ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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in a short period cave canem has become “the” game in town. in another minute,

cave canem will be the major credentializer of black poets in the united states,

 poets will certainly covet their stamp of approval



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 IV

day four-saturday, 25 sept.

yesterday (or was it the day before?), amiri & amina’s son ahi was left selling cds and books. nia and i were headed back to the hotel, i believe we were riding with patrick, but anyway, ahi was still there selling “the shani project” and “black mass” cds, and he had been at it all day. i asked how he was getting back, he gave me that blank look that we have when we are bereft of solutions for whatever particular dilemma in which we might be involuntarily entrapped, i said, man, come on, pack up, come with us, we’ll get you back to the hotel, like as if i was driving. i mean i couldn’t leave my man there. for many, many reasons.

the shani project cd refers to the baraka’s daughter who was murdered on 12 august 2003. and ahi, well, there is no delicate way to put it, some years earlier, ahi had been shot in the head and is still recovering, still dealing with migraine headaches and other issues i can not even imagine. in the car headed back to the hotel he spoke slowly, softly about struggling to write a piece for a friend who was murdered and the funeral was monday. you know some realities are too, too deadly to be dealt with alone.

i have known amiri since 1969, and amina shortly after that, we have been comrades working on a lot of different projects both poetic and political, and sometimes political poetic, some times straight out politics, other times, like now at furious flower, a poetry vector. i never really knew the baraka children like talking about it, except perhaps for ras whom i have worked with, but i did not have to know ahi personally. i knew his story, i knew his parents, i knew my heart.

later in the day, amina came up to nia and i and thanked us for taking care of her son. i said, no thing, that’s what we’re supposed to do. she said, yeah, i know, but you know a lot of us don’t do what we’re supposed to do. amina said, sonia took care of ahi when he got back to the hotel after i had made sure that he got back to the hotel. i heard amina. a lot of us don’t do what we’re supposed to do. but for we old school warriors, there is no way we could be ourselves and leave ahi out in the cold.

there were other black arts movement children here: sonia’s son morani, and eugene’s daughter treasure. a direct next generation. and caring for them is a major vector of our poetry, of our living, and finally, as we use to say, our lives are our real poems. anyway, i was just thinking about ahi and wanted to share with you and wanted to encourage you to remember that black poetry is about our people, is no abstract thing, is about caring for each other, we poet because we love and if we don’t love each other

our poetry don’t mean a goddamn thing. am not angry, just want to make sure that the specificity of the poetic impulse being located in the hearts of our people is not overlooked by anyone reading this lengthy treatise on furious flower.

the last critics’ roundtable was moderated by opal moore and featured toi derricotte, kelli norman ellis, e. ethelbert miller, sharan strange. from the audience came questions about making a career of poetry, and i guess this is where my ahi extension came from, responding in my own oblique way, because capitalism, because being here in america will make you think the whole world is all about the dollar. yeah, we got to have money to survive, but money is not life. and so the answer is that there are some aspects of black poetics that money has nothing to do with, that some of us does whatever we got to do to keep that particular aspect at the forefront of our tongues, our consciousness. a career? no, a life. we could be ditch diggers, cotton pickers, porters, even a security guard or school teacher to make our money, our livelihood, but the poetry of us would/should still be kept alive.

this panel had my head both recoiling and screaming, even though i was sitting there, big, black and silent. i was thinking maybe it is better not to make a career out of our poetry, maybe it is better to keep our words off the auction block. so we can keep our words true to our soul. yeah, they got our bodies trapped here in the buying and selling of so-called free enterprise, but we, the hippest of us, we know that our souls are not for sale, our poetry is not a product to be def-ly (deathly?) advertising cars, clothes, liquor and debauchery. is it not true that our words really should/ought to be about the holy of our souls, about an identification of our heart.

ok, i understand the temptation, the language of commerce, i just don’t feel such talk will ever come anywhere near capturing the essence of our poetry, and if such language do, then surely our poetry will have become doo-doo dribblings, and not even that. i am saying to sell it, we got to kill it, and dead words are not what black poetry is.

