Tuesday, April 11, 2017

THE POET AS A MAKER

Hello there,
I am (ceteris paribus, as my old professor used to say) making my way through an MA in poetry at Lancaster University. It has me thinking about what kind of poet I have imagined myself to be - about language and interests, about the ways in which I (am) read in the world literally and figuratively. Lots to say here but lets save it for the classroom.
In his essay Blueprint for BreakBeat Writing (Poetry Magazine, April 2015), Nate Marshall argues for "Why hip-hop has everything to do with poetry"  and states that "We write to assert the existence of ourselves, to assert our right to our own lives and bodies. These considerations influence not only the subject matter but also the aesthetic approach to making poems". 
He lists a kind of 7 point manifesto of how this ideology is evinced in the work. You can find his essay online, I am invested in his idea/l/s especially his first which makes a wide space at the table for performance and video etc alongside the page. It is this point which for me underpins the rest... it demands what is live, present and (based on my personal experience) therefore what is likely responsive and inclusive and open-sourced. 
I'm undertaking an MA in part because I value rigour and structure. Perhaps I'm lazier than your fave but I have read more broadly and ...deeply since beginning this MA. Not just others work, though I had to look at theory much more than I otherwise would have, but my own. As someone with more than a decades worth of performance history for various audiences in multiple continents/countries I know a thing or two about reader's (listener) response and many other critical thinking practices than I thought I would. With the fear of (academic) gods in me I underestimated the value of being a practicing poet. It is nice... productive to be able to name all those working parts, to speak about them formally when required and to challenge the status quo when it doesn't fit my skin. To demand that the canon stretch outward and backwards and forward to acknowledge the masters I have chosen and who have in turn been through textual conversation with me. No one sanctions BS but they are open to the self in the work as long one 'privileges analysis, argument and example over mere assertion'. I've never been particularly overly emotional but its a bit like learning a new language entering the academy from the bottom up, all that consistency and clarity and such. Ain't nobody got time for run-on sentences in the 'room.  

I've a chapbook to my name Mandible (Slapering Hol Press, 2014)  courtesy of The African Poetry Book Fund. One of my friends called its voice 'completely unexpected' we talked about how much of a self confessed rambler I am and how that and my spoken word background led her to expect something else from the book. She loved it but wondered if I had 'left something of [my]self' out of it. That is reason number four that I am very glad I published that work. I am also able to deal with my work far outside my body and its (actual) voice - or whatever other props I employ consciously or otherwise - because that distance has been very productive. And to retire some poems because there was the self imposed obligation that once I thought a poem was done I wanted to share it live, some over and over but once they were published I could free up that head space. I'm not making an argument for books as some sort of literary graveyard, thats just how my head works/ed at that point. In many ways the publishing was not an end in itself but a clear way for the work to live in different ways.

I  began as, and still am, a spoken word poet in the sense that I love to read my work out loud and often write poems that would present themselves as ...unusual (depending who you ask) were they to be placed quietly on the page. That said, in hindsight, I don't like to hear my own voice. I suspect where we meant to we would sound just as we imagine ourselves to on and off recordings but that's not been the case for me. It's easy enough to pseudo-distance myself mid performance/reading because I am engaging outward, I aM invested my listeners' experience not (primarily) my own. I'm notorious for slipping away if some recording of me starts to play because all I can do in that moment is be a critical listener though it is I who am speaking, but like Marshall and his BreakBeat poets I very much "believe in the necessity for poems to live in multiple 
media (page, performance, video, audio, various multi-genre presentational forms)."

I've thus far recorded 2 CDs (including one with my band Sonic Slam Chorus) and been featured on others' projects, as well as on websites such as lyrikline where the work appears in English alongside its German translation. There's also a lot of unsanctioned material on the web - plenty to humble any ideas of self aggrandisement.

And I've shot two videos. Both Neon Poem and Dreams were filmed in Cambodia by the talented Masahiro Sugano (Studio Revolt). Neon Poem borrows its opening line from Amiri Baraka's controversial poem Black Art. Do take a look and listen and read through the lines.

Yours, as always.

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”