Sunday, November 23, 2014


Like everyone of my generation, I could have been seen walking around the playground with a transistor radio, as we called them, plugged into my ear, listening intently to mono music and sports events.  That was about as portable as music got for us. Then came that magic trip to the beach, in the course of which I got my first Walkman and spent the next hour sitting by the ocean and listening to Pharoah Sanders's Tauhid. Problem was, you had to carry around an ever growing collection of tape cassettes, and yes, I did have one of those bulky cassette case things that took up way too much space in the car.
Comes the digital revolution and we have the portable CD player, an end to tape hiss and a vast improvement in sound quality, but yet more traveling cases full of CDs to lug around.

This was my first "PDA," and I'd only had it about five minutes when I realized I could rip CDs to digital and listen to them on this thing. That's when the dream of having all my music with me all the time formed in my brain.  But of course, this thing could only hold about as much as I'd listen to in one afternoon's walking around, which seemed and seems to be enough for most people with their smart phones, but was entirely unsatisfactory for me.

My first dedicated MP3 player held only 15 GB, and was heavy as a brick, but it introduced me to the Archos line of products.

I tried one of these little MP3 players that fit easily in your shirt pocket, but it held even less that the first Archos.

Then Apple started the iPod phase. Again, the first one only held a small amount of music, and Apple wanted to lock you into their iTunes universe AND the battery sucked.

I used part of the money I got when Apple settled the court cases about the iPod battery to buy my first iRiver player.  This held much more music, didn't require you to use a proprietary software, and allowed navigation by folder rather than the all too limiting "artist, album, song, genre" nonsense that Apple got us all stuck in. iRiver really knew how to design an interface.

Along the way I tried an RCA device.  It was a good idea, but I had to ship the first one back immediately because it was defective, and the replacement didn't last much past the warranty period.
For the next several years, as I've written here before, I had my music collection parcelled out between three 500 GB Archos media tablets. These were wonderful Android devices, with the usual Archos attention to quality.  Sounded better than Apple products and afforded a great deal more flexibility. But Archos stopped manufacturing the larger capacity devices, which threw me back to Apple. Drat!  So, as a 500 GB Archos would eventually give up the ghost, I would replace it with two iPod Classics -- But now Apple has followed Archos into the land of small ambitions, and the Classic is no longer available.

But I am no longer a frustrated listener dragging five or more devices through the TSA checkpoints of America. Now, with the iBasso, and a handful of these 256 GB jump drives, I travel with my entire music collection in my bag at all times, AND I can listen to lossless files on the thing -- This gives me the sound quality of Neil Young's PonoPlayer with none of its limitations. On the way home for Thanksgiving Break, I was listening to a lossless recording of Stevie Wonder's SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE CONCERT at the Verizon Center in D.C. -- Talk about your freindly skies.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


The last ALA Poetry Symposium I had attended was at the beloved Bahia in San Diego -- This year's gathering was at a Hyatt in Savannah, Georgia, right on the river with views of enormous cargo ships going by.

At both of these symposia there was an odd tension between the programming of the keynote sessions and the work being done at most of the panels, which seems from my experience to characterize ALA events more generally. In any event, there is always a lot of intriguing work going on at the ALA, as there will be in Boston in the Spring. We are fortunate to have  a wide umbrella under which we can offer such diversity of aesthetics and poetics.

My own presentation this year was a portion of an essay on Denise Leveretov and Al Young, which will appear in a book being edited by Donna Hollenburg. The panel on which I appeared, The New American Poetries in Black and White, included a great paper on Rusell Atkins from Tom Jesse, and John Lowney's exciting new work on Amiri Baraka. I also chaired a panel earlier in the day discussing Contemporary Poets on Race, History, Dialogue and Ekphrasis, featuring Anne Keefe, Wesley Rothman and David Anderson. Anderson spoke on the work of Marilyn Nelson, whose reading at Penn State I had to miss in order to attend this symposium.

[Left to right: Aldon Nielsen, John Lowney, Chair Briona Jones, Tom Jesse and conference director  Richard Flynn.]

[Left above: conference co-organizer Olivia Edenfield]

The conference kicked off with a poetry reading featuring faculty from Georgia Southern University, Eric Nelson and Emma Bolden. Eric, it turns out, had been active in the D.C. area poetry family back in my student days.

There was a surprise appearance of the Bad Tenors Blues Band -- You may soon be able to hear pirated recordings of the concert.

Friday, October 17, 2014

THE MUSIC LOVER'S COMPANION - Tech Report on iBasso DX50

An early adopter of portable music player technologies, I've been frustrated for years by the reluctance of the industry to provide for those of us with large collections of music. I dearly loved that first Walkman I bought on a trip to the beach in my youth, but dreaded carrying large numbers of cassettes around with me. My first portable CD player kept me company in the car on long commutes, but I was always restricted to the CDs I had on the trip with me. Come the MP3 revolution and I was right there, despite my preference for lossless listening. My first 15 GB Archos player was a god-send, and I was one of the first buyers of an iPod, and thus one of the first recipients of a settlement when Apple was sued over the cruddy battery technology they had sealed us into.

