ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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his internal grandmother voice telling him "baby, don't go out there

looking raggity when you representing the race." i smile



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


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in the hot house of black poetry

another furious flowering

A report by Kalamu ya Salaam

Part II


day one-wednesday, 22sept.

i am not there, so i can not report on what happened (unlike the western media who always be talking about shit they never seen, even sometimes be reporting on shit that didn't even happen, stuff they made up, stuff the government told them to say). someone who was there did tell me that there was a play presented and that it was interesting how they weaved shakespeare and black poetry.

according to the program, the opening day was given over to registration and a play ("the bard meets black and unknown bards") that night to open the conference.

day two-thursday, 23sept.

the day is beautiful, we are cruising through the shenandoah national park on the way  to the hamlet that is harrisonburg, well actually "hamlet" is not accurate because though it turns out that harrisonburg is a small little virginia mountain town, james madison is a school with (i was told by the shuttle driver who took me back to the airport on sunday morning) 15,000 students. the school is the town and when school is not in session then the town is a hamlet, otherwise it is like many, many college towns dotting the hinterland of america, i.e. the town is a hick pretender to sophistication with resident phds reading the new york times and wishing they were at that moment in manhattan rather than sitting in a starbucks on elm street, downtown nowhere.

the shenandoah is beautiful nature. the weather is inviting. i am in the front seat of the van listening to poets yusef komunyakaa and sharan strange conversing on the seat behind me. when i came off the down escalator and turned toward the baggage claim, yusef was the first person i saw. he was being interviewed. when they paused, he rose and we embraced heartily. we spoke in that south louisiana way, slighted hunched and softly, two brothers bending into each others words (contrast with the tony medina conversation i described earlier) and speaking laconically and elliptically. "did you..." "yeah..." "oh, glad to hear that, remember how we..." "sure. of course. still do..." "you know it."

i know he is up at princeton (or one of them ivy league institutions) but, a pulitzer prize notwithstanding, he has lost none of his hometown (bogalousa, louisiana) humbleness. i love him dearly. even though most of the kind of poetry he makes is not to my taste, i know the origins, the flavor and color of it and him, i know the culture out of which he is sprung and seminal parts of it are in me, hence my love of him is also a love of the parts of me that are him, critical parts that i would be a fool to deny or attempt to excise, as though a person can cut away a crucial part of the self and still be whole. although many make think of yusef's arrival into the upper echelons of literariness as his most important attribute, for me it is his soft-talking down-to-earthness that i celebrate.

no sooner we are checking in at the registration desk then up pops everett hoagland, a beautiful, long tall, dexter gordon of a poet (big-ly virile voice, deeply lyrical, redolent with a tenderness that is almost embarrassing, but only "almost" as he is so adept at balancing his beauty with a swagger that suggests steel at the center of his buttery eloquence).

and then there is viet-nam era poet lamont steptoe, who some says favors me in the face even though he is maybe a foot shorter and forty, fifty, maybe even sixty pounds or so lighter, i guess because we both have beards and that rugged field-hand look that seldom if ever sports a coat and tie. we just look like it is clear that him and me should not be allowed nowhere near the fine china and expensive crystals.

and before i know it they are telling me that my cousin, ellis marsalis has died, that it was on cnn (hence, it must be true). said they had a picture of ellis at the piano. i fire up my cell phone calling home trying to get the full 411. within an hour i have found out that it was ellis' father who died, so much for the vaulted accuracy of the evening news. when i reached harold batiste he told me that cnn got it wrong because, of course, they could not imagine that there was more than one ellis marsalis in the world, in new orleans (actually, there were three of them, but that is another story, which we will come to a little later). once again, i am reinforced in my disbelief in devil talk. used to be, if they said something you would imagine that it happened but just didn't happen the way they said; but, nowadays, these dudes is so brazen, they will say anything and preach it as gospel. don't even have to happen but they will still put it in a history book to try to fool future generations into believing that we believed in them, thus i remind you, and will continue to remind you, the devil is a liar. and please do not get upset that i call bush and his minions by their rightful name! (and either "devil" or "liar" will do cause in their case, both names are interchangeable!).

