Friday, January 21, 2011

new poem...

Amandla County Folksong
- for Crys.

by a beautiful birthright
i was born the peasant-boy for this pixel era - the 300
pound pauper onscreen at 72 dpi; the daydreamer behind
the Poro mask. i’ve always lean’d into book-learning, 
it reinforces what stargazing has reveal’d: that above all,
to not revel in you should be avoid’d. i watch you as you
wii / my dark eyes peering at you between pages, line
counts, stanza breaks. your black skin pierces the night
like the Eye Of God, his insights ignited and me with
a perspiration of pot-liquor & blues, thick & combustible.
this desire-daub sizzles, drop’d into sly-look’s molten oil.
i see you in all your glory, there is Genesis in your dance
steps. by what Igbo spell does the dry air between us resist
retardants, awaiting the aflamation of kiss / the necessary
ablution of spit against skin / the abscission of tongue
against tongue? in the belly of my head i hunger you. at
your touch a willing skin hisses steam. we two are drench’d
instantaneously; my poems are a song for the Auset in you
with Shango’s palms entangl’d in the thickets at her nape,
plying between shoulder blades, collarbones & thighs. but
i am but a pauper and you are pokeweeds & the perfection
of onyx. Bennu rebuilds his nest within my breath for you.
the synthetic sugar i use in coffee helps me to stir up
the myth, my black poems sandwich’d between the diabetic
breads of my aesthetic: i lay my plates before you / on your
lap, at your feet. i only want to un-famish you and ‘tho i am
half a loaf of a man i am made of no loose chaff, this recipe-me
is sacred & golden & carnal, in this vein i am cosmic. and from
my open paws i give you this crust, the crevices & the crests;
my all & all. i crumble solstice where you are somber, solemn,
in need of solace - by right of a beautiful birth, i beg you,
QueenMother, to eat of me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

my bs bio bo

the tale-end of my pdf chapbook...

shovelin’ dirt, my bullshit autobiographical body odor
(a Q and A session between a fool and his Orishas... or maybe a dream)


Elegbara: so... you’re gonna put all this shit off on us, hunh? the delusions,
        the hallucinations, your penchant for bourbon poured over ice cream,
        your OCD, the    typos... you’re saying all of that is our fault?

brothadirt: (undecipherable mumbling)

Jesus: excuse me, but could you please lean into the microphone when answering.
        thank you.

brothadirt: (over feedback from fumbling, making adjustments to the mic)
        -ammit, i SAID yes! you hear me now? whuuh... whuuh...

brothadirt's son Jordan, who lived 4 hours in 1988: daddy, please... dont blow into the mic.
        i swair you have no home-training sometimes. embarrassin’.

Elegbara: brothadirt, elaborate.

brothadirt: “elaborate.”     “elaborate.”     “e... l... a... b...”

Yemoja: sir, this is not a spelling bee. Elegba was asking you to explain yourself.

brothadirt: oh. okay. gotcha. you know, i’ve been up all night making last minute edits
        anshit. working on art. its kinda hard to concentrate at times. plus,
        i see that Coyolxauhqui is watching one life to live and i’m trying not to
        hear what’s happenin’ between Sammy and EJ... i have tivo and i’m wantin’ to
        watch this later on when i get home.

Sun Ra: i pegged you as a young and the restless type of guy...

brothadirt: yes, i was raised young and restless. but after i met Crystal i converted.

(Sun Ra nods and Coyolxauhqui cuts the sound down)

(brothadirt continues)

brothadirt: “elaborate” - well, you all know what haunts me, but for the purposes of
        establishing this on record, i’ll recant my testimony...

Yemoja: you mean “reiterate”... surely you’re not wanting to ‘disavow’ yourself.
        and sir, could you please refrain from rolling your eyes. please.

brothadirt: sista, you KNOW i would never be that disrespectful to you; if it comes
        across that way then please forgive me. i’ve got these moles around my
        eyes and sometimes they itch. i was merely stretching my brow-muscles
        trying to scratch my lids without touching my face. that make sense?
        but you’re right... i didnt mean ‘recant’.
        (googles for the correct definition of ‘reiterate’ on his blackberry)
        well. i was born in louisville. kentucky.