after lunch there was an open mic hosted by tyehimba jess, recently grad of nyu poetry mfa program. but i know him from his chicago days and from his leadbelly poem cycle which is shortly to be released in book form. some bad shit, my man, came up with. a black razor swing of a blues song strong as steel on a 12-string national git-fiddle (aka guitar). anyway he had the hard task of being an amicable host and also being a no nonsense timekeeper. it was not amusing. but he did it. all hail my man tyehimba who ran his portion of the program on time while balancing the desire of bunches of people to have a chance to read, a chance to be heard.

i sat there taking it in. loving the opportunity to hear the songs of the unsung, the words of the future in their inchoate poetic infancy. most of the folk i did not know either by name, face or reputation, but there were on the other hand quite a few with whom i was familiar and it was a great and good set, a great and good opportunity to check out where we will be at in another minute.

for example, tara betts was a beautiful mess. my lady (also now based in chi), started off not sure what she wanted to start off with, how she wanted to roll, did she want to read from the material she had in hand and be a page poet (this is, of course, a simplification, but not without some truth to it) or did she want to be a performance poet and orate some stuff off the top of the dome--people was shouting the clock’s running--cause folk was supposed to be up and off within two minutes, and tara had a bunch of stuff she wanted to do, each one of which would have easily filled up two minutes if not more. and so she struggled, and then finally decided to do this performance piece about killing rats to make the rent and as she drew just pass the poem’s half way mark about to come in for the killing conclusion, the heft of the punch line, she changed her mind and said she was going to do something else. whoaaaa???? sisterlove, we ain’t got time for that. finish what you started. friends and some not so friendly was shouting at her. and at that moment lesser folk would have folded, would have broke down boo-hooing. but hail tara, sisterlove gathered herself up, and said, ok, ok, and picked right up where she left off and finished her poem--even as tyehimba was gently rising to close her down cause she was way over. but she did it. she finished and it was good. painful in how it went down, but good in how it ended up. that was a moment.

kind of illustrated part of what was going on all up under furious flower. there was this major contingent of young folk. eager to be seen. to be heard. giving papers but really, really wanting the stage to declaim their poems. who was there taking notes, but really wanted to be dropping science. a group from howard, students of tony medina. trudier harris had a bunch of black students there too. and folk from miscellaneous colleges campuses from the carolinas, from georgia, mississippi, the cornfields of the midwest, even a small group off the west coast. and, i think maybe this was one of the best slots on the program. there maybe should have been perhaps two or three of these slots. yeah, yeah, i know: kalamu you already was complaining that there was too little time and too much to do, so now you talking about adding something. yeah, that’s exactly what i’m saying. i’m saying: cut one of the panels and make another featured open mic, shine the spotlight on the young folk. the academic papers are cool, and are way necessary for matriculation through the academy, but you know you should have seen, heard and felt that energy that was coursing thru that room, should have heard how they cheered each other on, the different ways they brought their stuff, the styles, the regions (e.g. had frank x. walker (and i think a couple of others) from the affrilachia poets, them black folk in the kentucky/virginia mountains), should have been there to see the future aborning. yeah. i said, yeah, more of that.

the coldest one i heard, and this is just a personal reaction, was young sister treasure who did this piece about the state of mississippi but anthropomorphized the state as a bipolar lover, and sure ‘nuff had some metaphorical consistency working with both humor and pathos. it was a deep slinging, southern rooted song.

but there was a lot of other stuff there to witness, such as giovanni singleton with that experimental vibe. but also with that practical side. in fact, here i make a strong, strong suggestion that you, dear readers, get to her journal called nocturnes, (nocturnes/p.o. box 3653/oakland, ca 94609/e-mail: they are on an experimental tip, so it may not be to everyone’s taste, but dig, so what? even if you don’t dig it, you should support it. issue #3 is their take on the blues, includes a cd in the back. handsomely produced. big and beautifully put together, 154 pages, 7”x9.75”.

