Saturday, October 23, 2004

Night before last i went to see "The Motorcycle Diaries", a movie about the cross-continent trip undertaken by a pre-revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, with his friend Alberto, across South America. Bosed on both men's diaries of the trip and letters written by Guevara, the trip is supposedly the 'light bulb' that switches on for Guevara. His travels drag him out of the illusion of his own comfort, across a land seething with pain and injustice for most of its indigenous people; and plants the seed for Guevara that makes him want to abandon plans for a future in medicine, in order to make palpable change for the people who need it.

There is the obvious point of interest for me; the continued investigation and attention to the inequities of the world, that i like to think my writing is about sometimes, and that story highlights some of the naivete that i think i foolishly live in sometimes; the idea that if we could only drag people out of their comfort and show them how other people have to live, then even the most apathetic of us would "get it".

Yet, there is something more about Guevara's personality that makes this movie - and pardon the cliche - inspirational. Guevara is depicted as being honest, almost to a fault; and of being stubborn, almost to a fault. This sens of fair play coupled with his stubbornness and dogged determination (the climactic river scene features him swimming the river that separates the medical staff of a leper colony from its patients, so he can spend the night of his birthday with the lepers) is what i must conclude are responsible for the path he eventually takes. After all, he must have had some sense of that when he decided to specialize in leprosy, as opposed to some of the other glamorous specializations in the field of medicine. The question is though; where does one develop so fierce a sense of fair play in a world that suggests in every moment, that one's own gain is all one is required to look after?

The other poignancy that stays with me is in one of the scenes depicting injustice, in which a mining company comes to a meeting point to pick up men to work (all dark-skinned Indio men) at the mines. Most all the men have been forced off the land by developers at some point in time and are forced to seek day labor like this to eke out a living for themslves and their families. The irony is of course that, that scene (and a couple others in the movie) plays itself out every day right here in the U.S.; amongst migrant workers in California, day laborers in Jackson Heights, Queens and hundreds other locations in the country.

Guevara fought for the opportunity of disenfranchised folk in South America, in Cuba, in the Congo, to share equitably in the spoils of their nations. Still, a more complex tale (whether movie or scholarly discourse) will explore Guevara's reconciliation of his beliefs with the violence it took to wage his revolutions, and what some say was some of the bloodiest repression tactics ever employed. Of course, the revolution with which he is most commonly associated is the Cuban revolution that deposed Batista in 1959. That is an examination for another work of... art...

Still, "The Motorcycle Diaries" is excellent as movies go. Gabriel Bernal's (don't know if i got his name right) portrayal of Che is masterful. It would have been easy to over act this; to play Che the budding hero rather than Che the man (albeit often outrageous man) and throughout the progression of the character we see the building of the manifesto within the man. Even his portrayal of Che's asthmatic bouts are incredibly well acted. Filmed on location in the routes taken by Ernesto and Alberto themselves, the mvie is also full of breathtakingly beautiful scenes of the Argentine pampas, the Chilean mountains and the Amazon River and forest.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

i've always been a sports fan. as a boy i would spend countless hours in my yard - alone or with the boys from next door (anthony, ancil, andy) - playing all maner of sports. we concentrated mostly on cricket and football, but even when i was alone, i dreamed up elaborate systems in which i'd be surrounded by international superstars in my chosen sport of the day, and find a way to complete entire matches in which i was the bowler, the batsman, the kicker, the goalkeeper, the fielders, what-have-you.

i watched NASCAR and track and field with equal obsession. i played badminton like it was tackle football and talked shit at table tennis, basketball or marbles. young men are conditioned to take an interest in sports (more than young women are in most parts of the world) and as sport has always been - since someone thought of it way back in the beginning of civilization - it remains, preparation and metaphor, for war. the earliest sports (sprinting, discuss, javelin, jumping etc) were meant to develop skills particularly at use in combat; keep warriors trained, their bodies primed, even in times of peace, and most sports developed since have utilised some combination of these talents (including strategy) to prepare men for war through time. indeed, some sports were developed specifically out of war time activity (football-soccer has its roots in some garish combination of english-scottish activity involving the kicking around of the heads of one's enemies).

in the world of modern sport teams are still connected to cities (or countries) to which their fans are fiercely loyal, even to the point of violence and on whom the emotional psyche of its town or nation is dependent. if this sounds like overstatement, visit Brazil during the World Cup of Football, visit New Zealand during a Rugby Test Match, visit Australia during cricket season or... visit Game 7 of the New York Yankees vs the Boston Red Sox.

i don't like boston; the city. it is conservative, hostile to people of color and i feel largely alien when i'm there. i've lived in new york for the last 17 years so i am a fan of new york's teams (even though folks try to tell me i'm not allowed to be both a fan of the yankees AND the mets). still, one cannot deny the fascinating quest to break the 'curse of the bambino' that boston has been on for the last 86 years, and the major step they took last night to accomplishing it. they came from three games down to win emphatically in the last game and every cliche about war/sport could be applied. the beleaguered warrior who came back to pitch well-enough in the series to give his team a chance to come back (martinez), an injured soldier leading the charge (schilling) and a maligned squad leader who came through to destroy the enemy when it seemed he might not be a factor at all (damon).

