoretical rather than actual (though Iranian TV is featuring a very popular miniseries on this topic). He did get in a few knocks at his questioners and at his chief antagonist, W, though he said little of substance, whether about the appalling heinous human rights record in Iran, its support of Hamas, or its connection to the corrupt and ineffectual quasi-government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

There are fewer gay characters (and Latino characters) on network TV, but more on cable. So says a new Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) study. According to GLAAD's report, most of the network gay characters--all 6 of them--are on one channel, ABC, with the other one appearing on NBC; there are no gay characters on CBS, Fox, or CW. The last channel has the largest percentage of characters who're people of color. CW used to be the WB, and snapped up content from UPN, both ghettos for neo-minstrelsy, right?

(BTW, what categories does Wentworth Miller fall into? Racial, that is, for the survey purposes. Just asking.)

I'm not sure what the mainstream network folks are thinking, and I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy so much as the usual oversight, indifference and neglect, but given the high gay quotient both in Hollywood and New York, it makes you wonder.

No word on how many of the few remaining network gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders or their cable kin have lots of melanin, though. And the lone show featuring lots--a whole cast full!--of Black and Latino gay people, Noah's Arc, problematic as it was, is off LOGO, so I'd imagine the numbers aren't great on cable either. It's not just on Queer as Volk that queers of color don't exist....

GM wants to cut costs while to compete with foreign automakers. The United Auto Workers want to keep jobs in the US. GM says, No. The UAW says no more more work until they get a guarantee. Health care costs and liabilities are a major aspect of the negotiations. But if we had a single-payer national health care system, GM and the UAW wouldn't have haggle over this issue. Would they?

Finally, this is what I'd call religious, moral and ethical leadership.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New Format + Cards Out

After nearly two years of blogging, I have to admit I tired of my old templat, which was one of the Blogger standards and was used by numerous blogs, so I set up this new one and created the banner, which I'm not sure I like, at least not yet. I thought about reusing my banner from my old website, but that struck me as nostalgic and unoriginal, thus the new one.

I'm also not sure about the green text either. Sometimes it's too hard to read. The photo of C and I under the Millennium Park "Bean" was too large, making the page too busy, so I've finally shrunk that. Additionally, when I switched templates, I lost my by Books picks list, as well as my original StatCounter, which had exceeded 119,000 total viewers, and had to plug in another one from the same site, which bumped me down to 79,000 viewers. Slowly but surely the number's rising again, even with me posting little original content.

Overall, what do you think? Is it keeping you away?

It's official. Last year's World Series winners are no longer contention, so there won't be any Redbirds homering and basestealing their way to yet another championship to whip Chicago's northside fans into a lather. No, the Cardinals simply went into a tailspin after it was revealed that feel-good-story protagonist Rick Ankiel, once an emerging star pitcher who completely lost his control and returned as one of the sharpest young batters in years, had basically purchased a year's supply of Human Growth Hormone in 2004. The Cards were only a game and half or so behind the division leaders, but then lost 10 straight (or something like that). Their starting pitching collapsed; several starting field players got injured (Albert Pujols, pictured above, has been hobbled by a calf pull); and their manager, Tony LaRussa, turned positively Hamlettian as the media tried to figure out if he was staying in St. Louis next year or leaving. (The verdict is still out.) Ankiel also stopped hitting, out of shock, fear, lack of confidence or 'roids, who knows?--and that spelled the end of what was already a shaky campaign. Now the team will have to rebuild its starting pitching corps and address the managerial issue. LaRussa has frequently been a bit of a liability, especially because of his bizarre playcalling, his unwillingness to bench favorites, and, this preseason, his DUI, but he did take an underachieving team all the way last year--luck?--so go figure. Front office, get to work.

