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Friday, May 20, 2016

A speaking novel unspoken


A Speaking Novel Unspoken



"If you don't like the novel," LBJ told me, "you oughtn't write about it."

LBJ has a generous heart and a Harlem Renaissance mindset.  We have to protect writers who get published in the right places.  Cast no shadow on their achievements.  Would you allow a single negative comment to throw an entire ethnic group into a ditch?

LBJ said I should not write about the novel that I happen not to like.  He didn't say I should not write around the novel.

I do not especially like novels where each paragraph is a cinderblock, related only to other cinderblocks by virtue of proximity.  The novel doesn't lack intelligence and design.  It lacks the fire I expect to find in an upper middle class confessional.  It gives me as much pleasure as an annotated telephone book.

I did find one thing to like in the novel.  The reverse revenant of a narrator mentions Sissiretta Jones.  Like Paul Laurence Dunbar's Malindy, Miss Jones could sing.  The late Ja Jahannes knew that when he wrote a play about Sissiretta Jones.  As far as divas go, she was a diva's diva.  It pleased me that the narrator rescued a jewel from the barnyard.

"O.K., LBJ.  I did not write about the novel."



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            May 20, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Note for two writers


A NOTE FOR TWO WRITERS

                After our conversations earlier this week, I recall that once the exchange of letters helped to sustain friendships.  The absence of hand-written  letters doesn't make a friendship less genuine.  It simply leaves a friendship bereft of ritual, the art of penmanship,  imagination with a feeling. The latter was most important when letters were in vogue.



                By accident, I found several instances of creative sparkle in some letters Hart Crane wrote in the 1920s to people I assume were his friends or close acquaintances.  In a letter to Harriet Monroe,  justifying phrases in his poem "At Melville's Tomb,"  Crane made well-designed comments on the reader and metaphor: "The reader's sensibility simply responds by identifying this inflection of experience [ Crane referred to inflection of language] with some event in his own history or perceptions  --  or rejects it altogether.  The logic of metaphor is so organically entrenched in pure sensibility that it can't be thoroughly traced or explained outside of historical sciences, like philology and anthropology."  Crane had the common sense that many young and not-so-young  makers of popular culture  often lack; he knew the operations of writing and reading are not democratic or universal but constrained by time , culture, and humbling knowledge of tradition.



How can one write, and expect to gain approval,  if one is dismissive of a tradition of extending and/or challenging?  When I consider that some third-class work earns top dollar, I realize the question is lame.

We older writers can only suggest to those who come to us for advice that standards, values, and discipline do matter.  Many of them have obese egos. They  over-rate their skills and talents.  Many of them are not brave enough to risk getting a rejection slip.  So be it.  If they do well in the world with  work that repeats what they don't know has already been done and  that appeals to the sensibilities of people who don't give a damn about inflection of language, so be it.  I don't want to block their success.   Why do they bother to ask for our approval?



Finding Crane's poem "Black Tambourine" in the same paperback with his selected letters was also a fortunate accident.  He did not ask Jean Toomer's approval to borrow images and metaphors from Cane in the first stanza:



The interests of a black man in a cellar

Mark tardy judgment on the world's closed door.

Gnats toss in the shadow of a bottle,

And a roach spans a crevice in the floor.



Likewise, I'll not seek the approval of Hart Crane's ghost when I write about the evil of a white man on a screen,  about a carpenter known as Z-Mann  Zimmerman.  Perhaps we are asked for approval  because we know what a letter can mean and have the skills to steal as effectively as William Shakespeare.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            May 19, 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ramcat Reads #10


Ramcat Reads #10            April 25, 2016





Borders, James B. IV, ed. Marking Time, Making Place: An Essential Chronology of Blacks in New Orleans Since 1718. Silver Spring, MD: Beckham Publications Group, Inc., 2015.

"As editor of the compilation," Anitra D. Brown wrote in her review for the March 2016 issue of The New Orleans Tribune, Borders has done the heavy lifting for us ---- researching and assembling in one place many of the names, moments, facts, events, actions and activities that construct and define the history of the existence of Black people in what is sometimes described as the most Africanized city in the America [sic]"(14).

Collier, Paul. Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

 This is a witty British treatment of "the abuse of democracy in the acquisition of power, the misuse of power once acquired, and the structural insecurity that has beset the societies of the bottom billion" (226). Wit ultimately proves to be a teaser, because Collier fails to tell us anything of substance about the problems of democracy in South America.



Kolin, Philip C.  Emmett Till in Different States: Poems. Chicago : Third World Press, 2015.

This collection takes us into the territory of abrasive remembering, the space where language gives birth to images of an iconic moment in America's violent past; these morph into kindred images of a terrible present;  Kolin's poems deliver us into the dread of an existential future.



Lee, Steven SThe Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution.  New York: Columbia University Press,  2015.

