Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Last night's show at Bar 13 was in a mild understatement a good one. The upperCASE feature is supposed to showcase the work of a few of the folks who have distinguished themselves in the open mic over the past months. They're selected and offered the opportunity to work with other poets in the Project to help hone their work if they want and get a chance at a coming out party as it were. For many of the past upperCASE features, this feature is their first feature and so it is a time of much teeth-gnashing; but with a freshness that is beautiful to be a part of, whether you know the artists personally or you just wondered into the audience on a Monday night. Last night, Eliel Lucero and Vandana were just that.

Eliel worked assiduously to edit his poems and polish his performance in the weeks leading up to his feature and the effort showed. His work continues to grow and grow and perhaps even more than that growth is the energy his enthusiasm for the work gives to others (or at least to me).

Vandana did for me what one always hopes an artists can do; defy and exceed your expectations. I thought i knew what Vandana's work would sound like; until she opened with a first chapter from a novel she is working on and proceeded to follow that up with a series of pieces; only one of which i think i've ever heard before (maybe 2). Not just good work, but bold work; unafraid to take risks and look inside the raw, sensitive places.

The third feature was a not so fresh faced upperCASE, Abena Koomson. Abena had already had features in other locales by the time she got to us and she was a member of this year's LouderARTS National Slam Team so she was getting an upperCASE feature that wasn't so newbie in its theming (does that even work as a sentence construction?). Abena though, mixed the old work with the new, the performance staples with the stuff she keeps hidden deep in the chapbook, and together with showing off and dropping on us her incredible vocalist talents (and this is no off the cuff hyperbole - i mean incredible), including a reggae, a cappella rendition of a hymn that was stellar to my mind, Abena rounded off the night superbly. A large crowd began the night and though an incredibly long open-mic, meant that it dwindled somewhat, at least 50 were left to witness Abena's gorgeous set.


I'm still working on memorizing stuff for my show on the 11th. I'm really excited about the show and nervous as all hell. Much of this work is untested in the performance realm, so i don't have the comfort of an evolution of performances of the work upon which to build (except for one or two of the pieces). Still, i'm confident of the writing in it and that's what's holding it together for me. As long as i can be completely absorbed in getting a lot of the work committed to memory this week and getting comfortable with it, i'll be alright but i'll have to be a little bit of an asshole and have a little tunnel vision to get it right - so be it.

i suspect i won't have reviews of any brand new poetry books for about a week or so. bear with me. there's much to do. i'll get back to that real soon.

Monday, August 30, 2004

So i went to the protest march yesterday. By now, most of you know that there was a massive crowd there. NY Times says 500,000. The police say 500,000. i think therefore that it was AT LEAST that many. I wonder what one must think if one is a Republican delegate. I don't suppsoe that it'll change the way they vote in congress or senate or whatever or where ever, but this is the largest protest of a national convention ever. 1/2 million folks thought it important enough to wake on a sunday morning - even after copious warnings about the massive amounts of arrests they expected to make - to tell you to get the hell out of office. What is the point at which you start asking yourself, "what are we doing wrong?"

More importnatly though, i found the protest encouraging because, like the anti-war protests last year, it suggested that the apathy that fell on us over the nineties, is lifting. Enough people feel their way of life threatened enough, or have had the wool of 2-party democracy lifted enough from their eyes enough, to feel the need to say something about it. Still, the right-wing's response, which has included scare tactics and voter fraud against minority voters in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama (to name a few) suggests that the short-term goal of getting Bush out of office is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. For the first time, i feel it absolutely impossible to predict what will happen next politically; and by extension, socially. Two nights ago, in a conversation with Saul Williams, Saul says "...it's like we're in this strange purgatory, except there's no higher power. It's just us; and getting out of purgatory is going to be by our own doing." That encapsulates what i think i feel, like we're going to determine in short order, whether or not we're going to hell or back to an upswing in the Dow Jones with 40 per cent voter participation. And that's the danger of getting Kerry in office; that we think we've got the job done and we have an apathy re-lapse. I'm hoping though, that the sort of youth mobilization that the war on Iraq and Bush-regime policies have engendered, heightens our consciousness and our vigilance so that we don't again get so close to what looks like a precipice. But first, to get Bush out...


Fela Jump and Funk party - whenever you see one of these advertised, don't just walk; run to the club where it is.

Beau Sia's Junior High Dance Party at the Bowery Poetry Club - the most fun i've had dancing in years.

Time to go check e-mails and then do some memorizing for my show. My best friedn from childhood ever is coming up on Wednesday night. Sleep will be in short supply after that.

