A Moving Object
   File under: Alabama , America , Civil Rights , Denver , Editing , Food , Information Technology , Intake , Interior Monologue , Labwork , Language , Listening , Lomography / Photography , Memory & Memorial , Poetry & Poetics , Postcards , Self-promotion , Steganography , Tapeworm , Teaching , The South

For my RSS readers, I am radically redesigning my entire site, so the blog root and RSS feeds are changing. Please visit me at www.jakeadamyork.com and let's go from there. It will probably be another 2-3 weeks before all the RSS feeds are in place, but maybe you can take a gander and let me know what you think of the new look and function until then.

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With Signs Following
   File under: America , Lomography / Photography , The South

It's here. And I'm proud as a brother that my brother has made and published these photographs.

But, also as a native and a student of the South, I'm grateful for this work.

Because, I'm Joe's brother, it's hard to pretend to any sort of objectivity, but this book is one of those I would immediately have to buy had I seen it in a bookstore, for here is a window on the world through which I drove for many years, the cross-haunted landscape of the Deep South, often grayed through weather or familiarity, but always indelibly signed with the signs of Christ, of God, of church — from simple roadside memorials to the folk-apocalyptic sculpture gardens like W. C. Rice's Cross Garden in Prattville, Alabama.

Maybe all of the South is like this. I remember when I used to drive I-77 and I-81 into the middle of Virginia, I'd see a trio of crosses from Galax to Wytheville and beyond, almost alarming in their size, uniformity, and ubiquity, and also challenging insofar as the center cross was often painted yellow or gold, which I thought somehow missed one of the points of Jesus's crucifixion, among the lowly from whom he never stood apart.

But—maybe because I've logged more road-hours in Alabama than anywhere else and because that's where my brother's logged most of his road-hours—the scenes in this book take me back, both to Deep South roadside and to the practice of driving just to drive, to think, and being caught be these signs more often than I can remember.

You can get a preview here.

This weekend's celebration was wonderful, and it involved lots of eating, on which more soon (we have photos), but for now, let me say, go get this book.

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Whole Hog...
   File under: America , Denver , Food , Information Technology , Intake , Self-promotion

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   File under: America , Denver , Information Technology , Intake

And again...


A Taco Stand on Every Corner
   File under: America , Food

Simmons Buntin wants a taco stand on every corner, and I couldn't agree more.


Justice Delayed...
   File under: America , Civil Rights , Memory & Memorial

James Ford Seale is convicted of the murders of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore 43 years after the crime. Seale had been a suspect from the beginning of the investigation, but after he and another suspect complained of police brutality, the prosecutors dropped the charges in hope of securing more evidence, which never arrived. Seale was said to have been dead, but Thomas Moore, the brother of Charles Eddie Moore, discovered Seale very much alive when he traveled back to Mississippi a few years ago while making the documentary Mississippi Cold Case (now airing on MSNBC). The documentary led directly to the re-opening of the case against Seale.

Just hours after the conviction came down, the families dedicated a memorial to Dee and Moore in Meadville, Mississippi.

More here from the Jackson Free Press, which also hosts a wonderful article giving more background.

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   File under: Alabama , America , Denver , Editing , Information Technology , Intake , Interior Monologue , Language , Lomography / Photography , Memory & Memorial , Poetry & Poetics , Postcards , Self-promotion , Steganography , Tapeworm , Teaching , The South

This is for those of you who read my blog via RSS...

I am considering, very strongly, moving to WordPress in the very near future. I've already arranged a version of the Ladder at http://www.jakeadamyork.com/wp/, and I'm leaning heavily toward switching, in which case the feed addresses will certainly change. I will broadcast a warning before it happens however.

If you're reading via RSS, you probably aren't much concerned with the way the site looks, but if you're at all interested, please take a look and let me know what you think.

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I'll have two please
   File under: America , Intake

Make that three....

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New Orleans Postcard
   File under: America , Lomography / Photography , Postcards


New Orleans Postcard
   File under: America , Lomography / Photography


   File under: America , Information Technology , Intake

For a Monday morning, my "War on Terror" mix-in-progress:

"The Gloaming," Radiohead/DJ Shadow
"As We Go Up, We Go Down," Guided By Voices
"Welcome To The Terrordome," Public Enemy
"Nuclear War (version 4)," Yo La Tengo
"The Horror," RJD2
"Sneak Attack," DJ Qbert
"Send Your Man To War," Johnny Shines & Snooky Pryor
"War Begun," My Morning Jacket
"March of the Pigs," Nine Inch Nails
"War Pigs/Luke's Wall," Black Sabbath
"War at 33 1/3," Public Enemy
"War on War," Wilco
"Spanish Bombs," The Clash
"Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me," Charles Mingus
"Calm Like A Bomb," Rage Against the Machine
"The Empty Threats of Little Lord," Sunset Rubdown
"Bomb Yourself," TV On The Radio
"Atoms for Peace," Thom Yorke
"Great Atomic Power," Charlie Louvin
"Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb," Pilgrim Travelers
"There Is the Bomb," Don Cherry
"Nuclear War," Sun Ra
"Warm Canto," Mal Waldron & Eric Dolphy

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   File under: America

I'm deeply disturbed by this report that an LA charter school canceled a scheduled program on the lynching of Emmett Till and fired the teachers who were involved in planning it.

The point of this history is that it is difficult. Is that it scars. Kills.

Maybe it's not for kindergarteners, but to pull the program and fire the teacher suggests that the school believes this isn't for anyone.

I say it's for all Americans.

This is why Mamie Till insisted on an open casket. So we would all see. So we wouldn't be blinded by distraction, by absence. So we wouldn't fail to fight.


Postscript: There's a petition now supporting the teachers' reinstatement, if you are interested, too.


New Orleans Index
   File under: America

I recently picked up this book, New Orleans Bicycles, which is both beautiful (Mark Batty does such nice books and keeps the price low enough to entice) and heartbreakingly rich.

I haven't been back to New Orleans since Katrina, and I haven't seen Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke, just yet, but this and Robert Polidori's After the Flood, which I saw at the Met a few months back, are wonderful contributions to the index of New Orleans. They make me want to pack my bags full of hankies and get on a train.

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Tucson, Postscript
   File under: America

Cactus wren mocking mockingbird's tail-feather stripes.


Saguaro whisker the Tucsons. Ocotillo anemone.


Used condom cactus flower at the desert turnout.


Beer cans bloom in the palo verde trees.


Someone waits with a camera, an arm-long lens.


Sun breaks through storm, unsuccessful rain.


Dear Gina,
   File under: America

I should have called you, asked you to talk me around, tell me where to go.

This morning, hotel-tired, I slid into the rental car, went searching for coffee and then wound out Speedway to Gates Pass, where I went the last time I was here, with another friend, who's in LA these days. I rolled down the windows to catch the morning air, cool, not nearly as dry as Denver's can be, enjoying the slight moisture, the mottle of clouds high in the clean desert air. As I curved up then down the pass and started making my way across the desert park, I thought of how much you like to drive and how I thought you crazy wanting to drive from Tucson to Denver in one shot, how you wanted to keep on going east, though there was nothing much between you and Omaha. But now, here in the desert, I feel something I've not felt for some time, a kind of quiet peace watching the road unfold, the light play across the Tucsons, paint the desert floor. Is this why you drive? For a kind of quiet in which what noise hides of you from yourself can emerge again, so the long taproots can descend in search of what deep water will ease the bloom?


I'm reminded first of a song from Verbena's Souls for Sale, a truly brilliant album nearly a decade old and sadly nearly forgotten. In "The Desert," Scott Bondy sings:

I'm in love with the size of the desert
Never seen it but I'd love to kiss a cactus.
Got my hands on a piece of the good earth,
Both my hands up inside of a new world.


Last I was here, I heard on NPR that folk artist Howard Finster had died. I remembered going to his garden in Summerville, Georgia, one Sunday, to see the work but also in the hope that I'd see him, as he used to stop by after church and talk to the visitors. Sure enough, he showed, and he started telling us about the coming nuclear war, about how the banks would collapse, how the world economy would collapse. He told us to put our money in the hills, in the mountains, in caves, to make our own banks so we'd have something when the world came crashing down.

I don't know who he thought would honor such tender, but I kept listening, enjoying his excess, and I wrote a poem no one wanted.


It's cooler today, and I'm not thinking so far away.

Sunday morning's easy here, and I'm already ready to return.

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   File under: America


Best Ever
   File under: America , Intake

I'll say it again, the sliced-brisket sandwich with home-cut fries fried in beef fat they serve at Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, MO, may be the best lunch in these United States. If not, then it must be one of the top five, my other candidates being:

  • Wayne Monk's Lexington #1 Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina: coarse outside brown with exra dip, with the German-style slaw, per house preference
  • sliced pork sandwiches at Byron's Barbecue in Auburn, Alabama (last I was there, they were still $1.60 each)
  • Dreamland Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after a long plane ride ("No potato salad, no cole slaw, don't ask.")
  • Galatoire's, New Orleans (is it? will it?)


This was a wonderful birthday celebration, a hot, sweaty, heat-indexy day in Kansas City, early fog followed by continuous sweat.

A roll through the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art with a Bourgeois, a de Kooning, a Marsden Hartley, a Lesley Dill, and an Anne-Boyer-esque exhibition of Elissa Armstrong's little creatures. I was asked if I would like to use a pencil rather than a pen, to which the answer is, in general, no, though I thought it best to oblige.

Then sweating at the Liberty Memorial.

Dinner at Fiorella's Jack Stack at the Freighthouse. Best beans in the world. Ever. No contest.

Sleep in. Late breakfast at the Classic Cup: grillades and grits.

Then back to Denver. Nice rain, and it is cool.

Thank you.

Kansas City has a lot on Denver — I admire the scale of the buildings downtown, the old lading houses and the newer highrises, and the density of the development there. I think their new Kansas City Star building kicks our new Denver Newspaper Agency building twenty ways to the Sunday circulars. The barbecue is most certainly better. Their river is real river. With water.

Kansas City also wins the Most Ludicrous Driving Award, with special mention in the rapid-lane-changing, three-lane-left-turn, negative-angle-left-turn, unpredictable-stopping-in-the-middle-of-a-traffic-lane, pedestrian-interface-difficulty, jaywalking, and walking-against-the-light categories.

Sorry, folks, but you know it's true.