Sun Ra: I OBJECT! you only think you were born in louisville, kentucky. but you,
        my child, are a son of saturn. continue.

brothadirt: never been to saturn. but i’ve heard nice things. we always talkabout
        retiring there someday. but i’ve been working part-time in a used-book
        store since i moved to lexington, so, i think ‘retirement’ and ‘quitting’
        will be one-and-the-same. i do think my moon was in saturn when i was
        born, if that’s any consolation. but i’m jus’ guessing at that right now.

        uh, i ramble. you all know that.
        i have no problem with yall prodding me to get the answers you want.
        i have a movie-date with Crystal when she gets home and i sorely need
        to shower and put some smellgood on.

Fela Kuti: rambling is beautiful. it’s okay for your stage presence to carry on and on
        for days at a time.

Elegbara: (shakes head... sighs... drops head into palms, turns to some of the blues
        men on the panel for support)

(Junior Kimbrough just shrugs. Muddy Waters is smoking reefer and drinking
        champaign and defers to John Lee Hooker, himself drinking a beer;
        John Lee looks up, taps cigarette ashes into a tray, then waves his the
        back of his hand in brothadirt’s general direction.)

John Lee: uh... boogie on, children.

brothadirt: yes... yes. i will. thank you sir for your eloquence. let me just say how         much
        i deeply admire tonight’s entire panel.
        (nods to Romare, Ahmose of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, Lucille Clifton,
        and the other honored Egungun held in high esteem)
        let me start at the beginning:
        my government name is ronald davis.
        in keeping to the time honored tradition of my african, native american
        and hip-hop-emcee ancestors, i changed my name to ‘upfromsumdirt’
        taking from an old poem i wrote in which i figuratively said
        “i’m up from some dirt, like a pyramid.”
        back when i was starting to truly come into my own natural voice
        as a descendent-looking-in of the black arts movement.
        (grabs mic, stands up, motions to the background singers to cue up)

dirt continues:
as you all know and i’m REITERATING (thumbs up sign to sistaYemoja) i’m haunted by africa-america’s lack in mythological narrative. i cant imagine sitting down to tuck my grandchildren into bed telling them origin-stories that begin with
“and the heaven’s opened up, a gang-plank descended, and out stepped america’s black-assed-children-of-God in chains and shackles.” (shudders)
every child needs to know they come from somewhere magical. mythological. my own motto has been for years “a people without the science to turn their folktales into tradition are not respected by the world at large as an empowered people or a culture to be recognized, worthy of romanticism.” i mean, sometimes i dont say it like that... the words change at times, but that’s the gist of it. i just added ‘romanticism’, but yeah. that.

so as an artist, i’m always attempting to fill in the void - not the definitive historical stuff, because others are already doing so. my job as a black creative (and i have to be “a black creative” because there is still a need for us to champion an honorable black aesthetic. the art and sciences we create are still lumped under the label of second-hand-citizenry, we still tend to draw from the european classics while ignoring the vast volumes of africa’s and africa-america’s largely ignored narratives. black bookstores are gone. black newspapers have bitten the dust. our black magazines are owned by non-black foreigners and this is truly acceptable under america’s assimilated lifestyle.
a lifestyle that is based on universal-liberalism (in vision, not in practice) that is still based on the traditions of those who only know ‘black art’ by way of the media, grade school, and/or stereotype-as-the-easy-answer.

Granmama Lizzie: all this talkn is makin’ my stomach hurt. yall niggas are gonna mess         around and make me late for bingo, shit.

still dirt: i mean, even black folks hold these common beliefs about their own culture, because it is something that is fed to us from our t.v. sets and internet connections, not something that is raised organically within our own homes... so we shrug and say, “well, if they say this is how black people™ are on t.v., then who am i to say otherwise. and where are those visibly acknowledging an alternative or counter- position?” the internet is cool, but the information existing on it is transient and always in flux as information is transferred from one-cool-website-to-the-next-one.
then it all fizzles, begins again. momentums are lost. the calvary only comes for ‘the assimilated us’ and never for those of us attempting to master the serious-concept.
and when it does swing low to carry us, it is never to the homes we recognize or hope for. in this extra-digital era, the most lasting truth is the one you can touch and hold.
america holds onto its cellphones more than anything else. you can maintain an informed culture this way, but its difficult, in my opinion, to achieve an academic culture using digital technology as our reference guides.

Jam Master Jay: so what is your position on the state of hiphop these days? can you
        elaborate about the disappearance of the urban dj in rap culture?

brothadirt: man, now you’re askin me to say sumshit. i aint got that kinda time. this is
        a chapbook, afterall. i’m already nearing 30 pages and my internet
        provider says i’m dangerously close to going over the bandwidth levels
        previously authorized.     but yeah, hiphop sucks, fareal.

