Thursday, September 28, 2006

i really love banned books

today, i found out that this week is banned books week. too bad i find this out so close to the end of the week, otherwise i'd have been celebrating. the purpose of banned book week, according to the american library association, is to celebrate intellectual freedom by looking at all of the books that have made a controversial splash in the last century or so. the tagline is, "free people read freely." i have had a great, great interest in book banning in the united states ever since i wrote my 8th grade thesis on mccarthyism (yup, i had to write an 8th grade thesis).

i noticed, while looking at the list, that i had read a quite a number of them. i also noticed that these books were often banned from libraries & schools, and or burned or publicly decried, for being: "racist," "sexist," "misogynistic," "sexually explicit," "profane," "blasphemous." books so denoted included i know why the caged bird sings, the color purple, invisible man, bridge to terabitihia, and to kill a mockingbird.

the outcry against such books honestly tells me that folks just don't read. obviously, these books contain objectionable themes, child abuse, racism, violence...but what should be offensive to these readers is the fact that these things exist in society, and that these books reflect society. to call to kill a mockingbird racist? the book, in totality, takes a clear stand against racism, but you'd have to read it to know it.

and to paraphrase jay-z, i just ask: do you fools read books or just skim through them? judy blume, roald dahl, and toni morrison also made more-than-frequent appearances on the list. the chocolate war. i read many of the books on the banned/challenged list when i was an elementary or high school student, and i can't say i went to especially "liberal" schools. lolita also came up on the list. i was closest to understanding that's obviously about pedophilia, and yet it is brilliant. absolutely brilliant prose, and in that case it's seductive, the reader gets completely engrossed, and the narrator glosses over the ugly parts...then again, it is brilliant, and while i wouldn't recommend it for kids, an adult with a developd sense of right and wrong...well, reading it is a personal decision, and should not be the decision of a library board or government.

freedom of expression, freedom of the press. unfortunately, in the not to distant past in this country, it was not uncommon for books to be burned. the mccarthy era wasn't so very long ago. and for that matter, for my black people, it wasn't so very long ago that black people were forbidden to read, were denied full citizenship on the basis of literacy, so yeah, reading isn't to me as much as choice as it is a responsibility. one that i enjoy fulfilling. anyway, more about banned book week here:

civil disobedience folks! read a banned book. make up your own mind.


Monday, September 25, 2006

poet laureate of rikers island

yeah, i'm heavy on the poetry today, but you know what? i like poetry. a lot. also, i once had the privilege of talking to some young folks on rikers island, so i have enormous respect for this stuff:

Rhyme and Reason for Young Inmates

Photo byÁngel Franco/The New York Times


Published: August 9, 2006

The youngest inmates of Rikers Island have plenty to worry about: their pending court cases, resolving their charges, when they might reunite with their families. More immediately, they worry that the guards will spontaneously search their bodies and cells.

Yet on a recent morning, Jackie Sheeler, who leads poetry writing workshops at one of the jail’s four schools, encouraged the young men there to worry about other things, like putting their thoughts into verse.

“I know you had a lockdown this morning and you’re in jail, not to mention you’re in summer school,” she told the 14 students in her class at Horizon Academy, a high school at the jail for inmates ages 16 to 21.

Lamenting how hard things can sometimes be, she added that “some of my best writing has come from the worst times of my life.”

Ms. Sheeler, 48, a dark-haired woman with black tattoos resembling vines snaking up her arms, was invited to teach at the jail by Marty Flaster, an English teacher at Horizon who had seen her appear at a poetry reading series she moderates at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village.

He wanted to pay her for her time, she said. But knowing Horizon had a shoestring budget, and a dearth of visiting artists, Ms. Sheeler suggested that she be named “poet laureate of Rikers Island” as her reward.

“The idea kind of came to me out of the blue,” said Ms. Sheeler, whose latest collection of verse, “The Memory Factory” (Buttonwood Press), was published in 2002.

With no one else clamoring to be chief poet of the city’s largest jail complex, the Department of Correction had little reason to object, although a spokesman pointed out that the position was not an official one. Ms. Sheeler was named to the post at the Horizon graduation ceremony in late June. Within days, she had updated, her Web site, to take note of her new title.

