Monday, December 31, 2007

If you cut off a head, what will grow in its place?

When Herakles (Hercules) was sent to cut off the head of the 9 headed Hydra, he discovered that for every head cut, two more sprung in its place. And cauterization was born. The only way to kill the Hydra was to cauterize the wounds from the sword.

Perseus cut off Medusa's head, by Athena's command. Pegasus and Chrysaor were born from her head. Her blood sprayed the deserts of Libya, becoming snakes; it also became a medicine that could kill or cure.

Azhi Dahaka - the demon of evil in Persian mythology - has two snake heads that guard him at all times. No matter how many times they are cut, they grow back to protect him. And so evil continues on in the world, only by a sea of molten metal will it be vanquished.

Shiva cut off Ganesh's head in a jealous rage; Parvati asked Shiva to fetch their son a new head and Shiva went into the forest and got the head of an elephant. In fact, nothing grew in place of Ganesh's head until it was placed there by his slayer.

The Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, beheaded by her brother Huitilopochtli, became the moon in the sky.

There are many monsters, gods and goddesses and mere mortals (MacBeth, Marie Antoinette, Grendel for example) who did not survive their beheadings, nor leave anything in their place but fodder for artists and historians.

And then there are those monsters and gods who beheaded mere mortals, their acts justified by their imm(p)ortality, the beheadings a ritual of mass cleansing. Such as the case with Ogun in Yoruba mythology.

Who then are the gods and monsters of our time?
What will spring up in Benazir Bhutto's place (they say her son has emerged from her blood)? What serpents are forming from the drops of red gold spilled in the sandy soils of Iraq?
Will these serpents become the moon, or is their fate to call forth the molten metals to purify our earth?
Who will betray whom and change our skies forever?
As we prepare to enter 2008, I am worried about the state of the world. No. I'm more than worried. I'm deeply, gravely concerned. And as a result, inspired. To create something beautiful, resonant, healing. Something to balance the wounds of history.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So, it started today. Unsuspectingly. It started. There was food. I made crepes. And a fritata. We gathered from our various paths and agreed to join together for one year. To make art. And perform art. And conceptualize art. And commit to art. For one entire leap year. 366 Days. Well, kind of. See, someone was wanting to get ride of 350+ masonite tiles from her stock. But she made the taker promise they would do two things: do something every day and keep a blog about it. So, a group of us: Senalka McDonald, Samiya Bashir, Wura Ogunji and I agreed to do it. We said yes.

And then we got together today, Saturday December 29th and hammered out the details. Figured out what we're not going to figure out. Decided to commit. To the material. To the mission. To each other. We even came up with a name for ourselves and our blog: Penz (it's pronounced Pants). So, follow us as we go on this journey. Oh and by the way - not only are we committing to making one piece of art a day for 366 days and posting on the blog every day for 366 days, we're going to be involving others. Check it out.

Peace.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ugh. It is COLD in Austin today. I feel misled by the past two years of 50+ degree winter weather. I did not know below 32 degrees was possible. Except "rarely". Anyway, I'm wearing all wool today and sneezing up a storm.

Benazir Bhutto is dead. It was over 20 years ago that Indira Ghandi was also assassinated. Why couldn't it have been Margaret Thatcher? That's all I want to know. Bhutto's leadership has been under constant controversy - some of which I believe is political baiting and some not - but she at least aimed for military reform. And then it's fucked up that one of the few female political leaders in the world has been assassinated. Yes. That's right. ASS-ASS-IN-ATED. Bomber, shooter, I don't care. Someone supplied the weapon.

Suffice to say, there aren't that many female political leaders in the history of nation-states. And most of the women have been terribly conservative. Here's a list I've started to compile of female political leaders. Not all of these women were democratically elected (and we can contest this as well), but I've tried to identify those who were by an (*):

Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka, Prime Minister, 1960 - world's 1st Female political leader)
Indira Ghandi (India, Prime Minister, 1966 - assassinated 1984)
Golda Meir (Israel, Prime Minister, 1969)
Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom, Prime Minister, 1979)
Eugenia Charles (Dominica, Prime Minister, 1980)
*Vigdís Finnbogadóttír (Iceland, President, 1980 - world's 1st Female elected President)
Agatha Barbara (Malta, President, 1982)
*Corazon Aquino (Philippines, President, 1986)
Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, Prime Minister, 1986)
*Violeta Barrio de Chamorro (Nicaragua, President, 1990)
*Mary Robinson (Ireland, President, 1990)
*Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma, Prime Minister, 1990 - democratically elected; denied post)
Hanna Suchocka (Poland, Prime Minister, 1992)
*Kim Campbell (Canada, Prime Minister, 1993)
Tansu Ciller (Turkey, Prime Minister, 1993)
Sylvie Kinigi (Burundi, Prime Minister, 1993)
Agathe Uwilingiyimana (Rwanda, Prime Minister, 1993 - assassinated 1994)
*Chandrika Kumaratunge (Sri Lanka, Prime Minister, 1994)
Jenny Shipley (New Zealand, Prime Minister, 1997)
Mary McAleese (Ireland, President, 1997)
Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan, Prime Minister, 1998 - assassinated 2007)
Jennifer M Smith (Bermuda, Premier, 1998)
*Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia, President, 1999)
*Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia, President, 2001)
Angela Menkel (Germany, Chancellor, 2005)
Yuliya Tymoshenko (Ukraine, Prime Minister, 2005)
*Ellen Johnson Surleif (Liberia, President, 2006)
*Michelle Bachelet (Chile, President, 2006)
*Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina, President, 2007)
*Pratibha Patil (India, President, 2007)

This list is not exhaustive. It's what I could gleam from the lists available online. I'm not altogether pleased with the fact that I could do this over a two hour period or less. Damn. Damn. Damn. I'm upset with the circumstances of Bhutto's death, too. More than anything else.

On another note altogether, though also not so happy, Lisa C. brought to my attention this article by Tom Christensen of blog.rightreading.com on small presses and the current challenges faced by said small presses as a result of large media conglomerates. Here are two small excerpts:

"Now, you might say, publishing companies are sold and merged all the time. Why does any of this matter? It is true that such changes in its landscape have been a part of publishing since the Renaissance. But:

Never before has such a large percentage of the publishing market been in the control of so few organizations.
Never before has so much of American publishing been accountable to foreign owners.
Never before has publishing been a piece of giant entertainment multinationals that control not just book publishing but to a large degree its promotion and distribution
"

AND

"Today 80 percent of U.S. publishing is controlled by five giant multinational corporations. In my next post we will take a closer look at who they are and how their activities affect the way books are published in this country."

I've been trying to follow what's going on since the merger of distribution companies earlier this year. It's a little overwhelming, and as a strong supporter of small presses, I immediately think of all the implications. How many small presses will close this year? How many magazines? Because of lack of distribution (note: those big chain stores only carry books that are available through distributors), or resources to print. What does it mean for emerging authors, such as myself or others who are trying to get their FIRST book published? What are the implications for our social-cultural landscape if only a few multinationals are controlling the output and production of books (not all literature)?

I'm really not trying to be morose. It's just a cold day. You know?

Monday, December 24, 2007


A week late, but right on time.

Lakota withdraw from treaties, declare independence from U.S.

The Lakota Sioux Indians, whose ancestors include Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from all treaties their forefathers signed with the U.S. government and have declared their independence. A delegation delivered the news to the State Department earlier this week.

Portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming comprise Lakota country, and the tribe says that if the federal government doesn't begin diplomatic discussions promptly, liens will be filed on property in the five-state region. Here's the news release.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," said Russell Means, a longtime Indian rights activist. "This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically Article 6 of the Constitution," which states that treaties are the supreme law of the land.

"It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the U.S. and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent," he added during a press conference yesterday in Washington.

