Wednesday, January 21, 2009

November 1963

I took this photo in November of 1963.  I had just turned thirteen and took this with a Brownie Starflash camera my parents had given me.

This photo was much on my mind yesterday as I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama, and not only because I was standing on the grounds of the capitol when I took it.

This camera man was standing vigil on the scene as John Kennedy's body lay in state.  My family and I had been among the thousands lined up along Constitution Avenue just hours before as Kennedy's funeral cortege marched solemnly up the street to the accompaniment of muffled drums.

The Civil ights Act had not yet been passed.  The Voting Rights Act was still to come.  The nation faced uncertainty, dread and unspeakable loss.

Yesterday the crowds were again lining the streets and filling the mall in D.C. -- In so many ways, I felt that our nation had finally turned a corner that had just come into sight in November of 1963.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today belonged to the crowd.

and who among our poets wrote more powerfully of our own powers in the crowd than Whitman?

Here's my idea of a good inaugural poem:

The sum of all known reverance I add up in you whoever you are,
The President is there in the White House for you, not you who are here for him,
The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you, not you here for them,
The Congress convenes every Twelfth-month for you,
Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities, the
going and coming of commerce and mails, are all for you.

--Walt Whitman, A Song for Occupations

Justice Roberts Flubs the Oath

I thought it sort of cute, a symptom of his eagerness to get on the job, that Obama began repeating his oath as Chief Justice Roberts was still speaking -- but then an odd thing happened -- 

In the days leading up to this, some journalists had commented on the good interchanges between Roberts and Obama, given that Obama had opposed the Roberts nomination.

Now, suddenly, Roberts, who is reputed to be an expert on the Constitution, changed the word order of the oath.  This is how the oath is specified in Aricle  II Section 1 of our Constiution:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

In Roberts' version, the "faithfully" went wandering.  There was a pause as Obama, clearly recognizing that something was amiss, didn't respond.  Roberts then reprompted, still incorrectly.  Obama did his best to repeat -- and the somewhat unconstitutional deed was done.

I suppose this was just a case of nerves on Roberts' part, but I can't help reading it as an omen.

Let's hope that President Obama will find nominees for the Supreme Court who will prove more careful readers of the Constitution of the United states of America.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

We Are One

One of the first things I was to witness when my family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1963 was the March on Washington.  Though I was too young to comprehend the full dimensions of what took place that day, the vision of all those people coming together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the cause of justice and freedom stayed with me for the rest of my days.  Not too long after, Sam Cooke composed his song "A Change Is Gonna Come," which I first heard sung by Otis Redding.

Today I saw an incomparable coming toether of generations as Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi met before Lincoln's gaze and a nation's . . . four decades on, with President-Elect Obama before them, they sang for all of us, "a change has come."

They leave it to us to make that true . . . 


and speaking of Lorenzo Thomas, here's his still timely "Inauguration," from The Bathers.

The land was there before us
Was the land. Then things
Began happening fast. Because
The bombs us have always work
Sometimes it makes me think
God must be one of us. Because
Us has saved the wold. Us gave it
A particular set of regulations
based on 1) undisputable acumen
2) carnivorous fortunes, delicately
Referred to here as "bull market"
And (of course) other irrational factors
Deadly smoke thick over the icecaps,
Our man in Saigon Lima Tokyo etc etc

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Clickaphonics - Ishmael Reed Introducing the 2008 American Book Awards

Clickaphonics - Al Young hosting the American Book Awards

Clickaphonics - C.S. Giscombe reads from Prairie Style at American Book Awards

Clickaphonics - Aldon Lynn Nielsen at American Book Awards, Introduced by Al Young


That was Ishmael Reed kicking off a Duke Ellington tune at Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley last month, with Carla Blank taking the lead on violin.

Who knew that in addition to being a novelist, essayist and poet, Reed could take a turn at the keyboard?

The occasion was the 2008 American Book Awards of the Before Columbus Foundation.  Reed was instrumental in the creation of the foundation back in 1976, and they've been giving these awards since 1978.  This year's honorees included Douglas Blackmon, C. S. Giscombe, Nikki Giovanni, Moustafa Bayoumi, Angela Jackson, Fae Ng, Maria Mazziotti Gillian and J.J. Phillips.  Also honored was the posthumous volume by Lorenzo Thomas, Don't Deny My Name, that I edited and introduced, published earlier in the year by the University of Michigan Press.  I was out in Pennsylvania when word of the award reached me, but it transpired that the ceremony in Berkeley was to be held during the time the Modern Language Association was meeting in San Francisco.  So I took some time out from the MLA Poetry Division and other sessions, and jumped on the BART to get across the Bay in time for the festivities.  Seeing Reed at the piano was surprise enough; finding Taj Mahal there in the audience, a musician I have been listening to since I was fifteen, was all the award I needed.

