31 July 2014

Blog Tour: Processing.....

Many thanks to John for asking me to be part of this "tour," started by Rutgers-Newark Graduate School students Serena Lin and Safia Jama.

How this works: each invitee joins the virtual blog tour and addresses the issue of their Writing Process. We answer four questions, then select two further writers who blog (and who may or may not agree to continue the project!) exactly one week later. On with the Show...ur, Tour:

An amount of skepticism is needed when faced with
my answers to any question

1) What are you working on?

Right now I am trying to go through a lot of the drafts, false starts, scribbled lines and triggering ideas that I have surrounding me at home. In other words I'm trying to Finish Things, which sometimes can be surprisingly difficult for me. My secret perfectionism kicks in I suppose and if it's not *exactly* right.....Anyway, I suspect I have enough already (half) written to make up at least one other book, if not two. And I want to go back to a project idea that I had a while ago, but dropped after I found myself talking ABOUT it more than I was actually DOING it, and my 'muses' stopped talking to me. I'm hearing their voices again (I hope that's what those voices are and it's not my medication wearing off!) I also have been thinking about working on fiction again, but I need 'space' for that, and we all know how space (even 'head space') is at a premium in The Big Apple.

Of course the problem (?) is that going through drafts, older versions of things, etc, often leads to completely new material, and I wind up with more than I had before when I was trying to winnow it down! Such is life.... 

From "Baltimore Folk" (c) Patrick Joust (http://www.patrickjoust.com/)
2) How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

Well, I HOPE it's different - I'd hate to be a copy of someone else, but how or why eludes me. I think sometimes much of my work tends to be more straightforward (on the surface anyway), than some of my peers who I admire greatly. I'm hoping to speak to an audience that often thinks that they don't like poetry, or that it is not for or speaking to them. If I have in my head some idea of an 'ideal reader' (other than myself, and writing to make myself happy) that person I suppose would be it.

Also, too, just as Philip Levine has Detroit and had Cavafy (Ancient) Alexandria, Afaa Michael Weaver and I (and others) have Baltimore as our great haunting hometown subject, to which we come back to again and again.

Note to self: its best to put your glasses ON when reading
(with Afaa Weaver at the Pratt Library, Baltimore)

3) Why do you write what you do?

I read something fantastic that I think more people should be aware of, and it becomes a review. I hear an evocative phrase or mash-up of language(s) and it becomes a poem. I see something that ignites something in me and it becomes a story. Interesting news items become Facebook posts or Tweets. Half-baked ruminations on events lead to blog posts...somehow it all seems 'of a piece' to me, regardless of genre. Its just that different forms fit what I'm trying to explore better than others.

4) How does your writing process work?
Yes, Idris, ANYTHING you say....

Ha -When it works! 

I find it very difficult to do my initial writing or drafting at home. It's taken me a while since moving to New York to find a place to go to write (since I work at The Perfect Place for Poets every day), but fortunately I think I've found one (or two). No I won't tell you where they are.

Lately I've been looking  through those drafts and scraps with scribbled phrases and note on them, and find the ones that still have 'juice' or that I feel I can work on for that day. And I begin moving the words around on the page, adding, deleting, putting words back, until I get something that I'm satisfied with. For poetry and fiction, this is done long hand, pencil on paper. I usually write most of my reviews directly on the computer, and go back over it on screen.

After the draft (again thinking poetry) I'll enter it into the computer and later print it out. Probably more drafting, changing, what was I thinking?! will come out of that. Often I put things up on the wall of my bedroom so I can look at it (or not!) for a few days and fuss with it some more. Then I like to put it away, get it out of my sight, sometimes for as long as six months, and come back to the piece and see if there's still something there, or if I have some additional ideas for edits/changes that my subconscious has come up with over those months. There are a few things which have felt 'finished' to me that I skip the steeping time and send them out fairly soon. And I also occasionally send drafts to people whose work and judgement I admire and respect, and ask for feedback.

For the next two writers, I choose Samiya Bashir and January O'Neal - Tag they're "It"!

Samiya Bashir is a poet (Where the Apple Falls, 2005 and Gospel, 2009) and was editor of Best Black Women’s Erotica 2 (2003) and co-editor of Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art (2002).

January Gill O’Neil is the author of Underlife (2009), executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and teaches at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts.

06 May 2014


One sure way to get people talking, or upset - or both - is to create a list.

Mused magazine closed out National Poetry Month with "10 Black Gay Poets Everyone Should Know." It's a wonderful list, filled with writers whose work I like, many of whom I know personally (and couple I also have low-level crushes on - LOL!:). It's also an interesting group of, for the most part, younger, up-and-coming writers. But I instantly thought  - how come no women? And then, of course, 10 MORE male poets not on the list came into my head....And what about non-US writers? Sadly, it's a never ending process!

In any event, to continue the conversation - and because nothing says you have to STOP reading poetry just because it's not Poetry Month anymore -  here are two dozen women and men ranging across time and the African Diaspora (not arranged in any special order) whose work you should explore. AND I encourage you to create your own lists of writers to read and books to delve into, and pass them along to family, friends (virtual and real), and others.

Happy Reading!

