Monday, November 25, 2013


 Just returned from this year's meeting of the American Studies Association -- My only real complaint (aside from the perennial "not enough poetry"): too many of the panels on subjects of my greatest interest were packed into the first day.  When I saw the theme of the conference, "Beyond the Logic of Debt," I did indeed think of Ed Dorn's great poem "On the Debt My Mother Owed to Sears and Roebuck."  I heard no references to that poem over the weekend, but I heard much else of interest.
My own contribution was on a first day panel organized by Michael Bibby and chaired by Anna Everett on the topic of poetry in Washington, D.C. -- Michael gave a historically grounded talk on the Sojourn for Truth and Justice in D.C. in 1951 and the poem around which it centered. James Smethurst spoke on the career of my old friend Gaston Neal. My own talk concerned Gil Scott-Heron's D.C. years.  I was up early for the day's first session, papers organized aorund the fiftieth anniversary of C.L.R, James's BEYOND A BOUNDARY.

My Thursday peaked with an all poetry panel that was very nearly a reunion of the forces that had gathered at Penn State just a few weeks ago for our conference on African American poetry. This panel was helmed by Evie Shockley.

Later in the weekend I reunited with good buddy Jeremy Glick -- we later had dinner with Alex Weheliye; much good conversation over the injera. There were two panels in conjunction with the special funk issue of American Studies, in which some of my work on William Parker, Amiri Baraka and Curtis Mayfield appears. Tony Bolden edited this issue and was on hand to steer the panels into port. Odd to be old enough to hear academic papers on Betty Mabry Davis -- 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Journey to the Dukedom

Last month I traveled to North Carolina to spend the Columbus Day weekend at Duke University. Things started off with a meeting of Duke's Poetry Working Group, gathering at the home of long-time friends Joseph Donahue and Priscilla Wald -- Have to say I envy Duke that working group; a lively collaboration of engaged writers and thinkers -- I shared with them some of my work on Lloyd Addison, and then we had a free-ranging discussion -- The following night I read in the Manic Caravan series with Ryan Ananat, who earned extra cred with me by mixing tracks from Eugene McDaniels's Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse into the wild swirl of music with which he interacted.

I'm especially grateful to Ken Taylor, J. Peter Moore and Damien-Adia Marassa for taking time out of their holiday weekend to share their town and their thoughts with me. Thanks to Damien, again, for those photos in which I appear -- That's Damien pointing at the headless anti-heroes just above.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


 This Fall brought yet another inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, to Penn State for the annual Dickinson reading, sponsored by George and Barbara Kelly and the Department of English. George was on hand for the event, along with his son. Always good to see the Kellys, who have been so generous in their support of literature at Penn State. 

That reading was quickly followed by a fiction reading from Thomas Glave. I spotted Glave early the next morning attending our conference on African American and Caribbean poetry.

Sunday, November 03, 2013


It says, "Penn State Lives Here," and at least for Oct. 25 & 26 it seemed we really did.  Every other year, Penn State hosts another conference in our series CELEBRATING AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE, and after several conferences devoted to prose (during the course of which we managed to slip in several poets) it was time for an entire conference on African American and Caribbean poetry. The faculty of English, the conference staff and student volunteers did a wonderful job of putting this together, under the leadership of Lovalerie King and Shirley Moody Turner. After the obligatory welcomes, the conference started off with a keynote by Erica Hunt, introduced by Grant Jenkins.  That was followed immediately by the first reading, featuring Ishion Hutchinson (who had just been announced as a Whiting Award winner earlier in the week), introduced by Laura Vrana.  Those two events set the tone for what was to follow; couldn't have asked for better framing of the weekend's discussions.

I have to say that current and former PhD students from Penn State did exemplary work.  Their papers were the equal of work done by scholars far further into their careers. Our guest scholars presented us with many surprises.  Who knew that Tsitsi Jaji would play the piano and sing as part of her work on musical settings of poems? J. Peter Moore, who I had met at Duke just days earlier, offered insightful analysis of an important, overlooked bibliographic fact: the version of a poem in Gwendolyn Brooks's Near Johannesburg Boy dedicated to Haki Madhabuti had first appeared in 1965 as a contribution to a celebration of Abraham Lincoln.  Every panel I attended afforded such revelations and instigations.

We closed the conference with a reading from Kwame Dawes, after which I got Keith Leonard and Meta Jones to contribute to my little meme.

and thanks to Howard Rambsy for this one photo of me without my camera . . .