The new country would issue its own passports and driver licenses, and living there would be tax-free, provided residents renounce their U.S. citizenship, he said, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

The Lakota say the United States has never honored the pacts, signed with the Great Sioux Nation in 1851 and 1868 at Fort Laramie, Wyo.

"We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children," said Phyllis Young, who helped organize the first international conference on indigenous rights in Geneva in 1977.

Means said the "annexation" of native American land had turned the Lakota into "facsimiles of white people."

In 1974, the Lakota drafted a declaration of continuing independence. Their cause got a boost in September, when the United Nations adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The Bush administration opposed the measure.


Article in USA Today Blog.

To find out more:

www.lakotafreedom.com
www.commondreams.org
www.wikipedia.org


Let's see how this all progresses.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Do it. Learn new words. Give rice. 20 grains = 1 teaspoon of rice. 1000 grains = a bowl.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Last night I watched the documentary "The Price of Sugar" directed by Bill Haney, and featuring several nameless Haitian/Dominicans (any configuration thereof) and Father Christopher Hartley - who is the "hero" and main protagonist of this film. It's an important film, and their website is designed as an action site. Thanks to M.P. & C.M., we were able to project the film on a big white sheet in their living room and then hold a conversation afterwards.

I remember the first time I ever spent time on a batey. I gave up sugar for almost 2 years. Because of what I witnessed. And then I went to work in an ice cream shop and became nearly diabetic from eating so much ice cream (gelato, really - gianduia gelato, mango sorbet, the works). And I drink coffee with sugar - especially if it's office coffee. And when I lived in NYC, I used to be on the J-M-Z line and would watch the billows of smoke coming from the Dominos sugar factory on my way into work in Manhattan.

It always stank to me even though we couldn't smell anything from the train. That's cause I grew up driving past the ingenio in San Pedro de Macorix in the D.R. where they process sugar cane and make it the white stuff. It stinks. Like rotting meat. Makes you wonder, huh? And then when you drive past San Pedro you cross train tracks where all the workers on the plantations (bateyes) load the cane onto boxcars. Crates, really. And then you get to La Romana, and when you drive north of La Romana, all you see is cane. All the way to the mountains. Acres and acres of cane. No people. That's because they're on lockdown inside.

But, you gotta watch the movie to learn more about that. And oh yeah - and remember to watch the film with the critical eye it deserves. For even though Father Hartley's work is important, it's all of the nameless Haitian/Haitian-Dominican/Dominican laborers whose bodies are literally on the line.

Peace.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Every time I open my in email inbox I have a lovely little gift from the Word of the Day. Today's word: unfledged.

unfledged \uhn-FLEJD\, adjective:

1. Lacking the feathers necessary for flight.
2. Not fully developed; immature.


I always wonder how writers stumble across language and then somehow make it theirs and then release it all again. I think of Octavia Butler's "Fledgling" and of the birds that nest in the trees outside my window. I think of children who are not children anymore, and yet they are unfledged. The children.

I collect these words of the day. I put them all in one place and then from time to time I stare at them, trying to make sense of my love for them. There's no apparent logic to my attraction. Except maybe the sound of the word. The way the letters look together. And maybe then, after that, their definitions. Unfledged just sounds like a word that's wanting to take off, but is somehow grounded.

These words don't end up in my every day vocabulary. They are a private pleasure. I rendezvous with them at haphazard times, consider their completeness and openness. They are beautiful.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Life is becoming.

This past Saturday, a group of us came together and worked with Wura-Natasha Ogunji on a series of videos she's creating. She made us fathoms - threads in the colors of our deepest powers - and in S & K's backyard, we discovered the depths of ourselves. We moved and spoke with each other wordlessly. For hours. For days, it seems, since I'm still reverberating with the vibes from the experience. And then, we got to see some of the images. And it was so beautiful. The artist hasn't released stills or videos yet, otherwise I'd post some here. And when she does, I will.

Besides that, since being back home I've been working on a performance piece and on transcribing conversations. Absorbing the winter sunshine. And petting my fluff Friends on Facebook. I'll admit it. I can waste SO much time with facebook. It's amazing.

Marvin K White's in town, and he's performing on Saturday at the Victory Grille. Yay! Don't want to miss a chance to see him in his brilliance.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

New York, New York.

I spent a little time in New York City on my way back to Austin. Not enough time to do everything, but enough time to go and do some research at the Center for Jewish History archives, which houses the collections of the American Sephardi Federation among other collections. I had a great time. Spent two days reading about Sephardi literature and Jewish Caribbean history. There's not much out there right now, that I've found so far. But, I feel like maybe I'm not looking in the right places. Anyway, what I did find was fantastic, and very exciting.

I also got to attend the workshop Tongues of Fire, led by the fabulous r. Erica Doyle and meeting at the Audre Lorde Project. Which leads me to the fact that this week there is GENIUS AT WORK.

Tonight December 3, 2007, Ernest Hardy will be reading from Bloodbeats, Vol. 1 A at Columbia University in uptown Manhattan.

Then Thursday, the participants of the Tongues Afire workshop will be reading at the Audre Lorde Project from 7pm on.

And Friday, to end an already fabulous week, Tisa Bryant will be celebrating the release of her new book: Unexplained Presence [Leon Works Press].

A note about the significance of these three events this week. For one, I have often found myself complaining about the fact that there is just not enough cultural criticism. But between Ernest and Tisa, I find that there's great hope. Ernest's collection of essays on pop and hip-hop cultures are brilliant, insightful, critical, compassionate and they remind me of the complex social and political context under which we've been living for the past 20 years. Tisa's writings are a combination of fiction, critical literary and arts theory. Not only was I refreshed by the form in which she writes, but I was led to think about art and literature in a completely new way - her analyses lend themselves to a new way of reading visual art, film and literature. And she reaches deeper than thirst.

Now that in between the end points of these two brilliant is the Tongues Afire reading. When I visited the workshop (thank you to all the participants who so gracefully welcomed me), they were working on Manifestas. Here's an excerpt of a manifesta by A. Naomi Jackson, for flava (she's not speaking for the whole group; it's an individual writing piece that mentions the group):

The Tongues Afire collective is a group of women writers creating the change they want to see in the world.

In the face of efforts to deny our collective voice, we stand up not as consumers or shareholders, neither as militants with guns and spears, but as writers motivated by our desire to share the word.

We know we are the ones we have been waiting for, the blossoms whose sweet smell we hope to awaken to.

We believe that the future generation needs our stories. We hope they will be encouraged by knowing that their stories began with ours, and knowing that they do not struggle alone.


And the poet/performer Sandra Ramirez shared a manifesta, with the line: "I measure twice, cut once" in reference to love, relationships and joy. I think that line is beautiful, and telling and powerful and a guide for us in doing this work.

So, I come back to Austin fed - intellectually, culturally and in all other ways - knowing that good things are happening in the world.

Peace.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

During my last few days in Barcelona, I took advantage of my metro day pass and my articket to visit several tourist sites and museums in town. Usually I stay as far away as possible from tourist sites, but I had visited the Sagrada Familia in 1998 when it was still covered in construction cloth and wanted to see what had been done with the Cathedral in the past nine years. The one really amazing thing about El Bruc was the Montserrat mountain range and surrounding landscape, which really revealed Gaudi's influences.


The Sagrada Familia in and of itself is quite an architectural feat. Replete with multiple styles enveloped into the nooks and crannies of the Basilica, the towers and all the adjoining Cathedral structures. I also went up to Parc Guell in the northern part of the city and walked up high above Barcelona. From where I stood I could look out over the entire city all the way to the Mediterranean sea.
Parc Guell is really beautiful. The trails are lined with cactus and palms, cedar pines and local trees I'm not familiar with. And entering from the Infinite Staircase on the western end of the park, I walked through and arrived in Parc Guell from the back. Gaudi's mosaic architecture, the colors and the green just make this a really fun park to visit and to be in. Just spending time there made my exit from Spain really, really wonderful.