07 April 2014

Essex Hemphill: On taking care of your blessings and 'American Wedding'

The great Black Gay poet Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) would sign his letters, "Take care of your blessings." When asked what he meant by that he replied:

"Some of us bake wonderfully, write, paint, do any number of things, have facilities with numbers that others don't have. Those are your blessings. Some of us are very strong and candid and some of us are nurturers or combinations of all of those things. Just be aware of what your particular things are and nurture them and use them toward a positive way of living. That's simply what I meant."

In honor of Essex (who would have turned 57 on April 16th), National Poetry Month, the progress of "Gay Marriage" across the US and around the world - and to celebrate Martin Duberman's glorious dual biography, Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS here is one of Essex' poems. We miss you, baby!

American Wedding

By Essex Hemphill

In america,
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.
No horsemen
bearing terror,
no soldiers of doom
will swoop in
and sweep us apart.
They’re too busy
looting the land
to watch us.
They don’t know
we need each other
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night,
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
we confirm the new world coming.

What the rose whispers
before blooming
I vow to you.
I give you my heart,
a safe house.
I give you promises other than
milk, honey, liberty.
I assume you will always
be a free man with a dream.
In america,
place your ring
on my cock
where it belongs.
Long may we live
to free this dream.

from Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (Plume, 1992)

16 October 2013

Blog Action Day 2013: Human Rights begin at home

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

The international disgrace that is the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay remains open.

Article 9.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The NSA continues to spy...sorry, 'gather intelligence' on us each time we access an electronic device (IMHO the amount of information that is being gathered with these wide spread fishing expeditions is so large that it reaches the point of being meaninglessness - who or what can sift through it all to make heads or tails of it? Only retroactively - after some horror has occurred - could one go back and make connections)

  • Article 12.

    • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Stories of bullying (of LGBT kids, but others who 'don't fit in') continue daily.

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Much too close to home: A friend and fellow poet was recently gay-bashed on the streets of Manhattan, one of the most diverse and 'gayest' cities in the world.

Article 13.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

What would if mean if Human Rights really did begin at home? How would we relate to our children, parents, family, neighbors and co-workers?

How can we talk about Human Rights in our city, state, nation or around the world unless we ask ourselves:
what are we doing behind our own closed doors?

Read the Full Universal Declaration of Human Rights here

03 October 2013

Reg-tober Fest

It never rains, but sometimes it pours:

I'll be reading/appearing in four cities (and four states) in the next few weeks in support of Autogeography - and am already exhausted just thinking about it!:)

Hope to see some of you SOMEwhere along the way!

best wishes


Livingston Campus Student Center, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
84 Joyce Kilmer Ave., Piscataway, NJ
Friday October 4, 2013
6:00 – 8:00pm
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House
58 West 10th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues
Thursday October 10, 2013
7:00 pm
Reading with Joel Allegretti, Vasiliki Katsarou and Andriana Rizos
29 Cornelia Street New York, NY
Saturday, October 12, 2013
6:00 pm
Reading with Susan Scheid‏
A Sunday Kind of Love
14th & V St, Washington DC
Sunday October 20, 2013
5:00-7:00 pm
Reading w/Hailey Leithauser
400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore MD
Wednesday, October 30, 2013


(see the Upcoming Readings & Events section over ==> THERE for more info).

26 September 2013

Ken Norton, RIP

The most shocking thing to me about the recent death of boxing great Ken Norton, Sr, is that he was 70 years old - my father's age. How in the world is that possible? He seemed so much younger than Ali during their fight in 1973. And his style was certainly closer to those of us who were teens and pre-teens than that of our Dad's (Check the rings, fly collar and chains above - Pure '70s style!)

And of course there was his amazing body....Norton was "buff" before his time:)

As the (essential) website Shadow and Act reminds us, Norton's other claim to fame is his starring role in Mandingo, the (in)famous Southern slavery pot-boiler.

Author Kyle Onstott's Mandingo, its sequel Drum, and other novels were "Adult Books" in those days, titles which parents read but then hid from as being unsuitable for us kids. Filled with sex and violence and bruise-purple prose, we found them anyway, unable to resist finding out what was so bad about them (I'm not sure there are any fiction titles parents keep away from children now....). The films made from the books were equally lurid, over the top, trashy. Because it is a 'bad film', you're more than a little ashamed to admit being enthralled by it.....but, yeah, we loved them.

I still think James Mason's whacked-out performance as the shabby master of the even shabbier plantation "Falconhurst" one of his finest comic turns. For me, Mandingo totally ruined any notion of The Glorious Anti-Bellum South. For a lot of us, sitting in the theater, watching in astonishment, in some ways, the movie seemed  'true' - slavery was a horrific system run by people lying to themselves and deserved to be destroyed.

"The film tells the story of a depraved father and son team (James Mason and Perry King) who don’t raise crops, but instead breed slaves to sell to other plantations. The decrepit, rotten, festering plantation they live in mirrors their own rotting, festering depraved souls, which all slave owners had.

