Saturday, September 27, 2008


This is the stunning sight that came into view when I drew back the curtains in my hotel room in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago. Since I was in town to speak on the subject of the visual in poetry by African American women, it seemed somehow fitting that I found myself greeted by Saint Benedict the Moor. St. Benedict presides over Pittsburgh's Hillside District, and appeared to be welcoming all of us who had come to town for the LIFTING BELLY HIGH conference, hosted at nearby Duquesne University, a conference on poetry by American women after 1900. My own talk was to address poetry considerably after 1900 -- mostly after 2000.

This was yet another chance for me to touch base with the traveling colloquium of poetry people I've gotten to know over the years, but it was also an opportunity for me to hear poets I'd been reading for quite a while but had never seen read from their work, such as Dawn Lundy Martin, who read the first night, and Claudia Rankine, who read in a mutlimedia performance across town at the University of Pittsburgh on the second evening of the conference.

Also on hand were poets whose works I'd been reading and whose public performances I had attended often over the years: Kathleen Fraser, Elizabeth Willis, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, the list goes on and on. I had missed both the landmark Page Mothers conference at U.C. San Diego years before (I was supposed to speak there but decided to have heart bypass surgery instead) and an important, related conference at Bard (that one I had not even heard of till too late to attend) -- There was no way I would have missed this one.

In days to come I will post sound files from the poets, along with additional photos.

The one photo here that was obviously not taken by me comes to us from Tom Orange.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Paul Laurence Dunbar on YouTube

Got word from Shelley Fisher Fishkin that she and her Stanford crew have now placed all the videos from their fantastic Dunbar conference on YouTube and iTunes.  Many of these talks appear in the special Dunbar issue of AFRICAN AMERICAN REVIEW that was published last year, but there is much in the videos (including the sound files I played) that is not available in that journal.

Click here for the panel that included Harryette Mullen, Meta Jone, Elizabeth Alexander, me, and Akiba Harper.  You'll also see that someone has already left us a hostile comment -- We must have been doing something right.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Books from Lauri Ramey

well, not that new -- These books were released last season, but I wasn't able to make a decent scan of the covers before I left for California, so am finally putting them up in this space today.

There's no other way to say it, these are two indispensible volumes.  Ramey's RESEARCH COMPENDIUM on the HERITAGE SERIES makes available documents and critical responses that are not available anywhere else.  Paul Breman's series of African American poets, edited from England, did a much better job of tracking important developments in black American verse than the preponderance of America's white publishing houses could bring themselves to do.  The HERITAGE series occupies a unique place in literary history, and Ramey's volume will be the first introduction many younger readers will have to this legendary collection of books.

The second volume is Ramey's much anticipated critical study of slave songs and the birth of African American poetry.  As Abiola Irele remarks, "This book restores the spiritual to its rightful place in the American literary canon and will certainly stimulate scholarly interest in the spiritual as art form."

Get stimulated -- read these books -- 

Saturday, September 20, 2008


The drums woke us up at 4:00 a.m., but my own bus wasn't due to leave till later in the day.  The Pan African Literary Forum continued happily along the road back to Accra and to the airport.  If you've ever been to Ghana, you know that driving Accra's main routes is like taking your car down the aisles of an endless Walmart.  Every time we stopped, or even just slowed, we were presented with opportunities to make last-minute purchases of souvenirs of Ghana: 

reading glasses, athletic shoes, stoves, little models of birds, just about anything you might think you need.

The only one of these enterprising folk who got anywhere with our crew, though, was an energetic fellow who had maps of Africa and Ghana for sale.  One of our number said he wanted one so that he could get all the place names right when he was back home in South Africa writing about his trip.  Then one by one, others on our bus picked up on his idea.  The map seller somehow managed to keep up with our bus as it lurched through the city, handing his maps through the window and getting his cash before the bus took off again.

And once at the airport, it was almost as if we were still at Kokrobitey.  Most of us had hours to kill before our flights, so we gathered in the two airport cafes to relive our experiences, joke around, promise to keep in touch, and start writing all our Ghana poems.  We ran into a young woman from Indiana University, on her way to Uganda, who was on a research trip.  She immediately became part of our group, discovering friends we had in common on two continents.

One by one, we each had to peel ourselves away from our dwindling group of writers, make our way to our flights and leave Ghana behind for now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

PALF at Kokrobitey III

Our time in Ghana was coming to an end.

The final nights at the Kokrobitey Institute included a few more readings, awards given out to staff and workshop writers and a special presentation to our elder Ghana poets.  The organizers surprised us with a traditional music and dance troupe that got all of us on our feet.  Then it was one last round of late night fellowship at the local cafes, dropping by the little store up the road to say goodbye to the delightful young daughters of the woman who owned the store, who had been telling us for days how much they wished we could stay in their town . . . and lingering, four a.m. goodbyes in the African night.  (summoned by the loud drum that had all during the week called us to meals)

watch this space in days to come for a few more audio treats from the Pan African Literary Forum --