Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Back at the beginning of this blog, I reported one of David Horowitz's many audacious untruths, his claim, made in the course of his ramble at Duke University, that Cornel West had not published a scholarly paper in the past twenty years. As I pointed out then, anybody who had twenty seconds to spare for a google search could quickly dispense with this nonsense. Even if we disregard Wests's multitude of essays in publications that are not peer-reviewed, we still have such entries in the West bibliography as his 2000 essay in ENGLISH JOURNAL (Vol 89, Number 6 for those of you keeping track of such things), a journal with impeccable credentials.

But now, Horowitz not only repeats this falsehood, he amplifies it. Currently on his blog at Frontpagemag he has a piece titled, "The Predictable Stupidity of the Racist Left." Now, making statements that are demonstrably false might well be taken to be stupid; repeating them might well be considered predictable; continual attacks upon a black scholar might well make one wonder if some mode of racism might be at work; and, come to think of it, Horowitz was once among the more stupid elements on the Left -- So perhaps he is the best person to publish under that title.

Here he writes that Cornel West:

"is one of the academic world’s most honored and distinguished figures and yet hasn’t written a scholarly paper or book in twenty years (if ever)."

Well. let's see about that. It appears that THE AMERICAN EVASION OF PHILOSOPHY, a book widely considered to be the strongest of West's early scholarly books, was published in 1989, and 1989 is (let me check now) less than twenty years prior to 2006, which means that the sentence Horowitz has posted today is

A LIE -----

Whatever one may think of West's recent publications and speeches, whatever one may think of West's CD, the fact remains that he has indeed published scholarship within the past twenty years. The only way that one could not know that would be not to look it up -- which fits nicely with the usual Horowitz research methodology.

Horowitz goes on to claim, speaking of West's salary, publishing opportunities, speaker's fees and so forth, that:

"Cornel West is blessed with these unearned and undeserved perks solely because he’s black -- there is no other explanation . . ."

This assertion certainly strikes me as racial in nature - I'll leave it to my readers to decide for themselves where the racism may be found in this episode.

I do not believe that David Horowitz receives his enviable speaking fees, the generous support of the donors to his center (and his living standards) and his subsidized "research" just because he is white. I do believe he receives these things from people who have considerably less respect for the truth than do the likes of Cornel West.


While I was in San Francisco, an important court decision was announced. A California appellate court ruled that the constitutional provisions for a free press, and the California shield laws, apply to bloggers as well as to print and television journalists. Holding that these protections encompass the activity of journalism, not the specific medium in which the journalism appears, the court found that bloggers are protected from being compelled to reveal sources.

Because the decision is an interpretation of California law, it does not mean that bloggers in other parts of the country can assume that they are protected. Still, even in the absence of a federal shield law, this will provide an important precedent.

So, at least while I am working in California, it appears that I cannot be compelled in a court of law to name my muse.

But here's something to consider. There have been several episodes in the short history of the blog when it has been learned that bloggers writing in favor of particular candidates were actually in the pay of the campaigns. At that point, does one cease to be a practitioner of journalism and become something else? Should paid bloggers be required to reveal the sources of their support?

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Friday night was the reception organized by the African American Literature and Culture Society (FOLLOW THAT LINK OVER THERE AT THE SIDEBAR TO THEIR WEB SITE AND PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING), with co-sponsorship from several of the other author societies meeting at the conference of the American Literature Association. This year's reader at the event was Al Young, current Poet Laureate of California. We were pleased to welcome a contingent of scholars from Japan this year, with whom we have been working out a long-term series of exchanges. My own Penn State University Department of English has been helping out with support for the society's activities the past three years, so a word of thanks to Robert Caserio.

After the event, several of us retired to the lobby cafe to continue the festivities. Wilfred Samuels, who was the recipient of a surprise award for his contributioons to the organizations, rejoined us in his civilian clothes.

It turned out that the young staff person who helped us drag heavy furniture together at one side of the room and waited on us the rest of the evening was a graduate of Cal State University and an English major. We knew what needed to be done then, so we introduced him to the Poet Laureate. Made his day, as he helped make ours.

Next year's conference meets in Boston. Watch for the calls for papers and plan to join us.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


San Francisco was host today to two group readings from EVERY GOODBYE AIN'T GONE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF INNOVATIVE POETRY BY AFRICAN AMERICANS. The first was scheduled as a panel at the conference of the American Literature Association, where Ishmael Reed joined co-editors Lauri Ramey and Aldon Nielsen along with poets Billy Joe Harris and giovanni singleton.

To a crowded room of conference goers, the panel presented poetry by Lorenzo Thomas, Elouise Loftin, Oliver Pitcher, Russell Atkins, June Jordan and others. Ishmael Reed, Billy Joe Harris and giovanni singleton read from their own work in addition to poems by other writers in the collection.

It was an energized room and the audience got into the spirit of the occasion, with one attendee rising from her seat in the audience to read a poem of her own at the conclusion of the session.

Then it was across town to the Cafe Royale, where the San Francisco State Poetry Center had organized a reading for the local audience. There the readers were joined by Douglass Miller, whose work you can read in giovanni's great magazine, NOCTURNES REVIEW. Douglass started out with Bob Kaufman's PICASSO'S BALCONY, explaining that Kaufman was both a fundamental reason for his work as a poet and the reason he moved to San Francisco in the first place. Lauri Ramey pressed Michael Palmer, the subject of her dissertation, into service and Palmer joined in with an effective reading of poems by Ed Roberson, preceded by personal reminiscences of his early days and contacts with many of these poets. Poetry Center director Steve Dickison also took to the mic, reading Lorenzo Thomas's EMBARKATION FOR CYTHERA. Lorenzo had read for the Poetry Center not long before the final illness that brought his death last July fourth.

It was a chance to meet up again with old friends (Steven Vincent, Susan Schultz & Benjamin Hollander, for example) and to meet new ones around this vital body of poetry from some of America's greatest talents. [extra credits in heaven to Keith Leonard, who came to both readings!]

Then it was back to the Embarcadero Center to decompress and get ready for the next day.

What did I do at the end of the day? Read new poetry from Geoffrey Jacques, from his brand new book out of Wayne State University Press, JUST FOR A THRILL.

THE DARK TREE - Horace Tapscott

I've removed to San Francisco, where the American Literature Association is meeting. A bit later I'll be filing some reports about that. Today, though, I want to call your attention to a new book I ran across last night.

Whenever my business brings me to this side of the Bay, City Lights Books is an obligatory stop on my agenda. So I hiked up there from the hotel right after check-in last night, and that's where I came across THE DARK TREE: JAZZ AND THE COMMUNITY OF ARTS IN LOS ANGELES.

The book is by Steven Isoardi, who teaches at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles. Many of you will remember him from his great work on the CENTRAL AVENUE SOUNDS project, that coffee table book and CD collection that documents the history of jazz in L.A. The new book is a sustained examination of one of the most significant portions of that history, the Black Arts collectives that formed in L.A. in the late sixties and seventies. Just as the Black Artists Group in St. Louis and the AACM in Chicago were artist-run collaborations that changed the face of both art and politics, the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension, which included as many as three hundred artists, represents a signal moment in the evolution of American arts.

The book contains many invaluable illustrations AND comes with a CD of music you won't be able to find anywhere else. Pianist/Composer Horace Tapscott and his Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra were the mainstays of the movement in L.A., and the book's accompanying CD brings us performances drawn from Tapscott's archives that have never been released before in any form. The CD alone is well worth the price of the book, but you'll want to read this book. Like other volumes that have recently appeared documenting at long last the fuller breadth and depth of the Black Arts Movement, this volume is assiduously documented.

Whether or not you have ever heard of Horace Tapscott before, you will want to read this book and give the music a close listening. This is music for the ages; it sounds as revolutionary today as it did in decades past.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


In an earlier post (see below) I wrote about the poerty of A.B. Spellman. Today I am happy to report that Spellman's indispensible sixties collection THE BEAUTIFUL DAYS has been republished by Alamala Press.

THE BEAUTIFUL DAYS first appeared in 1965 in a small edition from New York's vibrant POETS PRESS, with a preface by Frank O'Hara.

