Monday, September 15, 2014

WHAT I SAY - Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America

This is the long-planned second volume of the anthology project that began with Every Goodbye
Ain’t Gone. The division between the two collections is chronological, though we have chosen
not to announce that explicitly in the titles of the volumes.
The first volume began with writers, such as Russell Atkins and Melvin B. Tolson, who were
already engaging in formal experimentation in the 1940s. While Tolson is the earliest poet in
that book, his posthumous poems published in the volume date to the 1960s, and thus mark
Tolson’s increasing role as an innovator well known to the poets who were to form the Black
Arts Movement. Atkins’s poems, on the other hand, date to the late 1940s, and mark the earliest
stages of the avant garde experimentation documented in Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone.

With the publication of What I Say following Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone, readers have available
a broad prospect on the more radical poetries of black America from the close of the second
World War to the present moment. In the words of C.S. Giscombe, we have complicated the

EVERY GOODBYE AIN'T GONE - special offer

In conjunction with the Furious Flower conference on African American Poetry coming up at James Madison University, and with the publication soon of the second volume in this series, What I Say, the University of Alabama Press is making Every Goodbye Ain't Gone available at a special rate.  Click on the image, print it out and mail in your order.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014


Just back to the house from the Penn State English annual Fall picnic, which was a bit closer in to town this year (and harder to find for someone who'd never known that park was there), but a fine location with its own most photographed covered bridge. Always glad to see everybody and hear how their summers have gone. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


RSA Journal 23/2012

[The current  issue (though in the tradition of journals it is technically the 2012 issue in 2014)  of Italy's major journal of American Studies includes a selection of my poetry with an introduction by Marina Morbiducci. I've copied Marina's introduction below.]

Marina Morbiducci

Aldon L. Nielsen and I first met at LeMans, France, on the occasion
of the international conference “Poets and Publishers: Circulating Avant-
Garde Poetry (1945-2010)” held at Universit√© du Maine, October 14-
16, 2010. It took us very little to reckon that we were sharing U.S. poet
friends. I suppose poetry and friendship get along quite well, both constituted
by the fine fiber of an intensified way of experiencing forms of
legacy. In that particular time France was on a repeated series of dramatic
strikes, and trains were extremely chance-like. The possibility of getting
stuck at LeMans, in addition to the specific topic of the conference, made
a surreptitious look circulate among participants, Aldon talk’s being titled
“Kid Creole and His Beau-Cocoanauts: Lloyd Addison’s Astro-Black

However, the interpretive line that I would like to follow in introducing
Aldon L. Nielsen’s seven unpublished poems does not unravel through
anecdotes. The path that I’m following, rather, is literally a track, as these
incipital lines from “Cecil’s Train Set – for C. S. Giscombe” (unpublished 1)
confirm: “In at last night from / Chicago / Lining red-eyed track / Smothered
clack / Of post prairie ties // Ribboned cross / Sleepless eyes / Out the
window what hard / Highways / To bypass.” In exchanging a few e-mails
about his unpublished poems, Aldon wrote: “This poem is for my poet
friend C. S. Giscombe, the only American poet I know who, in addition
to being a Professor in an English Department, holds a license to operate a
train. Giscombe has always been fascinated with travel and with trains.”1
Reading the poem one finds, he continues, “internal references … to the
radical changes that time has brought to the towns of the American midwest.
The allusion to time coming across the prairies is remembering the
fact that towns stretching westward in America each had their own time
until the coming of the trains. The train schedules required a common
time that all could keep.”2 In the poem, the two fundamental coordinates
of time and space emerging are typically apprehended through movement.
In a sort of call-and-answer pattern, they build up a relationship with each
other, and the intermingling of their internal rhythm enhances mutual
dynamism, even where there is apparent stasis: “The cows remained indifferent
/ As the clouds came home,” Nielsen says in another poem (“Nielsen
Extruder,” Mixage 52) – the slow time characterizing the cows’ indifference
is counterpointed by the fast approaching floating movement of the clouds
coming home. There is always a (time-giving) passage in a (space-embracing)
landscape behind Nielsen’s poetic scene. This coupling, in turn, constitutes
the texture of life, in his view: “I was inside / What seemed to be
a long time” (“Nielsen Extruder,” Mixage 55). The poet shows, aiming
at a sort of deconstructed form of wisdom, how the spatial physicality of
his temporal existence creates one way “to learn to live with ourselves”
(“Nielsen Extruder,” Mixage 54); and again: “One makes a life no more
than a poem / Of secrets / And therefore fills with openings any obscure
passage” (“Translation From The Rubric,” Stepping Razor 35). As he puts
it, there is a spatial-temporal connection engrained in his poetical compositions.
“I like to think of all my poetry occupying the same imaginative
time-space continuum,”3 and the nexus between the two dimensions of
time and space is often explicitly represented by language, or, alternatively,
by metalinguistic allusions: “Bridge passage / To switch / That trains us
/ To read that lost / Phrase” (“Cecil’s Train Set – for C. S. Giscombe”).
Language is vehicle, language moves, language discovers: “A man used his
language to know the world he’d discovered” (“Translation From The Rubric,”
Stepping Razor 35). Returning to “Cecil’s Train Set”: “The last lines
celebrate the fact that Giscombe carried his bicycle on a train to Canada so
that he could explore the Pacific Northwest.”4 The notion of exploration
here hinted at once again echoes Nielsen’s image of “The man [who] used
his language to discover the world anew” (“Translation From The Rubric,”
Stepping Razor 35).