Instead, the Chicago Cubs (with the incandescent Derrek Lee, pictured at right) are in first place in the Central Division, and unless they catch a case of Bartmanitis, they appear to be decent contenders for the league title. The New York Mets have been playing sloppily and stumbling this last month (though they're my choice to go all the way), while the Arizona Diamonbacks (snooze) lead the Western division. The probable Wildcard team is the Philadelphia Phillies, though the San Diego Padres have been hanging in the race. All of these teams have problems, though, and it's hard to say which one could outlast the rest. I think the Mets have the best chance, simply because of their overall talent, but the Phillies have one of the league's best sluggers, the Cubs have a solid lineup, San Diego has the league's top starters, and Arizona...I don't really know what to say about them, and don't even know who's on their squad, truthfully.

The National League yet again appears weaker than its counterpart, the American League, which has several highly talented and capable teams (the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians, and the Los Angeles Angels) seemingly ready to stomp whichever National League club emerges. These AL teams are winning machines. The Red Sox can hit and pitch and close, as can the Yankees, and the Angels. The Yankees, in fact, have the best player in either league, the drama-plagued, profligately talented, emotionally volatile, matinée idol-faced Álex Rodríguez (posing, at left), who has managed to hit 52 home runs, 10 more than his closest challenger, and drive in 142 runs. After the usual early-season media-led Sturm und Drang concerning the starting pitching and lack of hitting, A-Rod's "Stray-Rod" scandal, and assorted other imbroglios, the Bronx Bombers have reverted to form and are winning as usual. Winning so much, that is, they're just 1.5 games out of first place in their division!

Cleveland has two innings-devouring, 18-game winners, Fausto Carmona and C. C. Sabathia (the 6'7", 280 lb. hurler pictured at right), who are among the most talented pitchers under 30 in either league. If I were the National League pennant winner, I would not want to face any of these teams, not at all. Since it's unlikely that last year's Series contender Detroit is going to break through, though, the National League winner will unfortunately have to face one of them, so perhaps it ought to be Cleveland, which hasn't won a World Series in half a century and thus has less recent playoff experience than the other three juggernauts. The Red Sox won the Series in 2004, the Yankees in 1996 and then from 1998 through 2000 (and played in it 2001 and 2003), the Angels in 2002.

As last year proved, however, the favorite doesn't always win the trophy. (I know there's a statistical formula that demonstrates this, right?) This should give consolation to all those people who viscerally loathe either the Red Sox (and Manny Ramírez, at left, one of my favorite players) or the Yankees, or who are praying that Cleveland breaks its half-century drought and that the Cubbies do something similar with their century-long exile from the championship ranks. Look, it worked for both of the Sox teams, White and Red, in the last five years. Let's not even get into all that "curse" nonsense. As I noted above, I want the Mets to win it all, but I will watch with glazed fascination and a smidgeon of delight if the team that regularly bumbles around Wrigley Field somehow figures out a way to overcome its limitations and win it all.

That brings me to a completely different sport, Pro Football, and the Saint Louis Rams, who are now 0-3, and coasting towards a 2-16 season. (This season would be a winless affair, except the Rams are in the same division as the perpetually horrible Arizona Cardinals, so they have two possible wins if they exert themselves even a little.) This team, whose players are collectively making probably more than some entire school district's teachers combined

1) cannot come up with anything approximating a 4-quarter offense;
2) cannot score in the red zone or get into the end zone;
3) cannot sustain defensive play for 4 quarters;
4) cannot make field goals;
5) cannot execute special teams plays.

In a word, there is no reason why they should be on the field.

Their head coach, Scott Linehan, seems incapable of guiding the team to a victory. Their offensive coördinator, Greg Olson, keeps running plays that not even the worst high school team would attempt. They have no offensive line, having lost their best players to injury. The lack of an offensive line has led to their quarterback, the middling multimillionaire Marc Bulger, being sacked multiple times to the extent that he's terrified of being crushed again, and playing accordingly. Their wide receivers are senescent and have surrendered more than a step. Their kicker is also at or near the end of his career. They have no secondary. Their inner and outer linebacking corps is also shaky. Did I say they have one of the worst offensive coordinators in the league?

