Thursday, May 4, 2017

Reading & re-reading Allison Joseph's poetry in 2017

Reading and re-reading Allison Joseph's poetry has been one of my 2017 poetry goals. That's no small task since she's been so prolific over the years. I now own most, though not all, of her volumes of poetry.

Her books include:
1992: What Keeps us Here
1997: Soul Train
1997:  In Every Seam
2003: Imitation of Life
2004:  Worldly Pleasures
2009: Voice: Poems
2010: My Father’s Kites
2016: Mercurial
2016: Mortal Rewards
2016: Multitudes
2016: The Purpose of Hands
That's just what I own so far. Next up, I'm working on getting my hands on her volumes Trace Particles, Little Epiphanies, Double Identity, and What Once You Loved. She has upcoming volumes Corporal Muse (2018) and Confessions of a Barefaced Woman (2018). 

Blogging about Elizabeth Alexander, Allison Joseph, Marilyn Nelson, Evie Shockley & Patricia Smith 
Allison Joseph

Black Graduation Ceremony 2017

On May 2, my colleagues Earleen Patterson and Kelly Jo Karnes and I once gain organized a black recognition ceremony for SIUE students who'll participate in formal graduation activities on Saturday. Like last year, the event was wonderful. I was glad to be a witness. The photos are by SIUE university photographer Howard Ash.

Undergraduate Sierra Ewing and dental medicine student Sean Crawford gave remarks. Jessica C. Harris, professor of historical studies, gave the timely and thoughtful keynote address.

Black Graduation Ceremony

Monday, May 1, 2017

Blogging about poetry in April 2017

[Related content: Blogging about Poetry]

• April 28: A checklist of liner notes written by Amiri Baraka  
• April 27: Amiri Baraka, editorial cartoons, and poetic insults 
• April 25: Amiri Baraka's searing critiques of U.S. Presidents
• April 24: Baraka, black boys & poetic curiosity  
• April 10: Tyehimba Jess wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
• April 1: Blogging about poetry in March 2017

The ongoing legend & travel logs of Kacee Mann

Kacee Mann's color-coded map of states she's traveled to recently

A semester hasn't gone by over the last few years, when I wasn't telling my students some story of accomplishment concerning Kacee (Aldridge) Mann. "You should've seen her thorough responses to Frederick Douglass back in 2008. She hadn't even started college yet." Or, "She had all kinds of sly jokes. In fact, she wasn't a person; she was a signifying machine." All the Kacee stories have turned her into a kind of legend. 

And then, there was the travel log she produced concerning her activities on one of our school trips to New York City. I recently asked Kacee to give me an update on the travels she's taken with her husband, Martel, over the last few years. Here's what she provided:

• March, 2013 - Indianapolis, IN - Attended a Lakers vs Pacers Game

• May, 2013 - Las Vegas, NV - Zip Lined through Fremont Street and spent time with family

• July, 2013 - Detroit, Michigan - Attended a Family Reunion and the Mrs. Carter World Tour

• February, 2014 Washington, DC - Attended the National Association of School Psychologists Conference and lobbied on Capitol Hill for education reform

• July, 2014 - Orlando, FL - Went to Disney World, Medieval Times, and Universal Studios

• May, 2015 - Memphis, TN - Went to the Memphis in May festival

• June, 2015 - Cancun, Mexico - Visited Chichen Itza, Swam with Dolphins, Toured Historic Mayan Cities

• June 2015 - Minneapolis, MN - Spent the day at The Mall of America

• July, 2015 - Helena AR, - Visited family

• June, 2016 - Washington, DC - Toured various Smithsonian Museums, the Washington Monument, and other points of interest (i.e. MLK Memorial, Lincoln Memorial,Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Library of Congress) Private tour of Capitol Building with family

• July, 2016 - Montego Bay, Jamaica - Visited the birthplace of Bob Marley and hiked up Dunn’s River Falls

• September, 2016 - Houston, TX - Visited Family and went on a food tour of Downtown Houston

• December, 2016 - Las Vegas, NV - Visited ‘The Las Vegas Strip’ and spent time with family

• February, 2017 - Indianapolis, IN - Visited Family and went to the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum

• February, 2017 - Denver, CO - Went Skiing in the Idaho Springs Mountains

• March, 2017 - Los Angeles, CA - Attended a live taping of “Talking Dead”

New York City Journeys  

Friday, April 28, 2017

A checklist of liner notes written by Amiri Baraka

He wrote poems; he wrote plays; he wrote fiction, jazz criticism, cultural criticism; he drew cartoons. And Amiri Baraka also wrote liner notes. Yesterday on Facebook, the scholar James Smethurst asked whether there is "a good list of the album liner notes that Baraka wrote anywhere?"