Throw in insanity, perversion and even incest and you have a very volatile mix. The film is the perverted, repulsive, and one can argue, more accurate, other side of the usual Hollywood portrayal of “genteel” plantation life in the South, such as  Gone with the Wind, Song of the South and Raintree County." (from Shadow and Act)

A poem, in honor of Kenny and Mandingo (You can hear me read this poem here at the From the Fishouse website) We love you

Ken Norton as 'Mandingo'

They want me for my body
and my name – the guy who
busted Ali’s jaw, in his first film! –
Just to sell some tickets. Just like
boxing, just as fixed.
I’m no actor, not the star.
They named the movie after
my guy, but didn’t give me much
to say.

The old slave fighters
visit me, Molineaux
and others, whisper
behind the arc lights Do us
right. This whole thing seems
strange to them: the shackles
quick-release, masters’ whips
that crack an inch above our backs.

White men saying,
Come, Go, Stand
Here, Move There.




Molineaux: Tom Molineaux (1784-1818), a former slave given his freedom due to his boxing ability, he fought the British heavyweight champion in 1810 and 1811.

20 February 2013

Family Portrait in Three Languages

I am very honored to be part of  this year's Trialogue: Chinese, American and German Poetry Collaboration sponsored by Washington DC's Goethe Institute in. The theme for 2013 is "Passions" and two of my poems, The Ring Walk and 1967 Saturday Night have been translated into Chinese and German. It is a pleasure to be in the company of US Poets Joseph Ross and Sarah Browing, and our international counterparts Bastian Böttcher, Ulrike Draesner and Ludwig Harig (Germany), and Yan Li, Yang Ke, and Zhai Yongming (China).

I can not thank Norma Broadwater of the Goethe Institute and DC poet extraordinaire Fred Joiner for asking me to be part of this.

And no, looking at 1967 Saturday Night from 10 Tongues, I can not even begin to imagine what My Folks would have thought seeing themselves in German and Chinese! My mind just spins....

Danke     谢谢     Thank you

1967 Saturday Night   
by Reginald Harris

Every Saturday, Grandfather played
his records.
The kitchen table set
with snacks and scotch,
he'd always start with Ellington:
A Train or Satin Doll
curling up the oval stairs
sweet as perfume.
"I met him once, you know," he told me,
“A party in New York. Musta been 19 and 23.”
I stared at him, amazed -
Real people lived inside the grooves of 78's!
'Ma just said, “Humph!” leading me to weekly bath,
later sneaking back, lured by Basie, Pres, and Rushing.
Mr. B.
Billie sings of What Moonlight
Can Do
and they dance.
Then it's After Hours,
and it suddenly  grows quiet.
He closes with Ahmad
Jamal - This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship
and the lights downstairs go out.
They rise like mist up the front stairs, holding hands,
ignoring creaking floorboards, quick-moving feet,
drawn by fading echoes, to retire to their separate beds.
In my room, mid-way between them,
I’d dream of those I'd never seen:
Ella, Sassy, Little Jazz,
Papa Jimmy, Vernon, Uncle Billy -
a man in a tailored white silk suit
skimming piano keys like Lindy hoppers
while in the corner, away from the crowd,
newlyweds count out their rent
in nickels, dimes, and dreams.

(for Edna and Melvin Harris)

Samstagnacht 1967
von Reginald Harris
übersetzt von Peter Beicken, Lane Jennings, und Katharina Semke

Jeden Samstag spielte Großvater
seine Platten.
Auf dem Küchentisch
ein Imbiss und Scotch,
immer begann er mit Ellington:
A Train oder Satin Doll
wand sich die ovale Treppe hinauf
wie ein süßes Parfüm.
„Weißt du, ich hab ihn mal getroffen,“ erzählte er mir, 
„Auf ’ner Party in New York, um 1923 rum.“
Ich hab ihn angestarrt, erstaunt –
,Richtige Leute lebten in den Rillen der 78er Platten!
Oma sagte nur, „hm“ und führte mich zum wöchentlichen Bad
von dem ich mich später zurückstahl, verlockt von Basie, Pres, und Rushing.
Mr. B. [Billy Eckstine]
Billie [Holliday] singt What Moonlight
Can Do
und sie tanzen.
Dann ist’s After Hours,
und plötzlich wird es still.
Zum Schluss dann Ahmad
Jamal – This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship
und unten gehen die Lichter aus.
Sie steigen wie Dunst die Vordertreppe hinauf, Händchen haltend,
ohne sich an den knarrenden Dielen zu stören, sich schnell bewegende Füße,
angezogen von verschwindenden Echos, sich zurückzuziehen in getrennte Betten.
In meinem Zimmer, auf halbem Wege zwischen beiden, 
träumt ich von denen, die ich nie gesehn:
Ella, Sassy, Little Jazz,
Papa Jimmy, Vernon, Uncle Billy -
ein Mann in einem weißen maßgeschneiderten Seidenanzug
ließ die Finger über die Tasten gleiten tänzerisch hüpfend wie Lindy Hoppers, 
während in der Ecke, von der Menge abgewandt,
Jungvermählte ihre Miete zusammenzählen
in Fünfern, Zehnern und Träumen

(Für Edna und Melvin Harris)



“那是在纽约的一个聚会上,马苏塔 19岁,而我23岁。”