For information about securing a copy of the republished BEAUTIFUL DAYS, go to this link for SMALL PRESS DISTRIBUTING. The reappearance of this poetry four decades later is cause for celebration, cause, even, for reading.

While you're at it, get a copy of Spellman's book of jazz interviews and essays, FOUR LIVES IN THE BEBOP BUSINESS, republished as FOUR JAZZ LIVES.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Odd to sit in a place named SANTA BARBARA and read of efforts in the Senate to declare English the national and/or common language.

Earlier today I heard Lou Dobbs pointing out, as if it meant something relevant, that in Mexico the official language is Spanish. I suppose Dobbs may be ignorant of the suppression of indigenous languages in Mexico. Naming a language "official" serves two opposed purposes in differing nations. In some instances, the naming is intended for the protection of a minority language. In others the act is fully intended to lead to the destruction of a language.

The United States has stumbled along quite successfully for centuries without an official language, without even a governmental declaration that English is our common tongue. We have a long history of newspapers in ethnic communities in languages other than English. During my years in San Jose, I noted with interest the routine appearance of poetry in the Spanish and Vietnamese papers of the city. We have had traditions such as Yiddish theater and we have been home to a Nobel prize winner who never wrote any of his novels in English. Joseph Brodsky was an American poet who won the Nobel prize for poetry written in Russian. We were pleased to make him our Poet Laureate. The Senate did not, on that occasion, feel obliged to tell him that he had no right to expect to be able to have a translator assist him. Of course, he spoke English; but doesn't our naming of a Russian language poet as our Poet Laureate, an act, after all, of our Library of Congress, fit oddly next to these current measures in Congress?

We write Latin phrases on our money and insignia -- Nobody seems to complain that we spend tax funds to translate those phrases.

Our language is American. We kvetch in it. We elect Austrian governors who say things like "Hasta la vista, baby."

Sunday, May 21, 2006


By now many of you have seen this week's NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW with its cover feature, "WHAT IS THE BEST WORK OF AMERICAN FICTION OF THE LAST 25 YEARS?" The TIMES staff contacted a list of 125 readers and writers and put to each that same disarming question. These things are not to be taken any too seriously; they are meant to provoke exactly the sort of discussions we will soon see reflected in the letters column of the REVIEW. The accompanying article demonstrates as much, with its amusing summaries of the follow-up questions that came from those being surveyed. Readers will ask how this particular list of 125 respondents was chosen, by whom, to what ends, etc.

I don't think it will come as any surprise to many that the "winner" is Toni Morrison's BELOVED. I'm not here to debate that outcome, or even to discuss the many things about that book and about its moment that we might point to in explanation of its popular success. But there is something at work here that strikes me, and I wonder if it strikes you.

It certainly is a sign of something, beyond the quality of the book itself, that Morrison's novel received the most votes. (I still think SONG OF SOLOMON is better, but hey -- that's the kind of disagreement these surveys are all about.) This result is especially intriguing when put alongside the result of a 1965 survey of the same sort conducted by BOOK WEEK. While I don't think these surveys tell us anything at all interesting about the American novel (or about why a question about "fiction" is assumed to mean "prose fiction") they do, I suspect, tell us things about reception and about ourselves. In 1965, the "winner" was Ralph Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN, a result I imagine many will find agreeable. The fact that two African American novelists' works get the most votes in such an inquiry four decades apart is a good sign. But exactly what it is a sign of is more open to question.

In much the same way that David Horowitz seems to think that the existence of Oprah Winfrey is somehow proof that there are no racial or economic hierarchies in American society (no kidding; I heard him say it), there are many who will point to this result as a triumphalist moment in the progress of America's racial ethos.

But take another look. The NYT BOOK REVIEW spreads before its readers a listing of THE RUNNERS UP and books that received multiple votes. There is only one additional African American author listed there. There are no Latinos, no Asian Americans, no . . . well, you get the idea.

This, I think, is worth another look. I'm happy to see Don DeLillo appear with two novels. I may be considerably less happy to see six Philip Roth novels represented, but I am not at all taken aback by his popularity. I'm even happy to see A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES on the list, though, as the editors point out, this raises some of those questions put to the survey itself. The book was published in 1980, but written much earlier.

But what does it mean that we still don't see more novels by people who are not appreciably white appearing on such a list?

Each of you will quickly be able to come up with worthy authors who should have received multiple nominations. I'll just mention two books, by the authors depicted above. It's hard for me to imagine that you couldn't find more than one person among 125 who might choose John Edgar Wideman's PHILADELPHIA FIRE as the best work of American fiction of the past quarter century. And what about Leon Forrest's amazing DIVINE DAYS?

[and what about MIDDLE PASSAGE, TRIPMASTER MONKEY, and so on and so on?]

Does the triumph of BELOVED mean all that much about the broad popular reception of African American art? It assuredly means something, but doesn't the rest of the list mean something too?

Saturday, May 20, 2006


[Here's one more set of documents from the jail cells of the late Harold Carrington -- I've heard from several of you who are interested in this little-known figure from the Beat era. Hope these letters will bring more readers to Carrington's small body of work and perhaps lead to the recovery of more.]


Two things I've written
here, let me know what
you think...















Notice: No food, articles of wearing Apparel, Candy, Tobacco, Cigarettes, Books, Magazines, Papers, Etc., will be permitted sent to inmates by mail or otherwise.

Friday-- [7/60?]











from 4/10/61 letter to Williams

"still haven't produced the complete jazz thing yet, but the intent is creeley says: i recognize a frog by its structure...well like, i want to recognize my jazz poem by its structure plus get the same or similar impression i get on hearing jazz plus originality plus swingin' plus profundity plus the great god FUNK plus which all in all is a large order plus which after reading the poem you can see the need for study..."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Harold Carrington Part III: From the Archives

[typed on official Rahway, N. J., State Prison letter form]

Date: 4/28/61 Relationship of Addressee: writing business
Inmate's name: harold carrington No. 37975

dear roi jones,

re/, yrs & thanks very much for the compliment & criticisms (probably wd get there faster if i'd had more of it or left to my own devices ?) & especially for newsletter, which, like you say, makes for quickness in read & newness & variety & for me is really a keppin' in touch...

yes, the stance, but truth is i'm surrounded by fog clouds & this will take time or cannot be forced. in fact kinda hard to put proverbial finger on real trouble as i find much wrong or in the way...let me try to get at it: (1) people shd be able to feed theirselves & this w/out no-bodies foot in their neck, that is me for the most part (sometimes maybe i find something else to celebrate) &/or (2) for the thing to be jazz & this is where the clouds come from...e.g. 4our bar blues,1st i got melody, then solo, am hopeful to eventually get the thing to complete jazz figure structure-wise, in 4/bar here is trouble: the melody i write lotsa times which makes for repitition, what happens is i have never been able to read something of mine to anyone & have it sound right, like to myself ok, but another person it never comes off, so have come, for the most part, to think of poems for reading rather than the recite thing. if it was read aloud instead of the repitition you cd have one instrument play the 1st few bars of 'bluesology' (tune which that part of poem is based on) & just read the solo parts/think this wd workbest w/ a bass or a congo or some such type drum... now, other problems like something comes & is only solo, i mean, no jazz structure in that there is no figure &c. so i get a thing like front line poem/i got blowin of a sort & liked this particular one 'cause it did'nt get away from me or i stayed in control & even changed tempo w/ no hassel. was you cd say standard changes & did'nt try to make melody line or such cause i figure i'd blow what i had, like you take in 3-days-9, discard the melody line or figure part & w/ little more work on solo i'd maybe have somethin' when this happens i get a poem but not one from jazz structure state of see, & the results (?) well you like swing all which is more of jazz structure & less solo, & on the other you also like riff which is all solo & no get at the stance from other state of see: mostly people feeding themselves &c. now i get clarity problems. in salvation piece i say salvation is not in the salvation army variety but in the soul-thing, so mr/webb say'is not our tone'i really think the trouble was not what i sd, but that i did'nt make it to clear & take it to this because he did'nt say anything 'bout struture, mode or the things along these lines i usually got teouble w/...maybe you see something different (?) let me know...also, i give w.lowenfels a copy of 4 bar & he'll give to mr/webb so let me know about that one/ much from 2 different states of see...nother trob. sometimes something to celebrate so i write it down, usually maybe 1,2 or 3 lines (can't afford to stifle anything so i write down, after, alright to destroy, but 1st i see what happen) this is always empty, nothing, big huge insect like kassavobu or some such always i'm changing 1 word here or there viz: girl poem i make next to last line: (two people / instead of: (two crazy people /now ok, i like new way best but that still don't make somethin' `out of nowhere poem or gwendolyn 1st i got:your belch/ next i got: your immortality /now i'm back to: your belch,but still don't make no difference...