And it's strange. Bad, aggressive, and careless driving back home always seemed an index of the hopelessness of the situation, an expression of the knowledge that there's nowhere to go. Speed wasn't necessarily about getting there faster but about spicing up a dead-end trip.

Is this the way it is in Kansas City?

I'm even more perplexed by the fact that, besides a generalized dislike of the Broncos, many Kansas Citizens seem to admire Denver and want to go to Denver and even to turn parts of KC into parts of Denver. Or maybe that's just a qualification for any bartender job in KC.


Now it's back to work. Some new poems, some work on the starlings manuscript, two essays to complete, syllabi, classes next week, and soon a new issue of Copper Nickel, for which stay tuned.

Until then—


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   File under: America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

If poets, like musicians, could be assured of multi-book contracts if they had any manifest talent, if there was an industry to promote poets of all ilks and to drive consumer interest in poetry and to continually massage mass consumption, and if there was an industry that took poets on tour ("Monsters of Poetry" (yes, I know it was on The Simpsons)), would we complain as much as muscians do about their apparently execrable music industry?

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Real Enough for Me
   File under: America , Information Technology

Thanks, Jeff, for your comment on my last. Just to be clear, for me the question of sincerity and how it's construed becomes most thorny when the history of the music comes into play, so to speak. When I listen to Cash, it's hard for me, especially in the American recordings, not to think about the songs, where they come from, who did them before, what the songs meant in their earlier contexts. After all, though creepy per se, a song like "Thirteen" is at its creepiest and its coolest when Cash's rendition evokes and silences Danzig's original at once.

I'm no longer a very good guitarist, so I can't exactly share Jeff's experience of playing along with the records, in which case, I suppose I'd prefer some of the earliest, most unadorened versions of songs I love, though there would always be versions of songs, like some of live recordings of "Mannish Boy" in which the guitar parts are both more expressive and more clearly audible.

Still, after having been blown away by a sneak listen to Thom Yorke's forthcoming The Eraser, I find myself, though admiring the album's third track, "The Clock," preferring Thom Yorke's live acoustic version, performed recently on the Henry Rollins show where, though we miss the density of Thom Yorke's production, we hear the song's emotional rhythm more clearly.

Certainly there's value and joy in having many versions of each song. My interest, in my lecture, is in how a particular style gains a kind of cultural preference not necessarily because it's easier to hear, but because it's easier to consume, because it abets a specific political relationship to the music and, more importantly, to its makers.


Membra disjecta:

  • I discovered this week that the ascendency of the 33.3rpm 12" record lasted approximately 33.3 years.
  • Does anyone know what to call unpopped popcorn kernels left in the bag post-microwave?

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The Sound of Real
   File under: America , Information Technology , The South

Yesterday, I picked up the latest Cash CD which I am enjoying, though more than ever I am thinking about the sound of his oldness, which seems more and more important to the experience of Cash in recent years. In the most immediate frame, it's impressive in its expressiveness, not of anything in particular beyond hurt or pain, an audible measure not simply of age but of pathos and thereby of artistry. But, of course, it's also a measure of his venerability, his longevity, even of his particular biographical difficulties, his long abuse of alcohol and drugs and, more recently, the loss of June Carter Cash. And in this disc, the sound is here, the slight tired that has become the timbre of the last few volumes of the American recordings and even the interesting hiccups in the tempos of the songs, Cash's variance with the traditions he continues to engage, something you can hear precisely because so many of the songs are covers.

Like Paul, I'm taken with "God's Gonna Cut You Down," which seems to address the not-too-old performance of it (under the title "Run On For A Long Time") by the Blind Boys of Alabama. In Cash's version, drums and hand-claps help build the country-church feel that's important to the song while an acoustic guitar, played with a slide, connects the performance to the blues tradition; in the Blind Boys' version, an upright bass carried both melody and rhythm under the gospel harmonies that made me forget that even Elvis recorded this tune.

There's a wonderful feeling in the Cash album, all the way through, and it's especially audible in this song when Cash sings about God's calling him by name, by his first name. Against the background of the Cash legend, we are invited to read the song as a miniature narrative of his conversion from his hard-drinking years, a turn back to gospel roots, which is exactly what the song calls for. There's something anamnestic about it. Strongly so.

Powerful as it is in its narrative and in its self-reading, it wouldn't be nearly as affecting, I think, if it weren't so heavily acoustic. Everything here is acoustic, from the percussion to the accompaniment, to the voice. This is, again, part of the second or third coming of Cash, the unadorned, the stripped down, the bare to the barren. But in moments like these when Cash addresses a blues tradition, the acoustic—the aggressively acoustic qualities capture me particularly.

I'm now working on a lecture about the electrification of the blues and the ways in which, historically, acoustic and electric sounds have connoted sincerity (or the lack of it), with deeping interest in the racial complexity of blues diasporas, and my time with this latest Cash record is helping me bring it, somewhat, into focus.

Blues, guitar-based blues, is rooted in the Mississippi Delta. The recordings of Delta musicians in the Delta itself are often referred to as country blues, though this must be a retronym, something applied to the music after it had, in some obvious persons, moved to the city, most notably to Chicago, for what distinguishes country blues from the Chicago-based blues of, say, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf (both of whom recorded some early work in the Delta, is electricity. The tonality is the same, the scales are the same, the rhythm is the same, even the songs are the same, in some cases. Once blues moves to the city, it is louder, and it gains some new timbres—Muddy's guitar, for example, gets a little cleaner in its high-note slide solos, Hubert Sumlin's work on Wolf's records can also organize around various single-note lines rather than voluminous chords that mark the work of someone like Mississippi Fred McDowell—but in many ways, it's the same music. As Muddy Waters once explained, they just plugged in to be heard.

Ironically, however, despite a relatively strong increase in audience through the agency of modern record companies and radio stations and an importantly influential hold on American music in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in some ways the electrification of the blues ensured the gradual silencing of the blues. Electrified and citified, the blues seemed to become more accessible to white listeners and, more importantly, to white musicians, who adopted blues forms, especially blues solo guitar, and by the mid-1960s the most popular blues musicians in the world may have been the Rolling Stones.

To the Stones' credit, they did a lot to recognize the influence and the importance of black blues musicians. As Muddy Waters would say: "Before the Rolling Stones, people didn't know anything about me and didn't want to know anything. I was making records that were called 'race records'. Then the Rolling Stones and other English bands came along, playing this music, and now the kids are buying my records and listening to them."

But at the same time that the rise of blues-inflected British rock was becoming more and more popular and drawing attention to blues music, the interest of many white consumers turned to the country blues, and musicologists and afficianados scoured the country in search of new talents and lost musicians, like Son House, who was "re-discovered" in Rochester, New York, in 1964 (or so), and brought to public attention as a solo acoustic guitar player and singer. More and more, authenticity of black blues music was measured by the lack of electricity. More largely, sincerity itself, in the cultural imagination, seems to have been tied to lack of electricity, as is witnessed in the uproar over Dylan's acoustic set at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 (or in the story of this uproar, which some dismiss as legend).

Though against these developments the perseverence of musicians like Muddy Waters and the emergence of funk and the continued rise of James Brown as a major music figure are all even more miraculous than they seem at first, there's still something about the association of sincerity with the acoustic sound that is especially tragic for the blues musicians, especially since folks like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had to move north to gain access to electricity, even at a time when the South was extensively wired for electricity. There's something about the situation in the mid-1960s that requires blues music to return to the Delta, to sound poor, even when the increased prosperity of some of the genre's greatest musicians is largely dependent on their move out of that Delta.

Now the Delta is thoroughly electrified, in its music especially, as the work of greats like Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside show, and the electric North Mississippi sound has made bands like The Black Keys possible. Even the White Stripes betray a strong North Mississippi influence as they cover songs like Son House's "Death Letter." And in many ways, this issue of authenticity seems historical rather than contemporary.

But in Cash, it's all renewed. At least for me.

I remember getting the first American Recordings album and thinking, as Cash alternated between songs of devilment and songs of prayer, that in many ways this was an answer to, if not an out-and-out remake of, Son House's Delta Blues and Spirituals. Of course, the rhythm isn't peculiar to blues, and it's even a bit problematic to separate blues from country or folk music fundamentally, especially since the musics were very closely intertwined in the days of the Mississippi Sheiks and Jimmie Rodgers, before "race records" were introduced as market segmenting devices. But Cash, in the studio with Rick Rubin, manages to evoke the intersections of race in American music since the mid-1930s.

That Cash, as a singer and song-writer, shares gospel roots with musicians like the Blind Boys of Alabama, makes this sort of evocation inevitable. That the present offering sounds so wonderful, so energetic, makes me wonder at the status of the racial dimension in this music and at how long it will continue to be a part of the experience of this music. That Cash also sounds tired in places makes me wonder if this will fade, something I both want and do not want.

Is there a peace that won't forget? And if so, what will it sound like? Will it sound real? And can we sing it together?

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   File under: America , Denver

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   File under: America , Denver

What bothers me the most is the harm that Churchill has done to the progressive/lefty/radical cause. It’s people like Churchill that are fodder for the Michelle Malkins of the world. Ward Churchill has given everyone yet another reason to trust the status quo.


100 Proof
   File under: America , Denver , Self-promotion

Tomorrow night, Thursday, June 29th, I will be speaking on the history, form, and culture of American whiskey at The Lab's Mixed Taste: Tag-Team Lectures on Unrelated Topics, while Melinda Barlow will teach us about wonder cabinets.

The lecture begins at 6.30pm at 6999 W. Alaska Drive in Lakewood, with a reception at 6. Reservations (303-742-1520) are recommended.

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Unseen Images of the Civil Rights Movement
   File under: Alabama , America , The South

Go here now.

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   File under: America , Poetry & Poetics , Self-promotion

Is cold.


Yesterday, Noah Eli Gordon and Joshua Marie Wilkinson and I left a frigid Denver and moved out over the progressively-more-frigid plains, northeast through the white-out quadrants of Colorado and into clearer and colder Nebraska.

We listened to Nathaniel Mackey while semis eased into the left lane to pass one another and snow lifted in their drafts, long gossamer wings that rode over us for minutes then disappeared.

We were listening to Ted Berrigan reading his Sonnets while thousands of geese collected in filaments across the sundown sky.

We were talking improvisational poetry when we discovered what Zach Schomburg calls the "Jake Adam York hot-air-balloon water tower" in York, Nebraska. Noah suggested we stop for a hero's welcome. We imagined cheerleaders and heavily confectioned cake.

