Thursday, December 21, 2006


[Today's blog, getting in the Holiday spirit, is given over to an article found on the front page of today's WASHINGTON POST, concerning one Aldon D. Nielsen, someone whose name differs by one letter, and who himself differs by one generation, from your humble servant.]

Mastering a Branch of HistoryAmateur Photographer Has Focused On Decades of the National Christmas Tree

By Timothy DwyerWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, December 21, 2006; A01

Each year since 1963, Aldon D. Nielsen, 84, has taken pictures of the National Christmas Tree. He's trudged out there in the snow and sleet and rain, on frigid nights and perfectly clear star-kissed nights. He has photographed fat trees, skinny trees and one tree that had to be surgically repaired because the train carrying it to Washington derailed.

Over the years, he has become the nation's leading expert on the history of the tree. When the tree is lighted each year, it marks a moment in the country's history, the ceremony a reflection of what is going on in America and the world. Jimmy Carter, the sweater president, had energy-efficient lights. Richard Nixon pulled the switch to light the tree while being hooted by Vietnam War protesters. Ronald Reagan, after an assassination attempt, lighted the tree from the White House instead of the Ellipse for security reasons. During the Iran hostage crisis, the tree was dark except for a star on top out of respect for the captured Americans. On Dec. 18, 1980, Carter lighted the tree for only 417 seconds, one for each day the hostages had spent in captivity. On Inauguration Day in 1981 when the hostages were released, Reagan ordered the tree redecorated in time for their return home.

Throughout the years, presidents have moved in and out of the White House, but Nielsen has made the trip from his home in Northern Virginia to record the image of the tree. A self-trained photographer who worked for the Department of the Interior for most of his life, Nielsen is believed to be the only person in the country with such an extensive archive of photos of the National Christmas Tree. He has his collection on a slide show, compete with music and a historical narrative. He has gone from film to digital to video, from middle age to old age, from father to grandfather to great-grandfather, and all the while kept up his mission.
He is the unofficial-official National Christmas Tree photographer. The National Park Service found out about him about seven years ago and scooped up his photos and put them on its Web site as part of its year-by-year history of the tree.

"I think it is a very unique project that he has undertaken," said Terry Adams, a spokesman for the National Park Service. "It takes some time, and he is devoted to it. I would venture to guess that there is probably no one in the country better prepared to speak about that tree than he is."

Nielsen, a native of Nebraska who served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, took his first picture of the National Christmas Tree just a few months after moving to Arlington. He, his wife, Vivian, and their four children arrived in 1963 from Denver, where he worked for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in a variety of positions, including chief of operations. The tree was lighted later than usual that year because President Lyndon B. Johnson said the lights should not be turned on during the 30-day mourning period for President John F. Kennedy.

"I heard about the lighting of the tree, and so we went in for it," he recalled. "I parked my car on 18th Street. I didn't have a tripod, so I just set the camera on the roof of the car and took the picture that way. I remember it was icy."

He came back the next December and the December after that. "It was more of a family outing than anything else," he said. He took his camera each year and shot the photograph at dusk or just after. Some time after his third or fourth Christmas in Washington, a news release came across his desk about a photo that was available of President Calvin Coolidge lighting the Christmas tree in 1923. The National Park Service was one floor down from his office. He paid a visit and got a copy of the picture. "I realized just how connected to history the tree was," he said.

Soon enough, the annual trip to the White House became more of a vocation than a family trip. His children grew up, his wife stopped going with him, and still he continued to make the trip, alone, as he did this month.

In the mid-1970s, Nielsen began going to nursing homes and retirement communities to present the slide show of his collection. When the tree lights went from the traditional on-off type to computer-controlled lights that fade in and out, Nielsen adjusted by going to video. "I used time-lapse photography, and with the lights changing all the time, it didn't work." Each year, he would drop by the Park Service in the fall and pick up information about the selected tree so he could incorporate the details into his slide show. Environmentalists persuaded the Park Service to stop using cut trees and go to a live tree. The first couple of live trees did not survive very long.

"In my narration," Nielsen said, "I'd tell people how difficult it is to live in Washington and that some of the trees didn't make it."

Nielsen will be 85 years old in less than a month, and he is not sure how long he can continue the project that has made him a national treasure of sorts. He is in great shape. His children gave him a pair of walking shoes and a pedometer when he retired, and he said he has walked more than 10,000 miles since. He is thinking that he would like to have the youngest of his three sons take over the project for him. It would be nice to keep it in the family. He hasn't told his son about the plan yet.

On a recent day, he stood in the bright sunshine and raised his video camera toward the tree and shot for a few minutes. He wanted to get a little video of the tree in daylight for a change. He stopped recording, reviewed the video in the viewfinder and then flipped the switch to "record" once again. "Too much sky in the shot," he said. And then he went back to his labor of love, photographing the nation's Christmas tree. Maybe he's not ready to give up the job after all.

[You can see some of the Christmas Tree photos, read the histories and note yet another incorect spelling of the family name here: -- and, to round out the story, below is a photo of Nielsen, taken some years ago by another amateur.]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Today's blog is bedecked with the photos of conservative luminaries of years gone by to make one very simple point, that Mark Bauerline's representations of our television past are not to be trusted.
This week's issue of THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION features a lengthy essay by Bauerline, who is on the faculty of Emory Univeristy, titled HOW ACADEME SHORTCHANGES CONSERVATIVE THINKING. Yes, this is the same Professor Bauerline who has held forth on this same subject in these same pages before. It would seem that no matter how often conservative thinkers complain that they are unjustly marginalized in the world of mainstream academia, the academic mainstream will go out of its way to afford them prime space in which to lodge their complaints.
But what standards of journalism are in place at THE CHRONICLE, and what standards of argument are being taught by Bauerline? Here, reproduced exactly, are the third and fourth sentences of Bauerline's essay:
"Thirty years ago, the only place to find conservatives on television was FIRING LINE, William F. Buckley's urbane talk show. Today they appear on MEET THE PRESS and 60 MINUTES."
And here we come to the fellows here depicted. Thirty years ago, conservative thinkers appeared on, gulp, 60 MINUTES and MEET THE PRESS. Anybody who has enjoyed the original Saturday Night Live's parodies of the 60 MINUTES segment known as POINT - COUNTERPOINT knows how little sense that routine would make without the conservative half of the joust. Week after week, 60 MINUTES gave us James Kilpatrick, he of the red sweater, as he lobbed inanities at the hapless liberals caught in the studio with him. Kilpatrick also held forth routinely, along with several other conservtaives, on AGRONSKY AND COMPANY, a show I watched for all those years that we didn't have cable in Washington, D.C. Kilpatrick had started out as a newspaper man in Virginia, where, as an editor in Richmond, he argued forcefully for the continuation of segregation and editorialized on the inferiority of African Americans. His reward for this was being brought up to the major leagues, where he appeared on both local and network television for many years.
And then there's Robert Novak, who even thirty years ago could be seen on MEET THE PRESS. Novak sometimes scoops the major papers with revelations spoon-fed to him by the Bush administration, and then again, sometimes he just gets in a huff and walks off the stage. The point is, and Bauerline knows this, Novak's television presence stretches back decades.

