Monday, June 28, 2004

Monday June 28, 2004

So, did i tell about the fact that on thursday night in ann arbor, iwent to the black folks' club and they were playing calypso for half the night? Yep - get this, a white rastafarian DJ with the twelve tribes headwrap was spinning reggae and calypso and trying to toast over the beats too... surreal...

in preparing exercises for the residency during the week, i came across some dynamite work, most by writers i already knew, so if you haven't, check out "Half-hanged Mary" by Margaret Atwood (which chronicles the true story of a woman hanged in Masachussetts in the 1680s on suspicion of withcraft. When they came to cut her body down in the morning, she was still alive. She lived 14 years longer). The poem is written from the perspective of the hanged woman, while on the noose. it is amazing, as it is sectioned according to the time of night and as time goes by, the form of the poem alters to accomodate her mental state, so while the syntax is fairly narrative at the onset, the line breaks are longer and her rants more abstract to convey that sense of delirium that one imagines must be at play then.

A. Van Jordan, whose colllection 'Rise' is phenomenal is coming out with a new collection called 'MacNolia'. we were doing a workshop on unusual forms and devices, so i was looking up his poem 'Notes from a Southpaw' when i cam across the poem 'MacNolia', which is set up as a dictionary definition of the word "from" then goes on to list about 13 definitions of the word that tell the story of a woman's love affait with a Chicago blues-man. Google him and check it out, cuz i don't think the second collection has dropped yet.

Leaving Chicago in a few hours to get back home. Will have pictures from this past week posted on the site in a couple days. The Chicago pride parade was fairly tame (at least by comparison to NYC's). Indeed, much of the gay community in Chicago complains that the parade has become very corporate as politicians and companies recognize how fiscally powerful the gay demographic is and that they can't afford to ignore their money or their votes. In NYC, that is undoubtedly true as well, but for some reason, the parade doesn't seem to have been as co-opted as it appears in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago parade had as many heterosexuals in attendance as homosexuals (which is a good thing - i think we should visibly support the cause), but it also seems to be less a platform for the gay community to have the freedom to live as it pleases, than it is a platform now for a sort of strange 'tourist-like gawking fascination'. Thing is i'm not sure if that's necessarily a bad thing, and not being as knowledgeable of socio-sexual theory as i would like to be can't figure out how to wrap my head around that...

...ooh - i'll go ask Daphne. She'll have a theory or a book to read on the subject (Daphne Gottlieb. Get her latest book 'Final Girl'. Read it. it's a fascinating and brilliant collection of poems. She's also the author of 'Pelt' and 'Why things Burn'. In fact, you can probably get more of her take on all of this sort of thing at i'm going to eat.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Okay - i'm not sure what i've told you all so far, but now it's saturday and the week is done and this was an absolutely inspiring week of teaching and learning from the students at Volume in Ann Arbor (or the Ace Deuce as they like to call it). that piece i did from kevin coval's workshop, i've titled 1986, with a dedication to Anthony Joseph (1968-1984). i've made some revisions. i'll tell you about them later...

so in no particular order, i'd like to thank from my group first of all, Sonya Carter (who is a hearing impaired writer and has expanded my head as to what a poem is), Erica Goethel (who is an excellent writer and is headed to Illinois State on a soccer scholarship in the Fall), Evelyn Hollenshead, Lauren Banka, Lauren Whitehead, Claire Forster (aka Inky Billows), Carson Bishop, Bow-tie Maggie, Maggie Dethloff, Becky Prokopiak (i think this is the Polish version of Lynne Procope's name), Kaitlin Barrer, Kendall, Alex Lopez and Marcie (i'm so sad she couldn't read in the students' reading cuz she is quite simply ambitious and brilliant and will be a star). in fact, lemme just say, the students in my group floored me at every turn. every time i think i know the extent to which teenagers can be transcendently brilliant, one of them pushed me further. i'm actually going to try to get them to send me some of their work, so i can publish it here and show y'all...