And then there was Lincoln, which we passed in the night & had to circle back to find.

And then we were colder than we have ever ever been.


Good eats and talk at Yiayia's, downtown Lincoln & then —


Walking History
   File under: Alabama , America , The South

Byron Williams writes over at The Huffington Post that he wants "a different King," a different Martin Luther King, Jr., than the one most at play in the popular culture. Williams prefers the uncompromising King of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to the less threatening King of the "I Have A Dream" speech and to the imminently-ascending King of "I've Been To the Mountaintop."

Williams writes:

If one dares to conduct a modicum of research, they may soon discover that contrary to the myth, the "I Have a Dream" speech may not be representative of King's best work of 1963, let alone his lifetime.

Earlier that year, King wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which was a radical, non conformist response to an open letter by eight white clergy that believed his methods were extreme and precipitated violence.


If I must watch King's final speech (I've Been to the Mountaintop) please show me more than the final 60 seconds where he seems to come to terms with the inevitability of his own death.

I want to hear the part of the speech were he links his movement to the "wells of democracy that were dug deep by the Founding Fathers." I would like to also hear how he was calling for economic boycotts, urging African Americans to exhort their economic strength by supporting black owned businesses.

This may be a King that is harder to digest. In fact, I am not certain that we even have a quorum to take up a vote for this King.

Indeed, the "I Have A Dream" speech is a perennial favorite and is much more well known than "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which I believe is not only one of King's great works but one of the greatest prose works in American literature.

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" contains my favorite sentence in all of English prose:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "Wait." But when you have see vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (howeverold you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The long periodic sentence is one of my favorites because the syntax embodies the thought — having to wait for the main clause of the sentence, the grammatical delay, embodies and forces a kind of experience of the waiting King refuses. Frustrate your frustrators. King's protest philosophy embodied in language.

More readily quoted, however, are the dream-tableaus from the "I Have A Dream" speech:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification," one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I remember many times my own mother quoting from the last two of these paragraphs. In the hope for judgment "by the content of their character," my mother saw, I think, not just the hope of the Civil Rights movement, but as well the hope and promise of America. And because we were in Alabama, I think, my mother thought the image of white and black children joining hands was the image we had to realize. In those images, I think, my mother found a way to imagine herself and her children as participants in the struggle—she wasn't even old enough to drive when the great events in Birmingham and Montgomery, just a few hours away, swept the television screens—and I think that may explain why many people, many white people especially, may turn to "I Have A Dream."

Participation is still important, I think, even at this historical remove, and I know that Williams is calling for a more robust participation, which is why he's chagrinned at some of the more facile, more packaged forms of participation, asking "Can someone explain to me why Netscape is offering MLK Jr. weekend trips from $199.00?"

But I can't join Williams in equating common memorial forms with a kind of ameliorationism.

He writes:

How many reenactments of marches and "freedom rides" will it require before we realize that those of us that participate in such events are unwitting co-conspirators in a movement committed to making King as non-threatening as possible to the general public?

I find the tour a particularly important exercise.

Over the Christmas holidays, I drove across south Alabama from Dothan to Marion, where on February 18, 1965, one of the most important — and most forgotten — moments in the Civil Rights movement occurred.

That night, the congregation of the Zion AME church gathered to march from the church's front doors into the town square, gather outside the city jail and sing to James Orange, a voting rights coordinator who was being held there. Once they entered the square, they were met by the Marion police and a large contingent from the Alabama State Patrol and a number of other whites. Asked to disperse, the congregation stood while their Reverend knelt to pray. A state trooper clubbed the Reverend over the head, someone cut the lights in the square, and the police and state troopers began to beat everyone, even chasing the protesters into adjacent buildings, including a cafe, to continue the beating.

In Mack's Cafe, just behind the church, two troopers ascended to the upper room where they continued their beating. One of them beat an old man named Cager Lee. When Lee's grandson, Jimmie Lee Jackson, tried to protect him, a state trooper shot Jimmie Lee in the stomach and, according to some witnesses, drug Jimmie Lee downstairs and into the street to beat him further.

Jimmie Lee's shooting and subsequent death galvanized the Civil Rights movement. It led to the Selma gathering just weeks later, to Bloody Sunday, and the five-day march to Montgomery.

I drove to Marion to see the square, to understand the geography in which this all occurred. I drove to internalize the geography in which this all occurred, my plan to continue on to Selma and then to Montgomery, to trace the events of February and March 1965, from the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson to the shooting of Viola Liuzzo, my plan not to joy in the uplifting vision of Dr. King, but rather to look toward the terror that made the fight necessary, to look toward the terror of the fight, to take it in, as much as one can.

I grew up in Alabama, but I felt very out of place. As I walked around the square, a trio of gentlemen — one black, one white, one Asian — eyeballed me, knowing me foreign. Local suspicion is part of small town life, but in their gaze my respect was growing for those who came to these towns in the 60s from elsewhere and my respect was growing for those who stood up to the most powerful people they'd ever known.

Thinking back to King's refusal to wait, I can understand the motives to frustration, the call to action.

Much more difficult to understand, however, is the courage. And my own small Civil Rights tour made me admire the difficulty and the courage of the movement all the more.

An hour later, I was in Selma, outside Brown's Chapel where all Selma's protesters gathered. Outside the Chapel, as outside Marion's Zion, is a black granite slab inscribed with the names of those who fought in the movement. Here, too, is a monument to King that says "I Had a Dream." I wondered at this past tense. True enough, historically, King had his dream, but I didn't want to think of the dream being past as well, especially as, at that moment, I was the one white person anywhere to be seen.

To be there, to think about the beatings that cracked John Lewis's skull, that killed James Reeb, to wind through the almost claustrophobic streets of Selma and its sometimes ghostly buildings, to rise over the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus bridge and cruise through the slow rolling barrens and swamplands, to consider the five-day march, their sleeping in fields in the hard wet cold that it seems only Alabama can harbor — well, all that was nothing, really. Just a day's drive. Nothing.

But it made me recall that the marching wasn't just about walking. It was about putting the body in harm, both the more immediate harm of the billy-club or the attack dog and the slower harms of miles of hard clay and cold, about opening one's self, not just to be seen, to be witnessed, but as well to be tracked, followed, perhaps attacked, as Viola Liuzzo was on March 25, 1965, hours after the climactic speech on the Capitol steps in Montgomery.

There, King recalled the martyrs of the movement, including Jackson and Reeb. Liuzzo would go later that night. "In spite of this," he wrote, in spite of their deaths, "we must go on and be sure that they did not die in vain. The pattern of their feet as they walked through Jim Crow barriers in the great stride toward freedom is the thunder of the marching men of Joshua, and the world rocks beneath their tread."

King said as well:

... it was normalcy in Marion that hled to the brutal murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. It was normalcy in Birmingham that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

If we drive, if we tour, if we walk, let it be not, as Williams worries, to take from the movement what King called "a certain kind of fire that no water can put out." Rather let us go in order to keep the stories of that fight from sinking back like footsteps into weathered ground. Let us go to find their footprints and to keep it all from being normalized.

I'm writing this from Denver, where I work, and Monday is Martin Luther King Day. My wife and I plan to join the city's "marade," a march/parade from Civic Center Park to City Park where stands a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. Denver, I suspect, was much more hospitable in the 1960s than either Selma or Marion, so I won't feel the unease I felt in Marion, but we'll still be walking for something, if for nothing else then to make our bodies feel something small we can multiply in imagination into some astonished, admiring disbelief. Or into some astonished, admiring belief.

(cross-posted at storySouth)


   File under: America

"It's been a struggle for me because I had a chance to be white and refused."


No lie can live forever
   File under: America

25 March 1965

I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody’s asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody’s asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)

More on Blog Against Racism Day here.


Voting Irregularities (4)
   File under: America

From the foreign correpondents...


... politics is an actual religion for some people, the voting booth a true confessional. Listening to people preach at me to vote, literally like my salvation is dependent upon it. I am interested, also, in the fact that many of these preachers tend to be atheists, theologically speaking, and I am wondering about what it must be like for them, is it a monotheism where democracy is the one true god, or is it something else, a pantheon of politicians playing the roles of many gods and demis?


Voting Irregularities (3)
   File under: America

From the foreign correspondents:


I DON'T VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hah-hah-hah-hah-hah. And I'll tell you why in 25 words or less: I don't think my vote counts. Call it unenlightened, ignorant, whatever. Bring on the guilt about our forefathers and mothers fighting for our right to vote. Hell, I'm a woman, so I got even more reason to be down at the polls on that line of thinking. But what's the use of a vote when the Supreme Court decides who gets to be president, or if it has to be litigated (as in the case of your referendum whatever) and now my tax dollars have to be spent to defend my vote? Now, about civic duty. I deliver Mobile Meals twice a week and have done so for 5+ years. I sort food at [a food bank], serve breakfast at a homeless shelter sometimes, and teach interviewing skills to recovering addicts at [an area rescue ministry]. Among other things. I sit on both the Board and the Administrative Board of our Community Action Committee. When I do those things, I KNOW I'm doing something to make my community a better place. While you wish people would be better citizens by voting, three minutes in a voting booth does not, in and of itself, a good citizen make (or break).

Just to clarify — I don't think that the 3 minutes makes a good citizen, but the whole voting process, I think, is important to civic conversation. I don't think that's everything, and certainly I appreciate the work you do — I don't mean to suggest that voting's it, the be-all end-all.

(To be continued)

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Voting Irregularities (2)
   File under: America , Denver , Information Technology , Intake , Language , Teaching

Tuesday after voting, I went on a eight-mile bike ride. It was nice to clear my head and forget about how underpopulated my polling place was. I rode past rows and rows and rows of signs for Referenda C & D. But I saw barely more people on my ride than I did around the voting booths. I ventured later onto campus, from which I'd taken an election holiday, and the place was crawling, yet few people were talking about the election, and there were scant evidence that anyone cared.

Two students wrote that day — one to say that he just didn't vote, and one to say that when he asked people if they voted they got offended — and while I didn't exactly get depressed, I was again disappointed by these signs of the health, or the lack of health, of our civic discussions.