In the poem “Untitled” (unpublished 2), in one of his imaginative peregrinations,
Nielsen conjoins family with friends. Dedicated to his own
father and the poet George Oppen – both wounded in the Battle for the
Bulge during World War II – “this poem is a lyric meditation on their
experiences and on our debts to that generation.”5 “My father’s lung / Concussed
/ Nebraska air / Rushed to the front / Punched out of Belgian mud
/ Was it the same / Shelling shook / Oppen / Shook me / Loose / It was not
this sky / Wounded them / ….” The broken line and the panting rhythm of
the fragmented and elliptical syntax, well reproduce the shock of war and
the physical traumas it causes, the bodily – as well as soul’s – mutilation.
This leads to almost ineffable pain, and the rags of life significantly remain
“eerily precarious” (“Untitled,” unpublished 2).

A return to safe ground back home is represented by the third unpublished
poem here presented, “from KANSAS,” where the poet deals with
some of the themes about the American mid-west, also treated in previous

This is the second of a pair of sequences written while on extended visits to the
places named, the other sequence being ’from Ghana.’ … Kansas was a major
battleground in the disputes over slavery that led up to America’s brutal Civil
War, but many of the allusions are far more contemporary. The section headed
’Frank,’ for example, celebrates the odd appearance of Kansas in the writing of
Frank Zappa for the first album by the Mothers of Invention.6
Here another leading motif of Nielsen’s compositions appears: the explicit
reference to music. In this case, rock music, even though in many
other poetical and critical works the connection is primarily with jazz and
Afro-American rhythms, as we will show in a few lines. Another artistic
thread adds to the plot: “The avant-garde film maker Stan Brakhage, mentioned
in one stanza, was from Kansas, and lived for a time in an orphanage
there.”7 The journey through that land cinematically encapsulates a
remembrance and a projection, both stretching along a multilayered synaesthetic
dimension of simultaneous experiences:

The next-to-the-last stanza recounts an eerie experience when my wife and I
were walking past a music store in Kansas and caught sight of a large painting
of Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and song writer who recorded ’The Revolution
Will Not Be Televised.’ Scott-Heron, who had been one of my teachers in college, had just died a few months before, and a painting of his face was about
the last thing we expected to encounter in Kansas that summer.8

I couldn’t agree more with Will Alexander when he says that “The
poetry of Aldon Nielsen is marked by rare insight, which penetrates the
invisible moments of our daily peregrinations” (backcover, Stepping Razor).
It is not surprising that the newly issued book of poems by Nielsen is
titled A Brand New Beggar, and that a new edition of his prose poem Evacuation
Routes of 1992 is published anew. Movement again, peregrinations,


