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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

grapes of wrath do scream



Man is the immediate object of natural science; for immediate, sensuous nature for man is, immediately, human sensuousness (the expressions are identical) –presented immediately in the form of the other man sensuously present for him.

Karl Marx, The Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

The sonic environment of the United States of America in late 2014 is approaching perfection.  The sole sound worthy of your ears is the sound of death, the sound you hate, love, and dread unconditionally. “Like a landscape,” Emily Thompson wrote in The Soundscape of Modernity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), “a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world.”  Thompson was on to something.

The sound of nature; the sound of spoken and artificial languages; the sound of what you call music; the sound of capitalism; the sound of aesthetic bullets entering bodies; the sound of explosions, drones, bombs, instruments of mass destruction; the sound of the mind dancing with hot logic and cold insanity in the chambers of the brain -----the catalog of sounds is the record of your middle passage into omnipotent nihilism.

The most important words Cornel West ever donated to his nation are very loud in Race Matters (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993):

Nihilism is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine that there are no rational grounds for legitimate standards or authority; it is far more, the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and, (most important) lovelessness.

Your eyes read the donation of Cornel West. Nihilism and race matters have busted the eardrums of the United States of America. You are deaf. You sense but do not hear how the grapes of wrath do scream.

Even as you lie to yourself, squeezing all the vital fluids from any sacred scripture at hand and protesting the sound of nihilism in your soul, you voice a truth which is neither beyond argument nor understanding. Pray until your tongue is paralyzed. The cosmos is objective and indifferent to prayer.

The sonic environment of the United States of America, of every nation from Zambia to Afghanistan, in late 2014 is marching to perfection, the perfection of nihilism. Grapes of wrath do cry and scream and die.

Worry not if you can not arrive at the ground zero of nihilist perfection for another one hundred years.  Every old child, old woman, and old man shall arrive.  You shall arrive. Meanwhile, rage against the silence that is a consequence of death.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            August 26, 2014


Friday, August 22, 2014

Permanent Perplexity

Permanent Recycling of Perplexity




The international and intranational pressures of violence, capitalism, progress, and terrorism is a powerful sex machine.  It has deflowered the world’s population without respect for gender, ethnic identity, or class.  It is on the prowl for unborn victims. The machine refuses to bear a name. Being neither a way with words nor a benign metaphor, the machine has materiality and agency in destroying its parents and everyone else.  Goodness, beauty, and truth reside in a cosmic graveyard, waiting for something to come that never will.  People live. Their eyes do not watch a Supreme Being. People watch and hear what they most dread about themselves.

Tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri are different in kind and degree from the horrors of kidnapping young females in Nigeria, beheading an American journalist in the nascent Islamic State, the practice of torture in Asian nations or the infamy of 9/11. Simple counts of the number of people destroyed are available.  We describe parameters, historical dimensions, and assign names to discriminate one tragedy from another. No instruments exist to measure the suffering of one family or the psychological devastation for groups of people. The sense of limits informs anger and revenge.

For Americans, the death of Michael Brown is one of many signs of where we are.  Until August 9, 2014, Brown was an 18-year-old American citizen at liberty to pursue the happiness of becoming a college freshman. He was an indivisible member of the American body politic. A police officer transformed a human being into two words, MICHAEL and BROWN.  People in Ferguson, Missouri and everywhere else in the United States use those two words in constructing images of themselves. And how mass media has chosen to distort and recontextualize those two words is an intimate part of the tragic plot. We have a hellish struggle to remember that MICHAEL and BROWN were, less than a month ago, words to address a human being rather than words to be used in permanent recycling of perplexity and the manufacturing of confusions.

A typical example of what obtains in the United States is Campbell Robertson’s article “Among Whites, Protests Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity” (New York Times, August 22, 2014, page A15). Are Americans of the color white somehow unique in having emotions and the capability of being perplexed? Are Americans who possess Asian, indigenous, African, and Spanish-infused colors “excused” from the experience of anxiety?  A wack reading of Robertson’s headline takes us down that path.

