Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What The Trees Mean


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What The Trees Mean

The redwood trees mean I can stop
worrying about how important my work
is. When my toil's results are compost,
redwoods will still be. A manzanita
bush means tenacity. Fire propagates
this species, no kidding. The beech
tree says something about peace. Listen.
Old scraggly scrub-pines report that
not every conifer can be a celebrity.
I just might patrol a leafy avenue
in this city or that, or wander into
a copse, maybe drop into an old forest.
Maybe I'll read more trees, see
what stories they suggest.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Short, Ornery Month

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Short, Ornery Month

Skies got blue-black all
of a sudden: one of February's
traits. Wind behave like a cold
saw. A robin perched on the roof
of something gray, looked chilled
and bewildered: migrating too soon?

Change is difficult or too easy,
slow or too fast. Consider the planet,
hunks o its huge hide constantly
contending. Ask the powerless. They
know about less-than-optimal. Or

interview February in your hometown
and deal with its difficult answers.
Maybe that's why they cut this month
short a few days back then. Maybe indeed
the moon preferred March's attitude.


Copyright February 2010 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Is Happening


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What Is Happening

The universe passes through you, so there's
that to ponder as you wait to get your teeth
drilled or to be told you're not right for
the job for which you're right. Light
form stars they claim are dead settles
on your retinae, goes somewhere, has to.
Then there's the oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon
we process. My friends, we're sieves and filters.
We're right for the job. Life passes through
us and we through it. Atoms maniacally rearrange.
Wind in aspens, wind in hair. Galaxies
spiral as you sit in a chair.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Different Isn't Stupid

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Different Isn't Stupid

Different from you isn't necessarily
stupid and may well be a kind of smart
you'd do well to study, as you study, if
you will study, yourself. Will you?

Hey, your judge-o-meter's really
wound up--too many rpm's, reactions
per moment. Do you smell smoke? Hey,
consider your own patch of ground:

not perfect, yes? Maybe it is even
stupid in someone's eyes. Have you
noticed the wise? They judge--well,
judiciously. Reticently. Come now,

let us speak of what we know,
and of how little we know.
That's better. That's not stupid.
That is better.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Clear A Place For Good


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Clear a Place For Good

Make room for something good to happen. Clear
a place--there, perhaps, on a purple divan; or
here, on a warm, flat rock. Yes, of course,
nothing good may arrive, in which case you

may occupy the place yourself and call it good.
You may watch as something good happens in that
space you just vacated. It doesn't always work
this way. Still, make some room. Some room for good.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Friday, February 26, 2010

Latino/Hispanic Writers

Here is a link to a useful site about Latino/Latina/Hispanic writers:


Latino/Hispanic

Johnny Cash's Birthday


Johnny Cash would have been 78 today--an amusing number to me because I first heard his recordings via 78 rpm records my father brought home from a saloon in the High Sierra. A carpenter and stone mason by day, my father took a second job tending bar, and when it was time to replace records in the jukebox, he brought the discards home--including the 78's of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen." Young as I was, I sensed immediately the uniqueness of Cash's voice, style, and persona. I still can't think of another artist who occupies a niche between African American delta music, Appalachian folk music, electrified country music of the 1950s, and Memphis rockabilly so originally and so forcefully; there was also more than a hint of reggae and ska in what he produced sometimes (he owned a house in Jamaica). I also think he had a great ear and eye for the poetry of popular lyrics, and he seemed unamused by lyrics from the ultra-commercial pop and Nashville machines. He did, however, like to sell records himself; no doubt about that. A link to "his" site:

Johnny Cash

Stellar Nucleosynthesis

Below is a link to an obituary of Geoffrey Burbidge, who helped to define stellar nucleosynthesis. Apparently, Burbidge did not favor the Big Bang Theory but instead speculated that the universe has always existed.

Burbidge

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roger Bobo on the Tuba; or, Apropros of Bobo

It's a glum, soggy day in the Pacific Northwest--after some days of glorious sunshine. One student said, "I don't even want to discuss the weather."

Another student--not apropos of the weather--recommended the music of Roger Bobbo, who plays the tuba.

I found a video of Bobo playing on the Tonight Show, with Carson. Carson was interesting that way; he'd have unexpected acts on.

Anyway, Bobo's rendition of "Carnival In Venice" is a sunny one:

Carnival of Venice--Bobo

Poetry Is Alive and Well

Here is a link to a nice essay by Donald Hall, "Death to the Death of Poetry"

Hall on poetry

I don't know the extent to which other nations/cultures engage in hand-wringing about the death of poetry, but I suspect American hand-wringing on this issue is more prevalent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Poetry From Captain Beefheart

I have to (well, I don't really have to) admit I'm partial to eccentric entertainers like Captain Beefheart, chiefly because of the off-beat wit, but also because they seem to resist the slots and categories of "culture." Another name Captain Beefheart has used is Don Van Vliet, is that right?

