Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Book Week + Right Wing Rhetoric + Derrion Albert & The Children

It's Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3, 2009). But you probably already knew this.

Banned BooksWhy do we need a week highlighting the issue of banned books? Because every day all over the US, there are attempts to ban or suppress the sales and circulation of books.

Above at right is a map, drawn from cases documented by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Kid's Right to Read Project (a collaboration of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression), of the book challenges or bans that occurred from 2007-2009 (courtesy of Banned Books Week). According ALA, at least 513 occurred in 2008, but the total could be higher since up to 80% are never reported. (For more information, you can review ALA's Books Banned and Challenged 2007-2008, and Books Banned and Challenged 2008-2009, and the Kids' Right to Read Project Report.)

In 2008, the 10 most challenged books were:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

    (Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint,and unsuited to age group)

  2. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

    (Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence)

  3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

  4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

    (Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence)

  5. Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

    (Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence)

  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

    (Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group)

  7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group)

  8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen

    (Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group)

  9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group)

  10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

    (Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group)

Joan E. Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship , writes in today's Huffington Post about the ongoing problem of US book banning and challenges.

All over the country, libraries and bookstores are hosting events. If you can, please attend one this week. A major launch event, the Banned Books Week Read-Out, took place in Chicago (I wasn't there, so I couldn't attend.) There are a number of other things you can do as well, like these.


Just so we're clear:

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), using some of the most extreme rhetoric yet by a sitting member of Congress against President Barack Obama, yesterday called the president an "Enemy of Humanity" at Phyllis Schlafly's How To Take Back America Conference in St. Louis.

On Newsmax today John L. Perry wrote an article calling for a military coup against President Obama's administration; it urges this step to address the "Obama problem."

On Facebook some creep(s) started a poll asking whether President Obama should be killed, and the post received 700+ votes before being taken down. After blog The Political Carnival and others contacted the Secret Service, they finally began their investigation.

And today, at Schlafly's wackofest in St. Louis, North Dakota Eagle Forum head Kitty Werthmann is urging people to ready themselves with guns for a "bloody battle" against the President, who she claims is both a Nazi and Communist.

All of this is occurring on top of the extremist speech and behavior against the President and Congress, funded by corporations and right-wing groups, fostered and funneled into the wider discourse by major right-wing and mainstream corporate media figures, and furthered at extreme right rallies and gatherings, that we've seen since the height of the campaign last summer.

It is not harmless, it is not cute, it is not worthy of simply being dismissed as wacko or crazy or nutty and yet somehow benign.

Remember the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995?

I have given up hope that either senior members of the Democratic Party, be it the President, leading figures in Congress, or anyone in the party apparatus (especially now that Howard Dean has stepped down), will denounce these people or attempt to ratchet the rhetoric down. As for the mainstream corporate media, they're not worth the breath. Instead, things will continue to spin out of control, as they always do, and if something horrific happens, the question posed in the public sphere will be, How could this have happened? Why did we miss it until it was too late? Why didn't we take proactive steps to address it?

When will we take proactive steps to address it?


Derrion AlbertI heard about and then read this tragic story, and my heart sank. On Friday in Chicago, a group of boys beat 16-year-old honors student Derrion Albert to death, because he happened to pass by the wrong place at the wrong time, though according to other reports, he was killed because he was unwilling to join a gang forming near Fenger High School in the Roseland neighborhood. Albert's death is sickening whatever the trigger, but unfortunately, it's not a rarity. So far this month, two other Chicago teenagers have been killed this month, while at least seven more have been shot. During the last academic year, 36 students were killed and over 500 were shot. One child is too many, a truism so simple and simplistic that I wonder if it hasn't gotten lost in the shuffle.

This is an ongoing crisis that parents and guardians, school officials, representatives of the City of Chicago and Cook County, the State of Illinois, and the federal government, all need to get involved in. One of the chief issues with Roseland, as with so many parts of Chicago, like other urban areas, is the serious economic decline, and concomitant social breakdowns, that set in during the late 1970s and 1980s, and which have never been adequately addressed or turned around, even during the national economic expansion of the late 1990s. The current economic crisis has only worsened things, and while I know that there are ongoing attempts to address this particular situation and the larger social, economic and political issues out of which it's arising, but given that the President has chosen to jump on the folly-fueled bandwagon of bringing the Olympics to Chicago (which could use affordable housing, jobs, jobs, and more jobs instead of yet another Daley vanity project/boondoggle), he and his administration could and should expend some time and political capital on this issue, which is especially serious in his home city, but a problem elsewhere as well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Poem: Mário de Andrade

Mario de AndradeA quarter of a century before Frank O'Hara premiered his urban, pop-suffused, witty, giddy queer poetry, Mário de Andrade (1893-1945, at right, http://www.capoeira-palmares.fr/histor/turner/inform.htm) had pretty much gotten there first with his 1922 landmark declaration of Brazilian modernism, Paulicea Desvairada (Hallucinated São Paulo). A musician and musicologist by training, an aesthete by inclination and avocation, Andrade had by the 1920s become a leading presence in the country's artistic vanguard. In February 1922, he and several other young writers, musicians, sculptors, and visual artists inaugurated the Week of Modern Art in São Paulo, presenting a range of work that bemused and disturbed many of the city's major art patrons. In July of the same year, Andrade published his thin volume of 22 poems with its mocking preface, which dismisses the volume outright and also rejects the appellation of "Futurist" his fellow poet (with the same last name but apparently of no relation), Osvaldo de Andrade had given him, instead designating a new school, of "Hallucinism," which he promises to promptly cast off as well.

There is a great deal of Hallucinism in this volume, with its chains of concrete non-sequiturs and fragments, its curlicued rhymes (which have to be read aloud to grab the complete effect), its combination of precision and São Paulo-esque disorder--and its French and American modernity. Andrade's influences include not only his Brazilian and Spanish language predecessors, but predecessors to Modernism including Rimbaud, Verhaeren, Mallarmé, and Whitman, as well as the oeuvres of numerous plastic artists of this period, and the churning cultural mix of Brazil itself. He rejumbles all of them, adding his own sensibilities, to create what is in essence a new poetry on the Brazilian scene; certainly very few of his peers, let alone critics or readers, had read anything like it in Portuguese. The lyrical, campy yet sincere exclamations--so full of joy and wonder, and melancholy all the same--and lists, which would also dot O'Hara's poetry ("Oh! Kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! / You really are beautiful! Pearls, / harmonicas, jujubes aspirins! all / the stuff they've always talked about...") are here, in similar service. They convey, the richness of the city's distractions, the depth-charges of momentary, ephemeral experiences, his continuous highs and lows, or as he says in the poem I translate below, the "tumult" ("comoção"--but also commotion, for it's important not to lose the sense of movement that the poem's form transmits) of his life.

Amidst the hallucination-provoking confusions and profusions of this almost otherworldly city, this Paulicea, Andrade, "our Miss São Paulo" as Osvaldo de Andrade snappishly labeled him, like many a poet in any city, found his first true inspirations.

And so, my translation of "Inspiração," the book's first poem:



Onde até na fôrça do
verão havia tempestades
de ventos e frios de
crudelíssimo inverno.
Fr. Luis de Sousa

São Paulo! comoção de minha vida . . .
Os meus amores são flores feitas de original . . .
Arlequinal! . . . Traje de losangos . . . Cinza e ouro . . .
Luz e bruma . . . Forno e inverno morno . . .
Elegâncias sutis sem escândalos, sem ciúmes . . .
Perfumes de Paris . . . Arys!
Bofetadas líricas no Trianon . . . Algodal! . . .

São Paulo! comoção de minha vida . . .
Galicismo a berrar nos desertos da América!

Copyright © The Estate of Mário de Andrade, 1922, 2009. All rights reserved.


Where even at summer's
there were storms
of wind and cold as in the
harshest winter.
Fr. Luis de Sousa

São Paulo! tumult of my life . . .
My loves are flowers fashioned from the original . . .
Harlequinal! . . . Diamond suited . . . Gray and gold . . .
Light and mist . . . Oven and lukewarm winter . . .
Subtle refinements without scandals, without jealousies . . .
Perfumes from Paris . . . Arys!
Lyrical faceslaps in the Trianon . . . Cotton field! . . .