Conservatives have been on television from its infancy, and the likes of Novak and Kilpatrick were simply following in the path broken by such people as Joe Pyne, pictured at the top of today's blog. Pyne was in every way a prototype for the O'Reillys that plague us today. In the pre-cable era, his show was in national syndication and could be seen in nearly every major metropolitan area. Long before Novak had ever shouted down a guest, Pyne was egging his live audience on to frenzies of vituperation against all things liberal. Pyne, too, would have been on the air thirty years ago, had he not dropped dead in 1970 while his show was still enjoying top ratings.

Bauerline's essay in THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION reviews discourse that, as he puts it, "darkens the fate of the conservative tradition."

What could darken the fate of conservative thought in America more surely than his own disregard for the most elemental standards of demonstrable truth?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Walter Benn Michaels's Reading problem, and Ours -- Or, In Whichness

I don't really know enough about string theory to be able to offer readers a clear explanation of the implausibly intersecting parallel universes Michael Bérubé and I inhabit. Visitors to the second floor of Burrowes Hall at Penn State University have noted that I appear to be the more tightly wound string, while there is observably greater gravity (and several more dimensions) at his end of the corridor. This has produced any number of strange effects in the years since we both arrived at Penn state, most notably the inexplicable disappearance of people who pause at the T intersection of our hallway while trying to figure out just where the department of Spanish might be.

All of which has to do with why I wasn't at the talk by Walter Benn Michaels, sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa, which Michael discusses over at his estimable blog, which commentary you can locate by clicking on his name right there on the right wing of my blog. (OK, my left -- I guess it is a matter of standpoint after all.) Several people on campus have wondered about this. I did, after all, attend and comment upon visits by David Horowitz and Dinesh D'Souza. I was out of town when Fred Jameson was here. Is there something about Benn Michaels that kept me away?

Well, yes -- there is -- but the real reason I didn't attend was a matter of Walter's personal safety, which gets us back to that weird parallel universe thing and the vanishing visitors to the Spanish department. The thing of it is, if Michael Bérubé and I were to attend the same talk by Walter Benn Michaels, so the theory goes (and Walter, you will recall, is against theory), there is a real possibility that the space-time continuum would warp so drastically that a wormhole would open up beneath the podium, sucking Walter through the 17th dimension and reproducing him in the office of the President of George Washington University, in essence, dumping him in the lap of Steven Knapp. This would not be good for Walter's molecular structure, though it would surely get some news coverage for Penn State.

This whole parallel universe thing seems to have started one day in 1969. I had just finished reading CONFRONTATION AT OCEAN-HILL BROWNSVILLE, edited by Maurice Bérubé and Marilyn Gittell. The struggles documented in that book had been much in the news as I was making my way through my own public schooling. Indeed, it virtually coincided with my High School years, and so it was a book I read with real interest as a snapshot of the times I was living in. But it seems I was living in more times (?) than I had realized. Immediately after putting down the Bérubé and Gittell book, I picked up a Twayne volume. (This, too, was to have a strange resonance in discussions at Penn State many years later, but that's a story for another blog.) The book was titled HARLEM GALLERY: Book 1: The Curator. I'd picked this book up because I'd heard of its author, poet Melvin B. Tolson, or "M.B. Tolson" as he'd been introduced at the Library of Congress just as I was completing Junior High School. There had been a little item in one of the local papers in Washington, D.C., noting the visit of Tolson to D.C., a visit that was occasioned by his reading at the Library of Congress and a quick visit to the Lyndon Johnson White House. Johnson's connections to poetry aren't much spoken of, but the one time I'd seen that president up close was when he showed up unexpectedly at a memorial for Carl Sandburg held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anyway, I had been wanting to read Tolson ever since seeing that note, and now that I was out of high school and employed, I could purchase my own copy of HARLEM GALLERY.

But here's the thing; as I read Tolson's book, I kept having this eerie feeling that it was somehow connected to what I had just been reading about Ocean-Hill Brownsville (a neighborhood that James Baldwin had also written about much earlier). -- OR, more accurately, I had the feeling that the Tolson poems would SOME DAY find a connection to the Bérubé & Gittell book.

I didn't think much more about that for some time, what with college and my draft board and actually getting drafted to distract me from such things -- but some years later and far away in Charlottesville, Virginia, it all came rushing back to me.

I'd driven down from D.C. with my good friend Ross Taylor, who was going to visit his father, Peter. Peter Taylor, so far as I could tell, was busy on a life-long project to renovate and live in every house in the Shenandoah Valley. Somehow, in the midst of all that, he found time to knock out books like A SUMMONS TO MEMPHIS, THE OLD FOREST, A WOMAN OF MEANS and others. It made me wonder if Ross's father had a busy doppelganger or himself traveled wormholes to different dimensions of time and literature.

So, there I am sitting in a cafe in Charlotesville, listening to Ross read me a poem about cows and telephone poles, when my eyes drifted up over Ross's shoulder and out the window of the cafe. Into my line of sight walked a youngish fellow with really curly hair clutching, for some reason, three drumsticks. It wasn't the odd number of drumsticks that arrested my attention, though, it was the fact that I could see peeping out of his jacket pocket a paperback copy of Melvin B. Tolson's LIBRETTO FOR THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA. "That's unusual," I caught myself saying out loud. "Not at all," Ross replied. "I saw that happen to a cow once up the road from my father's third house." I didn't set Ross straight on my frame of reference. I just sat there wondering why I felt like I'd been there before, or like I would have been there before, had there been a there in Charlottesville.

I've since come to understand that there is a lot of strange physics in the Tolson universe (just ask Jon Woodson), which is why nobody has ever been allowed to hold a Tolson conference anywhere, though Denzel Washington, who works out there in the land of particle accelerators, hopes to make a Tolson movie. Still, convergence happens. Which is how Penn State, entirely without knowing that it was doing so, became the only university in the world to host two Tolson scholars in the same department -- and that's why there's this peculiar space-time warp in Burrowes Hall that even requires that visitors walk up a flight of stairs to get from the second floor to the second floor.

