Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Passing of Maya Angelou at 86

From Gravity Comes the Grief
By Jerry W Ward, Jr.  

There is a language in silence you must use in communing with the living, the dying, and the dead.  Time ordains that you deal with the gravity and brevity of manifest being.  Humility demands that you accept legacies from word spirits with grace and respect. Time appropriates words from Amiri Baraka’s 1987 eulogy for James Baldwin, forcing out of your mouth “the intelligence of our transcendence” and forbidding you to traffic with bad faith in “retelling old lies or making up new ones, or shaping yet another black life to fit the great white stomach which yet rules and tries to digest the world.” Time and Baraka ignore your reluctance to speak and the dread in your saying the world is not white but pale brown pink. You have no choice but to close your eyes, open your mind, and let your fingers play respect for Marguerite Annie Johnson (April 4, 1928 –May 28, 2014).  Baraka smiles at you wisely and says “I know your parents reared you to stay more in the tradition than that!”

Your mind back flips to an iconic photograph of two people dancing on a marker for Langston Hughes at the Schomburg Research Center.  That is your clue. Speak of Maya Angelou.  Toni Cade Bambara, Alvin Aubert, Lorenzo Thomas, Audre Lorde, Tom Dent, John Oliver and Grace Killens, Margaret Walker, Wanda Coleman, Albert Murray, Louis Reyes Rivera and others and others nod approval. They give you the gravity of words from which comes the grief and its resolution. The heart that does not belong to your body pumps words.

You walk in the rivers of glass from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy.”  You feel with Maya Angelou why the caged bird sings, why inevitably the bird flings its spirit into the limitless cosmos. You regret the myopia of the New York Times headline that begins “Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South…” Balderdash. There is a Jim Crow North, West, and East, a Jim Crow Earth.  Maya Angelou was the phenomenal woman she said she was.  Birth in St. Louis, Missouri and death in Winston-Salem, North Carolina did secure her temporal being, along with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells, a woman of the South.  

But Maya Angelou’s fluent command of languages and her extensive work as dancer, poet, actress, writer, filmmaker and director, civil and human rights activist, singer, conscience of the grace that ought to obtain in earthly life ---all of this made her more than a mere witness to universal lynchings and human wantonness. She had a more powerful vision. She was the authority and author what all of us are existentially obligated to witness, existentially destined to do.  As her friend and “brother” Eugene B. Redmond might put it, we must excavate a heavy lode and lesson ourselves in the lore she created.

At this moment, it is sufficient that you know Maya Angelou touched the world with her brave and radiant spirit.  Documentation of her life in biographies, bibliographies, critiques, memorials, and writings seasoned with womanist theorizing is matter for a later moment. At this moment, ours is the work of spiritual renewal and creativity.  Maya Angelou has gone, her “blood breath beating/ through the dark green places (Audre Lorde, “To Marie, in Flight”). Return to the language of silence and find peace in its embrace.

 May 28, 2014 



A Comprehensive Bibliography on the works of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's Poem "On the Pulse of Morning"  

Maya Moves On to Higher Ground, dancing with Amiri Baraka
By Marvin X

Dance Maya dance
You and AB cuttin' a rug
so smooth
in tune
flying high
in the Upper Room
Dance Maya dance
swing low sweet chariot
comin' fa da take me home
let her rise now
let her rise now
rise ta touch da sky
see Amina laughin
what a moment
don't take da J out ma joy devil
not in da eternity of things.
Dance Maya dance
poet to poet
something special
Dance Maya dance
no more caged bird
fly black bird fly.
Peace Maya dance

28 May 2014
Oaktown Cali

Edward Snowden and NSA: Spies, Patriots, & Confidence Men

Edward Snowden and Actuality Television
By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.    


Fifteen minutes after the broadcast of the long-awaited “Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden,” the nicely photographed NBC interview with Brian Williams, we know little more about this brilliant man than we knew fifteen minutes before the program aired.  He speaks very good Standard American English. His presentation of self is disarmingly innocent.  In fact, he is so pristinely innocent that were he to be “disappeared” by aliens, the Roman Catholic Church would be obligated to give him sainthood immediately.  Edward Snowden is not one of us.

The bit of truth that Snowden communicated to Williams has to do with how the United States of American as a security state has held the United States Constitution hostage since 9/11 and how very powerful technology has destroyed belief that privacy can again become operative.

Once destroyed, privacy is possible only in theory and fantasy. All world governments know that.  It is unpleasant to think about what world governments knew about our President and our military and our intelligence agencies prior to the advent of Snowden.  It is more disconcerting to think about what Snowden has enabled them to know as “fact,” because one is free to believe he only leaked an immense amount of encrypted NSA disinformation.  If that be true, our world has entered an advanced state of “science faction.” Damage is damage is damage.