If “from KANSAS” deploys horizontally, the unpublished poem “Geotropism”
(unpublished 7) displays verticality. With its reference “to the
downward growth of plant roots” the poet envisages a parallel to the “trope”
element in composition. I mentioned earlier the texture of metalinguistic
terms and rhetorical devices engrained in Nielsen’s poetic fabric. The
following list of phrases is taken from Mixage (2005): “vanished tongues,”
“dwarf morphemes” (52), “My mother was all in similes” (57); “Supple Meant,”
“Epistemological Hesitation,” and “Mixophobia” (italics mine), for instance,
are titles of poems from the said book; Mantic Semantic, instead, is the title
of Nielsen’s 2011 collection, published by Hank’s Original Loose Gravel
Press, Lawrence, Kansas. The poem “Second Person” – included in Mantic
Semantic – hinges on metalinguistic references: “If I come to speak in your
name / … / If I come to your name with no knowledge / Of what is intended
there / If I enter that space which fills the mouths of others / When they
speak of you / That space which so seldom surrounds your own / Guarded
tongue / Will it be to say one of those sentences / That has insisted upon itself
through history / Repeating itself into language after language / Like some
stuttering fool who cannot / Make himself understood / ….” (all italics mine).
“Impenetrable Jargon,” in the same collection, rotates around anagrams,
compounds and blendings, alternating vowel presence and substitution,
morphemic deconstruction and incremental repetitions, alliterations and
assonances, cutting across diverse languages and historical eras, with lines
which, in reiterated tercet pattern, exquisitely pave their way through the
edification of a sonorous ambience: “golf / gulf / guelph // men / menace /
menses // lam / laminate / lamb // chancy / chump / chanteuse // … // infer
/ in fur / infernal // voile / viola / voila.” The poem “Geotropism” is, according
to Nielsen, “ultimately about the faith of language.”9. The Creeleyan
credo that we are saved through words finds here an intimately bouncing

“The music is all there”

At the basis of Nielsen’s poems musicality lies, or rather, music rules
and rolls. One just needs to read his poems aloud – and give a quick look
at his series of poetry readings available in the internet, one interesting
link, for example,
Marks – to find evidence of that.10 Musical allusions pervade his critical
works on African-American literature, too, as Black Chant (1997) and Integral
Music (2004) confirm. It is primarily in these two books that Nielsen
shows his lifelong commitment to the cause of African-American poetry,
dedicating his keen and profound reading to poets such as Russell Atkins,
Stephen Jonas, Amiri Baraka, Bob Kaufman, and Jayne Cortez. In “Capillary
Currents: Jane Cortez” (an essay which we first read in the groundbreaking
book We Who Love to Be Astonished. Experimental Women’s Writing
and Performance Poetics, edited by Laura Hinton and Cynthia Hogue), the
initial words literally recite: “The music is all there.” And the text continues:
“By the time that the ear falls prey to the groove, the music is already
multiplying, leveling monuments to expectation and erecting newer castles
in the air; a layering with open work areas dangerously unguarded.
This is not at all unusual these days, and never was. Still, each generation
hears ellipses” (Nielsen, “Capillary Currents: Jayne Cortez,” Integral Music
174-193). The essay is constellated by musical punctuations: “a harmolodic
whirl ensues” (175), “already-in-progress jazz poem” (175), “tradition
of call and response” (175), “The performance is a response to the
poem, an example of what musicians do with poetry. The poem is a prior
response to jazz, example of what a poet does with music” (175). Nielsen
envisages “intricate and vigorous Yoruba and Carabal√≠ rhythms” (177)
which, in an intriguing “cultural syncretism” (175), infuse Latin suggestions
“into American jazz idioms” (177), conjuring up to a “reinvigorated
pulse” (178). The way Nielsen talks criticism is the way he conceives of
poetry. We could approach his own poems with a similar musical tension,
because “The music is all there.”

