Tuesday, September 16, 2014


So cool tings a gwan in Pittsburgh. Who woulda thought but some things about this city make my heart stop then beat a little faster, take for example the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts 6-12th grade (CAPA) magnate school which offers students 6 arts majors: literary arts, visual arts, theatre, instrumental music, vocal music and dance. Admission is by portfolio or audition and if the kids grasp of craft is anything to go by the teachers are fantastic and the facilities are … lets just say my parents paid real good money for me to go to high school and that campus looked nothing, nothing like this. 
One of the workshop sessions with the 9-11th graders

Julia and Pittsburgh-TJ, yes there are more of us out here, took me on a tour and may I officially wish I'd had a theatre stage to crew on like that or studio to dance in or a gallery to exhibit in etc when I was in my teens. Anyway I'm here now in a roundabout way and I thought I'd share a few photographs of this city and its amazing folks - strangers say hi, the boys flirt like gentlemen, individuals support literary asylum programs with their hard earned cash, some parents turn up for their children's poetry reading and short of learning how to pound corn and make pap these folks couldn't have made me feel more welcome.

This is my second time at the City of Asylum (CoA). I'm currently, knock on wood, in the fortunate position of not being an asylum seeker but unfortunately theres always some cat tryna shoot a mockingbird. I'm merely a friend of the program and a strong supporter of the work this initiative does in providing housing and a community - for as long as is required - for persecuted writers from all over the world, hosting a reading series, running a visiting international writers residency, liaising with my other adopted US home (Iowa City) by taking on one or two of the international writers participating in the IWP every year  and extending their foray into America beyond the mid west, although the IWP does a good job of that anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I had a grand ol' time with Oliver Lake and his big band. Nothing like 17 very talented instrumentalists bending it like Beckham round your words to make you forget that you don't "do" music :-) very well.

I swung by UPenn to visit Tsitsi Jaji and Bob Perelman's poetry and sound undegrad class and read at the Kelly Writers house alongside the inimitable Gabeba Baderoon. A quick stop over with not much time to do more than check out independence hall, attend a DIVAs jazz night and sit in on a few sessions of the just ended Humanities and Arts Integrated Knowledge University (HAIKU) seminar. I'm guilty of playing the dilettante every time literary translation is brought up but its an area that really does fascinate me, at the very least its implications for 'translation' within the same language say standard British/American English to all the global versions out there. I'd have to broaden my thinking then narrow it down to something, but first I have to listen so I turned up and I did and well… we'll see what comes of this curiosity. 

All in all good trip. My kids, many of whom had never done a public reading, were fantastic on stage tonight.

Three cheers for Pittsburgh, and a couple of serious extra what-whats! for CoA. A few photos to tell the tale truer that I can.

My kids, many of whom had never done a public reading, were fantastic on stage tonight.

View from one of the dance studios
Some of the homes, one used as an office, owned by CoA in Pittsburgh

Saturday, September 13, 2014

HOW TO NOT NOT WRITE A POEM: notes for self for a future poem during a severe bout of writer's block

Begin somewhere, in fact anywhere is a better place. Do not say to yourself what is a poem. 

(to be read by someone not older than forty but not younger than four)

Someone's called a meeting, they have
(channel the griots:if Okpewho is to be relied upon :-) then this is to be read much in the way of an elderly Bamba Suso i.e. quietly without histrionics)
was I was too busy hearing everything to know
to really know a this (what?) thing

(consider lineation- small letters to open each line, no?)
Was I asleep when the messenger came
what tongue did he use, did they say?
did he wear his cow hide garment
whip his whisk of a tail
did he say my name, did he?

(think about form? structure versus free verse)
tell him to tag me, I've no door to knock on
someone say you and mean me
its the only tongue i have left
i have given back every borrowed other  (don't try to be clever to the point of undoing the poem, let it talk, listen) 
anything on loan has been returned, willingly
and now how to talk

(sneak in fresh metaphor. literal translation perhaps/riddle-proverb untranslatability…)
but I've forgotten how to do that thing
to swap a G for that soft H, the way grandma did
or how to say any thing in more than forty characters

(what is the poem trying to say? who is the speaker: ask yourself all those critical thinking/common sense 101 questions)
when i was young, it was the   knights thieves? who...
and 1001 nights, imagine
how much of a story you could tell in
in that much time

time. time tj? (ok now what to do with it. Half way through pray if you must, sample prayer follows: Dear Apollo and all that is itan, where in the world are the words? Amen or substitute as per faith or lack thereof)

I was too busy plugged in  (blinders? hard work to make it cohere but could work)
thats the thing to (reference horses here. relevant? avoid trying to show all your hands at once perhaps for another poem)

the unicorns are throwing off their chains
if freedom is dangerous (prose or poetry - quote from somewhere? consider how this resonates beyond 'I am, I love, I need' Baraka said you must have some understanding of the world beyond self, is this happening here)

and on every mountain (Where is this meeting happening? if on say a mountain avoid cliches  i.e. name, adjectives all that jazz, keep it fresh and explore making friends of your nouns and adjectives, unusual pairings of what may appear to be strange bedfellows, as per my coffee break with KM this week - are your mountains shivering or are they just there? how do you feel about this? )

every buffalo soldier (how and who now? oh yes there was a meeting called at the beginning perhaps you might want to circle back to the initial impetus for writing the poem or to, as Taylor Mali says, 'the nugget of truth' this could help stop you form attempting to fit the whole world in this one poem instead of snap-shot'ing)

note to self: I'm afraid writing is itself an occupational hazard, rest between nose bleeds, sleep on it, switch off editor in head, try to have fun, abandon then safely stow notes if like me -above- you cannot /yet/ salvage the narrative or the music of the poem, listen to the advice above the way I haven't, if it suits you, and find that other book by… also when poetry starts feeling like a foreign language perhaps listen to the Spanish language translator Edith Grossman and get a day job, unless you absolutely "must" write poetry or are independently wealthy.