I introduced M. NourbeSe Philip’s performance April 30 to the Northeast Modern Language Association:

“If no one listens and cries / is it still poetry?” M. NourbeSe Philip asks in her second book of poetry, Salmon Courage. The question carries over to more recent work as well, and conveys what Fred Moten describes as the author’s “heroism, which amounts to nothing more than a radical disavowal of the heroic, consisting [in] a deep and a fatal sounding.” That deep and fatal sounding is tested most notably in Zong!, a book-length poem based on an eighteenth-century court case, Gregson vs. Gilbert, the only public document related to the lives and deaths of 150 Africans murdered for insurance money aboard the slave ship Zong. This work, undertaken “on behalf of the living,” attempts, as Philip acknowledges, to “re-humanize[…] dehumanized figures.” Her investigation sounds the fragile exposure of human life against the infernal codes of legal and economic systems, all in a language that disrupts its own certainty. Philip’s self-mastery as a poet enables her writing toward an event that resists any imposition of meaning, and so poetry is used to enter an abyss of dreadful imaginings.

“Creat[ing] disorder with poetry, though with an accuracy of language,” Philip announces an ongoing process of arrival. Her writing is circumscribed by features of modernity shaped and extended by slavery, colonialism, and the borderline mechanics of sovereignty and discipline whereby the world is apprehended. What she encounters is nothing less than a “socio-ecological” catastrophe. The disruption of the violent history that encompasses and conveys the murders on the slave ship is disclosed through a “fugal anti-narrative” that discovers song in the legal records of Zong. The poem bears witness to the “resurfacing of the drowned and the oppressed” in a world where immigrants even now drown in desperate voyage into the African Mediterranean. Philip addresses the ongoing violence of modernity through the scale of human abduction, where language and its orienting features give shape and consequence to the brutal linearity of trade, law, and the subjective harrowings that underwrite a vicious global contest over natural resources and human labor. Such intersections of desire and economy find origin in Europe and Africa at the beginning of the modern era, and the languages and imposed silences of those relations between nations and people haunt us still. It is this “hauntology,” as Philip puts it, that concerns the startling clarity and terror of her work.

Philip was born in Tobago and moved to Canada to attend Western University, where she graduated with a law degree in 1973. Besides the investigative and linguistic achievement of Zong!, other major works include the novels Harriet’s Daughter and Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, and the poetry collection She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, winner of the Casa de las Americas Prize in poetry. Author of four collections of essays and other writing, Philip’s work spans and interweaves contrasting genres. Her writing situates themes of colonialism, race, memory, identity, and place at the contrasting intersections of political and poetic innovation. Please join me in welcoming her here tonight.

Mongrels to Citizens:

experimentation is fundamentally rooted in blackness and wounded life: they don’t get to tell you otherwise

your body is an experiment.

your memories: an experiment

your life: an experiment

every minute is an experiment in survival

everyday is an experiment toward liberation

Tom Clark reaches down the long dumb trail of postwar appetite and cultural aggression in this remarkable essay/reflection on Kenny G’s disturbingly shallow boring skits and routines as uncreative impresario of the American poetry circus. Read it all here.

For that matter, when I see how KG’s little train jumped the rails at Brown with that autopsy-report stunt, I’ve got to wonder — what can the man have been thinking? That it is possible, given the massive issuance of slack that routinely accompanies iconic status, for one to be at the same time cute, challenging, adorable, disrespectful, unaware, clever, and absolutely clueless — and get away with it?

Looking forward to this reading Saturday May 24:

Join us for our first reading at grayDUCK on Saturday, May 24, doors at 7:30pm, reading at 8:00pm! Featuring the poetry of Justin Petropoulos, Sarah Campbell and Dale Smith. The poets will have books for sale. The event is BYOB. We’ll have some sort of after party somewhere.

Justin Petropoulos is the author of two collections of poetry, Eminent Domain (Marsh Hawk Press 2011), selected by Anne Waldman for the 2010 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and <legend> </legend> (Jaded Ibis Press 2013), a collaborative work with multimedia artist, Carla Gannis. His poems have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, Gulf Coast, Mandorla, Portland Review, and Spinning Jenny. He received an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Justin is a contributing editor of digital/interactive and collaborative literature for Entropy magazine. He is currently the site director of an after school program for at-risk, elementary age children and is an adjunct faculty member at New Jersey City University, where he teaches composition and creative writing. You can follow him on twitter @redactioneer.

Sarah Campbell’s recent books include We Used to Be Generals (2014) and Everything We Could Ask For (2010). Her literary criticism has appeared inJacket 2, Arizona Quarterly, and The Golden Handcuffs Review. Radio pieces have aired on WNYC and as podcasts for the Poetry Foundation. She lives in New York.

Dale Smith has resided at various times in Texas, Yemen, Oregon, California, and Ontario. On the faculty of the Department of English at Ryerson University, Toronto, he has published essays, reviews, and criticism, including, most recently, Poets Beyond the Barricade: Rhetoric, Citizenship, and Dissent after 1960, and is the author of poetry texts that include American Rambler, Black Stone, and Susquehanna. His provocative arguments on the concept of Slow Poetry have been discussed in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, and at other locations of literary and cultural debate.

I found these via Patrick Riedy, some rules of teaching popularized by John Cage. Wish I’d seen them earlier this semester.


RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.