Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Day 5

So when I get up to the club I’m supposed to perform at last night, I find that there is a huge marquis outside with my name on it (of course, I took a picture). Panache is a jazz supper club owned by Dan (I forget what his last name is right now). Dan (a thirty-something year old black man) recently bought this club and had to deal with folks in the neighborhood trying to block his purchase of the club, saying they didn’t want any hip-hop in the neighbothood; that his club would attract the wrong element into the neighborhood. He had to fight them through the city council to eventually get the right to spend his money as he saw fit.

The club is beautiful. It is huge and has both upstairs and downstairs spaces, so conceivably two different programs can be run at once. The food is excellent. In particular the wings (I had one order and then ordered a platter of wings to take with me back to the hotel – this second order I had to make from stage as the kitchen was about to close).

The house band, Joyful Noise, was also excellent and they backed up onpen micers and me with equal aplomb, and with care not to step on the pieces they were backing up, while providing a very complementary rhythm to the work. I felt good about my set, including the last piece in which Sister Monica (the woman who killed me with her rendition of Strange Fruit the night before) accompanied me with the band to do Blue Sex Prodigy.

The poetry scene in Milwaukee is a good one. For one, they have something happening every night (which is stretching me because I don’t want to give them the same exact set every night and many of the same people are returning to all the shows). The thing that is really impressive though, is the sincerity of all the work I am hearing. For sure, there is much work on craft that many of the poets here need, but the poets I talk too are genuinely interested in getting better; and the things they are writing now, generally have crosse the first hurdle of trying to get as close as possible to the inherent truth of their subject matter and themselves, and you just can’t hate on that.

This morning, Rhonda called me and asked if I needed to do anything in and around Milwaukee and I told her I needed to go to Kinko’s and she said “What do you need, some copies?” and I said “Yes” and she said “my Dad owns a copy shop” and I said “For real?” and she said “Word Up!” so I got to make copies for significantly less than I would have at Kinkos and I got to support a grass roots black business in racist-ass Wisconsin. She also drove me around town and showed me stuff and let me take photos of weird buildings and what-not. The folks here in Milwaukee (on the poetry scene) have been very very very welcoming and make me feel very relaxed and comfortable and myself and for that I can never be grateful enough.

Tonight I perform at Taboo. I don’t know what that is, but am assured that it will be fresh and that I’ll have a good time, so I’m going to nap now, so I can get up, do some work on my show, hit the gym, eat and nap again before they come to get me at 9:30. Love y’all like I made y’all mahself…

Monday, November 15, 2004

Day 3 ½ ish

“Upon this mic I will build my church…”

So begins the ‘Still Waters’ open mic at the Mecca Night Club in Milwaukee, and so I tried to offer communion, to catch the spirit along with the audience, to represent for who we am page, performance et al.

I called a few of you all over the course of the night because I know that much of what I saw, you all would not believe. I called you so you would not blame me for being too under the influence of other substances; to say to you “this is what is happening right now – yes, there is a 300 pound woman in a leather mini-skirt and knee high stiletto boots looking at herself in the mirror and dancing. yes, there is a woman in a black and white sweat suit doing a sort of stripper dance where she managed to move her butt-cheeks independently of each other. yes, of course her cell phone is clipped onto her bosom.”

My set tonight was good. My voice was hurting a bit, but I didn’t forget anything. Folks rellay got into my set, and responded in that way that black folk and church are an interactive experience, and that feels good, even if it isn’t a measure of the quality of the work. It is a measure of what it’s making folks feel right then and that’s important too. Many of the poetry folk apologized for the hip-hop krunk after party taking place, but it was so real, so absolutely representative of an entire segment of our society, that it was beautiful and I enjoyed it. The song “That’s a bad bitch…” is remarkable, especially the line that says “you don’t have to have bad credit to be a bad bitch” and “I want a bitch with no kids or only one baby-daddy…”

Eventually Wax posits a huge existentialist question… “ So suppose you get in an accident, right; and you lose your dick; and they can give you another man’s dick as a transplant, would ya want it?”

