Wednesday, November 22, 2017

10 years of Adrian Matejka readings

It occurred to me while Adrian Matejka read his poetry on Monday evening at the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis that I've now attended his readings for 10 years. I first heard him give a poetry reading as his job talk at SIUE back in the spring of 2007. He began working here in the fall of that year.

During his initial readings, Adrian primarily read from two unfinished manuscripts. Those manuscripts eventually became Mixology (2009), which was selected as a 2008 National Poetry series winner, and The Big Smoke (2013), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in Poetry.

Here's a look back at some of the readings and other events that I documented him here on the blog:

Matejka, joined by his daughter Marley, gives a reading celebrating the release of Mixology in 2009.

Matejka gives a reading on SIUE's campus in January 2011.

Matejka talks with Baraka, after a reading that Baraka gave in October 2011. 

Adrian Matejka reads from then upcoming book, The Big Smoke on April 19, 2013 in St. Louis.

Matejka reads in St. Louis in 2016.

Matejka gives reading in St. Louis on November 20, 2017.

Notebook on Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka participates in the River Styx Reading Series

Adrian Matejka gives reading at the Contemporary Art Museum 

Adrian Matejka and novelist Kea Wilson gave readings at on Monday, November 20 as part of the River Styx Reading Series. The event took place at the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis. I enjoyed both readings, and was really pleased to continue hearing Adrian read, since I've followed his work for so many years now.

[Related: 10 years of Adrian Matejka readings]

During the reading on Monday evening, he read from three of his collections, Mixology (2009), The Big Smoke (2013), and Map to the Stars (2017). This was the first time I've heard him read from the newest book, so I was glad to hear that. He's been doing a lot of traveling over the last several months promoting the book.

At the same time, I appreciated that Adrian read from those previous works, as it was a reminder of catching him give readings in St. Louis and on SIUE's campus over the years. He's been consistent with the production of really high-quality work. It's been cool to follow his progress and many accomplishments.

Notebook on Adrian Matejka

Monday, November 20, 2017

The fabulous artwork of Accell

Accell #1 - #4

The energetic, fabulously colored artwork for Accell published by Lion Forge creates a wild viewing ride that moves with all the kinetic force of the main character. On the one hand, Accell is about the saga of a hero with supernatural speed. At the same time, this comic book is about a group of artists collaborating to produce really outstanding artistic compositions.

Accell is written by Joe Casey, penciled by Damion Scott, inked by Robert Campanella, colored by Sigmund Torre, and lettered by DC Hopkins. This book, like Noble, Superb, and other series in the Catalyst Prime universe, are edited by Joseph Illidge.

Various commentators have recognized the stunning look of Accell as well. In a review of issue 1, Brett Schenker noted that the book has "a look that crackles with the enthusiasm and attitude of the writing within." Nicholas Palmieri points out that "for my money, Damion Scott is the real star of Catalyst Prime: Accell. Not a page goes by without him employing some device to make the page more exciting." Scott's "graffiti influence imbues the action scenes with a non-stop kinetic energy," writes Palmieri. Further, "Campanella’s inks reinforce Scott’s visual style," and "Torre uses a saturated palette also reminiscent of graffiti, with most characters and objects given a clearly defined main color, shadow, and highlight."

For Accell, Scott, Campanella, and Torre have been continually finding exciting answers to the question: how do we produce artwork to convey the adventures of an incredibly fast superhero? For decades now, artists have been finding ways to produce artistic responses to that question with respect to the Flash, Superman, and Quicksilver, to name a few. Thus, Scott, Campanella, and Torre join a long line of creators.

Daniel Dos Santos, the protagonist of the book who goes by the name Accell, is Latino. So we get an opportunity to consider a speedster from the perspective of someone other than a white male lead. That ethnic diversity coincides with the broader Catalyst Prime universe that has an unusually large number of racially diverse creators and characters.

Daniel is playful and "faster than the speed of thought." The artwork for the book tries to convey those qualities. The vibrant reds and blues, the blurred images, the lines rushing around people and objects, the bolts of fire all connote the speed and intensity of the book.

The exaggerated figures and many different facial expressions signal a cartoon effect that propels the fun of the book. There's some deliberate crowding of images and action on individual panels that require second and third and fourth looks to grasp all the stimulating moving parts.

• A Notebook on comic books 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Artist Derek Patterson showcases works for collegiate black men and public

Derek Patterson introduces artwork to students

On Thursday, November 16, I hosted visual artist, sculptor, and graduate student Derek Patterson in one of my African American literature courses. We expanded the space of the classroom by coordinating the exhibit of Patterson's artwork in Lovejoy Library, giving passersby opportunities to attend and view as well.

