In the Do Renew Your Acquaintance With Department: The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, between Bleeker and Houston or www.bowerypoetry.com . At the behest of Ed Foster, a fine poet, a tireless publisher (Mr. Talisman House Press himself) and a good friend--at Ed Foster's urging I went to a publication party/book signing/reading yesterday. Joe Donohue read from his new Incidental Eclipse and Leonard Schwartz read from his new The Tower of Diverse Shores. Both books are published by Talisman, btw.
Donohue presents himself as a quiet and reflective poet, but he flooded his audience with a spring thaw of imagery, with visions almost too complex to absorb in one swell foop. Thus, you scamble to get that book! I understand that Donohue is a bit shy, that reading does not come easily to him, and that he was unusually reserved this time. So be it. I will still return to that fuente, that book, to read some more.
But this reminds me that contemporary poetry, in somewhat adolescent gesture, often snubs the oral (and aural) in favor of print--that "recollected in tranquility" stuff of English Romanticism. My old mentor, Jim Tate, once said (though I would not want to hold him to it) that reading poetry aloud wasn't really all that important. Cripes! Were we on our collective poetic toes, the phrase "performance poetry," would be regarded as it should be--redundant--and should there ever be a book-burning again, we word mavens could still recite, nay declaim, our most cherished poetry by heart.
Schwarz's The Tower of Diverse Shores was beautifully blurbed by Bajan poet Kamau Brathwaite who himself combines the visual of print styles with oral consciousness. Oddly, I could almost hear Brathwaite tapping his lectern rhymically, as he does in his own readings: I could almost hear the sounds of Caribbean tongues lap at my ear as Schwartz read from his own very North American context. Schwartz reads well, interacts with his audience, and feasts the ear with his music. I submit:
( Pay attention to the labials; check the mike, please.)
The New Babel
"Babel is of course the fall of a Tower, followed by a vast, manipulated confusion of words.
"Babble is language's beginning, before it's a language, while it's still song.
"As Babel is both a ground and a zero, Middle English grund> and Arabic zefir, cipher>, Gallicized zero--let's call it Ground Zero.
"Babel is a defiance of the demiurge and hubris of the heart, ziggurat aimed at suns yet unborn, inside the mouth the mouth as desire: man creates gods."
"New Babel/Babble" did not wimp out at the end. It did not turn to sentimental ash in the mouth. It rang loud. It was not recited from memory, passed down (though it's references were) from generations of mouths, yet this poem could be memorized, freed from the page, ready willing and able to resucitate our collective memory for a long, long time.
Soon-soon: Preview of Collision Theory's PORTRAIT (WITH HORSE AND OTHERS), wordsmithed by Patricia Eakins.
Me, I confess, I am a beboppist. I have never been down with the jazz traditionalists who go to see jazz petrified and laid out at Lincoln Center Funeral Home. In consequence, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Stanley Crouch-ist.
Now let me also say that I read with horror of Crouch's recent firing from the Jazz Times. Conservative, curmudgeonly though he may have been--so what? That, dear Reader, is a critic. A critic, well, CRITICIZES. And, yes, sometimes he or she even snipes. Get out of the kitchen if you can't stand the heat.
Just what did Stanley do? Tsk, tsk. This African American critic had the temerity to contend that, in the world of jazz, born out of long years of black experience in the US of A--in jazz, white jazz critics have been elevating white musicians "far beyond their abilities" to "make themselves feel more comfortable about...evaluating an art from which they feel substantially alienated." In the May 14th Village Voice, Jazz writer Daniel King (himself white), points out that the field of jazz criticism is, in fact, dominated by white critics; and when you ask someone to name a well-known black jazz critic, only one name rushes to their lips--Stanley Crouch. There is smoke, there is fire.
Apparently Crouch also claimed, in a brilliant metaphor, that white writers born in "middle class china shops" ensure "the destruction of the Negro aesthetic" by advancing the mediocre ofay musician. (I believe we used to call that "co-opting" in the 70s, did we not?) Id est, if a writer scraps his or her white privilege and joins a black endeavor--out of love, admiration, and decency he or she dasn't don't toot they horn in favor of those whose horns haven't paid they respects, let along they dues. Crouch's bosses seem to have forgotten their history: a past when big bands shed their black members to go out with white people, as opposed to being able to dance the night away interracially in black clubs or over the radio waves where none of their white audiences could see their color.