São Paulo! tumult of my life . . .
Gallicism bawling in the deserts of America!

Translation © Copyright, John Keene, 2009. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

NY Philharmonic Opening Night + Sports Roundup

A couple weeks ago I did something I haven't done in a while: I watched a live classical music concert on TV. The occasion was the PBS Live from Lincoln Center's broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's season opener, which marked the début of its new Music Director, 42-year-old Alan Gilbert. I'd even made a mental note of the broadcast primarily because I saw that it would include Renee Fleming singing songs not by Schubert, or Strauss, or Faure, all likely opening-night and maestro-début and audience friendly choices, but...Olivier Messiaen.

I almost didn't believe my eyes or ears when I heard and saw this after an episode of The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, but then Gilbert, the son of two NY Philharmonic musicians, has from his earliest appearances with the orchestra shown an adventurousness that marks a change from the musty perspectives of his immediate predecessors, both consummate musicians, Kurt Masur and placeholder Lorin Maazel. Gilbert not only chose Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi (1934), a serious of deeply religious, dramatic connubial songs written by the composer for his first wife, whose nickname was Mi, but also opened with a newly commissioned composition, EXPO, a continuously developing orchestral piece in a tonal idiom by the Philharmonic's composer in residence, Magnus Lindberg, and, after a break, concluded with...not Mozart, not Beethoven, not Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, or Schumann, but...Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique.

The Lindberg piece, with its echoes of Sibelius and Americana riffs, was pleasant enough to listen to, and Gilbert and the orchestra played it with assurance and verve, as if they were enjoying themselves. This was also the first time in over 45 years that the Philharmonic had included a newly commissioned piece on its opening night program. I'm sorry but that's pretty pathetic, so even more props go to Gilbert. But the Messaien riveted me. Not only did Fleming convey the otherwordliness of the nine song's scores, capturing both their highest and lowest registers and the churning colors between, but Gilbert pushed the orchestra to fully evoke all of Messaien's shadings without ever overshadowing the singer. Perhaps the most striking moment came when Fleming sang the grim "Éprouvante," a wrenching vision of hell that the music did not stint in reflecting. It was also exhilarating to hear work by Messaien, a highly regarded canonical composer whose music nevertheless remains on the other side of the symphonic mainstream, on TV, in prime time. This bodes well, I hope, for future NYPO and other orchestral concert broadcasts, though sometimes tells me they'll still be dominated by the late baroque-to-late Romantic German standards.

As Fleming sang, I intermittently wondered what subscribers and critics thought of Gilbert's choices. As a sign of a new vision, they left no doubt. To people used to a mostly late baroque-to-late Romantic German repertoire with a few outliers (19th century French and Russian, early 20th century European late-Romantic and tonal modernist, a few American composers, and commissioned pieces, never to be played again), was probably upsetting. To end with Berlioz's vast, forward-looking 1830 symphony must have felt like a shockwave. Gilbert and the orchestra showed that they knew the score and in most of its sections, went below the surface to portray the richness of the moods Berlioz was aiming for. I'm no expert on Berlioz's work nor an authority on how other orchestras have played it, but I could hear both Gilbert's and the players' skill and precision, but also passion. It was never mechanical, as Maazel's performances often were.

Anthony Tommasini raved about Gilbert in his New York Times review of the concert the following day. He praised the Lindberg for not writing a "gnarly, intimidating modern piece"--Mr. Tommasini, it's 2009, and there are so many contemporary composers who do not write "intimidating modern" or "post-modern" or "post-post-modern" or whatever pieces that also are not treacly, neo-Romantic, ersatz movie music outtakes--and rained down kudos for Gilbert's choice of the Messiaen and Berlioz, though he was less fulsome when he described Gilbert's conducting of the latter work, saying that some listeners probably liked to hear it conducted with more of a"sumptuous feeling for color or more fantastical freedom" than on display in this concert. He nevertheless lauded Gilbert's assured and effective conducting, which not only brought the symphony to life but worked well with the two prior pieces, both in French idioms, broadly construed. The article's comment section, however, reflected more displeasure than happiness: lots of complaints not about Gilbert's music-making, which seems unimpeachable, but about his program choices.

I've been wondering about this as I've followed Greg Sandow's blog on classical music for several years. Sandow is a composer and professor at Juillard, and is writing a book about the present state of the US classical music world. One persistent element in his blog commenters' responses is a denial that the US classical music world is any trouble; another is that its audience is aging; a third is that the standard repertoire is just fine. Keeping these frequent threads in mind, I wondered to myself how much outrage there would have been had Gilbert gone farther, and in addition to the Lindberg, programmed all new music to launch his tenure. What if instead of Messiaen (whose career spanned the early to late 20th century) and the 19th century Berlioz, he had played two contemporary, living American composers, like John Corigliano and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich? Or two contemporary non-US composers, like Toru Takemitsu and Thomas Adès? Or two 20th century American composers who weren't exactly mainstream any more, like Roy Harris and William Schuman? Or truly avant-garde 20th century, post-Second Viennese school American composers, like Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, and John Cage? Or a composition in a jazz or rock-inflected idiom by the likes of Elvis Costello, or Wynton Marsalis? Would people have walked out of and lustily booed the concert as occurred at the Metropolitan Opera's premiere last week of the warhorse Tosca, based on Luc Bondy's new staging and direction?

Perhaps a better question is, would it ever happen, even under someone as open to the new as Gilbert? (When the extraordinary conductor James Levine, who heads the Met Opera's orchestra, took over the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which long been moribund under his predecessor, he jumpstarted its formerly progressive repertoire under Fritz Reiner by performing a slew of "difficult" 20th century works. I don't think, however, that he touched the likes of Daugherty, say, or Todd Machover, or Tania León.) It remains to be seen. I should note that Gilbert's second concert as Musical Director was conducting Mahler's Third Symphony, about as standard as things can get. This week he conducted Brahms's Violin Concerto, another standard piece, but paired it with Arnold Schoenberg's less frequently heard Pelleas und Melisande, which Tommasini described in his Friday review, typically, as "formidable" and "demanding," despite it's having been superseded by far more formidable and demanding Schoenberg scores (Chamber Symphony? Fantasie? Violin Concerto?), as well as innumerable more complicated soundworlds including many in rock, jazz, ambient, etc. I take the slotting in of even a fairly old-style (for) Schoenberg piece as a good sign, though. And he spoke to the audience about it! Looking through the upcoming concerts--and Gilbert will be taking the Philharmonic on the road to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Singapore for a chunk of October--through December, it appears as though there will be lots of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, unsurprisingly, but throughout the 2009-2010 season Gilbert has slated a range of post-Romantic fare into the main concerts, including performances of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre (semi-staged), Ives's Second Symphony, Anton von Zemlinsky's Lyric Suite, and, as part of the end of 2009 concerts, Webern's Symphony. Additionally, such very up-to-date works as Christopher Rouse's new commission, Zhizn ("life" in Russian), H.K. Gruber's Aerea, and pieces by Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher, Lindberg, and others, will be in both the main and Contact: The New Music series concerts.

To me, this programming in Gilbert's first year is a clear sign that the NYPO is moving into both the present and future, much as Baltimore's symphony has done under Marin Alsop, and Los Angeles's will under Gustavo Dudamel. Since I spend a chunk of each year in Chicago, I'm curious to know which directions new Musical Director Riccardo Muti will take the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the five years of his contract. He is known as a strong conductor of Giuseppi Verdi, late baroque and early Romantic music, and of the standard repertoire, in a lean, recording-friendly idiom, and not so much of anything that new. At least since Mahler's time.

(I am skipping the Lyric Opera of Chicago's offerings this year; they aren't staging a single opera written since 1921--Leos Janacek's Kát'a Kabanová--while the Metropolitan Opera's tiny steps outside its narrow conventional doors are Alban Berg's Lulu, Dmitri Shostakovich's The Nose, and Janacek's From the House of the Dead. The unparalleled season Gérard Mortier had planned for the New York City Opera is now nothing but a phantom, like that opera company itself.)