The event was primarily attended by my students - all first-year African American men -- enrolled in the course. After a brief introduction of his work, the students took some time to look over Patterson's artwork, which included four large art pieces and one sculpture. Then, we did a question and answer session with Patterson about his work.

Initially, the guys raised just a couple of questions about the artwork, and mostly asked Patterson about his experiences as a black man and his opinions on various news items involving black men. Patterson's artwork apparently served as a prompt for the wide-ranging conversations.

Toward the end, one of my students from a another class asked a question that usefully steered the discussion in another direction. That student is a visual artist, so she was particularly interested in Patterson's approaches to composition. "How did you make that?" she asked. "How did you get those pictures on the [canvas]?" she wanted to know.

Patterson began responding, explaining his approaches to the actual composition of the works. Those composition questions and his responses led to new, additional questions from the guys. I was intrigued by the turn toward composition questions at the end, but I was also reminded how important it was for the guys to interact with an artist about his views as a black man on a variety of issues in the world.

Fall programming 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Notations on Kevin Young

Kevin Young (source, NY Times)

Kevin Young's new book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News was released yesterday. He and his work have been receiving extensive coverage. I provide a roundup of several pieces here.

Among contemporary black poets, Young has not been the top "award-winning poet" (a label that, whether folks like it or not, has been defining the landscape of American poetry for a few decades now). He's behind several people, including Elizabeth Alexander, Rita Dove, Marilyn Nelson, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Terrance Hayes, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Nonetheless, Young has distinguished himself with productivity and placement. Since 1995, he's published 10 volumes of poetry, edited and co-edited 8 books of literature, edited a book on the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, and published two expansive nonfiction works.

Want a full list? Peep this: Kevin Young's Books. Most award-winning poets produce primarily poetry, so Young, hardly the first or only writer to do so, has also distinguished himself by producing nonfiction and also doing editorial work. This month, he began duties as the poetry editor for The New Yorker.

What about among black men writers? These days, folks in my circles express varying degrees of annoyance that Ta-Nehisi Coates is treated as "the only one." I understand the routes of their frustration, and Coates is by far the most widely covered black writer today (See here, here, and here). Having said that, Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad quietly reached close to a million copies sold within a year of publication. That's a really unusual feat. While the receptions for Whitehead and Coates are unparalleled, Young is nonetheless being covered in a way that is rare for an African American man writer, especially one who is primarily been known as a poet.

For many good reasons, gender constitutes a dominant frame in African American literary studies. So folks tend to concentrate on black men vs. black women issues. Like, are Coates, Whitehead, and Young receiving this attention because they're black men? Well, yeah. Further, for the last two decades, we've witnessed a tremendous, and I'd say unprecedented level of output from a somewhat large group: Black men writers and creativity, 1995 - 2016.

Hmm, but the gender frame doesn't adequately explain why the careers of Coates, Whitehead, and Young outpace hundreds of other black men. Also, what if we treated socio-economic issues among black writers with some seriousness? In this case, we'd note that relatively few black poets with Young's elite educational background delve into folk culture to the degree he has, and at the same time, we'd note that relatively few of the people who delve deeply into folk culture have been so closely aligned with elite institutions (i.e. Harvard and The New Yorker).

The gender frame does not fully explain why publishers of contemporary fiction have, for the last several years, been investing so much more of their resources in African women writers over African American women writers. I'm obviously not saying we should avoid gender. Far from it. I'm just concerned about some of what we've been overlooking, downplaying.

Too, I've worked with a large number of black men college students over the years. I've had to constantly give thought to their similarities and many differences. Along with works by Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, Tyehimba Jess, Nas, and Jay Z, I've shared poems by Kevin Young with my groups of first-year black men every year. For more than a decade now. They've enjoyed the humor in Young's poems like "Bling Bling Blues" and "Black Cat Blues." At the same time, we've all been moved by Young's painful and powerful poem "Bereavement" about giving away his father's dogs, after his father dies. Young's signature short lines have also made the look of his poems easily recognizable for my guys on the identification exams.

Overall, Young's volumes of poetry are longer (typically twice as long) than volumes by his contemporaries. Yet, his lines are marked by brevity. As I noted a few years back, Young has short lines & big books.

Kevin Young

Haley Reading Group: Sarah Schweitzer’s “Chasing Bayla”

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

Cynthia A. Campbell

Sarah Schweitzer’s article “Chasing Bayla” focuses on the dangers of right whales in their encounters with humans and unsafe fishing practices. Schweitzer highlights scientist Dr. Michael Moore’s quest for ethical treatment of endangered and injured right whales. Ultimately, the article speaks to the intersecting journey of Dr. Moore and Bayla.