It always baffles me that people don't vote. It isn't hard. And it's one of the few ways in which the common citizen can act directly on the shape of the government. I'd never think that protest or discussion of any sort were not political acts, but voting is a special act, one that's provided for in our history, one for which many people struggled and died — and I'm not primarily thinking about our military but about the Civil Rights Martyrs, many of whom died in protests specifically designed to expand voting rights and voting practice, activists of whom I've thought often in the days following Rosa Parks' death. I think each of us has a citizenly duty to vote. But we have an even more powerful ethical obligtion to vote in order to sanctify the deaths of those who fought for this.

I made my memorial.

And then I began thinking about why people don't vote.

I've been personally frustrated by our university administration's official discouragement of our (professors') involvement in political discussion or political action. I know there's a state law that makes it illegal for state employees (of which I am supposedly one) to engage in political campaigns, electioneering, or generally to advocate any policy or political position that might benefit them directly or conflict with the performance of their duties (is this a sedition law?) so that it cannot be said that the taxpayers have been forced to finance their own opposition, but we, the university, is in the business of dialogue, and I find it ludicrous that the professors have been officially asked not to engage in this dialogue. So I can't do any thing more, they say, than encourage my students to vote. So I cannot motivate them toward action through dialogue; I can only suggest that it's a good idea. And since people generally avoid discussions of politics in their daily lives, this means that one of the few places in which one should be able to have an open and spirited discussion is now no longer one of those places. As far as the citizenly conversation about the direction and health of our polity is concerned, it's almost as deserted as my polling place.

And then I see that the opponents of Referendum C, having lost the election, are considering suing to stop expenditure of the money retained under this provision, effectively working to void the election, and I wonder how much effect this has on voter participation.

Last year, I took my LCA with me to the polling place. I had some black-and-white film in it I was planning to double over. This is one of the frames that came up, one I find very appropriate at present. It's hard to see, but my ballot, my actual ballot, is just below the sign, almost wiped out by it.

I wish for a day when I won't think of this picture, but I don't know when it's going to happen.

And in the meantime, both the willfull ignorance and the horrible silence of our political exchanges make me wish again for greater conversational sympathy, more careful listening.

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Special to the Denver Post
   File under: America , Denver

Two items in today's Post:

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Why I hate Anderson Cooper tonight
   File under: America , Poetry & Poetics , Teaching

I'm just returned from another 3-hour History of American Poetry Monday-night-till-10pm extravaganza, and I turn on the television for some World Series of Poker or, if I'm lucky, something actually funny or intelligent, like The Daily Show, and my wife has been watching CNN, and there's Anderson Cooper saying how he got into the news business so that the lives of others could change his life, there's Anderson Cooper talking about how he carries the lives of others with him, how the suffering of others is secreted within him, and I understand now why it's so hard for students to read Whitman and consider his interest in the subject and his apparent self-aggrandizement as democratic, as a promise of equality. Whitman's claims — I am with you — are hollowed out here in this emotional pornography masquerading as magnanimity until we cannot believe anything sincere anymore, any gesture toward the enlarging positive.

Wanted for crimes against American Literature...

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   File under: America

I've spent the morning with the Denver Post, thinking particularly about the referenda for the November election, especially Referendum C, and I'm pleased to see the level of discourse rising in the letters to the editor. I'm especially happy to read this (from Craig Eley of Denver), in response to a previous week's letter:

In her letter, Cheryl Redmond Doyle of Littleton asks, "Why are the government's needs and budget more important than my family's? I am voting 'no' on Referendums C and D."

I am sure that our families are the most important single thing to almost all of us. Does that mean we should keep all our money for ourselves, giving none to charities, churches or kids selling wrapping paper to help their schools? Even the most selfish among us realize, as Doyle apparently does not, that C and D are not addressing "the government's needs." They are addressing our own needs.

Yes, they are our own needs.

I will admit that I have some self-interest in seeing Referendum C pass because higher education will be affected most by the result of the vote: if my job is secure (and I'm not sure it is) then my working conditions are not.

But my self-interest does not exist individually. As a teacher I exist and work inside a web of personal and ethical relations. When I do well, my students can do well. When my students do well, I can do even better. So what my interests — in funding that will support decent facilities, namely classrooms that will seat the students comfortably, and a library that will support their learning, and perhaps a little money for curricular and cultural initiatives that improve the general tone of the learning environment — are also in the interests of my students.

But they are also, in some measure, in the interests of all.

As I say, I work as a teacher in a web of personal and ethical relations. That web encompasses me and my students, primarily, but it also extends outward: as my students graduate, as our students graduate, and enter the general populace, their capacity for rational thought and dialogue and investigation has a direct impact on the general (averaged) capacity for citizenly intellection. What I want, more largely, is an intelligent citizenry, an increasingly intelligent citizenry. Right now, I am interested in the means to secure the project of preparing that increase.

Mr. Eley's letter is particularly heartening to me in its recognition of the contingency of our lives:

For example, decent roads allow goods to be delivered to us, permit us to view the beautiful scenery around the state and perhaps even help us avoid some expensive repairs to our vehicles.

Of course, my family is the most important thing to me. But I also care about safe school buildings for students in rural counties where I will probably never set foot. Of course, I think I can spend my money better than the government can. But when is the last time I built a road, a school or a sewer system?

It is ironic that in television ads, the anti-C and D crowd calls the rest of us "pigs." If all you care about is yourself and the immediate needs of your family, then you will probably vote against C and D. I have confidence that most of the citizens of Colorado will take a broader view of the state's best interests and, yes, even their own.

I've been saying for a few months now, to whomever will listen, that the question beneath Referendum C that few people want to confront is a question about self-sufficiency, about independence.

For so many people it seems that personal or political independence must be expressed in economic of fiscal terms. The opponents of Referendum C say again and again that you know better than the government what to do with your money. You can determine its use and effect better. You can control it.

You can control it. Maybe the decisions you'd make would be different from those the government makes. But you can't embrace this totally, or you'd lead yourself into unliftable burden.

If you believe this, this is what you have to do: sell your car and home today and all your clothes and divest yourself of all your goods and move onto a nice parcel of land with a stand of trees. Cut down and plane those trees into planks and raise your own house. Once you are done here, you must begin to till the ground to plant your own crops (you must be getting hungry now) and cotton for fiber for cloth (it's cold too without those clothes). And once you're fed and clothed, begin drilling for oil and smelt some metal and work it into a small refinery and also get to work on a car of some kind. And then work a bit on flattening out the land so you can drive your car. You're going to be late for work, but maybe you should quit that, too. You're self-sufficient.

The fact of our lives that we all live inside a web of personal and ethical and economic relations, and we do depend on the work of others and, more importantly, at the intersection of our needs (personal and corporate) and our capacities to fill those needs. Someone can refine some fuel, but too much for personal consumption, so the neighbors get it. And so forth.

To pretend otherwise is to participate in delusion.


I hope our collective horror at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would push us even further toward such realization.

Here is a situation in which the abilities of the individual, even of the local body, were not sufficient to withstand this storm, a situation in which the corporate (the body I mean is the body politic) capacity was required to weather, and so much of what has gone wrong lies in a failure of the body to respond to this rupture. If ours was a body, we'd be dangerously ill.

I am happy to see the discourse of federalism returning, if in isolated pockets, in the discussion of Katrina's effects.

I just hope we can continue to have this conversation about our interdependence before gas reaches $4 or $5 a gallon and more of us are meeting as pedestrians on the street.

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Cairo, Illinois
   File under: America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

Kevin and I are making our travel plans.

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My Refugee
   File under: America

My brother, who lives in Oxford, Mississippi, calls me today. Near the end of our conversation he tells me to hang on for a minute, then I hear him yelling at someone. I can't make out the words he's yelling so loud. Then he comes back on and I ask, What was that? And he says Oh, that's my refugee.

At first this is just another of my brother's quasi-intentional witticisms, but when he explains that he now has a friend, who'd evacuated from New Orleans, living with him, and when he explains that this sort of arrangement is fairly common now in Oxford, the phrase my refugee begins to resonate more strongly and more widely. Because it's not only an index of how large and how personal Katrina's effects are but, more importantly, a statement about refuge. My brother's not saying that he owns this person, but that she stays in his refuge. My refuge-e.

I don't know how common this is in the hurricane diaspora, but I'm interested. Everywhere new language must be arriving as the refugees (or evacuees) arrive.

That's my brother, my refuger. My friend. My refugee.


In response to Kevin's comment:

I wasn't much of a fan of the word "refugee" either before today for just the reasons you name. I agree that the word implies persecution and it points to a rather difficult and painful fact in American culture: it reminds us that racial and economic discrimination are systemic and not as far away as we might like.

But today I heard the word "refuge" in "refugee" and I started thinking that, felicitously, perhaps, as we're all trying to donate and care for those who have been displaced, evacuated, moved on, that though tragedy — though tragedies — have brought us here, if we can become that refuge those people need, we'll be better people. Ours will be a better country.

Some won't become. Some won't provide. But this seems to me the point where we do begin. Our emerging language has a residue in it, which we use to tell ourselves what we weren't ready to hear.

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Oral History
   File under: America

(A break from the sympathy and evidence considerations.)

Am working furiously on the barbecue project these weeks since the Copper Nickel release, and now I have some interesting new evidence on the origins of the word and method, and as I am considering patterns of instance and the potential diaspora of the word itself through the Spanish colonial Caribbean and into North America in particular, I'm thinking a great deal about how oral barbecue really is.

I'm troubled by the gaps in the historical record, but when we consider early barbecue, we are looking at a practice in which everything, including the cooking apparatus (which is made of wood) is consumable and is consumed in the act. So, the evidence I find myself seeking is always indirect, is always a witness, a memory of an event or a technique.

If we didn't have maps and locations these days, barbecue would be much the same. I go to Dreamland and eat the ribs, which I consider among the best in the universe, and I polish the bones down to their grey, and what evidence do I have to show for it? Soon the bones are gone, my styrofoam plate is gone. I have sauce stains around my nails, but that too will be gone before long. And what I have is a memory. What I have is my own articulation of the experience. What I have is the jawing over whether or not this lives up to the last time or if someone's found better ribs in Dothan.

In all this, I get so hungry, as if my fingers and my brain need some input to keep this whole process going, some oral manifestation so the reconstruction can continue. Which means the first barbecue breakfast of the fall semester is soon to be upon me.

Back to work...

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Materiality / Orality
   File under: Alabama , America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics , The South

I'm very much enjoying the breadth and clarity of this post over at Jane Dark's Sugarhigh.

I especially like the use of "residual poetics" to describe what I think Silliman would put into the "School of Quietude." I find that in my own work, I am using residual poetics but consciously, as I am most often writing about residues or traces, and it seems the right way to go.

