Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Fred Wah confronted by a critic.

Things had seemed to be going so well on my trip to Orono, Me, for the seventies conference [the ME. decade?]-- then I discovered that first night that the lens to my beloved Nikon had gotten broken somehow along the way. These two photos of Coolidges, Killians, Bellamys & Mylessssss were all that I was able to rescue. For the rest, I had to resort to taking photos with my cell phone, which eventuated in the soft focus results you see below. It seemed fitting, though; the seventies were a sort of soft focus, albeit harDCore, era.

The one photo I clearly did not take myself was borrowed from the Mongibeddu photo stream.

Along with delivering my own paper (on David Bromige, Kenneth Irby & Max Douglas), I was asked to provide an introduction for the reading by Jayne Cortez. Here are my remarks:

"At a certain moment in history when Aime Cesaire started to decolonize his neolonial head
and free his image by dealing with the world from the idea of negritude
when young Aime Cesaire said forget Paris and returned to look into the future by diving inside
the past of his native land . . .
At that moment of no compromise his poetry became poetry unique to poetry . . . "

In the small hours of April, before a crowd that did not know how to crowd, these words brought comfort –
That afternoon, as I sat in a room at Georgetown University, poet Rod Smith had come quietly up to me pushing his cell phone towards me – without my glasses on, I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, but then, as he pointed to the display on his phone, it came into focus . . . the screen bore the news that Aime Cesaire had died –

We passed the phone to poet Eugene Redmond, who made the announcement to the stunned crowd gathered at the conference, a conference dedicated to the arts in the Civil Rights era – What could any of us say? We all, poets and activists alike, carried Cesaire inside our very language – on our tongues --
That night, the first poet on the evening program was Jayne Cortez – with no preliminaries, she began quietly reciting her poem of tribute to Cesaire – a poem that itself grows out of a moment of no compromise – a moment when what is needed more than ever is a poetry unique to poetry –

This has always been Jayne Cortez’s way – from MOUTH ON PAPER to JAZZ FAN LOOKS BACK, from COAGULATIONS to SOMEWHERE IN ADVANCE OF NOWHERE – The titles of her brilliant recordings might almost serve as a manifesto for any artist determined on a course of self-sufficiency: MAINTAIN CONTROL, UNSUBMISSIVE BLUES, TAKING THE BLUES BACK HOME – or, if you’re of a philosophic bent, BORDERS OF DISORDERLY TIME

No one told her to do this – No one could tell her how to do this – There were only the brave examples of those disorderly orders of predecession: Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas, Nicolas Guillen, Big Mama Thornton – poets who recognized what Cortez remarks in one poem: "Everybody wants to be famous - Nobody needs it."
In the afterlife of the word, it is not fame that feeds us – it is the name that comes to the tip of our tongue, borne up on the waves of our history –
At a certain moment, when neither the politics nor the poetry of custom could bear us up any longer, Jayne Cortez returned to look into the future and found that THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN, found her way to THE BEAUTIFUL BOOK, found her way to flying home, to bumblebee and Big Mama, found her way to no compromise – won
her primary –

Steve Evans inadvertently stumbles across Bruce Andrews's secret lexicon stash backstage.

Watch this space in days to come for a few sound samples from the poets at Orono --

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