Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Follow Chekhov On Twitter

I suspected that, eventually, Anton Chekhov would get on Twitter. Lo and behold, he is:

Chekhov on Twitter

This particular twitterer tweets quotations from Chekhov's work and observations about Russia and Russians.

Chekhov would have appreciated the imposed frugality of word-choice Twitter imposes.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The River of January

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The River of January


How wonderful it must have been
to find a river in January, when
they were hot, and they
were experiencing explorer’s
despair at the start of the 16th
century, and people who
lived there and had
already found the river looked
at them as if they too, had
been discovered already.

Probably I won’t find a river.
Are there any left to find?
I could find one already found
and rename it, except I might
be tempted to name it the
River of January, and that
wouldn’t do. So I’ll put on
a carnival hat in the Northern
Hemisphere, turn a faucet
on and off, and think of Rio
De Janeiro, flowing there
below its continent’s leading
edge, which tips toward
ocean and Africa. Promises
to oneself are easy to make,

especially when one’s wearing
a carnival hat. I promise myself
that one day I’ll fly to the River
of January, and look at it. And just
look at it and say, Rio De Janeiro.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, January 29, 2010

Kevin Clark's New Book


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(Kevin Clark)
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My old friend Kevin Clark's new book of poetry is out: Self Portrait With Expletives. What a great title. It was the winner of the 2009 Lena-Miles Todd Poetry Series contest and selected by Martha Collins. It is published by Pleiades Press at the University of Central Missouri but distributed by Louisiana State University Press. The ISBN is 978-0-8071-3645-4.

Kevin teaches at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is also the author of the poetry-writing textbook, The Mind's Eye (Longman).

The Last System Standing

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The Last System Standing

The Chief Executive Oligarch of Paranational,
Inc., rides in a private jet over neighborhoods
he helped ruin, oops, accidentally—you know,
a bad good-decision here and there. Hey,
it happens—naturally, like a bonus
gliding down from the heavens. If you’re
not taking chances, you’re not trying. He falls
asleep listening to opera. Assuming capitalism
once had to pretend to be better than its
worst traits, well, no more. It behaves like the last
system standing. As with the old burlesque
stripper, its excesses are its virtues. Time
is money, people are things, profit is lord,
and not to worry: the system will solve
all problems. Poverty’s temporary, and pain’s
an illusion. The system has everybody’s
best interests in mind, so take some advice
and don’t get in the way of the system--
unless you want to be like a bug on a
railroad track, a vine in the path
of a bulldozer, or a bird flying in front
of a jet-engine’s scream. These are
vivid examples—you know, like
advertising: images that educate. The system
doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. You
understand. You know how it works.
How it works is you work, or not; either
way, the product will get made, get sold,
and this is the best system there is. So,
unless you have any questions,. . . .


Copyright 2010

Writers Born on January 29


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Oprah Winfrey
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At least according to sites I have perused, the writers listed below were born on January 29, although I haven't done my double-checking, due-diligence best.

H.L. Mencken
Emanuel Swedenborg
Thomas Paine
Anton Chekhov
Robert Frost
Edward Abbey
Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter)
Oprah Winfrey
W.B. Yeats
and
Edward Lear, from whom the following limerick is borrowed:

"There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared! -
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stadium Dream

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Her Stadium Dream

In her stadium dream, she
doesn't know where she's supposed
to go, what she's supposed to
watch on the field, where
she's supposed to sit, with
whom, and why. She wanders

around trying to decode obscure
or nonexistent numbers for
section, aisle, row, or seat.
No one pays her attention. Their
attention is focused on something
she can't see or on each other.

As she continues, the stadium
becomes a tangle of tunnels. It
has gone underground. People
become erratic. They're confused
like her and not like he. She
observes her own desolate, panicked
feeling as the dream refuses to cease.
She is begging it to cease as she wakes.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Wise One

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The Wise One

"I'm the Wise One you've
been looking for," said the one
claiming to be the Wise One.

"I don't believe you," said
the one to whom the one claiming
to be the Wise One had spoken.

"See," said the Wise one, "already
you're acting wisely. That's
the effect I have on people."


Copyright 2010

Sterling Brown

In a class on the Harlem Renaissance today, we read and discussed "The Odyssey of Big Boy," one of the best known poems by Sterling Brown (1901-1989). The poem is spoken by "Big Boy" himself, a working-class African American who's had many adventures (of the heart and otherwise) as he's traveled around working different jobs, from mule-skinner to stevedore. The choice to write the poem in a Black vernacular idiom was a interesting one for Brown, who grew up in Washington D.C., went to the famous Dunbar high school, then earned a degree at Williams College as well as an M.A. at Harvard. He became a professor at Howard University and got interested in African American folklore.

