Thursday, 27 April 2023
Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton: Preview
Thursday, 20 April 2023
Sunday, 2 April 2023
In other news...
On Thursday April 13th I'll be playing with a new group, Multiple Melodicas, at waterintobeer in Brockley, South London: myself, Georgina Brett, Steve Beresford, Douglas Benford, and Martin Hackett on melodicas, along with solos sets from Eddie Prévost and N.O. Moore. Unit 2, mantle court, 209-211 mantle road, brockley, se4 2ew. Doors: 6:30pm for a 7pm start. More details and advance tickets at the eventbrite page.
But, as well as music, this work is also conversation--talking (talking to, talking about, talking with, talking back). "I want to talk about the tears and sorrows of the people", he says in his introduction. And this concept of "the people" is a global one, Thomas reading his poem in memory of Neruda and translations of work by African poets--that internationalist, multi-lingual aspect running through his work: poems by Francisco José Tenreiro, Agostinho Neto, Marcelino Dos Santos, the latter then emerging from the victorious struggles against Portugal in Angola and Mozambique. Thomas' work of the 1970s, as he honed the finely-poised ironies of his earlier work through the lens of his experience in Vietnam and his reading in writers like Christopher Caudwell, is a contribution to a left populist poetry that has been virtually ignored: far too few notices of the Collected Poems edited by Aldon Nielsen and Laura Vrana have made it into print. (I've so far been unable to place my own review.) But being able to watch this video, to hear Thomas' cadences, his sonorous rise and fall, helps to newly bring that work alive: a poetry that charges the space, crackles with fierce energy and moral compulsion.
Thomas read with David Henderson, fronting the nine-piece band Ghetto Violence--as singer...(in this harking back to his early career with vocal group the Star Steppers, as documented in Henderson's classic early poem 'Boston Road Blues' (for the poem, scroll down to page 41 here.) In the U.S. Bicentennial Spring, Henderson and the band deliver "Hail to the Chief" ("agit-rock...dedicated to the next Presidential election". In the event, Jimmy Carter would replace Gerald Ford, who'd pardoned Richard Nixon for his Watergate crimes, in the recurring cycle of putatively 'democratic' debasement. It continues.
(The full recording of Thomas' and Henderson's reading is here.)
Also from the Poetry Centre's Digital Archives, another gem: Karen Brodine and Meridel LeSueur reading in 1981, two generations of Left feminist writing looking into the jaws of the 1980s with implacable courage. What's particularly valuable is to have this document of Brodine reading the entirety of the sequence Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking, written from her experience of workplace organising as a typesetter (and her reading of Engels). I'm working on a chapter on Brodine, Merle Woo and Nellie Wong for a forthcoming book on queer poetry in Boston and San Francisco which hopefully will be fully drafted in the next few months. Last year, I spent a valuable week in Brodine's archives at the James C. Hormel Center on the top floor of the San Francisco Public Library, Tim Wilson and the other librarians patiently bringing me box after box and allowing me to see, in her unpublished notebooks, drafts, teaching preparations, and talks, how, for her, poetry articulated her sense of herself as woman, as lesbian, as worker, as socialist, the clarity of the way she theorizes language, the specific uses she sees poetry as fulfilling: conceptions well beyond the cliche of poetry as a kind of transparent vehicle for messages, on the one hand, or as 'neutral' abstraction on the other. For Brodine, poetry's form is its argument: which is to say that "form" is inseparable from, dialectically related to "content", the distinction between which she skewers in her unpublished pieces on aesthetics. We all know the rhythms of our days, shaped by labour or its absence, in our different ways, some feeling the pinch more than others, and spending time with 'Woman Sitting' in particular, going over it and again, still enables a reckoning with and refiguration with the violence of that time, the violence of Brodine's and our times: this poem which is so much about time, about the work week and the ways workers work within and resist capitalist time.
knowledge this power owned, nor shared
owned and hoarded
to white men [...]
wrench it backknowledge is something we have
Here's Brodine's reading:
And from the same reading it would be negligent not to mention Meridel Le Sueur's poems of fierce solidarity, reading the global and gendered division of labour in ways that, once again, are firmly internationalist, are about mapping the general and the particular in precise and specific ways that poetry--specifically--can be used as a tool to pry open, a compass for navigation. And Le Sueur's opening denunciation of Eliot's The Waste Land as nihilistic male modernism remains as hilarious and as provocative as it's meant to be...