Friday, November 28, 2014

A roundup of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Selections

In solidarity with the movements to address racial injustices related to police brutality, including the killing of Michael Brown, poets have been reading poems online under the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut.

The poets open by stating their name and then explaining that "I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry." The project is sponsored by Cave Canem and Mahogany L. Browne.

What follows are a list of some of the pieces.

• "Drive by" by L. Lamar Wilson 
• "We Are Not Responsible" by Harryette Mullen read by Khadijah Queen
• "Untitled-12" by Thomas Gilbert
• "Workshop on Racism" by Toi Derricotte read by Metta Sama
• "The History of Black People" by Morgan Parker
• "Noon Knives" by Aime Cesaire read by Krista Franklin
• "Blue/Grass" by Khary Jackson
• "Enter the Dragon" by John Murillo
• "Them Ghosts" by Christina Springer
• "Give Me The Red On the Black of the Bullet (For Claude Reece Jr.)" by Jayne Cortez read by Tara Betts
• "bitter crop" by Kelli Stevens Kane
• "On the Murder of Two Human Being Black Men" by June Jordan read by Qiana Towns
• "Poem For Amadou Diallo" Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon read by Kamilah Aisha Moon
• From "The Interrogation" by Jericho Brown
• "Power" by Audre Lorde read by Jonterri Gadson
• "The Sermon on the Warpland" by Gwendolyn Brooks read by Reginald Harris
• "BLK Medley" by Rob 'Robalu' Gibsun
• "A Litany for Survival" by Audre Lorde read by Lauren G. Parker
• "The Arrivants" by Kamau Brathwaite read by Yona Harvey
• From Discipline by Dawn Lundy Martin read by Phillip B. Williams
• "The Secret Society of Black Mothers" By Natasha Ria El-Scari 
• "who has time for joy?" by Danez Smith 
• "Vanitas with Negro Boy" by Rickey Laurentiis
• "if the tables were turned" by Casey Rocheteau
•"|p|l|e|a|s|" by Justin Phillip Reed
• "Trayvon" by Treasure Shields Redmond
• "Tell Me" by Maya Washington
• "BlackLivesMatter" by Raina Leon
• "Alzheimer's" by Nata Marshall
• "Benediction" by Bob Kaufman read by Yalonda JD Green
• "Kerosene" by Tim Seibles read by Geffrey Davis
• "Ghazal for Our Sons" by JP Howard and "The Story Trayvon" by Nicholas
• "Dreams" by Langston Hughes rad by Darrel Alejandro Holnes
• "The Black I Was Wearing" by Sean DesVignes
• "Mr. Snake, I Don't Like You" by Angela Jackson read by Sa Whitley
• "Medieval" by Sean Battle 
• "I am Tired Mourning Our Dead" by N. I. Nicholson
• "aiyana" by Raina Fields
• "Night,, Death, Mississippi" by Robert Hayden read by Monifa Lemons Jackson
• "While You're Getting Arrested Outside a Jimmy Buffet Concert" by Angelique Palmer
• "God's Work" by Thomas Gilbert
• "We" by Nikki Giovanni read by Douglas Powell (Roscoe Burnems) 
• "Skin" by Kwame Dawes read by Kevin Simmonds
• "We Interrupt this Prayer to Murder Tamir Rice" by William Evans

A notebook on Mike Brown and Ferguson

Similes and metaphors in the Darren Wilson testimony

A while back, I utilized text mining software to figure out some of the most recurring words in poems by African American poets. The word "like" was fairly popular. Poets, of all kinds, traffic in similes and metaphors. Apparently, so do others.   

I couldn't help but notice and cringe at the similes and metaphors that appeared in officer Darren Wilson's testimony concerning Michael Brown. At one point, Wilson noted that "when I grabbed [Brown], the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan."

When the prosecutor responded "Holding onto a what?," Wilson explained "Hulk Hogan, that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm."

Later, Wilson explained more about the confrontation with Brown, noting that "the only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked." The "it" and "demon" delve into an extensive tradition of representations that present black men as non-human.

Wilson characterizes Brown's charge at him as animal-like. 
 He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me.
 So often, in the contexts of American and African American literary studies, scholars spend considerable amounts of time discussing the beauty of language. But perhaps, we need to expand our lenses, and concentrate on other examples of how language is used in relation to black people. In this case, Wilson's similes and metaphors were vital to his justification for shooting an unarmed person.