you know, check this, back in the bam dayz we had journals coming out from everywhere. we had all kinds of poetry joints going, and most of them were not based on campuses, a couple of those literary journals are still with us, though not with the same fire as of yore, but still burning nonetheless. i mean obsidian which is now in it’s third metamorphosis and of course there is callaloo, which was found by jerry ward, my main man tom dent, and charles rowell, who is the current publisher. but where are the poetry journals of today? nocturnes is it, is not only the major one, is in many, many unfortunate way almost the onliest new black poetry journal on the set that has managed to come out more than two times.

giovanni is working now on the fourth issue. come on yall, support nocturnes.

after the open mic there was the cave canem reunion reading featuring cornelius eady, marilyn nelson, kwame dawes, elizabeth alexander and toi derricotte. this was the last major poetry reading.

cave canem is the future of black poetry right now, or, at least is one major branch of our black poetic future. conceived by toi and cornelius, cave canem is an annual two-week workshop that selected poets can attend three times before rotating out to make room for others. in a short period cave canem has become “the” game in town. in another minute, cave canem will be the major credentializer of black poets in the united states, poets will certainly covet their stamp of approval, to be a cave canem fellow will be a certification that you know poetry, will certainly be a bonus to include on a resume when looking for an academic appointment, a foundation grant or fellowship, seeking to get into a writer’s colony, not to mention a passport to publishing. and it started cause these folk wanted to do it. kujichagulia. self-determination. no doubt cave canem in one sense is a direct example of what bam wanted to achieve, i.e, a self-directed force field beholding only to itself. i know some will be surprised that i connect cave canem to bam, but yeah, self-directed, self-defined movement is what we were advocating and is what cave canem is.

now aesthetically, that is another story. in the seventies the feminist movement gave us the slogan/concept “the personal is political.” cave canem’s politics is the politics of the personal, and often very, very affectingly so. particularly their leader, toi derricotte, can open up your interior self in an origami of poetic unfoldings and enfoldings. make you feel stuff you didn’t know you was feeling, which is, after all, a major goal of much of our poetry, i.e. to make you feel, literally, to impress you and help make you more sensitive to the world around you and also more sensitive to the world that is you, you as a world, your insides, your experiences, dreams/aspirations, you acts, what you being doing, & also why you be doing what you doing, all of this is the province of this poetry of the personal, and when it is tres insightfully realized, this personal poetry do be a human can opener.

but for every up there is a down, the downside is that often a lot of the personal talk masks an avoidance of dealing with major issues of the day, issues that are not personal in the sense that they are social and happening to everyone: could be haiti. for sure iraq. depleted uranium. health care. tax inequality. the impending draft. religious fundamentalism. (yall know this is a long list of shit). what i don’t dig is how a great deal of the personal poetry avoids dealing with the larger issues, avoids going head on against the beast. and, of course, i know why: cause you can’t keep some of these jobs and be debating with the boss--did you hear about the lady who got fired cause she had a kerry bumper sticker on her car and refused to take it off after the boss kind of demanded that she remove that political statement cause he didn’t dig it? well, then did you hear about the college president who didn’t dig the fact that amiri baraka was honored at his university and was reciting that anti-semitic poem “who” (whatever happened to academic freedom? you mean we can’t even ask questions anymore? and since when is it anti-semitic to question the manifest destiny of zionism? ok, you see where this is going…)? well. and, to quote jayne cortez, there it is.

so what we have is a blackness that deals with the world it inhabits but not the world it avoids. will write about racism of the past but will not bite back at raw capitalism & imperialism in action here and now. ok. no, not ok. really. we got to deal. if we don’t be careful we will look up and be writing our poems on the walls of concentration camps, in the silence of fascism and academic outhouses which are really intellectual sanatoriums masquerading as educational oasis.

so the cave canem reading exemplified the up and down of the personal poetry, the engagement with the personal and the avoidance of the here and now political (except as intellectual wondering, never as advocacy of action).

