Thursday, April 02, 2015

8. A Subtle Art

Recently, I have decided that asha bandele's The Prisoner's Wife is my favorite memoir, my favorite biographical piece of all times.

Yes, I reckon it's blasphemous to put bandele above Angelou and X, above Douglass and Northrop. Surely, blasphemy.

I stand on my truth.

Two days ago, I read asha bandele's The Subtle Art of Breathing. When Haki Madhubuti said, "A good poem will wake you up at 3:30am to again contemplate its content." I realized, I was yearning for that feeling. I wanted to experience words which linger long after the book is closed.

Honestly, I was scared before the book even began.

In the "purpose" section of the book, asha bandele says, "My daughter will know the safe passage. This is my purpose." I was frightened. I think of violence -- domestic and physical and sexual and emotional -- in terms of myself, and even my friends. I've never thought of it in terms of my 4 year old daughter. I never thought that my friends and I were once untouched at 4 and didn't we grow to know the unwanted hands of fathers and step-fathers, cousins and uncles, boyfriends and bestfriends who hit and raped, drugged and drank?

As I type, I'm still scared shitless.

It took courage to turn the page. It takes courage to read.

I loved the way the poem "when you're smiling" slants across the page. I felt conflicted, how could I love a poem about "the pinch of terror"?

The saddest thing was reading "after diana died" and realizing this isn't about Dent or Martese, Ferguson or Garner. This book was published in 2004. Our men are still being killed.

Madhubuti was right, I was moved, too, when Rashid said: "I'd rather be in prison and with you, than free and without you." It is unbelievable, ain't it? Unbelievable enough to believe.

It's funny, I never thought about making love to myself and calling out my own name: Lhea. But I swear to whomever, I'm gonna try it.

Of all the things I read in the book, of all the things I loved, I found the line, "can you meet me in the center of the ocean/ when the day is new" to be the most beautiful opening line I've ever read in my life. The type of line a reader wishes she had thought of herself.

I highly recommend the purchase of The Subtle Art of Breathing. Not only are you supporting a brilliant poet, a beautiful mind; you are supporting a Black woman owned publisher as well.


Monday, March 30, 2015

7. Several Short Sentences

Books about writing excite me.

Texts that explore the writer's mind, the writer's process excite me as much as action or thriller narratives, as much as erotica and pornography. Seriously. Perhaps books about writing are a writer's porn.

Sheer narcissism.

When I first began Verlyn Kinkenborg's book Several Short Sentences about Writing, I wish I had written the manuscript myself. It was as perfect as a poem.

I loved her advice:

"Know what each sentence says,
What it doesn't say,
And what it implies."

"Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization."

"The difference between talking and writing
Is the difference between breathing and singing well.
It takes years of work to write well,
And only part of that is learning to type."

"Peruse clarity instead."

"But you can only run out of material
If you haven't been thinking or noticing."

"Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach's solo suites.
Does he consider his audience?
                   (Did Bach, for that matter?)
Does he play the suite differently to audiences
Of different incomes and educations and social
No. The work selects its audience."

Okay, now that last quote I have to disagree with. In classical music there are definitely different arrangements ... and a cellist or a conductor will choose the arrangement, or the phrasing, which best meets the occasion.

Once, I heard to Black violinists who together are known as Black Violin who played the hypest version of Brandenburg Concerto (number 4, I believe) that the world has ever known. I'd like to think there would be occasions, perhaps with a full orchestra when they would be willing to the original piece. And then there are other time's like at the Black Star (hip hop) concert, when they would play their own arrangement.

Perhaps a writer shouldn't change himself for his audience. However, perhaps if an author is submitting to a literary journal or reading before an audience, he would take into consideration his audience before selecting his own pieces.

All in all, I enjoyed the book.

I thought it was much too long.

It gave me the impression that the original manuscript was 100 pages and they stretched it to 200. They should have left it short.

This book would have been perfect if it was the length of Elements of Style.

Even so, this book can be a great addition to a writer's bookshelf!

6. The Brown Bookshelf

When my state of homelessness devolved to the point where I was actually sleeping outside on a regular basis, there were four books which I carried in my bag with my underwear, my soap and my toothpaste. One of these books was Nikki Giovanni's The 100* Best African American Poems (*but I cheated).

This book saved my life.

Until I read Giovanni's piece "The Brown Bookshelf", I didn't realize that this anthology contained 221 poems! Whoa. In my head there might have been about 110.

Reading Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid was an absolute pleasure. I highly recommend it for any Nikki Giovanni fan, follower. This was the first time I've read Nikki Giovanni's prose since The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni, which I've been reading for over a decade.