Wax can’t get past the idea that he’d be holding another man’s penis. I’m like “yeah I’d want the new dick. it’s not another man’s dick. it’s my dick now!!” Wax is disturbed by this. Wax says he wont even wash it, because he’d be washing another man’s dick. “I’d rather die, have them pull the plug than have to hold another man’s dick…” says Wax. What would you all decide, louderARTISTS?

Meanwhile, Dasha is hooking me up with Jack Daniels and Miller Genuine Draft. Tiffany Miller picks me up from the hotel and takes me back at the end of the evening. There are gigs every night this week, and the surreality shows no sign of abating.

I’ve managed to memorize a new poem today and did ‘1986’ for the first time off-book tonight. My plan is to memorize a new one each day, so that most of my show is memorized by the time I get back.

“I love black women
like fish love swimmin’”
Taste Emcees

This is a line I heard tonight. Thank you, Jesus. I also heard a magnificent rendition of Strange Fruit by Sister Monica. Thank you, Jesus… again.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Swing State Extravaganza
Day 2 1/2ish

That’s all you need to know.
A club.
in Milwaukee.

Art’s Performing Center.
A strip club.
in Milwaukee.
That’s all you need to know about performing arts centers.

Earlier I had dinner with Laray. Dasha came and met me so we could go out and dance. So we went to Three.
house music.
I know folks probably thoink I’m overusing this term but you have not seen the places I’ve seen, the five foot dapp drunk dude in the strip joint with the pork pie hat; his stripper girlfriend with the tight red dress and the huge belly. I’m not making it up.

black never looked so good, never blossomed like a road side orchid and offered itself to the world like salvation.

Art’s Performing Center.
see you soon.

Read Osho.
That's the guy's name apparently.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Day 1

8:20PM – Central Time
I’m in a good place. I’ve got me a Jack Daniels – neat. I was really tired when I got in, so I slept for two hours, then got ujp, went to the mall across the way to buy staples to make chapbooks. The mall is huge and shiny and fascinating. Why did no one tell me about this mall phenomenon? It’s fantastic!

So I get back, I do some sit-ups, decide eventually on camouflage pants and a pink, long sleeved t-shirt as my performance get up for tonight. I rock my blue and white Puma track top over it (I’m not big on matching colors tonight).

They come to pick me up at the hotel. The comedian who’s going to perform is called Foolish. Me and Foolish ride together to the venue. Here it starts to get really weird; the gig is in the ballroom of a Masonic Lodge. Dasha, who is the organizer has been crazy on point, throughout the process of communicating with me over the past several months and co-ordinating while I’m here. The Masonic Lodge is buggin’ me out though. There are pictures of white men all over the walls with funny ceremonial hats. They have titles such as “Sovereign Prince”, “Most Wise Master”, and (get this) “Thrice Potent Master.” Sun!! what does a brother have to do to become a Thrice Potent Master?! That is some extraordinary Kung-Fu!! There are even some cats who have the mysterious title of 33 degrees. What the…?! It’slike Five PerCent Nation meets new-jack spoken word nation meets hip-hop nation except it’s all old white men. The swing state tour is indeed beginning auspiciously. The show is about to start!

Day 2

1:58PM – Central Time
Where to begin? The night really only got going after that last entry. Foolish the comedian is hiLARious!! I also had to follow him. Now, if you haven’t had to be in a gig yet where you have to follow good stand-up comedy, you have no idea how much taking your own life into your hands that can be. If a crowd is there for comedy and your ass comes up trying to read a poem, it can get real ugly, real quick. Trust me on this. I know this first-hand. The audience though was there for just about everything that was up on stage, so they stuck with it. By the time I read, I’d got to my second Jack Daniels and a Heineken. I felt really comfortable, maybe too comfortable, so I only started to feel the poems in that place in the pit of my stomach at around poem number three. For the third time in about 6 months, I forgot “Naming… and other Christian things” and had to abandon the poem in the middle. I don’t know what this means; but I think I represented in the other poems, 1986, devil in music, song for Trent Lott, blue sex prodigy, a new poem I haven’t named or typed yet, bitter ex-girlfriend poem. People dug it, bought my merch etc etc.

