Book Review: A Little Devil In America

I’d like to once again sing the praises of Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and writer and podcast host, whose books, stories and essays — such as the ones that connect together in woven magic in his latest book, A Little Devil In America (Notes In Praise of Black Performance) — is insightful, emotional, unexpected and deeply attuned to the well of culture.

As a white, middle-class reader, I admittedly may not be his target audience here, as the world he unveils of Black dance, of Black music, and of family and neighborhood relationships is outside my own field of vision (the fault is mine, and maybe people like me, who too often fail to at least acknowledge the rich tapestry of the Black life beyond hip hop).

Abdurraqib’s expert creative command of language, of theme, and of connecting small parcels of story and history to a larger picture that then, quite suddenly and quite beautifully, narrows back to his own life at the end, in a scene between his brother and himself, is something to behold, and something to celebrate. Some chapters here read like poems and unfold like art.

What makes his perspective so interesting to me is his far-reaching love of music — from his discovery of the punk scene in his native Ohio to the emergence of Wu Tang in New York to a celebration of the artistry of Josephine Baker and Merry Clayton, and way beyond – and how he seamlessly shows how one can love a music, be part of that music scene, and still be separate from it, and how those conflicting elements, driven mostly by race, has long been at the heart of a conflicted America.

By the way, Abdurraqib’s podcast — Object of Sound — is also fantastic, as he chats with many creative artists on a variety of topics, some which resonate with this book and some with his other books. I still have to dig into his poetry, too.

Peace (sounding it out),
Kevin

A Jazz Poem for Mary Lee

Image found at Mary Lee’s Poetry Site

My friend, Mary Lee Hahn, is retiring and there are a bunch of people writing her poems today. I was thankful to be invited in. Mary Lee and I crossed digital paths years ago, and while our interactions come and go, I still read her poetry via blogs and RSS feeds and I get inspired by her teaching and sharing.

My poem for her came after the title of the jazz classic (Donna Lee) came to mind when I was playing around her name (Mary Lee) in my head. It’s a strange juxtaposition, I suppose, but the way Mary Lee riffs in her poems was the connection I was going for.

Bird probably wrote it
while Miles claimed it
but Donna Lee reached it:

that groove of notes
as sound poems, a skip dash dance
fluttering around the ear

I hear it forever in Mary Lee, too,
in every haiku or couplet;
she’s plundered

a dance dash skip
of rhyme and rhythm,
written wonder over years;

each verse of hers
a riff of hope:
how love overcomes fear

Peace (for a friend),
Kevin

Tagging #MarvelousMaryLee and #PoemsforMaryLee

Making MicroFiction (round one)

A friend on Twitter told me about a contest for 100-word-story MicroFiction, and that intrigued me, so I figured I’d give it a try. I’ve written what I have called Quickfiction before (also, flash fiction), and enjoy the constraints and creativity.

I even presented about this idea at NCTE one year:

The other day, the first round started up with a prompt (there are multiple rounds, in which finalists move ahead to a new prompt). There are quite a few people in the writing contest (nearly 7,000), with many “groups” (11o) that we are placed into. In my group, the genre was “horror” (not my favorite) and the action I had use was “shuffling cards” and the word I had to use was “wind.”

This is what I wrote:

A Game Of The Knight

Marina wiped blood off the face of the King. The card smeared with a streak across the eyes. She shuffled the cards and dealt out hands, ignoring the Knight’s chatter. It was getting more difficult for her to hold her cards as the darkness wore on. The Knight had won one hand and remained unscathed. She glanced at her cards, holding them close as wind rippled over the edge of the mountain. Marina played the King, feigning confidence, calculating how the game might proceed even as she slowly lost more of herself to the Knight.

Now I wait until July, apparently, to see if I make it to Round Two.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Comic Review: Mister Invincible

MISTER INVINCIBLE, by Pascal Jousselin – Magnetic Press LLC

I didn’t what to expect about this collection of Mister Invincible, by Pascal Jousselin, but … well … wow … very cool. Playing with and pushing against all of the visual constraints of a comic on a page, this hero of Jousselin’s imagination breaks every convention of comics (such as the solid panel as wall and separation of time), and does so with hilarious results.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

Sometimes, Mister Invincible literally reaches or sees across the next page of the comic, taking action in ways that had me wondering: how in the world did Jousselin even conceptualize the joke, or the events? The amount of planning, and trial/error that must have gone into each of these short pieces (the book collection is a series of one-pagers and smaller multi-page stories) staggers my brain, which works with logic — a concept that is not always on display here, in a good way.