...and there are all the other young men and women who hung out with us, took us to Value World (dope-ass thrift store. i got me a three-piece suit for $25.50. i got me a white hat, a yellow and blue plaid shirt and three pairs of shorts), so much much much love to Maggie (aka Various Smalls), Paco (who beat-box for me on my reading), Matthew (who showed us around, and delivered such a sterling poem on the final night, that was written that day, that most of us were in tears, for the sheer honesty and techincal brilliance of the device he used in it), Alli, Nina, Arhm (who read the poem about wrestling with trying to grow up and trying to be a role model for a younger sibling, and it's the poem i needed to write when i was 18) and all the other folks (me and marty and regie and kevin and jen and scott were drinking every night and acting the real ass on the streets of the Ace Deuce, so i can't remember all the young peoples' names) who made the week so inspirational and made us say wow when they went to the stage on the last night. y'all have NO IDEA how huge this was for me and how much i'm already fixing my schedule so i can come back and work this residency next year. i love y'all like the last song in the jukebox.

and then there's jeff kass, who put this together and asked us here, and i can only take my hat off (the phat white one that's cocked to the side right now that i got at Value World) to the amount of work, dedication and drive he has invested here to make this program what it is (hat back on).

so... once the residency was done, and Pamela (who works with Volume as a graphic designer and can cook her aaaasssssss off) had made us breakfast and sent us (marty Kevin and I) on our way to the train station (and drove back to give me my phone which was left at her house because she's just that dope); and after me and marty and kevin cut up and made the worst kind of jokes (that i can't tell you all about, because while you'll believe i said those things or even marty said those things, you'll never believe kevin said those things), marty and i disembarked at Niles, MI. yes the town is called Niles. we were being picked up there by marty's mom to go to a family function in South Bend, IN. nuff said. i'm tired, i had to eat ham and by the time we got back to Chicago, i was dead upright.

so i'll write again tomorrow, let y'all know about the Gay Pride parade in Chicago (i've definite thoughts on this), talk a little bit about some poetic theory vis a vis the past week and a few other things...


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Tuesday June 22, 2004

Second day of residency is done, and this time there is not drunken night carousing to close it off. Jeff Kass (who is running the residency) had us over to his house for a barbecue, so there were much poetics, meat and wine.

Today’s optional workshop was by Kevin Coval. It dealt with hip-hop poetics and went into an explanation of hip-hop as the defining factor of all poetics for anyone born between 1965 and now. It featured (among other things) a poem by Paul Beatty, that made use of refrain and a decidedly black vernacular to define “smooth” while making serious political commentary (my poem coming out of his workshop follows this post).

What the kids in my workshop seem to be a little too worried about is having the ‘right’ answer (which of course does not exist in poetry most of the time). They are incredibly smart, but I think need a little encouragement in the realm of risk-taking. Still, I feel like they’re learning new stuff, and I look forward to challenging them tomorrow. I’m still figuring out what the exercises and poems will be about. Today, we talked about dealing with the big ideas (war, racism, sexuality etc), and how to approach them in a way that is effective and perhaps relevant enough to their own lives as to be less rhetoric and more poem. We used Carolyn Forche’s ‘The Visitor’, Jeff McDaniel’s ‘What year was Heaven Desegregated’, Martin Espada’s ‘Alabanza’ and Stephen Dunn’s ‘To a terrorist’.

Check those out. Examine them. write sump’n. I’ve had too much beef and lamb and salmon and chicken and corn tonight. I’m gonna see if I can get my shit done and hit the sack now…

here’s the poem…

We funked up senior year
of high school like there would never
be a tomorrow we had
to care about
cuz there wasn’t
and we were funky
tropical island in the South Caribbean funky
American radio pumping us the 80s like gospel
type funky

so I was red tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans
with a shag
and an oversized white shirt
to match the thick white socks
cuz Michael Jackson was still black
type funky

funky like making love to Monica
whose father was a Corrections Officer
and making out with her sister
the next day

it was 1986 and high top fades
staccatoed to Jam on It
pop-locking electric boogaloo
on street corners
in Community Center parties
on vinyl and even on the grass
behind the cafeteria
and we were stars

funky like
Anthony Joseph who could beat up grown-ass men
so we talked shit
when we hung with him
and still talked shit
after he dropped out
and was found dead in the streets

funky like
we did comic impressions
of the principal
in front of the principal
cuz obnoxious was funky and besides
we knew how to talk the
‘your momma so old
her social security number is 1’
type shit

we didn’t yet know curfew
or high crime
so we funked it up
and we knew we were beautiful
because there’s nothing like a stranger
giving you 20 bucks in the street
because you looked good
in the game last Saturday
and you hit the crossbar from forty yards out

and we were the most gangsta
boy scouts and choir boys on the planet
cuz no-one could hit middle C first tenor
and extort money from the freshmen
who loved us anyway
cuz we let them drink with us
like we could
and that was funky
cuz we made do
with what we didn’t know
we could ever get
and rolled the sleeves of our uniforms up

and gang fought with the kids from St. Mary’s
and swaggered through the city
because the dollar hadn’t yet fallen
and we didn’t owe our lives to the IMF
and oil was still expensive
and we were a little oil-producing nation
and we were tough and good-looking
funky fresh like that

cuz we knew Anthony Joseph
so we stayed hard
just to keep his shit alive
and no-one bothered us
on the way home

Fresh off the first-draft press folks. don’t forget, feel free to comment here, on the guest book or send me an e-mail. word-up!