Schweitzer’s discussion of Dr. Moore’s struggle to provide medical treatment for right whales was especially enlightening. At one point, Schweitzer notes that “he wanted to sedate a free-swimming whale…to remove ropes entangling it” (237). This point illustrates the desperation and urgency required to treat whales in their natural habitats using necessary extraordinary tactics.

What were you most interested in while reading Schweitzer’s article? Why? Please provide a page number citation.

Haley Reading Group: “Attack of the Killer Beetles”

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2016)]

Cynthia A. Campbell

Maddie Oatman’s article “Attack of the Killer Beetles” highlights bark beetles’ destruction of trees. Oatman illustrates the combined factors that have led to the proliferation of bark beetles and their ability to thrive for longer periods of times. Ultimately, the article speaks to the important issue of climate change.

Oatman’s discussion of how climate change contributes to the destruction of trees was especially enlightening. At one point, Oatman notes that “Prolonged droughts and shorter winters have spurred bark beetles to kill billions of trees” (217). This point indicates climate change has contributed to bark beetles increased devastation of trees.

After reading Oatman’s article, what was one point concerning the characteristics of bark beetles that caught your attention? Why were you most interested in that point? Please provide a page number citation.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Poetry and the creative domains of collegiate black women

Danielle Hall, Nikki Giovanni, and Cindy Reed at SIUE, November 2012

Two weeks ago, the students -- all first-year black women -- in one of my classes listened to poems by Danielle Hall and Cindy Reed, two former graduate students at SIUE. In addition to pursuing academic studies at the school, Danielle and Cindy excelled at presenting their poetry. The content of their poems move the students, but it is also the expressive, diverse styles of delivery that captures attention.

There's something in the wider formal world of poetry known as "poet voice," a pervasive mode of reading, where poets take on a "monotonous incantation" that is characterized by "the repetition of a falling cadence within a narrow range of pitch" and "a flattened affect." The practice of poet voice might not be consciously taken on at this point, as it has become such a normative approach.

In underground conversations, many black folks would describe poet voice as "white." Of course, these days, many award-winning African American women poets enact poet voice during their readings. In part, it has to do with audience and formal training spaces, most of which occur in "mainly white rooms," the phrasing employed by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young to identify such spaces. Over the years, when my black women students were responding with some aversion to audio recordings of Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and Rita Dove, referring to their poetry reading styles as "boring," they were in fact reacting to poet voice.

By the time many of the young sisters arrive to my college classroom, they have had the privilege of witnessing a range of remarkable speakers and presenters based in black women creative domains. They've been in churches and see dynamic women speakers and singers. They've seen dramatic arts performed at community programs and talent shows. They've watched and studied Beyoncé and countless other performers.

Just as important, they've grown up in homes and communities populated by lively and entertaining black women speakers. In July, I did an informal survey among incoming students asking them to identify the speakers who most captivated their attention. A clear majority of the women described their mothers and aunts, whose emphatic and multi-directional  styles of delivery they said they found inspiring.

Thus, when these young black women encountered the powerful emotive sonic energies of Danielle and Cindy reading poems, they recognized that the sounds were routed to mainly black rooms. This wasn't poet voice. Danielle's poem was akin to an extended testimony the students might have heard at church or at a black women's gathering. Cindy's poem allowed us to overhear her talking to a black girl in a tough neighborhood.

When the recordings of Danielle and Cindy reading finished, one of the students raised her hand and asked the question that someone asked a year ago and someone else asked a year before that. "Can we hear those again?" It's possible to listen again in my class, but I fear that these moments are rare or fleeting in the overall context of college.

The infrastructure for literature is far more supportive of poetry and other literary works produced by major publishing companies, as opposed to the kind of audio recordings I was sharing with students. In addition, although we now have a large number of award-winning black poets, they are often required to go through the process of earning MFAs in order to move up the professional later. The process ensures that aspiring poets from economically privileged backgrounds over those from struggling backgrounds are more likely to earn prestige and high recognition.

So what? What should we do?

For now, it's worth recognizing what is going on, taking note of how our conventional approaches to teaching African American literature sometimes erase, for instance, the rich dynamism of black women styles of delivery. At the same time, we might do more to take into account the kinds of creative domains that shape the thought and practices of black girls and collegiate black women.

A Notebook on Readers
Why some collegiate black women might find contemporary black poetry boring
Creativity @ SIUE