the first critics roundtable is concluding, chaired by trudier harris and featuring my man tony bolden, maryemma graham and hilary holladay. unfortunately i did not get to hear any of it although i know my man tony bolden must have been rocking. check his new book "afro-blue: improvisations in african american poetry and culture." people need to peep tony's take on the poetry cause he is on the sounding side, prepared to address the music in our sound and not just talk about the literary scribbling antecedents, which is the inevitable door thru which most english teachers walk when they attempt to deal with what some of us are doing with poetry. 

maryemma graham is, of course, "madam graham" to many of us as she has taken the lead on institutionalizing langston hughes. out in the cornfields of kansas, she organized the centennial conference (which i reported on) and guides the ongoing activities of the langston hughes poetry circles, activities specifically designed to move poetry out of the exclusivity of classrooms into community centers, libraries, churches, extended care facilities and other gathering places where the folk are. i am not familiar with ms. holladay.

in the bathroom i am talking to yusef. after relieving ourselves we are discussing immediate plans. he is about to deliver a talk/conversation with composer t. j. anderson as the feature presentation at the george moses horton society luncheon. many, many interesting conversations go down in bathrooms and public toilets, where people prepare themselves to face whatever particular music to which they have been requested to dance. yusef is traveling light, pulls a shirt out of his shoulder bag, changes, combs his hair, gathers up himself, straightens his posture--his internal grandmother voice telling him "baby, don't go out there looking raggity when you representing the race." i smile. despite my personal ignorance of styling and profiling, i am proud of yusef.

sitting before the salad i realize i am hungry and eat every leaf, stalk, and cut vegetable on my plate, thoroughly enjoying it and of course the conversation at the table. i am sitting with dr. jerry ward, yusef, t. j. anderson and his wife, and their son, also t. j. who is a professor and author of "notes to make the sound come right: four innovators of jazz poetry." i ask him, based on his research, what is the first jazz poetry recording. we kick that around a bit and although we do not come up with anything definitive, i really, really enjoy our conversation. he is in the tony bolden mold, speaking of whom, tony walks into the room and i, who am in charge of nothing at the table, immediately invite tony to sit in the empty seat next to me. now i am bookended by two professors who study black poetry with an eye on the music, i could hardly ask for any better company and conversation at a literary gathering.

yusef and t. j. anderson are informative and insightful. though bird (charlie parker) is yusef's main man and t. j. is a composer, which means he deals with a lot of references from the european classical side of our musical equation--you should hear him though talk about using improvisation, like writing a piano concerto and not writing one note for the piano to play, requiring the pianist to improvise as the orchestral score proceeds. though these two men have completed an opera together and speak about working in that form, what i imagine as i hear them fielding questions, trading fours, and comping and complimenting each other's phrases, i think of the basie band swinging on two notes, the double tenor saxophone front, chu berry big-toned swinging hard and prez, a lighter heft in his sound but no less potent, probably even more so cause he is swifter and more precise. yusef and t.j. the nicholas brothers of modern black cultural stepping, they soft shoe through their presentation, the elegant smooth softness of their presentation camouflaging the weight of the science they are dropping talking about trusting the collaborator to complete the gesture. they are an expert pitcher-catcher duo, so expert that they even take turns on the mound and behind the plate, one crouch-catching while the other winds-up and delivers. they do what is the best any words can do: they make you want to hear their opera, fill you up with expectation.

immediately after the luncheon there is a keynote address by houston baker. but it is on the other side of campus, a good fifteen minutes away. and more and more folk are rolling in, folk i know and greet with embraces and fat-mouth shouts. the chicago mafia-crew blows in, bad hats broke-back at rakish angles; the squared-shoulder swagger; the show us what you got smiles; full of good cheer. tara betts. quraysh ali lansana. my man patrick olvier. third world press is in the house. tyehimba jess is there, recent graduate of nyu's mfa poetry program. kelly norman ellis in a strong southern sunnyness that warms the cold of chicago weather. and some others too--like dr. d, aka duriel e. harris, in her pixyish temperament, ultra-smooth funk (yeah, i just likes how the sister flows/knows what she be doing).

i get a call from nia, she is in a charlotte, north carolina getting ready for the last leg of her journey here. good. though i know she can take care of herself, i was still concerned. by the time we find and get to where the keynote lecture is, the lecture is almost over. from what i heard, baker was in an a.m.e. bishop preaching mode, sort of an elegant get down, a polished funk. he talks about the source of our shout. the defiance of it and especially the redemption in our singing. he got that right. to hook our poetry to that is to get to the best of what our poetry can be. baker quoted bob marley and we quoted silently, or aloud, with him. it was a field/feel good invocation, a rightful way to bring on this literary gathering.