waste lotsa time/ which i got plenty of/ but none for wastin' ok/ last one in letter: i thend to make it , short, goes to 1st thing re/ food or feed, so there i am but if, like you say, i was more cloes to thing which makes me write i'd have somethin' in it, as is, some small thing not meaning much...
once more, if i wrote 4 bar on 1 piece of paper wd (?) help from visual point... anyway, still lotsa fog cloud...i guess only end is to write more...
ok, haikus &c. let this be it for now & let me hear when you will...



don't destroy country, wait till i get out, i find lumumba & we do it for you...


[stamped "From the desk of Walter Lowenfels"]

Dear Walter,

So much is happening--I read "American Voices" after hearing Lumumba was murdered--and then your court speech. Do the people really want peace? Where are they, those who want it? Must we wage wars striving for this elusive and seeminly unattainable thing? I read where there is worldwide protest of Lumumba's death--for the most part the protest violent (to me it seems good, this violence, but I know it is only my "eyes-of-revenge.") But then, like why must things be such that one must protest, seek revenge? I mean, was there never peace? Is it the fate of man to be forever slaughtering each other in some bind and hopeless quest for survival? to merely be? Is it too much for one to ask to exist--to just be here, being oneself? History says to me "you are mad to even ask this," and the present seems only to echo the past.

To my mind, all is infinite--so the suffering endless--when the "accident of man"happened--a series of "murders" against the elements, until he forced the elements to permit him his existence; as soon as he murdered out his foothold, he began murdering himself--and now having perfected his own means of extinction (is it only a matter of some imagined affront which is needed to bring this about?) he is returning to his original war against nature (which he actually never stopped, but rather, merely altered the pace)--endless, endless, endless, damn! Is life only to be one's struggle to stay alive? And why has a (so-called) civilization evolved that can only be maintained by the exploitation of the multitudes? --And why is it is the situation reversed that these same multitudes would be able to survive only if they exploited the civilized (who'd then be deemed to be uncivilized) or exploited the less fortunate of themselves--man, the eternal greed! the conglomeration of the self eating the self for the private and personal gain of the self.

So, as Creeley says "where are we?" like, where have we always been and where will we be?--which takes me to: why art? How can man in all his hideousness produce an art? --Because the one thing that can be said of all art is: it is created for the good of man, or, at least this, I think, is the intention; at any rate you and others like you keep at it--which may well be the only significance of "keeping at it."

Much is happening and I am having difficulties keeping up or cathcing up (whichever the case), as I have no money like--I hear the news on the radio and when someone here gets a paper, sometimes I get to read it. We have jobs and I make 17cents a day, which gives me about $3.50 a month to spend. Out of this I have to get all the necessities and then try to save something each month towards a book; but I don't want to burden you with my troubles of jail, as had I stayed on the street this would have been avoided--nor do I want to impose on you, as you have already been very kind. But being a writer, you know the importance of reading when one is trying to become one, so I'd like to ask if you would send me any poetry, African history, pamphlets, booklets or articles which you may have--anything--old, new--anything, as long as it's inexpensive and doesn't inconvenience you. Like I say, I don't want to impose. Meanwhile, am enclosing a poem which was inspired by a character in Gelber's play, "The Connection," which someone told me of, as I didn't see the play.

So let this be it for now and please write and let me know about your new works--what is going on as you see it.

Harold Carrington

Poem was returned by censor here as obscene, so will try to send something else later.


Tom Beckett has just posted his new interview with me at his Exchange Values site:

Linger a while and take a look at the other interviews too --

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Harold Carrington Part II: From the Archives

P. O. BOX 500
december 28, 1958

dear leroi jones,

I recently started a yearly subscription to your poetry magazine YUGEN, I would like to congratulate you on having one of the finest quarterlies available.
in reading YUGEN 3 & the previous issues of YUGEN i've become very much interested in the work of barbara moraff & would like to read more of her things. would you please let me know if its possible to get anymore of her work or if she has a book of poems available, & if so, how I can obtain them.


harold carrington

P. O. BOX 500
[handwritten letter]

Dear LeRoi Jones:

Just a short one to inquire about YUGEN 4, as to when it will be out or if possibly you might send the two issues I asked about in my previous letter as I've absolutely nothing to read, Ray having taken nearly all with him. We've (Nick & I, my tenor playing friend) read YUGEN enough to recite the entire issue by heart, to give an example of the situation.

What has Ray done with his plans for RIFF! (the jazz-poetry mag. to end all mag.) gone ahead or abandoned them indefinitely? & what has become of Thunder Bird Suite?

One day he (Ray) & I searched his memory for a Negro Lady Poet, to no avail. I finally found one Margaret Walker, tell him about her for me. The book I read of hers was an ancient one, pub. about 1945 by Yale Univ. Press, edited by Stephen Vincent Benet. I believe she teaches school someplace in the south, but don't know if she still writes. I think Ray will enjoy her (if he can find the book), but perhaps you've read her yourself & already told him about her.
Let me hear from you soon, the books &c.


January 2

Dear Roi Jones,

Recently I wrote to Ray Bremser in care of YUGEN, as I had been unable to reach him at his Jersey City address, and do not know his NYC address, please pass it on to him if and when you see him

After my last letter from you while I was at Bordentown I returned to Atlantic City, unfortunately I lasted only a few weeks and am now in the County Jail, worse yet we are not allowed any paperbacks so I'll have to discontinue Yugen until some later date, exactly when I can't say--

Enclosed, I'm sending a short poem about a woman I met while on the streets this last time, perhaps you can use it in Yugen or if not, possibly you might make some comment on it...

Also if there are and hardbacks available by yourself or any of the people who've appeared in Yugen I hope you will let me know about them, as we are allowed to have them here,

I hope you will let me hear from you soon--

Harold Carrington

Happy New Year--


your belch

the pungent odor of your too thin winter coat
or acrid armpits

your white eyes after ancora's six months

your clouding of your own eyes with one free beer

your euphorian stupor riding a six-man train

your outhouse mouth--

its dribble

your actual infection of a young drunk of thirteen

your eyes--

sixteen cents short in the blank night of 9:45

your gurgling throat gurgling frantically in the spittle

of empty bottles

your drunken falsetto--

its dignity

your 87 lbs.

your black skin screaming anything for a dollar in
the white bar

your vague knowledge of little children running across
your collapsed body in the raining doorway of
new jersey avenue school--

their curiosity wetting your matted hairs
your immortality...


[Today we begin a series of documents by Harold Carrington, a poet who died just days after being released from jail in New Jersey in the 60s. The "Ray" mentioned below is Beat poet Ray Bremser, who shared a cell with Carrington for a time. This first letter mentions a reading in D.C. This is the now legendary visit to Washington by a carload of poets, including Baraka & Ginsberg, memorialized in Baraka's poem "One Night Stand." They read at Howard University as well, and attended a party of D.C. bohemians, where they met Gaston Neal. This is also the trip during which Bremser met his wife, Bonnie, who writes of the visit in her memoirs.]