 Snowden revealed little about his grandfather who allegedly worked for the FBI.  Given that the NBC program allowed us to guess whatever we wanted to guess, one might guess that the grandfather never told Snowden that the FBI and other surveillance agencies had a quite long history of spying on United States citizens at home and abroad. Thus, he had to discover the obscenity of reality by working not as a systems analyst but as a bona fide spy. It is easy to believe that Snowden does not have a family and the he would have great difficulty in producing a birth certificate. I believe Snowden did indeed lie about having destroyed information before he left Hong Kong for Russia.  One does not destroy information that is worth a trillion dollars in the blue market.

 In a very smart rhetorical gesture, Snowden asserted that he is still working for the United States, the country he loves passionately. I believe he did tell the truth about his current employment, although he failed to provide a job description. Had he been less “in love” with his country, Snowden would probably not have done the right thing wrongly or the wrong thing rightly.  He is as transparent as that marvelous novella by Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw.” And the television-viewing public has been royally corkscrewed. Do not blame Obama for that.  Blame the hidden and sinister powers that really control NBC and other forms of mass media.

It is not surprising that Snowden does not know whether he is guilty or blameless.  Were he merely an actor on reality TV, he would be able to explain his moral state, his ethics without engaging sophisticated trash talk.  But like Brian Williams, Snowden is trapped in actuality television, a research area that within less than a decade will become our most vital and viable non-academic discipline.

May 28, 2014

Glenn Greenwald, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA and The U.S. Surveillance State, Metropolitan Books, 2014

In May 2013, Glenn Greenwald set out for Hong Kong to meet an anonymous source who claimed to have astonishing evidence of pervasive government spying and insisted on communicating only through heavily encrypted channels. That source turned out to be the 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and his revelations about the agency’s widespread, systemic overreach proved to be some of the most explosive and consequential news in recent history, triggering a fierce debate over national security and information privacy. As the arguments rage on and the government considers various proposals for reform, it is clear that we have yet to see the full impact of Snowden’s disclosures.

Now for the first time, Greenwald fits all the pieces together, recounting his high-intensity ten-day trip to Hong Kong, examining the broader implications of the surveillance detailed in his reporting for The Guardian, and revealing fresh information on the NSA’s unprecedented abuse of power with never-before-seen documents entrusted to him by Snowden himself.

Going beyond NSA specifics, Greenwald also takes on the establishment media, excoriating their habitual avoidance of adversarial reporting on the government and their failure to serve the interests of the people. Finally, he asks what it means both for individuals and for a nation’s political health when a government pries so invasively into the private lives of its citizens—and considers what safeguards and forms of oversight are necessary to protect democracy in the digital age. Coming at a landmark moment in American history, No Place to Hide is a fearless, incisive, and essential contribution to our understanding of the U.S. surveillance state.

Oh, George, Review by Danny Schechter

“Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”—George Orwell

May 23, 2014

Oh, George
By Danny Schechter

We need you now,
more than ever, ever
to help us wade through
new words of war by wankers
high on high tech
& fudged perceptions
in a security bubble of insecurity

We need help, George,
penetrating acronyms
of government gone wild
of spies & lies
and the madness
of the overtly clever
and covertly maniacal

Hey, Hey, NSA
How many emails did you ‘process’ today?
How many calls did you convert
into acres of unread metadata
stored somewhere in Utah
until the big roundup
that’s coming soon

Hey, Hey, NSA, why do you play
with code names
coined with a clear intent
to maim
and restrain?
So lame.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nigeria Educated into Ignorance in Koranic Schools

Boko Haram: A Violent Symptom of a Rotten Embrace
By Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh


 24 May 2014

Societies racing to hell usually make pit-stops at irrationality to re-tank their superstitions. They stop not only to caress their indiscretions, but also to refill their pathologies. On their way to oblivion, they loiter around the theatres of infamy. They celebrate feasts off their impunity. At those convocations, they erect funeral pyres to immolate their posterity. They have already crucified their civilization with the hammers of brigandage. The cadaver stinks. It must be disposed. They chose cremation since burial is out of the question. Burial in a sacred rite. It is a celebration of hope in some metaphysics. Cremation is for what we want to erase to memory. To this end, any attempt to consign such inglorious load to mother-earth, will eviscerate the ontologies that gives meaning to our reality. It will raise an abomination of indescribable proportions. As nature’s punishment and disapproval, such corpses will arrive with an erection. A corpse arriving its burial place with an erection is an abomination in terms and in fact. Our ancestors would eternally frown at such an internment.

