Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rest in Peace and Power Chris Brown

I’m still in shock, and probably 5 simultaneous stages of grief right now (heavy hearted? Bursting hearted?)…..but I have to try to say something, by way of tribute, at the risk of missing something essential, and this end up being more about me than Chris Brown….I guess I only knew a sliver of his life, but I wish to celebrate…..I don’t like to use the term “star student” coz it implies favoritism, but if anybody was, Chris Brown was.

2014: I was teaching my first creative writing class in 5 or 6 years, and still very much mourning Amiri Baraka who had recently died, and since I taught at a school where whites are a minority, and it was a multi-genre class, I thought The Amiri Baraka Reader would be a perfect model text for work in various genres. The first night of class, I arrived 30 minutes early, and there was already a student sitting there reading the Baraka reader. “Wow,” I said, “I see you bought the text already. I didn’t know the bookstore had it yet.” He looked at me puzzled, “The Baraka reader? Oh, I’m just reading it on my own.” That’s how we met (he loved to tell others that story….)

And, in his classroom performance the entire semester, he seemed to, intuitively (if not necessarily ‘naturally’) have the word “teacher” written all over him. He had strong, clear righteous political analysis, but often kept them in reserve, and let others talk even if he disagreed. He chose his battles and earned an authority, I believe, with everybody in the classroom with when he would weigh in with insightful, empathetic analysis of others creating writing. He helped make the class run more smoothly as mediator. Often I felt he was more like a co-teacher, or taught me more than I taught him—for instance, about James Baldwin, Afro-centric theory, etc. Yet, he seemed surprised when I asked him, “have you ever thought about teaching?” I think we were both trying to reinvent ourselves when we met (I’m told he was a personal trainer in a past life/)…

He became a tutor in the writing center, and, in the 3 years he was at Laney, he took full advantage of the (alas, too few) extra-curricular resume-building opportunities Laney can offer while at the same time working as activist to put the community back in community college—serving in student government, the steering committee for the Laney College teach ins, on the frontlines of the anti-gentrification struggle, and helping to spearhead the Umoja-UBAKA program, all the while keeping his grades up so he could transfer with some financial aid to U.C.—Davis and continuing to work on his creative prose, drama, and poetry. The wide net he cast reminded me of myself in undergrad….(and sorry if this sounds more like a teacher’s “recommendation letter”)…

I invited him on my radio show to read his creative writing and also talk politics, current events, systemic racism, etc. On air, it became almost immediately apparent to both of us that we had a verbal chemistry, and he became co-host of my show and immediately made it better. We brought in other students, and began plotting ideas for future shows. We were just getting started. Unfortunately, do to scheduling issues, the show was not renewed….

Chris Brown had so many talents, he debated with himself on possible majors and seemed relieved when I told him you don’t have to major in English as an undergrad to be able to get into an MFA Creative Writing program should he choose that route. He made me feel like I was helping him, even if I’m not so sure I was….We stayed in touch after he left Laney (his FB posts were often very informative and insightful; he was the first to show me the BBQ Betty video before it went viral, for instance….). He kept me posted on his adjustments to Davis as a more impersonal environment in which he’d find himself in that position of being the only black in classes, and the burden of having to represent, etc….and the hyprocrisy of the self-proclaimed radical (Marxist or anarchist) professors who marginalize racism, etc…..The future? He said he’s like to go back to Oakland and give back…..he also said he’d like to check out Africa (Liberia?)….and of course keep writing. He was only starting to publish, but he was patient and disciplined and had long term projects….even as he posted some poems in FB. He was one of the kindest people I’ve met in recent years, and, though I don’t have many non-FB or non-professional friends these days, I hope it’s not presumptuous to say he was one of my closest friends, and I still can’t believe he’s gone. Rest in power as peace!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Beat Museum (after Bernadette Mayer’s “Essay”)


I guess it’s too late to join the Beat Museum
I guess it’s too late to beat the Beat Museum
I guess it’s too late for me to make a good Beat
I guess the only good beat is a dead beat
I guess I don’t really hate the Beat Museum
I hold out hope for the Beat Museum
I want to seduce the Beat Museum
But I can’t get behind the Beat Museum
“And they charge all the people [$10.50] just to see ‘em”
I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in the Beat Museum
But you could lure me to The Beat Museum
Are we “bound to crack” in The Beat Museum?
Maybe someday we’ll have The Crack Museum
Maybe someday the phrase “The Crack Generation”
Will catch on at least as much as The Blank Generation
Where X marks the spot at the Blank Museum
Or the Alternative Tentacles of the Black Panther Museum