I understand the critique of the "common sense" argument, which I find offensively ahistorical as well. So I want to separate the class of "residual poetics" into two classes at least, into "consciously (even ironically) residual poetics" and "residual poetics that presents itself as presiding poetics" (aka the common sense school).

For it seems to me that residue is not only interesting as fuel for nostalgia but as well as a form of recognition of the past's inflection of the present. It's hard to bring this off, and I think in many ways it's intellectually safer to enter into what Jane calls "emergent poetics" since the formal and significant forms this poetics creates clearly break from and can then more obviously comment on the past without being used or assumed by it. The "consciously residual poetics" I am interested in is always in danger of being assumed or subsumed by the presumptively presiding ahistorical "common sense" residual poetics, and indeed is often claimed by it and in some cases even becomes such poetics.

Take Seamus Heaney as an example. I think in his early work Heaney was playing very seriously with the traditional inheritance from both English and Irish prosody, and he used one to slighly destabilize the other, setting up through seemingly nostalgiac echoes of the Irish tradition, a kind of protest to English in his work. At the same time, his tactic was not to destroy or deform the English as sereverly as someone like, say, Medbh McGuckian, whose work is more clearly a linguistically and poetically formalized protest. So, Heaney, at once delightfully wry, is now claimed by the staunchest common-sensors (censors), as his late blank-verse and Anglo-Saxon work give him trad-cred, while McGuckian finds an audience in those who are interested in "emergent poetics."

But Heaney should not so quickly be aligned with, say, the William Logans and Timothy Steeles, those poets whose metrical histories are decidedly skewed to underwrite the claim of a "common sense" order and who more often than not seem to wish to live and write in another, earlier era. That is a more nostalgiac kind of residue, though it's not altogether clear that such a nostos existed, in the English speaking world anyway.

I'm particularly interested in this as I consider my own writing, not so much because I'd be surprised to discover that I'd been characterized as a School of Quietude poet or as a residual poet, but because I find myself uncomfortable with some of the company I'd be given in such characterizations (there are disagreements, fundamental ones) that seem to me like so many false distinctions. It's not that there's no difference in color that could or would sustain a line of demarcation, but that there's a middle ground --- and it's not just one where (as Silliman implies) people don't think about what they're doing, but a place where the gestures of encampment cannot be made with the same clarity. Some are interested in working in that area of potential dissonance achieved by emulating both signals at once, or by using one for a purpose that's been unforeseen.

Admittedly, such ruse is hard to keep up, and one can find a comfortable embrace by a community with whom one disagrees significantly, but sometimes comfort overcomes disagreement. It makes the lines even harder to discern properly, but if we're cartographing, I want some more complicating shading on this border.


Such strict marking says the Southern accent (and it always assumes there's only one) is a sign of ignorance and bigotry, or a witness to it, or a sign that it once existed.

But even if this sound long ago became the auditory marker of these behaviors, does that mean that its survival or its use today should so clearly be nostalgiac, retrograde, Stephen Foster?

Must the Southern diasporite always be representing the planter class or the poll-tax class?

When the answer is yes but the Southerner does not harbor such characters or positions, then there is that doubleness, a necessary, a militated betweenness.

Must I shed my accent to become emergent? Or can I emerge with these ghosts in my mouth?


All this to say that while I'm taken with the clarity and the general cartography of Jane's schema, I'm concerned especially by the ways in which emergence is witnessed by and militated by a demonstration of a decidedely Marxist interest in the materiality of language, over and above its oral qualities. I'm concerned because I think the belief that language can ascent above or can transcend the accident into the materialization of language is an especially middle- and northeast-American fantasy.

It's been shown again and again that there is a lattitude that marks what we enshrine as a culture as "standard" American English, and the line runs through Pennsylvania all the way west into South Dakota (Tom Brokaw, anyone?). Those who have lived near the line to the north have been allowed to participate in the fantasy that their accent is not only specifically but significantly different from the accents below the line, as if an auditory map of the United States could provide a spectrum from ignorance to genius. Those below the line carry the accent and the marks.

It is not possible, in the dominant parlence, to be both Southern, in a culturally recognizeable or meaningful sense, and emergent.

Yet we emerge.

Can't you hear it?

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   File under: America

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Olbermann on the City of Louisiana
   File under: America

Finally went looking for the text, and it's here. Do read.


   File under: America

Thanks to Kevin for this link to some of most righteous anger I've seen in a long while.

If you can, do catch Keith Olberman's editorial on tonight's Countdown. Now I love him for something more than alluding to Moby-Dick in the course of a sportscast.


   File under: America

I've now seen maybe ten different websites devoted to helping those separated or lost during Hurricane Katrina find one another. Some are at news-channel websites, like Fox and CNN, while others have been established by humanitiarian concerns, like the Red Cross, while still others are maintained by smaller private concerns. I'm considering this proliferation of information services this morning when I get an e-mail from a student proposing a national housing exchange program to help place those left homeless, a brilliant idea that not only deserves a hearing but a realization, but which may not get very far because there are so many people working separately toward the same end. I consider the widely circulated story — I don't know if it's true — that the Red Cross was barred from interior New Orleans by the National Guard for fear that relief effort would keep people in New Orleans.

I consider that I have yet to see Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin together in one place. And that the evacuees have been relocated to Baton Rouge, Houston, even Denver now, spread almost as far as hurricane rain.

I saw one gentleman interviewed on the local news last night saying that he and his wife had been separated when the busses were boarded; now he's in Denver and doesn't know where she is and doesn't know how he will find her. Hell, I don't know how he'll find her. I think, horrified, about a scenario in which my wife and I were separated: I guess we'd both try to go back to Alabama, our common root, and find one another there. But what happens to those whose entire lives, their entire extendede networks, are in New Orleans? Where will they go to find one another? Especially if the city remains flooded for some time to come?

Like so much else, a centralized information system, an evacuee database, a system that will help people find one another, should have already been in place. We saw such desparate searching after 9/11. There one municipality, one multi-state authority, and a swift federal response made such reconnection possible. Here, I find it hard to see such coordination.

Maybe it is too early to see such things, to early to expect them, and perhaps my hope is wrong altogether, but I would think that the government that derives its authority from each of us in common would use that authority to deal with a common horror and the common problems that descend so that these don't become more common.


I'm sure the terms in which I've been thinking about this are overly simplistic, but I've been concerned with this idea of the common — and an antithetical term, the particle (or the particulate, not the individual) — as we discuss the future of pretty much everything here in Colorado. This fall, we'll vote on two referenda that can loosen some of the constitutional restrictions on the state's ability to raise and use money for programs that include K-12 education, Medicare, social services, and higher education.

As you might expect, the arguments against these referenda focus on the need for individual self-determination, tell us we know how to use our money better than the government does, tell us that government is already too big and too threatening. Some are even saying that these measures will not only temporarily suspend state tax refunds based on funding surplus (though they won't suspend refunds based on your overpayment, but opponents never say this) but will also claim your federal tax refunds. The arguments for these referenda stand on prophecy more than anything else, warnings of the coming flood, or the coming drought and destructive fire, to use our local meteorology.

I'm more than a little concern that we continue to avoid a conversation about common good. From my perspective — which I will admit is self-interested: though my job is likely secure, my university could be seriously debilitated if state cuts continue at the present rate — this is really an issue about common good. So much of our lives depend on commonwealth and common good. It is only because our needs as well as our desires overlap so often and so extensively that we are able to live as well as we do.

To those who say to me that individuals know better how to spend their money than the government, I say, this sounds like an interesting idea. But if you believe that, seriously, this is what you must do: you must sell your current home and buy a parcel of land and live in a tent while you wait for the trees you've just planted to grow into tall timbers; then you must cut and plane and lumber those timbers, and then you must raise the frame for your house, and then you must enclose and roof it, and then you must set about making your furniture; meanwhile, you must raise your own crops and your own animals, and you must slaughter and cook your own meat; and you must sell your car and chainsaws and set up a furnace in your yard and refine your metal and set about to make your own saws and your own conveyance, and you must establish a refinery in your yard so you may produce your own gasoline....

This is to say, you could perhaps pay for all this, but the fantasy of the dollar's power allows us to ignore just how much we depend on proximity and contingency for the very availability of those services we would purchase.

And unfortunately if we continue to invest in the idea of the economically self-sufficient, self-sustaining individual as someone whose only important community is his or her family, then we are headed back to pioneer days when we weren't just individuals but particles. Maybe we will reach the fundament there, but we will bear so many more of our own burdens, I doubt many of us will be able to carry them.

Government need not be viewed as an overlord or as a crutch. It rises out the spirit of commonality and turns to serve the common interest. Indeed, it is, well-conceived, the common interest.

And in the spirit of the common interest, I hope we begin to see our center emerge again.

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Preach It
   File under: America , The South

Anne Rice.


Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
   File under: America , The South

I've been quiet. But taciturn. The last week has been hectic here in Denver, but the news keeps me sick. It's nearly debilitating.

Fortunately, all my family and close friends who lived in the area are fine. I have yet to hear from a few people, but I trust that they've found their ways to safety.

But it's been paralyzing to watch the unfolding in New Orleans. And infuriating to witness the general inaction of the federal government and the general failure to assess the situation properly.

Other bloggers, other figures, have said it better than I, and I won't attempt to retrace the difficulties that make me nearly blind with anger and with sadness.

New Orleans' flooding and its related descent has struck me personally, though, and not just because I have so many friends, so much family there. I spent part of almost every summer of my youth, from about age 6 to 16, in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and have continued to return there throughout my adult life. My best friends and I traveled there to celebrate our college graduation. While the President seems to recall it fondly as a place where he got drunk — I believe the town where I used to come -- from Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to — New Orleans has always been much more for me, a near-paradise where the pace and philosophy of life had acknowledged and even abetted nearly all that is bad but managed nevertheless to provide a source of comfort and joy in the knowledge that we were all in it together. Like Whitman, the city has always seemed to say: It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, / The dark threw its patches down upon me also.... And for that, and for the consolations offered there, in music, in food, in accidental friendships, and even in the occasional menace that reminded me who I was and what I was in for, New Orleans became an ideal city and a part of my internal, psychological geography. I don't think I realized until this week how often I turn to New Orleans in my mind so I can forget about the stupidity of a local situation. If I can recall myself to the Cafe DuMonde, smelling the Mississippi through beignets and praline-sugar, I can weather anything. Except this.