up first was cave canem co-founder cornelius eady, who is easily one of the most intelligent poets in america. have heard him read over a five year period or so, i can say without equivocation or fear of contradiction that he is the best public reader of the crew, has really developed an ability to project his poetry, become deft at vocalizing, pausing for emphasis, discreetly using hand motions along with timbre, texture and tempo modulations to give variety to the presentation. my man is at the top of his game in that regard. he read some selections from his book about the imaginary black man conjured up by susan smith, that white lady who killed her children and said a black man did it. cornelius said, ok, you don’t say, and imagined a whole book of poems in the voice of this non-existant kidnapper/murderer who was actually the alter ego, scapegoat. while i dug the adaciousness of the concept, and really appreciated the presentation, i was not so moved by the poems themselves, the poems as social analysis. but everyone should check out eady’s poetry because we need to encourage each other to use our imaginations.

marilyn nelson was up next with a piece about bones, about the bones of an enslaved black man that were donated to a museum after a doctor had prepared the bones and marilyn was commissioned to do the piece up in connecticut or somewhere up in that part of the country, again, a very, very interesting investigation, and again although i appreciated it intellectually, it didn’t move my butt all that much. i know there are people for whom thinking is their major way of feeling, but me myself (as we say in new orleans using a linguistic double reflexive), me myself i likes to feel to believe.

third was kwame dawes. kwame is here on a green card, meaning is not a citizen. and he said so, partially as explanation for why he had to be circumspect rather than forthright in his verbalizations. nonetheless he did this fantastic fat man poem about the atomic bomb, or at least that’s the way i interpret it, and i think it is intentionally ambiguous so ashcroft can’t use it to ship my man out of here. kwame is not a dub poet per se but is one of the hippest purveyors of reggae poetry and, by far, one of the leading cultural critics from jamaica, a man who has investigated the cultural implications of reggae in more ways than heinz got varieties of condiments. kwame laid me out when he dropped a poem called “rita” about how it felt for rita marley to be mrs. bob marley, was not no easy road. he nailed that one. yeah.

elizabeth alexander followed. i have not read enough of her work to make any kind of knowledgeable response, i say this because she is a demanding poet, her work is dense and you can’t just get it in one sip. plus, her style is like a dry wine (in my drinking days when i moved up from thunderbird and bali hai, i used to gravitate toward taylor’s cream sherry). so really, there is not much more i can say, except it is not the taste my tongue craves, which again is a reflection on me rather than on her brew.

for those of us whose wine taste ran from rot-gut and el cheapo, to sweet somethings and stuff you could afford to buy by the gallon (any yall ever tried thunderbird with unsweetened kool-aid, we used to call it “shake ‘em ups”?), well for us wine tasting simply meant getting high, and if you were late getting to the location where the wine was at then wine tasting meant you hoped you could get a corner, i.e. that little bit left at the bottom of the bottle, which when you held it up and sideways was just enough to wet your whistle, literally a taste, anyway for those of us into that kind of tasting, we had no appreciation of swirling the liquid in a goblet, appreciating the bouquet by sniffing and discretely sipping, holding the glass up to the light to appreciate the color; well, us of the wino persuasion was not into the sophistication of fine winery, and to this day, even though i don’t drink, even if i did still drink i probably would not be into fine wines, which in and of itself pretty much explains, or definitely suggests, how and why i would not be into sophisticated, well crafted, modern poetry, and the aesthetics thereof.

i believe it is more than simply a class thing, i believe it is also a cultural orientation. i could talk about it from the standpoint of music and sound, could say that the black sound, the african aesthetic as counterposed to the european aesthetic, the black/african goes for a raw note, unrefined (or could be refined) but very distinctive and able to carry everything, makes a unique noise. i mean, for instance lester young on tenor with his high, light sound. supremely lyrical, but also with a gut-bucket edge. a funkiness to it. what i am saying is: never no straight line, no purity without the contradictions and rough side of life taken into consideration. some of the black stuff is very, very difficult to achieve, requires a great deal of artistry, but at the same time it’s different and there is no appeal to an abstract greater good. the appeal is for everything to be its maximum self. so with this poetry thing, rather than spend a whole bunch of time exquisitely crafting lines, we are looking also for poetry that is both swinging and saying something, poetry that raises one up with a visceral edge, something we feel.