But the incestuous rapacity of that inglorious cadaver, whose existence was an exercise in the infernal iniquities of Dantean wretchedness, would guarantee that erection. You cannot rape your mother, and expect nature to applaud your atrocity. You cannot disembowel your tomorrow and invite nature to celebrate your cannibalism. You cannot dine off the flesh of your own very children, and expect our land to crown you with the diadems of honour. That’s why our earth will not receive that unsavoury load, or honour such cosmic crimes with a burial.

Nigeria has cannibalised its posterity. It has raped its earth. It has murdered its children, spilling their blood in a violent orgy of unconcern, since 1914. We have legions of un-propitiated spirits, murdered by this country of ours, hovering over our memories; screaming for justice.  Over 2 Million Biafran women, children and men had to die, to appease the murderous realpolitik of a country that does not know its essence. That was between 1966 and 1970. Today, Boko Haram is causing rivers of blood to flow from the aridity of our Northern region, down south to the timidities of our collective witlessness. Over 12,000 Nigerians have lost their lives to Boko Haram alone. 

 Nigeria and Nigerians have raped this country so repeatedly that such incestuous rapacity is only a recipe for disintegration. This country has not being able to utilize over 450 Billion Dollars it has earned from oil, since its discovery in Olobri, in 1956. A few trans-tribal thieves of primeval audacity collaborated with their foreign friends to rip the nation asunder. This massive financial muscle has not profited Nigerians any bit. Our educational system was not funded. It is finally on its knees, spitting our graduates that can neither think nor act to liberate themselves from their dysfunctional circumstance. Our health system is so sick that our hospitals are were Nigerians go to die. This money was not invested to create opportunities for our population. Over 70 percent of the Nigerian population are young people below the age of 30. This teeming army of robust and restless energy have no jobs or prospects to employ their talents and energies. They have been there, lying fallow; a huge reservoir of frustration waiting for a demagogue or a moneyed-terrorist to come around and hire out their expertise for apiece of porridge.

Nigerians are wont to blame the leadership. But what has the followership ever done, to retrieve their country from the hands of the elitist rogues that wrecked her? 

Boko Haram may be hugging the headlines today. But there is nothing surprising about that fanatical insurgency. The trajectory was clear from the beginning. Nigeria and Nigerians chose to ignore it all along. We chose to ignore the fact that the funds mapped out for the education of our young people were being embezzled and stolen by those who are charged with those responsibilities. We chose to ignore the fact that millions of our young people in the North of Nigeria were only educated unto ignorance in Koranic schools for the Orwellian purpose of using them as Napoleon dogs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Our country utilized every opportunity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We wasted every opportunity for greatness. Opportunities knocked at our doors, but we opened to let it out through the window. We even played politics with religion. Why wouldn’t that be the case, since our politics has forever been based on another primeval fault-line; namely ethnicity. So, it was not beyond those who view Nigeria as their private estate, to deploy religious fanaticisms of the murderous variety, to violently blackmail anyone out of power, and assume it for themselves.

Such societies would cremate themselves, not only because they chained their embrace to the pillars of eternal discomfiture; but also because their society aped the exclusive characteristic of every realm inhabited by infernal scoundrels. In such constructs reside all sociopathologies. Dysfunctionality is actively pursued as the policy of state, while injustice pivots all blueprints of social action.    This then paves the way for the promulgation of mediocrity, which then invites retrogression. This is what eventually floors a state, and ensures its disintegration. 

At those pit stop, the chickens finally come home to roost.  The insanities we cultivated, comes to haunt our arrogance. The insecurities we sowed, dumps themselves at our doorposts. Those rivers of discontent we failed to canalize, rises to flood us out of our pretentions. The poverty we constructed rises to drown us in squalor.  The retrogressive elements we empanelled in our search for unmerited privilege, to scaffold our parochial insularities and unforgiveable myopia, all come to exact their pounds of flesh. They come, armed with the militant mediocrities that our injustice and destructive greed has created across our land. Those we passively over-indulged, are convoked to attend the society’s funeral. Those we crapulently enjoyed are resurrected to wreak final havoc on such rotten embraces, and push them over the brink.

Nigeria is at that pit-stop at the moment! That is what Boko Haram is all about; a violent symptom of a rotten embrace. 


Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh, born and raised in Nigeria, studied philosophy and law in Enugu, Nigeria. He earned his bachelor's degree at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, Italy. Subsequently he received his doctorate in social ethics at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and won the Konrad Adenauer Award for his doctoral studies. Since 2009 Ogbunwezeh has led the Africa department of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) in Frankfurt and published articles in various journals and magazines. Ogbunwezeh always represents an optimistic point of view concerning the development and cultural integrity of the African continent. In spring 2012 his book Towards an Ethical-ecological Assessment of Companies in Nigeria was released.