Monday, June 21, 2004

Monday June 21, 2004

So i;ve missed a posting. i've written it in another notebook which i did not bring to Ann Arbor but you'll deal. This is the first day of residency in Ann Arbor. the spousThis is going well except that my body is still recovering from Salome's birthday on Saturday night. 12 teenagers who are really bright, but so far, more polite than i'd like. i suspect this will change by Wednesday. Maybe i'll construct an exercise that will force rudeness and general misbehavior. Marty has to teach the optional workshop today. I'll be lying down or shoting pool or something.

Today we did an exercise on 'wanting the forbidden' (no comments smartasses). We compared the poems 'Dear man whose marriage i wrecked' by Jeff McDaniel, 'For my Lover Returning to his Wife' by Anne Sexton and 'The Basque Nose' by Patrick Rosal.

Check these out. the perspective of each is different. Anne's is addressed to her lover, Jeff's is addressd to the spoude of his lover and Patrick's is a self-reflection. They all seize on the sense of the need in specific images that suggest that while their need is intense, it is not necessarily connected to the object of their affections... but like i said, check 'em out.

Marty's optional workshop was something about 'entering the dark room'. it was after lunch. i was really tired. so when she said the part about visualizing something or the other and closing your eyes, i straight fell asleep AND woke myself up by snoring one time real loud... at any rate, here's the poem, first draft, straight out the gate...

You smell like lilacs
or flamingoes cool purple
of my guitar is all
i needed - made music
out of ice-cream hotdogs
and grief

i would have kissed the skin
sutured onto your breast
like hammered-in wax
found the flock of birds living in your chest
and soared with them

Thank God i's had the chance
to love pigs and elephants
wars witches...
or i might never have known
the night
dialoguing with the wind
and whatever made me first
hold your hand in the parking lot
in the basement restaurant
in the book store
i might have blamed it on the wine
asked you to forget
i ever said i loved you

The dust is holy spirit rising
and a little tin guitar
overheard in a store in a mall
thirty-one years ago
thought to have been sent me
by some pig-like gnome
might not be here
to have me believe in improbable
unsuitable holding you and moaning

It is six AM
i can't remember what you first smelled like
it's not been that long
maybe it was the dronig of honey-bees
maybe rose-petals
maybe you're an ice-cream stain rising

that's the madness. we've since gone to eat laughed in the street at the dude with the shoe that looked like a typewriter (that was Kevin Coval's joke - i'm teaching with him, Marty and Regie Gibson).

...whioch is to say i'm now three whiskys and three beers in and it's 1AM and whatever, it's all poetry and it's love and i have so much that's conflict and beauty and confusion happening that i should just decide on sleep now. i'll have more interesting shit to say tomorrow from Ann Arbor, the land of old hippies and the Wolverines...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Monday 14th June 2004

Today my brother Jami, graduates. I am seated in a huge tent at York University with my mother waiting for the ceremony to begin.

I am thrilled that I have my notebook with me because it is 5:40and things will not start till 7:00. I’m proud of my brother. He’s done this in a town he does not like, and battling his own personal demons and issues (as we all do). He is also giving our mother a chance for this sort of pride, the chance that I didn’t give her (I didn’t graduate – just finished my courses and left). Hopefully I’ll get this MFA thing done, and it’ll be another graduation she can be proud of. This is not why I’m doing the MFA of course, but it is going to be an opportunity for that nevertheless.

Lately I find myself chomping at the MFA bit. I feel like my writing is really stagnant, like I need a kick in my ass to get to the next level. I feel like there are things I want my writing to do next, that it’s not doing; and that it’s not doing them because I simply do not know enough. That is making me crazy these days, especially since I’m more or less done with the ‘tarnish and masquerade’ manuscript (save for the litany of editing to come) and I want to begin the next one, and have it be significantly better than the first. The work’s already coming but I’m dissatisfied with the quality.