Groundbreaking in its exposing of the abject poverty of the white/black binary,  Lee's study of aesthetics and politics outlines new directions for inquiry about which cultures are giving palpable shape to which kinds of revolution.  The new territory to be examined , as Lee keenly recognizes, may demand that we redefine "avant-garde" in African and Asian terms and relegate the pompous West to a subaltern position in our tentative conclusions about what world revolution entails.  It is an interesting experiment to compare Lee's ideas about redefining with those provided by eleven pieces collected under the title "Adjust Your Maps: Manifestos from, for, and about United States Southern Studies," PMLA 131.1 (2016): 153-196.







Medina, Tony, ed. Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky. Durham, NC: Jacar Press, 2016.

Two aspects of this collection deserve special attention. "Proceeds from the sales of this book will be donated to the' Whitney M. Young Social Justice Scholarship' sponsored by The Greater Washington Urban League, Thursday Network"  [verso of the title page].  Tony Medina is indeed in the tradition of writing/editing work  (and encouraging his fellow writers to do likewise) that minimizes amnesia as Americans resist having their minds arrested





Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

 The phrase "how X changed America" is cliché-code for "this book will serve well as a smokescreen for bloody flaws in the constitution and evolving character of the United States of America ."  This is not to imply that books having the phrase in their subtitles are themselves flawed.  On the contrary, many of them are damned good.  But we must not be taken in by the rhetorical gestures of mainstream publishers to assure readers that the process of change merits great praise.

 In the case of Michaeli's The Defender, it is apt to say the book is meticulous, necessary, and rewarding for people who have the discipline to read more than a tweet.  After reading 534 well-written pages, it is rewarding to read Michaeli's crowning assertion: "Working at The Defender allowed me to see the truth about America, that 'race' is a pernicious lie that permeates our laws and customs, revived in each generation by entrenched interests that threaten to undermine the entire national enterprise, just as it is challenged in each generation by a courageous few who believe that this nation can truly become a bastion of justice and equality" (535).

The Defender did not change America. It was one of many uses of African American literacy in our endless war with forms of dehumanization in our nation.  Let us give due credit to Michaeli for constructing a history which can retard  the velocity of disremembering.  And while we are doing so, we can explore James McGrath Morris's Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press. New York: Amistad, 2015. Payne was the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender.



Moore, Lenard D., William F. Gross, and Larry D. LeanThe Satire Project: a collaboration of art, music, and poetry (book + DVD). Mount Olive,  North Carolina: University of Mount Olive, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-692-68026-1.  $15.00

Gross, Lean, and Moore based their satiric project on two primary beliefs: (1) combining painting, poetry, and music can produce "a work that would be more imaginative than any of the single disciplines could create alone" and (2) Aristotle was correct in proposing "the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts."  If one likes the sonic  work of the avant garde chamber music ensemble Imani Winds or The Cosmic Quintet (Kidd Jordan, Douglas Ewart, Alvin Fielder, Chris Severin, and Luther Gray), the poetry of Bob Kaufman (check out his magnificent poem "The Ancient Rain")  and Safia Elhillo (check out "a suite for ol' dirty" in The BreakBeat Poets), and paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat,  Paul Klee, Miles Davis, and Pavel Tchelitchew, it is probable that one will like The Satire Project.  It does not disappoint in its outroducing of expectations.

Gross, Lean, and Moore assume that satire can direct "attention to shortcomings in our society."  In the 21st century, however, satire directs far greater attention to the yearnings of artists than to violations of or failures to live up to  American social values .  Ask Spike Lee who struggled to give us redemptive satire in "Bamboozled" and guilt-inducing satire in "Chi Raq."  Or you might ask Lee's nemesis, Quentin Tarantino, who filmed over-the-top revenge satire in "Django Unchained." The success of satire depends on some consensus regarding desirable values and behaviors.  In some dim past there may have been such nominal consensus in our body politic, but in the present we can only agree that we do not agree. The success of The Satire Project isn't located in moving us to make things better  (whatever "better" might entail) but in moving us closer to aesthetic recognitions. And the most important recognition is that time does more to outroduce expectations than to introduce them.

Moving forth and back between Lean's paintings and  Moore's ekphrastic poems in the book constitutes a special exercise in visual rhetoric, but the more rewarding aesthetic pleasure comes from negotiating the atonal offerings of Gross, the graffiti acrylic paintings of Lean, and vocal performances of Moore on the DVD.  Inspired no doubt by Gross's unpredictable soundings,  Moore transforms his print texts into minutes of ear-jazz, and, in many instances,  Moore  "sounds" better off the page than he does on it because he liberates the words. The outroducing of expectations in The Satire Project as book and DVD is a fine investment of American  time.

O'Neal, JohnDon't Start Me To Talking…Plays of Struggle and Liberation: The Selected Plays of John O'Neal.  New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2016.

John O'Neal is a co-founder of the Free Southern Theater and founder of  "Junebug Productions, a professional African-American arts organization in New Orleans. For FST, O'Neal worked as a field director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and worked as a national field program director with the Committee for Racial Justice" [information from the back cover of Don't Start Me…] Scholars who are now reassessing the cross-fertilization of the  Civil Rights Movement with the Black Arts and the Black Power  Movements and all that followed it will appreciate having the texts of five of the plays from the Junebug Jabbo Jones cycle "along with four of O'Neal's large-scale ensemble productions, performed by his company Junebug Productions and in cross-cultural collaborations with A Traveling Jewish Theatre (San Francisco), Roadside Theater (Kentucky) and Pregones Theater (Bronx, New York)" [information from the back cover].