The Saint Louis Cardinals are now officially in the playoffs, after defeating the Colorado Rockies 6-3 last night. They joined the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have also made the playoffs and currently have the best record in the NL. In the AL, the Yankees are now in the playoffs, having defeated their arch-nemeses, the Boston Red Sox tonight at the new Yankee Stadium 4-2. The Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim both seem bound for the playoffs with dwindling magic numbers and the Red Sox are well ahead in the AL Wild Card Race, but the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers are hanging on for all their lives, and the NL Wild Card race is increasingly a toss up, as Atlanta surges and Colorado falters. I'm just glad the Cardinals and Yankees are in. Now they have to keep winning.
Mark Sanchez
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27: Mark Sanchez #6 of The New York Jets runs upfield after catching a pass against The Tennessee Titans during their game on September 27, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

As of tonight, the New York Jets are 3-0; rookie QB Mark Sanchez's 3 straight wins are a league first, and the defense allowed more than 10 points for the first time this season in today's 24-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Saint Louis Rams, however, are 0-3 after another uninspired, sloppy loss, this time to the Green Bay Packers. With the Detroit Lions' victory over the Washington Snyders, the Rams have the longest losing streak, at 13 games dating back to last season. They look awful enough to make it 29 if they maintain this abysmal level of play. But they're in good--or bad--company so far: Miami, Cleveland, Kansas City, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay have also lost 3 games without a win and Carolina has 2 losses without having won one. Which of this sorry group will turn things around first? I say Tennessee or Tampa Bay, but don't hold me to that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adfempo Conference @ CUNY Grad Center + Dangerous Mathematicians Show

What an exciting, energizing two days the Advancing Feminist Poetics and Activism: A Gathering conference was. I must offer my heartiest thanks to Belladonna, the independent bookstore/publisher/collectives, who conceived, organized and executed the event, along with the CUNY Graduate Center’s Center for the Humanities, Center for the Study of Women and Society, PhD Program in English, and Poetics Group. There was such palpable intellectual and creative energy at the event, which explored and emphasized the necessity and possibilities of feminist poetics and activism today. I didn't attend a single uninteresting panel or reading during the event. It was also wonderful to see so many creative people--brilliant, visionary, socially and politically activist women in the poetry world!--I know and admire as well as those I've never met or seen but only read over the years. My only complaint arises from the concurrent scheduling situation; because of the multiple simultaneous panels, it was not possible to audit most of the intriguing discussions, and if you jumped from room to room (there were 4 panels per time slot for most of Friday) you very well might miss the people you were hoping to see. I do understand, however, the economic and logical necessities of fitting the event into two short days, so I'm looking forward to the videos of the panels, when those go online.

I also want to thank poet-scholar-activist Tonya Foster, a member of Belladonna's Collective Committee and the organizer of the panel I was on, which, as the Opening Plenary I panel, inaugurated the event on Thursday afternoon. Our panel had grown out of discussions we'd been having over a series of months, and focused on orality and literacy in relation to African American and Diasporic literature, but also had come to encompass discussions of "the commons," and in particular, the "feminist commons." Other panelists included Meta DuEwa Jones, who spoke about Erica Hunt and Tracie Morris; Evie Shockley, who talked about Sonia Sanchez's Do These Houses Have Lions?; and Julie Patton, who showed slides and discussed her creative, activist work with young people in Cleveland, as well as her mother's artwork. We ended up running short of time, and I went last, so my talk, discussing Kamau Brathwaite's, Jay Wright's and Marilene Felinto's strategies for utilizing orality and feminist-inflected oral and written discourses (historical, mythic, etc.) to subvert conceptions of aesthetic mastery, was smushed into pithiness, but I do feel like I did succeed in getting my points across. And I got to read a translated (though not by me) snippet of Felinto's work, so that was fun too.

Our panel was packed, as were most of the ones I attended, despite their concurrency; at the 12:45pm discussion on the "Body and Discourse," chaired by Kate Eichhorn and featuring Joan Retallack, Trish Salah, Laura Smith, Nathalie Stephens/Nathanaël, and Ronaldo V. Wilson, there wasn't even standing room for most of those present. This panel, like the others I attended, delved into the questions that people had been posing and hashing since our opening presentations, and involved some contention and argumentation, rather than an amen chorus, which was refreshing.

Two of my favorite moments at the conference were the Thursday night keynote talks-performances, and a reading, introduced by scholar-poet Kate Hinton, that Mei-Mei Berssenbruegge and Ann Lauterbach gave on Friday. At the former, Kathleen Fraser talked about her trajectory from newly-minted English major just arriving in a very male-dominated New York poetry world in the early 1960s to her move to California, her years of young motherhood, and her connections with some of the figures who would become so important for developments in feminist poetics and practice/praxis. Amidst this she wove in some unforgettable anecdotes, such as that Barbara Guest was the only female poet whose work she came into contact with in those earliest years, outside of the "modernist women," that Charles Olson was huge, dominating figure and not the sort of person for women to be alone with, and that George Oppen was a serious, but encouraging poet. Fraser concluded her comments by reading a moving pamphlet-long poem, whose title I wrote down as "hi dde violent i dde violet," that she had written for fellow poet Norma Cole. Erica Hunt, a writer and thinker I admire tremendously, followed and in a way only she could do, she managed to weave in a demonstration of her mother blind-folded and boxing to discuss the feminist projects feminist poets had engaged in and needed to continue to pursue, especially in light of the economic, social and political situation we all now find ourselves in, and which has been unfolding since Erica and the other writers in the auditorium began their work. She was sharp, witty, oppositional, elliptical, concise, and offered up a series of grace quotes. "We write what just might escape commodification" is but one of them.

The third speaker, Eileen Myles, gave a talk called "Yoga for Losers" which succeeded not only in reminding everyone that the "academy was a patron" and a fraught place and space for the poet's work, but also called out the Language poets, asking where was the great language poem on AIDS, and wondered whether the model of "schools" of poetry was less apt that "stores," decried the pervasiveness of pornography for girls' and boys' imaginaries, invoked some contemporary women writers doing what she thought was outstanding activist work, and even expressed her exhausting with the term "feminism," ultimately urging that the hard work continue, in a range of new forms. As more and more poets (and writers in general!) appear to view the academy as the route, as opposed to one of many, or even just a byway, to pursuing an avocation as poet, Myles's critiques assume even greater importance.

The Berssenbruegge-Lauterbach reading was also a highlight. I have seen both read a number of times; Berssenbruegge was one of the first of the younger generation "experimental" American poets (not counting some fellow students) I heard read and met in college, and she came to the university a few years ago as part of the Asian American Studies program's 10-year anniversary celebration. I had an account of Lauterbach and John Ashbery reading from the latter's long, double-columned "A Litany" at the Bowery Poetry Club a few years ago. This was the first time I'd seen them read together, and with the focus being on their art-inflected poems, they complemented each other perfectly. Berssenbruegge read from her collected volume I Love Artists (Univ. of California Press, 2008), which really should have received one of the major poetry awards, as well as from some new poems. Her quiet manner and soft voice require the listener's concentration, which the poems thoroughly reward. She also read lines and fragments from others, something poets never really do, in order to convey the spirit of the reading. Some of the fragments of lines I wrote down from the various poems were: "there are three dimensions of gray"..."your waking is a blue brushstroke creating a space"..."this color of being sentient, like seeing Venus in the day"..."where openness is form"..."but I am my contact with green"..."forest is the originary fullness of this presence"..."you turn back my words to stay in that region."