now the academy is deep into technique for sophistication’s sake, into detail regardless of the subject matter, and what i am suggesting is that form without content is emptiness, and content do matter, and during dangerous times we need content that is shield and spear, that is not just friendly but also comrade, i.e. ready to smite down babylon, ready to identify and, yes, defend us against our enemies, as well as ready to praise and affirm family, friends, and allies. so this is what i miss in some of the cave canem folk, there is no wrestling with changing the world, with confronting the devil and calling them beasts by the names they earn through their actions. you know you got to be a sick somebody to take nuclear waste and make bombs out of that and drop it on peoples knowing that you are not just going to blow them up, but you are also going to genetically mutilate their asses for centuries to come. and, i mean, that’s what the u.s. is doing in iraq, this is beyond war, this is inhumane crimes against humanity, international bestiality. and i think black poetry ought to be dealing with that.

and then again, who am i? and for certain i am no dictator saying that this is what everybody got to do. i’m just laying out what i advocate. not trying to dress it in the false cloak of self-righteousness, nor the so-called universality of art, just giving you kalamu’s perspective and saying what i like and don’t like, and why. (again, i invite folk to respond, i enjoy dialogue and believe that diversity is not only healthy, i believe diversity is necessary.)

toi derricotte was the last poet on the program and she did what last poets are supposed to do: sum up a general trend, exemplify the best of a given direction, and inspire us to higher heights. she did a poem which my notes say was about “african leave taking disorder” (which, i don’t think was the title of her poem, but rather was the core sentiment), and then she did a poem about her clitoris. and then she did a poem about her goldfish. who died. personal. very, very personal. and so beautifully done you could not fail to be moved. but she could have done it at the white house and not gotten arrested, although i’m sure they would have shut her down with all that clitoris stuff, but not arrested her, just told her to return to church.

when i had seen toi earlier in the day we embraced heartily and she laughed that toi laugh, a laugh that those of us who know her are intimately familiar with, a signature sound. and we talked about a time she came over to our humble abode and i cooked and we broke bread together, and we laughed together. i like toi. really do, and from the crowd reaction, i am sure that i am not the only one who likes her. so what do you do when a friend you admire and love reads a long poem about her clitoris?

i clapped, but i did feel a little bit of emotional discomfort, so a lot of the time my eyes were closed. part of the expertness of toi’s presentation was that she was able to give a detailed recital about genitalia without falling down the slippery slope of pornography or salaciousness. in fact, the poem was almost anti-sexy, almost clinical and the opposite of inviting lustful fantasies.

no doubt toi dericotte is the queen of the personal. and that poem about her goldfish, badass goldfish jumping up out of the water and kissing her lips as she leaned over and was close to the water looking at the fish… look, i’m laughing cause (and i’m not making this up) one of our workshop members had her pet frog with her when she vacated new orleans in the face of the possible hurricane landfall a couple of weeks back. i remember us driving back to the city and she pouring some perfectly good bottled water in the bowl inside a bowl that was the temporary home for her beloved froggie. so i was feeling toi’s poem, partly based on having had my own pet amphibian experience. i mean i don’t got no pet fish or frog, and have no plans on getting a pet of any persuasion, but i understand. toi, i understand.

and that was the poetic finale. a poem about a pet gold fish--the fish even had a name. i don’t remember the name now, but when toi introduced the poem, she called the fish by name, mister something or the other, and obviously, my man (strange to hang that appellation on a fish), but my man (meaning toi’s pet gold fish) had a rep cause the assembled audience which was maybe 75 or 80 percent cave canem fellows, the audience applauded and laughed in anticipatory delight when toi called the fish’s name, and this was before those of us who were not hip to mister whatever even knew that mister was a pet goldfish.

so you know i’m going to take this as a metaphorical moment. we are applauding for a pet goldfish.

and it is the concluding poem of the conference.

now, run and tell that.

make of it what you will.