On my penultimate day I made a point of visiting Barcelona's Jewish Quarter, or what used to be known as the Call (it still is). It's the site of Spain's oldest synagogue, dating back to the 3rd century of the Christian Era. What remains are ruins - the walls, the doorway, the windows...and dye baths from when it was turned into a "tinteria" (dye factory) after its destruction in the 14th century, when a massacre wiped out a large portion of the Jewish Quarter. Anyway, I went to visit the Quarter to try and get an understanding of the emotional weight, and physical appearance of where Jews were living prior to the Inquisition. What must it have been like?

Well, I know what it was like when I went. A very charming man (I didn't get his name) informed me that the donation would cover a tour of the synagogue. So, I gave him my 2 Euros, and he pulled back the curtain to reveal... the synagogue! Complete with chairs covered in plush red seating for the (apparent) services. Enough for a minyan, of course (that's 10 people). He spun in place to the right and showed me the dye baths, spun in place to the left and showed me the ancient walls. Informed me of the history of the Torah and then left me to my own devices.
It was great. And I could imagine the synagogue packed with people on Fridays and Saturdays...and for bar mitzvah's. It was sweet. And I also sensed this combination of vigilance and a knowing....the knowing that comes when your people have been living somewhere for a long time; the vigilance from histories of persecution.

That same day I went to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)'s show on Apartheid. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Amazing exhibit. Similar to my MACBA experience, the curators of this exhibit created a multi media space that engaged the historical, scientific, artistic and political dynamics and contexts of Apartheid in South Africa. The show specifically discussed the development of the concept of race and racism, originating in African colonial contexts and extending to the Holocaust. For example, the "African Village" zoos that were so popular in the 1920s and 1930s throughout Europe (not to mention the Worlds Fairs), and specifically the proliferation of the Venus Hottentot imagery. The exhibit also included references to U.S. racism, the Holocaust and the U.S. Black Power movements. Two of my favorite quotes from the sections detailing South African resistance to Apartheid:

"Strijdom, you have tampered with the women. You have struck a rock, you will be crushed."
by Lilian Ngoyi when she and Helen Joseph led 20,000 women in a protest against the amplification of the national identity pass system (August 9, 1956)

"Africa my beginning and Africa my end...they lay their sponges over the soil and soaked the resources to fill their coffers..."
by Poet Ingoapele Mandingoane in an underground gathering in the Miholti Black Theatre, Soweto, 1978

And this image, titled "The People Shall Govern" (photo by Eli Weinberg, from the Robben Island Mayibuye Archives) stopped me in my tracks for a good minute:


As an artist, Spain revealed its weighted history to me. I loved Barcelona, and was fortunate enough to be hosted by wonderful friends. I also came to understand the importance of specific criteria for creating new work. Not all residencies are the same, and Can Serrat, while very jovial, is a good place for people who work well with lots of distractions. Who can focus in the middle of a storm. The visual artist studio spaces are also fantastic.

I'm glad to be back in the Americas, though I look forward to future trips over the Atlantic. Always a powerful experience, though the flight is the same as if I was going from New York to Califorina. Something about crossing water, though, always strikes me. Always.

Friday, November 09, 2007

So yesterday I left the shelter of the mountains of El Bruc and headed into Barcelona - the great city of Catalunya. Those who know me might be shocked by the fact of my having left a residency space to enter a big city with all of its distractions. Well, I needed some envelopes and the local papeleria "La Vanguardia" doesn't have any right now. So, I headed into Barcelona. While I was there, I visited MACBA - the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona - to check them out. That in and of itself made the trip in worth it. Next time I'm in the city, which will probably be when I leave, I might go back and I'll definitely be checking out the Centro Cultural Contemporani de Barcelona - which is right next door.

So what was so great about the MACBA? Well, I happen to love the tail end of the modern/formalist arts movements. They had an exhibit titled: Sota la bomba. El jazz de la guerra d'imatges transatlantica. 1946-1956 which can be translated as "Dropping the bomb. The jazz of War, Transatlantic images from 1946-1956". It was a brilliantly curated exhibit which took full advantage of the MACBA's architectural layout - a maze of rooms with walls that open out to the building's glass visage where you can catch glimpses of the brilliantly graffitied walls of the church on one side, and the crumbling walls of another church-turned-gallery along a large plaza on the other. And the exhibit itself featured works of French, Eastern European, U.S., and Spanish artists from the post WWII period, with an emphasis on French-U.S. artists. Sure there was a lot of Jackson Pollock, who I cannot stand as an artist or historical persona, but there was also a great deal of work by Antoni Tapies, and Franz Kline and Mark Rothko and William de Koonig. The paintings were accompanied by video - not just artistic videos but movies and films (like Hitchcock's Rear Window) - and by historical texts, newspapers, journals and the materia prima of cultural production from the times. All aspects of cultural life were explored, and interrogated. It was fascinating.

Right next door, as if it wasn't enough to stand in front of Kandinsky's "Ascension Legere" for 15 minutes (which it wasn't), was an exhibit on Joan Jonas' work. Quite out there. Incredibly self indulgent and typical of that early 70s performance art aesthetic (yes, okay, DEFINING), BUT the video pieces were fascinating. I sat and watched them, amidst the performance debris, for a long time. Trying to capture all of the distinct visual layers simultaneously occupying two and three dimensional space.

So, though I was really, really glad to come back to El Bruc at the end of the day and lay my head down in the comfort of a warm bed amidst the quiet of the mountains, I'm glad I went in for my envelopes and art. I also walked and saw a couple of Gaudi's buildings. Eeh. Interesting, but I saw a ton of his work when I was in Barcelona in 1998. So, it doesn't move me in the same way anymore. Though it's definitely beautiful and definitely interesting. Just not Kandinsky.

Anyway, I'm off to try and find a form in which to write some poetry.

Peace.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Yay! UC Irvine's Department of Spanish and Portuguese announced it's 2007 33rd Chicano/Latino Literary Prize winner in the genre of Novel. I received Third Prize for the unpublished manuscript, Anacaona's Daughter, and the other winners were:

Silvio Sirias – Meet Me Under the Ceiba (First Prize) and Gary Winters - The Deer Dancer (Second Prize).

Congratulations to the other winners. I am very honored to be a prize winner in the 33rd year. Thank you to the Prize committee and the judge, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.

Hell yeah. If you're in NYC on November 8, check it out:

Thursday, November 8, 7PM

Cosponsored by Poets & Writers

Wouldn't quit the day job--but you love poetry nevertheless. A panel discussion with Alice Quinn, (Poetry Society of America/The New Yorker), Deborah Garrison (poet/Alfred A. Knopf editor), and Joseph Legaspi (poet/Kundiman codirector), moderated by Quang Bao on getting your poems and manuscripts edited and published.

A frank conversation about creating a life as a poet, including residencies, mentoring, anthology projects, self-publishing, MFA programs, teaching and public readings. A conversation about the mechanics of getting published--and expert, friendly advice about maintaining a life in the professional world of poetry.

@ The Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor
(btwn Broadway & 5th Avenue)
New York City

$5 suggested donation

Call 212.494.0061 for more information or check http://www.aaww. org

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An interview with A. Van Jordan in The American Prospect, November 2, 2007. An excerpt from: Where Physics, Poetry, and Politics Collide.

Clark: With Quantum Lyrics as your third poetry collection, how has the cross-cultural, cross-racial communication evolved? Any surprises?