Lauterbach, whose work I believe always benefits from being read aloud, especially by her, traced her poetic development in relation to visual art, which has served as a formal rather than a visual source. She noted the centrality of the visual to most poetry, and her own attraction to resistance against or inquisition of the visual. She also read poems marking her stages of confronting the visual, including the first she'd written, some time ago, in which there was no visual description whatsoever. One of the poems she read, "The French Girl" (from Clamor?) struck like a lightning bolt this time. She finished with the poem "The Scale of Restless Things (Fra Angelica)," written after going to see that exhibit at the Met with a former student, Garrett Kalleberg, and it was a fitting conclusion to a great reading. Afterwards she and Berssenbruegge, along with Hinton, took questions, and Lauterbach provided one of the most succinct and thoughtful responses possible to the question of how to appreciate a poem, particular poems like hers, explaining how a poem is an experience that we ought enter like any other experiences we've never had, and how it negotiates the parallel subjectivities of the reader's I and the lyric/narrative voice's (I/we/multiples). That space of negotiation ought be fruitful and pleasurable, rather than merely a puzzle to be interpreted and solved.

Erica Kaufman and Rachel Levitsky, Adfempo co-organizers
Erica Kaufman and Rachel Levitsky
My panel, post-presentations
L-r: Evie Shockley (back turned), Julie Patton, and Tonya Foster
Kathleen Fraser, reading her poem
Kathleen Fraser, reading her poem to Norma Cole
Body as Discourse panel, Adfempo
Ronaldo V. Wilson (in tie), speaking to the panel (l-r): Nathaniel, Trish Salah, Joan Retallack, and Laura Smith (who spoke about Akilah Oliver)


After I left my dinner companions on Friday, I took up a friend's invitation to check out a fashion show/performance party, Dangerous Equations 101, at a small shop, Dangerous Mathematicians, on the Lower East Side. Unlike this events at Bryant Park a week ago, this was a low-key, non-industry affair; the shop's owner creates and sells innovative, sexy clothing for women with a geek chic edge. The "models" turned out to be practicing engineers, scientists and mathematicians and the clothing had a S&M-ish edge, which I doubt would probably go over better during the weekend or at clubs than at most workplaces. It appeared to be well-made, and really, the funnest aspect was just listening to the musicians and seeing another slice of New York I seldom see.
Dangerous Mathematicians store window
Dangerous Mathematicians store window

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Advancing Feminist Poetics & Activism Conference

The Advancing Feminist Poetics & Activism: A Gathering -- Conference begins today at CUNY Graduate Center!

The lineup:
adfempo header
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Location: English Department Lounge

Opening Plenary I: Why You Talk Like That? Between Orature and Literature
Chair: Tonya Foster
Panelists: Meta DuEwa Jones, John Keene, Julie Patton, Evie Shockley
Location: English Department Lounge
Description: One aspect of “black aesthetics” involves two ostensibly dissonant strands of poetics the oral and the literary (which may include the visual). Their challenging of visual and oral groundings of identity markers translates Black female iconography from its historical depiction within a “So Black and Blues” matrix into a “So Black and Beautiful”. One aspect of “black aesthetics” isn’t merely the transcription of the oral onto the page but an attempt to transfigure the page in such a way that it creates/suggests an alternate space which demands that the literary engage the oral, re-inscribes the literary nature of the oral and rejects the clearly articulated boundary between the two, and, in so doing, suggests a different sense of time: look at Mackey and Brathwaite’s A History of the Voice.

Opening Plenary II: Wedge & Suture: Critical Language Practices & the Imperialist Event
Chair: Laura Elrick
Panelists: Ammiel Alcalay, Cathy Park Hong, Anne Waldman, Rachel Zolf
Location: English Department Lounge
Description: On the “here and now” continuum, on the radically material cusp that articulates past and future, what methods of political thought can poetry uniquely perform? How can poetry (as radical anathema to imperialist language use, and as intellectual hope) resist the dead-end traps of reification and teleological thinking? Our discussion will center on the complexities and difficulties (and therefore importance) of radical language practices within our unevenly-developed but globalized relations.

Location: English Department Lounge

Location: English Department Lounge
Wine and light fare will be served.

Opening Keynote Performance
Kathleen Fraser, Erica Hunt, & Eileen Myles

Friday, September 25, 2009

Location: English Department Lounge

10:00AM-11:45AM — SESSION I

Room 1 [Panel 1]:
Is Ground as to Figure as Ambience is to Body? Ec(h)opoetics of the Disfigured Landscape
Chair: Jennifer Scappettone
Panelists: Marcella Durand, Brenda Iijima, Linda Sormin, Kathy Westwater, Rita Wong
Description: Ranging across writing, visual arts, dance, installation, and epistolary exchange of ephemera, this discussion will sound reciprocal interference between the environment and marked (raced/gendered/polluted) corporeality in the face of landscape’s harm—mediation—digitization—withdrawal. Presentations will address a poetics of systemic crisis, stalking solutions, obliging recognition of ambient relations of authority and compromise as compass through a stupefying enormity of damage: Marcella Durand on race and ecological disaster; Brenda Iijima on Agnes Denes’s reclamation art; Kathy Westwater on bodily organization within transmogrifying ‘nature’; Rita Wong and Linda Sormin on ongoing toxicities.

Room 2 [Panel 2]:
Lacrimae of the Medusa; or, Cixous (33 years later) and Cruci-Fictions: Let’s Talk about Sex (Again)
Chair: Laura Jaramillo
Panelists: Dodie Bellamy, Kass Fleisher, Bhanu Kapil, Laura Mullen
Description: This panel will explore how womens' experimental writing re-inscribes female subjectivity and desire, how we ride the boundaries, borders, inter-species-genre crossings, body spaces through Cixous' Laugh of the Medusa.

Room 3 [Panel 3]:
Textual Migrations: Language, Media, Space
Chair: Corey Frost
Panelists: Caroline Bergvall, Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, Majena Mafe, Mendi Lewis Obadike, Kaia Sand
Description: As writers and readers, we are all affected by the multimedia functioning of communication technologies, their presence it our daily activities. As the concept of literacy changes, our understanding of poetics and our perceptions of identity also change. What does the specific role of language and of writing become? Should we envisage tomorrow's literature as a relay of processes, a combination of forms, of platforms, of environments, of media as well as discourses? What is the textual specifically in charge of recording, transmitting, transmediating? This panel invites 4 writers to present some of the methods and questions they explore when working with specific media and performative environments.

Room 4 [Panel 4]:
Conceptual Writings
Chair: Mónica de la Torre
Panelists: Nada Gordon, Vanessa Place, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim
Description: Conceptual writing, still under construction as a 21st century literary form, includes various kinds of work and techniques, such as appropriation, documentation, constraint, process, performance, polyvocality, collapsing search engines and the baroque. Panelists Mónica de la Torre, Nada Gordon, Sina Queyras, Kim Rosenfield, Christine Wertheim, and Vanessa Place will present/perform/comment on critical/creative work on conceptualism.

Room 5 [Panel 5]:
8 Minute Monographs, Part 1
Chair: Susan Briante
Panelists: David Buuck, CAConrad, Tom Orange, Rodrigo Toscano, Simone White
Description: David Buuck on “Bioperversity: on the gendered animal-body”; CAConrad will give a talk entitled “A Poetry of No Apologies” about Hilde Domin and Charlotte Delbo; Tom Orange will present “Recovering our Elders: The Case of Carole Korzeniowsky”; Rodrigo Toscano “On Duriel Harris”; and Simone White on Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs of a dutiful daughter, "my accomplice, my subject, my creature: hypermasculinity effects".

Room 6 [Panel 6]:
The Event in the Image: Poetry and Cinema
Curated by: Angela Joosse
Films and poetry by: Peggy Ahwesh, Lise Beaudry, Abigail Child, Margaret Christakos, Moyra Davey, Kelly Egan, Laura Elrick, Su Friedrich, Amy Greenfield, Shana MacDonald, Bridget Meeds, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Selene Savarie, Joel Schlemowitz, Nathalie Stephens, Souvankham Thammavongsa,Gariné Torossian, Cat Tyc
Description: This program of recent experimental film and video examines the productive impact to be found at the intersection of feminism, poetry, and the moving image. Sharing common concerns with rhythm, duration, and the slippage and condensation of meaning, experimental cinema and poetry have had rich relations since cinema's inception. Yet the avant-garde edge of these art forms does not rest with medium-specific concerns, but rather with the capacity to install the audience in a situation that enables a potent shift in one's very perceptions of embodied, social, geographical, gendered, political, and cultural locatedness in the world. Through poetic approaches to cinema and cinematic approaches to poetry, this program explores varying possibilities of the image as an event situation.