The best I could find was the list over at AllMusic, but you have to adjust things in order to generate the list. So, for now, the below incomplete list will have to do.

2014: Wiring – Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workmann, Andrew Cyrille), with Vijay Iyer
2011: Route de Freres – Andrew Cyrille & Haitian Fascination
2009: The Untarnished Dream – Steve Colson
2008: Tribute to the Jazz Masters – Dwight West 
2008: The Impulse! Albums, Vol. 2 – John Coltrane
2005: Mosaic Select – Don Pullen
2005: At Carnegie Hall – Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
2004: Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962-1970) – Albert Ayler
2004: Trios – Miles Davis
2002: Legacy – John Coltrane
2002: Seize the Time! – Nexus
2001: Encounter – Trio 3
2001: Zero Sun No Point: Dedication to Mynona & Sun Ra – Hartmut Geerken 
2000: 35th Reunion – New York Art Quartet
2000: John Davis Plays Blind Tom, The Eighth Wonder – John Davis
2000: River of Life – Jon Jang
1999: Nine to Get Ready – Roscoe Mitchell
1999: An Afternoon in Harlem – Hugh Ragin
1998: Legends of Acid Jazz – Willis “Gator” Jackson
1998: Moving Pictures – Ravi Coltrane
1998: Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974 – Miles Davis
1997: Good to Go, with a tribute to Bu – Andrew Cyrille Trio
1997: Monk’s World – Umberto Petrin
1996: Jail Kunda: Griots of West Africa & Beyond – Foday Musa Suso
1994: Connections – Tyrone Jefferson
1994: Unity – Ernie Watts
1993: Ugly Beauty – Donal Fox
1986: Breakthrough – Don Pullen and George Adams Quartet
1985: Shukuru – Pharoah Sanders
1985: Tomorrow Is Now! – Fred Houn
1981: Freeman & Freeman – Chico Freeman, Von Freeman, et al.
1978: Solo Vibraphone - Jay Hoggard
1978: The Outside Within – Chico Freeman
1968: Orgasm – Alan Shorter
1965: Sonny's Time Now – Sonny Murray, Henry Grimes, Louis Worrell, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry
1965: The New Wave in Jazz – John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, et al.
1964: Four for Trane – Archie Shepp
1964: Live at Birdland – John Coltrane
1963: All Kinds of Blues – Memphis Slim
1963: Sonny is King – Sonny Terry
1962: Grove Street – Larry Young
1962: Groovin’ with Buddy Tate – Buddy Tate
1962: Ladylove – Billie Holiday
1961: Sit Down and Relax with Jimmy Forrest – Jimmy Forrest
1960: Boss Tenor – Gene Ammons
1960: Don’t Got to Strangers – Etta Jones
1960: More Party Time – Arnett Cobb
1960: South Side Soul – John Wright
1959: Bacalao – Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

Amiri Baraka

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Amiri Baraka, editorial cartoons, and poetic insults

The other day, I was mentioning to William J. Harris, Tony Bolden, Micky New, Valerie Sweeney Prince, and James Smethurst that we might think of Amiri Baraka as an editorial cartoonist, among his many other roles. I meant that literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Baraka sometimes drew caricatures of political figures. In the figurative sense, Baraka was frequently writing about ridiculing presidents and other politicians and chiming in on major news events.

[Related: Amiri Baraka's searing critiques of U.S. Presidents]

I just recalled a reading Baraka gave in Salt Lake City, Utah, in October 2000. He was one of the keynote presenters for a conference on African American literature that I attended.

When Baraka was introduced for his reading, he opened by noting that he was glad to see everyone in attendance. Then he revised, saying he was glad to see "some" people in attendance. Then, he revised again, and said, he was glad to see everyone, "except one of you." There was some uncomfortable laughter. Later, I heard people talking and surmising that Baraka was referring to a prominent corporate executive who was in the audience.  But then, who knows?

Baraka read a few different poems, but the one I remember most was his poem about then New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. The piece was entitled, "A Modest Proposal for Giuliani's Disposal  / in forty one verses which are also curses."  The 41 was a reference to the shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Police shot at the unarmed Diallo a total of 41 times, striking him with 19 bullets.

Like so many of poems directed at politicians, Baraka's poem was brutal. The piece offers numerous suggestions for how people might assault Giuliani. For instance:
Have Rikers inmates beat him with
For forty one minutes
or forty one hammers in the hands of
One innocents

Let them each Beat him
on his two faces,
Forty one whacks in forty one
Prior to the reading, Baraka said that he believed that the "curses" he placed on politicians worked, which was why he decided to read this poem again at the event.