“Small Song” (unpublished 4), Nielsen says,
in addition to being a little lyric about mortality, is another tribute
to Brakhage and through him to other artists. Brakhage was particularly
taken with the passage in Ezra Pound’s ’Salutation the Second’ that begins
’Go, little naked and impudent songs.’ One of Brakhage’s many poet
friends was Robert Kelly, author of Songs I-XXX. Kelly writes in a note to
that book: ’Brakhage once told me that the notion of calling his adamantine
8-mm films Songs came to him from me. The name returned to me as
exact title for these experiments in the extended lyric.’ The name returned
to me, too, for this experiment in compressed lyric.11
“Smaller Still” (unpublished 5) “is, then, even more compressed” (ibidem).
“The irony is all there,” we could paraphrase in a sort of call and
response critical dialogue with Aldon’s own words.
Finally, “Seven Series” (unpublished 6), dedicated to Bob Perelman, is
“another such experiment in compression, so compressed that the seventh
in the series doesn’t exist.” With the reference to Wernicke’s area, in the
poem, once again there emerges Nielsen’s keen attunement to the wonder
of language, his t(h)rust in it.

1 Personal communication from the author, September 17, 2012.
2 Ibidem.
3 Ibidem.
4 Ibidem.
5 Ibidem
6 Ibidem.
7 Ibidem.
Introduction 169
8 Ibidem.
9 Ibidem.
10 See also;;
Evacuation Routes:
11 Personal communication from the author, September 17, 2012.
Works cited
Hinton, Laura, and Cynthia Hogue, eds. We Who Love to Be Astonished: Experimental Women’s
Writing and Performance Poetics. Tuscaloosa: The U of Alabama P, 2002.
Nielsen, Aldon L. A Brand New Beggar. Boulder and Normal: Steerage P, 2013.
––. Black Chant: Languages of African-American Postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
––. Integral Music: Languages of African-American Innovation. Tuscaloosa: The U of Alabama
P, 2004.
––. Mantic Semantic. Lawrence: Hank’s Original Loose Gravel P, 2011.
––. Mixage. La Laguna: Zasterle, 2005.
––. Stepping Razor. Washington: Edge / Upper Limit #9, Edge Books,

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lloyd Addison after the Eclipse

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Marjorie Welish and David Henderson for inquiries that brought me to this recent book by the incomparable Lloyd Addison. Marjorie had been trying to find Addison to invite him to her school. Turned out he was no longer in Brooklyn, so Marjorie had turned to David Henderson and Erica Hunt for an assist in the search. As it happens, David was the person who put me in touch with Addison a decade ago, when Addison was still in Brooklyn. That earlier contact had led to a brief correspondence and to Addison's sending me the entire run of his remarkable journal Beau Cocoa

The trail led Marjorie and David to Newport News, and in the process they came across a reference to the fact that Addison had published this volume in 2009 with an Indian publisher, Sanbun of New Delhi.  Thus did the work of  one of the more obscure  American poets remain yet more obscured. Sad to say, this search also brought word via Clarence Major that Addison had passed away. I have not yet been able to confirm any facts about the last years of the poet, but I did get in touch with Sanbun, who promptly printed up a copy of the book for me.

LE/G/ENDERS offers 176 pages of Addison's sui generis writings. This more than doubles what had been readily found in public places, given that about the only thing most people were able to lay hands on was his long ago entry in the British Heritage series of African American poets and appearances in anthologies of the sixties and seventies. Addison was an important member of the Umbra group; it was one of his poems that gave the group its name. I'll have to double check against my files, but at first glance most of this book looks new to me. The acknowledgements indicate that one selection is reprinted from the Umbra journal, and another from a 1973 issue of Essence magazine.