next was the first of six major poetry reading sessions. it was thomas sayers ellis, major jackson, sharan strange, opal moore, tony medina and yusef komunyakaa. jabari asim was scheduled but was not present. i don't remember the specific order of presentation except that thomas kicked-off first and yusef came last.

major is winner of the cave canem poetry prize 2000 for his first book "leaving saturn." he, sharan and opal all plow in a similar style, that un-ornamented, narrative poetry, telling personal tales of public import. theirs is a quiet poeting. quietly serious. of that trio, although all are gooder than good at what they do, my personal taste is opal, maybe it's her voice, the exquisite husky fulsome feminine essence promise implicit in its earthy tones; maybe the way her sibilant sounds are sounded and how her exhales caress the ear; i mean she could be reading a warrant for my arrest and i would pause to listen to each word before getting in the wind.

all three of them wrote about their families, their experiences outside of the academy where they spend a lot of their daylight hours-by which i mean there is an element of alienation implicit in writing poetry about times and places where you currently aren't, about people around whom you no longer spend most of your day. there is a longing for home while we labor in somebody else's field. i know that this is not what they mean with their poems, but this is my psychological dissection of what is going on: they are writing about what is dear to them and implicitly condemning, or at least avoiding, the meaning of their daily surroundings. why spend so much time writing about where one is not unless where one is, is not where one wants to be? like i always says; no matter what you write it is you writing it and if we read enough of it, hear enough of it, no matter what the explicit content is about, that stuff is going to reveal the inner you, the turmoils, the conflicts and contradictions, as well as the loves and essences. prophetically, opal's book is "lot's daughters."

opal knows what i'm talking about. i'm going to quote her here (from her book, lot's daughters, though she did not read this one) so you can see that when i say "she knows" i know what i'm talking about:

The Leaving Is Easy


from the curb,

car engine humming,

I can see the door locks are new.

and there are other new things:

a lawn fountain

a plaster deer-she dips her nose prematurely

into the dry well.

there will never be water.


I shift to reverse

steer my tail end neatly into the drive.

I could have read the story

of bright new door locks,

the deer and the fountain,

from the curb. I could have skimmed

this narrative, skipped to the end, but till the end,

I give you the benefit of all my doubts

about us.


I climb the two steps and cross the porch

to put my tarnished brass key to the shiny lock-

it never did fit, did it? and anyway

these locks are yours, cash bought,

and my keys are only natural desire.


for you, for the locks,

like the deer dryly dipping her nose,

I am here, my hands cupped to your well.

and I consider this new locking out,

briefly imagine breaking a window-

entering you against your will-

but we have never broken any glass

between us

and you have taught me other lessons:


when you enter in reverse,

the leaving is easy.

ok, that's opal moore dealing with that distance between our adult daytimes and the deepness of the childhood places where we are currently not, the distance between promise and what we get.

anyway, the contemporary king of this style of poetry, in my opinion (and this is not really an informed opinion cause i don't spend much time listening to or reading this branch of our poetics, however, i am familiar enough with the major movers and i do know and understand their literary antecedents: on the blackside is hayden and their american godfather is william carlos williams, who tried to avoid any and all ornamentation and artifice, no metaphors and similes, no flowery language, just the poetry of everyday ordinariness precisely observed and recorded with a judicious picking of pieces to say what is important enough to observe with a stoic emotional equanimity never too excited about anything.), anyway yusef is the king of this particular current, and when he rises up and bats clean-up he cleanly hits a homerun. except he occasionally uses a simile, and the way he hangs the bat in the air long after the crack of hitting the spheroid, the bat suspended as if the style of his swing is just as important as the fact that the ball is flying over the outfield fence, the very way he swings becomes a metaphor for black grace.

what i like about yusef is that more than most, he keeps the music up in his work and thus, the music is a yeast that raises his poetry above monotone flatness and gives us something extremely interesting in its arcing deepness. his reading voice was strong. his subject matter tight little life moments, but specifically moments at the heart of what ever was the matter he was dealing with.