The Rams had a strange and quirky coach named Mike Martz. He wore glasses and made faces and took them to the playoffs and Super Bowl. He liked to run trick plays, was overly fond of the passing game, and appeared not to realize that defense and special teams were integral parts of the game. Yet he took them to the playoffs and Super Bowl, and even when he had losing seasons the team's offense was fast and exciting. Under Martz they slid from their best years of 1999-2001, but they were still not at the league's bottom. Fans tired of Martz's shenanigans, all those trick plays and obsession with passing and failure to improve the defense or special teams, as did the ownership, and so they banished him, and hired this person named Scott Linehan, who'd never coached a professional football team. He's pleasant and soft-spoken and upbeat, and doesn't have a clue. Last year with Martz's players he posted a .500 season, and fans and the media held out hope. Yet this year he's demonstrated that last year was nothing but a mirage, a foxfire, a phantasm left in the wake of Martz's departure. This team is so awful it's painful to watch.

They are lucky they're in one of the weakest divisions in the National Football League. That will prevent them from a lot of enduring gross embarrassments this season. Yet they're already on their way. And they get paid far too much money to perform so lousily. Maybe they should all quit en masse and go into politics.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poem: Saadi Youssef

YoussefIt feels like it's been eons since I last blogged, and an even longer interval since I've posted a poem, so here's one by a potential candidate for this year's Nobel Prize, the exiled Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef (Sa'di Yûsuf, 1934-, photo © Graywolf), translated by Libyan-American poet Khaled Mattawa. Mattawa translated and published a selection of Youssef's poems in 2002 called Without an Alphabet, Without a Face: Selected Poems (Graywolf), and though I know no Arabic, my impression of the collection is that simple lyricism of Youssef's poetry has not been lost.

My classes begin next week, all three of them in fiction writing, so I want to keep some lyric poetry in my ears (and eyes). (I've borrowed the poem below from the excellent resource site Words Without Borders.)


Winds that do not blow in the evening,
and winds that do not blow at dawn
have burdened me with a book of boughs.
I see my cry in the silence.

Night descends, blue, between staircases and stars. I see
blue trees, abandoned streets, and a country
of sand. I had a home and lost it. I had a home
and left it. How close the stars are!
They cling to my steps. O blue trees, blue
woods, night! we have ended up in a world
collapsing or beginning or dying.

Trees for severed hands. Trees for the eyes
that were gouged. Trees for the hearts turned to stone.
In the city, in the cemetery, trees sway in their blueness.
The severed hands do not wave, the gouged eyes
do not waver, the hearts turned to stone
do not move. Will they come,
the strange winds? The gardens are inhabited by silence.
The minarets have the color of old waters, people have the color
of old horses. And the Tartar books are branded
with the stamp of censorship.
Which country have you come to now? Here, you will open
a door to a torture chamber. And one day in a garden
you will see your arms, your eyes, or your speeding heart.
But you are strong today, say your word. Say it,
for after tomorrow you will begin to die.

The winds that do not blow in the evening,
the winds that do not blow at dawn.

I am beautified with the book of boughs;
and I see my cry in others' eyes.

November 3, 1974

Copyright © 2002, 2007, Saadi Youssef, translated by Khaled Mattawa.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Habeas Corpus: Please Call Now

UPDATE: The bill failed by a 43-57 vote. The Democrats received a yes from Arlen Specter (already on board), as well as Maine's Republican moderate Olympia Snowe, retiring Nebraska maverick Chuck Hagel, Indiana's Dick Lugar, and two GOP members who're facing the fight of their political lives, New Hampshire's John Sununu and Oregon's Gordon Smith. That wonderful "independent Democrat" (a/k/a GOP kiss-ass) Joe Lieberman voted no, and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid also voted no on procedural grounds. All in all, just disgusting. But then, the Democrats should attach the provisions to a popular funding bill and force the Republicans to filibuster it again. DO NOT LET THESE PEOPLE OFF THE HOOK!

If you support the restoration of the principle of habeas corpus in federal law, please take the time to call your US Senator if she or he is one of the following members whose name is bolded below. So far 52 Senators, led by Democrat and presidential candidate Chris Dodd (with most of the Democratic caucus plus Arlen Specter), are on board with this change, 9 Republicans "dead enders" are against it, and 39 members of the august upper body waver, either as "unclear" or "maybes." Since the Democrats have conceded to the Republicans' filibuster power, they need 60 votes get the measure through. (Why don't they highlight the GOP's obstructionism and filibustering more? Remember the whole "nuclear option" threat?)