there is something perverse in me that wants to root for boston the rest of the way. i like martinez' honesty and all-out pitching style. i like manny ramirez ability to change a game (even when you have no idea if he's going to be brilliant or bone-headed in defense). i like ortiz' steadiness, his ability to produce everyday and still be absolutely fearsome in the clutch. i like that cabrera has filled garciaparra's shoes without ever looking like he cared how they laced-up. in short, i like dem dominicans, who must look around boston and wonder how the fuck they ended up the heroes of a town that tried to convince us that larry bird was the greatest basketball team ever. pedro martinez maintained that boston isn't really fond of black folk and they tried to hang him for that; then he won the Cy Young award and they pretended he'd never said it or that it didn't matter.

so i'm rooting for boston's black beans in this upcoming series (that's you too Pokey Reese and dave Johnson), no matter what the team does. May all curses be lifted; the bambino AND the one in the white house, may there be a 7-game series and balmy weather, may the world series champions fete themselves with Rum and mamajuan, and soak this bitter root of a town in something rich.

Monday, October 18, 2004

So, we (the LouderARTS Project) co-hosted a reading and an after party for Rattapallax Magazine and Casagrande, which featured Yusef Komunyakaa, Martin Espada and Cecilia Vicuna among others. The after-party featured Espada and Vicuna, so the star-struckness was in full effect. i missed the reading itself. i was at Cleo's birthday shindig (and Cleo feeds me often and for free so there's no missing Cleo's birthday celebrations).

I've written a couple of things - one because Laura asked me for a poem for her birthday (and it turned out halfway decent), the other because i taught the second installment of the LouderARTS workshop yesterday and i got a poem out of the exercise i gave the class. i haven't posted a poem here for a minute so here's the poem, first draft, straight out the note book. feel free to e-mail me or post your comments right on here or on my guestbook thingie on the website...

it was the pain
that got her first - the root of him
buried in the Sunday morning
Southern belle of her
fistful of hair - everything
howling like a moon

the sour mash smell of him
and the biting -
all she could think about
was Rivers
and then grass
and the smell of ladybugs

as she dug her fingernails
into the marrow of who
he was never going to be
and dragged...

The neighbors say
they knew by the roar
that the man was tumbling
that the woman was in love
had become a blues pitch
so high they forgave her
for being in Harlem

After that day
she couldn't stop loving
her own nipples touching them
devouting herself in the mirror
inventing fascinating stories
for the mystery under the massive bush
between her legs
All the stories ended in pain
fistfuls of orgasms
and one single tear
for the rivers
and the grass
and the ladybugs

she still loves the taste
of blood under her fingernails
she will fall in love again
the pain will be an organ wail
too much to bear too sweet
for the neighbors to forgive

So that's it. i have to go teach the kids who got into a fight week before last at our first class. God bless 'em.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

okay so here's something else for today...

The English Bible: October 4 in literary historyOn this day in 1535 the first complete English translation of the Bible was printed in Z├╝rich, Switzerland. Not only is this book great literature (particularly the Old Testament narratives from the King James version) it is without a doubt the most influential single text in the history of the written English language. Biblical allusions are found in nearly every important writer's work from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Like any great book, this one is subject to HUGE misinterpretation and corruption. It's been said (with good reason) that any point of view conceivable to man or woman can be justified with quotes from 'the good book.'

"The bible contains 6 admonishments to homosexuals and 362 to heterosexuals. This doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals, it's just that they need more supervision." --Lynn Lavner
6:30AM and i can't sleep. this has been happening for the last hour and a half. could have to do with the 6 pints of beer last night watching the yankee game; could be i just have too much to do and think about so my brain is overthinking.

anyhoo, coupla things. Get Sharon Olds' "Blood, Tin, Straw". i think she accomplishes in that collection with even more clarity and brilliance, what she accomplishes in "The Father", The Gold 'something or other' (i don't have the book with me here right now) and maybe even in "The Wellspring", which is also very very good. I like "Blood..." though, for the absolute bravery, the tightness of all her metaphors and the ability to make connections between events and make them seamless within the poem in a way that left me open-mouthed at the end of many of them.

I've been panicking because i haven't written anything new in over a month (except for this one ghazal i just got done for the VisionIntoArt show), but Olds' work has jogged a coupla new things. these days i'm doing a lot of reading (i also just re-read Li-Young Lee's "Book of My Nights") and i've decided that every morning before i work out i'll read one poem. So far, i've happened upon Yeats "The Second Coming" and Walcott's "The Saddhu of Couva" as my last two (i didn't read any yesterday becasue i didn't work out). today i'm going to pick something out of Mark Doty's new book which i haven't opened yet.