“She really gets to them,” Gloria Ortiz, the Horizon principal, said of Ms. Sheeler’s students. “It’s not above their heads. She touches on issues that affect them and she makes writing fun, which it’s what it’s supposed to be.”

Ms. Sheeler said that poetry and writing in her youth helped lift her above poverty and drug use. Growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, she said, she had an “abusive” and “racist” father who kept her mother’s Puerto Rican heritage a secret.

“I’d sit in the windowsill in my room and cry and write these pathetic little couplets,” Ms. Sheeler said. “I would go to the page to figure out how I felt.”

Between smoking marijuana and drinking beer in a nearby park, she found time to attend English classes at Lafayette High School. She said a beating by her father, provoked by her kissing a black man, was a “real turning point for me in terms of wildness.”

She began having sex, using harder drugs and exploring Greenwich Village. At 16, she discovered Poez, a street performer in Washington Square, and Sylvia Plath.

“Between Poez and Sylvia Plath, who I really didn’t understand because of the density of her language, poetry wasn’t just writing poems, there was this whole other wild place you could go with it,” Ms. Sheeler said.

She lived in several communes before she met a man, a heroin addict who had been imprisoned for burglary. Although “heroin was supposed to be off limits” when they decided to be married, “once we took that limit off the table, it was off to the races,” Ms. Sheeler said.

“I went down further and faster than I had ever done before.”

In “Witnessless,” published in “The Memory Factory,” Ms. Sheeler described her courthouse wedding in October 1987 as “blurry with methadone and bad coke.” The couple lost their apartment and panhandled to support their addiction, she said. In July 1989, her husband disappeared. By the end of the month, she had entered drug rehabilitation, and the couple divorced three years later. Her former husband committed suicide in 1995, she said.

Upon her release from rehab, Ms. Sheeler threw herself into the arts. In addition to writing her collection of poetry, she has edited “Off the Cuffs: Poetry by and About Police,” which was published in 2003 by Soft Skull Press in Brooklyn. She is also the lyricist for the Manhattan rock band Talk Engine and maintains a regional poetry calendar at

On the recent morning at Rikers, Ms. Sheeler entered a series of checkpoints and was escorted into a classroom, where her students trickled in after the lockdown. She began class by explaining poetry’s relationship to hip-hop and cracking jokes on the “dead old white men from England” who were poetry’s primary audience 300 years ago. The young men were energized.

“The best poetry is jail poetry,” one of the students remarked. “Because that’s where you let out all your feelings.”

“I think the best poetry comes from pain,” she replied.

Like many of the students, Anthony Ayala, 20, used a free-writing exercise to delve into the gloom of incarceration.

Give me light

Life is light, but

Will I be able to see it

If I got released from prison

Then my light will be a given.

“When in rehab, or when in prison,” Ms. Sheeler said, “and you’re with people who basically have nothing, if you can bring that gift in self-confidence, that ‘aha’ — that’s what it’s all about to me.”

Ms. Sheeler, talking about her workshops, added: “In all the groups, there’s this inherent human fear of the blank page. This is about self-expression, and helping the students past those type of barriers. Helping them to understand that punctuation and spelling are not necessarily about good writing, but getting some good images on paper, getting the words out there.”

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all self-deprecation aside...

i'm a poet who knows that poetry ain't that big a market. i poke fun at myself for wanting to be a poet, wanting to get an mfa in poetry, wanting to make a career out of this stuff. cuz i know poetry is hard.

1) poetry is hard to write, because if you pick the wrong word, or form, or punctuation mark, just one little mistake, can make the whole work fall apart.

2) poetry is hard to love cuz it can be hard to understand. of course, it's being hard to understand (and therefore hard to love) goes back to #1, picking the wrong work, or form, or punctuation mark, something that is not exactly suited to stating what the poet is trying to state or evoking the reaction the poet is trying to evoke.

poetry is not hard cuz it's irrelevant. when folks think of love, they often think of poetry. when folks think of religion, they often think of poetry - all those holy books contain a large amount of poetry. and so on. all the big things in life have poetry attached to it, but that unfortunately makes poetry seem like it's too big to be enjoyed by mere mortals at normal times.

so i was pretty well thrilled when i found this little gem of an article about poetry in a place one might not expect.

Making poetry safe for engineers
Georgia Tech students encounter new discipline

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/24/2006

Poetry at Tech.

Say it slowly, rhythmically, without irony.