Osbey, Brenda MarieAll Souls: Essential Poems. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2015.

Rather than republishing all the poems from her five  previous collections, Osbey has culled those poems that she deems to be essential.  As Deborah McDowell remarked in her blurb for All Souls, the poems are essential "in every meaning of the term: Essential to readers who love exquisite language, expansive knowledge, amazing erudition, fascinating rhythm, formal elegance.  Essential to readers unafraid of tunneling through the dark corridors of history, memory, and desire; readers who can bear to have their eyes forced open…."



Penrose, Roger. The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. New York: Vintage, 2007.

If one reads the 1049 pages of this tome, one acquires a liberal education in contemporary physics. Writers who are receptive to enlivening their imaginations with facts about magical complex numbers, Fourier decomposition  and hyperfunctions, the ladder of infinity, and the entangled quantum world will dance circles around critics who believe literary and cultural theories provide answers for everything.  Penrose also makes a wonderful  suggestion about using   www.arxiv.org  where scientists "communicate new ideas at an incredibly high speed" (1050).



Reed, Ishmael, ed. Black Hollywood Unchained: Commentary on the State of Black Hollywood. Chicago: Third World Press, 2015.

The twenty-eight contributors create a provocative dialogue about race, cinema, and how the film industry enslaves the American mind.



Reed, Ishmael. The Complete Muhammad Ali. Montreal: Baraka Books, 2015.

Reed provides a unique portrait of Muhammad Ali in the intersecting contexts of Black Nationalism, the Nation of Islam, and American sport.   He rewards us with yet one more instance of the extent to which writing is fighting.



Roy, DarleneAfrosynthesis: A Feast of Poetry and Folklore.  East St. Louis, IL: Kuumba Scribes Press, 2015.

A cofounder of the legendary Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, Roy provides us with stellar examples of the kwansaba, a form "developed by Eugene B. Redmond and refined in an EBRWC summer workshop in 1995" (60).  Afrosynthesis should be read along with Treasure Shields Redmond's chop: a collection of kwansabas for fannie lou hamer. Stow, OH: Winged City Press, 2015.              

Zheng, John, ed. African American Haiku: Cultural Visions.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.



When John Zheng, a noted poet and Wright scholar, edited The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku (2011), he hoped that the collection of critical essays would "lead readers to the fragrant tree of Haiku: This Other World to read for aesthetic appreciation and for more criticism as well" (xviii).  His hope did not fall on barren ground.  Scholars and students who have a dedicated interest in the totality of Richard Wright's works did indeed read the book to discover facts about Wright's achievement as a poet who experimented with an Asian poetic form to probe his Western identity and African American sensibility.  American interest in Eastern culture and literary expressions has its origins in the nineteenth century. Interest  assumed special articulation in the modernist period, including Lewis Grandison Alexander's commentary on "Japanese Hokkus" in the December 1923 issue of The Crisis and the publication of  Alexander's Tanka I-VIII and twelve haikus in Countee Cullen's seminal anthology Caroling Dusk (1927).  Thus, we have evidence ---Cullen noted that Alexander specialized in Japanese forms -- for  Asian influence in an evolving African American poetic tradition. Zheng's editing a  collection of essays on African American haiku is at once logical and a signal that, ill-informed arguments notwithstanding, black poetry has never chosen to inhabit ghettoes in the global community of poetry and poetics.

The arrangement of essays in  African American Haiku: Cultural Visions demonstrates Zheng's focused investment  in enlarging the territory for critical exploration.  Opening with Zheng's "The Japanese Influence on Richard Wright's Haiku" and Sachi Nakachi's "Richard Wright's Haiku, or the Poetry of Double Voice," the book invites us to take a retrospective glance as preparation for the essays on James Emanuel, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, and Lenard D. Moore which direct us toward a future.

In this sense, African American Haiku provides a model of how critical discourses may be constructed.  It also provides necessary grounds for agreement and counter-argument.  For example, Yoshinobu Hakutani's "James Emanuel's Jazz Haiku and African American Individualism" is a masterful treatment of how Emanuel's "haiku, with sharp, compressed images, strongly reflect the syncopated sounds and rhythms of African American jazz"(56).  For readers who might object that Hakutani's ideas about jazz, individualism, and poetry are not sufficiently nuanced, Virginia Whatley Smith's "Afro-Asian Syncretism in James Emanuel's Postmodernist Jazz Haiku" is a remedy.  Smith's examination of Emanuel's work is precise, surgical and very persuasive in making the case "that Emanuel's postmodernist jazz haiku text projects African American culture more distinctly into an already transnational space in which "jazz" music brings together people from around the world in a common dialogue about universal humanism" (59).