Two photographs amplify the text of Robertson’s article.  There a photo of a person alleged to be “Mark Johnston, a 61-year-old white merchandiser in Mehlville, the mostly white and working-class” area of St. Louis County.  The caption under the photo is: “Mark Johnston expressed sympathy for Michael Brown’s family, but as for the turmoil: ‘I think it’s a crock of stuff, myself ’.” Should one tell Johnston that he is inside the crock?

The second photo, shot in the affluent county seat of Clayton, transmits the image of three people of the color white seated on a bench and one person of the color African walking with a sign.  It bears the caption: “ ‘As far as justice and peace, we need to have it,’ said Arlene Rosengarten, seated right. But, she called protests ‘a bad precedent’. “ Use your literary to figure out what shade of white Ms. Rosengarten might be, because your eyes will deceive you.  There is social artistry (or perhaps engineering) in how a newspaper uses images and words.

Clayton is where Michael Brown’s grieving mother works (or worked) at a gourmet grocer according to Robertson’s text.  Such rich material for future cultural anthropology as the words MICHAEL and BROWN dim in memory to be replaced with words associated with the next, inevitable persons who will be killed by militarized policemen. The future anthropologist will rewrite Robertson’s headline: “Among Blacks, Reports of Death Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity.”

What occurs in American journalism is not a random accident; it is the deliberate making of new Towers of Babel, new sites to ensure that systemic racism will not lose its identity as systemic injustice. All the President’s horses and all the Attorney General’s men shall never put Ferguson back together again. Nor shall the superior military power of the United States of America transform the dystopia we inhabit into Eden before The Fall.  The rage of the grassroots, the little people of this world, the truly wretched will always be with us, because they know that the languages of hope, optimism, and promise live in a universal crock of stuff and that human arms are much too short to grasp the abstractions of justice and peace.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.      August 22, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

poem 8.17.14


(for people who prey darkly)

Was not a holy day
In the life eternal
But a cheapening
Of experience in a life,
A first supper of things unknown

Was an experience
Mainly of a drained trope
Coming bereft of faith,
Coming mainly to a dance,
Dangling in a terminal hope

Was an occasion
For an experience,
For the body and the blood,
The wine and the bread
The cigar and the gun
All passing through alembics

Was a transubstantiation
An experience of tragedy
Between your segregated god
And mine, the sacrifice, mock magic,
Severe cannibals communing
In temporary grace
That day the rainbow died.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            August 17, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ferguson, MO

Ferguson, Missouri

From the notebook of a visitor to Earth

Dreams of harmony and peace or absurd visions of the end of time are legitimate constructions of human imagination. If you are dealing with pure cinema, they are effective.  Such spectacles appear to confirm the implacable universality of violence, the murky origins of terrorism, and the marriage of reason with insanity. They are primary features of life on planet Earth. Women and men may satisfy their fantasies by imposing gender and by speaking of amoral Nature in their own images. They are free to tamper with Nature in efforts to make a more living-friendly “world,” and they may succeed for brief periods of time.  Ultimately, they fail. They manufacture abstract and material “worlds” that are mercurial, that speak back to them of their cosmic insignificance in visual and audible languages which negate interpretations.