And, as I've said, this is why I thought it unwise that both Micheal and I should attend Walter Benn Michaels's talk -- It was going to be trouble enough with Michael confronting Benn Michaels --

Still, I confess to some surprise when I read Michael's subsequent blog entry and learned that the people organizing Walter's visit had emailed Michael to ask about a possible class visit. As Michael points out in his blog, it was a bit of a stretch, since the email indicated that they were looking for a class in American Literature through 1940, and his course concerns American fiction since 1945. I, however, was teaching a course in American fiction before 1940, and didn't hear from anybody about any possible class visit. I was, to be specific, teaching the first half of the African American novel course. Now, I suppose it's possible that someone thought my course wasn't the best place for a man to visit who had just published a book titled THE TROUBLE WITH DIVERSITY, but, as it happens, the subject of our class discussion that very morning was Nella Larsen's novel QUICKSAND, of which, to judge from Walter's book OUR AMERICA, he has read every second sentence.

In OUR AMERICA, a book in which Walter expresses certain misgivings about race, multiculturalism, diversity and any number of other scholars, there are several passages in which Walter worries the way that the protagonist of Larsen's first novel exhibits, in his view, an attachment to "the fact of race itself." This is especially evident, he holds, in the sections of the novel that narrate Helga Crane's time in Denmark. (As Penn State's only Danish-American literary critic, I feel compelled to teach the work of America's foremost Afro-Danish-American novelist as often as possible, for reasons that Benn Michaels would reject.) Walter says that in Denmark, "Helga herself becomes the enforcer of racial identity on the American plan." Of course, that phrase "on the American plan" is sufficiently elastic as to form a space-time warp and avenue of escape itself for Walter's argument, but what's striking in this formulation is the way in which Walter elides nearly all the passages in which Larsen's text shows that the Danes are themselves able purveyors of race. It is, for instance, in Copenhagen that Helga sees the Minstrel performance that grips her so. Everywhere Helga goes, she hears the Danish word for "black" being whispered around her. It is Fru Dahl who, contradicting the Dean of Women at Naxos earlier in the novel, insists that Helga should wear bright things, "striking things, exotic things." And even when Walter quotes from the text, he only reads a part of the relevant passage. Hoping to demonstrate that it is Helga who is the enforcer of race, Walter says that she disdains her Danish aunt's "arguments that such prohibitions [as interracial marriage] are not to be taken seriously 'in connection with individuals.'" A close reader might already feel a certain dissonance between Walter's argument and that orphan phrase he quotes. But what the aunt actually says to Helga is: "We don't think of those things here. Not in connection with individuals, at least." You can practically hear some southerner protesting, "but some of my best friends are colored." How Walter manages to elide the ironies Larsen gives us with that "at least" is beyond comprehension.

But it's a trick with a quote that he performs often. Elsewhere in OUR AMERICA he discusses Stephen Vincent Benét's JOHN BROWN'S BODY, a staged version of which I once attended at Ford's Theater on a night when nobody got shot. Walter writes that "Benét's essentially pluralistic nationalism commits him more truly to denying that he can represent the Negro at all than to representing him well." There is a footnote attached at this point, and, since I work in a university that requires me to find citations to myself, I note that this footnote leads to my own first book. Walter's note, having identified READING RACE (thanks, Walter -- my university only counts citations -- it doesn't seem to matter whether they are positive or negative), Walter goes on to comment: "Aldon Lynn Nielsen praises Benét for precisely this refusal, saying that 'he saw more plainly than many the dangers attendant upon attempting to appropriate the voice of the other.' The sanctity of otherness is, of course, fundamental to racial pluralism."

Goodness gracious, as our recently departed Secretary of Defense often said. Those few who have actually read my book know that it contains not one word proposing the sanctity of otherness, and I am a life-long opponent of the essentialist essence of cultural pluralism. What Walter is doing, not at all slyly, is conflating two senses of the word "representation." Benét never forgoes an opportunity to represent black subjects in the sense of speaking ABOUT them. There are many of them in JOHN BROWN'S BODY -- Their appearance, of course, is exactly what I talk about in READING RACE. What Benét refuses is representation in the sense of speaking FOR, as opposed to speaking about. Walter accuses his "chuckle-headed multi-culturalists," to borrow a coinage from Eric Lott, of regarding black Americans as the unrepresentable, irreducible racial other. Not even Benét finds African Americans unrepresentable, though it might be better, given the stereotypes found in his work, if he had. What he refused to do, and I still believe this represents some modicum of progress, was to wholly supplant the self-representations of black Americans. He writes that he cannot write the black-skinned epic -- that such a project awaits a black poet -- It may well be that Benét had never heard of poets such as Alberry Whitman, who had undertaken just such projects. It is certainly the case, though, that one Melvin B. Tolson read Benét, and was determined to supply the epic.

Michael Eric Dyson once came up to me after a talk and enthusiastically congratulated me on the way that I had been "representing." See there, Walter -- I have no fear of representing -- I have no problem, am doing it right now, talking ABOUT Michael Eric Dyson. I have no problem explaining what I take Michael Eric Dyson to be saying. I do draw the line at speaking in his place, at ventriloquising him. That does not make me a worshiper in the sanctum of racial otherness.

On the other hand, I have a big problem with scholars representing the works of others in so loose and careless a fashion as typified by Benn Michaels.

Now, what do you suppose would happen to the space-time continuum if Michael Bérubé, Walter Benn Michaels and Michael Eric Dyson appeared in the same room?

Monday, December 04, 2006

4' 33" for Cecil Giscombe

[what follows is the introduction I provided for a reading by poet C.S. Giscombe on Nov. 30.]

“Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds” is, of course, the title of John Cage’s most notorious composition, one which calls upon a concert pianist to sit at the instrument and do nothing for the period of time specified by the title. When I spoke with Cecil Giscombe earlier this year about tonight’s event, he instructed me that in his view a good introduction is one that lasts about one minute. It took John Cage nearly forty times that time, in one of his most highly structured texts, simply to announce, “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” For that matter, it took Giscombe nearly seven minutes to deliver himself of a quite good introduction to Erica Hunt on this very campus. Poets of Cecil’s generation, which is to say people my age, got a good lesson in our youth from James Brown, who sang to us about people who were talking loud and saying nothing.