 Jazz is one of several musical modes begot by the blues, and the point is not lost in Claude Wilkinson's " 'No Square Poet's Job': Improvisation in Etheridge Knight's Haiku," a provocative analysis of how "Knight's haiku exert a certain bravura reminiscent of the toasts by which he honed his linguistic skills"(107).  Meta L. Schettler's "An African High Priestess of Haiku: Sonia Sanchez and the Principles of a Black Aesthetic" and Richard A. Iadonisi's "Writing the (Revolutionary ) Body: The Haiku of Sonia Sanchez" address Sanchez's unique womanist cultural visions and several of the issues associated with reading haiku through the lens of the Black Arts Movement.  These two essays are appropriately followed  by a trilogy on the work of Lenard D. Moore, who is the most prolific African American writer of haiku:  Toru Kiuchi's "African American Aesthetic Tradition in Lenard D. Moore's Haiku," Ce Rosenow's "Sequences of Events: African American Communal Narratives in the Haiku of Lenard D. Moore" and Sheila Smith McKoy's "Contextualizing Renso and Sankofa:  A Cultural and Critical Exploration of Lenard D. Moore's Haiku."  Kiuchi writes poignantly about his personal correspondence with Moore and how Moore "has turned his life and experiences into expressions through imagistic haiku and other poems with his African American aesthetics" (161).  Rosenow applauds Moore's innovative gestures in "the paradoxical choice to construct communal narratives using a literary form that strives to distance itself from narrative conventions" (164), and McKoy's essay is itself remarkably innovative in linking "renso and sankofa, two concepts that come to us from seemingly disparate sources: ancient Japan and ancient Ghana" (180) to create a persuasive argument that Moore's "contributions as poet and as teacher are indicative of living a haiku life" (190).

It is unlikely that readers will examine the essays in just the order Zheng has chosen, but the effort to do so is rewarding.  The essays work as an ensemble that illuminates Zheng's introduction, a concise and scholarly frame for inquiry about how African American poets have studied, embraced, and made innovations in an ancient Japanese genre.  The introduction is a valuable literary historical guide for sustained study of haiku, African American modernity, and cross-cultural poetics.  African American Haiku: Cultural Visions is seminal for future criticism regarding how Japanese formal aesthetics have been liberated by poets, how haiku is transformed in literary contact zones, and how diversity is constituted by the cosmopolitan practices of individual African American poets.  The book is destined to have an impact on theoretically sophisticated  directions in the study of modern and contemporary African American poetry.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Central China Normal University



Ramcat Reads #10            April 25, 2016





Borders, James B. IV, ed. Marking Time, Making Place: An Essential Chronology of Blacks in New Orleans Since 1718. Silver Spring, MD: Beckham Publications Group, Inc., 2015.

"As editor of the compilation," Anitra D. Brown wrote in her review for the March 2016 issue of The New Orleans Tribune, Borders has done the heavy lifting for us ---- researching and assembling in one place many of the names, moments, facts, events, actions and activities that construct and define the history of the existence of Black people in what is sometimes described as the most Africanized city in the America [sic]"(14).

Collier, Paul. Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

 This is a witty British treatment of "the abuse of democracy in the acquisition of power, the misuse of power once acquired, and the structural insecurity that has beset the societies of the bottom billion" (226). Wit ultimately proves to be a teaser, because Collier fails to tell us anything of substance about the problems of democracy in South America.



Kolin, Philip C.  Emmett Till in Different States: Poems. Chicago : Third World Press, 2015.

This collection takes us into the territory of abrasive remembering, the space where language gives birth to images of an iconic moment in America's violent past; these morph into kindred images of a terrible present;  Kolin's poems deliver us into the dread of an existential future.



Lee, Steven SThe Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution.  New York: Columbia University Press,  2015.

Groundbreaking in its exposing of the abject poverty of the white/black binary,  Lee's study of aesthetics and politics outlines new directions for inquiry about which cultures are giving palpable shape to which kinds of revolution.  The new territory to be examined , as Lee keenly recognizes, may demand that we redefine "avant-garde" in African and Asian terms and relegate the pompous West to a subaltern position in our tentative conclusions about what world revolution entails.  It is an interesting experiment to compare Lee's ideas about redefining with those provided by eleven pieces collected under the title "Adjust Your Maps: Manifestos from, for, and about United States Southern Studies," PMLA 131.1 (2016): 153-196.







Medina, Tony, ed. Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky. Durham, NC: Jacar Press, 2016.

Two aspects of this collection deserve special attention. "Proceeds from the sales of this book will be donated to the' Whitney M. Young Social Justice Scholarship' sponsored by The Greater Washington Urban League, Thursday Network"  [verso of the title page].  Tony Medina is indeed in the tradition of writing/editing work  (and encouraging his fellow writers to do likewise) that minimizes amnesia as Americans resist having their minds arrested





Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

 The phrase "how X changed America" is cliché-code for "this book will serve well as a smokescreen for bloody flaws in the constitution and evolving character of the United States of America ."  This is not to imply that books having the phrase in their subtitles are themselves flawed.  On the contrary, many of them are damned good.  But we must not be taken in by the rhetorical gestures of mainstream publishers to assure readers that the process of change merits great praise.