Lost at age 10 & never found again
until 35yrs labor (&thru mother)
your only letter backed with
Expect A Miracle -- a religious inspiration

have carried a torch forever -- 40 years
have reminisced as if it were Camelot --
& not Newport News Virginia

"Camelot" and "not" -- a typical Addison move that says so much about the distance from the sixties to now.  I hope a way might be found to bring more of Addison's work to readers. I hope that, as there is now a small group doing really great work on Russell Atkins, we can spur others to read and to write about Addison, whose influence reached much farther than his printed words.  I'll be writing more about Addison's work in the future. In the meanwhile, check out this essay of mine that Manuel Brito published in Spain, which includes some illustrations:

Monday, July 21, 2014


One of my colleagues at Central China Normal University this summer was Steven C. Tracy, author of Langston Hughes and the Blues, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City and many other works. Steven and I had first met two decades ago when we were both on an MLA panel in New Orleans on the subject of William Carlos Williams and music, but we had not really seen much of each other again till we met last year in Wuhan. Knowing how much our students were hearing about the music in my American Poetry seminar and his course on the African American image, I thought it might be fun for us to do a workshop for the grad students and some faculty. The catch was that I didn't have a guitar with me, just a few harps. A few hours before the workshop was scheduled, one of the students brought her guitar to me so that I could use it. I'll never forget the decal above the sound hole that read "China Pop Guitar," seemingly promising very different treatment from what I was about to do to those strings.

At any rate, with no rehearsal and no time to talk about what we would do, Steven and I, who had never played together before, wound up spinning out more than two hours of music and dialogue as refreshments and tea were passed around.

One of the graduating students, pictured here, later sent along cell phone video she had recorded. You can watch the segments by clicking on these links:

 One day I'll edit the audio recording of the workshop and post that -- Till then, enjoy . . . 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tyrone Williams Reviews A BRAND NEW BEGGAR

Nielsen's Brand New Bag

James Brown and the JBs
A.L. Nielsen, A Brand New Beggar (Steerage Press, 2013), 99 pp—Among the academics he circulates as a peripatetic conference participant, Aldon Nielsen is probably best known for his literary criticism and cultural studies work. He is, after all, the author of one of the most significant books on African American poetry, Black Chant. However, he has been writing and publishing poetry all along, and it seems that in recent years he has ratcheted up the production. His most recent collection is his most fully realized book yet. In these typically pun- and wordplay-filled poems and titles (including the title of the book itself), Nielsen holds up a mirror to everything he is other than the sartorially suave professor so many have come to know. Still, anyone who knows him will not be surprised by the subjects here—scholar Anna Everett (his wife), photography (has anyone actually seen him without a camera slung around his neck?), and music. Framed by train poems, the quientessential blues metaphor of solitude and stoicism, A Brand New Beggar paints a picture of an itinerant, long-distance spouse reveling in the consolations of memory and imagination (“To think her on the fly”), in the supple powers of poetry (“It is a poem that conceals its leanings/As it reveals itself/There against the darkness/ Of a turned shoulder”) and in photography (“Some nights I run through these slides/Try to animate by rushing the least/Flickering show of you…”). For readers of Nielsen’s past books of poetry, the “love poems” reveal a more intimate, more romantic, man, but this collection also includes Nielsen’s more typical snappy homages to blues, jazz and r & b music and musicians. For example, in the section “from Kansas,” Nielsen imagines early jazz as a response to the call of its geographical matrix: “Kansas’s hawk riffing/With the wind/The roar in wings/When Jay’s hawk answers.” True to Nielsen’s wide-ranging tastes, there are, in this section, homages to, and putdowns of, Frank Zappa (“It was/For them/An invention”) and Gertrude Stein (“There’s no/Their there”), as well as Stan Brakhage and Gil Scott-Heron. A Brand New Beggar is Nielsen’s most personal, warmest, collection of poems yet. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Dear Friends:

I have gone to China to teach a seminar.  The blog will resume mid-July.

See you then!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Just out from Duke University Press's C.L.R. JAMES ARCHIVES series is this important new book from Christian Hogsbjerg. Christian's first volume in this series was an edition of the original script of James's play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History. This new book is the first to offer a full examination of James's years in England following his departure from Trinidad in 1932. In the few short years between his arrival in England and his departure for the United States, James published Minty Alley, The Case for West Indian Self-Government, World Revolution, A History of Negro Revolt and  Black Jacobins, all while keeping up work as a cricket writer and participating in the work of the African Service Bureau, International Friends of Abyssinia, and others. These years are vital for understanding James's evolution as a thinker and revolutionary, indispensable for understanding the work that he would do in the United States.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


A few minutes into the movie Lady Sings the Blues, I figured out how to watch the thing. If you stopped thinking about Billie Holiday, forgot there had ever been such a person as Billie Holiday, it was really a pretty good movie. 