moreover, it is indicative of the importance of this gathering, and indicative of the respect that conference organizer joanne gabbin commands that she could get yusef to anchor the first reading--there are at least two hundred english departments that wish they could pull yusef for five minutes, not to mention to give a lecture and a reading. (i'm going to talk a bit about the economics of this a little later, for right now, suffice it to say, furious flower didn't pay for yusef, yusef made a gift to furious flower.)

my man tony medina came on like a lightening bolt. sort of like having otis redding or r. kelly follow johnny mathis. his work is just that much of a change up from the aforementioned styles. i don't remember any particular poem he did, except one of the pieces he read from his children's book of ghetto letters to santa claus. i won't even attempt to paraphrase that wild shit except to say i was guffawing, my mouth wide open and shouting, "oh, no he didn't" in delightful appreciation of what tony did.

but just like the last was the best at what he did, for me, the first was also the one i most enjoyed because of one particular poem thomas ellis did. there was no competition, no need to pick one over the other, but yet, inevitably each mouth got a taste for one flavor over another, so if i had to pick one moment in that reading it was this poem which i am going to quote in full by thomas ellis. this one poem whose challenge was stunning, like a muhammad ali fist hit faster and more furious than anything ever before thrown by a heavyweight. i mean here we were at james madison university, at a conference full of mfa poets, english teachers and those who aspire to be like that, and mr. thomas "chocolate-city, go-go drummer" ellis commences to dropping the bomb:

all their stanzas look alike


all their fences

   all their prisons

all their exercises

   all their agendas

all their stanzas look alike

   all their metaphors

all their bookstores

   all their plantations

all their assassinations

   all their stanzas look alike

all their rejection letters

   all their letters to the editor

all their arts and letters

   all their letters of recommendation

all their stanzas look alike

   all their sexy coverage

all their literary journals

   all their car commercials

all their bribe-spiked blurbs

   all their stanzas look alike

all their favorite writers

   all their writing programs

all their visiting writers

   all their writers-in-residence

all their stanzas look alike

   all their third worlds

all their world series

   all their serial killers

all their killing fields

   all their stanzas look alike

all their state grants

   all their tenure tracks

all their artist colonies

   all their core faculties

all their stanzas look alike

   all their selected collecteds

all their oxford nortons

   all their academy societies

all their oprah vendlers

   all their stanzas look alike

all their haloed holocausts

   all their coy hetero couplets

all their hollow haloed causes

   all their tone-deaf tercets

all their stanzas look alike

   all their tables of contents

all their poet laureates

   all their ku klux classics

all their supreme court justices

   except one, except one

exceptional one. exceptional or not,

   one is not enough.

all their stanzas look alike.

   even this, after publication,

might look alike. disproves

   my stereo types.

at this point some of us were stomping our feet, hooting and hollering, chortling in delight. others of us sat stiff-lipped, eyes daggers of contempt for this ungrateful worm who had the temerity to single out their sophisticated smugness with such spleenful stanzas. i wish all of yall was there to hear the deadpan hauntiness of thomas' delivery, he was not laughing or winking, as if to say, i'm just fooling. his was the back alley challenge: i'm calling you out, put up or shut up. i did not hear even one academic respond to thomas (of course, i would not expect that anyone who knew me, or knew anyone who looked like me, would say anything about thomas' poem in front or anywhere within earshot of me).

ah, the furious flowers has thorns! and give thanks for that. that is why more of our roses are not snatched by beasts and bigots, cause we will stab their claws. oh well, for sure this year there will be no international tour for thomas sponsored by usia (the government agency that supports cultural activities in foreign countries). at that moment, thomas sayers ellis was a proud, direct descendant of shine (the mytho-poetic urban trickster noted for aquatic prowess and his stinging rebukes to those who tried to convince him that the titantic was safe and "the" place to be).

immediately after the reading it was time for the "the bam in the deep southern region" panel chaired by quo vadis gex breaux and featuring, violet harrington bryan of xavier university, jerry ward of dillard university and yours truly of new orleans. there were six other panels going on at the same time, which gives you an idea of the scope of the festival. on average, each panel had three participants, most of whom had prepared papers. a lot of trees were slain to prepare for this conference.

