29 December 2006

Man & Woman of the Year

Man of the Year, 2006: Keith Ellison (D, MN)

Not only because he was part of the Democratic broom which swept the Republicans from the leadership of both houses of Congress this fall. Not only because I enjoy the (in some quarters) incongruous image of an African American Catholic-turned-Muslim representing the Great White North of Minnesota. But because, after being attacked by the ignorance of CNN's Glenn Beck ("And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.'" 14 November 2006), and having to defend himself against the racist, anti-immigrant rantings of both congressman Virgil Goode (R, VA) ("The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran"), radio show host Dennis Prager ("He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization." 28 November 2006), and countless other Right-Wing-nuts, for wanting to hold a Koran during his congressional swearing-in ceremony, Ellison has responded with calm, equanimity, and class (On Goode for example, he's said, "I don't know the fellow and I'd rather just say he has a lot to learn about Islam."

To my mind, he's a great example for us all (particularly those of us who would be wanting to kick some so-called Christian butt right about now for making such comments -- guess now you know why I never went into politics!). I also think, sadly, this is only the beginning of such crazyness surrounding Mr Ellison. I wish him well.

"Many people see their religion as an identity thing, much in the same way Crips or Bloods might say, 'I'm this, this is the set I'm rolling with,' " Ellison said, referring to the infamous street gangs. "They've never actually tried to explore how religion should connect us, they're into how religion divides us. ... They haven't really explored ... how my faith connects me to you."

Woman of the Year, 2007: Nancy Pelosi (D, CA)

First Female Speaker of the House. Daughter of one mayor of Baltimore (Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr.) and sister of another (Thomas D'Alesandro, III). Right wing target (and take note of how many unflattering photos will be shown of her in 2007: they always play then 'she looks bad' card against women). Next year, politics in Washington will be All About Nancy: What will Nancy do? What won't she do? And how many investigations will she launch against the Bush Administration? Stay tuned....

Man for All Seasons: The Godfather of Soul

Thanks for the Funk. Thanks for "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" (I Am. We Are) Thanks for Getting Up on the Good Foot, and the dancing. Thanks for being you.

Maceo! Maceo!!

11 December 2006

Ninguno aquí llora por el General

If there is such a thing as divine retribution, then tonight, General Augusto Pinochet is at the beginning of an eternal sentence of roasting on a spit in Hell.

Planner of the coup d'état that brought him to power on September 11, 1973. The cost of his term as El Supremo de Chile? 3,000 dead. 30,000 tortured. Domestic and international spying and persecution of dissenters through Operation Condor. The car bomb murder of ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington DC in 1976. All with the support of the United States government, including the late Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman ("Miracle of Chile" indeed!) and the late UN Ambassador Jeane "Right wing dictators are better than Left wing dictators" Kirkpatrick. Dispite beging the target of hundreds of prosecutions on corruption and human rights violation charges, The Generalissimo mananged to escape any form of prosecution.

If you wonder why some in South America distrust the United States, you need look no further than to our relationship with the reign of General Pinochet in Chile.

I was in Chile as 1983 turned into 1984, and although Pinochet's power was slipping, those I traveled with and I were still followed and watched "for our own protection" by non-uniformed members of the (secret?) police in Punta Arenas -- and most likely in the General's home town of Valpariso as well, where a young lady talked to me, a stranger from another country, briefly, furtively, about her fears. While a number of people in Chile showed us a heartwarming level of hospitality, it is also the case that, as Raymond Chandler wrote, "the Streets were dark with something more than night."

So no tears here, Jefe, for turning a beautiful country into a center of fear and paranoia. Too bad you didn't spend some time behind bars in this world -- but I'm sure you're getting your just deserts in the next.

03 December 2006

"Gathering Ground" in Baltimore

What a joy it was to see so many Cave Canem fellows and poetry fans at the Pratt Library for the 10th Anniversary 'Gathering Ground' reading!

After negotiating the madness of the last ($2 a bag/box) day of our annual book sale, readers and fans gathered in the library's Wheeler Auditorium for the program....

(Carlo Paul with fellow poets in the front row)

...to hear selections from the work of Brandon D Johnson, Carleasa Coates, Carlo Paul, Carolyn Joyner, Derrick Brown and Deidre Gantt (doing the Poetic tag-team thing), Hayes Davis, Jadi Omowale, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Teri Cross, and Venus Thrash.

Special Guest Kyle Dargan invoked our forebearers by reading Etheridge Knight's "Belly Song" before reading a selection from his Cave Canem Prize Winning collection, The Listening.

"Aren't these children wonderful?" the beloved featured reader Lucille Clifton asked, before reading a much-too-short selection of poems, a series transporting the Virgin Mary to the Caribbean, and closing with a special variation on her poem "won't you celebrate with me...", changing the last lines in honor of the occasion

(Miss Clifton with Young Fans)

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill US, CAVE CANEM
and has failed.

Readers and audience then gathered for a reception in the Library's Edgar Allen Poe Room

Tony Medina and DivineCipher's Fred Joiner

Carlo Paul and Kamilah Moon

My sister Marva and Brandon Johnson

Carleasa and Lucille

A small group of DC-area poets went to dine and talk (with a fantastic jazz soundrack in the background) at the nearby Milton's Grill

(Fred Joiner, Derrick Brown, Alan King, and Venus Thrash)

A special thanks/shout out to the Pratt staff for the great flyer (see top of post), name tags, poster, and book and window displays promoting the event, and their support during the reading and reception.

Thanks everyone for a great evening of love and verse!

01 December 2006

Literary Weekend

December 1st: World AIDS Day

Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.

As usual, it's feast or famine here in B-town. This weekend it's Feast. An ideal itinerary would go something like this:

Pratt Library's Annual booksale. As always, it was a madhouse in here today as folks rushed to get first dibs on the 50c hardcovers and 25c paperbacks we've put out. Little do they know we restock all weekend (and Sunday is $1 a bag/box day)...Come on down!

Start the day at Belvedere Square's Daedalus Books & Music for their Holiday Signing and Breakfast with a host of local authors including Gilbert Sandler, Elizabeth Spires, Madison Smartt Bell, Kim Jensen and Lia Purpura and Jonathon Scott Fuqua, 10 am - 12 Noon

Head back to the main library for more books, and check in with the Poetry Discussion Group as they look at the work of the extraordinary Paul Celan (12-2 pm).

If you missed her at Daedalus, you can catch up with Lia Pupura at the Pratt, where she'll be reading/signing copies of "On Looking"

Head around the corner to 317 N Charles and Clayton & Co bookstore for Reb Livingston and a No Tell Motel reading, part of the amazing i.e. reading series (...and I havent' stopped kicking myself for missing the Mei-mei Berssenbrugge & Cole Swenson double bill, or Charles Bernstein last month either!)


I'll be playing host to local poets Brandon D Johnson, Carleasa Coates, Carlo Paul, Carolyn Joyner, Deidre Gantt, Derrick Brown, Hayes Davis, Jadi Omowale, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Kendra Hamilton, Teri Cross, and Venus Thrash, Cave Canem Prize Winner Kyle Dargan, and the luminous Lucille Clifton at (where else?) the Pratt Library, to celebrate Cave Canem's 10th Anniversary and the Gathering Ground anthology (a perfect stocking stuffer if there ever was one -- poetry is the gift that keeps on giving, you know....). 2 pm

And just when you think it's safe to return to the office, Roger Bonair-Agard brings the tarnish and masquerade tour to town, performing at Slamicide, XandO Charles Village, 8 pm.

Now just watch: Next weekend? No haps....