Room 1 [Panel 7]:
What Counts: Everyday Practices and Exceptional Practices in the Life of the Mind and in the Street
Chair: Jen Hofer
Panelists: Pamela Booker, Marilou Esguerra, Jill Magi, Metta Sama
Description: The politics of the everyday entails inventing exceptions to the rules in a range of contexts, from our bedrooms, kitchens, studies and gardens to our jobs, gathering spaces, and the streets of the cities where we live. The participants in this panel are all on the faculty at Goddard College, where a radical social justice pedagogy encompassing Thoughtful Action is a foundation of our teaching, learning and artistic practices. How do small-scale autonomous publishing, politically-inflected performance, objects and texts built to be functional as well as thought-provoking, public instances of poetic interaction and other externally-directed creative acts constitute Thoughtful Action—that is, how do we practice what we teach, and teach what we practice?

Room 2 [Panel 8]:
Body as Discourse
Chair: Kate Eichhorn
Panelists: Joan Retallack, Trish Salah, Laura Smith, Nathalie Stephens (Nathanaël), Ronaldo V. Wilson
Description: This panel explores questions of the body, referentiality, remapping bodies and borders, intertextuality, narrativity, aesthetics, and the challenges of de-essentialization as we scrutinize “female,” “queer,” “raced” and “othered” bodies.

Room 3 [Panel 9]:
Multilingual Poetics, Feminist Implications
Chair: Sarah Dowling
Panelists: Julia Bloch, Angela Carr, Zhang Er, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Janet Neigh
Description: This panel will explore the ways women poets use multilingualism to engage in critiques of dominant language practices, and the ways in which such poetics evoke diverse publics and invite new possibilities for building community.

Room 4 [Panel 10]:
Disrupting the Page: Hybridity and Asian American Poetics
Chair: Tamiko Beyer
Panelists: Cythia Arrieu-King, Ching-In Chen, Sarah Gambito, Sohan Patel, Margaret Rhee
Description: This roundtable discussion by a group of emerging APIA women poets/critics/performers will open up discussion about how hybridities in current APIA poetry resist the notion of a homogenous feminist and APIA poetry and community. Speakers will address a range of contemporary formal and social concerns: mapping, the cyber avatar, queer, experimental and lyric poetry, “deterriorialized” writing, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's video poems, traditional Japanese zuihitsu. The goal is to provide a collaborative space in which to investigate the avant-garde poetic strategies of APIA women who write for social justice and against inequalities.

Room 5 [Panel 11]:
8 Minute Monographs, Part II: Inhabiting the Forms of An/Other
Chair: Emily Beall
Panelists: Louis Bury, Jeanne Heuving, Michelle Naka Pierce, Tim Peterson, Chris Tysh
Description: Each monographer will take up questions of form, form’s body, and how form can generate (instead of delimit) substantive, complex, productively unstable embodiments and identities. Tracing possibilities such as the “libidinized open field,” Oulipian exercises in style, Deleuzian sheets of time, the protean and the nomadic, panelists might themselves swerve importantly from the ‘monadic’ form of the monograph: Michelle Naka Pierce, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Migratory Identities in Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters” / Jeanne Heuving, “What's Love Got To Do With It?” / Tim Peterson, “Protean Bodies, Volatile Selves: The Transgender Poetics of Claude Cahun and kari edwards” / Chris Tysh, “Sheets of Time in Poetic Practice” / Louis Bury, “Embodied Constraints.”

Room 6 [Panel 12]:
The Event in the Image: Poetry and Cinema
Curated by: Angela Joosse
Films and poetry by: Peggy Ahwesh, Lise Beaudry, Abigail Child, Margaret Christakos, Moyra Davey, Kelly Egan, Laura Elrick, Su Friedrich, Amy Greenfield, Shana MacDonald, Bridget Meeds, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Selene Savarie, Joel Schlemowitz, Nathalie Stephens, Souvankham Thammavongsa,Gariné Torossian, Cat Tyc
Description: This program of recent experimental film and video examines the productive impact to be found at the intersection of feminism, poetry, and the moving image. Sharing common concerns with rhythm, duration, and the slippage and condensation of meaning, experimental cinema and poetry have had rich relations since cinema's inception. Yet the avant-garde edge of these art forms does not rest with medium-specific concerns, but rather with the capacity to install the audience in a situation that enables a potent shift in one's very perceptions of embodied, social, geographical, gendered, political, and cultural locatedness in the world. Through poetic approaches to cinema and cinematic approaches to poetry, this program explores varying possibilities of the image as an event situation.


Room 1 [Panel 13]:
Writing from the Margins
Chair: erica kaufman
Panelists: Jennifer Russo, Tyler Schmidt, Jane Sprague
Description: This panel will explore the feminist politics and poetic experimentation of poets from earlier generations in order to better understand (and complicate) the activism and avant-garde aesthetics of our current moment. Collectively our papers aim to investigate the work of marginal, forgotten, erased, absent or orphan/overlooked poets and writers whose poetics embody a kind of “activism,” though our panel also seeks to trouble or assert ideas of activist poetics. In particular, our critical analysis will highlight the way these poets both engage and enact political critique through formal innovation; avant-garde writing strategies; polyvocal texts; and/or hybrid forms and genres.

Room 2 [Panel 14]:
Feminist Utopias
Chair: Margaret Carson
Panelists: Justin Parks, Divya Victor, danielle vogel, Steve Zultanski
Description: This panel will be exploring the possibility of a Utopian promise in contemporary poetry. We will be looking at the work of Renee Gladman, Lisa Robertson, Melissa Buzzeo, and Jewel in an effort to explore these authors' formal and political relationships to urban space, and to their readers. We don’t assume these writers share a vision, but rather that their poetics and poetry are in some ways at odds — suggesting that any recognizable Utopian impulse is not a fully-realized imaginative portrait of a better world, but a fractured and incomplete projection of a time yet to come.

Room 3 [Panel 15]:
Exile and Language
Chair: Anna Moschovakis
Panelists: Jennifer Firestone, Dana Greene, Dulcinea Lara, Jill Magi, Evelyn Reilly
Description: What are the challenges facing a writer who for one reason or another finds herself “exiled” from the generative artistic and cultural communities that sustain much of a writer’s activities? This panel brings together the diverse concerns of writers thinking from spaces of remove: motherhood amidst the event-heavy poetry community; activist pedagogy in small-town America; experimental poetics in workers’ education; and a genealogy and performance of Vulcan Poetics.

Room 4 [Panel 16]:
Visuality and the Image:
A Reading and Discussion with Ann Lauterbach, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Laura Hinton
Chair: Laura Hinton
Panelists: Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Ann Lauterbach
Description: This session takes the form of readings by and conversation with Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Ann Lauterbach, and Laura Hinton. Framed as a performative inquiry into women’s particular use of the image, both in feminist and activist contexts, we'll consider the stakes in image-making for a gender that Mary Ann Doane has suggested bears a socialized “close proximity” to the image itself.

Room 5 [Panel 17]:
Speed Youth Mourning
Chair: Rachel Levitsky
Panelists: Emily Abendroth, Tonya Foster, Kythe Heller, Kristin Prevallet, Michelle Taransky, Jennifer Scappettone
Description: The presenters, mixing performance, conversation and reading, will consider how the expansion of the prison, disaster capitalism, and the vertigo of speed culture implode the ambit of community. Can we as writers and actors-in-concert re-imagine the contours and relieved duration of a 'commons' in which we dwell despite our increased mobility, that is sustainable within our current spatiotemporal condition? Are there new opportunities for meaning, mutual succor, and collective action across identity/location/generation in these “liquid times”?