P. O. BOX 500

january 9, 1958

dear LeRoi Jones,

received your letter, thanks loads for information. read Yugen 1 & 2, but don't have them, had planned to get them when I started subscription but funds were low until last wk, so I could'nt make purchase until now. would like also to have a copie of 4 lady poets & Moraff's book, please let me know when they're available or anything else pub. at TOTEM PRESS &ct.

heard you and ray were reading at geo. wash. uni. on the 10th & were reading regularly in nyc, crazy!!!


harold carrington

ps. on back a short poem, which I hope (if you have time) you will read and send along with the mags. any critizem &/or opinions you might have or feel would help me improve.


while my city gently sleeps
the lonely moan a weary blues
on the poet's silent, unobserved departure,
the poet shoes he left behind
& are as yet

now I feel like Nellie Lutcher
want to sing and fornicate,
make awinging Jersey City
meet the family
& Grace,
go over to some convenient village
dig the cool--controversal
Brubeck beams,
(man, don't be a drag)
the cause of bitte Barbara's
maybe chase a few Lolitas
in Central Park
on the way up to Harlem
to have a ball,
cultivate a wine habit
so I can comprehend
& shout
split to the far coast
blow in the cellar,
down to Mexico for bull fights
& crazy visions,
then in a blaze of violence
we'll quit-it out the back door
on some crowded city street
coming to a screeching

while my city gently sleeps
this lonely moans a weary blues
on the poet's silent, unobserved departure,
the poet shoes he left behind
& are as yet

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Inaugural Poet?

To the left is, of course, newly elected President of the United States Matt Santos; to the right, poet Jimmy Santiago Baca.

In the course of Sunday night's grand finale for THE WEST WING, which I just got around to watching, there was a scene that went by so quickly I wasn't sure I hadn't imagined it. One of President Elect Santos's aides is going over the running order of the Inaugural program with the President Elect. We learn that Keb' Mo' is to perform on the steps of the Capitol. (and if his bluesy version of AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL isn't already on one of his CDs, I sure hope it will be on the next one -- though I suppose the purists who weighed in with denunciations of NUESTRO HIMNO may be outraged by this as well.) and then suddenly we hear the name of Jimmy Santiago Baca, who, it appears, is slotted to recite at the ceremony.

Now, the real life history of poets and inaugurals is odd enough. There's that cold January day when, troubled by breeze and glaring sun, Robert Frost, unable to read from the piece of paper he's holding, recites THE GIFT OUTRIGHT instead. Bill Clinton, emulating Kennedy in all too many things, brought his home state poet to the ceremonies as well, and so a nation seemingly unable to get too much of Maya Angelou was treated to a reading of THE PROMISE OF MORNING. Carter (and why is it Democrats seem more given to having poets on the program than the GOP? It's not like Dana Gioia wouldn't have been happy to read for Bush) brought James Dickey to town, but Dickey read at the Kennedy Center festivities, not the Inaugural proper.

So I waited through the next segments of THE WEST WING looking forward to the first appearance of a poet on the show since the episode in which a fictive nominee for top poet threatened to use her moment in the camera lights to cause trouble for the Bartlett administration. But it was not to be. Keb' Mo' got to play guitar and sing, and sell that many more recordings, but we didn't get a glimpse of Baca and he didn't get the product placement. Which is why I place his product here:

Still, it's intriguing that somebody involved with this production took the trouble to insert Baca's name into the script. I can't help wondering if it might have been the same person who, in an effort to communicate something to viewers of outgoing President Bartlett's intellectual range, made sure that we saw the cover of a book by Foucault as the movers were packing up the oval office. As one day another crew will pack Bush's signed copies of Michael Crichton's books --

Maybe in future election debates, some more than usually enterprising journalist might ask the candidates to name a poet they'd invite to recite at their inaugural.


the Poetry Center

please add to your calendar
readings at Café Royale

a reading to celebrate the anthology
Every Goodbye Ain't Gone with Aldon NIELSEN, Lauri RAMEY, William J. HARRIS and giovanni SINGLETON

Thursday May 25 2006
6:00 pm @ Café Royale
800 Post (at Leavenworth), San Francisco, free

We've been waiting for this one:

Every Goodbye Ain't Gone is a groundbreaking new anthology of innovative poetry by African American writers (University of Alabama, 2006), presenting the work of many of the poets who carried on the adventurous legacies of Melvin B. Tolson, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Robert Hayden. Poetry by such key poets as Melvin Tolson, Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Clarence Major, Bob Kaufman, and June Jordan appears alongside the work of less familiar poets such as Russell Atkins, Jodi Braxton, David Henderson, Stephen Jonas, and Elouise Loftin, poets active from the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts Movement and beyond.

Reading from the anthology: Aldon Lynn Nielsen, coeditor, is a poet (Stepping Razor, Vext, Mixage) and Kelly Professor of American Literature at Penn State, and the author of outstanding critical works Black Chant and Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation. Lauri Ramey, also anthology coeditor, is Associate Professor of English at California State U., Los Angeles, and author of Black British Writing. William J. Harris co-authored "Somebody blew off Baraka" with Aldon Nielsen (African American Review: June 2003), edited The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader and curated a recent exhibition from the life and works of Amiri Baraka at Brown University. He is a poet and Professor of English at The University of Kansas. giovanni singleton, poet and teacher, edits nocturnes: a literary (re)view, out of Oakland.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Today I'd like to call attention to an editorial, titled "WHY D.C. CAN'T READ," that appeared in Monday's Washington Post. The article is written by my friend David Nicholson, a D.C. writer who used to work at the Post's Book Review.

I first met David about three decades back when we were both attending Federal City College. We were both writers, shared interests in things like the early novels of Ishmael Reed, and loved music. David was a central figure in getting a literary mag off the ground at the school, and later was the founder of BLACK FILM REVIEW. In the years since, our ideological paths have diverged sharply, but we continue to share a deep concern for public educaton in the United States.

David's editorial makes a connection you'd think would be made more often. On the one hand we have a truly disastrous record of reading instruction in the nation's capital. As David points out:
"a third of the city's high school students drop out without graduating. An equal percentage of District adults read at or below the third-grade level."

On the other hand we have the continuing assault on library resources in the public schools. Why have so few of the thousands of people commenting on public education drawn the line that leads straight from one of these facts to the other?

David's column takes off from the case of Lynn Kaufman, an activist librarian who had started an innovative and effective reading program at Coolidge High School. A few weeks ago her position was eliminated. D.C.'s Master Plan for education requires librarians at the elementary and middle school levels (though the resources planned in the master plan are minimal at best), but there are no requirements in the plan for librarians at the High School level. As Kaufman discovered in her research, and Nicholson reports, more than half the schools in D.C, including seven high schools, have no librarian at all.

This is a national problem, not a problem peculiar to urban areas or to D.C. -- and it is a problem that has been growing. In David Nicholson's words, we inhabit a society that "is committed to a kind of industrial education that focuses on measurable outcomes."

We already have before us the measurable outcome of the assaults on school libraries. Those of us who teach in universities see the results of this problem on our campuses every day. No matter what approach to the teaching of reading one might favor, one thing is clear. You cannot solve our schools' deficiencies in reading by eliminating librarians and the libraries they build.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Today this space is given over to celebration. (and yes, I did call my mother.) I flew to State College, PA, from California to be with these fine people you see here depicted as they were awarded their Doctorates in English at Penn State University. I wound up spending Friday night at Dulles Airport courtesy of United Airlines, but I did get to town in time for the graduation ceremonies. On the left here you see me with Dr. Chaunda McDavis, a wonderful young scholar who has just completed a dissertation on African American women novelists and their responses to such phenomena as the Black Arts Movement and the Moynihan Report. Chaunda also worked with me editing some uncollected journalism by C.L.R. James. She is a fine teacher and writer and I expect you'll be hearing more from her in the near future. To the right you see Dr. Steven Thomas, who I first came to know through his work in our graduate student organizations at both the local level and at the Modern Language Association. Steven has also been a key member in the Comparative Literature Department's Penn State Americanists group.

And this, for me, is the real point of doing the work that I do. So I hope you will indulge me in a moment of sheer unadulterated pleasure.

And the call to my mother . . . I had to phone her on my sister's cell phone as they were all driving back on Mother's Day from yet another graduation -- My niece, Healey Adams, got her BA from USC this weekend.