 X  X  X  X  X

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Roguery, Incorporated
 By Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

Thieves in the Nigerian Senate
By Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

Nigeria: A Failed State in the Making?
By Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

Explaining the African Predicament
A Letter to Chinweizu and Rudy
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Libya and the Brutality of Nations
By Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh

MFA Programs: Aesthetics and a Boring Sameness

Returning to Narrative
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

May 24, 2014

Hidden neatly in the hyperbole of Thomas Sayers Ellis’ “” (The Maverick Room. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2005. 114-115.) is a truth of sorts. There is a boring “sameness” in a substantial amount of contemporary “canonized” American poetry.  Perhaps the alleged excellence of how MFA programs teach the making of poetry is partially to blame. MFA is an acronym for an unprintable phrase.  In my scandalizing opinion, MFA programs promote craft as technical excellence and ego-interiority, minimizing the option of craft to speak with engaged boldness of the painful messiness of life and world affairs. 

To be sure, aesthetics can evoke bright moments of pleasure or eargasms, even a bit of knowledge.  But the best poetry uses aesthetic properties to intensify the pragmatic, the always present need to deal with how people manufacture horrors for themselves and others. Jazz counts as some of our best poetry, and certainly John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor and other jazz people direct our minds to the “sound” science and physics of existing. Metaphysics for real. How refreshing it is to read John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) edited by Leonard L. Brown.  

Abstain for a time from the sameness of poetry and look for practical and critical stimulation in the differentness of fictional and non-fictional narrative. Find alternative spaces where furious flowers bloom. We do not need to construct and deconstruct a bogus war between poetry and non-poetry, because in certain remarkable instances it is poetry and poetic equations that cut a pathway to narrative. Consider the importance of how poets Brenda Marie Osbey and HonoreƩ Fanonne Jeffers excavate histories, of how Rudolph Lewis employs the poetics of orality to craft fiction.

Yes, we have many lines to straighten and many “lost” narrative to read. And now is the time for the Project on the History of Black Writing (PHBW) to resume its leadership in recovery work by way of the 2015 Margaret Walker Centennial; PHBW can increase awareness of a humanistic tradition implicit in how the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival (1973) was conceptualized and executed, in why Walker’s novel Jubilee initiated a call for rigorous examinations of histories. In one sector of American letters, Joyce Carol Oates has responded to Walker’s call in The Accursed (2013) and Larry McMurtry has done so in The Last Kind Words Saloon (2014).

In another sector, Kiini Ibura Salaam,   James Cherry, Jesmyn Ward, Keenan Norris, and Anthony Grooms make answers in the tradition.  I am noticing a need, however,  to use the treasury represented by the PHBW novel database to say more about orality/orature and fiction from the Civil War/post-bellum period to the present. PHBW’s planned GEMS retrospective on John A. Williams can open up many issues about who gets taught in the academic world against who gets read by the non-academic public. Credit must be given to Ishmael Reed for suggesting some years ago that we pay tribute to John A. Williams by reinvesting effort in trying to understand the present relevance of Williams’ noteworthy but under-examined body of work. Let us not forget the importance of revisiting Reed’s own anthologies, novels and essays, his thoroughly multicultural conversation with America.

The reception of genres at any given period is central, of course, in recovery work, but so too is the matter of how themes can encourage or discourage discussion and examination in the public sphere. Kenton Rambsy’s work with short fiction for his dissertation is bringing some aspects of what I see as a major discursive problem in how we deal with literature to the foreground/ Mary Helen Washington’s  The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) and Keith Clark’s The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2013) ask us from very different angles to reexamine "social realism" or socially/politically engaged fiction in light of what happens in American life beyond "literature."

I find myself generating questions in my writing about how Wallace Thurman's Infants of the Spring might connect us with the preoccupation in mass media with the antics of Jay-Z and Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Or how his The Blacker the Berry obligates us to deal with the color-blindness of people of no-color who have 20/20 vision of racial colors as they project their unacknowledged pathologies on the screen of the American mind. Narratives by Waters Edward Turpin, Sutton E. Griggs, Oscar Micheaux, Lorenzo Dow Blackson, and Albert Evander Coleman may occasion a fresh vision of what the world is or wants to be in 2014.

 As I see things, PHBW has maximized attention to poetry and some twentieth-century fiction writers through its NEH-sponsored institutes and larger projects. Now is the time for PHBW to do more with non-canonized fiction and non-fiction. It is only fitting that more be done with the holistic, politically astute vision Margaret Walker Alexander had in nurturing African American humanism.


