Wednesday, September 28, 2016

SEOUL SEARCHING


I don't drink coffee, a little architectural misdesign with the old ticker means on some days my heart can get real angry just looking at a picture of coffee beans. 
But tea I love.

Tea ceremonies even more so. 
Years ago I watched the movie Red Cliff and smiled at the idea of a woman tea master distracting a power hungry general (Cao Cao) by endlessly making him tea, moving through ritual the way Sheherazade might tell a story whose end means to get her killed. She makes Cao Cao tea long enough for the wind to change direction and favour her lover Zhou Yu's warships.
Thanks to the Seoul InternationaI Writers Festival which is run by a fantastic team of individuals I went #SeoulSearching today and spent the entire day at a temple with female monks (nuns) learning how to stay silent and meditate, eat vegetarian food, the history of the Korean flag and alphabet as well as - yes you guessed it - make tea. Just call me #teamaster I too will avert many 'wars' with my new skill. My 'guests' for the day enjoyed my bamboo leaf tea. It was neither too mild nor strong which would be Korean code for what some Batswana call dibese/mbodza (a rubbish meal). Don't laugh, this is serious business.



The movie Red Cliff is here and the tea ceremony is around the 20 minute mark.


Monday, September 19, 2016

THE WEARY, WARY AND UNWARY, ARTIST AS AN OBJECT OF PRECARITY

It is 1960 Zora Neale Hurston author and anthropologist, who at this point has published numerous articles, plays and books, received two Guggenheim Fellowships, an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Morgan State College as well as Howard University’s Distinguished Alumni Award having earned an associate degree there in 1920, dies.
She has suffered a stroke the year before, and at her passing her neighbours have no recourse but to take up a collection. It is in the end insufficient to purchase a headstone, and she is buried in an unmarked grave.

Return to 1945, Hurston writes to W.E.B Du Bois suggesting as Valerie Boyd tells us in her “She Was The Party” essay “a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead […] Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness”.

It didn’t happen.

Sitting together at a festival in that other south, South Africa a fellow poet and I thought of this exact …predicament quite a few years ago. We had just learned that a celebrated and much loved female musician, for all intents and purposes, had just died on stage far away from home because at her age and after all her brilliant and hard work – factor in rapacious contracts scribbled by shysters- she still needed to work. At this point her talent alone was never going to be enough.

Back to Hurston, thirteen years later, in the year 1973 Boyd tells us that ‘a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work’ on it she places the words,


“Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

IN NEW YORK


“I recently moved to New York, and for my first few months here, found myself using the poetry of the city as a map to both its today and its yesterday. In my reading, I’ve been particularly struck by how the city can influence the form of a poem itself, as if the text has to restructure itself to occupy and give voice to such a complex environment as Manhattan. Perhaps the most famous example of this was when Walt Whitman moved to New York and found his lines lengthening across the page, in response to the city around him." Owen Sheers
No, my lines aren't getting any longer. They can't afford to, really, not for the time being. Not till I've fully exorcised the idea that poems on the page need to be a particular length. After all poems are only ever be as long as they need to be. No more and no less but as a spoken word poet, albeit a published one, I dance around...no wait, no need for euphemisms though I am Jacob/Israel in that lovely snippet from the bible about fighting with an angel all through the night... I struggle with the idea of line breaks and punctuation. I feel always as though the poem is disappointed in me if I am suddenly conventionally in my grammar and sign posts. Give me dashes and white space and lines yanking male screws from the left margin. Not for the sake of chaos, though this is occasionally a good cause I like narrative far too much to waste a page, but rather because. You and I do not speak the same just enough that we might recognise meaning but we do not speak or sound or look the same. How boring that would be. Of course I shall need a better argument for my critical essay but her is the nugget of what discomfits my nights --- I am uncomfortable with absolute uniformity.
New York is strangely helping me reconcile what I spent all last week in Lancaster grappling with, in part because I spent all my English days talking and listening in small (productively so) groups and here in New York my time is my own. All I do is walk about and take the metro and stare at men playing dominoes in Harlem before returning the long way around to my bed which faces the UN Building. I have come to New York to give a reading at the Ford Foundation and sit in the company of primarily black poets with a connection to Africa. This is unusual, usually I am the quota, novel in my presence at festivals. I am not interested in singularity, not in this sense. I am not an exception I come from a living legacy of wordsmiths. If my arms flail it is because I am a student wedded to the ideas of creativity and craft not because I have no tradition to look back to. Self introspection in public unnerves most people, not here. In New York one gets the idea that no one cares how inwardly I look. There is something for everyone here even if it is only the reminder that what you seek is elsewhere.
Dear reader I've an assignment to complete now, I'll check in when I can.