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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When You Have Not Wailed Enough

When I was a little girl growing up in Pittsburgh, parades were huge. There were downtown and neighborhood parades. The usual suspects: 4th of July, Memorial Day, Community Day, Veterans Day, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day and yes, even Columbus Day. I do. I love a good parade.

One thing that always bothered me was the placing of African American drill teams and neighborhood bands at the end of the parade. We had to wait while the other bands marched and played to their versions of precision. Nice bands. Nice. Until finally our steppers and drill teams appeared. We always closed the parades because the parades slowed to its own being as the community paraded as well, from the sidelines. We hooped and hollered. We knew the steps and did the damn thing with them on either side of the street. It was grand partying, but at the end, for me, there was this annoying reference to being different, at the end, bringing up the rear. We were considered uncouth, ignorant, uninformed as to how to attend a parade, especially downtown among tall building, suits, money and law.

Lately, I am finding that I need more connections, and turned to New Orleans. In this video, notice the sideline becoming part of the parade. Notice sideline steppers. Notice young men, dressed as they dress, embracing the culture (and the culture embracing them) with instruments, knowledge, love, spectacle, passion and grace. Notice how marchers stop and start, as the feeling of the thing leads them. It reminds me of when my girls were cheerleaders for our neighborhood ball teams and at the beginning of the season, there was a parade through the neighborhood. Of course we knew the steps, and following the parade through the neighborhood became the ritual of the event.

Lorenzo Maurice Wise
(1994 - 2014)

Lately, I am finding that I need more connections and turned to New Orleans, because I don't think I shouted enough at the passing of my grandson, Lorenzo Maurice Wise (August 17, 1994 - May 25, 2014).

I don't think I wailed enough, moaned enough, jumped enough, screamed enough. Certainly, there are more tears. That empty feeling is becoming permanent. I have experienced death of loved ones before, so I know in time the empty permanence will become a badge of courage, you know, after this, I can do anything. But do you know that feeling, of not having shouted enough?

He was 19 years old. What, I thought, is the proper way to bury a child. He was groovy, sweet, kind and generous. One of his friends needed help purchasing college books, and turned to Renzo. A homeless lady attended the funeral. We didn't know her, obviously Renzo did. He ate breakfast up the street from me at Margie's. We always thought her food not very good, but we don't know what Margie was cooking for Renzo, probably something special because every woman who ever cooked for him was the best cook in the whole wide world.

I call his name each morning during prayers at the ancestor table, Lorenzo Maurice Wise, ibaye.

I punch the wall, shout his name LORENZO MAURICE WISE!

But. . .do you know that feeling of not having wailed, danced or shouted enough?

Here, again is New Orleans, and I thank the family and friends of Jaran Julio Green for allowing me to share the party. I give thanks to Julio's life and insert Renzo's name in the chant. This is what I needed. We call it homegoing, and how do you define celebration. We are not ignorant or uncouth, uninformed as to how to mourn. We are Africans. And this is the way of Africa. I call Renzo's name every morning. When I need to, I party with Julio, his family and friends. I have stopped asking why. It is true, there are mysteries.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Funkin' Around For Fun

AKA: Get Up On The Down Stroke -- Funkadelics

as woman, daughter, mother, sister, auntie, Olóòrìsà, African American, american, formally known as colored, negro, negress, nigger bitch slave, i am pulled from/by many aspects of culture, and brutally pushed away from a present work that is:

a·vant-garde [uh-vahnt-gahrd, uh-vant-, av-ahnt-, ah-vahnt-; French a-vahn-gard]
1. the advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods.

2. of or pertaining to the experimental treatment of artistic, musical, or literary material.
3. belonging to the avant-garde: an avant-garde composer.
4. unorthodox or daring; radical.
Origin: 1475–85; in sense “vanguard;” French: literally, fore-guard. 

however, because dominant culture still has vestiges of its sensibility ingrained into my thought processes, i find myself:

31. a thrust with a pointed instrument; stab.
32. a stoppage or standstill.
33. something causing delay or difficulty.
34. the quality of adhering or of causing things to adhere.
35. something causing adhesion.

with the fact that my proposal for funding is denied, even as a grantee telephones to ask for my help, says, will you function as behind-the-scenes consultant?

we share a grand giggle about the inherent meaning in that shadowy word, its plea for help.

in the gentle silence that follows our giggle, i hear the grantee's smile across the telephone wires. the grantee knows that i must agree because valid/majestic art is rare, and far superior to acknowledgement.