So then me, Foolish, Dasha and Dasha’s husband go back to their house. Dasha’s husband brings out a bottle of Cuervo 1800, talkin’ bout “Y’all aint got nowhere to be tomorrow” in that black midwestern accent just like how Syreeta talk. Foolsih start talkin’ shit and before I know it it’s 2AM, I’m eating Doritos and French Onion dip, I’m at a bar / club in the hood and I’m fucked up and feignin’ for KFC. It’s all so surreal, including the sister who I still can’t tell if it’s a sister or not, but I woke up alone this morning and I still have my merch money, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

This morning, I’ve worked out, watched ESPN GameDay and Biker Boyz the movie on HBO. The movie was interesting. It was almost a good movie. It couldn’t help but be at least aiight, cuz there were enough solid or very good actors to hold it up. Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, Lisa Bonet, Vanessa Bell Calloway etc etc. I just couldn’t figure out what the lead character’s problem was though (played by Derek Luke). It was too much angst-ridden anger that I could only vaguely trace to his resentment of Fishburne’s character, for me to believe it as motivation for his actions. In the end, it’s too sappy and made as if left deliberately open-ended so as to pave the way for the sequel.

I’ve run 2 miles and now it’s time to go run some poems. I don’t have a show tonight, so I gotta hit a club or sump’n and get my boogie on; but first, “Naming and other Christin things”, I can’t be messing up like this any more.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Over the past three days, I have spent time with Celena Glenn and Marty McConnell, co-teaching poetry workshops to 9th and 10th graders at Huntington High School in Huntington, Long Island. It has been an interesting trip.

First, let me say that the students were wonderful; inspirational. Young people almost always are. They are – even when acting out – in such a stage of self-discovery that one cannot help but be taken in by their raw honesty; their entire emotional co-operation.

Unfortunately, this is seldom something one can say about adults; and it would seem that adults in charge of the education and development of teens, routinely forget what being teenaged was about for them. True it is a different 15 year old alive today, from the the 15 year old I was, and radically different from the 15 year old of 30 years ago. Still, adolescence is always a time of testing limits, of foraging for acceptable lines of self-expression, of racing to the edge and teetering on it. As such, adolescents often clash with adults. They must; but even at their greatest loggerheads, what keeps a healthy dialogue alive between youth and the crotchety adults they will become , is respect.

I began this entry with the intent of recalling the experience and the confrontations with Huntington High faculty of the past few days, but I find that maybe this entry serves a better purpose by not bitching about my frustrations there, but by going directly to what I learned, what I felt, what was reinforced for me.

Most people will agree that much is amiss with our education system. The vast majority of our students get all the way to college without the sort of reading comprehension necessaryto make them functionally critical members of our society. The pathology of violence that is a part of our larger culture, plays itself out in schools daily in the form of a budding sociopathy – that violence, being too thick a gruel to be processed in the emotional digestive tract of our youth. Further (though this is admitted to by precious few), the opportunities afforded by education are not equal; and differ radically according to class, race and geography. Perhaps most importantly, the education system (and the administrators, counselors and teachers who find themselves entreated with a task, they are seldom given the correct tools to accomplish), appears to have been designed with no regard as to the vast differences in human development that one might encounter in individuals between the ages of 5 and 18. Standardized tests and curricula that seek to do no more than prepare a workforce (actual critical education be damned), are the norm and more and more enforced on public schools even when radical and brilliant alternatives are available.