Music, Stanley's bosses would no doubt contend, has no color; it's a universal language. Blah, blah, blah. Nope. Ignore its history and it will bite you! Yes, but the people who play it, promote it; yea, those who listen and get to tell others about it--being varied in hue, are treated variously, according to social perceptions of color and the practices built up around it.
Indeed, why send someone a pink slip just because he voiced an opinion which, if you actually examine the superstructure of institutionalized racism, deserves a more thoughtful response. Pink slip? why they sent him an email!
Imagine sending white critic, Nat Hentoff, a pinkmail!
No one who knows me would ever ask me to review a soap opera. For almost my entire life, I have not had a television set.
While I certainly applaud any attempt to be creative with celluloid, pixels, neon, digitized whatevuh, in my mind, video art does not equal TV and, therefore, it (the former) is forgiven. Turning to the latter (TV) I confess that I now have a small second-hand television, bought from a grad student who was going off to teach in Ankara, Turkey. The price of cable seemed frivolous, so all I could receive was three channels and a whole lot of snow. I watched the news on September 11th till it was clear that the one station--er, channel--was in a loop and was repeating itself, endlessly, endlessly. Click. I lurched out of bed in the wee small hours to watch the World Cup on Canel somethingerother (don't ask--just so long as it was in Spanish. Gringo stations still don't know how to cover soccer on the mini-screen!)
Then, I got hooked on Spanish language telenovelas--"soaps," to you, amigo. I thought it would mejorar mi español. People wearing fancy dresses and suits and ties flew from New York to Cancun to [Cuidad] Mexico: their public lives were powerful; their personal lives, smarmy. A goofy guy got a makeover, overnight becoming "muy guapo," incredibly handsome, attracting women like the brightest flower on the vine, and all the while, his wife was dying. One theme ran strong: when all else fails, Ophelia, you can get thyself to a nunnery: the fiance is lured away by your evil Papí and you are led to believe he has fallen out ot the sky in an airplane? Go bang at the convent doors! Want to spare your loved ones the chore of caring for you in your last ugly hours? Take those vows! Genuflect, genuflect--as the old sixties comedian, Tom Lehrer would chant--let's do the Vatican rag! At one point I went out of town, and, upon my return, I found my favorite character in a suspicious-looking stone courtyard, gazing upwards, clothed head to toe in--you guessed it--a habit. I don't mind telling you, I was on pins and needles waiting for her man to get her out of there!
My brief and tawdry fling, however, is over. Real life has intervened. The TV sits on top of a fake arts and crafts file cabinet with a piece of African kuba cloth artfully draped over it; the few videos I have purchased gather dust at a distance, on the bottom of the adjacent bookshelf. I watch DVDs on my computer.
Requiscat en pacem my soap opera watching career.
But a friend has asked me to post this, FOUR POINTS ALERT (have I got that right?) for all you operas de sopa--soup opera--fans... I mean, escritores de jabon? Telenovelistas?
In all seriousness, friends, this is a worthy endeavor:
The Community Theatre Internationale is looking for writers with soap opera experience to contribute to a cross-border soap opera that takes place in both Kenya and New York. The script, performances and production is being developed now through community participation in both countries. The focus will be on characters and plot lines that highlight the myriad of issues raised by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Predicted to soon kill more people than all the wars of the 20th century, the globalization of AIDS raises fundamental economic, political, social and moral questions for the human race. For those of us bearing the brunt of the pandemic, the project offers an antidote to isolation and stigma. For those not in the line of fire, it is an alternative to paralysis and silence in the face of incomprehensible statistics of devastation.*
Soap opera, a genre beloved in both countries, promises to be a fruitful and entertaining vehicle for exploring the difficult and very intimate issues of love, sex and relationships in the age of AIDS.
The Community Theatre Internationale is dedicated to creating community through performance. across borders local and global. A non-profit organization, CTI develops multi-media, collaborative productions between community-based ensembles in different parts of the world. Mixing live performance with video and Internet technology, we create "stages" on which ordinary people from around the globe gather to make theatre and art. If you are interested, please contact Kate Gardner, Artistic Director, at email@example.com. In the meantime, please visit our website at www.communitytheatreintl.org .
*HIV/AIDS is part of daily life in Kenya-where one out of three people are infected. With life-saving drugs unavailable, an estimated 600 Kenyans die every day from the disease.
In the United States, HIV/AIDS has moved underground, striking the poor and excluded--with Black gay men and young Black and Latina women most vulnerable. CTI's home base, Brooklyn, is the epicenter of AIDS in America.
avapvfopuli [7:51 p. m.]
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