we then broke for dinner before the conference finale, which was a concert featuring the baltimore-based band fertile ground and an aggregation called “full moon of sonia” led by sonia sanchez. well, alright

the finale was scheduled to start at 8pm. by the time we went back to the hotel, changed, got something to eat and drove back to the campus, it was just about 9pm. i really, really wanted to see fertile ground, hear and see every note of their program, but when it was clear that we were not going to get there anywhere near 8pm, i just kind of resigned myself to accepting that i was going to miss most if not all of their performance. like i noted early, the conference was packed tighter than twenty pounds of black butt in one of them designer slim-waist, flat-back, pre-washed size eight jeans. there was just no way any one person could do it all. you had to miss something, no matter how much you ripped and ran, you couldn’t get it all.

so when we walked in, eugene redmond was announcing “fertile ground.” you know i felt good. although later, when i found out i had missed olu butterfly, young sister poet who did a short opening set, i was disappointed. i met olu some years ago in d.c. and have seen her on various sets in the interim. she has kept up her chops, and stayed serious about developing her poetry. she works with fertile ground and has a poem on fertile ground’s new cd, “black is…” olu’s contribution, “an artist prayer” is a smoker, well done, uplifting, swinging. i dig it and since hearing the cd a bunch of times, am doublely sorry i missed her. but then when fertile ground cranked up the first number and the young folk poured out of their seats to dance down front to the left of the stage, there was olu dancing in the aisle, her dreads piled in two gigantic afro balls on either side of her head. 

olu is petite, indeed, her hair, her beautiful dreadlocks (obviously she takes good care of her hair, does more than simply let it grow) that thickly flow waist-length, began to unravel as she bopped to the music, and it turns out she was selling the cds, and once her role as distributor was clear, i immediately jumped up to cop the latest and ask about the debut cd (cause i got the other three inbetween, and also have the remix joint that came out of england). i got the new release for $12, i was pleased, very pleased.

fertile ground was excellent. they had afro-beat, they had funk, they had some neo-soul, they had an authentic, deep, jazz slot. they had the music. at some moments they had the joint jamming, peoples dancing in the aisles. at other moments folk listened attentively. it was wonderful. truly wonderful. spoke a few minutes with bandleader james collins afterwards. by the way, fertile ground is on our listserv. james says he doesn’t get a chance to check e-drum everyday, but they save all the emails and then go through them when there is time. their new cd is superb. get “black is…” today, if not sooner. another quick note, the band does not have a bass player, never did, probably never will. james on keys, plays synth bass with his left hand, while comping and soloing with his right hand. amazing. you hear bass, but, unless you specifically look, don’t realize there is no bass player on stage.

and a note about the dancing thing. although overwhelmingly so, it was not just the under thirty folk dancing, jerry ward stepping with joanne gabbin was particularly noteworthy. i focus on the dancing in particular because it is this element of our aesthetic that is too often missing in the academically-oriented poetry, i.e. not only do a lot of the book-oriented poetry lack political content, it also be square-ass poeting devoid of funk, some shit sir nose would recite, or more like write and leave dead on the page to be sight read without moving one's lips (which is deadly for a form largely based in sound, e.g. rhyming is all about sound, you got to hear rhymes not see them). 

in mfa school you spend hours and days and weeks and months studying poetry that doesn't dance as examples of poetry worthy of study, and even if nobody overtly says get rid of the bass and drum, stop all that wiggling and booty-shaking, you get the idea that such gyrations in poetry are not kosher, sort of vulgar, for certain lacking in sophistication. so your shit starts imitating an other kind of stuff and you be so intent on going forward in the world of poetry as-they-teach-it that you no longer know how to back that thing up, in fact, even feel a bit ashamed to bend over and shake a tail feather. which is truly a shame when they got blues people feeling ashamed to shake, rattle and roll. 

so i fervently hope that all those young scholars who were dancing to fertile ground don't loose the boogie, and beyond  don't loose it, i hope they put their rhythms, invoke and use their innate afrikan kinesthetic sense in the making of their poetry, which is part of why performance  poetry and spoken word is so strong today.