Elegbara: you tip the scales at 270 pounds with your fat ass... you still claiming to be a
        vegetarian? my concerns are incredulous.

brothadirt: i’ll have words with you later out back.

Elegbara: dont bring a knife, you know how i roll. so if your ‘words’ for me dont
        begin with “you know, i was way out of line” then we might be talkn’
        ‘final words’ here. you hear me?

brothadirt: yes, suh. i hear you.

Elegbara: it wasnt even a question.

Zora: gentlemen, mind the testosterone levels, please. the warning signal is flashing.

(both parties suck their teeth)

Father Ptah: i think this is a good time to end this meeting. let’s adjourn until
        tomorrow and then resume the interro, the interview, tomorrow between
        9 and 10. (slams gavel)

(Elegbara pulls upfromsumdirt aside, his rough hand clasping harshly the nape of brothadirt’s neck)

Elegbara: i got my eye on you fatboy.

brothadirt: i wouldnt have it any other way...

Elegbara: as it should be.

• by law, they exchange dap. cellphones begin whirling; laptops are booted up;
everyone retreats to their own respective shadows...

Elegbara stops in his tracks, turns and hollers back in dirt’s direction... wants to know
if Granmama Lizzie is seein’ anybody. thinks twice about it/waves dirt off...
        Penumbra-Prime decides to handle his interests hisself.

Elegbara: hey, sistaLizzie... you need a ride to bingo? i got camels... or a cadillac,
        if that’s what you’d prefer. i can take you where you want, i got keys.
        i know a good place for catfish. i know a place where the coffee is good.
        everywhere i go i get a real good reception.... join me sista,
            jus’ join me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

romancing the (soap)stone... part 1

(i'm a hermit by nature, so thank Olodumare this 'internet' thingie is good at
hiding wizards behind curtains! and now, once again, i throw the switch...)

adolescence was burdensome to me, the whole 'coming of age' thing while having both feet planted in culturally parallel worlds. the one, the so-called 'mainstream america' - you already know it, the one where (hold on, let me read it straight from the sociologist's textbook) "chirrens of all races and ethnic backgrounds mix, mingle and melt into an amalgam of theoretically patriotic pastes while maintaining the universally exploitative standards that help categorize this great american nation!"

high school epitomized that exact ideal: let's segregate the "top" scholastic talent (i.e, "non-threatening-looking") of black children in our school system from the core group of black students we cant identify with and place them for the duration of their high school experience within the classroom of "top" white students (i.e, also "non-threatening-looking", but smattered with the "popular-pretty" and the "popular-dumb jock" - those best suited to take full scholastic advantage of the "studious uncool")... this meant that i was the only black guy, along with 4 black girls, in my classroom for the entire four years (the "excel program" was an experimental program - no need in placing more than one 'gifted' black male into a study group, not until we know exactly what they are capable of!)...

and you would THINK that having access to 4 intelligent sistas would be the ideal situation for a young man growing into his own, but you'd be dead wrong! blame the dumb jocks allowed to infiltrate our pavlovian setting. popular dumb white jocks have popular dumb black jock friends... if there is a dumb jock in your current professional group he exists only as a conduit for the dumb jocks on the outside to come raid the cookie jar as they "convince" you its for the common good (meaning, none of your stupid geek business!). a single black nerd cant compete against jock-osmosis... it's a brutal system based on wins-and-losses, not a grading curve... meanwhile, its me hanging out with the 'big-bang-theory-prototypes' - we speak D&D quite fluently, draw our own comic books and write poems about killing our chem teacher. outside of my white male excel-program constituents, i am not considered "a catch", on any level... and then, after 4 years of high school camaraderie, your closest white friends think you're all cool enough with each other that one of them can start telling 'nigga jokes' - to be fair, george carlin and richard pryor were the comedic icons at that time. that doesnt excuse them and it effectively ended any sense of friendship i thought was built up, but we had all grew up watching george jefferson shout 'honkie' into the faces of his 'friends' over a laugh track. plus eddie murphy had emerged onto the scene, becoming the most famous by exploiting the 'nigga stereotypes' - buckwheat, the ghetto mr. rogers, black panther parodies, etc... the pendulum got stuck in its swing between 'angry black men' and 'shuckin and jivin black men'... the early 1980's was all about the angry-shuckin-and-jivin black man. supposedly far enough removed from the civil rights era to as not be offended by the social equivalent of racism's second-hand smoke.