All that is happening in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 is merely a rerun of tribally-motivated antiquities. A frantic male of one tribe, believing himself to be authorized by the Holy Bible, the United States Constitution, and the codified laws of Charles Darwin, murders a male of a different tribe. People who identify themselves with the dead male react naturally.  They are shocked.  They grieve. They enact counter-violence, the only procedure that is paradoxically understood and misunderstood in a nanosecond by the American body politic. Violence is very obedient to folkloric injunctions to increase and multiply. And American as well as foreign mass media take special delight in the production of misinformation about how violence procreates. In the historical tragedy entitled the United States of America, the George Zimmermans and Darren Wilsons are proclaimed to be the stars of the show, the militants who keep democracy safe for those who are wealthy enough to buy it. The Michael Browns and Trayvon Martins and the thousands of unarmed dead who were the targets of tragedy are treated as footnotes in the smallest print on the playbill. In the sacred narratives of universal violence, this is proclaimed to be natural.  According to such logic, the American Nightmare that has decentered the American Dream; the death-bound mission of Europe; the family squabbles between Palestinians and Israelis and diabolic plots in the Arab/Islamic winter of the Middle East; the progress of environmental destruction in Asia; rampant neo-colonialism and unique ethnic hatreds on the continent of Africa; outbreaks of such health treats as Ebola and yearly variations of influenza; the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of indigenous peoples in Australia and the actuality of global climate change -----according to such logic, all is quite normal on Earth.

Unfortunately, this superb logic is not a part of the education of Americans.  The majority of them dwell in the darkness of believing that a meek savior will serve peace and harmony at the Finality Feast of Thanksgiving. Our transparent wisdom obligates us to tolerate their eternal ignorance but to act otherwise.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            August 16, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A Collection Remembered

Before Hurricane Katrina 2005 (we call it The Storm in New Orleans), I relished collecting manuscripts, books, and magazines.  The historian/poet Julius E. Thompson and I joked about our passion for books, congratulating ourselves that between us we had at least 80% of the African American poetry broadsides, chapbook, volumes and anthologies published since 1960. We were assiduous in buying the output of Broadside, Third World, and Lotus Presses; in having complete collections of Negro Digest/Black World, OBSIDIAN, Sagala, American Rag, First World, Callaloo, Hoo-Doo, Drumvoices Revue, Umbra, The Black Scholar; in treasuring our autographed books by Margaret Walker, Richard A. Long, Haki Madhubuti, Angela Jackson, Mari Evans, Sterling A. Brown, Sonia Sanchez, Kalamu ya Salaam, Tom Dent, Kiarri T-H. Cheatwood, Sterling D. Plumpp, Lance Jeffers, Harryette Mullen, Audre Lorde, Jay Wright, Michael Harper, Julia Fields, Carolyn Rodgers,  LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Pinkie Gordon Lane, Etheridge Knight, and such Mississippi writers as L. C. Dorsey, C. Liegh McInnis, Theodore Bozeman, Charlie Braxton, David Brian Williams, and  Otis Williams. I tried to buy all the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction Ishmael Reed and Alice Walker published as well as all the recordings of Cassandra Wilson, Isaac Hayes, and Esther Phillips. Julius bought hundreds of books on African American and Southern history. And the two of us were kids in the candy factory with regard to all the reprints of black materials during the 1970s.

Collecting was more than a simple matter of acquisition.  It had practical uses.  Having an extensive collection at hand made it easier to co-edit Black Southern Voices with John Oliver Killens and to compile Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry, to write literary criticism, and to share insights about black literature and culture with my students at Tougaloo College and Dillard University. Julius used his collection to write important books on Dudley Randall and Broadside Press, lynching in Mississippi, and black newspapers. There was also an irrational, special idiosyncrasy in my collecting. The physical objects allowed me to be in constant touch with the writers I got to know personally over the years; touching was a way of refreshing very pleasant memories.

The flooding after Katrina killed my passion for collecting. Losing relatives and friends is a thousand times more important than losing books and papers.  I still buy books, of course, but I no longer collect them. I leave collecting to colleges and universities and other institutions which are more able than I to prevent loss of items we want to transmit to a future. Moreover, the exorbitant cost of print books in the 21st century far exceeds the modest book-buying budget my Social Security income permits

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

August 12, 2014           

Monday, August 11, 2014

Words for 8/11

Blood and Black Fires


And this is not a poem


I smell blood and black fire! Blood and black fire!