As a character, Mister Invincible is rather nonchalant about nearly everything — taking care of complicated problems with an effortless reach across the next panel, or a twist of time sequence, or cutting a hole in the next page, in order to leap to the page just beyond.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

There are other recurring character, such as the teenager who becomes TooDee, because he uses the flat elements of the printed page to save the day or cause inadvertent mischief, even as the reader and the other characters believe they are in a three-dimensional world. Another character, an old grump, uses “words have power” to his advantage, using word bubbles to attack enemies and more.

I am always happy when writer play with conventions, and with Mister Invincible, no panel is safe from being broken open. Or reached into. Or breached.

Peace (beyond the panel),
Kevin

 

Stories of the Poems: NWP

NWP logo

I enjoyed a series of video interviews that Tanya Baker, of National Writing Project, did with poets called Story of a Poem, digging deep into a single poem with the poets and then ending with an invitation to write. It was like Song Exploder (a favorite podcast of mine) but with poems. I took the poets up on the invitation to write.

Here are my poems:

Squiggles Break My Art

I
ve
kicked this po em
around somuch
the words have
fa…
…ll….
….en

a p
a r

t

Paintingwitheditmarks,
computer squiGGles
break my

(he)ART

Inspired by George Ella Lyon via https://youtu.be/0L8OKN2gmbE


Words Bring Us Through

Where are the notes
when you need them
the most

the tongues of strings
that have no name
but still, sing:

cancion, oran,
kanzunetta, laul,
canco, abesti
song

Rest, then, for when
you least expect it to:
Words bring us through

Inspired by Dan (Zev) Levinson prompt of language and his “Sundailed” via
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouEmIT8mbpw


Circular Revision

Awake
with the birds,
singing

No

Wake with
dawn breaking
to the songs
of birds singing

No

Be awake;
Listen!
Birds sing
this day into
being

No

The day
sings you
awake

Yes

Inspired by Shirley McPhillips and “Uncommon Education” via
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5qzl7v7Kzc


Every time you lose something — no matter what it is — you find something else…
– Patrice Vecchione

Lost/Found

Sometimes I wonder
which reader found it –
that small notebook
of scratched stories,
pieces remembered
only after discovering
an empty pocket
at the train terminal
where I remained,
suddenly reminded,
how ephemeral is ink,
and paper, merely
temporary

Inspired by “Finders Keepers” by Patrice Vecchione and the call to write about something that has been lost via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2fiEv_bKh8


With a Kiss From Hippocampus

Dipping fingers inside these fluid lands, inside what we don’t understand, so we go where the flow takes us – it breaks us – this tumbling turmoil off rock and ridge where such creatures live, where monsters like this exist – this fall, it breaks us – it takes us, it makes us humble again, for we might yet comprehend how every drop that comes apart from gravity’s kiss is also a drop where worlds resist the pull, such as this, this water, this rain, this, it takes us, this falling, this calling, it draws us to wonder, again, forward, towards bliss

Inspired by H.K. Hummel’s discussion of her prose poem: “The Fable of the Sailor and the Kraken” – and invitation to write about mythological creatures via https://youtu.be/G2MbsnA157E


Writing Rails of Ghost and Bone

That day we were walking
through wooded trails,
lost but never alone,
when we came upon
the remains of rails,
the tail end of the past
clutching the earth
with taut iron fist

how could we resist
the sudden urge to grip
the hammered steel,
slumbering on stone,
and wait on the day
for an oncoming rumble
of ghost and bone?

Inspired by t.l. sander’s poem “This” and the invocation to play with language and poetry via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSoAtx60v4E 

Peace (and poems),
Kevin

Book Review: Where We Walk (100 Illustrated Maps of Wonderful Walks from Around the World)

I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon the They Draw And Travel website, which is home to some wonderful artwork and map illustrations of places. This book — Where We Walk — pulls together 100 submissions to a local call in Winter 2021 for Walking Maps put out by the website’s curators (two sibling artists) and the maps in the collection are just wonderful.

The maps, all hand-drawn and from all parts of the world, range from small in scale (one was of pacing the rooms of an apartment in the Pandemic) to expansive (one showed the crossing from Europe into Turkey and back again), and everything in-between. Each artist took a different approach (although walking dogs seems like a very common artistic motif) and each page contains two different maps.

You realize how evocative maps can be to capture a sense of place, and how an artist depiction of those maps of those places draws you in, to imagine what it would be like to wander around and walk the trails set forth by the maps.

It also makes you think: what would I include in my map of this place, where I am, and what would that look like? (if you do that, the site collects and shares submissions)

Peace (along the coordinates of art),
Kevin