Yes, I know these are some pretty distasteful characters, but they may be willing to vote yes, so it's worth a try; and while you're at it, even if you live in a state--say, Georgia or South Carolina--represented by one of the far-right characters, like John Cornyn or Jim DeMint, you can always at least place the call for the sake of principle). Oh, and you can always register a note of support to your Senator if she's already on board.

They're set to vote tomorrow!
Murkowski, LisaRAKunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Stevens, TedRAKunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Sessions, JeffRALno CALL THEM NOW!
Shelby, Richard C.RALunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Lincoln, Blanche L.DARyes CALL THEM NOW!
Pryor, Mark L.DARyes CALL THEM NOW!
McCain, JohnRAZmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Boxer, BarbaraDCAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Feinstein, DianneDCAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Allard, WayneRCOmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Salazar, KenDCOyes CALL THEM NOW!
Dodd, Christopher J.DCTyes CALL THEM NOW!
Lieberman, Joseph I.ICTmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Biden, Joseph R., Jr.DDEyes CALL THEM NOW!
Carper, Thomas R.DDEyes CALL THEM NOW!
Martinez, MelRFLmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Nelson, BillDFLyes CALL THEM NOW!
Chambliss, SaxbyRGAno CALL THEM NOW!
Isakson, JohnnyRGAno CALL THEM NOW!
Akaka, Daniel K.DHIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Inouye, Daniel K.DHIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Grassley, ChuckRIAmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Harkin, TomDIAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Craig, Larry
Durbin, RichardDILyes CALL THEM NOW!
Obama, BarackDILyes CALL THEM NOW!
Lugar, Richard G.RINmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Brownback, SamRKSunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Roberts, PatRKSmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Bunning, JimRKYmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
McConnell, MitchRKYno CALL THEM NOW!
Landrieu, Mary L.DLAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Vitter, DavidRLAmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Kennedy, Edward M.DMAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Kerry, John F.DMAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Cardin, Benjamin L.DMDyes CALL THEM NOW!
Mikulski, Barbara A.DMDyes CALL THEM NOW!
Collins, Susan M.RMEmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Snowe, Olympia J.RMEunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Levin, CarlDMIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Stabenow, DebbieDMIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Coleman, NormRMNmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Klobuchar, AmyDMNyes CALL THEM NOW!
Bond, KitRMOunclear CALL THEM NOW!
McCaskill, ClaireDMOyes CALL THEM NOW!
Cochran, ThadRMSunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Lott, TrentRMSunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Baucus, MaxDMTyes CALL THEM NOW!
Tester, JonDMTyes CALL THEM NOW!
Burr, RichardRNCmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Dole, ElizabethRNCmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Conrad, KentDNDyes CALL THEM NOW!
Dorgan, Byron L.DNDyes CALL THEM NOW!
Hagel, ChuckRNEmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Nelson, E. BenjaminDNEyes CALL THEM NOW!
Gregg, JuddRNHmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Sununu, JohnRNHmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Lautenberg, Frank R.DNJyes CALL THEM NOW!
Menendez, RobertDNJyes CALL THEM NOW!
Bingaman, JeffDNMyes CALL THEM NOW!
Domenici, PeteRNMmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Ensign, JohnRNVunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Reid, HarryDNVyes CALL THEM NOW!
Clinton, Hillary RodhamDNYyes CALL THEM NOW!
Schumer, Charles E.DNYyes CALL THEM NOW!
Brown, SherrodDOHyes CALL THEM NOW!
Voinovich, GeorgeROHmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Coburn, TomROKunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Inhofe, James M.ROKunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Smith, Gordon H.RORyes CALL THEM NOW!
Casey, Robert P., Jr.DPAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Specter, ArlenRPAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Whitehouse, SheldonDRIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Graham, LindseyRSCno CALL THEM NOW!
Johnson, TimDSDyes CALL THEM NOW!
Thune, JohnRSDunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Alexander, LamarRTNunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Corker, BobRTNunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Cornyn, JohnRTXno CALL THEM NOW!
Hutchison, Kay BaileyRTXmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Bennett, BobRUTunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Hatch, OrrinRUTunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Warner, JohnRVAmaybe CALL THEM NOW!
Sanders, BernardIVTyes CALL THEM NOW!
Cantwell, MariaDWAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Murray, PattyDWAyes CALL THEM NOW!
Feingold, RussDWIyes CALL THEM NOW!
Byrd, Robert C.DWVyes CALL THEM NOW!
Rockefeller, JayDWVyes CALL THEM NOW!
Barrasso, JohnRWYunclear CALL THEM NOW!
Enzi, Michael B.RWYunclear CALL THEM NOW!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In the Garden + Rich's Kessler Lecture & Duncan Poem