(Break to go get a hot-dog and use the rest room)

Okay, so I’ve just met my brother’s girlfriend, Carmen. She’s beautiful, and so far (5 minutes) very sweet. She just took my mom to go looking for something to eat. I’m hoping Jamil gets into the kind of more well-behaved traditional family unit quick, so mom can stop asking me for grandkids, so I’m championing Carmen all the way. After all, Jamil will be 27 soon (December). it’s about time he did sump’n 

Tuesday 15 Jun, 2004

I didn’t think I’d be as excited for my brother as I was last night; to see him cross the stage (one of about a thousand in that ceremony) and receive his degree (Honors in Political Science – Political Science was my major too – he asked me what one does with Poli Sci degree. I told him apparently one writes poetry…). I’m not particularly one for pomp and circumstance and dudes in velvet robes and hats with tassels and feathers, but I was overjoyed to see Jamil complete his walk.

My mom, a family friend, Kathy, Carmen, Jamil and I all hung out after driving interminably throught Toronto trying to find some place that was still serving food (Jamil is not much of a party guy out-all-the-time-at-night-so-would-know-where-to-find-these-things-easily type of guy. We happened upon a Firkin Pub (I’m not making this up. This is not from my twisted head), where we had buffalo chicken wedges (don’t ask), bruschetta, fries, local micro-brews, a series of other drinks and the sort of semi-drunken Midnight Robber toast speeches of which the Trinidadian DNA is made (ask me about Midnight Robber later). Carmen Almeda Torres (Oscar, stop what you’re thinking right now!) is a wonderful human being and I’m happy for Jamil on that front too. Jamil is traditionally a bit more pessimisstic than I, but I feel so hopeful about his future that I think getting to the end of this is about to be his major launchpad.

On the way to the airport now. That’s enough Toronto for me for now. Hopefully, I get to see Jamil July 4th weekend when we go to see our uncle in New Hampshire.

So I’m writing this series of poems from out of my childhood – the characters and stories that made this mess. Here is a rough draft of the first one. Some of you heard an even rougher draft at The Open Room hosted by Rich Villar last Friday, but feel free to give your comments, ask questions or generaly tear the poem down/apart. This is an experiment. I don’t know how often I’m going to have the stomach to open stuff up like this to the general general on-line public.



In most countries
Football is God
And in the Trinidad hot sun
under the shadow of the QRC clock tower
Giuseppi was high priest
many of us arcolites to his awesome mass
we left brilliance to the dim remembrance of classrooms
and sought glory on the fields

Gip (we called him) was a baller
from hard scrabble Laventille hill
up where they happened upon
the grail of steelpan music
We were fifteen and sport was all
that mattered We played football
until the lights went on then continued
until they went out but we were descended
of slaves and colonialism
so we didn’t care if we scored much
as long as we looked good on the ball
as long as we could move past defenders
and make it look easy embarrass the opposition

The ball stuck to Gip’s foot
like an unusual magic skinny and bow legged
he slipped past defenders like a shade
high top fade zig zagging toward goal
like a joker’s crown
moving past everything
that ever held us down

defenders had been beaten
before he turned
and when he did he was slipping
the ball through their legs
(we called that move a “sex” – the most embarrassing way to be beaten)
while we hollered and high-fived and laughed
waiting for the next swell of action to share in the glory

we return for our 18 year high-school reunion
under the shadow of the QRC clock tower
most of us more fat than fit
Late evening we play the pick-up game
drunk and overfed
as much to see if we can still hold
audiences and opposition in thrall
pray in rhythm as to see if Gip
could still hold high mass
tackling him nervously not wanting to be the one “sexed”
even now not wanting the ignominy
less concerned about embarrassment on the field
because now we know what we’re good at
where we turn on our opposition

Back in the day we asked Gip
how he could sex other players that easily
He said “When I collect the ball
I know where the defender is
I wait for the footsteps
and count them coming They tell me
when the defender gets close
where his legs are…”

we listened in awe
understanding for the first time
that brilliance at something was possible
outside of our classrooms
in hand with our glories
that we’d eventually get good at something
if we played it often enough
if we counted all the opposition coming
listened to the footsteps bearing down

so talk to a brotha y'all - latah

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Friday June 11, 2004

These days i'm writing for a lot of different "projects". Vision Into Art, a show i hope to put up in July and other things that are deadline related. When that happens, it is easy to forget that you write stuff because you HAVE to write even when you're not required to write. When that happens, i try to get back to studying others even more assiduously. So i picked up Elizabeth Alexander's 'Antebellum Dream Book'. What she crafts from the memories of racism and those afflicted by it, is astonishing. She is on of those rare talents who is unabashedly intellectual, and is able to render it in such a way that what she conveys reaches your marrow, churns your stomach and evokes the visceral utterly. y'all should check her out. Reading her so soon after having read Rosal, it reinforces my appreciation for the way in which poetry allows different people to excel in ways that are so vastly different stylistically. The work and how one gets there retains, thereby, a magic, that you know you have some chance of tapping in to even if the light at the end of your own tunnel seems far far away.

