Friday, March 23, 2007


I'm in Minneapolis tonight, having flown in this morning for a symposium on Bob Dylan, about which more later. But this evening was all poetry. Kamau Brathwaite was giving one of his marathon readings and talks at THE OPEN BOOK on Washington Avenue.

As is his custom, Brathwaite's presentation was a reflection upon his entire life and work, from his early days in Barbados, through his time in England and Ghana, his return to the Caribbean, touching down in his major books along the way. It's always good to revisit the familiar terrain of Brathwaite's earler career, but there is always the excitement of the newer works that come into view at the end of each of his readings, and tonight was no different. The new work was startling in its appearance. I won't say more, as you'll want to witness it for yourself as it becomes available.

A special note of thanks to Maria Damon, one of the organizers of the event. It was thanks to a notice she posted over at the POETICS list that I knew this reading was scheduled. I made sure I got into Minneapolis in time for it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Here's a link to a phone interview Leonard Scwartz did with me for his Cross Cultural Poetics radio program. Our subject is the collection EVERY GOODBYE AIN'T GONE.

On radio you couldn't tell that my name was spelled incorrectly! Leonard, I think you'll agree, does a great job of reading some of the poems from the volume.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


At the beginning of my career in academia, I worked as an adjunct in the department of English at Howard University. My office was on the second floor of Locke Hall, overlooking the historic quad. It was an office I shared with poet Calvin Forbes, and we used to joke that the department had lodged the poets in the room at the farthest remove from the chair's office. But it was a great place to work and I relished the fact that I was located in the building named for the legendary Alain Locke.
One day early in my time at Howard, as I walked down the stairs to class, I noticed a huge crowd of students gathered around the door of the large lecture hall just off the entrance. I was used to such sights at the beginning of the semester, as freshmen and sophomores hustled to get into oversubscribed lower division courses, but this was well into the semester and, as I quickly discovered, many of the students standing in the doorway and along the aisles of the lecture hall weren't even registered in this course; they simply wanted to hear the lecture.
I had witnessed something like this in my own undergraduate days at Federal City College, when each day of C.L.R. James's classes in the department of history brought a new group of visitors who just wanted to be able to hear James speak.
So I stuck my own head into this packed lecture hall at Howard to see what was up. As soon as I saw who was lecturing, I understood. It was Frank Snowden.
This was a course in the department of Classics. Frank Snowden remains to this day the only professor of classics I've known of who routinely drew such crowds to his courses. At a time when enrollments in classics were in steep decline, here was one faculty member who consistently drew crowds. And it was entirely because of his work as a scholar.

I had first become aware of Snowden when I was a student. In a bookstore one day, I came across his volume BLACKS IN ANTIQUITY. It was on a shelf with other volumes that were making a stir at the time, by authors like Ivan Van Sertima (THEY CAME BEFORE COLUMBUS) and Chancellor Williams (THE DESTRUCTION OF BLACK CIVILIZATION). Snowden's book soon became a constant presence on my coffee table. (I didn't actually drink coffee at home, but that's what everybody always called the table in front of the sofa, which was largely a holding area for books in my house.)

Long before such publications as Martin Bernal's BLACK ATHENA, Snowden's book was already doing the valuable work of correcting the damage done by what DuBois had termed "a venal" cabal of scholars who had assiduously gone about the business of occluding African history from view. What Snowden did was on the face of it an obvious and simple idea. It was just something that most historians had been too racist to contemplate. Snowden had combed through the extant record of the classics, bringing to the fore all those texts and art works that demonstrated conclusively the central role of African peoples in antiquity.
It was a life's work, and Snowden devoted his life to bringing his studies to successive generations of students and new scholars. He was an excellent lecturer, a demanding professor, and a tremndous encourager of talented youth. Howard was lucky to have him, and to keep him.
Frank Snowden finally retired some years ago, after teaching at Howard for five decades. In 2003 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal. He died last month, in his 95th year. His books are still in wide circulation, and now, as when I first came across the book, the place to start is with a careful reading of BLACKS IN ANTIQUITY.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


On the road, as always --

Last week I was in Columbus, Ohio, to read poetry at Larry's Poetry Forum, which takes its name from the bar in which it has been held for lo these many years. The Forum, for some time now organized by David Baratier (shown here under the sign of the camel), has been going on for decades and shows no sign of flagging. There, across the street from Ohio State University, each week a visiting poet performs, followed by an open mic.

One of the people I had the good fortune to meet that evening was Michael Hummel, proprietor of "Used Kids Records," which certainly takes the award for most striking name for a collector's emporium. Michael, shown here in a particularly mischievous moment at the mic, is himself a musician, with a musician's sense of timing and a wonderful sense of humor.

Also taking to the mic that evening was Stephen Mainard, a teacher in the area with whom I had a great conversation about poets and the work of wording.

David Baratier met me for dinner before the reading and we had a chance to renew our acquaintance. We had only met once previously, in the course of my only visit ever to the Associated Writing Programs conference, at which David usually has a table for his Pavement Saw Press. I've always admired the work of that press, and of the poets it publishes, and so running into David that first time had been like coming across a small oasis in the dry stretches of the AWP. [And why is it, do you think, that local papers never run those stories about the AWP that they so love to publish about the MLA -- Clearly not for lack of similarly inviting titles in the program.)

At any rate, for one cold night in March, I had the pleasure of poetry and drinks with the poets of Columbus. Next time you're in the area, find your way over to Larry's and ask for David. And while you're at it, stop by USED KIDS RECORDS at 1980 N. High Street, "upstairs" as Michael's card insists.