Thomas Sayers Ellis, “All Their Stanzas Look Alike”

x x x x x

John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music

By Leonard Brown

Edited by prominent musician and scholar Leonard Brown, “John Coltrane and Black America's Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music” is a timely exploration of Coltrane's sound and its spiritual qualities that are rooted in Black American music-culture and aspirations for freedom. A wide-ranging collection of essays and interviews featuring many of the most eminent figures in Black American music and jazz studies and performance --Tommy Lee Lott, Anthony Brown, Herman Gray, Emmett G. Price III, Tammy Kernodle, Salim Washington, Eric Jackson, TJ Anderson ,Yusef Lateef, Billy Taylor, Olly Wilson, George Russell, and a never before published interview with Elvin Jones -- the book examines the full spectrum of Coltrane's legacy. Each work approaches this theme from a different angle, in both historical and contemporary contexts, focusing on how Coltrane became a quintessential example of the universal and enduring qualities of Black American culture.

Poems by Alvin Aubert

The Revolutionary
By Alvin Aubert

He is bound to make something happen
he is not quite sure what
but he is determined
he flits from flower to flower
he has more legs than a hive of bees
he takes everything out of them leaving them for dead.

It will be a long time before anything happen.
In the meantime he plies his adversary’s craft
on whomever is at hand and is useful to him
in that way, being bound as he is
to making something happen
something worthy of himself almost anything.....


Nat Turner in the Clearing
By Alvin Aubert

Ashes, Lord-
But warm still from the fire that cheered us,
Lighted us in this clearing where it seems
Scarcely an hour ago we feasted on
Burnt pig from our tormentors' in willing
Bounty and charted the high purpose you
Word had launched us on, And now, my comrades
Dead, or taken; your servant, pressed by the
Blood-drenched yelps of hounds, forsaken, save for
The stillness of the word that persist quivering
And breath-moist on his tongue; and these faint coals
Soon to be rushed to dying glow by the
Indifferent winds of miscarriage-What now,
My Lord? A priestess once, they say, could write
On leaves, unlock the time-bound spell of deeds
Undone. I let fall upon these pale remains
Your breath-moist word, preempt the winds, and give
Them now their one last glow, that some dark child
In time to come might pass this way and, in
This clearing, read and know....

Dog's Day

          a belated note to the editors of

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature

                                 By Alvin Aubert
Your new compendium was touted as the big one
and this is definitely not about sour grapes—its too
far gone for that anyhow seeing as how the damned
thing's already out; all the same, why in hell didn't
any of you see fit to include anything of mine in
your landmark new canon-making omnibus; could
it be you just don't know how damned good I can
be or that I even exist?

or is it that in all innocence you just never came
across any of my stuff despite the fact I had three
going on four books of poems out there—well, sort
of out there—and had poems in outstanding literary
mags as well as in a few other presumably note-
worthy anthologies for going on thirty years and
that I'm the recipient of two National Endowment
for the Arts awards for my poetry.
And I do happen to be African American, which is
what your new canon maker presumably is all
about and I am male and perhaps of significance
in that way, too; of African French and native
American stock, no doubt qualified however per-
riperally in that way to boot and over twenty-five
years ago I even launched a magazine for writers
of African descent worldwide called Obsidian,
that's still going on.

You must've come across my name somewhere;
my stuff's a damned sight better than some that's in
your celebrated compilation, if I say so myself but
never you mind, as the adage goes every dog has
 got his day and this old dog's day is bound to come
whether the old reaper get hold of his shrinking car-
cass first or not and indeed, in time, he might end up
amongst the best of the breed, if only in some pos-
thumous way; and hell (for the sake of some dubious
closing rhyme) I'm way past the age for this kind of
crap today.


Alvin Bernard Aubert: Born March 12, 1930 in Lutcher, Louisiana, passed away on January 7, 2014.

He left school early and worked until joining the U.S. Army in 1947. He earned his GED, progressed to the rank of master sergeant, and started reading poetry seriously. Aubert earned a BA from Southern University in Baton Rouge and an MA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he was a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow. He pursued postgraduate work at the University of Illinois.

Aubert is the author of the poetry collections “Against the Blues” (1972), “Feeling Through” (1975), “A Noisesome Music” (1979), “South Louisiana: New and Selected Poems” (1985), “If Winter Come: Collected Poems 1967–1992” (1994), and “Harlem Wrestler and Other Poems” (1995). His poetry draws on his personal experience of growing up in a small Mississippi River town as well as his interest in African American cultural figures.

A career in teaching took Aubert back to Southern University, where he taught for ten years, to SUNY Fredonia and then to Wayne State University in Michigan, where he was professor and director of the Center for Black Studies as well as chair of Africana Studies. In 1975, he founded the journal Obsidian: Black Literature in Review, which was an early forum for African American literature and literary criticism.

Auberts’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Callaloo Award, and the Xavier Activist for the Humanities Award.