This may, just may have something to do with the evident proclivity among the more interesting poets of that generation for the compressions of what was once termed analytic lyric, an approach to language that can make even the extended works of Giscombe’s Giscome Road or Into & Out of Dislocation striking for their local intensities and steadily concreting musical structures. I have been speaking for one minute and fifteen seconds, and this concludes the first section of my now overlong introduction to a reading by the poet who signs himself C.S. Giscombe.

“But how long ago was it in television years?” That question forms the opening of one segment of Giscombe’s “Look Ahead-Look South,” a poem I hadn’t looked at in dog’s ages till I found myself reviewing all of Cecil’s writing for an anthology project. I was still looking at a black and white television when I first read Giscombe’s poetry, and I read those poems as a hungry graduate student who had entrusted a friend with some barely spareable cash, not nearly enough to upgrade to a color television in those days, asking that friend who was heading off to Cornell to bring back a selection of recent poetry volumes. There was much to forget in the handful of publications my friend turned over to me upon his return, even much to regret, but there was also Postcards, Giscombe’s first volume, published that same year, 1977. I was not to meet Cecil for nearly two decades, was not to hear him read his poetry for nearly a quarter of a century, but I found in those early poems, “The music I heard / in that Northern house” as Giscombe writes in “Where I Lost It,” exactly the sort of post-projective new American poetry I had instinctively been looking for as I cast about among the cast of contemporary poets for something less marked by pretense and presupposition than the reflexive confessional, something deeper than deep image, something that could stand up in the aesthetic maelstrom of post-punk and speak with a clarity absent even from the world of the Spoken Word stage. “What news for the natcheral man” was what I looked for, Taj Mahal accompanying me on thumb piano and conch as I searched and aged. Like Giscombe, I am “old enough to recall Jim Crow,” and like Amiri Baraka and Bob Dylan, I had dallied with Crow Jane. This all constituted, in an age that came to identify the problematics of identity, “the shapelessness of relation” that is so often Giscombe’s subject. At the pinnacle of the color line there is no rest, no campground – but there is that great getting up morning. There is always something to get up to. There is always the music of relation, and that other economy is the space of poetics, the lyric space that is marked by Giscombe’s passage. I have now been speaking for three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, and I have yet to mention here, as I now mention here , Giscombe’s other works, including Here and Two Sections from Practical Geography and Inland.

In traversing the terrain of Giscombe’s road, his collected texts, one inevitably notes landmarks, familiar features, characteristic ways of getting a thing said, conceptual obsessions. What is clearest is the constant objective, Giscombe’s continual exploration of, as he puts it in “Blue Hole,” “the remotest edge / of description.” We are here well beyond Sauer’s renewed geographies, Olson’s continental drift, even Ashbery’s highly textured wanderings; we are here at exactly the place where the lyric rupture leaves its traces on what “Blue Hole” describes as “soul’s / opaque surface.”

We read often now that we inhabit a post-soul aesthetic, but we have not in fact left behind the questions that haunted us in that age, the questions that still propel Giscombe on his journeys. Many of us have wondered at his recent decision to move into and out of dislocation in Berkeley. The simple observation that in Berkeley you can take your bicycle on the BART train is perhaps too easy.

I’d prefer to think that Cecil is still following those questions as they draw him from his familiar inlands and prairies to that outermost edge of the land, the fault-lines of the San Andreas and the seismic testing ground of our relations. Cecil will ride that train as far as he can, stepping through those questions again and again onto the articulated edge of our possibilities. And one question, fielded in Giscombe’s “Afro-Prairie,” remains, to use the term of those earlier decades, relevant. “Do you like good music?”

The question reanimates a song by Arthur Conley, who I saw a hundred years ago just the other day in a black and white film of the Sam & Dave review performing in Germany. It may be another two decades before some Norton anthology yet to come appends its inevitable footnote to this passage, explaining helplessly to generations of students that Conley, discovered by Otis Redding, was what was then known as a “soul singer.” Students, though, will linger with the operative question itself. “Do you like good music?” If you do, you’ll catch my reference, as well as my drift, as I close in on four minutes and the thirty-third second, as I invite you to welcome a long-haul soul singer: spotlight on Cecil Giscombe.

[left, GISCOME ROAD, by C. S. Giscombe -- Right, Giscome Portage Wagon Road under construction]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mary Kaye's Book

Mary Kaye’s Book

A suggestion of
Asian birds
Pooled on the page
One wheels
Wooden warning
Of land nearby
In his beak
Another turns
Torn between landing
And going on
A third thrusts
His head through the surface
In the children’s corner
Where sun’s rays should be
Pictographs offer
Measured comment
The birds cannot read them
Neither can I
Across the pond
Turtle’s eyes
A lunge in light
One bird less as
Something like a simile
Breaks upon the water

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Word has just come in that Nathaniel Mackey has been selected for the National Book Award in poetry for 2006 in recognition of his most recent volume of poems, SPLAY ANTHEM.
"Things got under way with a fellow from one of the local radio stations clearing his throat to say that while he admitted being 'somewhat uninformed' on recent developments in music the trouble he has with our compositions is their tendencey to, as he put it, 'go off on tangents.' He then said that 'a piece of music should gather rather than disperse its component parts' but insisted he wasn't asking that our music be made easier exactly, 'just more centered somehow,' etc."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Poetics of Beaurocratese

For more than a decade now, I've been noticing the spread of a curious usage amongst them that rule over us. For an instance I'll turn to the departing Donald Rumsfeld. On several occasions he's told journalists about the "Iraq room" in the Pentagon, where top officials gather to "look at the metrics on Iraq."

And I'd be the first to say how happy I'd be if top officials in the Pentagon were gathering each day to scan Iraqi verse, but in fact all that Rumsfeld means is that these officials look at various measures. Or (since we're not talking feet here) measurements. What Rumsfeld's sentence SHOULD mean is that the officials are examining the parameters for measuring, but his usage suggests that "metrics" has come to mean the measurements themselves.

Now this usage has slopped over into yet another register of discourse, and the pols today consistently talk about "the optics" of one thing or another, by which they simply mean, "how the thing looks." But, being the absent-minded sorts they are, many of the pols forget mid-sentence what their jargon means even to them, and so I have heard one politician, speaking of the public reception of Republican scandals leading up to the recent elections, remark that "the optics don't look good."

and by any measure, they don't--

Saturday, November 11, 2006


October 21, the final events of the Larry Neal Conference in New York.