Room 6 [Panel 18]:
Performing a Poetics of Motherhood
Chair: Leah Souffrant
Panelists: Lee Ann Brown, Laynie Browne, Christine Hume, Hoa Nguyen
Description: Poets Hoa Nguyen, Christine Hume, Laynie Browne, Lee Ann Brown, and Leah Souffrant will present their work as performance, followed by a round-table discussion of the work and the significance of the intersection of motherhood, performance, and poetics. Christine Hume will perform “Lullaby: Speculations on the First Active Sense”, an essay-poem with a soundtrack. Laynie Browne reads from The Desires of Letters, a long prose-poetry work. Lee Ann Brown will perform new and signature poetic works relating to the subject of motherhood. Hoa Nguyen will read new works and from Hecate Loche. Leah Souffrant will read from “Essay for Elsa”, a series accompanied by visual projections.

An interactive and performative healing ritual with Kythe Heller.

4:00PM-4:30PM BREAK

Closing Plenary: The Ongoing Event: An Open Discussion
Moderators: Rachel Levitsky, erica kaufman, Gail Scott
Description: Do we and how do we, continue the work we have done here? An open discussion tightly moderated.

6:30 PM-8:30 PM
Performance & Collaboration
Performers: Carla Harryman, The Institute for Domestic Research (Catriona Strang, Christine Stewart & Jacqueline Leggat), Sally Silvers, Lila Zemborain, Torino Collective

Click here for participant bios

All events will be held at The CUNY Graduate Center: 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th & 35th Streets); New York, NY

phone: 212-817-2005...|...email: adfempo@gmail.com

Registration is free, on-going, on-site, and we will be asking for your generous donations.

Sponsorship and Organization
Advancing Feminist Poetics and Activism: A Gathering was collaboratively organized and sponsored by the Belladonna Collective Committee*, CUNY Graduate Center’s Center for the Humanities, Center for the Study of Women and Society, Ph. D. Program in English, and Poetics Group.

*Members of this Collective include: Rachel Levitsky, Erica Kaufman, Laura Elrick, Tonya Foster, Laura Jaramillo, Akilah Oliver, Jen Scappettone, Kate Eichhorn, Emily Beall, and Anna Moschovakis. Other members of the General Belladonna Collective include HR Hegnauer (www.hrhegnauer.com) whose fantastic design can be seen at our website and on our books and Adah Gorton, Meghan Johnson, Elizabeth Crawford, Katy Jones, Austin Publicover, (ETC) all of whose labor with the project makes the project.

925 Bergen Street; Suite 405

Brooklyn, New York 11238


Website designed by HR Hegnauer

All events will be held at
The CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
(between 34th & 35th Streets)
New York, New York
phone: 212-817-2005
email: adfempo@gmail.com

Registration is free, on-going,
on-site, and we will be asking for
your generous donations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MacArthur Winners + Ayanbadejo Supports Marriage Equality + MCM 0-2

I was very excited and happy to hear that among this year's recipients of MacArthur Foundation fellowships, commonly know as "Genius" Awards, were three writers whose work I greatly admire and whom I have had the good fortune to meet and hear read over the years: fiction and nonfiction writer extraordinaire Edwidge Danticat, who has played an invaluable role in introducing Haitian and history and culture into American literary discourse; razor-smart, innovative poet Heather McHugh; and my former professor and colleague Deborah Eisenberg, who has perfected her own distinctive long-form version of the fictional short story. (Both Heather and Deborah were writers in residence at the university within the last five years, and Edwidge will be also, I hope, when she's available.) They join an illustrious group this year that also includes mixed-media artist Mark Bradford, painter Rackstraw Downes, and 19 others working at various intersections of the fields in the arts, social and natural sciences, humanities, and public activism. A hearty congratulation to all of these extraordinary people, whose contributions have and will continue to resonate in the world for years to come.
Photo to comePhotoPhoto to come
Danticat, McHugh, Eisenberg (all photos from Macfound.org)


Today Bernie sent a link to this Washington Blade story showing that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (right, LA Times, J. Pat Carter / Associated Press) has publicly and strongly supports marriage equality. According to Amy Cavanaugh's article, not only did Ayanbadejo state in the HuffingtonPost.com that same-sex couples should have the same rights to marry as opposite sex ones, noting the folly of Brittany Spears being able to get married in and then annul her marriage in a drunken heartbeat, but he attended the opening of Equality Maryland's new relocated headquarters in Baltimore. Ayanbadejo, a former Canadian Football League player and three-time Pro Bowler for the Chicago Bears, is one of the rare, high-profile, currently active NFLers to come out in favor of marriage equality. Other retired pro athletes, like Charles Barkley, Michael Strahan and Magic Johnson, and a few current players, like free agent and former Raven Will Demps, have also expressed similar support, but the reality remains that pro athletes like these have tended to be silent about or vocally against same-sex marriages. That they are isn't surprising, but I'm sure there are more members of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MISL, as well as major pro tennis players, golfers, skiiers, track and field athletes, female and male, who'd be willing to publicly support marriage equality if asked.

That got me thinking--and I rarely have an original thought so I imagine someone is already on this--but I wonder whether the various marriage equality organizations at the state and national levels (and international ones as well) have systematically identified pro athletes who are willing to go on the record in support of their efforts? When I consider that pro sports are a kind of lingua franca of sorts and deeply influential for a large swathe of our society, one element of a targeted effort to help educate and expand people's perspectives might include a series of commercials featuring athletes from major national and international pro sports, such as baseball, football, basketball, like Ayanbadejo? In the current battle to retain Maine's marriage equality law, has No on 1: Protect Maine Equality identified athletes affiliated with teams that might be popular up there--the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Revolution--or athletes from the state who'd be willing to go on the record and champion equality? I don't think New Jersey's marriage equality folks, Garden State Equality, have done so. It couldn't hurt.


A few ironic blips that haven't yet broken through (I wonder why?) to the wider MCM: first is that the bill the Congress testerically passed on a 345-75 vote to defund ACORN very well may result in barring government funding for...get this...some of the major corporations enmeshed in the military-industrial complex! That's right: Blackwater, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and other corporations, and any of their employees, that have been caught "breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency" could be barred from pigging out on our tax dollars. Talk about poetic justice (forgive the cliché).

Now, you have to wonder whether this was just a Congressional flub or whether some sly member or members wrote the language so broadly that this transparently right-wing attempt at smashing a fly with an anvil--ACORN's main work in the world involves helping poor and working class people across the US--ended up ricocheting and bashing the bill's sponsors' masters as well. It really is brilliant. Given that House Minority Leader John Boehner was one of the chief figures behind it, I chalk it up to pure idiocy. But even a broken clock is...well, you know how that one goes.

Update: Glenn Greenwald speaks with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) about the potential effects of this crazy new law, which is problematic as 1) the Constitution forbids Congress singling out a single entity without a trial and 2) the president is required to faithfully execute if it's been signed into law, meaning that the defense contractors would have to be defunded.

Another bit of information I hadn't heard until I read one of those messy blogs President Obama felt the need to decry last week: according to The Monkey Page blog, work by a colleague, Andrew Roberts shows that the missile defense system pushed by W that Obama scrapped last week and which has neocons and their MCM allies shrieking was never popular in either of the two countries, Poland or the Czech Republic.

Neither country's parliaments ratified the agreements, which were signed by the right-wing executives of each in conjunction with W, and according to Roberts' study, in the Czech Republic, 2/3rds of the public was against the installation of the radar systems and supported a referendum to certify the agreements. One thing that always struck me was the underlying illogic that these unproved systems, boondoggles really, ought be erected at all, let alone in Poland and the Czech Republic, because it made no sense whatsoever that Iran (as opposed to Russia, still viewed as a huge threat by neocons) would be targeting missiles at these former Eastern bloc countries, or much of Western Europe. Yet throughout the period that these systems were reported on, it seemed no one in the MCM asked even basic questions about this unlikelihood. But still, I haven't seen this reported at all in the MCM. That's 0-2, by my count.