I'm also working on improvements for "Masquerade" on December 3. I've asked Mara Jebsen to be my special guest and she even said yes and that's spectacular because her work is so so so good and between her wonderfully eclectic songs and excellent poems, a whole bunch of my friends are going to hear some stuff they might never have heard otherwise.

Other than that i'm trying not to think about the elections. i'm trying not to think about the worst-case-scenario (y'all know what i mean - i don't want to mention it and conjure it like a spell; y'all shouldn't mention it either). i am intrigued though about what our policitcal consciousness will become (or un-become) when Kerry wins. will we get more involved becaue we see that action and involvement can work or will we become complacent again, and wait for the next Bush to show up before we understand how much we're under siege by the right-wing every day?

there'll be more tomorrow. i'm headed to the trinidad and tobago consulate today for an award ceremony for a trinidadian poet named pearl eintou springer who's known me since i was like... not drinking yet...

my friend roshnie, from south africa is also in town so it should be a good evening.


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Saturday October 2, 8:10PM - Geraldine R. DodgePoetry Festival

So now i find myself at the Dodge Poetry Festival in the Main Stage tent listening to Joyce Carol Oates, whose reading has been a little difficult to listen to. It is the third day of the festival. I've done my seminars and reading already on Thursday (the first day) and the rain fell all day, so now i'm fighting the flu but giddy from the star-struck excitement of being around the superstar poets of my time: Komunyakaa, Clifton, Mark Doty (who remembered me from the panel we shared in Connecticut three summers ago), Sharon Olds, Cecilia Vicuna, Galway Kinell, Donald Hall, Philip Levine and on and on and on...

The experience has been of course very educational. To hear Lucille Clifton open her mouth at all feels like blessing. In her panel (about Poetry and Class), she said "i come to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". After you think about that kinda Confucius-like shit even coming out of an individual's mouth in the course of conversation and how absolutely Jedi-master that is; it encapsulates everything i think poems should do . I wish that ability on my poems and the poems of anyone attempting to write them. But perhaps one of the most interesting things about these poets, all of them great and heavily-accoladed, is their humility in the face of the task of the word. There is no mastering of this beast for any of them, and i find in that a lesson of its own worth learning; not that i've ever felt that mastering this art was a possibility, but it is helpful to recognize that writers with Pulitzer prizes and Fellowships and all sorts of awards, still all talk about wrestling with the poem, with the craft, with the meaning.

But of them all, Cecilia Vicuna (tilde on the 'n') is so far, my most transformative experience. Yesterday on the shuttle back to the hotel, i had a chance to speak with her (probably the only featured poet here with a sense of 'performance' about her work). She was delightfully solicitous of my star-stricken conversation, and i felt comfortable enough (and geek enough) to offer her one of my CDs. But now i've had a chance to see her entire set and from her opening piece (which began in the multi-thousand seated audience), to her "receive the host of the wounded word" to her declaration that text be "danced and abandoned", Vicuna's work was so absolutely scintillating, and aware of its world; a melange of always dynamic sound and meaning that it felt most of the time that it was more than just her observations and recollections and lines pushed deep into my stomach, but that every whisper, every word sung into note, every grito was in service of the poem. And that poem might not be line, it might be silence or laugh or her hand raising from the podium as she talks about "the mist rising back up from the waterfall to heal". I could go home now, but Philip Levine is on and he's doing it up right. i'll be back...

Sunday October 3. 2:00PM

...and while the geraldine R. Didge Poetry Festival has been great, there's no denying the dearth of diversity here. While the feature poets and many of us from the 'Poets Among Us' are excellent writers, i can think of any number of writers who are comparable or better who would have diversified both the cast of poets and the audience attending (which tended to be largely white, middle class and older). If the festival is dedicated to the prolifeartion of poetry throughout (which i'm assuming it is) then its got to appeal to the massive youth and people of color movement in contemporary poetry if it is ti have any lasting legitimacy. A poetry festival of this magnitude and potential impact should not (if it's keeping anything real) go without a panel discussing the relevance of hip-hop culture in modern poetics, since they're all affected by it whether or not they think so. I do understand that without us (youth, peoples of color) the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival will still retain its prestige, but it runs the risk of becoming as irrelevant as many youth think poetry is, if it doesn't activele and aggresively seek out work from a wider sphere of writers.

Still, i managed to hear - after Cecilia Vicuna yesterday - some brilliant brilliant work from Philip Levine, and this morning heard an excellent panel featuring GK Williams, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty and Franz Wright on the Sacred and Profane in Poetry. The evening closed with hearing sets of work from GK Williams, an Israeli poet whose name i can't remember now but will let you know of later when i find the program cuz he's dope as hell, Lucille Clifton (may God be praised) and Sharon Olds, whose ability to craft a poem out of thin air is unfathomable to me. I've just got done reading Franz Wright's "The Beforelife". Get this book. Read it. It is really bugged and beautiful. I'll post and interview of his later...