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Thursday, October 27, 2016

ON FRACTAL SONG


STATEMENT ON FRACTAL SONG

October 27, 2016



I've been writing for many years, but putting 37 poems into a book is a new adventure.

FRACTAL SONG is a new adventure.



Published on October 1, 2016, the book will be launched on Thursday, November 3, from

6:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the New Orleans Museum of Music and Cultural Arts/Crescent City Books,

124 Baronne Street.



FRACTAL SONG was published by Joe Phillips of Black Widow Press in Boston.  It emerged from my friendships with other poets and writers ----

Hank Lazer (Tuscaloosa, Alabama) urged me to construct the book.

Dave Brinks (New Orleans, Louisiana) read the manuscript and told Joe Phillips to publish it.

Lenard D. Moore (Raleigh, North Carolina) made some excellent suggestions about the arrangement of poems.

Kalamu ya Salaam (New Orleans, Louisiana) was generous and brotherly in writing the "Postscript" for the book.



I think of the book as a Southern product, my collaboration with other writers.  FRACTAL SONG is available for $15.00 from Amazon.com and Barnes& Noble.com.



I hope the book will provoke readers to agree that Black Lives and Black Minds matter equally, or, as I  proclaimed in "Race War(p)"



RACE WAR(P)

The scream, a fragile hologram,

twirls the hope of art, dreams

to affirm its action, to disperse

tsunamis of discontent.

Color thunders.  Fury emits funk.



Enough is quite enough

but less than a sentence parsed

in a nation  of virgin vices.

Bogus trumps, aquatinted tropes

or alabaster promises prevail.

I was more specific about lives and minds in "(Just)(Ice)

(Just)(Ice)



Televise.

Fear-tinted  faces flow

along the flute of glass,

depart and return

with subtle hue and cry



in the red voicing

a spider would web your mind:

prisons rise and fall.



Trapped in a trumpet

an idea tries to flee

a monotone of agency,

a failure born when



in the red voicing

a bullet would blow your mind:

matters fall and rise



behind a mirror of class

star and bar whisper

a lie birthed again

on flag-squared mappings



in the red voicing

a demon could eat your mind:

a piece of air survives.



Tell. Advise.





When people read FRACTAL SONG, I want them to think about minds, lives, and words.

Friday, October 14, 2016

14 October 2016


RACE WAR(P)

The scream, a fragile hologram,

twirls the hope of art, dreams

to affirm its action, to disperse

tsunamis of discontent.

Color thunders.  Fury emits funk.



Enough is quite enough

but less than a sentence parsed

in a nation  of virgin vices.

Bogus trumps, aquatinted tropes

or alabaster promises prevail.



Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

October 14, 2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Margaret Walker and Contemporary Education


Margaret Walker and Contemporary Education



                Margaret Walker's vision of education extended much beyond its incorporation in her signature poem "For My People" and spoke to us by way of the speeches and essays gathered in Part IV: What Is to Become of Us? Notes on Education and Revolution of the book On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997).  The vision resonates in her didactic poems  "This Is My Century" and "Giants of My Century"  in This Is My Century:  New and Collected Poems (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989).  It informed her teaching at Jackson State University from 1949  to 1979 and her founding there , in 1968,  of the Institute for the Study of History, Life and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center).  Her vision might serve us well in the practice of contemporary education.  But who is willing to examine and adapt Walker's vision in dealing with the knotted and vexed  issues of intellect and action in our 21st century?

                The subtitle of the poem “This is My Century” is “black synthesis of time” and the first stanza addresses Man (a universal abstraction not a culture-marked particular) ----

O Man, behold your destiny.

Look on this life

and know our future living;

our former lives from these our present days

now melded into one.