Jordan: If physics had a Race Theory, my hypothesis would be that we have more to fight for together than we have reasons for which to fight each other. The older I get, the more I see the proof. It's always been there. Any strides made in civil rights came from a joint effort between blacks and whites, men and women, straight and gay. Einstein embodies this theory. Who would think that a Jewish immigrant from Germany and Switzerland would be a champion of civil rights in America before World War II? Einstein had great foresight in this way.

He gave up his German citizenship as a teenager before World War I. Adults living in Germany during World War II couldn't see the horrors ahead, but he intuited it. I think he saw the same conflict coming in America with the '60s, which he never witnessed. It's one thing to think of how prescient Richard Wright was with Native Son and Black Boy before the '60s, but he felt the sting of racism his whole life as a black male living in Jim Crow, pre-Civil Rights, pre-Brown v. Board of Education America. Einstein had a very comfortable position as a Princeton professor and international acclaim and respect as a genius. He didn't have to have the empathy that he expressed. It's as preternatural a gift as his insight into relativity.

Clark: In "Quantum Lyrics Montage," you note the controversy over the paper in which the equation E=MC2 first appeared. The lead-in reads, "... in a Russian publication, both (Mileva) Maric and Einstein's names appear; in subsequent printings, only Einstein's." What do you think about poetry's role in collective memory, of drawing out voices that were erased through sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination?

Jordan: I think those voices are beating hearts beneath the floorboards. They clearly exist, but many want -- and, more accurately, really hope -- that they will just go away. Poetry has a long tradition of chronicling the history and culture of society. In this way, I suppose these voices are working in this tradition.

Clark: Also in "Quantum Lyrics Montage," we see Einstein at a forum held by Philip Lenard, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who denounces "Jewish physics." How is that dangerous mix of intolerance and science present today? Who, like Einstein, might be able to say: "Let them taunt; my mind is taut"?

Jordan: Unless he runs for public office again, I think Al Gore will be able to quote that line. Like most great leaders, I think he's most effective when he isn't beholden to a political party but dedicated to a cause. I read his book The Earth in Balance long before An Inconvenient Truth, and it's clear that Gore is a futurist. He can forecast what needs to happen long before the need is evident to others; that's a sign of genius, as I see it.

Wynton Marsalis will be able to make this claim because he understands the importance of keeping tradition alive, while pushing to extend the boundaries of it. I hear a lot of criticism of the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra and of Marsalis as an ambassador for jazz. The truth is, jazz would become an art form held sacred in Japan and Europe more than America if it weren't for the work he's doing. It is our national music. Period. It's for America what classical music is to Europe. By keeping a finger on the pulse of its tradition, we never lose its direction. Blood on the Fields is one of the most underrated jazz albums of all time.

Spike Lee and John Sayles would round out my top four. Both of these filmmakers allow for a discussion of race in their films that most Americans are afraid to have in their communities, classrooms and churches. Their work is cathartic for the entire nation: those who dare watch them in the dark, those fortunate enough to have a theater in their community showing their films. There's a near pathologic fascination with the horror sub-genre of slasher films, which is as feebly plotted as a porn film for gratuitous misogyny. The slasher film and the hyper-violent, Tarantino-esque films are packing theaters, but despite the important films both of these filmmakers have made, I don't think they have a blockbuster between the two of them. If Lee and Sayles had the following of James Cameron or Steven Spielberg, the country would have a more truthful conversation about race, which is still a source of tension as we can see by the Jena 6.

Clark: Have you written poetry about the Jena 6?

Jordan: : No, I want to, though. I need space between these events to write about them. I'd need to talk to people from there, too, people involved. I don't write poems about events like these and simply imagine the voices; I approximate the emotion as much as possible when the primary source is unavailable. In this case, the people are alive and vocal. So, I'd have to ask why I would write a poem about it, first. That's a heavy responsibility. What can I say in a poem that they can't say themselves better. At that point, the poem would have to transcend that daily conversation and live up to my definition of poetry: the highest form of communication. For that to happen, though, I'd need time to digest this phenomenon of Jena and the varied responses to it. I'd want to get it right. My mother went to that school, so I'd probably start by interviewing her and move forward through time.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'm at Can Serrat in El Bruc, 40 minutes north of Barcelona, Spain. El Bruc, and the artist residency is at the base of the Montserrat mountains and monastery. The air is crisp, cool and Mediterranean. Cold at night. Looking at Montserrat, Y.C. and I observed that Gaudi's work makes complete and total sense. That in essence, it's in conversation with the landscape here. The mountain seems to have flutes of rock plunging up from the earth. In the late afternoons, it's coppery - a shift from the cool green snakeskin color it has in the mornings.

I'm here to work on a novel and some poetry. On the way over from Austin, I stopped in New York City and did some things. I had a wonderful time giving several workshops - two at the Little Red School House and one for the Living Out Loud! series - at Washington Irving High. It was fun. The young artists and thinkers were inspiring as usual.

I also got to check out the Caribbean Art Show (Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. That was really wonderful and fascinating. Some of the themes of the show were transnationalism/globalization and identity; religion and spirituality; pop culture. I think my favorite pieces were: Raquel Paiewonsky (b. Dominican Republic 1969). Levitando: A un solo pie (Levitating: On One Foot), 2003; Christopher Cozier (b. Trinidad 1959). Tropical Night, 2006; Kawtchou, by Maxence Denis; and a piece about Bronx Boricua gangs in the 1970s (I have to look up the artist and content so later on details). And what was most fascinating was that the show was having a conversation with the Caribbean Biennials of the past few years - one I saw in Santo Domingo and others that I've seen catalogues for. There is something really deep happening in the Carib sea waters.

It was certainly a lift from seeing the exhibit: Eternal Ancestors - The Art of the Central African Reliquary exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was such a disturbing exhibit that I've decided I'm going to dedicate an entire blog page to discussing it. So, not now, but later.

Anyway, I'm off to read for a bit. To get inspired to work tomorrow.

Peace.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chris Rock says, “I love rap, but it’s getting a lot harder to defend.” I often feel that way. I love old-school hip-hop and rap. I love rap that makes me think. And, honestly, even though I won’t dance to the Thong Song, a much better beat might make it a minute before I realize what’s being said. I don’t think it would hurt artists to work on their lyrical abilities, but anyway…that’s not where I’m going with this.

Following the wave of national debates on the language of hip hop, there’s a powerful film that addresses commerce linked to hip hop: BLING: A Planet Rock – an off the hook documentary by former Editor in Chief of One World magazine Raquel Cepeda (and fellow Dominican) that looks at Sierra Leone and asks us to analyze our connection to (un)fair and (in)humane conditions and legacies associated with the diamond trade. In her own words:

"I felt that Sierra Leone was more than an article, because I saw these fascinating parallels," Cepeda said. "It was formed by freed slaves, and just at the time hip-hop started to become commercially successful here in the United States — in 1991 — [the Los Angeles district] Watts was burning, and this bloody civil war was beginning in Sierra Leone. So as the conflict was ending, and the aftermath was everywhere, I felt like it would be an interesting social experiment to have some rappers go there as goodwill ambassadors. Because hip-hop has affected every crevice of the world, and I wanted rappers to know that."

From: [http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1536572/story.jhtml, July 18, 2006]

What I like about the film is not just that it places the conversation specifically within a hip-hop lens, it places three very distinct hip hop artists (Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan, Tego Calderon and Paul Wall) as the subjects of the film. I thought it was really smart that she chose three people from such different eras, locations and styles of hip hop. And, that Q-Tip and Kanye West also back the film, providing their own insights both on and off camera (Kanye West released his song: Diamonds From Sierra Leone last year, just before the film was initially released, and Q-Tip was apparently the one who set the whole question off). Cepeda also included the insights of former child soldier Ishmael Beah within the discussion of not just the war itself, but on the role of U.S. based hip hop artists within the war (for e.g. – some rebel factions using Tupac T-shirts as uniforms) and as a form of creative outlet and inspiration for Sierra Leone based hip hop artists within their own work. The film deftly maneuvers the complexities of the hip hop industry, the power of individual artists to affect entire communities and the ways in which consumer values in the U.S. end up impacting us here and people in the rest of the world.

