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. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Poor boy took all he had, started down the road,
Carried a four course load,
And that's no way to get along.

The D.C. flag was looking a bit rag timey as I crossed over. But I was back, rolling into town for reunion.

Nearly three decades after earning my doctorate from the George Washington University, I was back to give a lecture supplying some historical context to the poetry of the Dasein group of poets. My framework was a poem published in Burning Spear in tribute to a performance of The 'JFK' Quintet at the Bohemian Caverns.
The Caverns, built under a drug store, had started out as Club Caverns, had then crystalised, and became bohemian in time for the Beat era. The club was a burnt out shell in my day, but has now been gentrified and singularized; evidently there's only one cavern today.

Mr. Hugh was there, chief U.S. apostle of Swami Gotchyanumba.

AND I visited Howard University, scene of my first full time teaching position, to meet with Meta Jones's students, grad and undergrad. The class, as it happened, met in the same room as my last class there, just down the hall from the office I'd shared with poet Calvin Forbes. Wonderful meeting the young minds that hold the fort where I once worked -- The city has changed so much, but O brave new world / that has such people in it.

And that'll be the way to get along.