Brown's books of poems include Southern Road (1932), The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown (1980), The Last Ride of Wild Bill and Eleven Narrative Poems (1975).

Here is a link to more information about Sterling Brown.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nurses on Break

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Nurses on Break

They've come from an open heart
or a long birth, from drip of life
or failure of flesh. In green gowns
or blue, white gauzy caps, they enter
the park, stretch out like cats.

Sky is victorious, breezes querulous.
The park is arranged around
these reckoned women. Back
at the gray glum castle, pain
waits for them. It isn't going anywhere.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sonia Sanchez

Here is a link to information about Sonia Sanchez's new book of poems, Morning Haiku:

Link to Sanchez book

Sanchez has been doing highly original things with the haiku form for a long time. I think I first encountered her use of the form in her book homegirls and hand-grenades--great title for a book, too. She writes in a variety of other forms as well.

Claude McKay

Black History Month is just around the corner, and Tacoma is fortunate to be hosting the Fisk Jubilee Singers and, in a separate program, the Harlem Dance Studio.

One of my favorite Harlem Renaissance writers is Claude McKay, a native of Jamaica. He wrote poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (in the latter category, A Long Way From Home, his autobiography). He is perhaps still most famous for the protest-poem in sonnet-form, "If We Must Die," written in response to the terrible events of the Red Summer of 1919, when an epidemic of anti-Black violence occurred in the U.S.

Later, during World War II, Winston Churchill "adopted" the poem, not knowing its author was Black and not knowing the original context. As McKay notes in a recording I have, he (McKay) was just fine with, if bemused by, that. I also have a recording of Ice-T reading the poem. He does a nice job.

Here is a link to more information about McKay.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poetry Slam in Mainz

Many moons ago I taught at Johannes Gutenberg University in the great city of Mainz, Germany--then West Germany. Yes, indeed, that's where Johannes started all this printing business, which is now virtual. Mainz is across the Rhine (or Rhein) from Weisbaden, in Germany's wine country, which is probably still less well known than it should be.

Back then I couldn't have imagined that there would be such a thing as a Poetry Slam in Mainz, chiefly because "poetry slam" wasn't part of the parlance then. I was not aware of a poetry-reading culture in Mainz then, but no doubt one existed. I was just too busy teaching too many classes, improving my German, and making cultural adjustments.

Indeed there is such a thing as . . .

Poetry Slam Mainz

. . .--as well there should be.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter's Dull Knife

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Winter's Dull Knife


The dull gray blade of Winter's fallen. It
cuts with cold, leaves bloodless wounds:
fatigue, despair, and ague. Winter doesn't
mean well. It doesn't mean anything, although
Lord knows we've tried to dress it in
significance. Some people like to ski.
There are holidays and sweaters.

There's the other hemisphere, which
Summer shacks up with now that it's
left us high and wet. Mostly we walk,
work, and ride in Winter, stay inside
in Winter, sniffling over bowls of soup,
napping with heavy Russian novels,
always hardback, on our chests, mentally
collecting many types of gray, hoping
Winter never finds a sharpening stone.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cubist Village

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Cubist Village


A blue horse pulls its fractured,
functional vegetable cart parallel
and perpendicular to our window,
which looks out on an alley and
our living room, where we scratch
noses at the back of our heads,
which host warped angles and excite
the sky beneath our feet. The silent
music of this vortex soothes. Wake up
to the lullaby of thunder's lightning.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Poetry

Ezra Pound famously asserted that poetry is "news that stays news," but in the face of a catastrophe like the one in Haiti, poetry seems inadequate, far removed from desperate, immediate needs and overwhelming loss. As we contribute what we can and wait for information about else we might do over the longer haul, however, we can take a moment to consider the poetry from the land afflicted. Here is a link to an anthology of Haitian poetry edited by Chris Waters:

Haitian Poetry

Friday, January 15, 2010

Some Writers Born In January


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Writers born in January include Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne, Anton Chekhov, W. Somerset Maugham, Patricia Highsmith, Isaac Asimov, and Zora Neale Hurston (in the photo). Langston Hughes missed January by that much (as Maxwell Smart used to say), having been born on February 1, 1902--in Joplin, Missouri.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Since 1804