 In the case of Michaeli's The Defender, it is apt to say the book is meticulous, necessary, and rewarding for people who have the discipline to read more than a tweet.  After reading 534 well-written pages, it is rewarding to read Michaeli's crowning assertion: "Working at The Defender allowed me to see the truth about America, that 'race' is a pernicious lie that permeates our laws and customs, revived in each generation by entrenched interests that threaten to undermine the entire national enterprise, just as it is challenged in each generation by a courageous few who believe that this nation can truly become a bastion of justice and equality" (535).

The Defender did not change America. It was one of many uses of African American literacy in our endless war with forms of dehumanization in our nation.  Let us give due credit to Michaeli for constructing a history which can retard  the velocity of disremembering.  And while we are doing so, we can explore James McGrath Morris's Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press. New York: Amistad, 2015. Payne was the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender.



Moore, Lenard D., William F. Gross, and Larry D. LeanThe Satire Project: a collaboration of art, music, and poetry (book + DVD). Mount Olive,  North Carolina: University of Mount Olive, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-692-68026-1.  $15.00

Gross, Lean, and Moore based their satiric project on two primary beliefs: (1) combining painting, poetry, and music can produce "a work that would be more imaginative than any of the single disciplines could create alone" and (2) Aristotle was correct in proposing "the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts."  If one likes the sonic  work of the avant garde chamber music ensemble Imani Winds or The Cosmic Quintet (Kidd Jordan, Douglas Ewart, Alvin Fielder, Chris Severin, and Luther Gray), the poetry of Bob Kaufman (check out his magnificent poem "The Ancient Rain")  and Safia Elhillo (check out "a suite for ol' dirty" in The BreakBeat Poets), and paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat,  Paul Klee, Miles Davis, and Pavel Tchelitchew, it is probable that one will like The Satire Project.  It does not disappoint in its outroducing of expectations.

Gross, Lean, and Moore assume that satire can direct "attention to shortcomings in our society."  In the 21st century, however, satire directs far greater attention to the yearnings of artists than to violations of or failures to live up to  American social values .  Ask Spike Lee who struggled to give us redemptive satire in "Bamboozled" and guilt-inducing satire in "Chi Raq."  Or you might ask Lee's nemesis, Quentin Tarantino, who filmed over-the-top revenge satire in "Django Unchained." The success of satire depends on some consensus regarding desirable values and behaviors.  In some dim past there may have been such nominal consensus in our body politic, but in the present we can only agree that we do not agree. The success of The Satire Project isn't located in moving us to make things better  (whatever "better" might entail) but in moving us closer to aesthetic recognitions. And the most important recognition is that time does more to outroduce expectations than to introduce them.

Moving forth and back between Lean's paintings and  Moore's ekphrastic poems in the book constitutes a special exercise in visual rhetoric, but the more rewarding aesthetic pleasure comes from negotiating the atonal offerings of Gross, the graffiti acrylic paintings of Lean, and vocal performances of Moore on the DVD.  Inspired no doubt by Gross's unpredictable soundings,  Moore transforms his print texts into minutes of ear-jazz, and, in many instances,  Moore  "sounds" better off the page than he does on it because he liberates the words. The outroducing of expectations in The Satire Project as book and DVD is a fine investment of American  time.

O'Neal, JohnDon't Start Me To Talking…Plays of Struggle and Liberation: The Selected Plays of John O'Neal.  New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2016.

John O'Neal is a co-founder of the Free Southern Theater and founder of  "Junebug Productions, a professional African-American arts organization in New Orleans. For FST, O'Neal worked as a field director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and worked as a national field program director with the Committee for Racial Justice" [information from the back cover of Don't Start Me…] Scholars who are now reassessing the cross-fertilization of the  Civil Rights Movement with the Black Arts and the Black Power  Movements and all that followed it will appreciate having the texts of five of the plays from the Junebug Jabbo Jones cycle "along with four of O'Neal's large-scale ensemble productions, performed by his company Junebug Productions and in cross-cultural collaborations with A Traveling Jewish Theatre (San Francisco), Roadside Theater (Kentucky) and Pregones Theater (Bronx, New York)" [information from the back cover].





Osbey, Brenda MarieAll Souls: Essential Poems. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2015.

Rather than republishing all the poems from her five  previous collections, Osbey has culled those poems that she deems to be essential.  As Deborah McDowell remarked in her blurb for All Souls, the poems are essential "in every meaning of the term: Essential to readers who love exquisite language, expansive knowledge, amazing erudition, fascinating rhythm, formal elegance.  Essential to readers unafraid of tunneling through the dark corridors of history, memory, and desire; readers who can bear to have their eyes forced open…."



Penrose, Roger. The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. New York: Vintage, 2007.

If one reads the 1049 pages of this tome, one acquires a liberal education in contemporary physics. Writers who are receptive to enlivening their imaginations with facts about magical complex numbers, Fourier decomposition  and hyperfunctions, the ladder of infinity, and the entangled quantum world will dance circles around critics who believe literary and cultural theories provide answers for everything.  Penrose also makes a wonderful  suggestion about using   www.arxiv.org  where scientists "communicate new ideas at an incredibly high speed" (1050).