But I always thought iTunes an abominable interface, and I hated the fact that the iPod could not be navigated by folder -- A listener is at the mercy of odd tagging and bad typing, so that any long list of artists/songs/albums is a pain to reckon with. We now have various cloud services, but the thought of renting space for my own music every month is abhorrent, and I need to be able to listen even when I don't have an internet or phone connection.

So for some years I carried my entire music collection on three 500 GB Archos 5 media tablets.  They were a bit on the bulky side compared to iPod, but they were 500 GBs! They used android operating systems and were quite easy to navigate. They had numerous other features, being full-blown media tablets, but I pretty much only used them for music listening, using tablets when I wanted a tablet.

But then Archos stopped manufacturing the 500 GB model, and I was thrown back to Apple much against my will.

For the past year or so I've been carrying my collection on the two surviving Archos devices and two iPod classics, which have 160 GB each, as you see in this array. This has taken care of the capacity issue, but has me cursing Apple every time I use the iPods; and now Apple has discontinued the iPod classic.  Eventually all four of these devices will die, and then I'd be up the creek. I have been using a quite handy little external drive that holds one TB and streams music to a tablet or computer, but that's even more bulk in my lap on the airplane.

So thanks go to Stephan Thomasopolis Grandjean who, in a post on FaceBook, happened to mention the iBasso DX50, which I have now been testing for a week.

As configured in this photo of my device, my entire jazz collection travels with me, and there is room to add about another 30 GBs of MP3s. The device itself has only 8 GB internal memory, but takes a 128 GB micro SD card in a slot. Then I have added another 256 GBs of jazz on that little thumb drive. That's 392 GB in a form equivalent to one iPod classic. And the iBasso allows navigation by folder, so I can get to the exact piece I want to hear in seconds with no sorting through badly spelled tags. Three more of the thumb drives hold the rest of my collection of rock, soul, reggae, classical, etc. I'll probably even get one more for all the poetry.  I can now travel with my entire collection of every piece of music I've accumulated since age 12 in one jacket pocket.  Further, this device plays lossless formats such as FLAC. My current plan is to reserve the paltry 8 GBs of on board memory for listening to recently downloaded lossless files I haven't gotten around to compressing yet.

Some of the early reviews of the iBasso were negative, with several people complaining of problems getting their computers to recognize the device. I gather the first firmware updates took care of that bug, though, as I have had no trouble using this with both new and old computers. I had the DX50 up and running within minutes of unboxing.

This thing is designed to work with micro sd cards up to 2 TB -- but there is no such card as yet, 128 GB being the largest generally available -- But, as you see, you can plug in a flash drive and it works like a charm, something no Apple player will permit.  There is a 500 GB thumb drive on the market, but you can get twice that capacity on 256 GB drives for the same money, so that's what I've done.

The menus are easy to use with a great touch screen.

And, I should mention, the sound is superb. I've been testing with a variety of headphones and external speakers, and am pleased with the quality. There is a sensitive volume control, and you can call up an EQ to adjust everything if you wish.There are several other lossless players on the market, but none that will allow me to have my entire collection at hand like this, and several of those are really expensive.

For once the industry has produced a good product that can grow with the technology and with my collection. We should have those 2 TB cards before too long.  Now I just have to pray these things stay on the market and don't go the way of the Archos 5 or the iPod classic.  There's always been a market for audiophiles, though the prices are out of my league.  (Early on I fell in love with the iRiver players, but that company's products are now very high-priced lossless players -- beyond my reach and not enough capacity anyway.) There should be a market for music lovers like me who need lots of memories -- 

Oh, by the way -- the battery is excellent, and unlike Apple's bad example, iBasso decided to let users replace the batteries should the need arise.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


The avant gardeners cracked into furious flower at dawn -- First panel of the day brought us, ALL IN ONE PLACE, Erica Hunt, John Keene, Evie Shockley, Tyrone Williams and Tonya Foster. Duriel Harris was still on hand from the previous night's cancelled reading -- It was a once in a life time aggregation of talent -- 

Meta Jones and Tony Medina were holding office hours outdoors on this fine day.

And post-lunch brought us to the open mic event -- always one of my favorite parts of these events -- heard some work I had not known before, which is kinda the point -- 

Fortunately for the audience, Mendi Obadike and Tyehmba Jess, part of the cancelled reading lineup, were still in town this last afternoon and were able to join that final panel of readers -- Making it a mini-marathon of poetics -- 

Following a quick dinner down the hill from campus, it was back to the auditorium for a concert by the Ravi Coltrane Quartet, easily the best Furious Flower concert since Bernice Johnson Reagon held the stage, and a large audience, all by herself at the 1994 conference.

Back in '94, the heroic remnant gathered in a nearby hotel room to party; among other memorable things, that was the first time I saw Jerry Ward do his Jerry Ward dance.  Thanks and kudos to Thomas Sayers Ellis, who worked his magic with the staff at the Marriott and got us a conference room for what has to be among the best unscheduled poetry events of our time -- and a private thanks to Luke Stewart, who, in addition to powerful work on the bass, and to keeping things going at WPFW, mastered the art of opening a bottle without an opener --