Thursday 27 April 2023

Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton: Preview

A sneak peek at the pre-publication copy of Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton, forthcoming in August, just received in the mail from Wesleyan UP. Four years in the making, and edited across a pandemic, with enormous gratitude to my co-editor Lauri Scheyer, an exemplary collaborator I've been privileged to work with, to Ishmael Reed for his foreword, and to the press for their amazing job with design, typesetting and proofing, and for helping make Hernton's work available to a new generation of readers. (Wesleyan are also putting out a New and Selected A.B. Spellman, edited by Lauri, and a collection of material relating to Umbra edited by Tonya Foster, J-P Marcoux and myself.) 

More on Calvin Hernton in my book A Black Arts Poetry Machine (a phrase from Hernton gives the book its title) and on this blog--here and here. Also highly recommended, Hernton's reading on the extremely rare LP Destinations: Four American Poets, which also features an astonishing reading from Hernton's Umbra comrade N.H. Pritchard. Both have been uploaded to YouTube: I've embedded Hernton's reading below.

Thursday 20 April 2023


My essay, 'Songs for the Future', on Askia Touré's Songhai! and the African American epic, is out now in Paideuma, Vol.48, as part of a special tribute to issue to Touré's book that also includes essays by Addison Gayle, Jim Smethurst, and Kathy Lou Schultz. Many thanks to Ben Friedlander and Betsy Rose.

The UK reprint of Songhai! will be out soon from Materials.

A review of the Fred Moten/Brandon López/ Gerald Cleaver show at Cafe Oto in Artforum here, with some words on Candace Hill's phenomenal reading the same afternoon along the way.

Review of Jason Moran's superb James Reece Europe tribute From the Dancehall to the Battlefield in The Wire 471.

And soon forthcoming, a long piece on the new Selected Poems of Mark Hyatt, a scholarly labour of love by Sam Ladkin and Luke Roberts, at The Poetry Foundation.

Sunday 2 April 2023

In other news...

On Sunday April 8th (next weekend) we'll be launching the new Materials books by Candace Hill and James Goodwin at Cafe Oto in Dalston at a 2pm matinee reading. James will be reading from his new book Faux Ice and in conversation with Nisha Ramayya, and this will be a rare opportunity for UK audiences to hear from the astonishing Candace Hill--artist, poet, weaver, author of the 200 page epic Short Leash Kept On--who'll be reading and in conversation via video link. Come for the afternoon and stay for the Fred Moten reading at the same venue in the evening! Details and advance tickets here.
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.


Then at 7:00pm on Wednesday April 19th I'll be reading from Present Continuous for a Pamenar Press spring reading at Thingy Café in Hackney Wick. Details here.

Finally, at 7:00pm on Wednesday April 26th I'll be taking part in a performance by members of the Eddie Prévost workshop at IKLECTIK, Waterloo, as part of the series, for which Eddie will also be in conversation with Emmanuelle Waeckerlé.


And from a previous, here's footage of my conversation with Eva-Maria Houben, Emmanuelle Waeckerlé, and Artur Vidal as part of the concert Social Virtuosity with Eva-Maria Houben curated by Emmanuelle at IKLECTIK in March. The video presents the whole concert: Artur's performance of dreaming legends, Artur's and Eva-Maria's performance of loose ties, and the string ensemble piece the green that is almost a yellow, performed by Lara Agar, Angharad Davies, Isidora Edwards, Finn Froome-Lewis, Dominic Lash, and Hannah Marshall, and the post-performance conversation. The performance of the string piece in particular was astonishing, its silence full and shared, its overlapping lines a perpetual making and unmaking of space as shelter; Eva-Maria's and Artur's performance with organist Huw Morgan the previous Friday was equally exceptional: I'm hoping to work up a longer piece on that (via Straub-Huillet's Cézanne) at some point in the not to distant future...

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet, the Poetry Center has been digitzing some astonishing readings from the 1970s. Filmed in San Francisco State University's Creative Arts Building, Lorenzo Thomas reading 'Grandpa's Spells' (named for the Jelly Roll Morton piece) is nothing short of breathtaking. Musicked speech indeed...

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 back
knowledge 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...