Now, keep in mind, I have been impressed and disturbed FOR YEARS about the role of the U.S. media, and particularly the portrayal of people of color within U.S. media on shaping the imaginary throughout the rest of the world. For one, I think it’s hot that hip-hop has been embraced as a powerful transnational form of expression of blackness and resistance. But, because of its transcendent power, I’ve also been really upset by the ways in which sexism, homophobia and straight up violence have been portrayed and perpetrated. Cepeda deals with this dynamic as a true lover of hip hop, and we as viewers watch as Raekwon realizes how Wu-Tang affected an entire generation in Sierra Leone – in both very positive and painful ways. One Sierra Leone hip hop artist states, “We saw U.S. hip hop artists talking about using guns on one another, and so we felt justified in using ours against each other.” Simultaneously, hip hop provided an outlet for peace in 2001, when thousands of rebels entered Freetown to watch Sierra Leonian hip hop artist Jimmy B give a concert.

Yeah. It’s complex. We are powerful, us artists. And while we can never anticipate how our art will transform or affect others (throughout the world), we can be intentional about how we create work.

Oh yes, and one last thing. I forgot to mention the setting in which I viewed the film, something which struck me as kind of ironic. Kinda. I received an email from a friend telling me about the free viewing of the film – the email included the youtube video excerpt I’ve posted below.

So, Wu & I went to the Austin Alamo Draft House – a movie house that serves food and drinks. Scion was handing out goodie bags with XXL T-shirts, hats and tons of promotional material. I skipped the bags, but then went back and got one anyway when I found out there was a hat inside (I know – I’m easy). We got two pink tickets. When we sat down, the woman sitting next to me told us, “Those tickets are for free drinks. You can order any drinks on the menu.” Free film? Free drinks? Hell yeah. We ordered wine. A DJ was spinning house & hip hop music to old footage of the TV Dance show “Graffiti Rock” while we waited for the reel to start. Right before the movie showed, Scion reps came and took photos of the audience. I know they took photos of me and Wu because we were two of 5 black people in the audience. And the guy sitting next to Wura was South Asian. So you know – DIVERSITY. Everyone else in the audience was white.

The film itself was preceded by an awful 10 minute short documentary about homelessness in Los Angeles (quote of the year: You just put your gloves on and help.” Um. Yeah.). After muttering a 10-minute commentary under my breath, I finally hushed for the film itself. I watched, moved and awed as folks around us ate. I couldn’t help think: wow – what’s the logic behind the marketing of this film – a film about people suffering and giving out freebies? Sip. Hmm.

Following the Q&A session, we all filtered out of the theatre (it was about 12.45am at this point). Wu and I stood outside and watched the two cop cars drive off after they realized it was mostly a white audience. Yeah. So, you see, it’s complex. Watching a film about black people at war with each other – a war fueled by the diamond trade’s practices – and just outside, the cops are ready to take us.

Peace.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Photo courtesy of Sharon Bridgforth.


On Friday the Rooted Workshop gave a reading/presentation at Resistencia bookstore. We were honored by the presence of raulsalinas, and by the hard work of the Resistencia staff and volunteers: Rene, Lisa and Gaby. Thank you.

The reading included works by Anel Flores, Cheryl Coward, Matt Richardson, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, Maria Limon, Samiya Bashir, Sharon Bridgforth, Jen Marguiles, and myself as well as a performance on knitting by Senalka McDonald and a video presentation by Wura-Natasha Ogunji.

It was packed, and off the chain.

What an amazing group of people.
This is the latest ridiculousness. This announcement's already from last week, which I know, in the popular imaginary is ages ago. And, normally I don't even like to think about reproducing images/events such as this in my sphere. But, I was so shocked with the racist, colorist, sexist implications of all of this that I had to. It just resonates so deeply with how racism plays out in the Caribbean. I also had to include brilliant responses, like the "news article" (fictional) written by Francine Harris, posted below.


Francine Harris's response

DETROIT – Following a party promoters' call for "light-skinned Libras" to populate a night club for a dance night, protestors across the metropolitan area today dumped tens of thousands of paper bags at local dumping grounds and filled a barge that sailed the Detroit River this afternoon.

"The paper bag test is dead here" said local hip-hop legend and party promoter, NightRise, referring to the admittance policy among African-Americans. His venues have blown up lately for their decision to add other nights to Ladies Night, including: Gentlemen's Night for the ladies, Poet's Night where freestylers get in for free, GenderBender Night where people of both sexes come in drag, and Family Night which are alcohol free and kid friendly. "Overall, man, we're just brown-giddy. Brown folks coming to my clubs down here – automatic superstars!"

The youth in Detroit are also voicing their concerns. "I just hate that people think we don't love ourselves" said Novena Derrick, a 13-year old ninth grader, posing with a ripped up paper bag and a Macintosh apple in her mouth. Derrick is best known for her tri-color Blacker Berry flag, a spoof of the Michigan flag. The traditional elk and moose in the Michigan flag bear a banner of an armed man defending his land, under the word Tuebor (latin for "I will defend") and stand protected by the United States Eagle.

Derrick's version of this flag still features the elk, moose and eagle, but the animals frame a banner of a happy clan of African-Americans, of various shades, laughing in the sunshine. As Derrick likes to point out: "We took it back to its original black color …plus the diaspora replaces the mean man with the gun".

Color-struck promoters were unavailable for comment on the protests.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jóvenes del Liceo Técnico Hermanas del Rosario Torres marchan
para repudiar las drogas y actos delictivos en el sector
Guachupita de la zona norte del Distrito Nacional.
Copyright 10/11/2007 10:45:44 AM LISTIN DIARIO | Todos los derechos reservados

Youth in the sector of Guachupita, one of the poorest urban communities in the Dominican Republic, made a call to end the drug related violence in their neighborhood. Between the ages of 11 -16 they staged a peace march; over 250 youth have been engaged in discussions and problem-solving organizing meetings for the last month. The problem of drug related violence has gotten so bad that many children report not being able to go to the colmados - corner stores - to buy food items. Sending children to the corner stores is a common thing to do (me, my brothers and all my cousins were always being sent to the corner store to buy everything from dinner bread to a cigarette for my aunt). However, children getting robbed on the way there or back is a new thing.

It says a lot when 11 year olds are heading a march for peace. I hope this process also opens the way for creative, community developed solutions. I have faith that it already has.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Slavery a reality, here and now
By KATHLEEN PARKER

When you say slavery, most Americans think about what ended with the Civil
War. With relief, we think: That was then.

But slavery is, unfortunately, now.

We call it "human trafficking" these days, an almost innocuous- sounding
term, but it is slavery by any other name. And the numbers are stunning. Around
the world, as many as 1.1 million human beings, mostly women and children, are
"trafficked" across international borders and sold each year into slavery,
according to the U.S. State Department.

If one counts all the people forced into servitude -- from farms in India to
charcoal mines in Brazil -- the numbers reach into the millions. Even the
United States has become a major importer of sex slaves, with estimates running
between 14,500 and 17,500. Of those, 80 percent are women and half are minors.

Although the United States has been monitoring trafficking since 1994 -- and
Congress passed a trafficking victims protection act in 2000 -- slavery hasn't
seized the American imagination the same way apartheid once did, or as Darfur
has in recent years. That may begin to change with two new films -- one a
documentary and the other a mainstream film starring Kevin Kline -- aimed at
disturbing our slumber.

They are effective.