If Winter Comes Can Spring Be Far Behind?
in memory of western new york

By Alvin Aubert

one could say, simply, everything,
everywhere, is white. but that
would strain the point.
one might just as well declare
affirmative action. instead,
one observes only, that, there are
snow banks still that, despite
the negligible precipitation, of
recent weeks, continue to grow,
mounting their stark precipices,
in the mind. mountains, and where
we are allowed to move at all
(one avoids saying "cliffs"), walls
of snow. deep white alleyways,
archeological in their alternate,
street plough shared layers of
dark and light dark and light,
of virginal snow and interim grime.
of solidifying all, the cold,
all movement whitely predetermined
and spring's inevitable advent
of minimal consolation.

"Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry"
Edited by Camille Dungy

Friday, May 23, 2014

Editorial on Political & Economic Rhetoric

On Robert Reich and Glenn Ford
Editorial by Wilson J. Moses


Berlin, May 22, 2014

Yes, Robert Reich is a white liberal, a classification that can evoke skepticism among those African Americans who have opinions on the public ideologies of public intellectuals.  Reich served as Secretary of Labor under Clinton, then published his memoir under the revealing title, Locked in the Cabinet.  He has been called “the conscience of the Clinton administration,” if indeed that administration can be said to have possessed a conscience.  He has refrained from ad hominem attacks, and even in the attached article you will see that he employs the euphemism, “America’s big U-turn," rather than referring specifically to either Reagan or Clinton personally.  

I am more inclined to his position than to that of Glenn Ford, whose video is also attached.   Ford’s statements are honest, and intellectually sustainable, but impractical, because pure socialism, is just as contrary to human nature as pure capitalism.  Neither has ever existed and neither ever will exist. 

We can achieve the more regulated capitalism that Reich and Paul Krugman suggest.   The mixed economy that was first enacted by Otto von Bismarck from purely cynical motives, and copied by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration is the only practical way to go. Both Bismarck and FDR worked with the ultimate cynical objective of “saving the day for capitalism,” and both were successful.  But those were different times, because in those times there existed large and somewhat organize labor movements, as well as a union movement, and considerable pressure from dissatisfied labor groups on the left. 


The election of Obama has had the function of diverting the attention of many discontented whites away from their labor problems by hoisting the banner of white supremacy.  The same tendency is obvious in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.  This cunning ability of the white master class is reminiscent of the American situation of 1860, when poor whites ignored the advice of Hinton Rowan Helper, and followed their white masters into a rebellion, and Kamikaze charges, such as the one led by Pickett at the battle of Gettysburg.  

White “free soilers” like Helper, (yes, he was essentially a free soiler) showed more intelligence, despite the fact that Helper and the free soilers were just as racist as the white labor combinations that kept black workers out of the nascent labor movement, often employing violence to do so.  Only a portion of white racists were alert enough in 1860 to be anti-slavery, despite their white supremacist passions.
In my opinion, Reich and Krugman offer an alternative to Obama, better than that offered by Glenn Ford and Cornel West, although I do not object to the presentation of facts presented by Ford and West.   I simply do not believe that there is any chance of creating the sort of social democracy that they envision.  Furthermore, I don’t think anything is gained by presenting Obama, as they do, as an enemy of the people.  Obama represents capitalist interests, to be sure, and he is guilty of a certain “cynicism.”  

Of course, we would all like to see people like Barry Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in positions where they could undo the damage done by Reagan and Clinton, but as long as Obama is in the White House, a large portion of the American electorate will be willing to cut off their collective nose to spite their collective face.  


Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Poet in Pursuit of Freedom: a Review
of The Sparrow’s Plight: Woes of a 21st Century Black Poet

By Rudolph Lewis

In Terry a. O’Neal’s “The Sparrow’s Plight: Woes of a 21st Century Black Poet” one discovers a master poet well-aware of poetic traditions of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. As she makes notes, for example, in her poem “a matter of kindness,”

 “i’m a poet—yes / molded by all time / 20th century greats / Hughes, Brooks, Rodgers, an’ such / not to mention / i’m a mother, a wife, a teacher / among other things.”

It’s more, however, than her historic awareness that will enthrall the reader, but it’s also the unique angle—the anguish of the poet alone, the freedom sought in the midst of suffering, betrayal, and frustration—that intrigues and will cause one to read this volume, again and again. Her deft approach— in rendering beauty and tragedy in the relationships of lovers, of parents and children, and all that what we owe to each other but fail to appreciate—captures our imagination.