But, by way of prelude, first a couple of photos from the first day. My earlier posts did not include any representation of the very first panel, because, as one of the presenters on that panel, I hadn't been in a position to photograph it. Here, though, thanks to Howard Rambsy, are a couple shots of that initial offering.

The panel, left to right, was Dale Byam (chair), Mike Sell, David Lionel Smith and Aldon Nielsen. The second photo shows my opening talk, a portion of which was posted in an earlier segment of these reports.

The final event of the conference wasn't scheduled till evening, so I took advantage of the free time to drop by another tribute to a poet, a group reading at the Bowery Poetry Club in memory of Barbara Guest. I'd learned of this event by way of the Poetics List, and Charles Bernstein was kind enough to help me locate the right subway stop for getting to the BPC from over in Brooklyn where I was staying. The reading was hosted by poet Kristen Prevallet, someone I had not seen since well before the birth of the delightful child accompanying her. Lyttle Shaw was there, too, as well as a host of other poets who read from Guest's works and spoke of her importance. Charles Bernstein read from a prose piece he'd published about her, and Guest's daughter addressed the audience near the end.

Then, back to the subway and uptown to the Schomburg Library, where the concluding panel on Larry Neal was to be held.

We were greeted by Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg. I'd last seen Howard, someone I knew from my previous speaking engagements at the Schomburg, when he delivered a paper at a conference on the legacies of slavery held on the campus of the University of California in Santa Barbara. This night, Howard spoke movingly of Neal and addressed the signal importance of the large collection of Neal's papers donated to the library by Larry's wife, Evelyn. The panel itself was less a critical excursion of the type featured earlier in the conference, and more of a memorial from people who had known and worked with Larry during his too short life.

I was especially glad of the chance to visit a bit more with Jayne Cortez, who had given a poetry reading at Penn State last year - and then there was the chance to catch up some more with Joseph Jordan, also on the panel, whose Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Literature had been part of my life back in D.C. Joseph had brought along with him to the panel an old photograph he wanted to show Quincy Troupe of Quincy talking to Larry. What I spotted at once when he pulled out the photo to show me, though, was that my old Howard University office mate, poet Calvin Forbes, could be seen in the background of the photo.

The conference organizers had turned the reading room of the Schomburg into a reception area and we all gathered in the rear of the room to continue the conversations over wine and refreshments. It marked a warm ending to what had been a revealing and inspiring cycle of meetings -- exactly the sort of thing Larry liked to see when he was directing the arts commission in D.C. during the time I had known him.
Then, back to the subway -- and what was my strap-hanging reading material as I flew through the underbelly of the city? Larry Neal's HOODOO HOLLERIN' BEBOP GHOSTS --

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And the award for most clueless post-election news covereage goes to . . .

Fox News, of course -- As if to prove their utter lack of knowledge about how the government they presume to cover operates, today they posted this reference to a non-existent congressional office. I suppose it's a good thing that Denny Hastert doesn't want to run for Minority Speaker, as there's no election to be held.

and thanks to Richard Flynn for calling this to my attention -- Richard also asks a pretty good question, which I leave here for Fox to answer -- Just where in the contitutional line of succession does the minority speaker stand?


"'Stay the course' won't cut the mustard anymore."

--Senator Diane Feinstein, Nov. 8, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The second day of the conference on Larry Neal got under way at Brooklyn College as presenters and conference attendees met over breakfast to discuss what had been said the previous day and to catch up with each other. Given the number of people in the room who had known Neal at one time or another in the course of his all too short life, it was a chance for many of us to get to know more about what Larry had been like at another station in his course. James Spady, for example, was on hand the entire weekend and told us much we had not known about Larry's early days in Philadelphia. Then there were people like Joseph Jordan, who had, like me, known Neal during his later years as an arts administrator in D.C. And, as I mentioned in the earlier posts, George Cunningham, Mae Henderson and Kimberly Benston had all known Neal as a teacher in his last years.

The official part of the second day got underway with a panel that brought together William J. Harris, Howard Rambsy II and James Smethurst. That's Howard and Billy Joe Harris standing with presenter Salim Washington in one of these photos; you see them again with Jim Smethurst at the conclusion of their panel in another photo lower down. And of course, that's Rutgers' Cheryl Wall smiling out at you here:

Harris's talk was titled "Larrry Neal's Folkloric Frame of Mind," a topic that brought Neal's early interests in folklore, cultivated during his student days at Penn, together with the aesthetic theorizing from the more familiar period of his work. Rambsy delivered a careful airing of Neal's recovery of Zora Neal Hurston and Ralph Ellison, two figures about whom Neal's thought evolved significantly across his career. Neal is seldom given as much credit as he deserves for the recovery of Hurston, who was for the most part out of print and forgotten by many when Neal first began to write and speak about her works. Smethurst, continuing the work of his recent book on the Black Arts Movement, provided a useful history of Neal's participation in the Muntu Circle and its relevance to emerging black Arts ideology.

Here you see Eleanor Traylor, who delivered the closing address, and Fahamisha Brown, who I encounter at poetry conferences all over the country.

The afternoon panel, chaired by Marcellus Blount, brought talks by Margo Crawford (seen here), who addressed "Larry Neal's Post-Double Consciousness Dream," Salim Washington, who, while analyzing Neal's "Musical Visions of Struggle and Freedom," was the third presenter to offer a consideration of Neal's controversial review of Albert Ayler's NEW GRASS album, and Carter Mathes, one of the conference organizers, who discussed "The Aesthetic Contours of Larry Neal's Black Radical Critique."

That's Carter in conversation with Mike Sell.

The day concluded with remarks from Mae Henderson, Carter Mathes and George Cunningham, and a final, dramatic flourish of appreciation from Howard University's show-stopping Eleanor Traylor.

Then it was back to the subway, this time in the company of old friends Billy Joe Harris and Howard Rambsy. These are two jazz-loving, literature reading, smart as a whip guys, and I always enjoy their company. Billy Joe and his wife, Professor Susan Harris (University of Kansas), are long-time Brooklyn habitues, and they had generously invited us to meet them for drinks and dinner after the conference. The Brooklyn night was turning cold, but we found a warm spot on the roof of a Mexican restaurant and had a wonderful closing to our day.

This is, left to right, Howard Rambsy, Billy Joe Harris, Susan Harris, and the Harris's daughter, Kate, recently graduated from Tufts University and now working in New York.