When, on my graduation trip to New Orleans, I woke early Sunday morning, I decided to cross town on food to see another college friend who had just moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane. She was a dear friend who had helped me through a small nervous breakdown and several months of nervous exhaustion earlier that year. I remember vividly losing it one night in my apartment, crying so hard I couldn't move. Who knows how she knew, but she did, and she came to make sure I was alright. Kind of Blue was on the stereo on a loop, one of the few calming things to which I could turn. I was thinking about that night and the intervening months and in general about how good a friend she had been to me when, descending one of New Orleans' curving streets, I heard one of the most awful sounds I have ever heard. I followed it a half-block, then looked up.

On a sign that likely once advertized a nightclub with a loop of colored incandescent bulbs but which was now entirely inscrutable, I saw a pigeon. Its eyes had been plucked out, were now dark stains descending from empty sockets down all the gray feathers of its breast. It was crying out, terrible. Beside it, another bird, wing around the crying one.

It was the worst and most wonderful thing I have witnessed in this life.

That is my New Orleans as surely as anything else: the unwanted comforting the wounded.

When I am cast out, that is where I turn. And where I hope to turn again.

If I thought I could do any good, I would leave today and return there to become the unwanted to comfort the wounded. Now I send my hope and my money on other wings.


   File under: America

More KC up at my Lomohome. Only 9 more rolls to scan and upload.


World War I Monuments?
   File under: America

In Kansas City, a Kansas Citizen (?) told me the Liberty Memorial was the only monument to World War I in the entire country. This can't be true. Of course there's one (albeit tiny) on the National Mall in Washington DC (a little portico).

Does anyone know of others?

One thing the Liberty Memorial does have is a few strange little sphinxes whose faces are covered with sand(stone).

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Insert Joke Here
   File under: America

From The New York Times:

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate, just as it did when Janet Jackson's breast was exposed in the Super Bowl broadcast in 2004. "This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast on television during a ballgame," Mr. Jackson said.


   File under: America

KC photos finally coming in....


Back / In School
   File under: America , Poetry & Poetics , The South

I have returned to a much cooler and moister Denver: it was raining as I drove into town and has continued to rain for several hours, a rarity. It will be fine to sleep in the natural cool with the waves of crickets to time my breathing.

I did not detour to Williamsburg or even slow down through Salina, both through a lack of cash, an unbelievable surfeit (after, if my count is correct, 24 barbecue meals in a row), and a birthday present to myself (today was the day) to make it to the pub in time for happy hour (where I enjoyed a 1972 Glenury-Royal, a dram as old as I).

There's much to digest & much to catch up on. I just read Ron's post on contests and significant poetry, and while I have to say that I've enjoyed many recent contest winners, especially Maurice Manning, I will accept the general observation. Indeed, as the winner of a young contest, though ecstatic, I am aware that I have no literary community, not as Ron describes it. I admire Tim's response in that it draws attention to the fact that community, while supportive and challenging in creative ways, can also be normative to the point that a device that may be alien to the community, or to the policers of that community, can help redefine the norms.

Though I wouldn't claim that Southern-ness is an ethnicity exactly, I think that young writers who self-define as Southerners (even those witth some larger ethnic community to appeal to) have a difficult time finding their publishers, if not their audience. Among the most exciting Southern writers today are Manning and Natasha Trethewey, each of whom had perhaps an even more difficult-than-usual effort toward publication (if my anecdotal evidence can be trusted). Difficulty in this effort certainly can result from lack of a community — but I suspect in cases where the poet's effort cannot easily be defined it becomes even more difficult to identify, let alone benefit from, a community that might support that work. Once the work emerges, things may change, as they have for both Manning and Trethewey. But what southern press looked at or considered their work? What press is interested in publishing southern work?

I suspect Ron would suggest that we start our own presses.

I'll look into that tomorrow.

Sleep now. Barbecue dreams.

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Glory Be To God (& Arthur Bryant)
   File under: America

My first visit to Arthur Bryant's one week ago wasn't extremely impressive, but I was told I ordered the wrong thing. One of my guides suggested that I return and order beef and fries. I did. Oh my—

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KC: The Tally, The Long Road
   File under: America

My time here draws to a close. I had added to my list Winslow's City Market, LC's, Filling Station (in Lee's Summit), KC Masterpiece, Wyandot #2, and Hayward's. I have attempted BB's Lawnside twice — the first time it was over-crowded with blues festivities, the second time it was closed (my miscalculation). I have re-visited Oklahoma Joe's and Danny Edwards (Eat It & Beat It), each of which is in the top tier. Today, the plan is to get lunch at Bryant's, ordering the right thing this time, then meet a friend at Gates before heading out at the ballpark for the Royals game. Thus, I will round my trip back to where I began and tomorrow head back to Denver (with a possible excursion into the depths of Kansas).

As I've made my rounds and my small list, I've been both excited and dismayed to discover that there are even more Kansas City barbecue joints than I thought. Doug Worgul suggests that there are nearly 120 in the greater KC area, about twice what I'd estimated. Doug's list is eye-opening to say the least. It means I'll be back if for nothing else then to eat some more, though I dearly want to return for the American Royal Barbecue contest later this fall, if I get the time and the money.

As I prepare for my last dinner and my last supper, I'm thinking more about this word "tally." Making the list has been useful, to help me think about where I've been and when. But this was about much more than the list. I've been concerned, with a Whitmanian chauvinism, with whether I can tally the barbecue, whether I can understand it, comprehend it in an intellectual as well as in a corporeal way, whether I can explain it to others, whether I can be equal to the barbecue in both a general way and in specific instances. Without such chauvinism, I wouldn't be writing a book on the history of barbecue, but at the present moment (10:15am after a long night of barbecue and beer) I wonder briefly at my blindness and my folly. Barbecue is bigger than I am, so much bigger.

Of course, this is why I wanted to write this book in the first place — not to conquer barbecue, but to face its largeness and diversity and endless mutation and, as Whitman might, to celebrate it in its manifold wonders.

Last night, after the evening's barbecue excursion, I met a Lomographic friend for the first time. We were joined by another and his girlfriend. After the bar closed, we went to a late party nearby where the talk quickly turned to barbecue and one gentleman, a railroad chef, suggested that the best ribs in the whole area were down in Williamsburg, about an hour southwest. I am actually considering detouring to look for this legendary 'cue. It only seems right.

I ain't goin down ... dirt road ... by myself... Babe, I ain't goin down ... this old dirt road ... by myself... If I don't carry you, baby ... I'm gonna carry me somebody else...

In barbecue, there's always somebody else. Always.

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KC: The Tally So Far
   File under: America

So far:

  • Gates (12th and Brooklyn)
  • Bryants (18th and Brooklyn)
  • Danny Edwards Famous Barbecue (aka Lil' Jake's Eat It An' Beat It) (13th and Grand)
  • Rosedale (Southwest)
  • Jack Stack (22nd and Wyandotte, aka the Freighthouse)
  • Smokin' Joes (Southwest at Baltimore)
  • Jack Stack (135th & Holmes)
  • Oklahoma Joe's (47th & Mission)
  • Zarda's (87th at Quivara)
  • Johnny's (Broadmoor)
  • Rosedale (again)
  • Earl Quick's (7th and Cheyenne, KCK)

This afternoon, a few more hours in the library reading and writing up my notes. I have nearly 20 pages of a chapter already written, though it's more diaristic than anything else. If I get more comfortable with it over the next few days, I'll post it here.

Don't expect anything resembling Morgun Spurlock's work. Basically, I'm on an Atkins diet at present, though I am craving a beer.

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   File under: America

Yesterday spent reading a bit in the morning, in the KC Public Library, then met Carolyn Wells, of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, for lunch at the wonderful Danny Edwards' Eat It and Beat It (since I still use film, pictures in a few days), followed by more reading and writing. Rosedale Barbecue for a mid-afternoon sandwich. Jack Stack Barbecue at the Feighthouse for dinner, and for desert an order of burnt ends from Smokin' Joes. It's a lot of barbecue, but I'm not eating any starches or sweets, so it's not been too painful yet. A short workout in the hotel's fitness center helps a bit.

Today I'm trekking south to the headquarters of the Kansas City Barbecue Society and will try some of the local fare down there. Probably I will spend the afternoon on the Kansas side of the line before meeting a friend for a late dinner in Overland Park.




   File under: America

In Kansas City tonight. Have already consumed two and a half meals --- one at Gates' at 12th and Brooklyn (Anne, I'm writing you a letter on napkins and bags from Gates) and another 1.5 at Bryant's, almost at 18th and Brooklyn. Bryant's wins on ambiance --- everyone was much nicer, generally welcoming, though it's hard to imagine that Haile Selassie ate there in 1937 --- but Gates' ribs were tastier pre-sauce, but Anne was right about the warm-hearted reception: it hasn't changed. It's almost accusatory. (There's something to say about what happens when a phrase gets put in quotation marks on all the paper products, but that must come later.)

Downtown Kansas City is deserted. But tomorrow I will venture out to the public library in the morning and get familiar so I can begin my various geographic/demographic/economic surveys. Then it will be out for more 'cue. At some point I'm going to sit down with Carolyn Wells, of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and talk history of the KCBS and of contests in general. Thursday night I'll meet a lomographic friend, and Friday it's a tour under the guidance of Remus Powers, Ph.B. (Philosopher of Barbecue --- I'm not making this up).

Already getting a lot of writing done, but all that goes in the book. Maybe when there's a semi-solid draft ready to show I'll post it here.

Until then, here's wishing y'all a celery seed to chew on.

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Long Road
   File under: America

Setting out tomorrow on my Kansas City Barbecue Safari. Ideally, I'll be able to post a bit about my travels and discoveries along the way.

Stay tuned...

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A Literary Community and a Literary Public
   File under: America , Denver , Poetry & Poetics

Last week I wrote, in response to specific and to general frustrations and with specific and general hopes, that Denver's literary community would emerge through what I see as a critical period.

I am glad that every few months someone decides to draw attention to these scenes, but at the same time, I am frustrated (beyond my capacity to articulate) that such efforts rarely recognize the similar desires or attempts of others, the relatively weak attempts to cooperate with one another and to coordinate information.