Here is a link to some poems by Captain Beefheart:

Beefheart poems

Monday, February 22, 2010

America's War Criminals

A friend sent a link to an article in Salon about America's war criminals:

War Criminals

Community Colleges and Poetry

. . . And here is a link to U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan's poetry project, which includes work with community colleges:

Kay Ryan/Community Colleges

I must now hail Sierra College, the community college I attended way back when. Thanks especially to several fine English teachers there and one fine philosophy teacher, from whom I took a two-semester history of philosophy course.

Library of Congress Site: Black History Month

Here is a link to a "page" on the U.S. Library of Congress site that describes a variety of projects, exhibits, and archives connected to Black History Month:

Library of Congress

Friday, February 19, 2010

Southeastern Kansas

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Southeastern Kansas


Grains of agrarian
patience sway, shimmer,

shall become bread
of memory. Clouds

have purchased sky.
Prairie is lightning-

lacerated. Grassy
hills take as long

to curve as they will.
Expanse fascinates.



Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

A Musical Evening With Langston Hughes

A Musical Evening With Langston Hughes, featuring Awilda Verdejo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great Site for International Poetry

Here's a link to a fine site for contemporary poetry around the world:


International Poetry Web


Once there, you may simply select a country from the drop-down menu, go to that page, and find dozens of poets.

Great stuff.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Say There's A Ship

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Say There's A Ship

Say there's a ship we can take out
on the sea of our lives. Say we can
cast nets and lines and thus retrieve
sources of regret, despair, haul them
on board, apologize, repair--make things
right. Tell it so we can find

unrecoverable people out there. They stand
or sit in boats, close enough to see,
to hail. Make it so that ocean's not just
time or loss, memory or change, failure or
death. We know that sort of ocean well.

Talk about the joy we'll feel. Describe
the laughter, redemptive weeping, songs
and delight. Now a harder part: tell us
how to get there. Please tell us how
to go down to that ship, get on.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Hughes and Hurston on Haiti

Haiti's being in the news, to understate things awfully much, has reminded me that two Harlem Renaissance authors, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, developed a great interest in that nation.

An anthropologist as well as a fiction-writer, Hurston wrote the study: Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. It was reissued in 2008.

Hughes wrote a play, Troubled Island, which concerns the Haitian rebel leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who helped defeat the army Napoleon had sent to Haiti and who later became emperor of Haiti. His dates are 1758-1806. Later, the composer William Grant Still and Hughes (as librettist) collaborated on the opera, Troubled Island.

Evening Hatch

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Evening Hatch

An evening hatch of gnats rose from the river
in a cloud. One gnat flew to a blue bluff,
landed there, pushed against infinite,
immovable stone mass. The gnat

fell away and down toward a pool,
out of which erupted a rainbow trout,
which snatched and swallowed the gnat.

I will have had less effect on things than
this gnat. It's good to meditate on that.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Lucille Clifton Passes

It is sad that poet Lucille Clifton passed on a few days ago. She was a poet of great wit and insight.

Here are two links to more information about her, one a recent article following her death, the other from poets. org:

Clifton article

Clifton on Poets.org

This is a good day to re-read some of her poems.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Black History Quiz and Africlassical.com

Should you have a hankering to take a quiz on Black history, then here's a link you might like to follow:


Black History Quiz


The quiz appears on the site, Africlassical.com, which explores the African and African American presence in classical music.

The site has a companion blog, which (finally, the self-serving part) kindly mentioned an upcoming musical program I helped to put together. Actually, the site borrowed a notice from another blog (thanks, Professor O'Neil)--ah, the complications of the web.

Langston Hughes/Awilda Verdejo

Friday, February 12, 2010

President Clinton Reads "The Concord Hymn"

Here is a link to a video of President Clinton reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Concord Hymn," as part of the "Favorite Poem" project:

Clinton reads Concord Hymn

It was good to hear that the former President is doing well after a visit to the hospital.

As to his other poetic tastes, the CBS site includes The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats on his list of favorite books.

African American Crime Fiction

Probably like most of you, I've been reading detective fiction since I was in my early teens. I think I received the Doubleday collected Holmes stories as a gift from my parents when I was about 16.

Later, I wrote and published one mystery novel, featuring a rural sheriff as the detective.