Next episode, final night of the Larry Neal conference at the Schomburg Library.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Larry Neal - Day 1 part 2

First things first; some technical glitch caused the photo of Mae Henderson to vanish from the first post, so here she is making her opening remarks at Brooklyn College to open the conference on Larry Neal. The next event on the program was the panel I was a part of, and I am offering below just the opening paragraphs of the talk I gave that day:

Be Bop Ghost in the Machine
–Aldon Lynn Nielsen

"And me? I’m from everywhere?"
–Larry Neal (Visions 175)

A spectre is haunting American cultural studies.

It is the spectre of the Black Arts, about which so many have the merest ghost of a notion. It is as if, as Larry Neal writes in "Colloquies," when you speak of the Black Arts, "even in your speaking, you are vague and beyond word" (Hoodoo 85). It is as if America had said to the Black Arts, even as we read in later lines from those same colloquies, "I fear your hauntings, even though you are quite familiar. / / Hey! / what star was that anyway?" Has any phenomenon in America’s intellectual history been quite so surrounded by misprisions and misapprehensions, so walled off by presuppositions and the preposterous, so tuned out and turned upon as the Black Arts? Has anything which has so radically altered the thinking of America ever been so hysterically historicized, so manifestly misconstrued? "I was birthed in Conundrum," we read in "Colloquies," so perhaps we should not be surprised by the haunting figures that possess the texts of Larry Neal. Neal’s poems are his familiars, ghostly emanations that visit us now. There are the Ghost Poems, numbered one through four. There are the "Hoodoo Hollerin’ Bebop Ghosts" inhabiting the title poem of Neal’s 1974 book of verses. There is Shine in his "Sermon on Cosmology" wondering aloud "Whose ghosts walks there" (Hoodoo 79), and a check of the reappearance of that poem in Neal’s subsequent selected writings confirms that this sibilance is Shine’s own; he really does ask, "whose ghosts walks?" And that spectral sibilance, that ghost of grammar and consonance, trails in consciousness like something we aren’t entirely sure we heard back then in the sixties, something we have to double back to be sure of.

Larry Neal had a thing for ghosts, something that, to judge from the titles of our papers as you can read in the program, has never been in danger of going unnoticed.. In an interview that first appeared in Drum, cited and sighted again in Mae Henderson’s essay "Ghosts, Monsters, and Magic," Neal reported:

"I remember growing up and hearing ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun. I’m trying to deal with the world of the dead. The dead are not dead"(Qtd. In Henderson 195).

The past, Faulkner told us, is not dead; it’s not even past. In a litany of the departed that haunts that cental essay of Neal’s, he invokes the ghosts of a national tension, and those ghosts are named Nat Turner and Martin Delany, James Monroe Trotter and DuBois, what Neal terms "a whole panoply of mythical heroes from Brer Rabbit to Shine." And then Neal delivers the burden of that past into the present. "These ghosts," he writes, "have left us with some heavy questions about the realities of life for black people in America" (Visions 8). Those questions remain heavy in the twenty-first century, and no amount of rapping has dispelled them.

There was a time when rappings were thought to be manifestations from the spirit world. I am at best agnostic when it comes to talk of spirits, having spent all too much of my youth in all night raps around knocking tables and rocking seances. Raised in captivity by Baptists, I am now long unchurched, impatient with appeals to anybody’s beyond. But if I am more on the Baraka side of things religious, at least the Baraka of the past three decades, I m under no illusion about the powers of illusion; I am a permanent convert to a faith in metaphor. There is a reason that the Black Arts has been so often treated as an unwelcome visitor returned from its premature burial. America in the sixties looked into the mirror and found that it didn’t have a reflection. America in the sixties tried to rush back to its native soil before the sunrise of the seventies, only to find that it had no native soil. America in the sixties was a place of heavy spirits, and the black artists of the age gathered together for a summoning of spells. It was Larry Neal, secretary to the spirits, who delivered to us the "Fragments from the Narrative of the Black Magicians:"

Blood of Christ, dew kissed the corn;
hieroglyphic numbers that shape into leaf-formed men.
I speak the vision, and he is the healed sinner,
suffering the purulent sores of the redeemed. (35)

When people tell you of the purportedly didactic and social realist language of the Black Aestheticians, they don’t seem to have language such as this in mind, nor do they ever quite know what to say about those lemons piled on the step or the nickle hearts left behind by the men of Baraka’s own "Black Art." That hieroglyphic reading of Christ-kissed corn in "Fragments" derives from Nat Turner, who, a heavy reader, was never a literalist, though he was surely a revolutionary. We need some discourse of hauntology, if I might borrow a neologism from a Francophone philosopher born in North Africa, to negotiate now the conditions of being of the questions left us as Larry Neal’s legacy. "The rebirth of the concept of Black Power opens old wounds" he cautioned us in 1968 (Visions 10), and our own return to his texts now brings us the same dangers. Nat Turner saw blood on the corn, and he knew how to heed its hieroglyphs. If it is still far too early to talk of turning finally from fingering the jagged edge of the wounds, we can no longer tarry, tardy as we are, about the task of reading the hieroglyphs, the ghost writing that three decades of reaction have attempted to render finally beyond any comprehending. We have benefitted in recent years from a slowly building body of powerful scholarship about the Black Arts, much of it written by people in this room today, but we remain in the earliest Rosetta Stone stages of reading the leaves left us, the fragments from the narrative in progress lined out by Larry Neal before he was interrupted in mid-question in 1981.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


"DON'T SAY GOODBYE TO THE PORKPIE HAT": Re-Evaluating Larry Neal's Creative and Critical Vision of the Black Aesthetic. October 19-21, 2006

I had already been reading the poetry and essays of Larry Neal for a decade by the time I actually met him. He came to Washington, D.C., in the late Seventies to direct the D.C. commission on the Arts and Humanities, and during that period he appeared as a substitute teacher in the course I was taking with Amiri Baraka when I was a graduate student at the George Washington University. Neal was such a presence in the classroom that it came as a double shock not too long afterwards when we learned that he had died. In one of his poems, his persona, Poppa Stoppa, implores us:

"Remember me baby in my best light,

lovely hip style and all;"

and that is the way we remember Larry -- In the early 1980s, the Arts Commission in D.C. established a series of literary prizes in his memory, and it was my fortune to be the first winner of the Larry Neal Award for poetry, presented in the D.C. Council Chambers in 1983.

So, you know I had to sign up when I received word that a serious conference to begin the work of critical recovery and evaluation of Larry Neal's works was being organized. It took a while; support is never quite as quickly forthcoming for projects like this as it seems to be for conferences on the usual subjects organized by the usual suspects.