the grantee says, go 'head, use this experience, write about it, i know you will.

still, i stand in the self-made prison of my work. it is easy to get going with the co-signature of money. yet, perhaps the denial of funds is a test. can i persevere without money, without philanthropic approval?

still, i stand in the self-made prison of compartmentalizing my work, i.e., is it poetry? prose? theater? where will it fit? who is your audience?

as a result of my dis-ease, my stuck-ness to convey on paper what the ancestors have lain on my heart, i reach out to elders (living and dead) who dared to be/write as spirit instructed.

the following is what the elders said to me:


Ain't nothing good unless you play with it. -- George Clinton, Funkadelics

Poverty seemed a gift to the imagination, necessity was truly a virtue, so we set out plays in the open, in natural, unphased light, and our subject was bare. . . .Today one writes with more exhaustion than pride, for that innocence has been corrupted and society has taken the old direction. In these new nations art is a luxury, and the theatre the most superfluous of amenities. -- Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says: An Overture, Black Theatre, Ritual Performance in the African Diasporaedited by Paul Charter Harrison, Victor Leo Walker, II, and Gus Edwards

To the extent that we are not Broadway, for instance, but imitate Broadway, we are not revolutionaries or even serious dramatists. -- Amiri Baraka, Bopera Theory, Black Theatre, Ritual Performance in the African Diasporaedited by Paul Charter Harrison, Victor Leo Walker, II, and Gus Edwards

In independent film, we are never able to pay top salaries. None of us are adequately compensated for the work we do. . . .We do it to create the work. We do it to sharpen our skills. . . .We work as a community of artists. . . -- Julie Dash, Making Daughters of the Dust, Daughters of the Dust, The Making of an African American Woman's Film, with Toni Cade Bambara and Bell Hooks

As far as this place is concerned, we never enjoyed our womanhood. . .Deep inside, we believed that they ruined our mothers, and their mothers before them. And we live our lives always expecting the worst because we feel we don't deserve any better. Deep inside we believe that even God can't heal the wounds of our past or protect us from the world that put shackles on our feet. -- Eula, Daughters of the Dust.

You've taken my blues and gone --
You sing 'em on Broadway
And you sing 'em in Hollywood Bowl,
And you mixed 'em up with symphonies
And you fixed 'em
So they don't sound like me -- Langston Hughes, Note on Commercial Theater 

It's always been about trying to create some different kind of space -- that living room, if you will -- where everyone is at home and where we can all be engaged, all be challenged, to move on up a little higher, as Mahalia Jackson would say. A space where we are all free to imagine and work toward a community somehow changed, a world somehow different, even as we remain clear that the work of transformation takes generations. -- Adam Banks, Digital Griots, African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age.

Sweet lemon peppermint, and orange colored dreams, have i. . . .-- Aretha Franklin, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)

So the Low Coup is proverb, axiom, saying, slogan, dagger (as in Lu Shun's description of his two kinds of essays, the Dagger, for quick work and the Javelin for heathens that wants to run). The Low Coup is obviously the dagger form. Brief, sharp, penetrating, meant to draw blood. Low because it can't "tear the whole playhouse down" as Son House and them used to sing, but it can put a hole where there ain't no soul. -- Amiri Baraka, The Low Coup as a Contemporary Afro- American Verse Form, An Exaltation of Forms, Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, Edited by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes.

See? The mathematics of labor blesses everything
gives it rest on the sure, flat stones
which are not as still as they look. -- Pamela Stewart, The Stupa That Lobsang BuiltGhost Farm


creatives need sustenance. filling that well is the most gracious act a creative can gift herself.

somewhere along the line i veered off. . .
       into mountain ranges that didn't understand

       into charity plantations that didn't get the strength of my
       body-of-work. on return, and unlike contemporay
       tchaikovskys & baryshnikovs, no one had saved my place

get to the back of the line?!

tantrum stomping
michael jackson's
spirit friends
in ghost


tantrum stomping
michael jackson's
spirit friends
in ghost 
[fast foward to 10:59]

i lost sight of my mind, my theater, my drama, my ancestors, the soil, as nana pazant intones, adventure, the fun in writing, call and response; twist & shout; shake & separate; shout & holler back; and when words are insufficient, the wail & moan. . .the audacity of the funk, and like this post, the re-write, the continuum of the veil, torn strips of sheer, willowy, billowy fabric so that it/we move and breathe to the percussion of our conscious and subconscious verity -- resolve, destination, choice.

