Sunday, January 22, 2017


With Tray Aldon Nielsen establishes himself as a formidable voice among American poets. And voice, his forte and bete noire, articulates social criticism as aesthetic form. The incantations of religious and secular crusades are rendered in the eponymous opening poem as live scratching by a deejay (call him History, or God): Gangster Zimmerman as another wanna-be gangsta. And in the poems that constitute “Escamotage,” the second half of the book, Nielsen’s penchant for puns, jokes and blues whimsy are offset by a deft lyricism that is, by turns, poignant (“Interval” is a touching homage to Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost Baby Poem”), humorous (“Clarence Farmer’s Complaint”) and celebratory (“Experimental Hope”). The common senses and uncommon sense delineated as Tray will be balm for our new dark age.    
–Tyrone Williams

These days we're trying to save us. These are some good poems about that.
--Rod Smith

Watch for it at Make Now Books:

Friday, January 20, 2017


 The University of California at Santa Barbara's Film and Media Studies department has for some time hosted a great series, "Script to Screen," presenting discussions with script writers and others for a public audience.  Last week the session included a screening of America's number one movie, Hidden Figures

The Writer guest this time was Theodore Melfi, the writer/producer/director of the film, who passed up another Spider Man project because he so wanted to make this film. Melfi was accompanied on stage by Elizabeth Gabler, President of Fox 2000 Pictures, and a graduate of UCSB, and then there was this actor fella who grew up not far from here, one Costner by name. The only thing that could have made the night even better would have been the presence of the remarkable women at the heart of this project. (Is there nothing Janelle Monae can't do?)

After introductions, the audience settled in to watch the film, and it was easy to feel in that audience how the moment needed exactly this kind of feel good story of triumph.  There are small quiblles with the film, and it pretty much follows the arc of all such movies, but this is a great one of its genre and is really well written.

My favorite line comes near the end: "I know you believe that."

I won't spoil things by telling you the context.  See the film!

Thursday, January 19, 2017


So, we have an incoming President who has the distnction of being the first in history to have entered into a $25,000,000 settlement with people he had defrauded.

During the campaign, documents surfaced showing that his third wife, Melania, had performed illegal work for hire during the period of her first visa, which in turn would render her citizenship application fraudulent. Trump, you may recall, promised that Melania would hold a press conference to clear things up.  Never happened . . .

As of noon tomorrow, Trump will be in patent violation of his lease with the United States Government (us) for the Old Post Office property where he is visiting tonight.

As of noon tomorrow, Trump will be in violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Oh, and it was against the law to appoint Mattis as Secretary of Defense -- Not to worry; the GOP just changes the law.

I could go on, but there is no need to -- they will go on.  Get used to this flagrant lawlessness.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

MLA Off-Site Reading 2017 -- Return to Philadelphia

Back in 1989, Rod Smith hosted the first of what came to be known in time as the MLA Off-Site Readings. I have not always been on hand, and in some years there hasn't been one, but this year we were back in Philadelphia, where the poetry community has come through again and again and put together some of the best of these events. I've always likened them to the New Music festivals I attended as a young man, where people would bring wine and snacks, and wander in and out -- a tremendous marathon event celebrating poetry and our communities.  This year's was brought together by Davy Knittle and Anna Strong, with additional hosting by Lily Applebaum, Zack Arrington and Mel Bentley.  We were back in The Rotunda, where we'd been once before.

One lesson drawn from obvservations at this year's reading: when you see somebody bent over their smart phone, they may just be writing and reading poetry.

As in the past, keep an eye on Penn Sound, where a recording of this powerful event will appear in due course.