Hope your day has been as good as ours. I'm flying back to Santa Barbara in the morning. Here's a photo of Dr. McDavis and her family.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


my baby's gone
& incredible distances close before me
my face pressed up -- side the wall
which doesn't open a window
into a room of dead flowers
dead tokens of the hours
i spent with my baby

my baby's gone is not like a song
like a rope i could swing on
wind on my shades blurring faces
in the park to streaks of color
in the dark while the singing
rests my chest from the hurt
that fills the hole in me
my baby left.
it's more a cry like an answer
a twist in the turning
a sobering of skids and
a panic of drugs

my tongue dries up & manhattan collapses.

{This poem appeared in 1966 in POEMS NOW, edited by Hettie Cohen for Kulchur Press.}

Thursday, May 11, 2006


following his triumphant tour of Saturn and Jupiter, Sun Ra returns to the earthly plane for a RAdiocentric festival. This word just received via emanations from the DimeADozen Jazz Forum:

32-HOUR RADIO MARATHON MONDAY, MAY 22nd at midnight to TUESDAY, MAY 23rd, 8:20 AM
89.9 FM NYC & streaming live across the galaxies

The Sun Ra Institute and WKCR-FM are proud to announce the Sun RaArrival Day Celebration, a 32-hour radio marathon featuring work ofthe innovative and iconoclastic composer, bandleader, and keyboardistSun Ra. Each segment of the festival will focus on a specific featureof Ra's musical legacy: Standards and Ballads, The Swing Tradition,Solo Piano and Poetry, Late 1950's and Early Rarities, Tone Science,Singers, and more.

The Arrival Day Celebration will include exclusiverecordings from WKCR's archives as well as live special guestinterviews with Marshall Allen, Director of the Sun Ra Arkestra, andArkestra members of the past, present and future.

Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama on May 22, 1914, he was nicknamed Sonny from his youth. He later abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra ("Ra" being the name ofthe ancient Egyptian god of the Sun). He did not consider himself"born"; rather, he "arrived" on the planet, entering via Birmingham.

From the '50's to the '90's Sun Ra led a large ensemble with a fluidlineup under a variety of names: The Solar Myth Arkestra, TheIntergalactic Space Research Arkestra, and many others. Sun Radeparted on Memorial Day - May 30, 1993.

Sun Ra's prolific achievements on Planet Earth have been widelyacclaimed and recorded in documentaries, books, and a feature film titled "Space is The Place". He founded his record label, El SaturnRecords, in the 1950s, and proceeded to unleash nearly 200 fiercelyindividualistic and extremely diverse albums on an unsuspecting andlargely unprepared public. He also recorded for a handful of majorlabels, and he attained widespread notoriety from his legendaryconcerts, radio, and television appearances. His interstellarmusical, poetic, linguistic, and spiritual explorations areunparalleled in the history of modern music and culture.

With The Arkestra, Sun Ra gave astonishing performances around theworld for decades. He was always accompanied by stellar musicians infantastic costumes, and a joyful atmosphere of mischievous spacecamaraderie was ever present. His music is most often regarded as'Jazz', though it spans the full spectrum from Swing to Space, withballads, show tunes, hard- and post-bop, exoticism, funk, energymusic, and electronic hyperdrive.


The broadcast will begin with a variety of great Sun Ra sounds towarm up this event.

5-8 AM Sun Ra Plays Standards and Ballads The Daybreak Express show will feature Sun Ra's performances ofstandards, ballads, and show tunes.

8-9:30 AM The Swing Tradition The Bird Flight slot will be an extension of the previous show, butthis time focusing on the compositions of Jelly Roll Morton, DukeEllington, Fletcher Henderson, and others. Little known facts:Fletcher himself once gave up his own piano chair to Sun Ra. Sun Rawrote charts that Coleman Hawkins had difficulty playing. Monk wasimpressed, too.

9:30 AM-Noon Solo Piano and Poetry Our morning Classical show will present Sun Ra's solo pianorecordings, including an exclusive performance at WKCR in July 1977.This segment will also incorporate Sun Ra's extensive poetic works.

Noon-5PM Omniversity: Late 1950's and Early Rarities Phil Schaap will shine the spotlight on Sun Ra's elemental work fromthe later 1950's. Following this segment, we will shift into a surveyof the very earliest recordings of Sun Ra, arranging for singers andperforming as a sideman. Phil will be joined by a panel of scholarsand band members, presenting the rarest of Sun Ra sides.

5-8 PM Tone Science The synthesizer and abstract works of Sun Ra. Tune in for some ofthe most adventurous recordings of Sun Ra's career. This segment willinclude both solo synthesizer performances as well as those with anensemble.

8 PM-1 AM From the Ark The evening segment is expected to be the highlight of the marathon.We will play live recordings and interviews, with visits from specialguests and a focus on materials from WKCR's own "Arkives", as well asa collection gathered by The Sun Ra Institute. We will take sometime to honor the current living-and-breathing Sun Ra Arkestra, underthe masterful direction of Marshall Allen, and celebrate Marshall's82nd birthday a few days early. Stay tuned for extra features in theworks, including remote broadcast from the Sun Ra House inPhiladelphia.

1-2 AM The Singers This hour will give a closer look at Sun Ra's work with vocalists,including his R&B and Doo-wop efforts.

2-5 AM Overnight Sun Ra
5-8:20 AM Daybreak Sun Ra Sun Ra will again be the focus of Transfigured Night and DaybreakExpress.


We are often told by HE WHO WILL NOT DO HIS HOMEWORK that leftist radicals exercise an absolute lock on hiring practices at universities, employing a blacklist to prevent conservatives from receiving faculty appointments. It is suggested that state legislatures need to take action to assure that faculty hiring will be done strictly on the basis of scholarly merit.

Then again, on May 1 Georgetown University announced that it has hired Douglas Feith as a Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service. This is, of course, the same Douglas Feith who was a master builder for the Iraq war policies and the peculiar intelligence releases in support of the war. Professor Feith does hold a law degree from Georgetown, but he has no advanced degrees in the subject matter of foreign service studies and no peer-reviewed publications. Further, the appointmnet was made with none of the faculty review ordinarily given to even a beginning visiting professr of freshman composition.

And what about the question of injecting political ideology into the curriculum? Turns out that is precisely what Feith is being hired to do at Georgetown. When I first heard of this in a news broadcast, I heard only that Feith was to teach courses on counter-terrorism strategies. However, it turns out that Feith has been hired for a far more specific purpose. The Georgetown University Press Release announcing the appointment states that "
Beginning Fall 2006, he will teach a course on the Bush Administration’s strategy behind the war on terrorism to students in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. "

So much for meritocracy -- So much for teaching "both" sides of political controversies.

By way of contrast, Madeleine Albright, also on the Foreign Service faculty at G'town, holds a PhD from Columbia (you may recall that her father taught Secretary of State Rice), and passed full faculty review before becoming a distinguished professor.

Don't know what procedures were followed when George Tenet, another G'town alum, was appointed to the faculty of the Foreign Service School -- His highest degree is an MA from Columbia.

But it does make you wonder -- on the one hand, we hear a constant howling from the Right about tenured radicals who are professors of saxophone but teach peace studies, or professors of literature who have the unmitigated and unqualified gall to teach Marxist Studies -- but somehow the appointment of well-placed alums without academic credentials to high-level professorships without faculty review brings nary a whimper from the Right --

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Back at the beginning of this blog exercise I mentioned that I was reading Ed Roberson's new book, City Eclogue, published by Atelos books and available through Small Press Distributing.

First of all, a word about Atelos. This series of books is edited by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz and in the end will be a list of fifty books, each commissioned by the editors and each, as the editors put it, "involved in some way with crossing traditional genre boundaries," a description certainly fitting Roberson's life's work. This is volume 23 in the series, and the previous 22 on the list evidence the editors' eclectic scope. The Atelos editors have sometimes honored the already well-established, such as Fanny Howe and Clark Coolidge, but just as often they have published writers at earlier stages of their public recognition, such as Kathy Lou Schultz and Jalal Toufic. When I first encountered Lyn Hejinian she was publishing her Tuumba Press series, which remains one of the most solid collections of chapbooks in the history of American editing. Atelos, her current project with Ortiz, is the only series that makes me feel compelled to get each volume as it comes out, even in those cases where I am not familiar with the author's previous work.

