Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Fred Wah confronted by a critic.

Things had seemed to be going so well on my trip to Orono, Me, for the seventies conference [the ME. decade?]-- then I discovered that first night that the lens to my beloved Nikon had gotten broken somehow along the way. These two photos of Coolidges, Killians, Bellamys & Mylessssss were all that I was able to rescue. For the rest, I had to resort to taking photos with my cell phone, which eventuated in the soft focus results you see below. It seemed fitting, though; the seventies were a sort of soft focus, albeit harDCore, era.

The one photo I clearly did not take myself was borrowed from the Mongibeddu photo stream.

Along with delivering my own paper (on David Bromige, Kenneth Irby & Max Douglas), I was asked to provide an introduction for the reading by Jayne Cortez. Here are my remarks:

"At a certain moment in history when Aime Cesaire started to decolonize his neolonial head
and free his image by dealing with the world from the idea of negritude
when young Aime Cesaire said forget Paris and returned to look into the future by diving inside
the past of his native land . . .
At that moment of no compromise his poetry became poetry unique to poetry . . . "

In the small hours of April, before a crowd that did not know how to crowd, these words brought comfort –
That afternoon, as I sat in a room at Georgetown University, poet Rod Smith had come quietly up to me pushing his cell phone towards me – without my glasses on, I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, but then, as he pointed to the display on his phone, it came into focus . . . the screen bore the news that Aime Cesaire had died –

We passed the phone to poet Eugene Redmond, who made the announcement to the stunned crowd gathered at the conference, a conference dedicated to the arts in the Civil Rights era – What could any of us say? We all, poets and activists alike, carried Cesaire inside our very language – on our tongues --
That night, the first poet on the evening program was Jayne Cortez – with no preliminaries, she began quietly reciting her poem of tribute to Cesaire – a poem that itself grows out of a moment of no compromise – a moment when what is needed more than ever is a poetry unique to poetry –

This has always been Jayne Cortez’s way – from MOUTH ON PAPER to JAZZ FAN LOOKS BACK, from COAGULATIONS to SOMEWHERE IN ADVANCE OF NOWHERE – The titles of her brilliant recordings might almost serve as a manifesto for any artist determined on a course of self-sufficiency: MAINTAIN CONTROL, UNSUBMISSIVE BLUES, TAKING THE BLUES BACK HOME – or, if you’re of a philosophic bent, BORDERS OF DISORDERLY TIME

No one told her to do this – No one could tell her how to do this – There were only the brave examples of those disorderly orders of predecession: Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas, Nicolas Guillen, Big Mama Thornton – poets who recognized what Cortez remarks in one poem: "Everybody wants to be famous - Nobody needs it."
In the afterlife of the word, it is not fame that feeds us – it is the name that comes to the tip of our tongue, borne up on the waves of our history –
At a certain moment, when neither the politics nor the poetry of custom could bear us up any longer, Jayne Cortez returned to look into the future and found that THE BEAUTYFUL ONES ARE NOT YET BORN, found her way to THE BEAUTIFUL BOOK, found her way to flying home, to bumblebee and Big Mama, found her way to no compromise – won
her primary –

Steve Evans inadvertently stumbles across Bruce Andrews's secret lexicon stash backstage.

Watch this space in days to come for a few sound samples from the poets at Orono --

Monday, June 23, 2008

Report from the Iowa Floods - Dee Morris

New Orleans; Minneapolis; Blacksburg, VA; Iowa City . . . A dread pattern I've been following in recent years as disaster strikes one after another of the places where beloved university colleagues live and work -- First that moment of disbelief (as when visiting Notre Dame I looked up at a television monitor to see someone I knew at Virginia Tech in the aftermath of the shootings there) -- then the rush for phones, email, esp -- any means by which we might locate people and assure ourselves that they have survived. I was again at one university watching something terrible happen to another university -- This time it was the University of Iowa I was watching from the safe vantage point of a student union TV at the University of Maine. -- It was only a couple of years ago that I had such a good time visiting and speaking at Iowa City for the first time -- In addition to the great discussions with friends, I got to attend a stunning concert by Funkadelic, whose performances had formed part of the subject matter of my talk.

What, I wondered, of all those good people in Iowa. I almost hate to email friends in such circumstances, adding yet one more burden of response at a time when they must be frantic and sleepless, but I had to know . . . So I posted a quick message to Adelaide Morris just to make sure she was OK -- Here is the report she took time to send back to me:

It has been, as you've seen, apocalyptic here. At the height of it, it looked as though we'd lose all our bridges plus the power plant, EPB, the Library, and the arts campus. It looks as though all has survived, however, except for the arts campus, which is a ruin.

They may need to tear down the museum and they will certainly have to muck out the music building, the art studios, the theater building, and Hancher auditorium, all of which were filled to the windows with a fine soup of farm chemicals and feed lot manure. Very bad stuff--the police who had to wade in the waters got chemical burns on their legs and we've all been warned to get shots and wear masks.

Despite heroic efforts, none of the sandbag levees held. It only ended when the water went down, in its own time, but slowly now the bridges are reopening and summer school has resumed.It didn't escape our notice that EPB was not sandbagged, but the good thing is that the water which filled the basement was seepage-- filtered--rather than sewage, so I'm guessing we'll be back in business for the fall.

A relief. And, best of all, no one was hurt, though the waters were filled with trees hurtling forward faster than speeding cars.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I just love it when strict contructionists let their original intent get all loosey goosey.

John McCain, deriding Obama and the defeatocrats for their failure to note the successes of the surge, listed among the accomplishments the fact that troop strength in Iraq had been drawn down to pre-surge levels.

Of course, no such thing had as yet happened, as any number of reporters and politicos pointed out.

Whereupon they were promptly denounced by the McCain camp for nitpicking verb tenses.

Now I'm in favor of doing all sorts of things with and to verb tenses, but this caught my attention; suddenly the McCain campaign was sounding like Gertrude Stein --

For of course, it was explained, by that great postmodernist John McCain himself, that what he had said had been true because troop strength "will have been drawn down to presurge levels."

In other words, what McCain explained he had all along meant was simply that when the day arrives that troop levels in Iraq have been drawn down to presurge levels, it will become true that troop strength has been drawn down to presurge levels.

Hard to argue with that logic.

Would that I had seen troop levels drawn down to presurge levels, for how shall I describe it --

Monday, June 02, 2008


How is it, my friends, that Senator John McCain knew precisely how many days it had been since Senator Obama last visited Iraq, but somehow had no idea how many American troops were actually in Iraq?