(This Is My Century 129)

It is widely believed that Walker's poetry constitutes  a specific or exclusionary  address to her people as black people, but as she told Nikki Giovanni in A Prophetic Equation (  Washington: Howard University Press, 1974) -----

The thing that we have to see is what neither black nor white people want to face: that in this country we have developed and arrived at a point where our culture is neither black nor white but mulatto, a synthesis of the two…..It’s a terrible thing to say, but I have just as many white ancestors as I’ve got black.  That as an American, I am no pure-blooded African. I am no pure-blooded European.  I have ancestors who came from both continents. (130)

In this sense she created ideas and left legacies for humankind, for all Americans.  Synthesis is crucial for education that is predicated on  beliefs about humanistic and scientific thought that resist the whims and foibles  of politics.

                This point was not minimized when William Adams, current chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, addressed  the  Conference on the Liberal Arts: [Re]Defining Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century   at Jackson State University on October 7. Adams amplified Walker's concept of the synthesis of time. "A new concept of education based in the realities of a new concept of the universe which the Einsteinian revolution has brought to the twentieth century,"  she had suggested in 1976 , "must give us through re-education new uses for our education.   Career goals of vocational, industrial, and liberal or technical education must also afford disciplines for life's meaning and sharing" (On Being Female…., 230).  Adams stressed the importance of communication skills, of having  the capacity for analyzing and synthesizing, and  of possessing  intellectual depth and interpersonal skills in the arenas of work and economy, citizenship, morals, and culture.  As he spoke, Walker's idealist belief that "respect for the divinity in every living human being is the first step toward world humanism and religious peace and understanding" (230) rumbled in my consciousness, and I found the  stress  Adams placed on utility or pragmatism, especially in partnerships involving the natural sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences, was in accord with what Walker had said forty years earlier.  Adams and Walker both proposed that education should eschew elitism and make itself relevant to the civic lives of all people.  Just as Walker argued  that Einsteinian paradigms  necessitated knowledge of science,  Adams argued that the rapid evolving of  scientific and technological  knowledge demands a critique that may result from a core curriculum model of education.  Walker and Adams could agree on the centrality of synthesis.

Given that Adams was speaking about the challenges liberal education must confront at the university where Walker had forged much of her vision of education was a timely clue about what we need to remember and use as a foundation for future planning at HBCUs.  Time and again, such African American teachers and  poet-thinkers as Margaret Walker have [re]defined liberal arts pedagogy decades before such mainstream intellectuals as William Adams get around to contextualizing it.  Perhaps PWIs might become better sites for education if they acknowledged their indebtedness to the pragmatic prescience of thinking about liberal arts in the history of HBCUs.  Margaret Walker's vision can still serve us well in the conduct of American higher education.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            October 10, 2016

Saturday, October 8, 2016

NO MORE WATER RUNS


No More Water Runs  (the second version/witnessing of our nowness)

When a new generation addresses an old topic, the best it should expect from its elders is respect for the effort.  No more.  No less.  The new generation should anticipate, however, that elders might ask titanium questions that actually have no answers.

Did the new generation get the story right?  For whom are they really writing?  So what?

Having fulfilled the responsibility of asking questions, the elders may return to the bliss of silence.  They know when peace must be still.

Even the blind can see what the American publishing industry is up to at present.  True to what it has become, it is playing the race card for profit (a funky iteration of social engineering)  and gambling with writers and a diminishing cultural literacy.  Read the titles.  What spirits are being conjured?  And for whom? Why does the engineering of the American mindscape in 2016 depend so exclusively on making the ghost of James Baldwin the whipping "boy" of dubious morality? Even the blind can see what is afoot in matching the dead icons of the past with the living titles of now:

Henry Adams/ The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell.

Harriet Tubman/ The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Richard Wright/ Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehisi Coates

James Baldwin/The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward ( New York: Scribner, 2016).

Fair enough.  And the beat goes on. 

But is it necessary to hang neo-Cold War  curtains ---Iron Curtains, Bamboo Curtains, and Oil Curtains ----between human consciousness  and the regressive progress of capitalism?  Is it necessary?  Or is it strategic and convenient to hang those curtains as firewalls against an inevitable burning?