Small wonder then, that youth throughout the country and definitely at Huntington High, have no respect for their teachers and administrators. Small wonder that youth are disdainful of those teachers who are willing only to play by rules that do not enrich their (the youths’) lives. They act out. They cuss. They are lethargic. They call in bomb threats (this happened on Wednesday). And when one tries to address this by sponsoring a campaign of non-tolerance against “potty-mouth language” (their words, not mine), is this not the grossest example of treating symptoms and pretending that the disease never existed?

So Huntington High gets its panties all in a knot because I use a poem with the word ‘shit’ in it (Willie Perdomo’s “Shit to Write about”), and because Celena says something about ‘blue balls’ in a poem; suggesting that they’ll have a more difficult time getting students to respect their campaign and respect their faculty if they see that “sort of language” condoned in the poetry workshops. So apparently, I walk into Huntington High and in three days have the power to endorse foul language and create a climate of disrespect that will then get completely out of hand. No-one thinks that the thousand-odd students booing the faculty in the auditorium when they try to speak is indicative of a more systemic failing that stopping the word “shit” in their hallways will not solve; and when you take away the outlet of language as a mode for expression (a young man was suspended because he said ‘fuck’ out loud, in disgust because he couldn’t get into his locker), how do youth act out? I’m sure most can fill in the blanks here with any of a number of Columbine-esque anecdotes.

What we do as poets then, and when we do it in the context of going into schools is more important than ever. In the world we now live in of fixed elections, right-wing, capitalist Christianity, that gets into bed with right-wing capitalist Judaism, that rolls around with right-wing narrow Islam, to feed us ideas of what we’re supposed to think about sex, about foreigners, about tomorrow, about money, we are potentially the valve that relieves the pressure; the pressure that a need to talk, to scream, to communicate, to cry, creates. Dialogue is important with one another and with the youth who already have the solutions in their heads if we listen to them enough, if we create spaces for them to share them with us; and to share without judgement, censorship or censure. Every day, educators must re-evaluate the ‘whys’ of their teaching, seek out new pedagogies and grind through new ways of understanding and communicating. It is our responsibility to figure out how we plan to get to the next place; to help our children get there. It is critically important. We live in a dangerous time. Goddamn! shit! fuck! we need to bequeath them a new way to learn.

Okay, onto other things. yesterday in my neighborhood, i saw in the discount store, an item identified as a "Latino Blanket". The packaging for the blanket said clearly, and in block letters "LATINO BLANKET". While i feel i can with some measure of accuracy identify a Latino poet when i see one, or even a Latino appointee for Attorney General under Bush (who'd probably call himself Hispanic anyway - sorry, little aside there), or even a Latino... mailman, i don't think i'd be able to identify a Latino Blanket, especially when the packaging also includes a picture of a panda. I know of no Latino countries (or Hispanic ones for that matter) to which the panda is indigenous, though some clue might be had as to this curious occurence from the tag that said "Made in China." Still, how does one decide that one will deem a blanket as Latino or Asian for that matter? What does a blanket have to do to earn the tag, Latino? I can hear the jokes right now. Rich, Oscar, Jessica, help me please! Mara, help me please. Only you can understand this level of surreal. Ray, help me please!

In other news, this is day 1 of my swing state tour. I'm in a dope-ass hotel room in Milwaukee getting down on some room service, and getting ready for my gig tonight. There'll be daily updates...

Saturday, November 06, 2004

So my brother, Jamil just got on a bus and Kendra just got on a plane to return to Toronto and Chicago respectively and we have no house guests for the first time in three months. I've been really lethargic today and am only just getting some work done (getting some work done on Satirday night; that's just great). This is one of those days when everything feels overwhelming. I feel like i've taken a day off and now i have to leave for three weeks or so and i don't have things done that need to be done and i feel kinda flat and i'd better get at least my show in order and decently memorized while i'm on the road. it's also time for me to sit down with all my poetry peeps and talk... poetry and all things related for the first time since the election. so now, i'll go find something like a drink and begin the plotting...