You don't have to go quite to that extreme to enjoy Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, but it's best to ignore the book and just enjoy it as what it pretends to be, a late performance in Philadelphia by Lady Day. Holiday, of course, would never have spoken so openly about her life and trials to strangers, and much of what we hear in the spoken interludes is purest fiction. If you can put that aside, which is not always easy to do even with the lights down, even with the well structured illusion of a night club evening (members of the audience down front sit at cafe tables and interact with Lady), this is one of the finest concerts of the year.

Audra McDonald, I have to say, mimics Holiday masterfully, singing in a voice that is not her own. This did not work as well for me when she was speaking, but the singing, which takes up most of the show, is masterfully done.  You may have seen McDonald on The Colbert Report recently when she did a number from the show, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." My first impression watching on TV, after having seen the show at Circle in the Square, was that McDonald was overdoing the impression. Or, I thought, maybe it's just that TV exaggerates what seemed natural in the theater.

But then I did the obvious thing. I played a few very late recordings of Billie Holiday singing the number live, and McDonald had nailed the performance. 

So -- don't go to this show looking to learn anything about Billie Holiday from the script. Still, there is so much about Holiday to be learned from the singing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Like President Obama and the First Lady, I scored tickets to the new production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Barrymore Theater.  I have to say, this is the best cast I've seen since the long ago movie version (which made cuts in the script). It would be hard to top, or even rival, a production that included Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands, with early and memorable appearances by Ivan Dixon and Lou Gossett.

This revival was to have featured Diahann Carroll, and I'd been curious to see how she'd play the role. But when Carroll dropped out of the show well before opening, she was replaced by Latanya Richardson Jackson, who turned out to be an inspired choice.  Given Denzel Washington's age, they had to make some adjustment, and so Walter Lee Younger is here 40, as opposed to Sidney Poitier's 30 -- which in turn would seem to make Beneatha (here played by Anika Noni Rose) either much younger than her brother, Walter Lee Younger, or a wonderful late bloomer. But once things are under way, nobody in the audience is thinking about the age of anyone in the cast. Sophie Okonedo plays Walter Lee's wife.

One touch I much appreciated at the Barrymore was that a recording was played in the time before the curtain of a late interview with Lorraine Hansberry. I dare say that most in the theater that evening had never heard Hansberry's voice. It was powerfully moving to hear that voice again, and it's an intriguing interview.

The play runs through June 15 -- Forget about the Puffy version of some years ago -- (and how many even remember the American Playhouse broadcast in 1989, with a cast that included Danny Glover and Esther Rolle?) -- This is the one to see -- 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

New Books from Jacques Derrida

 My hard working colleague Jonathan Eburne, in his work on workaholism, points out that Derrida, like some still publishing dead rappers, is publishing at a faster rate posthumously than most of us do while still living (at least, living after our own fashion). Here are two volumes newly issued in English.

The first is one I've been eagerly awaiting, the next release in the project of publishing all of Derrida's seminars. This book gives us the first half of Derrida's considerations on the death penalty (mostly published here for the first time). 

Like me, Derrida has a strong early memory of his life long concern with what we so charmingly term capital punishment. While discussing Genet's writing, Derrida quotes, "Weidmann appeared before you in a five o'clock edition . . . ," and Derrida remarks:

"I pause for a moment on this first sentence. I have to say that I remember this photograph myself."

In my own case, my early recollection of deep revulsion at the prospect of capital punishment is of the Charles Starkweather case, a case that has been turned into more than one feature film in the years since my Nebraska childhood.

