Across three decades I've been listening to the music of Amina Claudine Myers without ever having had an opportunity to see her in concert.
I first heard her in the company of her many brilliant colleagues in Chicago's AACM -- particularly pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams. From the outset, though, Myers was an accomplished composer and performer in her own right. Among the many albums of her work in my collection are Jumping in the Sugar Bowl, The Circle of Time, Song for Mother E, Amina Claudine Myers Salutes Bessie Smith and my favorite (surprise), Poems for Piano. Many of these collections are still available on CD, and you can check this Amazon page for information about them.
This past Friday night, Myers performed on the campus of Penn State University, with Ronnie Burrage on drums and RaDu Williams on bass. The trio was joined on stage at several points during the concert by student musicians from the Essence of Joy Choir and the Centre Dimensions Band.
The audience was small (I didn't see much publicity beyond an announcement in the student newspaper), but many came equipped with video cameras and all were intent on the music.
The concert kicked off with "Jumping in the Sugar Bowl," a signature tune for Myers that has its roots in the game she played with her childhood friends in Arkansas. The evening closed with a rousing jam built on top of an election-season social comment.
The long-awaited "Post-Soul Aesthetics" issue of African American Review is now out, and as you can see here, the issue is as beautiful as it is provocative. This cover art is by Ron Davis.
I was asked to write a prefatory piece for the collection, titled "Preliminary Postings from a Neo-Soul." The guest editor for the special issue was Bertram Ashe, who also convened a discussion, reproduced in the issue, featuring Mark Anthony Neal, Crystal Anderson, Alexander Weheliye and Evie Shockley. Contributing essays to the issue were Paul Taylor, Richard Schur, Crystal Anderson, David Jones, Marlo David, Malin Pereira, Brian Reed, Michelle Elam and William Ramsey. Almost two decades have passed since Trey Ellis published his controversial essay on "The New Black Aesthetic" in Callaloo, and this issue of AAR may be the most substantive response to the phenomena outlined by Ellis in the intervening years.
Mary Karr got off to a rough start when she took over the WASHINTON POST BOOK WORLD'S column "Poet's Choice," making an egregious factual error that any college student in American Literature would have recognized. Today she has managed to outdo herself.
In an otherwise unremarkable retrospective on the otherwise remarkable work of poet Bill Knott, Karr recalls a poem of his she first read when she was in high school. I gather from the context of her comments that she must have been in high school around the same time I was. The Knott poem was a response to the war in Vietnam: "The only response / to a child's grave is / to lie down before it and play dead."
But how does Karr begin the sentence in which she reminds us of this poem?
"As American bombs were accidentally killing children . . ."
This is, if anything, worse than the language of "collateral damage." When American "surgical strikes" rained bombs on Vietnamese targets, the deaths of those on the ground were no accident.
I was all set to write an entry about last night's presidential "town hall" (which was in a hall and in a town, but unrecognizable otherwise) when I was brought up short by a letter in our campus newspaper this morning. Today's Daily Collegian includes a letter to the editor from a self-described member of our local chapter of YOUNG AMERICANS FOR FREEDOM.
Here's the breath-taking logic that seems to characterize Republican representations of the Obama campaign these days.
Our correspondent begins by describing several pieces of Obama "propaganda" he'd spotted posted around campus. Then he writes: "What makes me even more nervous is that some of the flyers depict Obama looking to the left with the word 'Hope' underneath. It is very reminiscent of a 1930s Stalin poster. It seems that Obama wants to 'change' America into a communist state. . . . So, when voting, remember to vote for the candidate that represents traditional American values, not a comrade that does not have your best interest in mind."
What are we to make of the numerous Obama posters that depict him looking straight ahead, or to the right? How does the mere fact that someone is shown looking to the left while expressing hope become translated into evidence of communist intentions? What are we to make of the innumerable campaign posters and ads that show McCain looking off to his left?
Hey, come to think of it, Obama was positioned on the left side of the stage last night -- But that also meant that McCain was often seen looking to the left. But that was his right. Obama was to the right of McCain ---
This letter was signed by a senior in political science, which would have been an even greater cause for concern had I not met so many bright and thoughtful political science majors at Penn State, liberal and conservative alike, who can actually read and reason.
My television is bringing me Sarah Palin's campaign appearance from Florida -- She, of course, started out with a few proud references to last week's Vice Presidential debates --
A few minutes later she was repeating her usual riff on Obama's tax proposals -- Then, she complained that the Obama campaign is "never asked" about how they will pay for their proposed programs -- "They never ask 'em," Palin asserts.
I guess she assumes that none of us remember the debates last week that she referenced just minutes ago -- In that debate, both sides were asked what programs they might have to dispense with. Like me, you probably found that one of the more memorable moments in the debate, since Plain refused to answer -- She told us that she had only been campaigning for five weeks, and thus had no promises she might have to take back --
They do indeed "ask 'em," but some times the candidates tell you point blank that they won't answer.
In the last of the small hours, we who love to be astonished sank into the hotel lobby, too wide awake with some 72 hours of poetry and conversation to go right to sleep.
The last night had culminated in, what else, a bar reading -- One Duquesne student encountered at the bar remarked on what a bounty it was to have an honest-to-god bar right there on campus -- Not wanting to act my age, I didn't tell him of the old days when every campus had its Ratskellar.
The crowd was primed by the days of the conference -- and each poet was greeted volubly, cheers that even drowned out the sound of the game on the big screen in the back.
The subject of the conference had been women's poetry after 1900.
It was pretty clear from this last night that women's poetry after 2000 could justify a conference all on its own.