 Is the work of Nature, terrorism, climate change,  and global warming insufficient?  Must  the Church, the  Synagogue, the Temple, the  Mosque, and the Shrine chant a niggardly "Amen" of the kind Ahmos Zu-Bolton once sang?  Who the hell is to say in this season?

In her introduction for The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward believes it is necessary to have a book "that would gather new voices in one place, in a lasting, physical form, and provide a forum for those writers to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon"(8).  Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka had a similar belief and did a similar thing for their generation in editing In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers in 1992.  And then Powell, in the interest of enlarging the forum for his generation,  took the Word/Nommo  to a newer, higher level by editing Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature in 2000.  In her contribution "Cracking the Code" (89-95) for The Fire This Time, Ward imagines she has "ancestors from Sierra Leone and Britain, from France and the Choctaw settlement on the Mississippi bayou, from Spain and Ghana…." But another black writer from Mississippi suggested, in an e-mail of September 29, 2016, "that Ward's anthology while well-intentioned and having its bright moments also suffers from fishing in the narrow pool of African-American voices.  Once again, the limited rivers of Callaloo, AAR, and a few other publications and organizations have defined what it means to be an African American and what is the African-American voice.  As such, the anthology includes no Black Nationalists, no Radical Integrationists, nor Southerners who are primarily concerned with the South as its own thing and as the cornerstone of the American socio-political battlefield."  I will not utter that writer's name and compromise his entitlement to broadcast his razor-sharp insights elsewhere.  I quote in silence.

Should Jesmyn Ward's editor at Simon and Schuster have advised that a generation speaking about race has to be a bit more transparently international? Would such a suggestion have been an act of treason within the American publishing industry?  Would a truly transparent collection of international voices reveal precisely what The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race rather successfully conceals?  Would the book that does not exist, and therefore canonizes SILENCE, not have given affirmation to the gross ABSURDITY of HOPE: randomly motivated DEATH is the only possibility that any child born in 2016 shall witness in the remaining years of the 21st century? Would  metaphoric acts of treason within the American publishing industry have the nobility of Edward Snowden's theft of state secrets?  Would they not be the white thing to do, the "white/right" thing to do?

For me, the provisional answers come most clearly from the essays "White Rage" (83-88) by Carol Anderson and "The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning" (145-155) by Claudia Rankine.  The provisional answers/responses that warn against premature Jubilee come from "This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution" (197 - 204) by Daniel José Older and "Message to My Daughters" (205 - 215    ) by Edwidge Danticat.  This is not to say that other contributions in The Fire This Time do not merit notice.  All voices matter in the narrow pools and limited rivers that are slowly streaming to an ocean of no return. But these four pieces most strongly  motivate my sending you to

http://blogs.cofc.edu/illuminations/216/10/05/fallen-at-charleston

to read a special feature on the killings of black people and to read and read again Brenda Marie Osbey's essay "Fallen at Charleston," which provides much more than a grain of credibility to my belief in the absurdity of hope and my knowing that the quality of "goodness" that condemns the majority of African American citizens in the United States in 2016 is our eternal undoing.

The American publishing industry has mastered the game of capitalism and knows how to sniff out profits.  I know why a caged bird is entitled  to sing about an eternal problem named "race", and so too did James Baldwin in 1963 when he quoted the wisdom of an enslaved song.  And it is reprehensible to put the onus on the shoulders of his spirit.

 I respect the effort  of the new generation despite the fact that the effort  is not lasting, that the effort  cannot burn systemic horrors into oblivion.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            October 8, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Poem for voting day


(Just)(Ice)



Televise.

Fear-tinted  faces flow

along the flute of glass,

depart and return

with subtle hue and cry



in the red voicing

a spider would web your mind:

prisons rise and fall.



Trapped in a trumpet

an idea tries to flee

a monotone of agency,

a failure born when



in the red voicing

a bullet would blow your mind:

matters fall and rise



behind a mirror of class

star and bar whisper

a lie birthed again

on flag-squared mappings



in the red voicing

a demon could eat your mind:

a piece of air survives.