In neither case, Weidmann's or Starkweather's, was there any question about the condemned man's guilt or about the heinous nature of their crimes. No, the problem was what the cases told us about ourselves. Eugen Weidmann was the last man executed in public in France. A film of the execution was surreptitiously made from a nearby window, and the behavior of the public at the execution was so horrid that public executions were thereafter banned. (As in the U.S., where we are now so much more discreet when we kill our criminals.) Starkweather's 1959 execution was not carried out in public, but the public spectacle surrounding the event caused me to recoil from my own society.  In each case, the representations of the death penalty were themselves a damning comment on what capital punishment does to a society.  I have been opposed to he death penalty ever since.

This is a deeply thought through and historically grounded book. Part two should be available next year.

Also, from Fordham, comes For Strasbourg, bringing together three late essays by Derrida and conversations he held in 2004 with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


That was the plan anyway, but instead it was "AMIRI BARAKA: A RETROSPECTIVE," co-sponsored by the University of Kent (well represented by conference organizer Ben Hickman) and The Institute of Contemporary Arts. I'd been planning to go from the first announcement as it would have meant helping to celebrate the approach of Baraka's 80th birthday (would have been this coming October) beginning at the Black Arts conference at U.C. Merced, picking up a month later in London, and then into the home stretch.With Baraka's death I felt even more compelled to join in. I'd known Amiri for over 35 years, and had been reading him even longer. This was just a one day symposium, but it made a good opening for the many symposia and panels to come.

The symposium was also a chance to reconnect with several friends: Jean-Phillipe Marcoux from Canada, Amor Kohli from Chicago, Wei Yan from Wuhan, China. And as rushed as things were, I got to meet some of the British participants, including Colin Still, whose short film of Baraka reading poetry while Craig Harris improvised an accompaniment was screened at the evening program. Jean-Phillipe and I were a two person panel on Baraka and music. Jean-Phillipe spoke on ideophones and jazz vocalisms. My paper was another section of my growing work on Baraka's recordings. At the first session, on poetry, Ian Brinton did the important work of  introducing Yugen and Floating Bear to an audience who mostly had never seen copies of those publications before. Paul Gilroy delivered a keynote which detoured through Obama's foreign policy for a while before getting back to Baraka.  That night, following Colin's stunning film, there was a poetry reading, culminating in a now rare appearance from Linton Kwesi Johnson, who spent much of his time sharing emotional memories of his contacts with Baraka over the years.

[additional photos by Anna Everett and Wei Yan]

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


This year's CLA also marks the eighth birthday of this blog -- And my first return visit to New Orleans since Katrina -- The flash flood warnings that came to my phone the first morning were a bit worrisome, as was the lightning (AND there was that alarm that started sounding during breakfast, apparently in response to a lightning strike on the tower), but the panels inside the hotel kept my mind off the storm and things were warming up by the end of the weekend. I was there to present work on Amiri Baraka as part of a panel on literature and music. Last year the airlines didn't get me to the conference until after my panel. This year's flight delays were on the other end.  I was in New Orleans in plenty of time for my panel on that first morning, but didn't get back to State College after the conference till two in the morning.

The Langston Hughes luncheon featured a poetry reading by Brenda Marie Osbey, whose name, as mine often does, seemed to shift pronunciation as different speakers spoke it. I first met Brenda at the initial Furious Flower conference back in the 90s.  One of the great things about CLA is the family atmosphere as brethren of the text meet together. Friends too many to mention singularly, though I must mention the Tom Dent Birthday party Jerry Ward held at his house over by the campus of Dillard.

 I'd just seen Eugene Redmond in Merced at the Black Arts conference. In the week between, he'd been to Howard, just a day after I was there, to appear at their Baraka tribute.

The conference banquet featured Edwige Danticat, who read from a new essay.

Once the conference was over, I finally had time to get down the street to Mulate's for that serving of crawfish etouffee. The nice mother who stood next to me at the bar to order her drink while her eight-year-old exchanged jokes with me was followed by two parents with their eighteen-year-old son, who were told that law required the son, being under nineteen, to sit farther away from the bar, which he did.

Oh, I will mention that those three people you see at the iron table are Penn Staters Susan Weeber, Laura Vrana and Earl Brooks, who delivered great papers.