nia felt me thinking this, even though she didn't know what i was thinking as i was sitting their enjoying fertile ground like a fat man breaking a fast at an all you can eat soul food buffet. nia says to me, you want to go on and dance, go head. i declined at the moment, not because i didn't want to but partially because i had on no belt and have recently loss some weight and my pants were slipping and would, for sure, have slipped all the way down if i got up and shook what for; but also, and more importantly,  because at the moment i was listening and looking, thinking and  analyzing, and when i be dancing although i be listening, it be listening as a participant reacting to the music and not as a critic checking out the music, when dancing i don't be looking around at what everybody else is doing, and for sure don't be thinking about  how the music is hooked-up nor neither figuring out why some sisters well pass fifty have an elegant way of dropping down that is so seriously sensual you'd walk over twenty twenty-something youngsters for a moment to wind up with that. 

kalamu, what are you saying? i am saying that all up in this dancing thing is a truly erotic thing, a sensual celebration of life that is a hallmark of our culture from the baby who can barely walk but can bop in time to the beat, to the grand-folks who walk with a cane but can sho-nuff dance unaided. and it is precisely this element that i encourage all of us to not only keep alive in our lives but also particularly encourage the poets among us to include in our poetry as not just a leading source of content but also as an influence and shaper of the style of poetry we write, the way we make our words shimmy, shake, shout, and sway.

full moon of sonia shortened their show. our loss. i had heard portions of the cd previously and wondered about the mix—of course, i was listening online to mp3 downloads. in person they were smoking, except for the audio mix which was a bit unbalanced, sonia especially should have been up more. but three things: 1. vocalist t.c. carson, that man can sang! 2. the piece that sonia and amiri did abetted by t.c. was some way out shit. chants. surrealistic verse. peace. vocalese. scatting. avant garde jazz-poetry at its best. 3. sonia (also amiri) are pushing 70, like later this year they got birthdays… and boy, let me tell you, they was jumping and pumping, especially sonia, poeting her heart out. the energy was mega. you would have thought they were in their thirties… just goes to show you.

later, when i got a chance to listen to sonia’s cd on a good system, like in my car, or through earphones on my computer, i said, yeah. ditto, for amiri & amina’s joint: the shani project. sonia has modern production, a real contemporary sound, while baraka has a jazz trio backing with a vocalist on two of the five numbers. i don’t know for sure how you can get these recordings but as soon as i know, i will post it. [you can get the sonia cd from] meanwhile, on my radio show (wwoz 90.7fm new orleans & i played all three albums in their entirety back to back. sonia first, then amiri, then fertile ground. cause that’s the way we roll.

and then furious flower was over. at 12:30am i was online doing e-drum, at 3:45am i was in a car headed to the airport an hour away. there’s more, but i feel like i been writing forever, well, not forever, but for a long, long time on this furious flower conference. i do want to give a short shout out to joanne gabbin & crew for putting this one together. the concert was excellent finale, and showed a lot of vision and taste to end a poetry gathering with hip music and a stirring poetry performance.

after the last day

it’s 4am in the morning and we’re driving through light patches of fog on a winding mountain road headed to the charlottesville, airport. sister candice and i are the only two who have to make a 5:40am flight. we chat for a bit at the beginning of the drive. and later, at the airport while waiting for our flight, we chat some more.

candice is headed back to jackson, mississippi where she is the head of the department of english at tougaloo college. she said she was a freshman at tougaloo back in 1994 when the first furious flower went down, a student of dr. jerry ward. and now she is in charge. the mentoring my man jerry ward has done is awesome. his students are every where, taking mucho care of business.

candice asks me how long do i think before there is a third furious flower, will it be another ten years? i don’t know, but i believe if there is a third one it will happen sooner rather than later, but this may be it.

joanne gabbin, the founder and guiding light of furious flower, had to weather a major storm and all kinds of problems to pull this one off. there was a minor campus revolt with some of her colleagues vehemently opposing furious flower because baraka was being honored. then there was the utter lack of financial resources. almost all of the participants paid their own way, covered their own hotel expenses, and featured poets were offered a minimum honorarium. folk participated partly because we thought it was important for there to be a second furious flower (had the first one not been successful, i doubt there could have been a second one), and partly because we wanted to personally support joanne.