"bam" refers to the black arts movement. violet was up first and gave a general overview of the development of blkartsouth with a concluding focus on the work of barbara nayo watkins and quo vadis gex breaux. jerry, who spoke last, talked about the mississippi movement, contextualizing it in time and telling not only how it showed out in mississippi but also emphasizing both its uniqueness and longevity. my presentation was in two parts: an opening anecdotal summing up of some of the lessons we learned in blkartsouth and some insight into how we got started, and then a conclusion pointing to what i see as the future, namely video. i presented two short poetry videos excerpted from a large and ever growing body of video work we are doing in new orleans.

had i the time, i would have talked about the paradigm shift happening in america, the movement away from the printed word to the image as the primary means of communicating knowledge and information to the masses of people in the world, and certainly to the masses of american citizens. but as it was, i was pushed just to have the time to show two short videos. by the end of the year, the world will be able to see this stuff because my next book is actually going to be a dvd: "first light--the early movies of kalamu ya salaam." as soon as its ready you will certainly hear about it on e-drum.

time flew by and before we knew it, we were out of time. a few questions and answers and it was time to break for dinner. i was anxious to find nia. i assumed she had made the last leg of the journey ok, and, by now, should be somewhere on campus. when we got outside to the patio area, i told askia toure, man i want to hang with yall but i got to find my wife. i still had my bags with me. it was just about six o'clock. there was an art reception scheduled for 6:45pm and then the featured poetry reading for the day scheduled at 8pm, a program which i was tapped to emcee. while talking to someone and continually looking around for the shuttle bus, my phone rang. i tried to answer it, hoping that it was nia, but somehow the line wouldn't connect.

afterwards i called up the recent calls feature, but when i dialed the number i got a recording saying that it was a prepay service and that the party that called could not be reached. suppose nia was somewhere and needed my assistance? i started down the steps-the campus is built amid hills, you might enter a building on the second floor if you approach from one side and enter from the basement if you approach from another side and the patio that led to one floor on the nearest building, would lead to a different floor on an adjacent building. for someone newly there it was bewildering and incomprehensible. finally, there nia was, coming off the shuttle. i was both relieved and happy. we hopped back on the bus, bags and all, headed to check in for the hotel and then to hustle quickly back for the program.

by now, i'm running on fumes, have had maybe three hours sleep in the last two days (dozing on planes don't count, cause your body be in motion and you don't fully rest), but i got to get up the energy to get out there and emcee the next major poetry reading, plus, my friend malaika favorite has an exhibit that i want to see--it was absolutely great to see her, looking like just a slightly older malaika than i remember her from when she was twenty--something (which is saying a lot, cause most of us age like cheese left on the counter rather than like fine wine secured in a temperature controlled cellar).

and, oh yeah, nia told me that when i tried to answer the phone and couldn't, it had been her calling, she said she could even see me trying to answer the phone. i smile.

by the time i shower and change we only have time to get to the auditorium for the reading. it's an 8pm program that starts close to but not on time. the line up is brenda marie osbey, kevin young, e. ethelbert miller, haki madhubuti, lucille clifton and nikki giovanni (sort of like an western conference all stars; the eastern conference allstars headed up by the nictroglycerine combination of amiri baraka & sonia sanchez is on tap for the third day). this is the only major reading that is not plagued by time constraints, not jammed by what came before and ran long, nor truncated to make way for what is to follow. there is nothing else conflicting. maybe that is why it is the best reading.

poetry conferences really, really, really (did i say "really") need to find a way to feature poetry sessions that are not jammed up by other considerations, not rushed, not having to start late and end early. the poetry readings ought to be main events that give the readers time to stretch out and deliver their best. the line-ups need to be thought out carefully. who follows whom is important. the mix. i mean like if you're not going to go by alphabetical order, then sit down and really think about the order of service.

so when joanne gabbin asked my input on what order, i jumped on the opportunity. producing is something i do and does (pronounced "dues") good at. it helps that i know a lot of the poets, know them personally, know their personalities and not just their reputations, know both their work and how they read. so i think the order of the program had something to do with why this was the best reading overall.