But October 19th came 'round at last, and we gathered together on the campus of Brooklyn College to get busy.

Our host for the occasion was George P. Cunningham, whose Brooklyn College Department of Africana Studies welcomed us and kept things moving. George had been a student of Neal's, as had been Mae G. Henderson, one of the conference organizers, now at the University of North Carolina, and Kimberly Benston, who was slated to be the keynote speaker at the end of the first day.

Carter Mathes, of Rutgers, was the other organizer -- He and Mae (that's Carter there in the light shirt -- Mae is sporting a grey jacket in her photo) had been working diligently for some years to locate a home for the event and nail down the relatively small amount of funding required simply to mount the meetings. George, Carter and Mae were often seen putting their heads together off to the side, dealing with those inevitable last minute crises that afflict any conference, and generally rendering them invisible to the participants.

George and Carter got things started with welcoming comments, followed by a heart-felt talk by Mae Henderson in which she shared her personal memories of Larry Neal before turning things over to those of us who were speaking on the panels.

I was the first speaker on the first panel, chaired by Brooklyn's Dale Byam, from the Department of Theater. On the panel with me were Mike Sell, whose work on avant garde movements (including both fluxus and the Black Arts) I had read when it appeared last year, and David Lionel Smith, who I knew from other conferences over the years. Ours was a more general panel, and I took advantage of my opening slot to provide an introductory essay into Neal's works. I'll be posting an excerpt in this space soon.

An afternoon session was devoted to "Larry Neal's Soundscape of Revolutionary Cultural production." That panel, chaired by Jeffrey Taylor, featured Amy Ongiri (who I had last seen at the Black Arts conference at Howard University in February), W.S. Tkweme and Frederick Vincent. Amy picked up on the same review of Albert Ayler, first published in CRICKET, that I had spoken about briefly. This was ground that we would visit yet again the next day, and I began to see how our varied responses to this short, controversial essay characterized the many possible readings of Neal's significance for our own critical positions. Frederick Vincent brought something new to the discussions, recordings of the Black Panther's soul music group, THE LUMPEN, that I had known of back in my days at San Jose State.

Do I even need to say that each of these panels provoked extensive comment and debate among the audience? Any who lived through the all night debates of the Sixties will know the kind of thing I mean -- This may not have been quite as heated as we got back in the day, but it was the sort of productive debate that comes when participants recognize that there really is a great deal at stake.

The good folk at Brooklyn College provided us with a Caribbean dinner to cap off the day, during which Kimberly Benston gave us his detailed readings of Neal's importance, intermixed with his best memories of the late poet/critic/ administrator/teacher. The discussions spilled out into the subways later that night

"phrase on phrase, repeating bluely

tripping in an under crashing

hi-hat cymbals . . . "

---------Larry Neal


--It follows a pattern, if you dig what I mean.

--Gil Scott Heron

The Bush administration is filled with people who feel no compunction about loudly denying having said things, despite the existence of video tape showing them saying precisely those things; --I never said 'stay the course'-- is just one egregious recent example. These same people loudly insist on recontextualizng their own recorded statements to make them mean otherwise, witness the White House explanations that Vice President Cheney was not condoning waterboarding when he said that "dunking prisoners in water" was a no brainer. The White House has also steadfastly refused to say just what Cheney might have meant by "dunking" if he was not condoning the subjection of people being interrogated to water tortures of the sort for which we have in fact tried people in the past as war criminals.

But then, these same administration figures, in a pattern familiar to any who have followed past Rove-led campaigns, consistently alter and recontextualize the statements of the opposition for the express purpose of convincing the public that they have said something they clearly have not said.

Nothing could be clearer to anyone who reviews the full tape of John Kerry's California comments than that his remarks about getting "stuck in Iraq" were directed squarely at Bush. Bush is the subject of the preceding sentences, and the thesis of Kerry's paragraphs at that point in his comments is that Bush has failed to learn the lessons of history, can't recognize the facts he confronts, and thus has gotten us stuck in Iraq.

This is why the Republicans refuse to read the preceding sentences in their entirety when they are quoting Kerry this week. Why the news media persist in replaying only the sentence to which the Republicans have uniformly taken offense is another matter (though, to his credit, Chris Matthews reread the fuller text several times during his show yesterday -- still, that never swayed his Republican guests from their assigned talking points).

True enough, Kerry has largely fumbled the response in the past 24 hours. It's nice to hear him responding forcefully, but it would be nicer to hear him responding more coherently.

But this is just a rerun of Republican efforts during the last presidential election to make us believe that Kerry had said that any military defense mounted by the United States would only take place after foreign nations had approved it. Millions of Americans had seen and heard what Kerry actually said on that occasion, but that was no reason for the Republicans to stop misquoting him. And the news media, for the most part, chose to cover the controversy resulting from Republican miscontruals rather than simply replay what Kerry had clearly said.

This is a familiar tactic by now -- but what is it about our national political discourse that this tactic gets any traction at all?

And isn't it about time that more journalists take note of the fact that it is those political figures who constantly portray themselves as champions of TRUTH, against those damned liberal relativists, it is Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and other defenders of the truth who are so sadly prone to the deliberate misrepresentation of the words of others and of themselves?

Monday, October 30, 2006

I. Lewis Libby, or Scooter the Memorious

By now, awash in Foleygate and the continuing tragedy of Iraq, you may well have forgotten that the matter of I. Lewis Libby is still working its way through our court system. Most news media have been ignoring the story, but the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig has been in the court house and on the story, and it is thanks to her that we know of the strange appearance of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus last week.

Professor Loftus, you will of course recall, is a memory expert, the author of EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY, and a member of the faculty at the University of California at Irvine. It is her expertise in the study of memory that explains her pertinence to Plamegate and to the Libby defense team.

Team Libby wanted to call Professor Loftus in Scooter's defense, which is to be, as it were, the absent-minded professor strategy. The argument is that Mr. Libby, "Scooter" to friend and foe alike, had not in fact lied to the federal investigators. Rather, he was such a busy man, what with the security of the nation at stake and all, that he simply could not remember having met with a reporter for the purpose of leaking the fact that Valerie Plame was a classified employee of the CIA. The purpose in Dr. Loftus's proffer in court last week was to bolster the argument that, as Leonnig reports, "many potential jurors do not understand the limits of memory" and hence that Libby should be permitted to call an expert witness who could explain to befuddled jurors just how befuddled it was possible for Scooter to have been.

