Thursday, August 13, 2020
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Among its many attributes, the Toni Morrison Society (TMS) is well known for getting a range of talented people together in a common space to discuss the life and writings of the organization's namesake. That was the case on August 5, 2020, when the TMS coordinated "The Enduring Legacy of Toni Morrison," a discussion featuring Edwidge Danticat, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Deborah McDowell, Maryemma Graham, Imani Perry, and Yolanda Pierce. The conversation was hosted by Dana Williams, and TMS founder, Carolyn Denard participated as well.
So many wonderful Morrison minds in one place. Of course, our current moment of social distancing means that getting together often occurs virtually. Accordingly, this TMS event took place on Zoom.
The speakers gave personal reflections on time that they spent with Morrison, and they also interspersed responses to the novelist's work. They covered the general topics: "Toni Morrison and the Academy," "Toni Morrison's Publics," and "Toni Morrison and the Humanities."
Graham, Williams, Angelyn Mitchell, and I served as the planning committee for the event. We devised the topics as points of departure for the various speakers. We set the date for gathering on the one-year anniversary of Morrison's passing.
|Dana Williams, Imani Perry, Edwidge Danticat|
Denard opened with brief remarks. McDowell and Graham began by speaking on the subject of Morrison and the Academy, followed by Danticat and Perry on Morrison's Publics, and then Griffin and Pierce talked about Morrison and the Humanities. The event closed with all of the speakers providing reflections. They have all collectively been producing work on Morrison's writings for decades, so it was inspiring and informative to hear them talk informally about her and her novels.
At one point, McDowell told an amusing story about traveling on a train with Morrison in France. Morrison had insisted on their group eating fried chicken, so in route to an event that's what they had. It was funny and at the same time touching to hear McDowell laughing as she fondly recalled that moment. She gave us a view of the esteemed novelist to which we rarely have access.
Beyond her status as one of our greatest authors, Morrison was, Denard noted in her opening remarks, a daughter and mother, a sister and a friend. A grandmother. A neighbor. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I do need occasional reminders that the author of the masterpiece Song of Solomon (1977) was an actual human being. Without such reminders, I've been inclined to forget.
In all seriousness, "The Enduring Legacy of Toni Morrison" was an important moment to pause and get our bearings. So much and so little, it seems, have happened since we lost Morrison a year ago. As always, she's wonderfully unsettling our sense of time.
We do have some idea of what the last fifty years of scholarship on her writings looks like. So what will the subsequent decades covering Morrison's work entail? Listening to McDowell and Graham, Danticat and Perry, and Pierce and Giffin gave us a glimpse at the possibilities.
During the conversation, someone in the chat section mentioned how amazing it was to have all these prominent writers and scholars together *right here* -- in this one Zoom session. This global pandemic had created the impetus for us to think creativity about what a TMS event could look like in this moment and perhaps in the future.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
|Some of the volumes included in C. Liegh McInnis's catalog|
For that reason, I was drawn to the amount and range of C. Liegh McInnis's coverage in his article, "Thoughts after Reading Twenty-Five Collections of Black Poetry in Twenty-Five Days." His attention to so many poets and poems in a single article represents what I refer to as as "concentrated cultural cataloging," which refers to writers presenting and referencing a large number of historical figures, concepts, and sites in a single composition. As a result, they produce an extended record or catalog.
This article, "Thoughts after Reading Twenty-Five Collections of Black Poetry in Twenty-Five Days," represents an expanded record of a couple dozen poetry books that McInnis read during a concentrated stretch of time in 2018. Reading what he wrote had me thinking about all kinds of possibilities for producing similar kinds of compositions. Among other things, I guess concentrated cultural catalogs are also inspirational.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
|Amiri Baraka and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. -- September 2004|
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Amiri Baraka was a wonderful cultural cataloger. His poems "Jungle Jim Flunks His Screen Test" and "Digging Max" make references to dozens of people. Black Thought's most famous freestyle is an amazing feat of cataloging with an abundant array of people, historical events, and artifacts listed in the course of a single performance. Consider too Robin Coste Lewis's "Voyage of the Sable Venus" as a concentrate cultural catalog with her citing a profusion of art objects from 38,000 BCE to the present. In his novel The Sellout, Paul Beatty incredibly mentions hundreds of people, places, things.
It's good to see the work of vigorous cultural catalogers. They give you a sense of all these elements, items, or people that comprise a creative domain. You check out their catalogs, and you get a sense of how immersed they are in a particular realm, or you witness them making connections across multiple areas of thought.
Monday, July 27, 2020
|Lift Every Voice and Sing by Augusta Savage|
"Maybe that’s my problem—that I keep expecting poets to be precise in their meaning through a crafting of images that makes one understand their idea on a tangible level. I do not mind the emotive, but, often, the notion of the ethereal or even magical nature of poetry just seems like a copout for someone who cannot or is too afraid to make a specific statement, which is ironic since so many of them are so hell-bent on peppering their poetry with precise, scientific terms that rarely yield a preciseness in meaning" (2).
"As someone who loves determining/searching/researching the meaning to a word puzzle, I do not mind the search. I am just growing tired of there being nothing tangible/precise at the end of the search" (4)."...it would be better severing of poetry and humanity if more editors and critics simply admit that the vast majority of poetry that they reject or omit is because of socio-political sensibilities than for craftsmanship" (6).
"My head loves the manipulation of form, but it has always been the works that impact or embed themselves in my gut that I remember. A bunch of beautiful/vivid, well-crafted images that combine to mean nothing precise do not impact me, do not remain in my gut.." (7)."It is like watching a movie with great parts but no cohesive narrative. Clearly, that is fine for most, but I am often left intellectually and emotively unfulfilled. There are lots of enjoyable metaphoric moments, but, again, I would like those moments to 'payoff' in a more precise way" (34).