I enjoyed the poems, the prose and the prose poems, equally.

It was not until I read "Our Job Safety is Your Priority with Coffee" that I realized how much Nikki Giovanni's style has influenced mine. I always  knew that I loved Giovanni, after all it was the night I saw her at Stanford that I decided to become a Delta. However, I've never looked at my own poetry and saw Nikki's face.

In the "Our Job Safety is Your Priority with Coffee" piece, she explores an unedited poem and a final version. She talks about her editing process.

When I read the second edition of the poem "Coffee", I realized that my line breaks were her line breaks. She structured the poem EXACTLY as I would have, had those words left my mouth, my hands, my brain. There were a few slight differences: I never italicize in poetry; I rarely indent.

But the more I reread this piece, I wonder, why couldn't see how heavily influenced by Giovanni I was, I am, until now?

My favorite parts of the book where the times she mentioned meeting Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, individually, for the first time. I would have felt the same way. And indeed, that's how I've felt about Giovanni the time(s) I have shaken her hand.

She has a homage poem entitled "For Sonia Sanchez" and while many of the writers mentioned in the poem have past, I love that Sonia Sanchez is still alive. I definitely believe in giving people their flowers while they are here. I'm glad that she did not wait for another funeral before publishing this piece.

When I read poetry books, one thing that I find interest is poetry placement. I love the way in which poems are ordered.

My favorite placement in this book is the fact that "Robert Champion" is followed by "Allowables". The scene described in the Champion poem laid the foundation for understanding the end of "Allowables": "I don't think/ I'm allowed// To kill something/ Because I am/ Frightened"

And that poem could be the slogan of now. Those last 5 lines, those last four stanzas made me think about all of these Black men killed by police officers... and the officers say they were so scared of these unarmed Black men! Whew! I can't handle it; I'll move on.

There are many things that I love about poetry: I love rhythms, line breaks, one lined stanzas. I love a well placed comma, appositives, a fitting title.

But with Giovanni, again and again, I love her endings. I loved the endings of "If a Lemon", "I am at that Point", "I Hate Mondays", "Fear: Eat In or Take Out", "Biscuits", "Poets" and many others.

I can't wait to read this book "Chasing Utopia" and the anthology "The 100* Best" all over again.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

5. Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men

Adichie is, by far, my favorite writer of our generation. And as she continues to write outstanding works of literature, I'm sure she will become my favorite writer of all time.

However, reading We Should All Be Feminists made me realize just how different the two of us are.

And that's okay.

I have much to say about this short, short piece. But since, I'm sending it around to publications, I should probably keep this review short.

It was, as is all of Adichie's writing, a pleasurable and informative read.

4. Letters to a Young Novelist

I loved Letters to a Young Poet and Letters to a Young Artist by Smith and Cameron; thus, I was delighted to discover Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa in Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor.

The most important thing that I learned from this slender book is that I have a lot more reading to do. In nearly chapter he makes at least one reference to a major author who I have not read yet. In mentioning each author, Llosa is unafraid to state, quite plainly, what he does and does not appreciate about each writer. His straight-forward honesty gives me permission not-to-like the work of those others consider to be great. His transparent critique makes me more likely to try read Moby-Dick and Madame Bovary, both of which I assumed I would hate. Llosa has given me permission to read and dislike, to read and disagree.

I trust his sentiments based off of who calls great: Faulkner, Hemingway, Malraux, Dos Passos, Camus and Sartre -- who impacted his youth -- and Borges, Calvino, Rulfo, Pierre de Mandiargues, Kafka, Garcia Marquez and Alejo Carpentier  -- who he refers to as the most distinguished authors of fantastic literature of our time.

I enjoyed the first letter the most. In this letter Llosa calls into question existentialism at least as far as it pertains to the free choice of an artist. As an existentialist, I appreciated the nuances of Llosa's argument. With Llosa's encouragement, each reader should evaluate their own inclinations against their own choices. Perhaps understanding themselves better will positively influence the writer's work.

I agree with Llosa's balance of emphasis on the stylized technical aspects of writing with the other important components of a strong novel. Llosa mentioned Balzac and Joynce among others as making all kinds of grammatical mistakes. It was important for me to read that even those who break all the rules can be considered a great writer.

This is an important book for a beginning novelist. This book forces you to question: have I read that book Llosa mentioned? Do I agree with Llosa's literary theory?

As Llosa walks a budding novelist through the process of writing a novel and being a novelist, both, the reader will take note of gaps in their knowledge base and with the assistance of this text, begin to fill them.

This is definitely a book that a new novelist should own.