One aspect of a mature poet is the achievement of voice. It can be quarrelsome and cantankerous like a mockingbird, or dissonant and dark like a crow. Ms. O’Neal chose, however, among the feathery crew the sparrow. Maybe the tiny melodious and seemingly insignificant sparrow is indeed an appropriate metaphor for her poetic ecstatic voice. Or maybe the poet has in mind as well the well-known song “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” which views this bird as important enough to gain the attention of the divinity because it is essentially “free” and “happy.” The sparrow learns songs from other birds and puts its own stamp on these songs of joy. In her “voice in poetry,” O’Neal sets herself apart from the performance poets and the “hip hop per/former” who go for “dramatics,” appealing primarily to the emotions. O’Neal, not inappropriately, views herself in contrast as “a classical note / accompanied by rhythmic percussion / in harmony with poetic jazz / arousing the consciousness.”

But, as we can glean from the title of this volume of poems, the poet’s appreciation of joy and beauty in life is also grounded in the harsh and troubled realities wherever black life appears, either in the Americas or Africa. O’Neal confronts her audience with just this point in “a poem”: people do not want in poems “sadness and grief,” a “wo/mans / tales of woe.” They prefer rather “what’s lovely, what gleams . . . ophelia roses that bloom / a soft pink hue in spring / . . . printed ivory sheets / of hushed rhyme / line upon line.” This most serious and committed poet reminds us in her “thief of eternity” that “keeper of our fate / time— / it can be merciless.” In a great sense, her poems, though governed by time past, is about now in its harshest realities. In “slave rituals unbroken,” the poet conjures up a past that is still with us, a past of betrayal and setbacks—“the relentless cycle of (d) words: / discord/disunity/demise.” The ancestors are relentless in reminding us where we come from and where we are: “the echo of a voice from way back speaks / wisdom peeks through time / striking chords of past suffering, great struggle and / triumph . . .”

O’Neal, in a maternal guise, has fears for young black men “full of rebellion / and ripening before . . . time.” Maybe as mother she sees danger for her own son, as in the poem “awakenings”: “thinking he’s grown / without a whiff / of the troubles / that accompany / a black man.” Then there is the distance between parent and child, he in Galveston, an island once used as a slave port or market, where Jim Bowie bought and Jean LaFitte sold enslaved Africans. The poet writes, “my soul lay south, where / fragments of a young boy subsist / motionless, longing / to escape / life’s sad realities.” The themes of loss—of love, of opportunity—and betrayal run throughout this volume of poems. O’Neal writes, “shaken / is my spirit set adrift / through the gulf / where ferryboats float off / to Galveston.” The “sands of time” is a most beautiful poem so much so I’m pressed to share its ending:

a decade now past, yet
unbroken remains my affection
the memories
left unfinished escort me
over waterways, through bayous and
we meet face-to-face
an unlike place
no longer the “little black child” but
a young man
passed through the sands
of time

There’s also the rupture between daughter and father, for whatever the reason the sociologist may delineate or whatever the explanation the psychologist might provide of its effects. Clearly, there is fury that bursts forth if only in words as O’Neal writes in “Says a fatherless child to her father”: “no voice / telling me I have a choice / not to settle / for a no-good dead-beat cheat / too lazy to lift his feet / get a job—be a man / not raise his hand / to a woman.” The abandoned child hurt lugs “a case / of inherited traits / stubbornness and pride / waiting to see / who will set aside one / for the greater good of two.” Abandoned, the “fatherless” child is left “in solitude” with “time and its merciless ways,” which whittles away at the self, replacing it with a false self of “half mooned smiles” attracting “passersby” while “her eyes told / half truths.”

In her poem “and i shall proclaim,” a homage to poet Carolyn M. Rodgers of whom I will have more to say), O’Neal draws a portrait of the social world of the black community, of the relationships among black men and women. There are too many black women unable to fulfill their womanhood because of an absent black man. Why? The reality is that “half lie shackled and bound / while the other quarter / head for the border / leaning on roadblocks / of tired stereotypes . . . twenty-five percent / free-for-all to contend.” The poet proclaims in refrain ““there is a shortage of brothas in the world.” What does a “sista” do to escape the illusions? There’s an irreconcilable uncertainty: “my sista has stumbled upon / an ethical dilemma and a choice / to live out her fantasy / of being caressed and loved.” In a manner the disruptive situation is emblematic of an undeclared race war, she suggests in these lines: “it’s a merciless world and / that border line was crossed / back in Brownsville / long ago.”

The Brownsville, Texas Incident of 1906, only a decade or so within the era of Jim Crow, concluded with the injustice of 167 black soldiers dishonorably discharged by President Theodore Roosevelt for a crime in which none of them committed. It was just one among many and continuous example of black collective punishment. These soldiers were never sufficiently repaired though the truth of the frame up has been repeatedly revealed. The source of the tragic relationships of black men and women, O’Neal suggests by her Brownsville allusion, is not fully an internal cause brought on entirely by something lacking in the character of black men. Dishonor of black men and black life by unjust incarceration, police brutality, racial discrimination, and the steady diet of inferiority propaganda must be considered and deconstructed. Of course, there is always the needed struggle we all must engage for there is always the existential choice not to give in to stereotypes and the ubiquitous impact of racial oppression.

Neither Gil Scott-Heron nor Richard Wright could have written as poetically with such depth and beauty as Terry a O’Neal does with regard to two recent issues, namely, the tragedies of Fukishima and African child soldiers. I can imagine some poet might have been quite graphic when it comes to the inhuman wreckage caused by the tsunami and earthquake in northern Japan and the meltdown of six nuclear reactors. But in the nine-line poem “disaster zone,” O’Neal captures the horror in words of wondrous awe:

i won’t watch the news
because it’s gloomy
like the sky
after the quake that shook Japan
leaving her spirit broken and bruised
ten thousand misplaced amid devastation
and bodies washed ashore
like seashells at low tide
after a storm

The same kind of photographic coupling of horror and beauty is also achieved in O’Neal’s anti-war poem “plight of Africa’s child.” There are the lines “on the outskirts of Luanda / sit abandoned tanks / where small children play / clueless to if / they’ll see another day.” And then, the images of death and dying are rendered exquisitely, “digging their own shallow grave / fearless fighter / young soldier at the age of seven / trails of smoke / be your stairway to heaven.” Here in both passages is imagism and passion rendered unparalleled in a call for peace and creative engagement.

I conclude this critique and admiration of Terry O’Neal by a return to her portraits of the poet, which can be found in numerous poems in this volume. Among these is “dead at 69. born again,” dedicated to Carolyn M. Rodgers (1940-2010), the Chicago-based poet a founder of Third World Press as well as the Black Arts Movement. Rodgers, especially in her "How I got ovah," says O’Neal, wrote “about how living while black / and a woman /wasn’t easy and / how loving a world / with her in it / was hard / and her fondness of the black man / was even harder and / how she gave her life / for mere words / to seek undefined meaning / of soul existence / in an attempt / to inspire those willing to listen.” In short, O’Neal contends the poet must be the “revolutionist” who sacrifices for the good of the many, of the larger ideals of community.

In “life, liberty and a pursuit…so to speak,” O’Neal suggests that there’s a larger community that confines the poem within narrow borders of “sensory” and “political correct/ness” and “judgment.” The poet must be bold and courageous despite these societal chains. The poet must be ““free to live / to dream, to love / to write.” But poetry is also a means to pursue freedom in space and spiritually, to “tread barefoot along the bridge / above the Rhine, shaking hands / with kindred spirits.” Intimacy can also inhibit and thwart the poetic process, as she notes in the short poem “1/15/11”: “and it seemed to ease him / her love, her restraint, her presence / her life was no longer her own.” She laments, in “if—a crooked word,” about the uncertainty, the loss of love: “if I / travel across the world / passing out my love / on ivory paper / to men, women, children / will he wait for me . . . knowing / that tomorrow / may never come?”

This despair over aloneness—the fate of the poet or any arist—appears also in the poem “montage,” in which she imaginatively tries to recapture the wild vigor and beauty of youth. She’d like “to ignite this glimmer of light / towards a burning flame / once again?” And in “the closet,” where the writer is at work with “only my typewriter, book light / and me / between four walls / and a door—shelter / from the storm.” This withdrawal for the creative process destroys or undermines intimacy. O’Neal contrasts wonderfully the inner emotions of loneliness and fury with an imagined outer world of “simple pleasures of life, I dream of / bare feet chasing butterflies / whirlwind of autumn leaves / dance in the breeze / settling in summer’s song.” In a poem written “1/21/11,” she “dreamt of sitting on the dock / barefoot / with my pen and pad by candlelight / writing my final words—my last / i love you’s to the world.”

I exit my introductory enthusiasm for Terry a. O’Neal with her poem “the nearest exit.” It is a poem about death and anonymity, in short, the poet’s fear of failure. There is the haunting refrain, “who will dare to notice? / who will even care?” But in this moment, this whirl of fears, “a twisted web / against the winter dusk,” the poet recovers “still / the circle of life / pushes on.” Ms. O’Neal, as she continues her committed work, will indeed be assured again and again by many— beyond family, friends, and lovers—that what she leaves behind with this volume and others that her sacrifices will not have been in vain. The larger community of poetry lovers will indeed discover that she has indeed done well and will be rewarded for her toils and for her pursuit of spiritual freedom in this world.

The Sparrow's Plight: Woes of a 21st Century Black Poet
By Terry A. O'Neal