but the other thing is you got to give the folk a good send-off-"send-off is like a baptist church introduction of the bishop by one of the leading preachers, whose intro is a show in and of itself. what the emcee ought to be is an elevator lifting up the atmosphere so much that the participants start out on cloud 9 and just levitate from there. i did my job. even had the white folks hollering and screaming-i straight out told the squares to leave, if you wasn't going to get down, take your dead ass home. no you didn't-yes, i did. some people need hipness instructions so they won't be impediments and obstructions when we start really getting down.

the high priest of poetic voodooishness, brenda marie osbey was up first and read three long poems, the first one, and by far the best one, being her nina simone poem. dressed all in black (only she didn't have the silver buttons up and down...) she started off weaving a spell and sustained it on that first poem, i wish the second and third poems had both been a little shorter or tighter or something cause though they both were good, they could have been great.

next up was kevin young sporting a big blue polka dot tie that was rakish. a cherub of a poet with an acid wit and prankster's imagination, he unleashed his poetic pit pulls with two handfuls of short blues-based poems that were written in modern style but always included artfully constructed verbal trap doors. i would do them injustice to paraphrase them, but google him or go to and pick up either "jellyroll" or "blues poems." both brenda marie and kevin were like middleweight bouts on the undercard of a heavyweight championship-they bobbed and weaved, fancy footwork and swift body movements, a lot of feigning and jabbing, rapid counter-punches and deft blocks with forearms and elbows, but no knock-outs, thus, no matter how gifted their pugilistic skills, the crowd came for blood and thus only partially appreciate the skill exhibited in the opening bouts because what the audience really wants to see can not come up until the preliminaries are through-and if these sports references, particularly these boxing references, confuse or bore you, well maybe you should get out the library more; also, i could use black music references, but then i know many of you would really be lost (note to myself: stop being nasty).

light-heavyweight champ e. (which i maintain stands for "eshu") ethelbert miller was up next and my main man was taking no prisoners. he closed his portion with two new "omari" poems. omari is a mythical childhood friend. the first omari poem was about tenderness and friendship and ended with a left upper-cut that backed you into the ropes, thoroughly dazed by the swiftness of the punch that seemed to come out of nowhere. at first you were laughing as he described dozens-playing and the next moment you was just shaking your head and going damn. again, i won't try to paraphrase, suffice it to say, it was beautiful. the second poem was paul mooney hilarious, the theme was gentrification. the kids was talking about asking white folks to see their papers cause something must be up with all these aliens moving into the neighborhood. ah, man, eshu, you need to quit being so mean, and you knowed the audience was full of white folks, some of whom undoubtedly had recently moved back to some inner city. but neither of those two poems, grand as they were, was what really impressed me.

for me, the knockout was his third to last piece which was a long poem using the baseball pitcher as a metaphor talking about aging, about loosing one's ability to pitch like one used to. eshu set this one up beautifully and delivered, had us hoping when there was no reason to hope, looking for a field of dreams hollywood ending when all there was was the cruel reality that a professional past his prime is a sorry sight getting knocked out the box (which, to point out for those deep, deep into metaphor is not really a mixed metaphor, more like an intentionally ambigious metaphor because it can be correctly used in both baseball and boxing; eshu used it as a baseball metaphor, i'm using it as both. dig?). anyway, if we had concluded with ethelbert i would not have been disappointed, would have felt i got my money's worth.

but, no stopping us now. haki was up next, and whereas of late i have been used to hearing the mature statesmen wisely intoning advice and elderly wisdom, almost like haki wanted to show eshu that the old man still had some steam on his fast ball, haki jumped up and threw down. i said, whoa! that's the old haki. my man did his elder statesmen thing by reading from his new book, "run toward fear-new poems and a poet's handbook." he ran down some advice on writing things, he opened with a poem suggesting the poet ought to be out front telling the truth and confronting wrongs, he closed with a paean to art, but it was the long middle piece that was old skool skullduggery.

haki lit up skip gates, at length, in-depth and when he was through lighting him up, haki pissed on gates' ashes! the poem is in the new book. get to it. the title alone gives you a hint of the mega-ton wattage flashing ferociously therein: "butt for sale: the gateway to factualization." back over the labor day weekend i was on a panel with haki-the-elder at a writer's conference in dallas, but this haki, this was razor-mouth from days of yore, cutting like the chicago hawk. when haki finished that poem, icicles was hanging from the high ceilings of  wilson hall on gmu's campus. i said, goddamn; you got to remember this was a conference where there were at least 47-varieties of scholars, some of them, i'm sure, if not personal friends, were, at the very least, great admirers of professor gates, and there was haki madhututi up there beating that boy like he stole something. chicago can be rough, even at a virginia, mountainside indian summer-held collegiate conference.