I have often observed that Denver's literary communities — numerous, aboundnig — like Denver's gold lie scattered about, rarely concentrated in veins or lodes. Perhaps we (in the aggregate) who read and enjoy poetry are spread like gold-panners, each protecting a little spill, unwilling to observe someone else's careful precipitation or to combine their flecks into mint-able metal.

Several questions and challenges have been extended, as you will have seen, reading the comments on that entry. Dee Casalaina (who may as well be considered a local correspondent for this blog) wrote severally to ask just what I would propose to improve the scene, and JSR (Jason Stuart Ratcliff) wrote to challenge the very idea of local literary community, proposing instead a telecommunity, defined by shared interest. Both sets of comments push me to detail my interest in, my frustrations with, and my hopes for Denver's literary community.

First, I'd like to expose some of my often implied belief in and ideas about the local and the local community, in its importance and role in public, specifically American, life.

This will take a few paragraphs.

The United States is founded on democratic principles, but our democracy is representative not direct, which means that — though in theory we have many occasions to make our individual interests known and by them to influence the direction of civic, state, or national life — we rarely have the opportunity to act directly and in our own terms, being forced more often than not to act through someone.

We have to accommodate ourselves to this again and again, but I find that, in talking to my fellow citizens, the frustration at rarely being able to act directly fuels both voter disaffection and the growing interest in the representative's (indeed, in all public figures') identity and the citizen's need to identify as completely as possible with their representatives and governors. If I cannot act myself, I want to choose an actor who is like me, who will act as I would act even without having to ask me, and if I cannot find such an actor, I choose to choose no one.

This is an unfortunate present, for two reasons.

One is that this exercise of a desire for direct action misses one of the important points of representative democracy, which is that though the system generally destroys nuance in favor of binary relation (majority to minority), we enforce simple binarism when we don't vote because we withdraw from the mechanism by which we can demand more nuanced and therefore more direct representation.

Tocqueville wrote:

In America, the people choose those who make the law and those who carry it out. They constitute the juries that punish infractions of that law. Institutions are democratic not only in principle but in all their ramifications. For example, the people choose their representatives directly, and in general they do so every year, the better to ensure their subsurvience. Hence it is really the people who rule, and even thouh the form of government is representative, it is clear that there can be no durable obstacles capable of preventing the opinions, prejudices, interests, and even passions of the people from making their influence felt on the daily direction of society.

I suppose this is still true enough, that there are "no durable obstacles" to direct democratic action, but when we don't vote, when we don't enter into this system that, even in the Frencham Tocqueville's eyes was clearly the instrument for ensuring that "the opinions, prejudices, interests and even passions of the people" could "mak[e] their influence felt on the daily direction of society," I don't think that we can expect our voices to be heard directly, however indirectly our cries may travel to our governors.

As I say, this secession, which seems motivated by or responsive to our sense of the impossibility of, and our resultant sense of the greater need for, direct representation — as I say, this secession enforces the simple binarisms our two-party system tends toward, and such enforcement only diminishes the chances for direct democratic action, for it makes the debate that must occur in the representative chambers not a matter of the articulating skill (literally, the ability to combine and coordinate) of our legislators but more often a matter of numbers. Debate is not engaged as a search for truth but as a means to consolidate power until a majority can overwhelm. Then try to assert your "opinions, prejudices, interests, and even passions." If you're not directly represented by the majority, you are out of luck and out of power.

(I am mindful of deTocqueville's sense of those institutions that counterbalance the tyranny of the majority, specifically the courts — a reason to value balance on and in all courts rather than representation — but the courts present both a quicker and more evanescent chance for influence and a more glacial pace of change, compared to election cycles. Besides, as adversarial conversation is prosecuted in the courts, it is not as a matter of representation, though the contest often exposes the excesses of a tyrannical majority's actions; minority interest may be preserved, but errors are uncovered and undone more than it can be said that a suppressed position is brought to political representation.)

I say all this simply to expose the relative lack of opportunity for direct action, specifically for direct representation. And I say that to say that I hold local community so important because it represents for me one of the few arenas that provides the chance for, the mechanisms for, and that presents few if any barriers to direct democratic action and interaction.

The local community is where dialogue can occur, because here powers are equal, politically speaking. Citizen to citizen, we are left to the power of our words and ideas. If we are interested in dominance or self-preservation, the best or worst we can do is withdraw from a conversation without resolution. If we are interested in understanding or rapprochement, the worst we can do is fail, while the typical end is an agreement to try again, and the best we can achieve is an actual articulation, an inter-informing and -connecting exchange, that accommodates both views or creates the synthetic view that will accommodate both to the greatest extent possible. We may also arrive at the extent of coordination and find we can live with partial agreement without pushing too hard for accommodation where it will not come. We can develop an understanding that will allow equal if disagreeing views without having to promote one over another.

The local scene is the scene where most often we have to deal with those who hold view different from our own and where we can know one another with reference to the place itself instead of with reference to our rank or achievement, which become more important if not supremely dominant in hierarchical organizations, such as professional societies.

The local scene is not perfect, nor is it the bottom level. There are sub-local communities that are essentially communities of interest or are gatherings of those whose sameness insulates them from the necessary confrontation with difference — and there are those historical communities that managed to suppress and subjugate the different to the degree that the proper confrontation was improbable if not impossible (the segregated South, for example), though I would argue that such communities were also sub-local and represented a mutant domination of one sub-locality over the whole.

The local is the proper liminal zone in which our private and intimate lives are brought into conversation with other lives without becoming so generalized that the confrontations put nothing at stake and draw so little passion it is easier to dissociate than to associate, and the zone in which we can be and present our selves and lives without inviting everyone into contagious intimacy with ourselves.

It is both an ideal and a contested place. It is an ideal place beacuse it is a contested and contestable place.

. . .

When I speak of literary community, I may as well be speaking of a literary location, and this is much of what I have in mind when I praise Denver for its abundance. Denver has both enough writers and enough good writers that, when they come in contact with one another intensely and extensively enough the conversation about the good, about what is or what can be good, can occur in such a way that, for the writers, artistic ideas and horizons can be stretched, extended, and articulated in a more detailed fashion — ideas can, through conversation and contest, achieve more specific forms that will (such breakthroughs always do) abet and beget more and better writing.

JSR writes, in response to my suggestion that our local universities (including Naropa University, Regis University, the University of Colorado, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the University of Denver) are themselves the center of some very interesting activity, that he'd "been through the university workshop thing" and that he found "the suggestions/opinions of those folks to be about as good as their writing. No need to let incompetent college students vivisect your stuff into a corpse."

I'll agree that a workshop, improperly taught, can quickly become a social mechanism by which difference is not only policed by eroded. If we work for consensus, we will enforce work that appeals to consensus, not work that excels. It's important, in an entry level workshop to use consensus as a means by which to draw out into light the hackneyed and the merely sensational, but the aim of this should not be so much to eradicate the different but to encourage an investigation of the reasons for specific formations, to begin thinking of one's craf by one's own principles. Unfortunately, we are sometimes guided by the lessons of our own democratic political order to drive toward the strong and governing consensus and we run over the different, the minority, even before it can represent itself.

Internet community can provide the antidote, for in the larger arena you always find more of those who will agree with and support you. This is one of the reasons I blog, for I get to interface with people who do care about poetry and poetics much more than the people I work with on a regular basis.

But one cannot let telecommunity displace local community altogether, for telecommunity tends to develop along lines of interest and solidarity. Though it can split and differentiate, telecommunity spends most of its energy enforcing lines of similarity. Difference can be ignored or left to develop its own communal space. In the city, the areas for contingency are numerous and recurrent, and once you've become accustomed to someone's presence, their absence must be understood not only as a witness of frustration but also potentially an instrument of rebuke. Withdrawals, in the local arena, are a different kind of invitation, a different kind of provocation — not secessions or removals to another community. In the local scene there exists in visible organization the fiction of a single community, the fiction, the story that keeps us coming back to one another.

I understand Dee's and JSR's praise of the private space in which writing occurs. I am jealous of my own time, spending each morning in my study, from 8 till noon just writing, and when I am disturbed by a neighbor or the phone I can become angry as if threatened. Composition occurs in solitude.

But the solitude needs a ground of contingency against which it becomes a kind of concentration. A conversation precedes a monologue. Writing is the precipitate and the product of and the offering of ideas, which develop as much if not more so in conversation with other ideas as in conversation with the ideas of the lone genius.

Ron Silliman writes recently of his own blog:

To date, writing here has caused the following things to happen:

1. I’ve been able to sharpen some vague thinking into much clearer concepts...
2. I’ve had to become more rigorous in my reading, to actually think a little about what to read next & why
3, My mental map of contemporary poetry has changed profoundly
4. I’ve had to acknowledge the presence of an entirely new generation of poets & recognize that they really are the “poets of today,” however you might care to define that. Their concerns are quite different from those that preoccupied me & my friends when we were in our 20s & 30s. ...
5. I’ve met, online & sometimes later in person, a huge number of interesting new people & gotten to know several folks I’d already met quite a bit better
6. My correspondence has gone up dramatically
7. So has the arrival of books in the mail...
10. I’ve become much more conscious of how many different modes of English there are – not that I didn’t know this already, but I didn’t have to see it & think it & read it every day. One trip down the blogroll to the left will cure anyone of any fantasies concerning homogeneity.
11. I’ve been able to spread the word about some poetry I care about a lot.
12. I sometimes come up against other people’s expectations in ways I hadn’t expected...
15. Writing here has pushed my own poetry forward in ways I would not have expected & which I don’t think (yet) I can fully articulate. ...

As Silliman testifies, conversation and exchange quicken one, not only as a citizen, but as a poet, as a writer.

With 400,000 hits over two years, Silliman's blog has provided something like local community in the blogosphere. He witnesses the best aspects of contingent existence, even though many of his discussions tend, as is the nature of blogs, toward one set of possibilities rather than another.

My hope for Denver is that the same extent and level of exchange will occur and that we will further benefit from being present to one another in ways that make it harder not to consider the challenging position.

Good poetry will survive, and even be improved or effected by, such challenge.

. . .

But I am also speaking of a literary public, not just a literary community, and I have to fight against my inherited laconicism and ellipticality to say that I mean two things by the phrase "literary public."