i went to see Troy today. Good movie. i've seen some excessive (and nonsensical) hating in some reviews - and while Orlando Bloom definitely should not be allowed to speak in a movie again ever - the movie does justice to the vision of the battle scenes (though there were details of the story that i believe were changed for the middle-American movie palate). i'll be getting the dvd just so i can replay the battle scenes over and over again. you just can't get enough of a spear through a man's head some days.

...but now i go. i'm kinda excited about a new series of poems about home and characters from my teens. i hope to be able to have at least three of these ready for the show i'm going to put up at the end of july (in addition to all my calypso poems and other poems of home). i love the heat.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Wed July 9, 1:46AM

So as stated in my last post, this is hoping that since the whole journal process is now easier that i'll be better able to be consistent at it. thank the inimitable marty mcconnell for loving me enough to build me the new site which is not only easier for me, but easier for everyone else. my cousi had built me an excellent site, but it was difficult for folks who didn't have a hyper-fast connection to get on to it, so this is better suited for the time being. i'll bet him to hook this site up with audio clips and what not in time.

I'm still studying Patrick Rosal's book. His work is enormous and beautiful. it gives me so many ideas for series i have to write, for recollections of my own life that i am yet to tap, but somehow i can recall telling folks about everyday. I'm up this late because i have stuff to finish designing a workshop for VisionIntoArt (check their website at on generating writing for inter-disciplinary/collaborative work, but i'm also being haunted by this new work i have brewing.

before i obsessed about poetry, i obsessed about football (soccer for the rest of y'all. i played all the way through college and semi-pro/amateur leagues for a little after that. in high-school Roger Guiseppi, when asked how he was so adept at being able to dribble past an opponent by knocking the ball through his legs, said "when i collect the ball, i know where everyone is, so i just estimate the footsteps it would take for a player to get to me, count them and know when the steps got quicker, he was stopping and his legs would be open. i could then just knock the ball and turn, without even looking..." how does a 15 year old figure that out. this is not anything that is in any textbook or football manual anywhere; but it is an intelligence that he developed and learned and got good at, just like Freddie in Patrick Rosal's poem. these are the poems that live in my past and these are the possibilities that exist in the human being, so we write down what we love enough and believe enough and know to be true, and do it enough times and listen to enough poems (or footprints) to know when to close our eyes; and turn...

Abena also made me go see Steve Turre (noted Jazz musician) play today at the Tourneau Atrium in midtown. This brother played a jazz standard on conch shells. Yes. Conch shells. i grew up on an island. i've blown into conch shells my whole life. i had no idea you could do THAT on a conch shell. i have much work to do. see y'all later. gonna go invent a line-break or something...

Monday, June 07, 2004

June 7, 2004

I am a notoriously poor keeper of records; a lapsed diarist. it hasn’t always been this way. I do think it important to journal one’s life and thoughts, to forge understanding of one’s own world by tracking it oneself.

There was a time when I did this religiously and assiduously for three years straight; then I turned 15, and in one of these landmark teenage moments, my mother read my diary in search of the reasons I was becoming unmanageable and failing my classes. I don’t need to begin to tell you what she found there. She confiscated the diary, as court exhibit #1A, fot the day I have children of my own.

I tried to keep a diary again. In fact, I began immediately, but I was shook. I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t be read again the next time I fucked up, so I censored heavily. Soon keeping the diary didn’t serve any purpose, since I couldn’t put what I really thought, allude to any of my actual activities in the journal.

So I’m an adult, and as fate would have it, a writer. This is my second attempt at establishing a regular public journal and hopefully the fact that now my site is a bit easier to navigate, will encourage my new attempt at organization of all things; my life, my thoughts, my in-process history. Watch me while I work.

Books to catch:
Patrick Rosal’s “Uprock headspin scramble and dive” Persea Books 2003. he features for us today, and he is ‘tha hotness’. Patrick Rosal does everything i do, but does it so much better. this is why i need to start my MFA immediately. see you all soon.