I see/hear an American mother crying. I see a father with a sign.


"You took my son away from me! You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many!"


Michael Brown’s mother wept out, said,

Weeping in the showed-me Missouri

Amorality of the television screen:


 "Because you bring them down to this type of level where they feel they don't got nothing to live for anyway! (They feel) they gonna try to take me out anyway!"


Weeping in the showed-me Missouri

Near the mighty Mississippi, Michael Brown’s mother

Authorized grief to bring her words to thee,

Old put out the sun god, put out the moon god,

Put out the universe god.



And the big animal wearing the badge of authority called

All the little animals wearing no authority to be angry,

Just rudely,grassrootly nude in the no-clothing of angry,

Running and grabbing and shouting ancient sonics –-

Out of their minds but in yours----

The big animal called all the little animals

Washed in the blood of the Lamb’s confusion


“Anymules. Fucking anymules,”

Using the authority of his authority ,

Justifying, certifying, sanctifying

The sport the god of violence has with men.


Try to write down as many of the signs as you can,

Try to get as many of the people’s documents as you can.

Slaughter us with remembering this is not a modest proposal

In forty-one Baraka verses which are also curses,

This is not a proposal for anybody’s death, this is not a poem.

This is not a retold how somebody blue/blew up American again.


I smell blood and black fire! Blood and black fire!

I see /hear an American mother crying. A son dying. I see a father with a sign.

I remember since before eternity what the god of violence ordains.


And this is not a poem.

This is a eulogy for a dead rainbow.










Jerry W. Ward, Jr.    August 11, 2014




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

MLA's Recognition

MLA’s Moment of Recognition



Finally, after 27 years, a few members of the Modern Language Association have begun to recognize a “truth” promoted by The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through Language, July 6-24, 1987.


The College Strand of the conference suggested


 “All English majors should practice writing in several modes and for different audiences and purposes, with an awareness of the social implications and theoretical issues these shifts raise.  Classroom practice should bring teachers and students to experience writing, reading, listening, and speaking as integrated, mutually supporting exercises”(35).


The Secondary Strand produced an allied “truth.”


“The act of writing itself helps writers discover relationships among pieces of information acquired from disparate sources.  How one thinks is inevitably exposed in writing, so fellow students and teachers (through discussion) can validate a student’s ability to formulate ideas” (21)


The Elementary Strand inscribed a third “truth” as an article of belief.


“Because language is integral to thinking and to human interaction, we believe children should leave elementary school knowing about language  ---  that is, knowing how to read, write, speak, and listen, and knowing why language and literacy are so central to their lives” (3)


These quotations from The English Coalition Conference: Democracy through Language (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1989) edited by Richard Lloyd-Jones and Andrea A. Lunsford are refracted in Jean Ferguson Carr’s “Composition, English, and the University” PMLA 129.3 (2014): 435-441.  Carr concludes that English studies needs “to remind the public at large of the value it offers students” and “to open a more generous conversation with composition, a conversation that might help English refigure the shape and trajectory of that advanced study”(440).  The advanced study to which Carr refers is the sophisticated scholarship prized by many MLA members, scholarship that frequently regrets the need of elementary, secondary, and college students to master the basics of reading, writing, and now computing by way of digital humanities.  Carr’s conclusion may be preaching to the National Council of Teachers of English choir, but it promises to wake up those MLA members who think themselves too good to dirty their hands with the work of teaching writing and with the actual needs of students and who believe they are entitled by virtue of their doctoral degrees to be paid to indulge themselves in the pleasures of obscurity.


Obscurity is out; labor is in. Life demands labor. The sooner professors and graduate students in English at PWIs accept the “truths” universally acknowledged by those who do the work of teaching writing at HBCUs, the better. Since the nineteenth century, the work associated with the teaching of composition and literature has been, to use the prized scholarly cliché, always already foundational and fundamental among HBCUs.


Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            August 6, 2014