Friday, November 05, 2004

i'm not sure exactly what to say or do next, but the results of the election remind us that we have a whole lot more work to do than getting the vote out. fortunately, i think most of us in the louderARTS project (and the arts in general) already knew that, but this moves us into even more interesting times because i think it asks of our work an even more direct question. what does your work do? i think that most of us (in the project and immediate surroundings) needn't worry about that question showing us up as wanting, but it's still good for us to have ourselves checked like this; because our work needs to do something in the line and in the intent and in the metaphor and in the conceit and in the narrative... and in all the ways that translates into our daily lives. all of us believe in things like the potential of real equal opportunity, the eradication of sexism, the liberation of sexuality from patriarchy and religion, gender equity, the liberation of the poor through new education pedagogy, the abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex etc; but it is difficult to abandon all the things in which we are so comfortable to make the changes in our individuallives that might eventually ensure that it spreads to those around us and to the communities we all infect like so many wonderful viruses. What this siege on truth (because this is what the next four years is) means, is that we need to be ever vigilant about our self-examination; about questioning our own practices of sexism. How do we respond towomen in positions of power? How do we respond to homosexuals in our personal space? Do we buy products made by the Prison Industrial Complex? How do we treat people/devalue women with more liberal sexual agendas (question for both men and women)? How do we approach the question of race? Do we make real and concerted attempts to understand the histories that have brought us to the time and place and condition we inhabit? How do we continue to be classist in the way in which we treat others? How are we destructively nationalist (American and otherwise)? And perhaps most importantly, how does this understanding of our differences translate into a celebration of our commonalities and to our ability to treat people in every single situation with the sort of love that might eventually heal? I can go out on a limb and say that in principle we probably all aspire toward this kind of enlightenment. In truth, we fall short of it as often as we manage to live by it. Now is a gut check time to tighten the bonds amongst us as a group, so that in our work (the poetry) and in our work (of living), we might create the bonds necessary in our larger communities to withstand the siege that is now upon us. So talk to one another. What are we doing next? What are we writing next? How do we plan to fight? What is the next thing about yourself you want to work on? Let's roll our sleeves up and get down to work.
way in which we interact? How do we promote unhealthy nationalism(American and otherwise)?And perhaps most importantly, how does thisunderstanding of our differences translate into a celebration of ourcommonalities and to our ability to treat people in every singlesituation with the sort of love that might eventually heal?I can go out on a limb and say that in principle we probably allaspire toward this kind of enlightenment. In truth, we fall short ofit as often as we manage to live by it. Now is a gut check time totighten the bonds amongst us as a group, so that in our work (thepoetry) and in our work (of living), we might create the bondsnecessary in our larger communities to withstand the siege that is nowupon us.So talk to one another. What are we doing next? What are we writingnext? How do we plan to fight? What is the next thing about yourselfyou want to work on? Let's roll our sleeves up and get down to work.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Weeeeellllllll... It's done; and we haven't managed to get Bush out of office. I don't know how much moral victory to say the high voter turnout represents. If Bush ran roughshod over the country after having not won four years ago; imagine what his attitude will be now. My brother Jamil pointed out that the battle-ground states and the purely Republican States are eerily reminiscent of the divisions that created the Civil War.

So now, what to do? For those of us who want America to move in a direction that takes care of its poor and sick; that seeks international brotherhood with other nations; that examines its own past and present of racism and imperialism and works avidly to exorcise it, the work is now way deep underground and behind the scenes. We have to facew the fact that getting Kerry in office would not have been the end-all of our goal in the first place and that now that we've suffered a setback, the grassroots work is even more necessary. It will be more necessary to work with kids, to protest, to take to the streets, to write, to dare to empower the disenfranchised etc etc.