can there be a third one--well, here is where politics make a big ass difference. america’s rightward swing is going to make a third furious flower impossible if bush wins in november. paulette richards, the associate director of our neo-griot writing workshop always corrects me if i say stop bush’s re-election. she rightly points out he wasn’t elected in the first place. the supreme court handed him the presidency based on the spurious argument that there was no time to do a vote recount (and even without the recount, gore still got more votes across the board than did bush, but that’s another story).

with ass-croft as the national sheriff, and dick darth-vader-cheney as the ventriloquist (you know who the dummy is), plus that whole neo-con crew running foreign policy and straight-out raiding the treasury, well, the atmosphere will be such that no institution would dare host a furious flower. might go for a wilted flower, but no furious nothing. we might be able to talk about roses, jesus, and the flag, but you best believe none of that militant poetry that was so prominent from folk like baraka, sanchez, clifton, askia, etc. not only will there be no money for that, but some of us willl not even be allowed on the campuses.

you want to know how the good germans could go along with hitler? let bush win and you will find out. the political climate is getting narrower and narrower, and some of us will be shut down. completely. and those of us who don’t see it coming, well, gutten nacht. turn out the lights, cause it’s all over.

plus, they’re going to close down the major government funding for the arts (nea & neh, take a hike). they’re going to lean on the foundations. they’re going to stir up law and order on the college campus, bring back the classics, cut out all this new fangled crap. many of yall weren’t around for the fifties, so you have no idea what this cave crew is trying to do. but as i explained to candice, the political climate makes a major difference in terms of what can be done.

second, i think the country is changing drastically in terms of all major services: transportation, employment, food distribution, health care, right on down the line. we take a lot of stuff for granted, but if we don’t fight for change now, we are really going to have a major battle on our hands. the most obvious change is privatization by mega-corporations. this way of doing things is taking over, so that the next major gathering will require a urban setting in order to be successful. really, for as important as furious flower was, it was a small gathering. as nationally important academic conferences go, this was a small kettle of fish.

if we had a program truly representative of the broad scope of contemporary black poetry, we would have needed at least twice as many folk present. off the top of my head i can name 10 or 15 poets who should of ought to been there (wanda coleman, kamau daaoud, peter j. harris and ruth foreman just out of los angeles; where was sekou sundiata, who has two slamming cds, and jayne cortez, she of at least six cds, been doing poetry with music since before there was music!!!--anybody remember here lp with bassist richard davis?; what about that awesome storyteller ai, who had nailed the lid shut on narrative-persona poetry; and the heavyweight champ quincy troupe, slam champions roger bonair-agard, regie gibson, patricia johnson, and all time, most ever slam champion patricia smith, not to mention saul williams and staceyann chin. i ain’t saying none of these people weren’t contacted, because i don’t know that to be the case.

i’m simply saying if we’re going to really, really have a major black poetry conference, there is a lot left we have to include. and in order to do it at the level it needs to be done on, jmu is not large enough alone and there is going to have to be some serious funding, which funding is not going to be forthcoming from nea/neh, and which funding most likely will have to come from a combination of corporate sponsorship and private foundations (and there better not be no baraka still alive and shouting that shit he talk!).

but on the other hand we could have a quiet little tea-room gathering. but it wouldn’t be furious flower. and again, and again, i will say it: hats off, all praises due joanne gabbin cause she faced down all kinds of opposition to get furious flower done. i just don’t think she can step up to a larger furious flower under this current political climate. so, this then is my prediction: either we will have another gathering in, say, atlanta with a consortium of educational institutions (think the au complex meets emory university), corporate sponsorship (can anyone say coca-cola?), foundational support (ford, rockerfellow, maybe mellon), with an infrastructure such as say nbaf doing the administrative work; and all of that happening within the next five years, if bush does not regain office; or else furious flower will be a smaller gathering back at jmu in another decade. but, in another decade, things will have changed drastically.

we are in the middle of a major paradigm shift. things are not going to be the same. i don’t know for sure what’s coming, but i guarantee you it’s either going to be something we’ve never seen before or some sad shit we don’t want to see again. either the fifties redux or a brand new world aborning. we’ll see.

thanks joanne (and crew). this was a good one. let’s run on and see what the future bring.  Part I  Part II    Part III 

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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

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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  




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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