And if I can remember them, there are several more. (HT/Matthew Yglesias)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brick City on Sundance + Poem: Manuel Bandeira

C and I have been watching Brick City the five-night Sundance Channel documentary series Forrest Whitaker, Mark Benjamin and Mark Levin, also its director, have produced about nearby Newark. At each episode's center is Newark's charismatic, determined young mayor, Cory Booker, who made his movie debut in 2005 in Marshall Curry's enthralling, Oscar-nominated documentary Street Fight, which chronicled his determined but unsuccessful run against longtime city head and now convicted felon Sharpe James and James' corrupt, municipal machine. Booker ran again in 2006 and defeated James's chosen successor, Ron Rice, and since then has worked tirelessly to improve the city and the lives of its residents. A great deal of his heroic effort, presented here in clips from 2008, is on display in Brick City; when he isn't fretting over how to plug holes in the city's budget or exhorting his police department to drive the crime rate even lower (murders, Newark's longtime bane, have fallen consistently) or addressing yet another negative article on the city he governs, Booker shows himself, to many residents' delight and his parents' pride and concern, to be the city's most diehard champion and booster, and, it must be said, a kind of quasi-coach, teacher and mentor to many of its denizens, going beyond parades and groundbreakings to play midnight basketball, ride sidesaddle with the police during bouts of insomnia, and cajole young people even to pursue their dreams.

But were Brick City the Booker show all the time it would certainly be engaging but hardly offer any real perspective into the city's ongoing problems. Instead, the filmmakers have selected some of the city's less famous residents, like couple Jayda, a sharp, charismatically gifted young woman and member of Bloods gang, and her sloe-eyed partner and expectant baby-daddy Creep, a Crip, who are struggling to maintain their relationship, take care of themselves and their two children, and imagine and experience new lives outside the prisonhouse of gang life, poverty and low expectations, and the penal system. Watching Jayda as she energizes the young women she works with has given me some hope about Newark's future, yet even this potential heroine, who is pregnant with her second child (and what will be Creep's as well), ends up finding herself on the wrong side of the law because of an old warrant she'd been avoiding. One of the realities the series underlines is this persisent, not always hidden trap, made of snap emotional responses we all feel combined with old and problematic, sometimes deadly ways of addressing problems, which ensnares so many of Newark's young people, including those like Jayda who are full of potential, and potential leaders. Instead of being able to enjoy their lives, so many of them are tagged early on and dragged quickly and inexorably down into a mire of drugs, failure, prison, and death.

Brick City
Newark Police chief Garry McCarthy and Mayor Cory Booker (Photo, Sundancechannel.com)

Other residents of the city who make an appearance include principal and poet Ras Baraka, his Vice Principle Todd Warren, a grizzly bear of a man, and their crew at Newark's Central High School, which during the series moves into its strikingly new, $100 million complex, after some unfortunate and poorly defended delays; Newark's police chief, Bronx native Garry McCarthy, and others on his force, captured in strategy sessions and on the beat; and some ex-cons who've succeeded in turning their lives around but find current events tempting them to exact retribution that will return them to the very personal hells they've mostly escaped. The series has focused a lot more on the police than on City Hall, despite featuring Booker, and it's interesting to think about all of the corruption and sleaziness that came through in the earlier documentary, which preceded James's conviction, and the light touch with which the filmmakers have addressed such issues here. Instead, we are given more of a sense of what Newark's true challenges are, shorn mostly of any spectacle, and the tough conditions the majority of its residents face and endure, despite the best efforts of the new mayor, new police chief, and many of the city's indefatigable residents themselves, who are presented as subjects and authors of their own lives, and not the objects of beneficent but blind liberal concern.

A spectral presence here that I immediately associate with Newark, Ras Baraka's father, the renowned and notorious poet and author Amiri Baraka, has turned up once so far, to commemorate the 41st anniversary of Newark's uprising. In his brief appearance he manages to serve up some unvarnished old-style Marxism and denounce Booker as a "a white racist Negro," echoing of one of James's more outrageous criticisms of his opponent, that because of his upbringing and education (Stanford, Yale and Oxford Rhodes Scholarship) he wasn't really black or down (he is, yet some voters, despite all visual and other evidence, believed this). Despite this bitter burst of Barakatude, it's been fascinating to see Ras at the center of a film about Newark while his father, who played a key role not only in formulating a radical political and artistic agenda for Newark and black people in the late 1960s on through the 1980s, but also worked doggedly to elect Newark's first black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, remains only a ghostly figure. Two episodes are now finished, and I'm already wondering if we'll see Amiri Baraka again. It almost feels like the documentary's almost missing something key if we don't.


Earlier this summer I completed and sent off a translation of Brazilian writer and media personality Jean Wyllys's collection of stories, Aflitos (Fundação Casa Jorge Amado; Editora Globo, 2001). I've published a couple of the translated stories in literary journals and I hope the entire book is published at some point, preferably in a bilingual version, mainly because I enjoy Wyllys's grain-of-sand prose and because the stories as a whole offer a different image of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil's 3rd largest city and one of its major cultural capitals, than one usually encounters anywhere. To open the book Wyllys chose a poem, "Desencanto," that happens to be by one of Brazil's very important 20th century poets, Manuel Bandeira (1886-1968).

Originally I looked up translations of "Desencanto" and even considered using one (with credit to the original translator), since I'd initially intended only to translate Wyllys's prose as well as the introduction, by Bahian journalist Antônio Torres, but after reviewing what I could find in books and online I thought, I have to do this myself. I like the result, though there's a prosodic issue in the second stanza that's bothering me, so I still have to work on it. Nevertheless, for the first time in a while, here is the original, and an original translation, of a poem.


Eu faço versos como quem chora
de desalento... de desencanto...
Fecha o meu livro, se por agora
Não tens motivo nenhum de pranto.

Meu verso é sangue. Volúpia ardente...
Tristeza esparsa... remorso vão...
Dói-me nas veias. Amargo e quente
Cai, gota e gota, do coração.

E nestas versos de angústia rouca
Assim dos lábios a vida corre,
Deixando um acre sabor na boca.

--Eu faço versos como quem morre.


I write these lines like one who cries
In discouragement...in disenchantment...
Shut my book, if, for the moment
You have no cause for tear-filled eyes.

My poetry is blood. Burning ecstasy...
Scattered sadness... vain regret...
My veins ache from it, bitter and hot,
Drop by drop it tumbles from my heart.

And in these verses, anguished, raw
So runs life from between my lips,
Leaving a bitter taste in my jaws.

--I write these lines like one who dies.

Translation Copyright © John Keene, 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

October Equality March + Carter's Comments + Sports Roundup

A while back I believed I'd mentioned that I'd heard there'd be a march in Washington for Marriage Equality this fall. One of my former students, sailor and author Miriam (of the bread recipes, who also introduced me to "fan fic"!), asked that I post a more definitive link to the event, Equality Across America, which is set to take place on October 10-11. I don't think I'll be able to attend, because I'll be returning from a black LGBTQ lit conference in Austin, but everyone who supports true and real equality should attend if they can.

As you also may know, earlier this week Congressman Jerrold Nadler proposed repealing the abominable Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). If this is an issue that matters to you, please do call or email your Congressperson to urge her or him to consider cosponsoring and supporting this bill (along with the public option, investigations into the Bush-Cheney torture regime, repeal of the Patriot Act and Big Oil subsidies, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and anything else you believe is pertinent).


The right-wing and mainstream corporate media's (MCM) hyperventilating reactions to President Jimmy Carter's statement that racism underlines a great deal of the conservative outrage towards President Barack Obama and his policies do not surprise me at all. Any thoughtful or considered discussion of race, let alone racism, in the wider media always dissipates like iron steam. What frustrates me, however, is the MCM's continual conflation of "race" with "racism," and their focus on the former, rather than the latter. The MCM cannot seem to untangle the two, willfully I often think, because speaking about the former allows them a way out of addressing the pervasiveness of the latter. Speaking about the latter might also force them to register several premises, which include that those in the MCM also belong to certain races and have experiences shaped by this fact, and that in regular social and political discourse, some people are raced and some are not, and that doing so often occurs through the prism of racism. What's I also find frustrating is the way that the MCM reduces every issue to numbing simplicity, especially when "race" is broached, and in doing so attempts to attribute it to a single cause, as if truly complex economic, political and social phenomena were as easily diagnosed as the mumps.