Roberson, though, is a known quantity, or to be more precise, a should-be-much-better-known quantity. Beginning in the 70s with books like WHEN THY KING IS A BOY and ETAI EKEN, Roberson has persisted in his course, writing poems that are like no others, poems that consistently overturn our expectations about how poems work and what sorts of work they might do. He has done all this, for the most part, off the stage of the American literary reputation apparatus, despite having won some considerable awards. But he always had an audience.

Some years ago I heard Roberson for the first time on a panel at a conference. He was giving a talk about the evolution of his poem "Ask for 'How High the Moon'" across its history of drafts. It's one of the major poems of his career, and the talk was intriguing in just the way poetry workshops should be but usually are not. The talk also included a couple of moments of reflection on his own status within American poetry, and I've never forgotten one thing he said. He was speaking of the day he received a phone call out of the blue from Nathaniel Mackey, a poet Roberson had long admired. Mackey was calling to ask Ed if he might be willing to submit some of his poems to HAMBONE. Roberson said that his feeling that day was that the pebble had finally hit the water. He let us wonder about that image for a few seconds, then explained. "It's like when you drop a pebble into a deep well. You keep waiting and waiting to hear that plop as it enters the water at long last." -- a marvelous description of how it feels to hear from a reader long after having sent a poem out into the world of print.

Many of Roberson's poems seem to work in much that way -- you listen with an ear cocked to the depths, and then comes that moment of entry. Take these powerful moments from CITY ECLOGUE:

That powerful level of segregationists

the civil rights movement never reached

never guilty or active agent within

the necessarily narrow focus needed to pin

never guilty of any more obvious

than wanting things this way

I've long felt that Lorenzo Thomas's meditation on the demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, "THE BATHERS," was among the greatest poems to arise from the American Civil Rights Movement. Several poems in CITY ECLOGUE equal Thomas's poem. At a time when younger generations are in danger of forgetting the feelings of peril that attach themselves to the struggle for equality, history has a way of suddenly pulling back its robe and revealing the never wholly occluded terrors of the Till murder, or the assassinations of the Civil Rights workers in Mississippi. There are many still alive among us who committed these acts of terrorism, more still who acquiesced in them. Roberson's poems over and over again turn on a return to the worn images of our history, a return that forces us to confront that which moves most strongly within us as we inch our way into the new century:

the mirrors around the lunch counter

reflected the face

to face--the cross-mirrored depth reached

infinitely back into either--

the one pouring the bowl over the head of

the one sitting in

at that counter

And then later in the same poem, titled "Sit In What City We're In" --

we are

reflected in the face to face we are

a nation facing ourselves our back turned

on ourselves.

From "Stand-in Invocation" through to the concluding "Eclogue," Roberson's new book gives us many such moments, wherein we catch ourselves reflected in the texts of our own refracting past, splayed in the play of colors in time. Seldom has a book so assiduously addressed itself to our cities, to the corners just past where our past used to stand, to those intersections where we glimpse our own receding selves in the traffic. And not since Creeley drove madly into that dark night has a poet so described our surround:

death surrounds us is our uncurbed circumference.

We map our way with only the bearing

of surrounding life itself borderless

uncontrolled by the surface of our self.


"It's a political campaign. . . This is fine for when you're electing candidates or something, but it's really inappropriate for an academic discussion."
–David Horowitz

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to writing about poetry and jazz . . .

Like the Academic Bill of Rights itself, some of David Horowitz’s comments don’t sound particularly objectionable when taken out of context. Today’s quote, reported in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, would seem right on target if the subject of discussion had been, say, a professor who was advocating in the classroom for a partisan candidate in an election campaign. Many readers might well take this quote as an appropriate reaction to Horowitz’s own campaign as he conducts it on college campuses. Is his campaign of vilification as he carries it to university audiences really an appropriate mode of academic discussion? The obvious response to that question is that the speaking engagements for which Horowitz is handsomely paid at campuses around the nation aren’t academic discussion at all, but a mode of entertainment.

But Horowitz likes to pretend that he is engaged in some form of academic discussion, and his statement today is a characterization of the response to his campaign. The occasion for Horowitz’s comment is a report titled FACTS COUNT, released in full today by the FREE EXCHANGE ON CAMPUS coalition. (Their link can be found over there in the sidebar.) FACTS COUNT is an effort to refute many of the allegations contained in Horowitz’s compilation of rumor and invective, THE PROFESSORS, and the Free Exchange coalition is releasing their refutation today at the University of Chicago, where Horowitz is appearing. They plan to send copies of their report to other campuses where Horowitz is scheduled to appear. That is what Horowitz is objecting to as a political campaign, inappropriate for academic discussion. Horowitz is outraged that a coalition would exercise their first amendment rights to publish their response to his book at campuses where he is paid to appear.

The hypocrisy screams out at you here; Horowitz’s appearances are nothing if they are not political – they certainly bear no resemblance to any academic discussion I’ve ever been a part of. But please note, the Free Exchange release is not part of anybody’s curriculum. It’s not being offered as a scholarly publication (though from what I’ve read of it this morning, they seem to have spent more time reading their sources than Horowitz did). Free Exchange is, in fact, doing the same thing that Horowitz is doing in Chicago. They are making a public statement regarding claims made in his book. Unlike Horowitz, they will not be paid for their appearance.
Horowitz often argues that he is not interested in restraining the political rights of academics. He frequently asserts that his only concern in the Academic Bill of Rights is to offer students protection from inappropriate political indoctrination in the classroom. But his actions betray those assertions. Here it is political speech outside the classroom that Horowitz is denouncing as inappropriate.

Horowitz also has this to say about Free Exchange and their report:
"Mr. Horowitz called the report ‘stupid.’ 'This is a union operation,' he said. 'I think they're a discredited source from the beginning.'"

Now that certainly doesn’t strike me as academic discourse. We’ve got ad hominem, begging the question, a red herring and a host of other fallacies all lined up in two lines. Quite an accomplishment.

On a related matter, I kind of wish I hadn’t wondered out loud how much Horowitz is making off this tour. At least one answer is now available through Horowitz’s web sites. The Frontpagemag report of Horowitz’s appearance at Cal State Monterey links to a report of the student debate over the funding of the event. It turns out that the Associated Students group had already exhausted its funds for bringing speakers to campus, hence the debate. The question was whether or not the AS should tap their emergency funding for the purpose of co-sponsoring the event. The AS had thought it would be a good idea to have a conservative speaker, since they had earlier brought Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Ward Churchill to campus. (I suppose the Churchill/Horowitz debate show hadn’t gotten started yet – the real revelation here is that Wilson gets about half what Horowitz or Churchill take in fees, and doesn’t require quite the associated costs that come with a Horowitz.)

In the end, the student group did vote to go into deficit with their speaker budget to make this happen. So much for radical blacklists keeping conservatives off campus. In the reporting of the debate, we learn that Horowitz gets $5,000 a pop for these ad lib talks he gives. Not bad at all, though any number of luminaries get more (one hopes those who get more might actually write a speech before they arrive on campus.) But then there are those associated costs. Horowitz’s travel expenses to and from campus have to be met. AND there’s the matter, it turns out, of car rental for Horowitz, and security. Those who have seen the video of Horowitz at Duke have seen the personal security guy Horowitz brings along, and that has to cost a few pennies as well.
Makes you wonder, eh?