After the reading, he sold copies of the poem, and I purchased one. Baraka autographed it "Unity and Struggle."  What I noticed when he gave me the piece was that he had drawn an image of a grimacing Giuliani on the cover. The image was beneath a list of aliases for Giuliani, which included:
Ugly wound saber tooh
shaitan's underwear
the bad breath of Iblis
The Devil's Gas
Criminal G
white death black death
Rudy the Ripper
Baraka's rundown of artful and deliberately comical, offensive insults was a crucial element of his work. In retrospect, the illustration on the cover represented a glance of the poet's forays into editorial cartooning.    

Amiri Baraka

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another free book fair for black boys

In my former life perhaps, I ran a bookstore. So now nearly every chance I get, I pull together some kind of book fair. The culminating event for our "Language Arts and Leadership" conference provided me with yet another opportunity to showcase and distribute books.

The high school students at the event got an opportunity to peruse and select books of their choice.  The main books at this year's event were:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Olio by Tyehimba Jess
The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka
Soulcatcher: And other stories by Charles Johnson
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 edited by Amy Stewart
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Vintage Hughes
I also included a few photograph books and comic books:
12 Million Black Voices by Richard Wright
The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano and Arturo Torres
Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little Hits by Matt Fraction, David Aja, et al.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales Vol. by Brian Micheal Bendis and Sara Pichelli
A Right to Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury by Aaron McGruder
The Language Arts and Leadership Conference, 2017
A free book fair for African American boys (2016)
A free book fair (2015)
A Notebook on bookstores, book collections & book fairs 

Amiri Baraka's searing critiques of U.S. Presidents

I was reading an article about poets becoming politicized in efforts to oppose President Donald Trump in their poems. Well, let's hope some of them study the poetry of Amiri Baraka, who perhaps had the longest running critiques of U.S. presidents. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all ended up on the receiving ends of some of Baraka's poetic assaults.

In "When we'll worship Jesus," Baraka writes,
We'll worship Jesus
When Jesus do
When Jesus blow up
the white house
or blast nixon down

Baraka's poem "Real Life" presents a scene with Nixon and his wife Pat doing drugs. In Baraka's poem, "Nixon slobbers on the phone, wetting the cocaine on the desk he and pat have been snoring since early morning."  The poem also references Gerald Ford and Ted Kennedy.

Mel Watkins wrote an article in The New York Times on Baraka in 1971 and noted that "for many, Baraka is viewed simply as a wild eyed radical who is incidentally a writer." Watkins noted that the poet's reputation as a militant was linked in part to "his well known quips." As an example, he presented a then popular statement from Baraka: "I can lean something from anything, I can learn something from a pile of Nixon under the stoop."

Imagine that: a poet, in the paper of record, alluding to a sitting U.S. president as trash. Baraka was just getting warmed up.

In his poem "Dope," Baraka repeatedly states that "jimmy carter wdnt lie," with the joke being, of course, that the president would. After all, Baraka reminds us that "nixon lied, haldeman lied, dean lied," references to corruption by Nixon and his aides H.R.  Haldeman and John Wesley Dean.

In an unpublished poem "The Mind of the President," Baraka takes a title from The New York Times article of the same name abou Reagan. Baraka takes listeners through the first instances of Reagan as an infant learning to speak. Baraka takes on the persona of baby Reagan crying and attempting to speak until eventually arriving at his first word: "Kill."

During the Bush years, Baraka was especially active with biting critiques. In "Lowcoup Linguistic," Baraka announces that "in Mandarin, the word 'Bush' mean DUMB MOTHERFUCKER." In "Memo for Bush 2," Baraka says to the president, "The main thing wrong with you is you ain't in Jail."  In "Somebody Blew Up America," Baraka suggest that other sinister forces put Bush in power:
Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws

Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying

Finally, Baraka chides Obama in his poem "The New Invasion Of Africa." Baraka finds it troubling that the president would authorize the bombing of African nations. "So it wd be this way,” Baraka notes, "That they wd get a negro / To bomb his own home / To join with the actual colonial / Powers."

Few, if any, major poets were as relentless and audacious in their opposition of U.S. presidents within the actual poems. You might catch Baraka at an anti-war protest march, denouncing the actions of governmental figures. But you could also depend on him to make his opposition known in print. Needless to say, Baraka would have had a field day with Trump.  

Amiri Baraka