In "Sold," a documentary by former ABC producer Jody Hassett Sanchez, we meet
Pakistani boys as young as 3 sold into service as camel jockeys in the United
Arab Emirates
. We also meet little girls as young as 5 who had been sold as
sex slaves.

One of the challenges of modern-day slavery is that good people are often
unknowingly complicit. Many of the children featured in the documentary are sold
by their impoverished parents, who were promised their children would have
better lives. The reality is something different. Little girls end up as abused
prostitutes, while little boys sold as jockeys spend 12 or more hours a day
strapped onto the backs of camels, are shocked with metal prods and fed saltwater
to prevent their gaining weight.

At a screening Wednesday, Sanchez told an audience that included U.S. Reps.
Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Connie Mack, R-Fla., that she wanted to focus on
people who were working to end slavery. She followed three faith-driven people -- a
Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian from India, Pakistan and Togo, respectively
-- who have suffered threats and beatings to save women and children.

Sanchez says she hopes her documentary, which is cinematically beautiful
despite the hideous subject, will inspire Americans, especially young people, to
take action.

"Trade," which opens in theaters this weekend, is a less hopeful, if equally
harrowing, treatment of the same subject. Based on a 2004 New York Times
magazine story by Peter Landesman ("The Girls Next Door,"), the movie shines a
light on how traffickers operate from Mexico to a stash house in suburban New
Jersey
.

The story follows Adriana, a 13-year-old girl kidnapped in Mexico City by an
organized crime gang, and a naive young Polish woman who left her country for
the false promise of a better life. Terror can't get any worse than what these
two endure as they are trundled through barren landscapes, handed off as
sexual favors to strangers, and ultimately put up for sale.

A parallel story unfolds as Adriana's 17-year-old brother, Jorge, teams with
Ray, a Texas cop played by Kline, to try to rescue her before she is sold at
an online auction.

This is not a fun movie to watch, nor is it likely to improve anyone's
opinion of mankind. But it's an important film that makes denial no longer possible.
While "Trade" will make you angry, "Sold" will make you want to applaud. Both
will make you want to do something.

Ending slavery won't be an overnight fix. You can't throw money at it and
make it go away, though a check to the right people will help. Ultimately,
slavery is a moral problem that forces confrontation with one's commitment to human
dignity.

Put it this way: Once you know little boys barely out of diapers are sold as
camel jockeys, or that little girls are prostituted before they can tie their
shoes -- or that any child is peddled to the pedophile with the highest bid --
averting your eyes is not an option.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kparker@kparker. com.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of
The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Oh - and one more treasure for the day. Originally saw it on Samiya Bashir's Blog: Scryptkeeper. Rapper extraordinaire Roxanne Shante on royalties from the industry.

Treasures, treasures beautiful treasures of historical intersections.

I received word from Alan King about the new reading series, Intersections, held at Honfleur gallery in D.C. Not that I live anywhere near D.C., but I loved hearing about it and reading about all the literal and metaphorical intersections of histories and genres.

Another little treasure, this video from Afrika Bambaata - an explosion of African diasporic intersections: Carnival, Mardi Gras, Indigeneity, Candomble, Latino-ness, Egyptology, Hip Hop, the Bronx and Queerness. Love it.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The venerable Samiya Bashir, Sharon Bridgforth and me.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Bridgforth.


Well, so much, so much.

Today, Sharon Bridgforth, Samiya Bashir and I read at BookWoman here in Austin. How incredible to be in the company of these women, and under the umbrella of Lisa C. Moore's vision. Wow. Sharon read from The Bulljean Stories, and moved us and had us laughing all at once. Samiya read some new poems and from Where the Apple Falls. And I read one excerpt from Erzulie's Skirt and other excerpts from my as of yet unpublished novel "Anacaona's Daughter". The vibe was incredible. And an awesome turnout.

It also followed on the heals of a beautiful get-together last night, hosted by us here in Austin to welcome the amazing folks who've come to town. Wura-Natasha Ogunji showed her new performance videos, including "Belongings". And Amanda Johnston shared the developments of a twisted experience of racial discrimination at Borders boosktore here in Austin on Friday September 28th, 2007. The ensuing actions and reactions are astounding. As I told her:

Your story last night shook everyone, long after you and Fabian and your cousin had parted from our home. In sharing the full extent of your experience, I am humbled and deeply angered. I am humbled by the full extent of your vision, and by your commitment to a strategy that addresses the different elements of how discrimination affects us as people of color. This week of on-going, open and transparent communication is really deep to me. The Borders leadership should be honored that you have engaged them in this dialogue.

I am deeply angered because bookstores such as Borders have really caused a shift in the landscape of bookstores and the relationship that we as authors have to bookstores: the small bookstores that have historically been so critical to the development of community around writings by people of color, women, etc and have enabled us to continue doing the work, have economically suffered because of chains such as Borders. Which only adds insult to injury, when we go in to buy books, and are reminded of the depth of our losses.

I will be posting a link to your blog on my blog. Out of respect for you and for my friends who staff Borders stores throughout the country, I will also be contacting them to discuss this experience, and to hold critical dialogue around how to not have it happen where they are.

Much love,
Ana

**********************

What's sad to me is that I continued to be surprised when these things happen. And that I don't. Ya know?

In any case, the reading today was a good, heartening reminder of things that are right in the world. Things that we can work towards and be committed to as artists.

Peace, Love.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

I've been thinking about art and sustainability for a long time now. Ever since I made the leap into the artist's life - forgoing a steady day job, a spotless resume, "normal" social interactions, and expectations of a "normal" life (well, I gave those up awhile ago - but that's another story). In the midst of my own inquiries into how to do this work, I've run across other people who've helped me think about key aspects of sustainability. I share these insights because I believe that collectively, it is important for us to be able to develop language and believe that we can do this work.

In the March/April 2007 issue of Poets & Writers, Caitlin O'Neil wrote about "The Writer's Triangle". She states:

"The term refers to the metaphorical vortex writers get pulled into while trying to balance making a living, being committed to their literary lives, and staying connected to the world around them."

The article did not provide solutions, or many questions. But it did provide stories of other writers' experiences and considerations on what possible tensions could be pulling at the dream of a writer's life. It was nice to see writing that acknowledged the commonality of this dilemma. Here is where I'd like to turn to the two fundamental workshops that have pushed my thinking about this work.

This past summer, in my first year at Cave Canem, I had the luck of being in Aya de Leon's workshop: "How to Build a Thriving Artist's Life". In this workshop, we discussed many things, but I'd like to share the key insights from our discussion, and specifically, from what Aya brought to the table.

First and foremost, she asked us to examine our beliefs around

1) Calling ourselves artists
2) Believing we deserve compensation for our work
3) Knowing that this is our job
4) Believing and acting upon the belief that this work is emotionally, spiritually, socially and financially sustainable.

Aya also asked us to consider the structures we've built into our lives as artists. On a scale of 1-10, how have we built in:

1) a supportive environment
2) mentorship
3) time to write
4) fun/joy
5) deadlines

Lastly, she asked us to consider the ways in which social oppression affects our work as artists. How do we function as an "artist working class"? And what are the drains and the springs in our lives as artists?

On a similar note, Sharon Bridgforth has conducted numerous workshops on unblocking our voices as writers (she has the foundational workshop curriculum "Finding Voices"). In August, I attended a workshop she led at ALLGO here in Austin. She had us working in the jazz aesthetic, and asked us to make some assumptions:

1) Creative work is about courage
2) Creative work is about the individual fully being her/himself
3) The art is sacred.
4) There is a communal essence to creative work.