Today felt like autumn, which is only a few weeks away on the calendar. It was one of the last days I could work in the yard and garden before I head back west and plunge into teaching, and so in addition to cutting the grass, I snapped a few shots of some of the plants, which have far exceeded our expectations.

Here are the basil and tomato plants. C has repeated taken cuttings from the basil, and the tomato continues to produce fruit. We harvested the first batch back in June, and I was able to make homemade marinara sauce for the first time. (It actually turned out well.)

Some of the first batch of tomatoes

This was an early batch of blackberries (and one blueberry near the center of the bowl). The blackberry plant produced fruit just once, and then decided to try and spread across the entire lawn. It is a warrior so I warn anyone: be ready to do battle with it. The thorned bush has grown twice as fast as the thornless one, and it sends its shoots far under the ground so that they turn up in the unlikeliest places, such as under tables, other plants, beyond fences. When you try to get rid it you have to root it, and the thorns on several of the stalks, which cut through my gardening gloves, as well as the tenacious roots, which refused to loosen, provided more of a workout than an hour at the gym.

The mint plant, in front of weeds. This is a very hardy plant that has come back in several spots.

The rosemary and sage have grown steadily all summer. I need to figure out what to do so that they'll return. The prior rosemary plant flowered for a year, then died off this past winter.

Brussel sprouts! I took me a month to figure out that like other plants of this sort you have to remove the lower leaves, and then when I snipped off the first few heads I thought we were done, but now there are about a dozen or more new sprouts coming in, which amazes me. I was worried that they hadn't received enough water and would be, as I saw online, "bitter," but the first batch tasted fresh and mellow in flavor, so I'm not worried about the upcoming crop.

Here are the red cabbages, which looked sickly earlier in the summer, but which are steadily growing. Caterpillars were devouring the leaves, but eventually they passed on to the next stage of their existence, sated with cabbage, and now the plants are nearing harvest. In fact, I think the one at the center of this picture may be ready, though I keep thinking it's still got a ways to g(r)o(w).

The strawberry patch is even thicker than last year, but only the tinier Alpine strawberries (the little leaves at right) produced fruit, which is about the size of a thumbnail and swiftly devoured by birds, stray cats, ants, or whatever gets to it before we do. Something else is pocking all the strawberry leaves, so I need to figure out if we have to cut them back and how much so that they'll produce fruit next year.

The honeysuckle is again flowering, though it's not so fragrant these days. It has had to battle for survival with the blackberry bush, though C gave it a leg up a few weeks ago. Earlier in the summer its blooms were so bright it looked like it was filled with birds of paradise. I think these are its last blooms of the season.

We had no luck with the arugula or the spinach, which produced its leaves and then withered. The fig tree did not take root, and when I touched it for a brief examination, it toppled over, the roots having shriveled so much that it was basically hovering in place. The dill plant also flowered, allowing C to harvest it, and then died, but I hope it will return as the thyme has, thick and ready for harvest. We had to replace our back porch, and the lavender, one of my favorite plants, took a beating, but I've figured out the trick to propagate it in the future: the soil must have enough lime. So next spring I'll be back, planting more lavender, and I hope we can get a fig tree that survives and produces fruit as well.