By way of comparison, those of us who travel around the country participating in actual academic discussions face a quite different circumstance. It is true that there are some academic stars who collect huge fees, but most of us have to pay our own way to the scholarly events in which we participate. In the decade I spent at San Jose State, part of the same system that includes the Monterey campus, I had to pay my own way to most conferences I spoke at out of my salary. I am now at a university that can afford to give me some travel funds, and I am often invited to speak at universities that might defray the cost of my coming to their campus – but I don’t usually get offered a car, I never get security, and I am generally expected to show up with a carefully researched and thoroughly documented paper to present — and maybe I should add that I do my research myself – In my current position I have, for the first time in my career, the assistance of really good graduate students – really good – but they work on research related to editing manuscripts we’ve uncovered in archives – they don’t do all my reading for me – and I have to say their record of accuracy is a whole lot better than that of the people Horowitz credits for researching his book –

but maybe that’s because we’re engaged in academic discussion –

Monday, May 08, 2006

"CAUSUS BELLI" of the Beast

An interesting report by Kevin Howe of David Horowitz's recent speech at Cal State Monterey, a speech that was funded in part with student government money, has been posted over at Frontpagemag . The piece is reprinted from the Monterey Herald. Since Frontpagemag is Horowitz's own site, I take it they take care that his remarks are reported accurately when they reproduce such reports. In Howe's telling, Horowiz made the following observation:

"Arguments over the 'casus belli' of the war -- weapons of mass destruction -- are no more relevant than the firing on Fort Sumter was on the outcome of the American Civil War."

To start with, an analogy between an argument about the actual causes of a war, and the relationship between the actual causes of another war and that war's outcome, is, to say the least, a logical stretch. But just what is being said here? The firing on Ft. Sumter was, I'm sure we can all agree, a hostile act, to which the Union forces responded, leading to the outcome with which we are all familiar. Is Horowitz arguing that the actual attack by the Confederacy on the Union had no relevance to the eventual outcome of the war? And if that is what he's saying, what does that have to do with contemporary arguments about what the Bush administration's reasons for going to war may have been. Horowitz appears to be saying that it simply doesn't matter whether or not the administration's stated reasons for going to war have any truth value. (I did always suspet that it was Horowitz who best embodied the radical relativism with regard to truth that has been the horror of the Right these many years.)

The Confederates really did fire on Ft. Sumter. Iraq, whatever its demonstrable sins, did not attack the United States of America on 9/11. So, the analogy is just what exactly?

Suppose it had come out that there had never been any firing on Ft. Sumter -- Suppose that revelation came about while the Civil War was still in progress, while President Lincoln was attempting to hold together the difficult consensus in favor of prosecuting the war.. Do you really believe such a revelation would have made no difference?

Perhaps if David Horowitz spent more time in university courses, rather than appearing in student unions to denounce professors, he might have a better grasp of both Civil War history and logic.

And, adding the inevitable insult to the repetitive injury, Horowitz threw this on the heap:

"We've gotten into a serious place in this country," he said. "The Democratic Party and the left have defected to an enemy in time of war for the first time in our history."

Now, call me an historian if you will, but isn't this an odd claim in the context of Horowitz's already bizarre comments on the War between the States? There was one time in our history when some (far from all) Democrats truly did defect to the enemy. We call it the Civil War, and the Left did not join those defectors. Has Horowtiz already forgotten the Civil War just moments after having invoked it?

But a man who claims that today's Democratic Party has defected to the enemy in a time of war is clearly not a man who is in contact with reality. I'm glad that the student government of Cal State Monterey funded this event, though. It's important that students hear what Horowitz actually says -- and it's important to have these remarks on the record, thanks to Kevin Howe and the good people at Horowitz's web site, so that we can have them on hand when, like Rumsfeld, Horowitz one day denies ever having said these foolsh things.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Well, sort of – Geri Allen didn’t actually perform at the Modern Language Association itself. The last thing that approached such an event in my memory occurred when Ellis Marsalis performed as part of a special session at a conference of the Modern Language Association in Chicago many years ago.

Here’s what did happen.

I am in the second year of a three year term on the Program Committee of the Modern Language Association, the committee that would approve a special session featuring Geri Allen if anybody ever proposed such a thing. Our duties include meeting together in New York once a year to discuss the hundreds of proposals for special sessions that come in each year from the membership. The committee members receive copies of the proposals in advance, read them all and make notes, then gather together at the MLA offices on lower Broadway to make final decisions. It’s a whirlwind trip, most of which is spent in the offices, though the MLA does treat us to a dinner at a nearby restaurant, and I usually manage to fit in a quick expedition to Saint Marks book store.

So that’s where I’ve been the past few days, not blogging from the scene, because the hotel where we were lodged charges $17 per day for internet access. There is supposed to be free WiFi access in the hotel lobby, but of course it didn’t work. (I was a bit suspicious when I found that the WiFi service you can pay for to have access in meeting rooms for conferences was available, but the free access in the lobby was not.) Everything else about the hotel was just fine, though the committee work keeps us busy enough that we aren’t in the hotel enough to notice much.

But this turned out to be a different hotel than the one we stayed in for last year’s meetings, closer to Times Square this time AND, as I discovered when I walked around the corner to get some iced tea my first morning in town, just a few doors away from the Iridium Jazz club – the first of several pleasant surprises. The second was the notice on Iridium’s door that Geri Allen was to be the featured performer Thursday through Saturday nights.

Geri Allen has been in my pantheon of jazz greats since I first heard THE PRINTMAKERS and HOMEGROWN more than two decades ago. Through recordings like MAROONS, THE GATHERING, TWYLIGHT, THE NURTURER and OPEN ON ALL SIDES, Allen has shown herself to be among the most consistently rewarding pianists and composers on the scene. In addition to her own works as soloist and group leader, she has appeared in settings with people like Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman. One reason I was so excited to find that she was appearing right around the corner from my hotel was that it had been twenty years since the last time I’d seen her in concert.

That last concert had been a tribute event on the campus of Howard University, where I was teaching at the time. Geri Allen was on the bill because the tribute was in honor of the music department faculty member who had been her own piano teacher when she was a Howard Student. The surprise that time came late in the program when a duet performance was announced and Geri Allen was joined on the piano bench by Mark Batson, who was a student in my English composition class. I had known that Mr. Batson played the piano, but I had never heard him in performance and had not known how advanced his playing was already while he was a student. He more than held his own with Allen. (And I should add that he did exemplary work in the English class too.) In later years I would see Batson’s name on recordings by Jean Paul Bourelly and others, and he is now a much-sought-after producer as well as a musician.

Come Friday, I was determined that I was going to see a Geri Allen set at Iridium before I returned home. Since I had a day-long flight back to California coming up, I decided to go to the early show. That isn’t always the thing to do. The first show of the evening can be a shaky start with some performers, but I had never heard of Geri Allen giving anything less than the best performance no matter what the circumstances, and so I elbowed my way through the crowds of people dressed up to go see MAMA MIA for the fourth time and walked down the stairs to the Iridium club.

The club itself was another pleasant surprise, smaller and more intimate than I had expected. It put me in mind of the old Cellar Door club in the D.C. of my youth, where there was no such thing as a bad seat. Having arrived early (I’d thought there’d be a line – but this wasn’t ABBA music like MAMA MIA), I decided to try dinner at the club, and that proved a good decision. While I was eating I got to know the people at the tables to my right, in town for the charity walk & run that closed 7th Avenue the next morning, and a local man who, like me, had come specifically to hear Geri Allen. While the lights were still up prior to the show, I took a look at the card that was on my table, and then the surprises started coming hard and fast.

It turned out that, in celebration of Mary Lou Williams’s birthday (New York was also celebrating Freud’s birthday – the Mayor declared Sigmund Freud Day in New York – there was no Mary Lou Williams Day), Geri Allen and her group were planning a performance that night of Williams’s ZODIAC SUITE.

Mary Lou Williams was one of the indispensables, one of the incorruptibles – from the time she went out on the road at age 13 till her final day. Like Coleman Hawkins, she was somebody who opened the pathways of early jazz and then lived on to encourage and work with the subsequent generations of innovators. From her work with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy to her incomparable duet appearance with Cecil Taylor decades later, Williams was always an explorer and a master of technique.

ZODIAC SUITE dates to her compositions of the 1940s. There are two recorded versions currently available, one in a small group context (which is available from Smithsonian Records) and another with a larger orchestra recorded live. Geri Allen performed the work at Lincoln Center in March of 2004, and a portion of that concert was aired on public radio last year. I have a recording of that performance that I have been listening to intently, waiting for an opportunity to hear the entire suite performed. More recently, Allen recorded the suite as part of the Mary Lou Williams Collective, and that session has been released on Mary Records in support of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation, an organization Williams formed to support work with youth.