I guess poets can’t live in the Beat Museum
I guess Saint Francis can’t live in San Francisco
I guess they can’t set up affordable housing in The Beat Museum
I guess they don’t let you smoke in The Beat Museum
But that doesn’t mean there’s Fresh Air in The Beat Museum
(or Howling in the Kenneth Koch museum)
I suppose I could drive my horse and cart 
over the Grateful Dead in The Beat Museum.
Will they pay our legal fees when we get 
arrested hitchhiking to the Beat Museum?
Is “Savage Nation” a footnote in The Beat Museum?
(to say nothing of his son’s Rock Star “Energy Drink”)
Will they let us pay with our good looks in The Beat Museum?
Every time I went to City Lights I felt like I was in the Beat Museum.

When people walk into the Beat Museum, does a disembodied Kerouac
Or Ginsberg or Corso (or the should’ve, could’ve, would’ves)
Rise from the grave to say, “with friends like this, who needs Language Poets?”
Maybe had the Beats worked in museums like Frank O’Hara,
There never would have been a Beat Museum.
Here’s a public service announcement for The Beat Museum
Maybe those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it,
So if you are afraid of the “rebirth of wonder” that threatened to take over America between 1956 and 1965, you best get your ass over to The Beat Museum.
Oh this must be a poem because it’s more abandoned than finished
& I really like to think the best minds of my generation don’t have to be plundered
by the good folks who erected the Beat Museum…

Monday, April 30, 2018

#NaPoWriMo Last Day Poem


Prelude To A Sequel of The Great Vowel Shift
                                                                           
11.
Even if you’re a well beloved, or at least unavoidable, car company
Or a radio network with only 5 stations (but they form a cute pentagon)

You were the kind of person who has to write 10 pages to get 3 good lines,
Clinging to meaning like the promise of pain in a drought,

Or a radio network with only 5 stations (but they form a cute pentagon),
A mess of misunderstanding between the aesthetic & ethical

Clinging to meaning like the promise of pain in a drought
“It’s been awhile since we had some poison, and you want to be realistic, right?”

A mess of misunderstanding between the aesthetic & ethical:
“You’re welcome for making lemonade out of the lemons I gave you.”

“It’s been awhile since we had some poison, and you want to be realistic, right?”
“…. she was a far better marriage counselor after she got divorced.”

“You’re welcome for making lemonades out of the lemons I gave you”
“I think you’d be happier if your standards were higher.”

“… she was a far better marriage counselor after she got divorced.”
The sling sighs far & wide, or try out the new pocket pack, my secular friends

“I think you’d be happier if your standards were higher
Even if you’re a well beloved, or at least unavoidable, car company,

The sling sighs far & wide, or try out the new pocket pack, my secular friends
You were the kind of person who has to write 10 pages to get 3 good lines.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

April Draft #29

Sunday 4-29
A nun with a gun said the sun is a hun, 
so say you haven’t stood on an actual 
liminal beach with feet in wet sand
(why does coast seem rockier than shore?)
and felt the waves lap at your ankles
or perhaps that rust-proof wheelchair
or to stand your ground in scuba gear
amphibious merman statuesque squip
in between the crest and the break
of a wave acting llke a wall…..
and there’s this longing, or hunger
to write it down so you don’t have to do it

but you can’t just write, and memories
don’t have to hurt, like the time I told
the bully on the rich side of town,
“each moment is a mansion” and
Cambridge Analytica knows what happened next…
It has something to do with the common myth
That happiness is more fragile than sadness
And its (14 year old) cousin myth
“Reason is more fragile than nature”
and when they marry, after the sealing kiss,
the bouquet lands on heaven
who had recently divorced hell
and now had her eyes set on pop culture
who had recently divorced mom culture
whose (mom & pop) store, now renamed
Spirit and Daughters, sold skies for smiles

or the sea that made cost coast along
like the smoothiest sappy organic symmetry
ever sailored ever wailered, ever Rita Marley
ever suspiration ever slipstream landlocked
Styrofoam heartland night bleed drench quench
To be the moon to listen to that which howls
As an eye might take up the page’s invitation
To talk back to it in a way that transcends argument
Or at least lets the lie fallow until absolutely
Necessary, and if you sound so sure of yourself
It means you’re in the shore of yourself, and
What’s an argument but an overgrown quip
As I could surely write a book length dissertation
On the relationship between the iconography
Of those surfin, turfin, Beach Boys
& the increased number of Beached whales
or the coincidence that inflation rates
remained slow and low in America
until “Up Up Away In My Beautiful Balloon”
rose up the charts, and even higher
when “99 Luftballoons” came out…..
and happiness doesn’t have to be
more fragile than sadness….