The proffer went badly from the moment that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald began his examination of the expert. He quickly had Dr. Loftus conceding that she had often relied on less than scientific methodology in reaching her published conclusions and that she had exaggerated data. "I don't know how I let that line slip by," she offered at one point, speaking of her own writing. Fitzgerald, in the process, demonstrated his legendary command of texts, footnotes and documents.

But in the end, Dr. Loftus did effectively demonstrate one weak memory, at least. She insisted under oath that she had never before met Patrick Fitzgerald.

He gently reminded her that he had previously subjected her to a cross-examination when she appeared before him as an expert witness in a case in New York.

I suspect that if I were ever cross-examined by Patrick Fitzgerald, I would remember it, much as I might prefer not to.

Would that all of us who write had readers as attentive and scrupulous as Patrick Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006



Just days ago, the Republicans were calling a Democrat a racist because he had used the word "slavish" when speaking of candidate Michael Steele's propensity for following the Bush administration line. One might have thought this an indication that the Republican Party had developed a refreshing new sensitivity to racism as a campaign tactic. After all, didn't GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman recently apologize to black Americans for the way that the party had played on racism in the years since Nixon first deployed his "southern strategy," and hadn't this same Ken Mehlman been heard telling every journalist he could buttonhole of his fervent desire that his party should demonstrate a renewed commitment, not seen since the Reconstruction era, to reaching out for African American voters?

By now you've probably seen the ads that Ken Mehlman's Republican National Committee is paying to have run in Tennessee to oppose senatorial candidate Harold Ford, who, if elected, would be the first black Senator from a southern state since Reconstruction. Most of the discussion about this ad has centered, not surprisingly, on that seemingly unclothed blonde who says she met Harold Ford "at the Playboy Party," and who closes out the ad by looking longingly into the camera and cooing seductively, "Call me, Harold."

There can be little doubt what lingering sentiments this part of the ad is meant to appeal to, but the GOP spokesmen profess not to see it. Tonight on the HARDBALL program, Chris Matthews asked White House Spokesman Tony Snow about this point. Snow said he didn't see anything racial about the ad at all. Even when Matthews pressed him in disbelief, pointing out that the blonde was the only person appearing with bare shoulders in the ad, Snow dismissed the suggestion, adding that in every campaign somebody would play the "race card," implying that only someone trying to play the "race card" in a campaign would try to convince the public that there was anything racial in having an apparently naked white woman close out an ad with an open invitation to a black candidate; "call me, Harold."

Bob Corker, Ford's Republican opponent, DOES see something wrong with the ad, or so he would have us believe, and he has professed his desire to see the ad pulled from television. Still, the ad continues to run. In fact, the woman who appeared as an official spokesperson for the RNC to tell reporters that the ad would continue to run is the same woman who has been traveling through the state with Corker on his campaign.

And where is Ken Mehlman in all this? He tells reporters he doesn't have any problem with the ad at all.

Yeah, and George Allen never heard the word "Macaca" before pulling it out of his fevered brain to describe a young man whose family was from India. Meet the new GOP, same as the old . . . well, the Grand Old Party.

And while the Republicans are busy telling journalists that only the deluded, race-card-playing liberal elite would ever see anything racial in this imagery, Rush Limbaugh takes to the air to accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's symptoms in his appearance in a campaign ad on behalf of a candidate who supports stem cell research.

But there's another aspect of the anti-Ford ads that also needs attention. That same ad that closes with a seductive white woman suggesting a tryst with Ford opens with a black woman speaking on camera. What does she have to say about the election?

"Harold Ford looks nice. Isn't that enough?"

Is this meant to tell us that Ford is a good looking candidate? Or is it meant to suggest something about the motivations and insights of black women voters?

The Republican Party will not renounce its addiction to racist campaign tactics. The party of Lincoln, the party of Reconstruction, is today the last unapologetic home of unreconstructed bigotry.


"But the White House is cutting and running from 'stay the course.'"

--Peter Baker -- WASHINGTON POST front page

Monday, October 23, 2006

LORENZO THOMAS Remembered in Oakland

. . . accepting the convention
We live for but never mention.
--Lorenzo Thomas

I've been away from the blog for a bit, making my way back and forth across the country to meet with fellow writers and scholars in Oakland and Brooklyn. In the next few entries, I'll be posting photos from those sessions. First up, the convention of the American Studies Association in Oakland.

This year at the ASA, I was part of a panel in tribute to the poet and critic Lorenzo Thomas. Lorenzo was a long-time member of the American Studies Association, and it was at his suggestion that Anna and I presented papers on a panel about black intellectual life in Atlanta the last time the conference met in that city. Lorenzo was to have presented a paper as well, but his health was already failing, and we had to read his paper for him in his absence. This year's panel was a bittersweet followup to the critical session devoted to Lorenzo's own work that was presented at the American Studies Association meeting in Houston. That panel was organized by Barry Maxwell, who is seen gesturing indexically in one of the photos below. The other presenters that year were Kalamu ya Salaam and Maria Damon and your humble blogger

The roundtable for this year's meeting was put together by James Smethurst, of the University of Massachusetts' Department of Black Studies.

The first speaker was Barry, who is editing a posthumous collection of Lorenzo's talks, essays and interviews for the University of Michigan Press. Barry delivered a deeply touching retrospective view of Lorenzo Thomas's life in poetry, teaching and activism.

My own talk was drawn from the preface to another work by Lorenzo that will also be published by Michigan. DON'T DENY MY NAME will be a volume of essays on words, music and the black intellectual tradition. The manuscript had been submitted to Michigan and had already cleared the first hurdle of peer reviewing at the time of Lorenzo's death. I have taken on the task of cleaning up the manuscript, tracking down some of Lorenzo's sources and preparing the volume for release. In addition to Lorenzo's reflections on such topic as the relationships between poetry and the blues, or the Black Arts era comprehensions of music, the book also draws from interviews Lorenzo accomplished over the years with people like Juke Boy Bonner and the men who sponsored Sonny Boy Williamson's KING BISCUIT HOUR broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas. The work on that book should be done shortly, and I'll be turning it over to the press for publication by year's end.

Lastly, we heard from the always provocative Ishmael Reed. Reed had been an associate of Lorenzo's in the days of the UMBRA Writers' workshop in New York, and published one of Lorenzo's major collections of poetry, THE BATHERS,which brings together work that Lorenzo had published in chapbooks and journals between 1972 and 1981.

We had a generous and enthusiastic audience that afternoon in Oakland, an audience brought together by Lorenzo's powerful words.

There will be another panel dedicated to Lorenzo's work at this year's meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there.