Recently in Cross-cultural Poetics Category

5933_138844056102_615201102_3187376_1816497_n.jpgI met playwright, hip-hop artist, and performer Idris Goodwin in Chicago in 2002. Our friendship and his finesse as a teacher brought him to teach at the high school I started in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

A prolific artist whose talents have won him a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Goodwin now lives in Iowa City with his wife, a graduate student in the Department of English at University of Iowa, .

Here Goodwin discusses the problem with Black History Month, teaching, performing, and why he loves his mama.


My mama is the coolest. . . She's the first one on the dance floor.

LA: What do you like to be called?

Do you mean "professionally"? A break beat poet, playwright, hip hop performer, teacher and video artist

LA: Where are you from?

IG: I spent the early part of my youth in Detroit, MI and my adolescent and teen years in a nearby suburb.

Why do you love your mama?

IG: I love my mama because she's both a mentor and a best friend. She's the first one on the dance floor. She cries in church and laughs at all my jokes. My mama is the coolest. My dad is pretty dope as well. Smartest, hardest working guy I know. The second one on the dance floor. I learned to have a diverse breadth of experience from him.


At Steppenwolf theater, one of the more prominent companies in Chicago, the only time you'll see black and brown people on stage is when it's an adaptation of some sort of slave narrative or some story that takes place in the early 1900's, down south somewhere. Meanwhile, there are a slew of new works by middle-aged white, mostly male playwrights. It limits the imagination.

LA: You left Chicago a while ago. You lived there for a minute, no? Why did you move to Chi-Town in the first place?

IG: I lived in Chicago from fall '96 to March 2008 - so just under 12 years. Damn! I came to Chicago because I was 18 going on 19 and desperately wanted to be in a thriving urban setting. Though the proximity to the city of Detroit was only about 40 minutes, there wasn't much going on there. God bless it. It's the place where my grandparents migrated and where my parents and uncles and cousins and we were born and where my church family worships. But whenever we would go there to visit family and friends, all I could focus on was the neglect, vacant houses, crumbling neighborhoods. 7126_1199858151971_1094056778_30705852_8132381_n.jpg I knew I wanted to be in a place where there was some energy and life, a creative environment. I wanted to experience real diversity, ethnically, economically, and culturally. New York and L.A. were a little too intimidating for a suburban kid from Michigan by himself, so I picked Chicago. The catalyst was an arts school in the downtown called Columbia College. I enrolled in their film/video and screenwriting program.

LA: Tell me about Chi. Those of us who have lived there know it's a hard place to live with integrity. The City always seems to be pushing folks to step over people. Did the context of Chi's quid pro quo political system and the way it does "bidness" influence the content of your music and plays? If so, in what ways and through which media?


"Conceptual Writing [verb, repeat] and Silence"
From Harriet: A Blog from the Poetry Foundation
BY Mark Nowak

I think I'm finally beginning to understand Conceptual Writing thanks to Kenneth Goldsmith, who, in his consecutive posts on 4.27 and 4.28, drives home his point by employing the sentence "Conceptual writing [verb]" something like twenty-five times. As conceptual writing's (oops, sorry, Conceptual Writing's) spokesperson, Goldsmith uses very direct, clear sentences (though imperatives might have been yet more forceful) to convince readers that Conceptual Writing is [blank] (there are 20-some variations in these two posts, from populist to a-ethical). Like the best pitch-persons--think Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein or William Shatner for identifies himself with his brand and tries to convince his audience that they should, no, need to, no, must buy into the spokesperson's product.

Warning: Shopping May Prove Deadly to Miners

WorldNewsNetwork.jpg26 April 2010
BY Mark Nowak

Miners from Utah to sub-Saharan Africa to China's Shanxi province die, in part, for us.

Anderson Cooper is talking to coal-mining families and politicians in West Virginia again. Ever since that explosion ripped through an underground mine in Montcoal, it seems people all across America are discussing the dangers of mining.

If you watched the news during the recent disaster, you may have heard television anchors and reporters speaking about an "exceptional" tragedy, a once-in-40-years catastrophe that took the lives of 29 coal miners in southern West Virginia. Yet if we look at this tragedy from a global perspective, the tragedy in Montcoal looks, unfortunately, all too typical.

Since the Sago, West Virginia disaster over three years ago, I've been tracking deaths in the global mining sector on my blog, Coal Mountain. Rarely does a day go by when I don't have to add more names and stories to this death roll. Mine collapse kills 16 in northwest Tanzania. Six bodies found in Xinjiang mine collapse. Worker dies in Australian nickel mine. And these are just a few of the headlines from the days since the Montcoal disaster.

What happened earlier this month happens almost every day somewhere in the world: Miners are killed at work. And why do they die--or for whom? Miners from Utah to sub-Saharan Africa to China's Shanxi province die, in part, for us. As consumers who walk the aisles at WalMarts, dollar stores, and suburban shopping malls, we fuel the extraction of coal and other minerals every time we purchase items that are intimately connected to miners around the world.