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April Draft #28

“What Me Beg?”

Does a self need a mirror more than a body?
The escalator runs smoothly in the confused ocean.
The kettle was watching the pot on the back burner
it called black as if that was a put down, and so
it never boiled so you didn’t have to leave the kitchen
to avoid the heat. That was a lot of work, for little
pay off, and how’s it gonna help you find a job?

“Hollywood loves the pathetic fallacy almost 
as much as poets do. Look it bought me a moaning 
mink coat” maybe it’s the moon of metonymy
spreading moon happy hamburgers athwart the pride 
of short wide Baby boomer extrovert gurus
who have so many battles to pick from, they
decide on Ringo, who contains all, as if there
can be wonder beyond superstition, and awe
could be admirable did it not sound like 
a brigadier admiral melting each penny
he steps on with his fiery therapeutic boots
that separate each toe, and shouldn’t mercenary
be more of a put down than prostitute and I’d cry
mercy if I knew the meaning of the word,

but then I remember that Alice Cooper teenage song
you can’t get a girl if you can’t get a job
and you can’t get a job if you can’t get a girl
and when I was in the so-called romantic marketplace,
I learned that often the second you stop looking,
that’s when your lover or soulmate would appear
even if the temptations to be “male” & make the first move
or take the bull by the horns are too strong
so if you ask how’s this gonna help you find a job
just remember how much damage you did to yourself
on a wild goose chase trying to find one. Namaste (LOL LLC).
and your partner says, it takes a lot of memory
to clear the toxins from the river of forgetfulness.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April Draft #27


Is there a way to compliment you
without it sounding like a come-on line?
Why does it always sound like an insult 
when someone says “I envy you?”

In the glades today, I overheard 
a shepherd tell her son, “if you’re going
to be envious, at least have the decency
to know what you’re envious of.”
“Too much work, screw envy!”

Reverse psychology? I love the rhetorical
sleights that can suck you out
of human essentialism almost as much
as those that can seduce you back into it.

I love the way you incomplete me 
and yes if you want compliments,
I have to get better….at compliments.
Stiff to my ear, the beautiful, kind, and lovable
words fail such practical praise

Perhaps coz I’ve been trained to be 
so on the lookout for flattery
that I can’t take anybody’s compliment
and certainly this is a failing in me
(I took “you can’t take a compliment”
as a compliment!), unless it’s better
to look, not for compliments, but complements…

“What do I have to do so you stop
envying me, so I can envy you?”
“Ooh, ooh, baby, I wanna comp you.”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

April Draft #26

I Feel So Unnecessary…

I could cry out, “I wish I could please you tonight”
or hold my tongue until it could be expressed more poetically,
but the phrase triggers a song in the iPod of my memory
that probably distracts me from the task at hand—

Linda Thompson sang those words in the 80s
“…but my medicine won’t come on right”
and then her husband joins her on the chorus
with his low voice, harmonizing: 
“I’m walking on a wire, and I’m falling.”
Should love take the form of a high wire act?
& I still don’t know why rising in,
or even out of, love never caught on.

I’ve heard critics say Richard Thompson is not
a great lyricist, and maybe that’s true on the page,
but what does it mean for a man to write
the lyrics for his wife to sing
about why she’s leaving him…?
a mystery of who or what is singing to whom
or just another patriarchal voice over?

And it reminds me of the time you tried 
to please me, but failed, and I didn’t leave,
and it’s been years since I’ve heard it
& I used to know the chords, and loved
the guitar solo, and maybe when I get a piano again,
I could try to remember it

Coz I feel the piano playing
even if I don’t sing or remember the words
could please you tonight, but without it,
I feel lost, must lean on wit or “social relevance”
which I thought brought you pleasure
but maybe you just tolerated it for me
coz it’s not able to please you tonight,
and then I could cry out,
in sadness, “I feel so unnecessary”
or hold my tongue when I remember
how joyous Rufus Thomas sounds
when he sings it in “Funky Chicken”…