A notebook on Mike Brown and Ferguson

Notes on TJ Jarrett's poems

I first became aware of TJ Jarrett in Poetry magazine, where one of her poems appeared. I was intrigued by what I read there so I decided to look around for more of her work. Eventually, I purchased both of her books, Ain't No Grave (2013) and Zion (2014).

Since I got them together, I've been reading them both going back and forth between the two. I was drawn to Ain't No Grave early on because of the recurring treatment of death throughout the volume. Nah, I'm not morbid, just was fascinated with what Jarrett might do with the subject. Interestingly her poem "At the Repast," which I first encountered in Poetry, is published in Zion. Perhaps, it was her poem "How to Speak to the Dead," initially published in Rattle, that I found later and was reminded to get both Jarrett's books.

Either way, I'm glad I've added this poet to the mix.

What caught my interest from Zion so far has been a series of poems related to Theodore Bilbo throughout the sections of the volume. Jarrett has a few other poems concentrating on moments in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1978, 1958, 1951, 1963, and 1964. Jarrett is a southern poet and interested in history, which maybe goes without saying. 

It's been a busy semester of public programming and grading, so I haven't had enough time to gather all my thoughts and scribblings concerning Jarrett's volumes into a coherent essay. Hopefully, I'll catch up soon. In the meantime, I'll keep reading and jotting down notes. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Images from "A Gathering of Black Women Artists" Day 2

A few images from day 2 of our exhibit "A Gathering of Black Women Artists." The exhibit featured works by  designers and photographers Erica Jones and Maria Lavender, photographer Paige Whitehead, painter Brittani Singleton, and textile designer Morgan Hill.

[Related: A Gathering of Black Women Artists Day 1]

Fall 2014 Public Programming

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mr. and Mrs. Young visit exhibit at Lovejoy Library

One of the rewarding aspects of organizing arts and humanities exhibits concerns the possibilities of drawing audiences that you may not always encounter. That was the case at our exhibit "A Gathering of Black Women Artists." Among the 125 attendees was a couple -- Mr. and Mrs. Young.

[Related: Images from "A Gathering of Black Women Artists"

They came to view the entire exhibit, but especially the works of their granddaughter Morgan Hill.  They marveled over the artwork and asked questions. They made observations. They snapped photographs. They constantly mentioned how proud they were of their granddaughter and how pleased they were to be here at the event.

And of course, I felt honored and pleased that they attended.

Morgan Hill welcomes her grandparents to the exhibit.

The Big Smoke: Rememory

[The Big Smoke reading group]  

Adrian Matejka's poem "Rememory" from The Big Smoke presents Jack Johnson at a different time and place, seemingly far from the ring. Johnson recalls an incident when a "horse back-kicked so hard / my leg bone broke, split my skin / like a lazy plum."

Through all we've been through with Johnson, this poem seems to present him a notably vulnerable way. But what did you think; how did you read or respond to the Johnson you encountered in "Rememory"? Why or how so?  

The Big Smoke: Ticket on the Titanic

[The Big Smoke reading group]  

Adrian Matejka's "Ticket on The Titanic" from The Big Smoke suggests that for once "the color line"actually worked in Jack Johnson's favor. Although he offered to pay the "$4,000 for each ticket" for himself and his partner Etta, the ship captain refused to allow Johnson's passage on the ship. Since Johnson did not board The Titanic when it sailed, he was on land when the mighty ship sank.

What thoughts concerning the "color line" came to mind as a result of reading this poem? Why or how so?  

Race and Outliers - epilogue

[Outliers Reading Group]

The epilogue at first appears to be the final presentation of a randomly selected and researched outlier. But we soon learn that the closing outlier narrative is in fact a narrative about the author, Malcolm Gladwell. We learn, perhaps not surprisingly at this point, that Gladwell’s own success emerges from the hidden advantages and multiple opportunities that his parents and grandparents received.

Among other important issues, Gladwell explains how light skin color allowed his otherwise disadvantaged black relatives to excel in ways that their fellow dark-skinned Jamaicans did not. Having an ancestor who had “a little bit of whiteness” or having one who got a chance at meaningful work became an “extraordinary advantage.” It was an advantage not simply based on working hard but rather on arbitrary yet powerful cultural and structural factors.

What stood out to you most concerning Gladwell’s discussions of skin color and advantage (or disadvantage)? Why?