but i wasnt that cool and i knew there was still a need for politics; that 'empowerment' offered other options. the power to let you laugh wholehearted at the stereotype of me is important, but its not the first one a person dreams about, wakes up wanting and jots down at the top of his notepad.

in the meantime, Jes Grew (google it!) was changing the attire of the Black Arts Movement - hip hop channeled the spirit of the creative-oppressed and i found a new focus for my energies. if 'mainstream america' was the stepping stone for my left foot, then this unappreciated new black artform was the groundswell for my right. Africa Bambaataa held equal stage with Kraftwerk and Art of Noise... Basquiat exemplified what most alienated black creatives was going through, this simultaneous struggle for identity and non-identity. we were the Pfunk mantra played out, of freedom being free of the need for being free...

we didnt muse about freedom, about sharing the front seats of public transportation trying to prove the point of how non-threatening we could be... our dream wasnt for freedom. it was for an identity free of the identity america had planned for us. our parents were the ones who had dreamed of working at ford and general electric, of providing greater opportunities than they had... but it was our generation that had sat back to ask: but what was so wrong with the laundry mat you owned all to your self? only in america, because of the need for black people to escape from deep-rooted segregation, was the need to work for one's self considered a social sin... this is the point in american history where the prospects of "freedom" actually became a set-back.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

lit-crush (menage-a-trois) of the month

"Assimilate; don't be assimilated." - Léopold Sédar Senghor

 Senghor (1906-2001), a Senegalese poet, the country's first president, and an absolute Francophile, maintained early on that the best way to support and protect one's indigenous origins, especially for Africans, was by using contemporary (European) methods, or 'the master's tools' as referred to by James Baldwin, to canonize the legacy of your people and NOT by using those methods to dismantle one's culture, rebuilding some Euro-nized facsimile in its place. i've been in serious 'black empowerment' discussions where this point is missed or mistakenly appropriated as an act of oppression... i've had to 'dumb-down' the talking points to this: "if you stole the colt-45 of your oppressor to gain your freedom you wouldnt doubt your own motives by suggesting that an american made gun invalidates that freedom - it's how you use it, what you do with it that matters the most."
- that same theory holds true if your weapon of choice is the inkpen or the paintbrush. the world is moving forward, making advances - with or without us - and our narratives ARE going to be told and preserved, the only question is who will be the curator of such narratives: those who are native to those narratives or those who are only out to catalog stories and art, interpreting the meanings however they see fit? we, as black creatives, must curate our own work; validate what has the most 'authenticity' so that outsiders will fully understand what our value systems are.

love who you are. understand where you come from. let these understandings be the cornerstone of the art, philosophies and sciences that you create, just as other cultures (European, Asian, Carib, etc) have done; just as Africa had always done prior to colonization - tell your tales without flinching, let your own tongue be triumphant in the way it organizes your stories. use what embodies the contemporary in your own times, this is the only way for you to achieve relevance beyond your own era.

Senghor did this successfully, utilizing the written word to canonize his African-ness in France, in Senegal, and on the world stage. such work leaves a lasting impression on me... and as poetry editor for Mythium, it's one of the main things i look for in submissions: finely crafted nuanced work with distinguishable, cultural undertones.

nuanced, not annoying or the nuisance of self-indulgent hubris.

i often credit Haki Madhubuti's book earthquakes and sunrise missions as being "my literary bible". my sister Karen gave me a copy for my 21st birthday and his work inspired my creativity and the new way in which i approached writing. before then i was Chuck D Lite, writing angry, black-conscious poetry rants. Haki's book gave me focus and a better understanding of what it means to craft your work. although i was familiar with Gwen Brooks, Gil Scott-Heron, Sonia Sanchez, the Last Poets and tons of other Black Arts Movement writers, it was the tone of Haki's work that influenced me the most and made me want to be a writer instead of merely being a black poetry fan. he was writing black poems FOR black people to heal to, not black poems to strictly poke in the eyes of our oppressors...

from him i fell into the works of Lucille Clifton; her poem "if i stand in my window" is my all time favorite above every other poem ever written on the face of the earth! it's such a short piece and yet it has metaphor, self-love, AND oppressor eye-poke ability all in one... embodies craft and depth and is the epitome of Senghor's philosophy of "assimilate; don't be assimilated."