Poetry at Georgia Tech.

Amid all the courses in bioinformatics and global economics, algorithms, combinatorics and optimization — look it up — the next generation of engineers and computer scientists is reading, even writing, poetry.

That makes perfect sense to Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in civil engineering.

"The pursuit of science and technology is just as creative a process as poetry and the arts," Clough says. "Both require intensely creative people who can think outside the box, look at the same things everyone else sees and imagine something more, and put the pieces together in new ways."

For alumni who still might be wary of such right-brain activities, Thomas Lux, director of the Poetry at Tech program, offers a presentation every year called "Engineering a Poem."

"We're trying to diminish the stereotype of the poet as some dreamy bozo who wanders around and then all of a sudden gets struck by inspiration," says Lux. "Poems are made things. They have everything to do with intense emotions ... but poems are made things. They don't just happen."

Lux, 59, is an unlikely character on the Tech campus, a self-described "literary oddball" among engineering scholars. A native of Massachusetts, the longhaired son of a dairy farmer and a Sears & Roebuck switchboard operator taught for 25 years at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., where "everyone was an oddball."

In 2001, Lux came to Tech as a visiting professor and found himself permanently lured by the newly endowed Henry C. and Margaret Bourne Chair in Poetry (which he holds), a good college baseball team (which allowed him to sit in the dugout and watch games) and Deep South winters.

Lux is something of a rarity in academia in that he has no advanced degree. After earning a bachelor's in English from Emerson College, he became poet-in-residence there and published his first full-length book of poetry in 1972. He has published more than a dozen books since, including the 2004 collection "The Cradle Place," and won numerous awards, including the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his 1994 collection, "Split Horizon." (An unpublished poem of his, "A Clearing, a Meadow, in Deep Forest," accompanies this story.)

"Writing is my job," Lux says. "This is my profession, teaching, but writing is my job."

Soft-spoken and self-deprecating in conversation, Lux virtually ignites in front of a crowd. He is a showman and a salesman, a pop star among poets.

"There is nothing more stultifying than a bad poetry reading," Lux says, shaking his head. "There is nothing more painful."

He uses every weapon in his teaching arsenal. In one recent class, for instance, he drew comparisons between hip-hop lyrics and the work of 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

And unlike many academics, he is quick to embrace all the self-styled poets of spoken word and slam fame.

"I give them a great deal of credit for bringing poetry back to its roots," Lux says. "They're always clear, their poems are lucid, they have no interest in obscurity or obfuscation. They're one of the main reasons the audience for poetry is growing."

In poetry, as in all the arts nowadays, growing an audience is paramount. In Lux's five years at Tech, 73 major poets have visited the campus near downtown Atlanta, beginning with a blockbuster bill of Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton and Stephen Dobyns in the fall of 2002.

More than 1,200 people showed up for that event at the Ferst Center for the Arts, and the core audience has expanded exponentially in the four years since. Poetry at Tech sponsors five or six big reading events a year, open to the public, and typically all seats are filled, with latecomers taking positions on the floor, leaning against walls, wherever they can fit.

Every semester, 30 to 40 Tech students take a poetry class, and Lux's office — a compact little corner of the Skiles Classroom Building on the east side of campus — is open for individual conferences with any student who asks.

And on Saturdays every spring, Lux and company — including visitors the likes of Collins and Dobyns — offer free workshops to 15 aspiring poets in the community.

"It is quite a bargain," says Travis Denton, associate director of Poetry at Tech and editor of the literary magazine Terminus. "A lot of places charge quite a bit for a full day like this."

Community outreach has been a component of Poetry at Tech since the beginning and has grown to include workshops in public schools throughout metro Atlanta.

"We will go to any school that asks for us," says Denton, who is looking to push the program to the next logical level, exploring ways to attract an ever-younger, ever more multimedia audience.

"Poetry is a human thing," says Lux. "I never understood how it got usurped into an elitist thing — something you had to be initiated into and only a small group of people were smart enough to get it."

He sees the pendulum swinging back, with poetry being less of "a riddle, something to be solved," and much more inclusive and open to easy — or at least painless — interpretation.

"There are all kinds of poetry," Lux says. "If something is good, it will stick around. That's just a fact of history. If something is not good, it will dry up ... "

Long, long pause for dramatic effect.

"And it will blow away."