An item I found in Quintard Taylor's nice reference work, Black Facts: The Timelines of African American History, 1601-2008 (p. 64):

"1804: On January 1, Haiti becomes an independent nation. It is the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere (after the United States)."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fund for Haitian Relief

Below is a link to one of many funds to support relief in Haiti. This fund is well established and supported by musician Wyclef Jean:


Haiti Relief

Friday, January 8, 2010

Monosyllabic Life

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Monosyllabic Life

born, breathe, cry, eat, smile,
crap, want, hurt, pee, sleep,
dance, want, hurt, like, fear,
love, learn, heal, lose, "win,"
call, bleed, wish, sweat, write,
tire, sing, talk, read, drink,
sleep, play, work, sex, know,
find, grow, raise, hope, ache,
grieve, weep, groan, buy, lust,
wear, wash, rest, sell, wish,
lick, frown, cheat, help, find,
shame, ask, take, will, give.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Patrick McGoohan on THE PRISONER

Here is a video clip from an interview with the late Patrick McGoohan concerning his TV series, The Prisoner, which I believe was and remains perfectly suited to poets who like to watch TV:


McGoohan on The Prisoner

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Chore

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The Chore


Life never seemed simple. Once,
though, it appeared to have fewer
components. That was an ego ago.

Mirrors showed compassion. Amazement
was not yet rare. Programmers
had not yet inherited the Earth.

Nostalgia, I'm told, is a yearning,
a warm emotion. What I feel is cold.
It accompanies basic, necessary work:

contrasting yesterday's illusions with today's.


Copyright Hans Ostrom 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Against Yesterday

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Against Yesterday


Yesterday is not a good idea. It
just happened, so it's not really
history. It's more like a today
that's started to rot. Yesterday
can't make any promises, and even
if it could, it wouldn't keep them.

Yesterday annoys--the way it blurs
into a perfectly fine today, insulation
between the two disintegrating like
wet cotton candy. Listen, I'm
not saying we ought to abolish
yesterday. I'm suggesting we impose

severe regulations. I'm thinking
we should investigate what a yester
is, why in fact yesterday isn't
yestermorrow, and who made
midnight boss.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rampant Significance



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(image: Sumerian tablet)
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It's been a while since I've seen wee advertisements on TV for videos of "girls gone wild." I gather from the ads that the "girls" in question are chiefly college students on break who are induced to lift their shirts and expose what, in Sweden (for example, would be unremarkable if nonetheless unobjectionable and certainly not without charm. Probably the videos should be called "girls gone bored" or "boys gone predictable."

I doubt if I can successfully market the idea of "significance gone rampant," so I wrote a poem.

Rampant Significance

There is too much meaning. Everywhere
you refuse to turn, something means.
Messages are getting across. Answers
proliferate like dust mites. Typhoons
of information saturate our land.

In my mind I found the image
of a solitary Sumerian slowly
etching text into stone. The notion
of a billion email messages per
[insert unit here] then swept

the Sumerian and his chisel away like
an ant in a flash flood. No one
has time to be absurd. People
are too busy making themselves understood.
To what end? Points are being stressed.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brazilian Poetry


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(image: Brasilia's Metro system)
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Today I ran across a nice little overview of Brazlian poetry. The overview appeared (and still appears) on the U.S. Brazilian Consulate's web site. I wonder if the Brazil U.S. Consulate's site has an essay about American poetry. Probably not.

Anyway, the piece sent me in search of An Anthology of Twentieth Century Brazilian Poetry, edited by Elizabeth Bishop (on whose poem, "The Fish," I once published a wee essay--pardon the self-serving but non-commercial interruption)and Emmanuel Brasil. It is, I assume in translation--for us dolts who don't read Portuguese. Anyway, I ordered the book. I was about to write that I can't wait to read it, but of course I can wait to read it--I just don't want to wait. While ordering the book, I also saw Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry Since Modernism, edited by Charles A. Perrone--also an anthology, I gather. What a nice title.

Anyway, here is a link to the Bishop/Brasil anthology:

Brazilian poetry

Friday, January 1, 2010

They'll Grow That Way

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They'll Grow That Way



They'll grow that way, the trees--
the way they negotiate themselves
and circumstances: weather, climate,
soil, and such. They they're there.
They are. We are. We look and name,
then file trees away in this or that
taxonomy, maybe mythology,
ecology. We may place trees into
a landscape design, a farm, or an idea
of wilderness. The trees, they don't
know about this. They'll grow
that way, each a tension rooting
in and branching from a code
of seed, a pattern of environment.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom