Friday, October 21, 2016


Juan Felipe Herrera --

Eleven years having passed since his last visit, Juan Felipe returned to Happy Valley to spend three days with us -- This time he had been invited to read poetry for the annual Emily Dickinson "lecture," sponsored by George and Barbara Kelly.  

This Is My Last Report

Related Poem Content Details

This is my last report:
I wanted to speak of existence, the ants most of all,
dressed up in their naughty flame-trousers, the exact jaws,
their unknowable kindnesses, their abyss of hungers,
and science, their mercilessness, their prophetic military
devotions, their geometry of scent, their cocoons
for the Nomenclature,

I wanted to speak of the Glue Sniffers 
and Glue Smoothers who despise all forms 
unbound, loose in their amber nectars, I wanted 
to point to their noses, hoses and cables and networks, 
their tools, if I can use that word now—and scales and 
scanners and Glue Rectories.

I wanted you to meet my broom mother 
who carved a hole into her womb 
so that I could live—

At every sunset she stands
under the shadow of the watchtowers
elongating and denying her breath.

I wanted to look under the rubble fields 
for once, for you (if you approved), flee 
into the bullet-riddled openness and fall flat,
arched, askew, under the rubble sheets 
and let the rubble fill me

with its sharp plates and ripped dust—
alphabets incomplete and humid. You, 

a little closer
to the chalk dust—this child swinging her left arm,
a ribbon, agitated by unnamed forces, devoured.

At last report. having presented me with a happy birthday cactus, Juan Felipe was heading into Newark -- Hello New Jersey!

Friday, September 30, 2016


Last week, Rachel Blau DuPlessis visited our campus for a two day set of programs sponsored by the Modernist Studies Workshop and the new Modern and Contemporary Studies Initiative. Things kicked off with a well attended reading, in the course of which we saw DuPlessis present and discuss some of her newer collage works. This was a new apsect of her work for me, one which I hope to return to often. We also heard excerpts from Drafts and from her recent Graphic Novella, from the ever innovative Xexoxial Editions.

You can hear a recording of the reading here.

The next day we reconvened for a symposium: The Not Known of Experimental Form. Rachel and I were joined on the panel by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Octavio Gonzales, a PSU PhD as it happens. After an afternoon wrestling with not the unknown but the not known, we retired to the nearby home of Janet Lyon and Michael Berube, where the reception was exceptionally good.

Monday, September 26, 2016



We came with the sun. 

It seemed appropriate to me that we streamed between these two moorings on the National Mall, as if signposts of American history, the sufferings and triumphs, the oppressions and the liberations, channeled our march -- but it was the flowing of American humanity that channeled history. You couldn't look anywhere without seeing this history on the Mall. There was the White House, built, as Michelle Obama had reminded us, in large part with slave labor. There was the nearby corner where slaves had been sold even as the founding fathers indited those words of democracy since chiseled into memorial stones. Where this new museum now stands, thousands upon thousands had once marched across the lawn, for Civil Rights in 1963, to end a war in 1970. This ground had been fought over and died for. The line a third of the way up the Washington Monument shows where construction had been halted for a time, a seeming reminder of our halting steps towards the promise of our Constitution. Douglass had walked here, and Whitman. And how many times have we walked here?

Today was a time of remembrance, and of revelation. And in the end, of revels. In the words of Ed Roberson, we have entered the new wing of the labyrinth.

There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will

--Sam Cooke

Ring them bells Sweet Martha for the poor man's son
Ring them bells so the world will know that God is one
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled with lost sheep
Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf
Ring them bells for all of us who are left
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through
Ring them bells for the time that flies
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

--Bob Dylan

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


I was off to New Orleans (second visit since Katrina) this past weekend for the second Black Arts Movement conference organized by the never-resting Kim McMillon. The last one, hosted at University of California, Merced, brought much needed attention to Black Arts West. This time our host institution was Dillard University, and, "because the world needs to change," a long overdue focus was aimed at the South.

Things started off with a plenary session offering an overview from Askia Muhammad Toure and Jerry Ward, now retired from Dillard.  I hadn't seen Jerry for quite a while, and it was wonderful to see him on the case.

There were friends too numerous to list, and poets galore. My kind of place.  I was there for an Umbra panel with my long time running buddy scholars Keith Leonard and Jean-Philippe Marcoux. We were assigned a gigantic auditorium for our small panel, but the fellow managing the web streaming for the conference alerted us to the fact that there were 400 people watching online.

Since the conference only lasted a day and a half, and there were many overlapping sessions, I was not able to attend and document as many presentations as I generally attempt, but the conference organizers had taken care of that too.  There will be photos and video available soon enough.

Yes, you could play chess with a bicycle-riding accordion player.

Sunday morning while many were in church and even more were heading to the Raiders / Saints game (Raiders won by one in the final minutes), Jean-Philippe and I joined the heroic remnant (Jerry Ward was there) to hear what the youngest folk had to say about taking up the legacies of the Black Arts activists. I had been heartened early in the conference by the self-possessed Spellman women PSU PhD Sara Rudewalker brought with her from Atlanta. They may not know the history, but they will. And they will make their own.