Within that, she asked us to consider all kinds of questions, of which I will include some of the most pointed down below:

Who are your influences?
Who are you influencing?
What has your journey been as an artist up until this point?
Who has been with you?
What did you learn growing up about being an artist?
What can you leave behind?
What messages did you receive about what you deserve?
What are your beliefs about abundance, wealth and money?
What obstacles exist for you in your work?
When did that perceived obstacle first crop up and
from whom did you learn it?
What do you need to do to be fully articulated as an artist?
What is your belief system about what artist's work is?
Where do these belief systems around art live in your body?
Where does self-doubt originate (place, people, time - be specific)?
What do you need to do to receive the gifts/support you are being given?
Do you know what it feels like to feel good or are you just functioning?
What are you grateful for?
Do you believe you deserve the life you want?
Why is your work important?
What is your definition of "good work"?
What have you not said in your work and why?

So yeah - there are many of us thinking about how to do this. The way I see it, it's fundamentally about the four foundational aspects of us as social beings:

What feeds us intellectually?
What motivates us spiritually?
What engages us socially?
What moves us emotionally?

And, how do we maintain balance between the creative world and the material real world context of social norms and financial responsibilities?

Hmmm...so yeah. These are just some of the questions and thoughts and interactions from the past year.

Soon, I'll be posting word about new and exciting developments around these questions. Amanda Johnston and I have plans up our sleeves about a publication idea. But, that's for another day.

Peace.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wow - some amazing upcoming events in the month of October. Here are some of the flyers:


And, Rooted:

For more information, go to my calendar.

Peace.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I haven't blogged in what seems like ages. And here I am, choosing the final moments before sunset on Yom Kippur to do so. It' s just that the situation with the Jena 6 has me all riled up. Especially because last week, we paid tribue to Sekou Sundiata here in Austin. I think about what he wrote about in his short 58 years, and know that we must generate a collective creative and political response to what's happening.

Sign the petition: http://colorofchange.org/jena/ and if you can, send money. Watch this video, too. In case you wanted some information:




Yesterday was the first in what promises to be a series of protests as the injustice continues to unfold.

SAY WHAT???!!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


So, for the past couple of weeks I've been working on The Book of Daniel, which despite it's biblical references is not religious in theme at all. Unless you consider rigorous inquiries into questions of immortality, race relations, war, freedom, justice, and the black gay male body a religious-spiritual act.

I was asked to stage manage the show, and as a piece of that, have had the opportunity to witness Daniel Alexander Jones in his creative process. This in and of itself is incredibly liberating and inspiring. Daniel works in the jazz aesthetic, an aesthetic I've been apprenticed under for the past couple of years - since I began to work with The Austin Project, Sharon Bridgforth and Omi Osun Olomo/Joni L Jones. He appeared with a script on August 19 and by August 24 had re-written about 95% of it, incorporating the Director - Tea Alagic - the musician Walter Kitundu and two other actors. The underlying metaphor for the piece is birds. Ravens, specifically. And the story revolves around Daniel's journey to who he is in this moment. How he's become present to his own mortality/immortality, and how the people with whom he's worked have shaped that journey. Malcolm X and Josephine Baker act as spiritual guideposts that become embodied in music and dance, respectively. And in stars. The piece opens with the question:

"What happens when a star dies?"

and goes on from there. What does happen when a star dies? Daniel is drawing on Dogon mythology, theatre culture, science and metaphysics. And in all of that, creating a universe in which we are also asked to take full responsibility and question our own relationships to history, art, culture and immortality.

The show opens tonight. As they say in theatre, "Merde."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Here it is - what I've been waiting for: THE SECRET: FLOAT!



featuring:

Ana-Maurine Lara - Enslaved African #1
Wura-Natasha Ogunji - Enslaved African #2
Czarina Thelen - Camera and Ocean Tidal Wave

Thank you to Manda Manda for assisting in the technological transfer of this video.

What is the Secret? Float.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jane Dabney Shackelford pictured with her class at Booker T. Washington School during National Negro History Week, February 1969. Photograph by Martin's Studio. Image from Indiana Odyssey: Celebrating our African American Authors website.

I wonder what the little girl holding the sign is really thinking.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

It's been a hectic couple of weeks, but here I am, on a sunny morning in Austin, blogging.

There was a great interview/discussion (coordinated by Anne Bowling) about poets and blogs featured in the new 2008 Poets Market. It was actually incredibly insightful, and provided great perspective on how blogging becomes both a tool and a space for poets to tease out ideas and such. Featured are bloggers Amanda Johnston, C. Dale Young (Avoiding the Muse), Kate Greenstreet (Every Other Day), Janet Holmes (Humanphone), Reb Livingston (Home-Schooled by a Cackling Jackal), and Jilly Dybka (Poetry Hut Blog).

The National Poetry Slams were in town last weekend, and though I didn't get to any of the events, it was awesome to hang out with some peeps who were in town. We didn't know it, but we were bound to meet each other. W. & I had gone to Resistencia to pick up our friend C. when we ran into a whole bunch of folks. They were there to hear the report back from the U.S. Social Forum. So, we all rolled over to the local watering hole Polvo's and hung out for a bit. I found out from Tara Betts that she has a review of Erzulie's Skirt in the upcoming issue of Mosaic (thank you Tara!). And that there are people hard at work finishing manuscripts even right at this moment.

I just got a lovely package in the mail. My baby brother just put together a hip hop album, Reflections, under the name Geometrik. I'm proud of him on many levels, but in addition to being proud of him as my brother, the beats are off the chain. The lyrics are powerful and full of intention, and the musical riffs are awesome, incorporating reggaeton, blues, old school hip hop and samba. Yeah.

On Friday, Shia Shabbazz, Wura Ogunji, Amanda Johnston and I got together. Manda had her camera, and we were talking about being black female artists in this world. Here's a little taste of what the black cats brought in (filming/editing by Amanda Johnston):





And yesterday was the 95th day of the Written on the Body project. 95 Days! I have five days left. I've been getting some great words for the past 3 months, so it's going to be an adjustment to not run out at 9pm in search of words.

Ha!

Things are up in Austin. The Book of Daniel is coming to town September 7 - 10th. Daniel Alexander Jones is going to be tearing it up. Before then, there's a fundraiser for raulsalinas this Saturday August 25, 2007 at the Mexican American Cultural Center. raulsalinas, if you don't know, is a cultural and political force. he's an elder, and precious. he's been sick lately, and so we're coming together as community to raise funds to cover medical expenses. this is a powerful model. Then, next Sunday is "Sundays in Paradise" - the new house party at the Victory Grille. I haven't heard house this good in a long time. It's so much fun. And DJ Philly Phil is off the chain.

So yeah, on my end, I'm hunkering down to write for a minute. Take care of some bizness. Finish my written body project. And be out in community.

Till we meet again - peace.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I just received news of these wonderful photos of Cave Canem folks and wanted to post them. They are courtesy of Patricia Smith.




From left to right:
Back Row: Hermine Pinson, Lauren Alleyne, David Mills, Patricia Smith, Yusef Komanyakaa, Erica Hunt, Cyrus Cassell, Amber Thomas,

Middle Row: Charles Lynch, Indigo Moor, Carolyn Joyner, Amanda Johnston, James Cagney

Front Row: Aya de Leon, Roger Bonair-Agard, Jonathan Moody



Group E in the HOUSE
elen (Alena Hairston) , Richard Hamilton, Deidre Gantt, Vievee Francis, Qiana Towns, Roger Bonair-Agard, Yo, Charles Lynch, Patricia Smith, Amber Thomas


As Toi Dericotte says "Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A bridge fell yesterday in Minneapolis. This made national news rather quickly, raising levels of tension and fear across the country. We are a society living in fear. That's so not okay.