Bob Somerby, for many years now, and Glenn Greenwald and others more recently have been pointing out that the right wing, with tremendous MCM help, fomented extreme hatred against our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. (One could go further back, of course; shortly before Kennedy's assassination, "Wanted" posters went up in parts of Dallas.) Almost immediately upon Clinton's election, the nutcases, often funded by extremely wealthy individual and corporate interests, some of the same ones behind the Teabaggers, did everything they could to ruin Clinton's presidency, often in conjunction with the Republican opposition. If anyone thinks it's possible to minimize the craziness Clinton faced, culminating the multiyear, multimillion-dollar investigation, aided eagerly by The New York Times, and for which both President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were exonerated, just recall the ultimate GOP-led act, the attempted impeachment in 1998. I can vividly remember when the uproar among Democrats from that insane spectacle seemed so great as to ever prevent anyone from the GOP ever winning the presidency again, and yet a year later, the GOP and MCM (reporters and columnists at the NY Times and Washington Post, figures from NBC, Fox, etc.) began their "War on Gore," and we ended up with the Supreme Court coup that installed the disaster known as George W. Bush on us.

I mention this history because while I am--as are, I'm sure, quite a few people around the US--quite aware that racism and white supremacy are always in operation in this society, I do believe that attributing the current derangements of the right solely or even primarily to racism denies this prior history, which was still firmly in place when Clinton left office. Racism, while a major source, is still only one of many behind the behavior on display at the town hall rallies, the recent Teabagger rally in Washington, and above all, on the right-wing/corporate propaganda headquarters-channel, Fox News. Had Hillary Clinton won, we wouldn't be seeing the same sort of direct racist and racialist animus (the Curious George T-shirts, the "birther" push, the signs of Obama as a witch doctor, etc.), though racism would be in the mix, as it was during the Clinton years (remember the obsessive push to end welfare, even though corporate welfare reached insane heights under Bush, and affirmative action, which, studies in the late 1990s showed, primarily benefited white women?). With a President Hillary in office, we probably would be seing even more and outlandish displays of sexism and misogyny, and not just from the right, but from the MCM, whose members (Chris Matthews is notorious) have long been among the worst offenders. But attacks on undocumented immigrants and "producerist" arguments, prettified by the likes of David Brooks, wouldn't be unthinkable.

Let me be clear: my aim is not to minimize the particular foci of some of the worst attacks on Obama, but to note that we had the militias, the anti-government nuts, the millenialists, and so on in full force from 1992-2000, alongside a GOP Congressional caucus that took political and personal destruction of the sitting president and complete repeal of the New Deal legacy as its organizing principle. Newt Gingrich did not simply want to stop Clinton's presidency in its tracks, he wanted to shred Clinton personally. Think of some of the most outspoken figures on the right during the impeachment drama and the revelation of Clinton's affair. When their efforts failed repeatedly, this led, as we now see, to even more thuggish tactics, such as installing a president and Congress, by hook or crook (or voting machine) who could just dynamite the government entirely. According to a recent Census report, according to almost every economic indicator the vast majority of Americans finished the 8 years of Bush's presidency worse off than before. The wealthiest .1 percent and many corporate interests--or at least the people running them, if not the shareholders--were the economic losers.

To quote The Atlantic on this topic:

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially.

The Census' final report card on Bush's record presents an intriguing backdrop to today's economic debate. Bush built his economic strategy around tax cuts, passing large reductions both in 2001 and 2003. Congressional Republicans are insisting that a similar agenda focused on tax cuts offers better prospects of reviving the economy than President Obama's combination of some tax cuts with heavy government spending. But the bleak economic results from Bush's two terms, tarnish, to put it mildly, the idea that tax cuts represent an economic silver bullet.
I'm hardly saying anything that most J's Theater readers don't already know, but I mention this record, all but buried by the MCM (tell me, when have you seen any of the major "liberal" or "progressive" MCM reporters or columnists discuss this record at any length, to inform the majority of people out there what's going on) to say that one of the great sources of the rage on display at last weekend's rally, is ignorance, which the MCM have only helped to deepen rather than dispel.

The reasons behind this are numerous, but one central one is that corporate interests (just like our Congress, which willingly works hand in glove with them) benefit by keeping people as misinformed as possible. There is also, as this telling clip of CNBC's scandal-plagued anchor Maria Bartiromo demonstrates, the fact of media personalities' own gross ignorance (again, cf. Chris Matthews). But rather than go on, I'll post the clip below, which has been making its rounds on the Net. It illustrates perhaps more powerfully than anything I might say here what I'm talking about. Please watch it till the end, because it shows, for a rare change, a reporter breaking the supposedly objective, journalistic frame and politely stating and clarifying facts for some of these people. Unfortunately, this happens so very rarely that it's hard not to be cynical. Whatever the source of the MCM's ongoing silence, it's a major problem and will continue to be for the rest of Obama's (or any Democrat's) terms. What's even more unfortunate is that I don't get the sense that he or many in his team, like many in Congress, have any clue or, worse, care at all about this. The results, however, could be something worse than the Bush administration. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, and any number of other very dangerous characters are lurking out there, and with a heavily corporated-funded campaign with pseudo-populist aspects, we'd all be in very serious trouble. 2001-2008 might end up looking like the Coolidge years.

(Please watch to the end to see the reporter challenge the protesters' ignorance.)


Mark SanchezOn the sports tip, the New York Jets have started the NFL season 2-0, defeating their nemeses, the New England Patriots 16-9 today, preventing a comeback by the media darling Tom Brady. The Big Green have a sharp new coach, Rex Ryan, and one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the league, rookie Mark Sanchez (at right, Nick Laham/Getty Images) of USC. The Jets don't have the toughest schedule this season, so they could conceivably go 12-4 or 13-3. That is, if they can keep playing like they are now, or even improve. Then the playoffs will be more than a mirage.

The Saint Louis Rams, however, are 0-2, losing 9-7 to a shaky Washington squad, and look no better than their 2-14 predecessors of last season. In fact, they look worse. 10 years ago they were known as the league's highest scoring teams, with iffy defense. Now they have middling defense and no scoring capability at all. Their quarterback is sacked at will, they cannot convert drives into runs, and they make countless mistakes game after game. I am starting to think the new ownership may be trying to once again ship a team out of St. Louis towards more financially beneficial (southern California?) climes. Looking at their schedule, they face both pushover and tough teams (though no AFC East teams, nor the Giants or Eagles, thankfully), but they still could conceivably go 0-16. They do meet the Detroit Lions at midseason, so a 1-15 outcome isn't impossible.

CC SabathiaIn the MLB, the Yankees have the best record in the AL, at 95-55. Perennial All Star Derek Jeter has broken Lou Gehrig's team hit record, CC Sabathia (at right, AP) is powering his way to a Cy Young Award at 18-7, and the team overall, like the finely tuned machine it has been for long stretches over its history, is humming along under manager Joe Girardi. The other top teams in the AL are the Boston Red Sox, who lead the Wild Card race (again), the Detroit Tigers, and the mouthful but ever talented Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Yankees and the Angels are the teams to beat, but the Red Sox are always dangerous.

In the NL, the Saint Louis Cardinals are again atop the NL West, though they don't have the league's best record. That honor goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals do, however, have the league's best pitching--two starters, Adam Wainwright (18-8, 2.59 ERA), and Chris Carpenter (16-4, 2.43 ERA), are leading contenders for the NL Cy Young--and its best overall hitter in Albert Pujols (47 home runs, 119 runs scored, 127 runs batted in, .328 average), a latter day Stan Musial. He and the pitching have kept the team afloat; the last week the Cardinals have staggered more than swaggered. The Dodgers, however, have more balance across their lineup, and could be dangerous in the playoffs. The other top teams are the East leaders, the Philadelphia Phillies, last year's World Series champions, who look powerful enough to go all the way, and the current Wild Card leading Colorado Rockies, who always have a strong home-field advantage and great batters. I'm rooting for the Cardinals, but this quartet is a toss-up.

The Cardinals vs. the Yankees (which last occurred in 1964, with the Cardinals winning four games to three) would be my preferred World Series matchup. Will it happen? Let's see.