Reed, Ishmael, ed. Black Hollywood Unchained: Commentary on the State of Black Hollywood. Chicago: Third World Press, 2015.

The twenty-eight contributors create a provocative dialogue about race, cinema, and how the film industry enslaves the American mind.



Reed, Ishmael. The Complete Muhammad Ali. Montreal: Baraka Books, 2015.

Reed provides a unique portrait of Muhammad Ali in the intersecting contexts of Black Nationalism, the Nation of Islam, and American sport.   He rewards us with yet one more instance of the extent to which writing is fighting.



Roy, DarleneAfrosynthesis: A Feast of Poetry and Folklore.  East St. Louis, IL: Kuumba Scribes Press, 2015.

A cofounder of the legendary Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, Roy provides us with stellar examples of the kwansaba, a form "developed by Eugene B. Redmond and refined in an EBRWC summer workshop in 1995" (60).  Afrosynthesis should be read along with Treasure Shields Redmond's chop: a collection of kwansabas for fannie lou hamer. Stow, OH: Winged City Press, 2015.              

Zheng, John, ed. African American Haiku: Cultural Visions.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.



When John Zheng, a noted poet and Wright scholar, edited The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku (2011), he hoped that the collection of critical essays would "lead readers to the fragrant tree of Haiku: This Other World to read for aesthetic appreciation and for more criticism as well" (xviii).  His hope did not fall on barren ground.  Scholars and students who have a dedicated interest in the totality of Richard Wright's works did indeed read the book to discover facts about Wright's achievement as a poet who experimented with an Asian poetic form to probe his Western identity and African American sensibility.  American interest in Eastern culture and literary expressions has its origins in the nineteenth century. Interest  assumed special articulation in the modernist period, including Lewis Grandison Alexander's commentary on "Japanese Hokkus" in the December 1923 issue of The Crisis and the publication of  Alexander's Tanka I-VIII and twelve haikus in Countee Cullen's seminal anthology Caroling Dusk (1927).  Thus, we have evidence ---Cullen noted that Alexander specialized in Japanese forms -- for  Asian influence in an evolving African American poetic tradition. Zheng's editing a  collection of essays on African American haiku is at once logical and a signal that, ill-informed arguments notwithstanding, black poetry has never chosen to inhabit ghettoes in the global community of poetry and poetics.

The arrangement of essays in  African American Haiku: Cultural Visions demonstrates Zheng's focused investment  in enlarging the territory for critical exploration.  Opening with Zheng's "The Japanese Influence on Richard Wright's Haiku" and Sachi Nakachi's "Richard Wright's Haiku, or the Poetry of Double Voice," the book invites us to take a retrospective glance as preparation for the essays on James Emanuel, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, and Lenard D. Moore which direct us toward a future.

In this sense, African American Haiku provides a model of how critical discourses may be constructed.  It also provides necessary grounds for agreement and counter-argument.  For example, Yoshinobu Hakutani's "James Emanuel's Jazz Haiku and African American Individualism" is a masterful treatment of how Emanuel's "haiku, with sharp, compressed images, strongly reflect the syncopated sounds and rhythms of African American jazz"(56).  For readers who might object that Hakutani's ideas about jazz, individualism, and poetry are not sufficiently nuanced, Virginia Whatley Smith's "Afro-Asian Syncretism in James Emanuel's Postmodernist Jazz Haiku" is a remedy.  Smith's examination of Emanuel's work is precise, surgical and very persuasive in making the case "that Emanuel's postmodernist jazz haiku text projects African American culture more distinctly into an already transnational space in which "jazz" music brings together people from around the world in a common dialogue about universal humanism" (59).

 Jazz is one of several musical modes begot by the blues, and the point is not lost in Claude Wilkinson's " 'No Square Poet's Job': Improvisation in Etheridge Knight's Haiku," a provocative analysis of how "Knight's haiku exert a certain bravura reminiscent of the toasts by which he honed his linguistic skills"(107).  Meta L. Schettler's "An African High Priestess of Haiku: Sonia Sanchez and the Principles of a Black Aesthetic" and Richard A. Iadonisi's "Writing the (Revolutionary ) Body: The Haiku of Sonia Sanchez" address Sanchez's unique womanist cultural visions and several of the issues associated with reading haiku through the lens of the Black Arts Movement.  These two essays are appropriately followed  by a trilogy on the work of Lenard D. Moore, who is the most prolific African American writer of haiku:  Toru Kiuchi's "African American Aesthetic Tradition in Lenard D. Moore's Haiku," Ce Rosenow's "Sequences of Events: African American Communal Narratives in the Haiku of Lenard D. Moore" and Sheila Smith McKoy's "Contextualizing Renso and Sankofa:  A Cultural and Critical Exploration of Lenard D. Moore's Haiku."  Kiuchi writes poignantly about his personal correspondence with Moore and how Moore "has turned his life and experiences into expressions through imagistic haiku and other poems with his African American aesthetics" (161).  Rosenow applauds Moore's innovative gestures in "the paradoxical choice to construct communal narratives using a literary form that strives to distance itself from narrative conventions" (164), and McKoy's essay is itself remarkably innovative in linking "renso and sankofa, two concepts that come to us from seemingly disparate sources: ancient Japan and ancient Ghana" (180) to create a persuasive argument that Moore's "contributions as poet and as teacher are indicative of living a haiku life" (190).