I remember being in high school and seeing Magritte's painting "The Human Condition" for the first time. Now, it seems rather trite, but at the time - I am at the core of my being an existentialist (how's that for an oxymoron?) - I spent many hours pondering the idea of reason and the question why? In the painting, I realized I would never know what's behind the canvas. That I had to trust the artist's rendition above all else, at the risk of being absolutely duped. There's nothing to say that anything in that painting existed - the house, the curtains, the field, the painting of the field. And even less to confirm that what's on the canvas inside the painting is what is behind it. So, I had to trust. What within that was the human condition? Was I suppose to fret at not knowing? Perhaps I did. Perhaps the concept of the piece was so unified that I didn't at all.

My friend V. always says that when difficult things happen, why? is the wrong question. That it feeds into fear. There is something inherently human about that question, and about needing to know why things happen. It's almost as if our emotional state of being rests on knowing why. I can think of plenty of scenarios: break ups, tragedies, death, illness, even great success. Somehow, knowing why things happen helps us navigate the emotional landscape behind the event or moment. And what? and how? are directly connected to the why?

Another reference: The Jewish Book of Why? A must have for every bat or bar mitzvah. Am I wrong? The reason I cite this is because I remember seeing that book and understanding why? as a fundamental and necessary question. Why is the sky blue? Why do we fast on Yom Kippur? Why is swine treif? Why do we die? And why do bridges collapse?

Why is the basis of our belief systems, science, religion and art. At the heart of these questions is an attempt to understand the order of the universe. To understand our role in it and our relationship to other human beings, creatures, the sun, the moon, the weather and human events. Especially events that shake a connected psyche - like war, slavery, awful foreign policy and structural collapses.

While I'm not in disagreement with V.'s belief that Why? is the wrong question, I do think it's all about timing...why? is not the question when we're faced with uncontrollable circumstances... that" why?" morphs into "what?" what can be done? what will we do from this moment forward? what can we do to support each other? what do people need?

Getting back to my original point, the "that's so not okay" of earlier in this blog, what is the place of "why?" in relationship to fear? And I think "why are we fearful?" is a good place to start. And then followed with "what has happened to create this sense of fear?" "what's real and what isn't?" and "what can be done?" and most importantly, "what do we feel behind the fear? what is at the root of it?"

This leads me to the last point I'm going to make. The other evening, at a party, I was speaking with someone about the current state of Latin American politics. We were discussing Daniel Ortega, and I was really curious about her opinion. I concurred with some of what she had to say, but where we really differed was on the notion that this moment in history is depressing. As an artist, I am actually really excited to be living in this moment in time. It's not to say that I'm ecstatic over the state of world affairs. I am deeply troubled and angered by globalization and U.S. foreign policy, genetically modified seeds and the role states are playing throughout the world in dominating human communities. Simultaneously, I am deeply moved by the response to these forces: the demonstration of public dissent through mass mobilizations. The way that women throughout the world are organizing and re-constructing our communities. The public conversations about grief and loss. And, the surge in artists emerging in our societies - I'm not talking about the rise in MFA programs or applications. I'm talking about the rise of a creative response to chaos. As an artist, I feel that it is not only my responsibility, but that at this time, I must absolutely be working to create. It's part of the balance of things. In my creative processes, I try to move myself and to move others past fear and disillusion. To reclaim a part of our collective humanity in the face of destructive forces.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I just got back from the RedBone Press retreat. Well, I got back yesterday, but I'm slowly returning to Austin in the process.

What an amazing, amazing gathering of people. Historic, really. And I am so humbled, deeply humbled, that I got to be there. The Mother of the House of RedBone, Lisa C. Moore brought together an amazing ensemble: Jafari Sinclaire Allen, Phillip Alexander, Samiya Bashir, Sharon Bridgforth, Eunice Corbin, Ernest Hardy, Reginald Harris, Omi Osun Olomo/Joni L Jones, G. Winston James, Curu Necos-Bloice, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Sheree Ross, and Marvin K. White.

It was just absolutely Infiniphonic.

Not to mention the reading that ALLGO put together on Friday night at the Victory Grille. It was the first time all RedBone authors were together, reading at the same place with a few additional guests (Reggie Harris and G. Winston James), and a wonderful house party (with house music) by DJ Phillip Alexander.

Yeah!




Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sekou passed this morning. May his journey be peace-filled and light filled. We will miss him. We will miss you Brother Sekou.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Earlier today, this morning, I had received mis-information regarding Sekou Sundiata. He's still alive and well. And I've edited my previous blog entry to reflect this shift in information. I'm sending him light for his healing. He's currently in a coma (says one source), but fighting for life.

Now, what's so interesting about this to me is not just Sekou's battle for life, but that so many of us in these circles where this information was circulating were feeling so powerfully affected by the idea of his passing. I hope, pray that he will make it and be okay, to continue to share with us in all his wonder. It's truly an emotional rollercoaster to think of loss...and then possibly not.

So, corrections standing. As of Tuesday evening, July 17, 2007.

peace.
Sekou Sundiata is fighting for his life.

For Sekou Sundiata...Because your magic moves me.

1.
What is terrorism?
My grandfather was lynched.
Black people have lived under terrorism.
There's such a thing known as "vibe"/
You know in your body when the vibe isn't right.
After 9/11...
Now wait a minute here.
Emotions are running high.
What did you mean by that?
What is hope? That is my question.
And what exactly is happening tomorrow?
There is the state and the dream.
The 51st dream state.
I went to down to the site after 9/11.
People were calling.
Nobody wants to talk about it.
Imagine me as a black man driving through North Carolina.

2.
Terrorism is the 51st dream state.
I went to find my grandfather.
We are black.
Now wait for a vibe.
Hope is the question.
And what exactly is the state?
And what exactly is the dream?
I went down, me a black man
We don't talk about the lynching.
People. People were...
Nobody wants to talk.
Everybody's craving conversation.
What do we mean?
9/11 was for me...
I remember my grandfather.
Driving to North Carolina, as a black man.
Imagine.

3.
Everybody's nobody.
Back in the day, we imagined.
There is a story nobody will talk about.
My question for you is, what do you remember?
After 9/11, I remember my grandfather.
A black man was lynched.
There is such a thing as terrorism.
I drove through North Carolina.
I was dreaming.
It is important to dream.
What is hope?
That is a dangerous question.
Let's have dinner and talk about it.
The state, I mean.
You dig? Keep digging.
You feel?
Now, don't forget to imagine. Don't forget to dream.



Griot. Griot.Griot. Axe Brother Sekou.

Friday, July 13, 2007

It's Friday the 13th - one of my favorite days actually. One becaues it's Friday and two because 13 is an awesomely powerful number.

But anyway, I just wanted to share some things that had come my way. There's a film, distributed by Ethnoscope Film & Video, titled Muxe. In the words of the reviewer, "Among the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico, boy babies who are born in a certain position, or little boys who prefer to play with girls, are raised as women, and are known as Muxes (pronounced "Mooshays"). n the town of Juchitán, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Muxes have an important role to play in the life of the community." There's more, of course, but this is a rough intro.

The review also cites Paris is Burning, which interestingly enough we watched on the bus on the way to the Cave Canem reading in Pittsburgh. And which is a film that I love and still find incredibly relevant. And for awhile, I considered riffing off of the theory on that film and connecting to the real fires in Paris in 2005 - when Paris was being burned down by folks tired of being sick and tired. But, that is a paper that will have to wait for someone else to write it. If it hasn't been written yet (though like Nina Simone's Mississippi Goddamn I could swear I've heard the rest of the story).

Next week, RedBone Press is having an author retreat, thanks to the generous Lisa C Moore and other folks who are going to make this happen. I'm so excited to meet everyone face to face and then to spend FOUR DAYS with folks, including partners and friends, having a film festival, cooking, eating and talking about our work. This is going to be transformative and amazing and I can't wait. We're having a reading Friday night at the Victory Grill here in Austin, thanks to ALLGO.

I'm off to work on a grant. Wish me luck.

Peace.