Tell. Advise.





Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

October 4, 2016


Monday, October 3, 2016

To open a conversation on Spike Lee in Nanjing, China




To begin, I will give brief answers to questions you raised after viewing  School Daze (1988) , Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992) and  Bamboozled (2000) in Spring 2016 and then follow-up with brief commentary on the first three films and a longer lecture on Bamboozled.  The purpose is to position us for a conversation about one of America's most controversial filmmakers and how his early productions stimulate inquiry and scholarship regarding film and African American cultures.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

1.  Is the racial problem in America still as tense as depicted in the films by Spike Lee?  Yes.  In fact, we have to speak not of a single problem but of a range of problems.  The most intense problem, of course, is the division and distrust occasioned by the killing of unarmed black males and females by police officers and individual citizens.

2. Which part of America sees the tensest relation between black and white?  Small and large American cities, areas that have histories of obvious as well as hidden (or underreported) discord between and among ethnic groups.

3.  In the film Do the Right Thing, what do you think is the most significant cause of the tragedy? The hot weather, dirty words, or the racial discrimination?  The primary cause is a combination of climate, language, and instances of racist behaviors.  Trying to identify a "most significant cause" is a reductive gesture, which fails to deal with the complexity of cause and effect.

4. In the film School Daze, do you think Jane should be responsible for her own tragedy?  Yes.  Jane is a victim of male aggression and exploitation to be sure, but she is not bereft of the ability to make choices;  she makes a poor choice that leads to disgrace and tragic outcomes.

5. Do you believe America will be able to solve the racial problem in the near future? No.  The racial problem is complicated by the always changing demographics of the United States.

6. What exactly is the main purpose of Spike Lee's making so many films about race?  I suspect the main purpose to expose the multiple facets of the concept of "race" as a national problem.  There are many subtle ways in which American films depict racial issues.  In the films of Spike Lee, we see the depiction and exposure more plainly than in films, especially some science fiction films, that seem not to deal with race as a central topic.

7.  Do you advocate Martin Luther King's belief that violence is not a way to solve discrimination, or Malcolm X's that violence is intelligence when used in self-defense?  While I believe King's advocating non-violent resistance in the face of social injustice was admirable,  I believe that Malcolm X's championing of self-defense is the better course of action.  We must make choices between non-violence and violence on the basis of individual situations.

8.  What can we do to stop being racist and being discriminated upon when we come to the United States?  This Chinese question has two unequal, dissimilar parts.  First, I will not presume that Chinese people are racist (until you provide proof that they are) and in need of eradicating their racist behaviors. Second, it is not possible to avoid being discriminated against in some form, whether one is a citizen or a foreign visitor.  The social dynamics of the United States may minimize discrimination against visitors, but our day-to-day politics cannot guarantee the absence of discrimination.

9. In seeing the movie about Malcolm X, I have a question about the authenticity of the Malcolm in the movie and whether it is the "real" representation of the real person Malcolm, especially his conflict with the leader of the Nation of Islam.  There are a few elements of authenticity in the film, but as a totality the film deals much more Malcolm X as an American icon, as a projection of what Spike Lee thought was the way to make a film about an iconic, very controversial person.  Thus, we do not have an absolutely "real" representation.  We have an adjusted representation.  We need to examine how Malcolm's conflict with the Honorable Elijah Muhammed was first "represented"  in The Autobiography of Malcolm X  (and account for Alex Haley's agency in adjusting Malcolm's autobiographical narrative);  when we view the portrayal of the conflict in Lee's film, we have to recall that distortion is an element of film as a medium and that even minimally edited documentaries will provide us with distortions.  Lee's film is a biopic not a documentary.

10.  And I was confused in seeing the movie Do the Right Thing.  I'm just wondering what is the right thing to do?  The right thing to do is to continue to ask the question what is the right thing to do. This is the most straightforward response I can make to the question, because all decisions about right actions are most often determined by the specifics of a given situation.