to the transitioned elders i ask, if you see my mother, tell her i'm all right, just funking around for fun.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bone Magic

Diary of a Story Collection in Progress
Journal Entry #13

Graves open. People emerge dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. They hold lanterns and walk upon green grass strewn with gold coins. I can hear the click of shoe soles on metal. The people find me where I am sitting on the graveyard wall beside the entrance. They approach, and as they near I notice tears instead of smiles. My head is dizzy from their smells: lilac, honeysuckle, lemon extract, Old Spice, freshly baked bread, cinnamon, cardamom, Este Lauder’s Youth Dew, freshly mowed grass. The people hold books. As they pass to return to resting places, they open the books so that I can see that all of the pages are blank. When the parade winds down, there is sudden silence. I slide down from the wall, walk in silence and fragrances left behind.

I awake euphoric. So much work, so much writing, so many stories.

This, you can remember as the good time, when you emerged from silence and began writing again. It took awhile, the creative well had dried, what Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way. You had to rest, recuperate, replenish, pay attention to dreams, listen to ancestors.

This, you can remember as the good time of convalescing and restoration, made possible by Pamela Stewart’s Ghost Farm:

…a great nation stretching its back and thighs as it rumbles and rots.
All its beautiful skin shining with anthems and pox.
--Ars Poetica

and this, from My Grandmother Told Me

of the life of the unconscious, how it’s a tool
like using your thumb and forefinger
to pick twigs from a basket of berries.
She taught me to knit, to peel apples in the August dusk.
She played Paul Robeson on her Hi-Fi
so I’d be drawn to the depth of voice
beyond a simple song. When, at fifteen
I dreamed I was pregnant and felt terror,
imprisonment, and fear, she cried what a wonderful dream!
This picture your unconscious made
shows a new part of you being born!
For a moment, the serpent’s tongue grew whole.

This, you can remember as the good time made possible by Opal Moore’s Lot’s Daughters:

…love, taken like a ritual meal, with pleasure and dread.
so we’ll have instead pretty woman
too incompetent to ever really be a whore…
Instead of Love

and this, from The Leaving is Easy:

…I consider this new locking out,
briefly imagine breaking a window–
entering you against your will–
but we have never broken any glass
between us
and you have taught me other lessons:
when you enter in reverse,
the leaving is easy.

And this, from Louise Gluck’s The First Four Books of Poems:

…I make you a gift of these objects.
You will want to touch them with your mouth, run
Your fingers through the thin
Tender underthings and I
Will not need them in my new life.
Here Are my Black Clothes

And these rugged Shakespearean words from The Tempest, Prospero to his daughter Miranda:

Silence! One word more
Shall make me chide thee, if not hate thee. What!
And advocate for an imposter! Hush!
Thou think’st there is no more such shapes as he,
Having seen but him and Caliban: foolish wench!

This, you can remember as the good time when you realized that odd is a good thing, and that heterodoxy is the main ingredient of your magic. Recognize your responsibility, your place in the language and story continuum.

Remember Lucille Clifton
Remember that Lucille Clifton wrote quilting: poems.
i am accused
of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother's itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will. 

This tending to the past is the stuff of Sankofa. Moving forward is the requirement, yet without foundation maintenance, all is lost, made flimsy, trifling, petty, of no great consequence. Remember, when magic looses, Spirit deteriorates.

Beautiful, from 6 No:

I often sit under the walnut trees at the top of Sunset Hill. The best time is after dark – those midnight stars. I do not have to flee the house anymore; the sad ghosts are gone, as are Mama Minnie and Auntie Claire. There are times, though, when I can still smell Daddy Bull…wood, sweat, dirt…and I think he will emerge just at the turn where the little stand of blue fir trees still thrive, but he will not. No one makes moonshine anymore, at least that I can find. What you have now is strong, bitter water. Auntie Claire's shine had fire and sun in it. These days I have to use grain alcohol to wash the Bones.
Bone Magic

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014


 Cave Canem 


Renee Aldrich
Cathleen Bailey
Corey Carrington
Ayanna “Sade Amour” Clarke
Patrice Collins
Deann Daniel
Liberty Ferda
Eveyln Horton
Cheryl Bates White

Instructor, Tameka Cage Conley, with Cave Canem co-founder, Toi Derricotte

workshop poets reading 
Wednesday, April 23 / 6 pm

free & open to the public
refreshments to follow

Hill House Kaufmann Center 
825 Center Ave Pittsburgh, PA

cave canem | a home for black poetry |