There'll be more to report by tomorrow. There are more protests. Jerry Quickley is in town and there's upperCASE at Bar 13 tonight.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

So i've just spent the morning sitting outside Los Primos again, drnking cappucinos, working and talking to a ten-year old boy (the son of the owner of Los Primos). Sometimes i feel really old, but i guess i mustn't be that old, if the kid thinks he should come over and hang out with me because i have a computer. He then proceeds to go about finding the games on the computer and changing the controls on them so it would be more ergonomic for my personal use (of course i still suck at them).

There is also an Asian woman (i'm going to assume Chinese) because she walks around the neighborhood every morning in traditional Mandarin (i think) dress, handing out blessings quoted from the bible to random passers-by and admonishing us all to pay tithes. She doesn't say to whom or to what church or anything. She just asks folks to pay tithes. But for this whole drama, she appears perfectly sane; simply to be on a mission. I wonder what drives us some days. In one of the listserves i'm on, Marty asks about Dorothy Baresi's assertion (sic) 'that what we do to stay alive is not who we are', and i posited that often that is true in terms of employment etc etc, but that once you find out the thing you really are that then you have to do that thing to stay alive and you balance doing that 'staying alive' with what you have to do to live 'eat, buy clothes, pay rent', and thereby maintain some sort of sanity.

What then is this 'thing' that this woman is doing. What drives her? She might just be completely out of her gourd, but her mission seems more complex than that. There is a joy and and simultaneous urgency that leads me to think that this is what she does to stay alive, that this is who she is. It is an evangelism that stops short of an attempt at conversion to a specific religion per se, but she still seems certain that her information, that her daily blessings and admonitions toward tithing save at least her life (i don't think she's convinced she's necessarily saving others - don't ask me how i've come up with all that. i'm well into presumption now).

Still, i think it is very often what we're doing with art, with poetry. Those of us who know that we can't NOT do this, feel some days that we're touching other lives, but largely we're in the business of saving our own lives/souls/sanity by scurrying inches. In the awareness that we generate, hopefully we make our invaluable contribution to the universe at large, but we're never absolutely sure, and the day we become sure of it, i think we stop growing, as artists and as human beings. The day we becomes absolutely sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're saving lives, then the effort to get better at it, has to wane (at least it seems that way to me), because how much better then do we need to get. When with a wave of our pens we feel we change anything, then we have become as gods (or as God, whichever you like), and what next then?

i'm not sure what follows from all this but this is what is going on in my head this morning that might be of interest (at least philosphically). Y'all tell me your thoughts on the matter.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It's been a while since i've been awake at 7:45AM on a Sunday, but i have rehearsal for VisionIntoArt today again (check out their website) so i'm bright-eyed and... well, whatever.

The church bells are the interesting thing about this time of morning on a Sunday, though. I don't think i've ever heard them before in my two years living in Williamsburg. Even as i try to plot my morning's schedule and beginning to get frantic about it, the bells are soothing, and i don't know if it's just because they're bells or because they bring to mind a routine that i once had (going to church). As a result i will see if i can sustain this feeling i have right now and go to church next week. I can't guarantee that i'll still want to next week, but that's my goal.

Church has become in my adult life, a more interesting place. Perhaps because i never go anymore, but when i do, it is wonderment; the stained glass, the robes, the incense - it's kinda like Ray Medina's parties (sorry Ray, i had to stick that in there). But really, there is a feeling in the ritual (and sometimes in the sermon) that there is a rejuvenation taking place if you understand church for what it is, and don't become fanatic about the religion; whatever religion it is, but yeah, maybe church followed by a hearty breakfast at Los Primos. They're both religious experiences really.

...So now i'm off to do my sit-ups and get on the horse (my red bike) and head to rehearsals...

...okay, alright, i'll shower as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

i love this wireless technology business, cuz i can (like right now) sit outside the dominican restaurant next to my house (Los Primos for thos of you who know) and do this; while listening to the old men talk shit, only some of which i get cuz there are about three different versions of a spanish dialect happening around me. right now, a woman in her thirties is arguig with her grandfather, cuz she needs to get to work and he's sitting here talking shit with the other men. it's hysTERical!!

i'm also waiting for the gas company to show up. it's one of those "we'll be there between 8AM and 1PM type deals" so i'll probably be here till 12:57; but i can't complain. i have way to much caffeine in me, so i'm getting things done at a crazy pace.

most recently, the discussion has been about the ways in which some writers' work is characterized in a particular way that doesn't allow for the full understanding of everything they've meant. i was talking with mike cirelli yesterday and on-line with fish today (who says he is examing the idea of 'struggle' in writing without the fire-spitting rhetoric). this takes me back to the work of audre lorde and june jordan, both of whom have been in their lives alternately lauded or derided amongst their peers for being 'political' poets. at the end of the day though, what being a 'political' poet means (especially within the context of the brilliance of both their work) is that one's work must be 'humanist'. their craft cannot be argued with and one of the reasons it works and hits home so exactly so often is that the work recognizes the macro and the micro of each angle it examines. when jordan writes about Princes Diana's death "...at least she was going /somewhere fast/ about love", it is not a 'love' poem. it is an understanding of the very fundamental nature of the passion for which she died underscoring all the things we might be taught to think about royalty. it is a critique (an indictment even) of whatever we might be killing ourselves for in comparison; whatever we might be allowing ourselves to drive us to the grave (pardon the pun - i couldn't help it) even as we look on in sympathy or condemnation.