It is unlikely that readers will examine the essays in just the order Zheng has chosen, but the effort to do so is rewarding.  The essays work as an ensemble that illuminates Zheng's introduction, a concise and scholarly frame for inquiry about how African American poets have studied, embraced, and made innovations in an ancient Japanese genre.  The introduction is a valuable literary historical guide for sustained study of haiku, African American modernity, and cross-cultural poetics.  African American Haiku: Cultural Visions is seminal for future criticism regarding how Japanese formal aesthetics have been liberated by poets, how haiku is transformed in literary contact zones, and how diversity is constituted by the cosmopolitan practices of individual African American poets.  The book is destined to have an impact on theoretically sophisticated  directions in the study of modern and contemporary African American poetry.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Central China Normal University


Missing entry from THE KATRINA PAPERS


Missing entry from TKP

The following entry was deleted from the published manuscript of THE KATRINA PAPERS: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (2008).  If you own  the book, copy and insert this entry between pages 78 and 79.





TKP, Thursday, February 9, 2006



Escaping for two days from New Orleans (the Washington Post, 2/9/06 front page story on a cycle of waiting labeled the city "Limbo Land") to Washington, DC permits me to taste life as it once was. The Doubletree Guest Suites is adjacent to George Washington University.  I took advantage of proximity and visited James A. Miller in the Department of English.  I did not announce my visit.  I just took a chance that he might be around at lunchtime.  He was.  And he was surprised.  We had a very collegial chat ----two black men concerned, as we mutually discovered, about the invention of new New Negroes and the shameless theorizing of Katrina and the undeniable consequential abandoning of a historical sense that would validate an African American historical purpose.  My conversation with Jim was a stream of topic hits:  Richard Wright, "social death," Julia Wright, the RW Newsletter, Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic categories and my disdain for Gilroy's Against Race;  Yale, the projected  Cambridge History of African American Literature (CHAAL); the state of Dillard University and the state of GWU.  When two men who cut their academic teeth (& future patterns thereof) in the ambience of BAM get together, the racialized implications of everything NOW is the likely theme.  Jim mentioned Endesha Ida Mae Holland  ---a reminder of my suggesting last week that she be remembered along w/Rosa Parks and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.  I do not like the cheap praise of the famous overshadowing the genuine praise of the unsung.  When I arrived at Jim's office he was eating a modest lunch.  He accompanied me to a nearby Au Bon Pain so that I could satisfy my own hunger with a sandwich and coffee.  Seeing Jim was a godsend, a reknotting of old professional bonds.



Had dinner at Circle Bistro, 1 Washington Circle, NW, with John Page, whose sending me a novel by Ishmael Reed is a remote historical cause for my being in DC to talk about Reed at Howard U's Heart's Day on February 10.  John has been reading nola.com daily, and he is very interested in my view of things in my embattled city.  John brought me the anniversary copy of Black Boy with intro by Edward P. Jones.
v

Friday, May 13, 2016

Death & Fame


DEATH AND FAME



Being deliberately out of touch with much that is trendy and fashionable in the world of 2016, I am not impressed with outpourings of grief each time a person who has accomplished something dies.  Did you know the person as more than a name in a newspaper or magazine or a reproduction on a television or cinema screen?  Did you have meaningful conversations with the person?  Did you have a meal, drinks, tea or coffee, laughter or tears with the person as the two of you discussed issues of mutual interest?  Was the person your teacher or mentor?   Did you exchange correspondence ( letters/emails) which was  personal rather than just professional?  Did you publish constructive criticism of the person's work?  If the person was a fellow writer, did you review the person's  book (s)  or an isolated work that gave you insights about genius, craft, wisdom or just plain common sense? Did you try to help that person get a job or a fellowship by writing recommendations?  Did you publish the person in a magazine or an anthology  that you edited?  Did you explain, first to yourself and then to the person, why her or his artistry or argumentation is more than a throwaway item in cultural, social, or intellectual histories?

If you can't say "yes" to most of these questions (and to others I've not itemized), I suspect your grief is not genuine.  I suspect you are an opportunist, lacking a judicious measure of respect or honesty or humanity.  I am so old-fashioned, old school, or downright antiquated in my navigation of feelings as to believe you should share the esteem you have for people when they can see, hear or read it.  In some instances the expression of regard is quite private and remains forever unknown by a public.  That's cool.  It is more important that the person knows where the regard is coming from.  After the person is dead, cremated or buried, your weeping or your wording of grief contributes nothing to the person's happiness or spiritual balance.  Your chatter  is an ephemeral gesture of  self-serving desire.  It is merely your ego calling  attention to itself. Publishing well-researched, thoughtful critical assessments of a dead person's achievements and legacy to humankind is quite a different matter.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            May 13, 2016

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Kwansaba


Discovery and Discipline in East St. Louis

To obtain an informed  view of what is happening in American poetry and poetics, you have to do a lot of work.  One task is to attend to matters of discovery and discipline in East St. Louis and the directions traced in

Roy, Darlene. Afrosynthesis: A Feast of Poetry & Folklore.  East St. Louis: Kuumba Scribes Press, 2015.