Every time you purchase something made in China, your item more than likely was made not only in a factory with its own horrific labor conditions, but a factory powered by electricity produced from coal. And each year in China, several thousand miners are killed as they extract that "black gold" from deep inside the earth.

Similar stories can be told about objects in almost every room in your house. To extract precious minerals like diamonds and gold in South Africa, for example, miners risk their lives every day--including 76 miners whose bodies were found in an abandoned Harmony Goldmining Co. mineshaft in Free State last year. And tin? From the precarious and brief lives of Indonesian "tin divers," to the five child miners killed in a collapse in southeast Congo earlier this year, tin extraction is likewise written in blood.

One of the many lessons we must learn from the 29 miners who lost their lives in Montcoal, West Virginia is that our patterns of energy use, as well as how we shop, are intimately tied to those who risk their lives each and every day deep beneath the Earth's surface. As we begin to discuss the changing economy and our spending habits in the post-boom period, it's also time to think more about where the products that clutter our bedrooms and basements and boardrooms come from. And who is risking and losing their lives so that we can have them.
Distributed by OtherWords

Mark Nowak is a documentary poet, social critic, and labor activist. Nowak is a 2010 Guggenheim poetry fellow and serves as the Director of the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College. His writings include Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka; Coffee House Press, 2004), a New York Times "Editor's Choice," and the recently published book on coal mining disasters in the US and China, Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009), which Howard Zinn called "a stunning educational tool. Nowak was featured at the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March.

National Book Award Finalist PATRICIA SMITH Reading @ The LitHouse!

patricia smith poster.jpg
The Rose O'Neill Literary House is located on the campus of Washington College on the historic Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Poet Ai (b. 1947-d. 2010)

ai.jpg The poet Ai (Florence Anthony), who was winner of the 1999 National Book Award for poetry and Professor of English at Oklahoma State University, died 19 March 2010 at the age of 63. Below Ai's poem on death.

By Ai

We smile at each other

and I lean back against the wicker couch.

How does it feel to be dead? I say.

You touch my knees with your blue fingers.

And when you open your mouth,

a ball of yellow light falls to the floor

and burns a hole through it.

Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.

Did you ever, you start,

wear a certain kind of dress

and just by accident,

so inconsequential you barely notice it,

your fingers graze that dress

and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,

you see it too

and you realize how that image

is simply the extension of another image,

that your own life

is a chain of words

that one day will snap.

Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,

and beginning to rise heavenward

in their confirmation dresses,

like white helium balloons,

the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,

and above all that,

that's where I'm floating,

and that's what it's like

only ten times clearer,

ten times more horrible.

Could anyone alive survive it?

The Death of Dennis Brutus


Click here for a 2007 podcast by Victor Dlamini of Dennis Brutus on Poetry, Protest and Global Apartheid

From Patrick Bond

(Dennis left us this morning, surrounded by loving relatives, without
pain. His final period in Durban, about six weeks ago, reminded all of
us of the courage and 'stubborn hope' - and of the need not to mourn,
too long, but to celebrate. If anyone would like to assist with
memorials, in whatever city and setting, please let us know; events will
be announced in coming days. There will also be a website to post the
photos Dennis loved so much, and we'll try to have videos of Dennis
online for posterity. Mainly, keep struggling for justice, in honour of
his politics, and keep expressing, in honour of Dennis' contribution to
culture and inspiration. And keep enjoying every minute no matter how
grim the enemy and the circumstances, as he always insisted.)

Statement from the Brutus Family on the passing of Professor Dennis Brutus

From Achebe's New 'The Education of a British-Protected Child'


Excerpt from Chinua Achebe's new collection of essays, The Education of a British-Protected Child (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

My Daughters

All my life I have had to take account of the million differences -- some little, others quite big -- between the Nigerian culture into which I was born, and the domineering Western style that infiltrated and then invaded it. Nowhere is the difference more stark and startling than in the ability to ask a parent: "How many children do you have?" The right answer should be a rebuke: "Children are not livestock!" Or better still, silence, and carry on as if the question was never asked.


"Climate Hope: Inspiring 2009 Books For A Clean Energy Future"

BY Jeff Biggers
Huffington Post
28 November 2009

An incredible year of new books on climate destabilization, dirty energy policies, bogus Big Coal campaigns and a vibrant anti-coal movement, a growing coalfield resistance and the tragedy of mountaintop removal, and the still big possibility of renewable energy sources to refresh our survival chances on the planet


Working class hero and poet Nowak gives a lyrical account of the voices of coal mining tragedies in Sago, West Virginia and China, in this breakthrough collection of poetry.

To learn more about Nowak and his excellent poetry and literary endeavors, and coal issues around the world, visit his blog here.

-Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post

See the Huffington Post's full list of "inspiring" books here.

Photo: Reuters / "Cry from the heart... the relative of a miner killed in a pit gas explosion breaks down as others gather for news outside the entrance to XingXing coal mine in China." 24 November 2009

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