similarly, lorde's work about her sister "...i presume her trustless/as a stone" (i might have misquoted that), invokes the blackness that binds them, the capitalist/racist world that tears them apart and the wholly personal pain of it all, in a way that helps us understand, that if we can solve for this complex equation, we make ourselves more aware of our world, and we make ourselves better human beings.

that neither of them became poet laureate before their deaths is a huge tragedy - not a surprise - just a tragedy. one of our responsibilities as artists is to ensure that artists around us are accorded the full scope of our attention and critique, so that in their lives (and ultimately in their deaths) their work is understood for its full context. if we can accomplish that, we hep those artists to help us be more aware of our world and make all of us better human beings. think what a waste it would be if espada or baraka or gaines or adrienne rich are dismissed into history as simply "political". we will have short-changed ourselves and limited our world.

okay, so now i'm done ranting. the jehovah witness pamphlet folks are hawking their stuff in spanish now, so it's way to surreal to talk about poetry while i could be watching this. there'll probably have to be more posts before the gas company gets here...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Last night's show at Bar 13 was an excellent one. It was the format for celebrating woman writers in which we feature women and make men read a poem by a woman if they want to read one of their own on the open mic. Our features were Loren Kleinman and Lenelle Moise.
I'm so glad to have been there last night (probably our biggest turn-out so far for the women's format). i love Loren's work and i don't get to see and hear nearly enough of Lenelle Moise; whose understanding and analysis of the politic that drives her work is so thorough that it comes through in the very craft of her poems and seems to validate her point of view in her work. This is to say that Lenelle does her work. Her poems are not political sloganeering in any way but always an examination of how her response to her world in her own life moves her toward or away from being a better human being. How much else can you ask of a human being or an artist than that?

Loren brought us form last night: villanelle, ghazal; you name it. As the last time that i heard her, the work came from a place in the gut that you wish all poems would come from, but many often don't. The craft was tight and even if the attention span of our audience drifted a bit because her performance style is somewhat more academic, those of us who took the time to pay attention came away with an understanding that her writing, her instinct were both fearless and delightful, and in the future this woman's work is going to only get larger and larger and more powerful; and we would have been able to say, we were there (or we read about her in Roger's blog) back in 2004.

Today the plumber is fixing something in the building so we have no water. i'm about to go get my toothbrush and towel and head round the corner to my ex-roomate's place so i can shower and look presentable and smell human.

yesterday i started reading again Laure Ann Boselaar's 'Hour between Dog and Wolf'. That book rocks... hard! read it! I also have to finish some commissioned work for VIA today and set up a bunch of frequent-flyer accounts and send out more info on my show...

oh - by the way. i'm having trouble getting the geocities program to work to update the schedules part of my website so let me say it here. Please come see MASQUERADE (poems of calypso and home) on September 11th at the Bowery Poetry Club at 7:30PM for the low low price of $10. Saheli is opening for me (Abena Elana and Dara) and they can SING!! I'll repeat this on my blog about ixteen more times till the show comes up...

one love - defend brooklyn!

Monday, August 16, 2004

So because i'm an idiot i haven't been able to get into my journal to post anything for a couple weeks. it's a long story. you don't want to hear it. As a result, National Poetry Slam has come and gone and i would have loved to have given you a blow by blow on it; but now it feels like stale news, so i'll leave that alone.

Meanwhile, wish Ray Medina a happy birthday if you see him. He threw us an amazing birthday party on Saturday night; complete with the underwater theme and everything. On Sunday, i went to the CD release party of Heather Blakeslee's new CD Treon's Cut Rate. For thos of you who don't know, Heather is a former employee of Poets and Writers and a friend of the LouderARTS Series since the beginning. She played in our first ever open-mic and in at least one of our anniversary shows after that. She has also featured her singer/songwriter skills for us. This is her second album and it's a good one. Her guitar skills are really really improved from the first one and finally approaching her remarkable songwriting ability. Last night was the first time she'd been on stage in about a year and a half so she was a bit tentative at first, but the work was strong and i was glad to have gone and hung out and drank beer with them afterwards (like i needed anything like an intoxicant after having been at ray's party the night before).

So i'm sorry. I'm back. I will continue to post. i will not fail you.

I'm writing a lot of stuff for the work i do with VisionIntoArt and i'm reading some interesting stuff that i'll have to tell you all about within the next few days.

one love