Afterwards, Cecil and his family along with colleague Paul Youngquist joined us on the BART trip back to San Francisco and the Yerba Buena Center where we joined the MLA Off-Site reading, already in progress.  Cecil ran into one of his students on the BART train.

This year's Book Awards were hosted by poet Al Young.

[principal photography by Anna Everett]

Friday, January 16, 2009


I wasn't able to make the MLA panel that featured David Horowitz, having commitments to attend other sessions having to do with, er, modern languages, so I've had to rely on subsequent reports to learn what happened.

The CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION recently ran a column on the event.  In that column they reported on objections to Horowitz's presentation from the audience, highlighting remarks made by Barbara Foley and Grover Furr.  According to the CHRONICLE, Furr said that he objected to Horowitz's presence on the panel not because of Horowitz's ideology, but "because he is a liar."

In his usual thoughtful and temperate way, Horowitz responded by bragging that he "was in the Civil Rights Movement before Barbara Foley was born."

Without outing Barbara's birth certificate, suffice it to say that Horowitz thereby proved Gordon Furr's point.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tan Lin, Too

The latest volume from Manuel Brito's incomparable and long-running Zasterle Editions is Tan Lin's plagiarism project, which I hereby dutifully copy.

Find information about the press at this link.  Zasterle Editions can also be found at Small Press Distribution.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"Are Palestinians and Israelis condemned to destroy each other physically and morally for years and for decades? Real agreements for peace and coexistence, like the ones reached by Mandela and de Klerk in South Africa, show how the bitterest struggles can be resolved by generosity, forgiveness, and a sense of history. Years ago, in my 1988 Palestinian diary, I quoted the words of an intellectual from East Jerusalem about the double dream of descendants of Isaac and Ishmael: the disappearance or nonexistence of the other. But the problem, he concluded, 'as much for ourselves as for them, rests in knowing whether we are prepared to accept something less than our dream.'
"After Oslo, the Israelis cherished the hope that they had realized their dream at the expense of the Palestinians' nightmare. This hope can now be seen to be totally illusory. Only recognition of Palestinian identity and the Palestinian right to an independent, democratic state will one day put an end to the tragedy in the Middle east."
--Juan Goytisolo

Goytisolo wrote these words for the newspaper El Pais a decade ago; they remain sadly timely.

Every day I hear news people on my television insisting that the problem is the refusal of Hamas to admit the right of Israel to exist.  I seldom hear this paired with reminders of such things as Golda Meir's statement that "there is no such thing as a Palestinian."  What can be more clear than that Israel refuses to permit the existence of an independent Palestinian nation with contiguous borders and autonomy. (Not to mention control over its own water and electricity resources.)

Twice I have heard David Shuster on MSNBC insist to his interlocutors that four-fifths of the deaths in Gaza are Hamas fighters, a number contradicted by absoultely every independent source.

The Israeli forces devastated the Jenin refugee camp at the beginning of the Bush administration, pursuing an absolute orgy of destruction in which they even went out of their way to destroy private cars parked along the roads and desktop computers in education offices.  Bush did nothing.  When the IDF invaded Lebanon and again pursued a policy of rampant murder and destruction, Bush again did nothing.  Now the official position of the Bush administration, with no comment from Obama, is that a cease fire from the waves of death in Gaza would be "premature."

In Lebanon, the IDf fired on UN observer posts, claiming that Hezbollah fighters were firing from that area, a claim refuted by multiple independent observers.  In Lebanon the IDf deployed antipersonnel weapons in civilian areas, in open violation of international treaties.

In Gaza, the IDF attacks UN schools where civilians have sought refuge.  The IDF uses mass deployments of white phosphor weapons, with predictable consequences.

Is there any one who truly believes that these tactics will put a halt to the Hamas rocket attacks.  Is there anyone who believes that this will lead to peace?  Is there anyone who believes that the political leadership in Israel sees this as a pathway to peaceful relations with an independent Palestinian neighbor?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

clickaphonnics - Duriel Harris at MLA off-site reading

clickaphonics - A.L. Nielsen at MLA off-site reading

MLA Off-Site Reading Part II

There were a few changes at this year's off-site reading:  People wore masks, Walter Lew's two minutes only took ten minutes, and I didn't wear a tie.