The card on my table brought me another surprise, too. It turned out that the gentleman I’d seen preparing the drum set and setting up his mini-disk recorder on the stage was Andrew Cyrille. Cyrille is a major figure in jazz himself, whose recordings I’ve been listening to for nearly four decades. He has worked often with poets, including both Amiri Baraka and Elouise Loftin. I write about his work with Loftin briefly in BLACK CHANT.

I had finished dinner, and now had to leave off reading as the lights were dimming for the first show. I’d noticed a man walk to the corner of the stage and pick up the microphone that was at the piano, and had assumed he was a club manager getting ready to introduce the night’s early show. But instead, a disembodied voice came over the PA system to welcome the small audience there gathered and to introduce the man on the stage. It turned out that he was Father Peter O’Brien, S.J., whose name I immediately recognized from Linda Dahl’s great biography of Mary Lou Williams, MORNING GLORY. O’Brien had become close to Williams following her turn to religion later in her life, and managed her career for a time. He is continuing to care for Williams’s legacy through the activities of her foundation and through promoting her music.

It was O’Brien’s task to spring the next surprise on us. It turned out that Geri Allen had just phoned in from whatever tunnel into Manhattan she was stuck in at the moment. We were given assurances that she would be there shortly; in the meantime, Andrew Cyrille and bassist Kenny Davis would perform as a duo. I hadn’t known of Davis before, but he had me within a few bars of SO WHAT as he kicked it off. Following a few stunning runs through the number, Davis and Cyrille started furiously trading fours, sixes and eights. I could tell from the faces on the audience members that all of us would have been happy to hear an entire evening of this pair at some point.

Then, as promised, Geri Allen quietly slipped through a door (I kept remembering Frank O’Hara and the door at the Five Spot as I watched this) and took her place at the piano. But I could tell from her smile that she was enjoying what Davis and Cyrille were doing herself, and she made no move to cut them off. She waited patiently poised over the keyboards, only adding her chords at the very conclusion. Then, with just a few words into the mic (an apology for her late arrival, a quick thanks to Davis & Cyrille, and then on to the Suite), she plunged right into ARIES.

From there it was a wondrous cycle through all the signs of the suite. I’m a notorious skeptic of all things astrological, but in the same way that I am glad to have St. Matthew’s Passion, I’m grateful that the Zodiac gave us this fine suite by Williams – Even more grateful that Libra turns out to be such an integral element of the work. Allen never turns in a rote repetition of Williams’s compositions; she finds an innovative turn in each sign’s segment. One of the fun elements of a live performance is seeing her turn from an improvisation, quickly turning over the pages of the score on the top of the piano in front of her to remind herself of the next corner that she and the band have to negotiate. From my seat just an arm’s reach away from the piano, I was able to see every move of her fingers, able to make a fan’s study of her technique (which answers that question that keeps popping into your mind while listening to recordings, “how’d they do that?”). Allen’s communication with Davis and Cyrille was another wonder to behold. I’ve heard Allen in a number of settings now, and this trio has to rate as among her best units.

For the purpose of these performances, the trio is identified as THE MARY LOU WILLIAMS COLLECTIVE, and that is how the CD of the suite now available from Mary Records is also credited. On the CD, Allen is joined by Buster Williams on bass and Billy Hart on drums, another great combination of voicings. Andrew Cyrille appears on the CD on two numbers, Herbie Nichols’s BEBOP WALTZ and Allen’s own THANK YOU MADAM, both works composed under Williams’s influence. I think most people who hear any version of the ZODIAC SUITE will want to get all three of the currently available renditions, by Williams and by Allen, for an exciting comparative listening.

The Iridium will let you stay for the next set with no additional cover charge – you just have to meet the drink minimum again, which isn’t hard to do when you’re having fun in Manhattan, but I had to get back to the hotel and prepare for the next day’s trip. Despite the joy that emanated from Geri as she finished her first set and left the stage, I had to tear myself away. I paused to introduce myself to Cyrille, with whom I had spoken on the phone a while back, and I talked a bit with Father O’Brien at the door as I was leaving. We both expressed our hope that the one other large ensemble recording of a Williams performance of ZODIAC, the acetates of which were actually stolen from the venue of the concert, will one day be available to the public.

Then I was back up at sidewalk level, wondering again at the disparity between the huge audience for ABBA and the small numbers in the audience for the Geri Allen set. But I also kept thinking of that group of tourists who sat near me during the show. None of them had heard of either Geri Allen or Mary Lou Williams before that night. They had enjoyed other jazz shows back home and just came to the Iridium out of curiosity and convenience. I’ve no doubt that the ABBA fans came away from the theater happy with their evening, but I’d be willing to bet that the tourists sitting in the Iridium that night came away with the sense of discovery that I felt when I first heard this music, and that I felt again that night as Geri Allen, Kenny Davis and Andrew Cyrille worked their changes on those compositions.

That’s modern language –

To reach Geri Allen's home page, click on her photo here:

For information on the Mary Lou Williams Collective's recording of ZODIAC SUITE click on this album cover:

Monday, May 01, 2006


SEEMS like only yesterday the FRIENDS OF the MINUTEMEN were trampling each other in their rush to get in front of microphones to denounce people in the demonstrations about immigration reform for waving Mexican flags. What a difference a day makes. Now those who FOM at the mouth are exercised because the immigrants and their allies are wrapping themselves in the American flag.

We hear over and over again that the FOM have no problem with immigration per se, and are absolutely not motivated by any prejudices about the countries of origin or the races of the immigrants. But look at what they choose to get excited about. First of all, you don't see the Minutemen and their supporters turning out to harrass Irish workers. You don't see them lining up along the Canadian border. Secondly, their position on language, to the extent that I can understand their attempts to express their position on language, has little to do with the legality of the speakers. Witness the furor over NUESTRO HIMNO. You'd think this "WE ARE THE WORLD" for our time,
featuring a range of guest artists from Wyclef Jean to Gloria Trevi, would have found a happy home among patriots of all stripes.

But no . . .

President TEACH BOTH SIDES OF THE CONTROVERSY OVER EVOLUTION George W. Bush is of the opinion that our national anthem should be sung in English. OK -- so maybe old British drinking songs go better in English, even after Francis Scott Key contributes new lyrics. (Hey, Key grew up on a plantation his family chose to call TERRA RUBRA -- guess they hadn't gotten the English-only message. Key's family, as it happens, had their own approach to immigrant labor issues -- they owned slaves. To his credit, once he had become an attorney, Key sometimes represented slaves attempting to gain their freedom.) But hasn't anybody noticed that our nationl anthem itself has multinational origins? Did we ever get a copyright clearance for the melody? And let's not even get started on what Americans have done to the lyrics of GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.

There's a lot of history we could bring up here. The constitution of California was originally published in bilingual form. The people who brought us Texas, Bush's home state, were allowed by the Mexican government to move into the territory and develop the land under an agreement they all signed on to that they would become Catholics, take Mexican wives AND LEARN SPANISH. Keep that in mind next time you join the Minutemen in remembering the Alamo.

The United States has always had a strange relationship to May Day. In some neighborhoods, children still make up May Day baskets and dance around May Poles (remember what our Puritan forefathers thought of THAT!). Meanwhile, we pointedly celebrate LABOR DAY on a different day of the year from the rest of the world, mostly celebrating by going out to the mall to pick up sale items made overseas with cheap labor. So this May Day, thousands of people of all races and national backgrounds have gone out into the streets to celebrate our history as a nation of immigrants, a nation of hard-working people, a nation that should show more respect for its own history.

That seems lost on the FOMers -- I just heard one of them express his disbelief in response to a speaker who'd said that the majority of the demonstrators were legal residents. Now, the point here isn't in fact the legal status of the marchers, or even what their status should be. The point is that the FOMer makes assumptions about the legal status of the marchers based only on what they looked like and the fact that they were in the march. A large portion of illegal immigration remains invisible to these people because it looks like them. A large portion of legal residents are questioned by the FOMers because they do not look like them.

They look like Americans to me -- They were waving the US flag and, for god's sake, eating hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos -- all that good native American cuisine.

This is what America looks like -- for sure, hombre.