And I've taught a class on detective fiction a few times. One interesting aspect of such a class is that you get some students who take simply because they have been reading in the genre independent of "school" work. In a sense they are connoisseurs.

Now I'm considering developing a course on African American detective fiction, or at least I'm taking steps toward the consideration. In the process, I discovered a few recent anthologies, including

African American Crime and Mystery Stories, edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland. I'm enjoying it a lot. Here's a link:

anthology

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sierra City Website


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(Sierra City, California, population 225)
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My hometown has a website now: Sierra City

Who knew?

Links To African American Poets

Here is site that provides a wealth of online links to information about African American poets:


Black poets

Monday, February 8, 2010

Duke Takes The "A" Train

A nice video--for Black History Month or any month--of Duke Ellington playing "Take the A Train":

Duke Ellington

William Blake and Soccer

Below is a link to a great short film on youtube that combines football (of the soccer variety) and the poetry of William Blake. I think you'll like this:


Blake Press Conference

"Awful Library Books": A Most Amusing Blog

A link on the The Scrapper Poet's blog alerted me to the amusing blog, "Awful Library Books," which I hope you'll enjoy, too:

ALB

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Eugene Lipscomb

As I was getting ready to have a couple friends over for the Super Bowl (more chat than Super Bowl, truth to tell), I thought, for some reason, of Randall Jarrell's elegy for the professional football player Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, who played professionally for Baltimore, L.A., and Pittsburgh teams but who died of a heroin overdose in 1963. I don't think that in '63 I was really much aware of professional football, but I distinctly remember the name "Big Daddy Lipscomb," which I found enchanting, partly for the sound of it.

Anyway, below is a link to Jarrell's poem, "Say Goodbye to Big Daddy." The page starts with a sports poems by William Carlos Williams, so you just have to scroll down a bit once you're there.

Big Daddy Lipscomb Poem

Errant

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Errant

A wayward knight came into our
time zone. He was diminutive,
in need of a bath, and not
that great a horseman. We recycled
his armor, found a good home
for his nag, got him some job-
training: financial sector. Last
we heard, he'd been hired by
an Internet start-up called
errant.netcomorg.


Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sequioadendron Giganteum

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Sequoiadendron Giganteum

From a classroom in the building on a knoll,
I look across, see the Sequoiadendron giganteum,
a shaggy green profile foregrounding faint gray
distant Cascades and clouds rippled like a tide.

The tree's A-shape's improvised upon by growth--
something like shoulders protrude there thirty
feet from the top. And near the top, there's a gap
in boughs, where the trunk looks like a thread.

Then, askew, a few wee branches appear, a tiny
comic feathery cap, a frivolous dash, a perfect
flaw. Of course, Sequoiadendron giganteum has
nothing to tell us we haven't told ourselves.

It has nothing to do with us, but has this nothing
at such a grand and unrushed pace, we're tempted
to be quiet, simply to stare at this other thing,
this individuality of tree that encompasses its

species and thinks nothing, thinks nothing of ours.


Link to info

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was one of the first literary stars of what's known now as the Harlem Renaissance (circa 1919-1934), and although his reputation dwindled after that, it recovered, and he is arguably one of the best lyric poets the U.S. has produced. His sonnet, "Yet Do I Marvel," is perfect, blending a formal but contemporary idiom with the form and crafting a superb "argument" about race, color, theology, and existentialism--without ever getting heavy, and with a light ironic touch. It's just one of those poems you can admire forever.

There's a nice anthology of Cullen's poetry--and one novel--edited by Gerald Early: My Soul's High Song.

Eventually, Cullen pursued middle-school teaching as a career--in Harlem, where James Baldwin was one of his students.

Here is a link to more information about Cullen:

Countee

Recycling Message

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Recycling Message


Without reading it
carefully, I just
recycled in the black
tub a postcard sent
to me and others
reminding us to live
more greenly.



Copyright 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fine Poem By Joe Salerno

At "Rinabeana's" site, I found a fine poem by Joe Salerno, "Poetry Is the Art of Not Succeeding":

Poem

Monday, February 1, 2010

Black History Month Begins

...And a happy Black History Month to you. What a good idea historian and professor Carter G. Woodson had way back when.

I thought I'd mention two worthy anthologies of African American poetry: African American Poetry: An Anthology 1773-1927, edited by Joan R. Sherman and James M. Bell--from Dover Books, for two dollars (new). And Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of African American Poetry Since 1945, edited by Michael Harper and Anthony Walton, from Back Bay Books. --Oops, this apparently leaves a gap between 1927 and 1945, so you might look at Oxford's anthology of African American poetry.