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

the rejection thread: update

yup, another rejection to add to the list. i was beginning to think that lit magazine editors had forgotten about me. from now on, additions to the rejection thread will be in bold at the top of the list.

Calabash Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters
ep;phany zine
Tribes Magazine
Mosaic Literary Magazine*
Cave Canem Summer Poetry Fellowship

i still have some pieces in circulation. we'll see what the verdict on them becomes.

*though they have rejected me, their rejection messages were rather gently and nicely worded.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

culture jamming, mos def style

found this on

Piece of Mind: Mos Def arrested at VMA's

Though it resulted in his arrest for disorderly conduct, big ups to Mos Def for having the best performance at this year's MTV Video Music Awards. The rapper/activist pulled up in front of Radio City Music Hall on a flatbed truck and boldly unleashed his politically charged "Katrina Clap", a song that targets Bush and his poor response to the devastation left in New Orleans. Unplanned and without the official MTV stamp of approval, the show went on even when asked to stop by NYC authorities, all of which led the arrest of Mos Def and most of his entourage. The revolution was not televised as part of MTV's programming but Mos Def's people did catch the events on tape and are working on publishing it for all to see.

"katrina clap" is on the beat of juvenile's "nolia clap," which is ridiculously fitting. listen here:

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recent "newsworthy" nonsense

and the quest to vilify continues. not that i'm trying to make an intellectual's argument here, but the idea of the other is so ingrained in humanity, that it seems to make sense to vilify. of course, the other is just an individual who, much like the self, is trying to feed and protect his or her family, enjoy some good things in life, and most of all live, breathe, feel.

the media, and its love of types and archetypes, helps in this quest. either this argument makes sense, or i have read too many books, have learned too much literary theory. overall, the newsworthiness of race to vilify incredibly underwhelming to me. still, my 2 cents, before i retire the issues:

the catholic church vs. the islamic community vs. the catholic church vs. the islamic community:
...i would just say that no one has a monopoly on the markets for intolerance or injustice. far too often, that marketplace is overcrowded. does one side not remember some prophet saying something about casting the first stone...does the other side not remember something about all the people of the book? if not, how bout trying to remember together?

bush vs. chavez vs. bush vs. ahmednejad vs. olmert vs. siniora vs. blair...
...actually, this is a game i'd like to call "[insert name of political leader here] vs the rest of the world, cuz obviously the rest of the world is out to get him." isn't it funny how interchangeable the names? anyone else notice a touch of the megalomania about most world political leaders? chavez can call bush a devil and bush can go on and on about his mandate to rid the world of evildoers, and everyone can claim that god is on their side, unless of course they do not believe in god, then they can claim that history will absolve them. yes a touch of the megalomania, and its not helping people live more just lives. i don't believe that most political leaders are malicious, i believe that they are out of touch with how their ideals play out in reality. on the people. i will also here repeat that no one has a monopoly on the markets for intolerance or injustice. far too often, that marketplace is overcrowded.

and i do not pretend to be an expert on world affairs. i am not. o, and just cuz i don't particularly care for politics, well, it doesn't mean i'm apathetic. but i believe more in the power of individuals to touch lives and change lives and change the world about them and their perception of it than i believe in the power of talking heads to alleviate international problems. by bickering, squabbling, clashing, and shooting guns. and slinging mud, even if you hit your target dead on, makes your hands dirty. a bit of responsibility might move me; throwing around culpability does not.

but talking heads will talk, and that is why i am incredibly underwhelmed by the newsworthiness of their talkin. it's not like anything here is new.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

in the vein of never forgetting

found this article on yahoo news...

Museum honors Emmett Till in Mississippi

Wed Sep 20, 4:27 AM ET

Photographs that captured a mother's grief and Emmett Till's mutilated body were on display as this tiny Mississippi Delta town opened a museum honoring the slain black teenager whose death was pivotal in the civil rights movement.

Among the items on display are family snapshots and a picture of Till's mutilated body that stunned the nation after the 14-year-old Chicago boy was brutally murdered in 1955, allegedly in retaliation for whistling at a white woman.

"I want the country to see this moment as an historic event of how far we have come in the civil rights movement and to open people's eyes to the many other injustices that have happened in other places besides the Delta," said Till's cousin, Priscilla Sterling.

The town converted a cotton gin into the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center, which includes oral histories, an audio-visual archive and a cotton gin fan like the one used to weigh down Till's body after it was dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

Two white men were acquitted in Till's case by an all-white jury. The two men later confessed in an interview with Look magazine.

The FBI reopended the case in 2004 but decided in March not to press charges. The case was turned over to District Attorney Joyce Chiles for possible state charges. She did not return a call seeking comment.

The boy's case has never been forgotten in more then half a century.

The National Conference of Black Mayors commissioned the Till center as a model of revitalization for other small towns.

The museum also has a space dedicated to Glendora native and legendary blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson.

A technological center will be opened at the site in a collaboration with Mississippi Valley State University.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

"the word was a god"

the title of this post is taken from the bible at john 1:1. but this is not so much a post about religion.

during some down time at work today (what an exhausting week it has been!) i was reading a blog that a coworker once brought to my attention because of a particularly amusing post about snowglobes. i hadn't looked at this blog in probably 2 weeks or so, and it looks like the blogger hasn't posted anything since last thursday.

one of last thursday's blog posts was about mahmoud ahmadinejad, president of iran, addressing the un. and the blogger apparently disagrees with mr. ahmadinejad's politics, and morals, and probably a lot of other things about him, as many people do. and obviously disagrees strongly, given the vehemence of the post. i didn't necessarily agree (or disagree) with all of what the blogger had to say, i couldn't help but mentally stumble, then scratch my head, then ask, "seriously?" over the next-to-last paragraph:

"All I'm saying is, every other so-called oppressed people have at least managed to get some good novels out of it. Bring me the Palestinian 'Invisible Man', and maybe I'll warm up to the notion."

warm up to what notion? that palestinians are oppressed people? but mr. ahmadinejad is president of iran, and as far as i know, iranians are not considered palestinian...unless they are people of iranian descent who reside(d) in palestine. then again, this is nitpicky, geographical argument is actually beside my point.

my point is that, in one's haste to condemn someone else's politics, one should not trivialize the experiences of millions of "oppressed people." i mean reduce someone's experience to "at least you got a good novel out of it"...i'm sure that that comment is in jest, but sometimes even jesting goes a bit too far.

since invisible man is the example given, i suppose i will run with the example of the experience of the african diaspora. which, of course, is not a topic i am un-fond of expounding upon. invisible man is a good novel to read, of course, but more than that, it's a triumph, given the fact that for hundreds of years black people in this country were forbidden to learn to read, let alone write, for fear this would turn them against their "masters." it's a triumph, given that phillis wheatley was not allowed to publish her own brilliant work with a writer letter of approval from a group of white men. it's a triumph, given that the invisible man in the novel was able to write a novel that depicted a black man attending college, a triumph given that ralph ellison was able to attend college...these, i believe, are some of the things that maya angelou was refering to when she wrote of "the dream and the hope of the slave."

and the passage from the bible from which i take my title? writing a good novel is serious thing. for an oppressed people to write a novel which even people from non-oppressed classes and groups praise is nigh unto a miracle. folks put so much faith in words, that even in religious texts the word is a god. the ability to stand up and make people pay attention to words? that's power. what power the literate/voiced people have! oppressed people have died to get to the point where they could read simple sentences. oppressed people are not afforded freedom of speech, so when they get to the point where they are making you pay attention their words, please understand that they are working hard at throwing off their oppression. rastas understand this. that's why they don't ever use the term oppression. they say downpression, cuz that's what downpressors do...they keep someone down...but when you hear someone, they are getting out from under that downpression.

i picked the title because its the phrase that came to mind that most actively and stridently rejects and resists the reduction of an oppressed people's struggle to just a good novel. a few good words.

it's not ok to say or imply that the litmus test for oppression is whether or not that people rises to the point of writing a good novel. to make that the rule is to deny the oppression of say...i dunno, millions and millions of american people who are no longer around to write a novel about their oppression. i mean, in the caribbean native american people pretty much completely exterminated...if genocide isn't oppression, then i'm not sure what is. and the arawaks didn't write no great novels between the time columbus arrived and they died en masse of smallpox, bullets, and forced labor.

of course, the claim of oppression is a contentious claim, cuz people don't want to be oppressed, to admit to being oppressed, to admit to being oppressors, or to admit to abetting oppressors. and i'm not writing this to call any specific person or group of people oppressors. what i'm saying is: don't dishonor folks' struggles. don't reduce folks' accomplishments to an "at-least-a-token-i-hear you-blah-blah." writing a good novel didn't make up for the oppression that people went through for generations.

and honestly...if the one is unaware of palestinian literature, does that speak to a dearth of palestinian literature, or to ignorance on the part of the one who claims unawareness? i really cannot say why the novel is the test in this instance...but in terms of palestinian literature...the work of edward said might be a good place to start...and if we are going to conflate geography (yeah, i had to go back to the geography)...perhaps gibran....or rumi...or if we prefer our highly acclaimed literature to be definitely palestinian and more modern, how about tony-award winning suheir hammad? it's there...if one cares to look for it.

and one final note: another nitpick. the blogger asks how mr. ahmadinejad is being "allowed into this country." he's addressing the un. the un is not in this country. the un is the un is the un. the us is international territory, not american territory. for all anyone knows, a military helicopter could be landing him fair and square on un ground. that is all.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

brooklyn book festival

i have this wonderful conspiracy theory about why local branch libraries in brooklyn are always closed at the most (in)convenient times. so i was pretty well delighted to learn that this saturday is the first ever brooklyn book festival.

to be held downtown at borough hall, and with events running from 11am to 6pm, obviously i am honor bound to be in attendance. i personally wanna check out the poetry readings, of course, and see if there are any interesting literary journals to pick up. i mean, if "they" decide it's a good idea to make a stab at getting folks to appreciate literature of all sorts...well, that's pretty much part of my mission in life.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

the black donnellys

i was walking down the street today, and i saw a bunch of bright pink flyers posted...well, just about everywhere. so i stopped to read them, and the flyers announced that nbc will be filming a for new primetime tv show on my block called "the black donnellys," to be written and directed by paul haggis and bobby moresco, otherwise known as the team behind (the pheonomenal film) "crash."

a little googling allowed me to find the tagline for the show: "They're good at heart, but mean on the streets." apparently, it's about 4 irish brothers who get involved in organized crime. now really, when i saw the name of the show (black donnellys) and thought about where it's going to be filming (bed-stuy)...i must admit 4 irish brothers is not at all what i was expecting. i suppose i engaged in a bit of racial profiling.

anyway, they will be filming on tuesday, september 11, from 6am to 4pm. and, clearly, i'm not irish, or involved in organized crime, so what i'm really wondering is what a black courtenay needs to do to get a walk on. seriously. i don't need any lines or anything.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

when actors become politicians...

it's inevitable that they will say/do ill-advised and inappropriate things. one would think that actors would make superb politicians just because...well, politics is all an act anyway. (i'm afraid that sentence seems glaringly ungrammatical. i'm sorry.) but let's examine the facts: ronald reagan becomes president, and we get star wars (a system of space-based defenses).

arnold schwarzenegger becomes governor of california, and we get this comment in reference to republican california assemblywoman bonnie garcia:

"I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot," the governor says on the recording of a closed-door meeting obtained by the Los Angeles Times and made available on its Web site Friday. "They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it."

o, mr. governator. of course, this is no grandiose star wars scheme, but certainly ill-advised. publicly fetishizing a latina, as if latinas are not fetishized enough, and letting that get caught on tape? come on, even if you really think that...don't you realize that it is maria shriver who made your career? don't go jeopardizing that career by letting slip how you really feel about some other woman...

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

i'd like to do the same, when i grow up

Avant-Garde Poet Wins $100,000 Prize
Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NEW YORK — Avant-garde poet Michael Palmer has won the Wallace Stevens Award, a $100,000 prize given annually for"outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry."

"Michael Palmer is the foremost experimental poet of his generation and perhaps of the last several generations,"according to a statement issued earlier this week by the Academy of American Poets, which gives the prize.

"A gorgeous writer who has taken cues from Wallace Stevens, the Black Mountain poets, John Ashbery, contemporary French poets, the poetics of Octavio Paz and from language poetries. He is one of the most original craftsmen at work in English at the present time."

Palmer, 63, is the author of"Company of Moths,""Codes Appearing"and numerous other collections.

Previous winners of the Stevens award, which was founded in 1994, include John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich and W.S. Merwin.,4670,BooksStevensPrize,00.html


Saturday, September 02, 2006


submitted two poems to warpland yesterday, published by the gwendolyn brooks center at chicago state university. one of them is burn, a reworking of an earlier post on this blog; the other is called "a casual conversation with a near stranger or a poem about my blackness," and i wrote it after an encounter with a young white guy in columbia's dining hall...said young man actually and without prompting told me that he had been born with a black soul, and i asked him how he possibly knew that he was born with a black soul, and then i had to write a poem about it.

we'll see how it goes, whether i add these to the rejection thread or if i get to start a yay! accepted thread. workin on some other submissions.

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brazil vs. argentina

and i don't have goltv. and apparently, the rebroadcast will be on monday...when i'll be at the labor day parade. honestly, it shouldn't be this difficult to watch a soccer match, especially one that everyone in the world is trying to watch anyway...

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Friday, September 01, 2006

i apologize

for being preachy in the last post. i have very strong feelings.

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minority: this is the problem

i'm on a million listservs, and i just got this email containing a link to a very interesting article on yahoo, entitled: "Minorities seek history class changes." the article goes on to detail common misconceptions people hold because, as well all know, history is written by the victors. it says:

"American students often get the impression from history classes that the British got here first, settling Jamestown, Va., in 1607. They hear about how white Northerners freed the black slaves, how Asians came in the mid-1800s to build Western railroads. The lessons have left out a lot.

"Forty-two years before Jamestown, Spaniards and American Indians lived in St. Augustine, Fla. At least several thousand Latinos and nearly 200,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War. And Asian-Americans had been living in California and Louisiana since the 1700s."

you can find the rest of the article here:

ok, so they've got me hooked with the first two paragraphs. and while it's not telling me anything new, its kinda nice to see old facts in the news if they are facts that people often deny, or at least skirt. but reading further, i came to this paragraph which absolutely made my head spin:

"Some tales have gone untold because, in the less-diverse America of the past, minorities didn't make the decisions on textbooks and other means of passing along history. And in many cases, minorities who had faced blatant discrimination wanted to discard evidence of past horrors."

the LESS-DIVERSE AMERICA OF THE PAST? i was under the impression that this article was about the little-acknowledged fact that america has always been a diverse place, and now needs to start acting like it. but apparently, i misunderstood. apparently, america has always had its token minorities, and now that today's token minorities are making noise and having rights and stuff, its time to make a bit of a bow to them, and throw them in the history books.

if the lesson of history is supposed to be that people of all sorts were here from the founding of america, then we can't say that some tales have gone untold because america was less diverse. the paragraph has it almost right: these minorities didn't have any say in what information was deemed true and valuable history, and what was not. i don't know why that less-diverse america of the past bit was tacked onto that paragraph, because those few words, in my view, undermine the work of the entire article.

what a small, harmless, blamefree phrase -- a phrase, that is, that refuses to admit of blame. as though a diverse america only recently happened, as though diversity is a new and surprising, phenomenon, as though we kind of like it, but we think the way it was back in the day weren't so bad either. as though we could take this new way or leave by the roadside. and minorities, minorities, really kinda makes me sad that we use this word, that we are not more conscious of our word choices. minority--as though a living, breathing individual who works and contributes to society is, in fact, only a small part of it. funny how we apologize to pluto and several other smaller heavenly bodies and rewrite the definition of the word planet to offer them inclusion, and they can't even feel. but we don't fully rewrite the definition of citizen, because we don't care how people feel when they learn that their history doesn't matter. not that much. ok, maybe a little. but just a little.

we don't think before we speak, and that's a shame, because words are so powerful. obviously, they are powerful--powerful enough that slaves were forbidden to read, powerful enough that people who could not perfectly recite the lord's prayer could be hanged as witches in colonial america, poweful enough that joseph mccarthy could get books banned, powerful enough that the federal government has recently upped the fine for using "inappropriate language" on primetime television. minority is not just a figure of speech. cuz speech is voice is life. and life is what you make it.

and here's the rub: the silencing of the histories of millions of people is no small, harmless, historical anomaly that's really no one's fault. part of the work of telling the whole story has to be recognizing, openly admitting, the fact that that silencing was a choice on the part of society.

but folks, here's the good part, we can now choose to not remain silent. and we can choose to listen, really listen, when other folks choose to openly use their voice.

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