One the one hand, I mean the local arena in which literary producers and literary consumers interact with one another directly and extensively, a scene that is produced and maintained in trust. Slavoj Zizek discusses, in The Ticklish Subject (thanks Josh), Alain Badiou's "attempt to reassert the dimension of universality as the true opposite of capitalist globalism" — an idea that comes home to me as Emerson said his did, familiar because I'd thought it before I read this and now I find it articulated in a better way. A literary public — that is, the community we comprise, the community we maintain, and the community we continue to address — will provide us all with the universality that can prevent the aesthetic bullying that drives us most often into our smaller spheres of action and involvement.

What frustrates me about Denver (and perhaps I'm just being selfish here) is that we seem always capable of creating the intellectual density that will produce an incredible, almost geometric progression of our thinking as a public and thereby such a progression in our individual thinking as well. (This is always the benefit of public education and contingent society, that contact produced complexity and complexity amplifies radially, pushing us well beyond the destinations we could have attained alone.) But we often retreat to our own smaller communities instead, and in doing so we don't only duplicate each other's efforts, we perforate them as well.

On my mind lately has been the proliferation of literary calendars, and I'll admit I have a personal, not just a public, stake in this. Almost eighteen months ago, I started denverpoetry.org. The Denver Poetry Festival was about to enter its fourth year, the Copper Nickel was developing finely as well, and two things happened very quickly. First, I received an e-mail from the founders of Syntax that declared their effort a response to the genral vacancy of the literary scene, which was clearly not vacant by any stretch of the imagination. Second, Bryan Roth of the Colorado Poets Association wrote just a few months later to say that he was starting a calendar service, very similar to the one I developed at denverpoetry.org. To Syntax I said that the city wasn't vacant, which at first was received as a gesture of threat, though we soon enough cleared that up and came to mutual recognition. To Bryan Roth, I said "Why don't we work together?" To which he replied maybe. This is about the same response I've received from everyone I've contacted, both about the calendar and bout the poetry festival, which is supposed to be a public event created by public effort. Now my dream of starting a clearinghouse for literary information in Denver has generally decayed, and I am also unsure whether the poetry festival will ever establish itself firmly in the city's culture. Maybe it's me people don't like — if it is, I will gladly give these projects over to someone who will see them through — but it seems more and more that these disconnects result from ongoing general suspicion and the desire to live in a smaller sub-local community of interest.

In general, I'd like to see more cooperative effort, more joint events, and more mutual recognition, so that we can move toward having such a literary public.

. . .

But that's only half of what I mean by "literary public." I also mean a public, a civic society, that is in-formed by the literary. Not merely the artistic, but the excellent.

Dee asks me:

I'm also curious about what you mean when you say Denver is "so close to a community that benefits writers artistically and enriches a greater public." I assume that gifts come with responsibilities, even the responsibility to plow fallow ground, which is hard work requiring a sharp object and patience.

I don't just mean that the artist, that the writer, has a responsibility to work to maintain a service in the larger social system. I also mean that the writer has to present ot the community at large, not just the more circumscribed literary public I described in the previous section, that which is excellent, especially excellent language, for excellent and exacting language can slowly, if not completely, inform, improve, sustain, and enhance our public discourse and exchange, enabling the local political exchanges I described, in a purely political and conversational (not literary) manner in the first large section of this post.

As I noted in response to JSR, the benefits of strong literary community are not only to artists or only to artists and their audiences, but to the city, to the local community at large.

This is, surely, an idealistic prescription. Some will say that this is just a matter of wishing more power for words. And perhaps it is. But since so much of our public life is led in language, such power must be recognized and grasped and stewarded.

It's probably been two months since I first said I wanted to articulate the necessity of the ideal. And this is what I mean: it is necessary to preserve the ideal, as opposed to the abstract, so we can prevent those who would erase and de-represent our positions (those positions that we present in direct or indirect democratic action) cannot be allowed to specify the ideal, as if it were merely an abstraction, and leave us without a linguistic or intellectual ground from which to begin levering again. This, generally, is the failure of the Democratic Party in the national scene: it has failed to prevent its ideals from being specified in ways that erase or obscure the ideal that motivates policy, so much so I'm not even sure the Democratic Party knows what it wants any more. Clinton did this to the Republicans years back, confusing them. Strange that he should have also confused his own party so completely that they can't catch up or even resist without looking so crybaby all the time, which is a shame because Americans deserve a better discussion and generally deserve better than everything we have. Our ideals, if they are to be substantiated, deserve better subtance.

And this is part of what I say here, that Denver's people and its writers deserve better, generally, than the substantiation they have, something finer and more lustrous. Something that doesn't break when beaten. That spreads.

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   File under: America

Consider an instance an instance where micro- and macro-level responsibility are clearly dissociated....


Let Us Go Then
   File under: America , Denver , Information Technology , Intake , Poetry & Poetics

Last night's Mixed Taste lecture — "Meat Sausage and T. S. Eliot — was wonderful. Pete Marczyk of Marczyk's Fine Foods introduced us to some wonderful fresh sausages and amazing European country wines, after which I rose to give my crash course in T. S. Eliot.

Among the questions were the inevitable: "What kind of bangers and mash would T. S. Eliot have liked?" To which we both responded that if he would condescend to such probably he wouldn't have had much taste for them. Interesting also: "As far as I know there is no mention of sausage in Eliot, or Shakespeare for that matter?" To which we responded that Eliot's Prufrock, while not necessarily biographical, had thin arms and legs and may have reflected a rather shallow draw in Eliot — there's not much food in the poems. As for Shakespeare, Pete remarked that "Big Billy had a known love for sausage" and then speculated that the omission of such from the plays was surely the result of bowdlerization.

Also asked to composed a poem to sausage spontaneously, we engaged in a quick stychomythia:

P: O sausage, O sausage, how I love thee!
J: "Let us go then, you and I
when the casings are spread out across the sky...

We came together at the end to promote slow foods and poetry at the same time. It was very fine indeed.

If anyone is interested, you can catch me lecturing (and serving) Cajun Food as part of the series on July 28th (b/w a lecture on Clifford Still) and again lecturing on the history and form of the Murder Ballad on August 18th (b/w a lecture on Contemporary Opera). This is the right kind of intellectual spectacle for Denver, I think. If you're in the area, you must come.

Today: sleeping, writing, reading, resting.


   File under: America , Information Technology , Poetry & Poetics

Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,
Disorderly fleshy and sensual . . . . eating drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist . . . . no stander above men and women or
apart from them . . . . no more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me . . . . and whatever is done
or said returns at last to me,
And whatever I do or say I also return.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging . . . . through me
the current and index.

I speak the password primeval . . . . I give the sign of democracy"

When this thin volume, with its ornate green jacket, crude title page, and frontispiece showing the casually dressed Whitman, was advertised for sale on July 5, 1855, few could anticipate its tremendous impact on literature.


Laughing Matters?
   File under: America , Information Technology

In reply to Kevin's recent post touching on issues of comedy and race, I take the point about black comedians --- I think it is true in the most visible cases that the black comedian will be, perhaps must be, seen as speaking for his or her people.

In most cases.

I'd like to offer three complications.

First, in the drudgery surrounding Chris Rock's selection as the host of the Academy Awards, which occasioned the essay you've linked to, the question of representation --- what the host represents, who he represents, &c --- seems to me to come as much from the cultural situation of the Oscars (however much I hate them, I will admit that they are treated as the central event in public American movie culture, however much I consider that a tragedy) as from Rock's race. Whenever the Grammys or the Oscars is considering a new host, all these sorts of questions get asked, especially by pundits who apparently aren't watching enough television (if they were maybe we wouldn't see them so much).

Second, with reference to Chris Rock specifically, the claim that he's conservative --- whether based on the parsing of the abortion joke or on a more general observation that he argues "for responsibility, and most importantly, economic responsibilty amongst Black people" (which I also agree is not a conservative point necessarily) --- completely bypasses an important reading of Rock's comedic grammar if you will. More than almost any comedian I can recall, Rock's comedy is primarily based on dozens-running --- a continual one-upping. Of course, dozens-running is typically dialogic --- so part of what's interesting about Rock's work is that he's able to run dozens in monologue, either by one-upping the expected position (you think he would say one thing, so he says another) or by one-upping himself. The point of this is that one can't take any of Rock's material as propositional in a logical sense without considering a very large context --- the whole routine, the whole set. Was Rock's appearance a disaster? I don't know because I didn't watch. But I doubt it. Take a comedian like Rock --- who works in long forms, despite the apparent abundance of one-liners --- and put him in a program that prizes the short form, like the Oscars, and you probably don't have much to worry about in the way of (apparently) offensive statements motivated by the need to snap.

Third --- Kevin, I want to talk about this question of the necessary representativeness of the black comedian in long and short views of African-American comedy and American comedy in general. We could compare Chris Rock's situation as a black comedian against not just Carlin and Hicks, but also against Carlin and Hicks in their places in Anglo-American comedy.... I would suggest that Carlin's freedom and Hicks's freedom from representative office has as much to do with what happened before they arrived on the scene as it has to do with what specifically they say. After Lenny Bruce's incindiary career, I think most white Americans stopped looking to comedians --- except those of the earlier, Bob Hope generation --- as representatives of their own culture. Pryor and Murphy (pre-Raw) provide, as Bill Cosby did in the 70s, cultural representation --- not just of African-American culture, but of American culture at large --- that had been missed. The genius of Pryor and Murphy is that each one manages to take the sudden audience and turn its attention to questions of race, to public questions of race and representation, moves that ensured their elevation to representative office. What African-American comedy has missed, largely, is a truly incindiary and inscrutable comic, like Bruce or Kaufman, that challenges the assumption of that the comedian represents truthfully. I think we have to see Eddie Murphy's turn to profanity --- and after him Martin Lawrence's notoriously f-laden routines, as well as Chris Rock's --- as a measure of discomfort with the representative office (this is cryptography that keeps some people from listening in or listening well) even though it doesn't entirely combat that office.

I think the Original Kings of Comedy are trying, by presenting many voices on one stage, and by marketing themselves to black audiences, are trying to pull away and that they are succeeding to an extent --- as is Dave Chappelle, universally loved among younger consumers of comedy, but still managing to present some material that is on some level unreadable.

Kevin --- I tried to post this to your original entry but kept getting server-errored out. I hope we can exchange dueling-banjo/dozens-running style at least by keeping cross-referenced postings going.

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   File under: America , Intake , Lomography / Photography

Very much enjoying Thomas Allen's photographs in the summer issue of Virginia Quarterly Review, the journal that may, for my money, be the best thing going these days.

Listening today to Ori Kaplan's Shaat'nez Band's Le Magus.


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