Once upon a time I was very active with the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies (CLAGS) at the City University of New York's (CUNY) Graduate Center. I'm still a member of CLAGS, but I have not attended or been able to attend any of CLAGS's events in years. One of the events I most miss is the Annual David R. Kessler Lecture, which celebrates a major living figure in the development of LGBT and Queer Studies. Scholars offer brief remarks on behalf of the speaker, who then delivers a keynote. Previous Kessler honorees have included Joan Nestle, Monique Wittig*, Barbara Smith, Esther Newton, Samuel R. Delany, Judith Butler, Cherrie Moraga, Isaac Julien, and Edmund White. (In fact, there's the fine anthology, Queer Ideas, with a foreword by CLAGS founder Martin Duberman and with an introduction by former directors Alisa Solomon and Paisley Currah, which presents the lectures from the first 10 years of the award.)

This past year's (2006-2007) honoree was Adrienne Rich, about whom I've sung praises more than once before in these pages. Rich's lecture, as I read it, sought to connect the academic field of LGBT studies with its non-academic, poetic, everyday roots in the public and private activism, avant la lettre, of figures such as Walt Whitman, Robert Duncan, and Judy Grahn. In evoking these figures, she also noted that in addition to their work and lives creating and advance a discourse and traditions on which future LGBT and queer scholars, as well as LGBT and queer people in general, might build, they also sought to challenge other limits, other restrictions, other constraints, by positing more complex notions of identity, community, citizenship, an expanded social and political imaginary (in the non-Lacanian sense, I think), particularly in light of the voracious commodity society we live in--that they lived in and saw evolving towards what it has become.

What follows is the Duncan poem she quotes. It's short enough that I don't have to excerpt it, as I would Whitman's "Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand," or Grahn's much longer "A Woman Is Talking to Death." One of the things Rich's talk brings to mind is how the poem returns again and again to the notion of an affective collectivity, a circle of friends, which may increase or wane, but whose links Duncan evokes anaphorically at the start of each stanza, to ground his perspective and its authority, the poem's authority, as a statement beyond the merely personal, about desire and the difficulties of love. In addition to its relevance, I think, for a number of friends of mine--for so many LGBT people at this fraught moment in which we are pushed increasingly towards organized, consumerist, post-identitarian normativities into which many of us still do not fit, it is also interesting how the poem's metaphors move increasingly towards Capital; though we begin in a desire to which no set exchange or monetary value can be placed, it is very much a poem rooted in an earlier yet still persistent version of our society and its myths, in which, ultimately, the "honest wage," even of love, remains the desired goal.

But let me stop interpreting, and give you the poem:

Among My Friends Love Is a Great Sorrow

Among my friends love is a great sorrow.
It has become a daily burden, a feast,
a gluttony for fools, a heart's famine.
We visit one another asking, telling one another.
We do not burn hotly, we question the fire.
We do not fall forward with our alive
eager faces looking through into the fire.
We stare back at our own faces.
We have become our own realities.
We seek to exhaust our lovelessness.

Among my friends love is a painful question.
We seek among the passing faces
a sphinx-face who will ask its riddle.
Among my friends love is an answer
to a question
that has not been asked.
Then ask it.

Among my friends love is a payment.
It is an old debt for a borrowing foolishly spent.
And we go on, borrowing and borrowing
from each other.

Among my friends love is a wage
that one might have for an honest living.

Excerpted from Adrienne Rich's 2006-2007 Fifteenth Annual David R. Kessler Lecture,
CLAGS, CUNY Grad Center, Copyright © 1995, Robert A. Bertholf, ed., Robert Duncan,
A Selected Prose (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation).

*I asterisked Wittig's name, because I always remember once telling Reggie H. that I wished that when I walked into bookstores that my books were on the shelves like Wittig's--there was a time in the mid-1980s when it seemed that every bookstore I entered had at least one copy of two of her foundation works, The Lesbian Body and my favorite, the remarkable Les Guérillères--and he rightly responded that, well, perhaps her books weren't on the shelves as much as I imagined. It would be wonderful, nevertheless, to write a book or books, a foundational work, however flawed, to which several generations of readers, even a small number, continue to return. Isn't that what most writers of fiction and poetry aim for?