Sunday, December 30, 2012

Remembering Jayne Cortez

Some years ago I was asked to introduce Jayne Cortez's poetry reading at the University of Maine.  Below are the words I offered on that occasion:

"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 BEAUTIFUL 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 –

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A BRAND NEW BEGGAR - a brand new book

Coming in days from STEERAGE PRESS --A new book of poetry from A.L. Nielsen.

Comments on earlier poetry by Nielsen;

The poems of A.L.Nielsen are self-organizing networks. It
is Brancusi's duty to make skinny sculptures; it is mine,
& a pleasant one, to introduce A.L. Nielsen. We have
been silent partners for a decade in a scheme to
overthrow mainstream discourse & undermine
exemplary sentences.
     David Bromige

The poetry of Aldon Nielsen is marked by rare insight, which penetrates the invisible moments of our daily peregrinations.
     Will Alexander

The sentence can be such a wonder when it’s not in service. As smart and unpredictable as an escaped slave. 
       Fred Wah

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Just in time for the holidays, here is a new book from John Ashbery. For some reason the blurbs and table of contents are in an extra large font. Ashbery is 85 and I need reading glasses, so maybe Ecco Press, also aging, was thinking of our eyes. In any event, QUICK QUESTION makes a great stocking stuffer.

from "Puff Piece"

And when I pulled it out of my pocket I thought surely
all this has been done before. And my smirched muse
answered, wholly in secret: What are apron strings

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Coming Soon from STEERAGE PRESS -


poems by A.L. Nielsen

"A. L. Nielsen is at it again, lighting fireworks under language and capturing the explosions on paper.  These poems' short, deeply enjambed lines will work your brains as much as your eyes.  Using every sonic trick in the book -- including assonance, consonance, and insistent rhythms -- Nielsen stitches together places from Ghana to Nebraska, people from C.L.R. James to Lady Day, and moments from his childhood through his capacious present.  Readers of his earlier books will recognize the wicked wit he often turns on politics and culture and will warm to the less familiar (but characteristically wordplay-ful) love poems he includes.  Here is a poet who knows what he can do with the genre, and does it -- well."

                                                                                Evie Shockley

Thursday, December 06, 2012


Manuel Brito continues his exemplary series of books with RHYME SCHEME by Tracy Morris.

This book appeared magically in my mail box; I had not known it was even in the works.  I think this beautiful little volume may be the first hardback from Zasterle Editions.  And it includes a CD, whose label reproduces the striking cover art by Diedra Harris-Kelley.

Manuel will be updating his web site with information about the book soon, and you will be able to get it before too long from SPD, so watch those spaces.


sinewy sass snakeskin slink seamless spine
routed--out her head. helix exlixers, elicit, fine

ripple through time, so striking, blindin',
dem men turn to stone when dey admirin'.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


One of the publishing events of the year was the publication of the selected poetry and prose of Amelia Rosselli by University of Chicago PressThis book, the first substantial collection of Rosselli's work in English, is translated and introduced by Jennfier Scappettone, who has an ear for the English of Rosselli's music.

Science fiction follies
valorous illnesses

impediments to write
totality to describe

will to write
will to survive

will to impede

Find the book by clicking here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Throughout his life, William Carlos Williams was an enthusiastic supporter of small presses, not only out of gratitude at the role they had played in the evolution of his own work as a publishing poet, but because he knew that was where you looked to find the most exciting new developments in literature, developments that would subsequently be promoted by the larger and more established presses.

Thanks to Kass Fleisher and Joe Amato, themselves two of our finest contemporary writers, we now have new works appearing from their freshly christened Steerage Press.  The series starts off with Joe's own Big Man with a Shovel, and has continued with a collection of poetry from Chris Pusateri, whose title hits on the same musical obsessions that haunt me, and a striking new novel from Michael Joyce.  Joyce's book carries a preface written by Stuart Moulthrop, who I knew a bit when he was an undergraduate at George Washington University before he went on to study at Yale and become known as an early practitioner of what we now term digital humanities.   (Back when I knew Stuart, I was a participant in The Association for Computers in the Humanities -- but back then I also wrote a lot of code.)

You can order these books from Amazon in either hard copy or Kindle editions. For more about Steerage, visit their web site by clicking here.  And watch this blog for an announcement soon regarding the next Steerage Press book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


"Listen to the birds sing."  We gathered under the sign of Bugsy Siegel to talk about spectacle, though the final key note speaker informed us with assurance that the age of spectacle had been replaced by the performance image.  Guess the stilt-walking women were a sort of confirmation of that.  I did in fact see a wedding performed by an Elvis Impersonator.

Not enough poetry this year, at least when compared to last year's conference in Buffalo.  Still, a fine set of sessions, including the discussions of Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Gil Scott-Heron I got to participate in, thanks to Michael Coyle. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012


This week Ron Silliman made a return visit to Penn State.  He had last been there in Spring of 2002, when he visited the first graduate seminar I taught at PSU, a course in contemporary poetry and poetics.  On that occasion, Ron read from his notebook what was to be the final sentence of The Alphabet.  This time Silliman was visiting to give a public reading, the recording of which will appear on Penn Sound in the near future.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Saturday night after dinner at the Alehouse and quite a bit of time being lost in Bothell, it was back to the event center for the second night of poetry readings. 

Sunday morning I was moderator for a panel titled Poetics, Affirmation, and Dissensus, with Amaranth Borsuk (a new faculty member at our host institution), Elizabeth Frost and Cynthia Hogue.  Second panel of the morning brought us Jeanne Heuving, who organized the conference, Peter O'Leary and Lissa Wolsak on Poetics and the Medium of Language. Noontime began the second series of short postings, during which my grad school prof David McAleavey, with a title out of Lenin, talked about What to Do -- at the close of which he did it -- 

This is Larry Sammons.  He wasn't at the conference. Larry's the director of exhibits and facilities at the zoo in Seattle, and knows a few things about media poetics. I've known him since I was twelve years old, and we spent a few hours after the conference doing what we did back then, with better instruments these days, before I had to head out to the airport.