but Senghor, Madhubuti, and Clifton are not the subject for this 'lit-crush menage-a-trois entry... no.
it's Senghor, Ishmael Reed and Nikky Finney... 

i'm late coming to fully appreciate the works of Senghor, having only become familiar with his work in the past couple of years - but his sincerity to his craft and subject matter mirror what i would gratefully love to emulate in my own writing.

i first read Ishmael Reed's poetry back when i was too young to appreciate it and he didnt re-enter my consciousness until after i had read his novel, Mumbo Jumbo, about 15 years ago... that book is now my second bible! in my most creative moments i am channeling the spirits of Papa LaBas, Jes Grew and the Mumbo Jumbo Kathedral... it grounds my space-age sensibilities in the root-works of African culture as seen through the eyes of a black man raised on speed racer, sanford and son, mantronix, and saturday morning cartoons, pre-cable tv era. not just Black America, Ishmael Reed steered me toward the importance of romanticizing one's own heritage in order to canonize your own art. "I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra" is a poetry classic... his work should be taught everywhere!
but only by educators who 'get it', but sadly - it seems - our teachers leap from Langston Hughes to Maya Angelou to fill-in well-advertised contemporary-black poet-of-the-moment here. maybe Audre Lorde. Gwen Brooks. Rita Dove... ...the on-the-surface classics, but seldom those below the radar who had or have been writing exceptional work for a mighty long time. their names might be mentioned, but is their work being thoroughly discussed in a classroom setting? i dont know... i'd be happy to hear about such literary programs.

my first encounter with Nikky Finney's work happened in 2001, when i stumbled across her poem, "Assam", in the Step Into A World anthology - in that piece, she writes about a maternal figure "steeping" in the ocean as if a teabag. i'm HORRIBLE with names, so me being a very visual person that single bit of imagery has haunted me since i first read it! i remember everything by way of imagery... and emotion. (and since my copy of the anthology, misappropriated from a library ((a complete accident i swear!)) is missing, i'm not even sure that the title 'assam' is even correct and its one of my top five poems ever; thank you google, for what sounds like the correct title!)

((to be 100% transparent, i still have to refer to Lucille Clifton's work to correctly remember the title for "if i stand in my window" where she is actually standing in her window in the poem! - memory, BAD!))

(((i've had people quote my own work to me while i waited for them to tell me who the author was!)))


- that's dope.

Finney's poetry has taught me the importance of physically honoring our people, not abstractly or in attempts to recreate the personal mythologies that haunt me, but of immediate flesh and blood bonds - something i have never mastered and more than likely never will. i've had a son die, a nephew survive being in the second world trade tower when the plane hit, the passing of my father who i still have unresolved issues... and nothing i have ever attempted poetically has done justice (to me) in those events. i'm incapable of writing personal narratives that involve my loved ones, with the exception of 'being in love' poems - i can wax poetic about Crystal's effects on me all day! but to write about Crystal as a whole person outside of my affection for her would be a task, because i remain unable to fully encapsulate her womanhood, her country background, her afrocentric tendencies, or her feminist nature adequately. as a writer i know its not a necessity, that its even an impossibility to fully portray someone accurately in all dimensions of their being in a single poem (or even in a group of poems)...

i might incorporate icons famous to me in my work, but for the above reason, i could never be "a persona poet" - not that i lack the skill. i lack the nerve. i can write about me, Sun Ra, and Olodumare in a stolen Jeep driving drunk to a knife fight at the Source Awards, but to take a page from Sonny Blount's actual life to place solely into verse? i could never do it.  not without space aliens and a craps game entering the picture...

but when i do attempt to write about something personal, it's Nikky Finney's work that first comes to mind... she has a very humanistic approach in her writing - her characters are tangible, not because they put on shoes and walk - but because her writing makes me feel its subject's toes protruding from their socks within those shoes... her poetry reflects Senghor's approach: not only do i feel her South Carolinian heritage, it also feels authentically 'black' - a rarity in an age where the current philosophy of black writers suggests we aggrandize the dysfunctional in order to be seen as "progressive"...

i'm not opposed to the exaggerated or the cinematic in our poetry, but there's this 'twitter-effect' going on in literature where common, everyday happenings are placed into verse with little poetic device, and yet we are expected to assume that something poetic is riding underneath - the cinematic assumed.

but that's another issue...

Léopold Sédar Senghor
Ishmael Reed
Nikky Finney

"assimilate... don't be assimilated!"