and guess what? strong poets just keep coming. lucille clifton was up next, doing her grandmother thing, looking like she wouldn't hurt a flea, she proceeded to whip the asses of badass children, wring the necks of chickens, corner and kill a rat or two, fight off the improper suggestions of the insurance man, and advise the young ladies to put steel in their backs before being turned to jelly by swift talking dudes who could not live up to the syllables of the slick words they used.

if you have never seen lucille clifton do her thing you should immediately go online, find out where she is going to be next and book a flight there. i know dr. maya angelou is the current diva of black poetry, commanding five figures just to breath on a stage, but look a here, if you want to really know what time it is, you better call lucille. you see b.b. king named a guitar after her, he didn't do so cause he wanted to, did so cause he had to. the lady is bad. again, i ain't even going to paraphrase none of her poems--she read a lot of new stuff.

well, wait a minute, let me take that back. i got to tell you about this poem she did about jesus. yeah, jesus. you know, jesus as a shepherd. well, lucille interrogated that whole shepherd thing. broke down how the shepherd job is really to safekeep and then lead the lambs to slaughter after they got fleeced. it was devastating. and ms. lucille said it all so sweetly. i believe the only four letter word she used was "lamb" but she really was righteously blasphemous. by now, we (i'm speaking for the hip black folk there) were dazed out of our woolly skulls-i'm not sure what the white folk felt, although everybody was applauding like they loved her madly, but, i mean, did they really hear and understand what she was saying?

and guess what, folks? it still wasn't over. nikki giovanni, vying for richard pryor's vacated crown, was the real king of comedy. again, i have heard nikki do her thing time and time again, have even felt before that she couldn't get much funnier. for example, i was there at the first furious flower when she extolled the virtues of "shopping." i have heard her talk about why she dyed her hair, watched her reduce an audience to stitches talking about talking on the phone, but this time, this time, ms. giovanni was on some other shit, cause she managed to combine humor with political insight, wit with a withering anti-bush assessment. nikki answered the challenge of all artists in times of imminent danger, she challenged us to live up to being human and fight back against these beasts who would try to make a meal out of our lives. the theme of nikki's "talk," no, not talk, make that "presentation," no, perhaps "performance" would be more accurate, oh, whatever.

nikki was talking about going to mars. why we got to go. why the martians can't come to us. and spoke about angela bassett and halle berry. about limousines and yatch cruisies. giving speeches to nasa and looking good--got to look good! it was an absolute twenty-some minute long scream. and, oh yeah, she did two poems. one poem was weaved into the mars thing. and as an encore she did the best recital of "ego tripping," that i have personally heard, including her performance on the lp from back in the day. you know, when you know you been doing something good, really, really good, and you be feeling good about doing good, and then you drop down on your good foot and do your signature do, and the whole crowd be with you, like one gigantic poetic electric slide, everybody dipping on the one? well, that's how nikki did ego tripping that night.

there wasn't nothing left to do, after that, but go home, or go out, or go somewhere, but we had to vacate the premises cause the construction crew had to hose down the stage and put a new roof on the sucker.

some folk were going out, nia and i headed in. hadn't eaten all day so we went to this ihop conveniently located next to the hampton hotel where we were staying--the best that could be said for that ihop is that it was conveniently located next to the hotel. afterwards before hitting the sack i jumped online (god bless hampton inn, they got free wireless internet) for about two hours getting e-drum together--ain't yall proud that i did not miss even one day of e-drum?), then got some much needed rest before embarking on another day of furious flower.

Part I  Part II    Part III    Part IV 

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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Guarding the Flame of Life

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Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

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New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

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Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

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*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011


#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 9 April 2008 




House  Kalamu ya Salaam Table  Kalamu ya Salaam Biblio

Related files:  Is A Sonnet More Than Fourteen Lines  On Writing Haiku  WORDS: A Neo-Griot Manifesto  That Old Black Magic  The Myth of Solitude   What Is Black Poetry

in the hot house of black poetry another furious flowering --  Part I / Part II  /  Part III  /  Part IV