Roy, a co-founder of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club,  has compiled a guidebook to the kind of African American experimentation and lore which is seldom mentioned in such  critical discourses on the status of our literature as the anthology What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015), edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen and Lauri Ramey.  Roy's book is evidence that our literary culture is vast , always contributing the American  historical narrative which is myopic and unfinished.  The yearly "Da-Dum-Dun" gatherings that pay homage to Miles Dewey Davis, Henry Dumas, and Katherine Dunham enliven triple consciousness regarding sound, words, and motion, but that consciousness can only be transmitted by such a creative document as Afrosynthesis, which allows us to discover the rewarding discipline of the kwansaba,  a fixed poetic form that originated in East St. Louis.

"The kwansaba," Roy explains , "is a form composed of seven lines of poetry, each of which has seven words, with each word containing no more than seven letters.  It was developed by Eugene B. Redmond and refined in an EBRWC summer workshop in 1995" (60).  The forty-three  kwansabas  in Afrosynthesis, which are prefaced by free flowing poems, blues, toasts, haikus and tankas  ---preparatory works for dealing with the challenges of the kwansaba, illuminate how to both conform to and depart from the strict rules.  In "Appendix: Guidelines to Writing Effective Kwansabas" (60-61), Roy enumerates permissible exceptions to the rule of seven and suggests using alliteration, assonance, neologisms, and onomatopoeia to maximize variety.

 It is pleasant to discover from careful readings of Roy's kwansabas how discipline within a tradition inspires remarkable innovations  ---re-w(rapping), for example, of consciousness into conch-us-nests.  Through the dedicated play with language and form, Roy teaches us how shape historical clues about the April 1, 1865 founding of East St. Louis or the July 2, 1917 race riot (a prism for Ferguson, August 9, 2014); craft  praise poems for Mrs. Ezora Gertrude Woodard Duncan, Josephine Baker, Barack Hussein Obama,  Sonia Sanchez, Quincy Troupe;  remix Paul Laurence Dunbar's phonetics with the humor of Langston Hughes.  Ultimately, Roy teaches us that the discipline demanded by fixed poetic forms begets stronger authenticity and encourages sustained meditation on the conditions of now.  Ah, yes. Afrosynthesis gives us proof that innovation in a nest of complex African American imperatives  is a beautiful thing in need-plagued time.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            May 11, 2016

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ramcat Reads #11


Ramcat Reads #11



Sinha, Manisha.  The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition.  New Haven: Yale UP, 2016.



Echoing compliments Nell Irvin Painter and John Stauffer pay to The Slave's Cause in their blurbs,

one can say Sinha has written "a revolutionary narrative" that "should be required reading for every scholar in the humanities and social sciences who is concerned with the American condition."  Ought not the book be required for scientists who have a slight interest in being well-rounded?  Is the segregation of disciplines not a reprehensible gesture of correctness?



The Slave's Cause is instructive for all readers, professional and lay, especially readers who are curious about  the nature of historiography.  Those readers, of course,  must have the conviction Stefan M. Wheelock champions in Barbaric Culture and Black Critique (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016), the belief that "one can never be so narrowly fixed on the evils of race slavery to miss the modern cultural practices, both sacred and profane, that made the institution possible and gave it an enduring consequence" (xi). The  condition which  enslaves Americans in the twenty-first century is a logical consequence of material and symbolic factors in the whole history of the United States, those that endow colorblind bondage with meaning.  Astute readers are receptive to implications of longue durée suggested by Wheelock and exploited well by Sinha.  Their minds and bodies register those implications in their experiences of  daily life.



Sinha's extensive research and reader-friendly eloquence draw attention to the impact of words on our sense of being-in-the-world. She meets the high standards of scholarship that the rhetoric of partisan criticism often minimizes, thereby securing grounds for refutation in a refreshingly principled fashion.  Without apology for her moral sensibility, she produces an attractive, illuminating historical narrative. Conservative, liberal,  and centrist American readers  can disagree with her angles of interpretation, but they would have to plunge into the absurd to disagree with her verifiable particles of evidence. It is difficult to argue with quarks without exposing oneself as a barbarian.



The Slave's Cause is quite appealing to readers who can agree with the physicist Carlo Rovelli that "the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things, a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities" (Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, 33). It can be argued that words and the ideas they enclose are anti-ephemeral but not devoid of animosity.  As we are swiftly learning in the Age of Trump, we may need to read The Slave's Cause as a guidebook for re-enacting the history of abolition.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            May 10, 2016