Perhaps more than ever, Americans; those of us who've lived here all our lives who take for granted our patterns of consumption and utter privelege; need to do even more self-examination than before. We need to understand our own biases, our own bigotry and our own selfishness as evidenced by our gross patterns of consumption and realize that our lives will at some point have to get much worse if we are to make our world a more fulfilling one of which to be a part.

So here goes; i feel like i have to be more honest; guard my personal integrity more fiercely if i'm to affect the world positively; if i'm to counteract any of the new fucked-up energy that resides in the world. So here's my first act... go look up Corinna Bain's work and read it. She's amazing. She's a genius. For some reason, i think i need her poems today. Google her and contact her and ask her to mail you a chapbook...

word - later

Monday, November 01, 2004

10:05AM - Friday Oct 29 - Jury Duty

I've already been here an hour and a half. I've been up since 6, so i could see Anthony off to the airport. i wasn't able to actually ride with him to the airport because of this sucky jury duty thingie.

So after almost 2 mths here on vacation, Anthony is returning home; to his wife and child who've been inquiring after his return from the moment he landed here. i miss him already. i hadn't thought that having him around day in day out could feel so natural again; so much like we're supposed to live in the same town. Having him around has been a beautiful groundedness; often live confirmation of all the things i already think and am not sure about.

So back to this jury duty thing. I've had rehearsals for the VisionIntoArt production of 'A Tough Line', every evening since Tuesday (will have rehearsal again tonight at 6 and then tomorrow from 11AM to 6PM,) so i'm really not feeling jury duty till 5Pm this afternoon. I understand all about civic duty and stuff, but it's hard to think that the court system needs me to assist them in their part of the larger Prison Industrial Complex conspiracy (i know not all cases end up in prison or are criminal cases; just sayin'...)

My name has been called. I'm now in the empanelling area. I'm about to be empanelled (that doesn't sound right), but first i have to fill out the Voir Dire questionnaire, before i am empanelled (this is kinda like wood panelling a room with the people in it, i think).

I've filled out the questionnaire. I'm hungry. I wish i was waiting uselessly in the airport having a last beverage with Anthony before he left. I've had about 2 and a half hours sleep, and at this rate i wont get a siesta. But i still have a few tricks up my sleeve. I'll get out of here yet...

I've been excused from this case. They pulled me out of the room and questioned me and everything. Basically, it came down to the question of whether or not i'd be willing to apply a law i thought to be unjust as long as it was the law and the judge said that was the law that had to be applied. i said no. They said that if i was on the jury i'd be compelled to apply the law the judge said to apply. i said i wouldn't apply it anyway. they asked if i thought the system was fair as a whole. i said no. They wanted to know why i thought so. i said "you're lawyers! you already know why!" Then i told them that the entire legal system has been historically designed to protect particular classes while shafting others and that where i saw laws that i thought were unjust, my conscience wouldn't allow me to apply it. Then they said "aiight den. Beat it!"

A funny thing happened on my way to being disgusted at having to be here. I found that if i took their questions seriously and answered them truthfully that it automatically made me inappropriate as a juror. And i think that's unfortunate, that i can't even believe in the possibility of the fairness of our legal system enough to say "Yes, I can apply and will apply any law the judge instructs me to apply". I am also very aware that i am not unusual in this, and i wonder what percentage of the citizenry has to be similarly faithless before we can say that our society and its laws; the infrastructure by which it gets folks to toe the line - has broken down. Clearly enough people are answering these questions sufficiently well enough for cases to be tried everyday. But how many of those folks are answering truthfully and are going on cases they have no bias towards etc etc. i dunno...


i'm not feeling well and so i've run away from jury duty. it's lunch time and i've jumped on my bicycle and pedaled away from jury duty as fast as i can. they can't catch me now. i have to call on monday and tell them why i didn't wait for my name to be called on another case; but for right now, i'm doing about 40 mph on Tillary street, onto Park Avenue, onto Bedford Street. i absolutely cannot be caught...

it's lunch