Friday, January 30, 2015

3. 12 Keys to Good Health

The primary difference between Joyce Meyer and most other Christian writers that I have read is that Joyce Meyers couples all of her biblical knowledge with concrete facts. There are a lot of ministers who know the bible; there are very few ministers who can educate as clearly and as succinctly as Meyer has on topics that aren't directly related to religion.

I am thoroughly impressed.

I am impressed at Meyer's discussion of metabolism and hormones and diseases; I am impressed that she covered so much in such a short volume

This was one of the most efficient books that I have ever read.

After reading Good Health, Good Life by Joyce Meyer over the last few days, I have walked away with concrete things that I can do to improve my health. I will drink more water; I will ask God for help; and specifically, I will work on loving my body.

"The best exerciser of all may have been Jesus," Meyer writes. "He routinely walked from His home in Galilee to Jerusalem--a distance of about 120 miles." I appreciated this sentence so much. I appreciated this sentence, this entire section, because I had never stopped to think about exercise from a biblical point of view.

This slim book was the perfect volume. It allowed me to focus on God while providing me with valuable information on how the human body works and what it takes to improve my health.

I highly recommend this to Christians who are concerned about their health; and, that should be all of us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2. The Drunken Sweetheart Appeared

Last night, I had the honor of hearing Ken Meisel at the Jazz Cafe in Detroit. I was so moved by the second poem he recited

As an introduction, he mentioned that he was going to read a poem celebrating the power of a woman's voice. Without even hearing the poem, I was moved. It is always such an honor to hear a man give honor and respect and praise to women.

I began to take notes.

When me stepped into the line: "I saw/ a woman struck by her husband. It was almost delicate.." I could feel the juxtaposition between 'delicate' and 'struck'; between delicacy as a state and the impact of being struck. (from "Woman Releasing a Tongueless Swallow from Her Violin")

For a brief second, I had flashbacks. I stopped listening.

I purchased the book because of the poem, alone.

The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door is a masterful collection of poetry. It is quite obvious that Ken Meisel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. Reading his poetry, it becomes obvious that Meisel is in touch with inner attitudes and dispositions; reading each poem, it is obvious that he has an in depth understanding of the inner subvocalizations, the inner memories of women as well.

I enjoyed "Learning to Taste the Chocolate". I enjoyed the transparency of a man's thoughts in this poem the most. Just past the middle of the poem I read, "I wonder if she ever actually thinks about my body in that lusty,/ out-of-control way that I dream of her body..." And as he learns to taste the chocolate, as he learns to let go, I experience his lesson, too. I wonder if any man has wondered about me that way. I wondered if I am thought of.

Two poems later, I was moved by "Adolescence".

...She was about to take
the leap that all girls take when their skin
changes, and suddenly the stirring of their
deepermost feelings, which sit safely
locked underneath the compress of skin
for years, emerge somehow as wildflowers
or a sudden rain storm of giggles, and then
everything is different, alive somehow,
like an unleashed current of passion.

And I wondered if I had ever written about my own adolescence into womanhood as clearly, as beautifully as him. As I read the poem, all I could think was "Yes."

At the end of this poem, I realized that Meisel is a master of conclusions, a master in knowing where the final period falls. Somehow, "so she could kiss it" not only ends the perfect sentence, it also justifies and enlightens the entire poem.

I noticed that I liked his endings with only two or three words on the last line the most. The brevity of their accuracy was breath taking.

I loved "finding flame" which concludes "The Girls at the Vista Maria Home for Truants". I loved "poetry to us" which ends "My Fingers Move Across the Typewriter Keys in an Effort to Find You".

And I realized he had mastered the final phrase of every poem because he has mastered phrasing in general. He does, with his poetry, what I only hope to do with my prose. Using aposotives among other phrasings, Meisel has the knack of using a well placed comma.

The repetition is beautiful, hypnotic.

The repetition of "not" and "with" in the first poem "Matinee"; the repetition of "like" and "now" in "Some Purple Violets at the Market"; the use of different phrases modifying a single word is powerful. Perfect.

I have several favorite poems. I love "Strip Clubs, Tampa" and "She Was Caressing Me" the most.

I often wondered how women ended up as porn stars and strippers and prostitutes; I often wondered how way leads onto way. Yet, I never could capture my wonderment as beautifully as Meisel did.

And "She Was Caressing Me" may be the most perfect poem I've read in years. It has the perfect opening, the perfect close. The last four lines are almost too much for me to bear.

I enjoyed this poetry book. Secretly, I knew a poetry book that begins with an epigraph by Rumi would not lead me astray.

I highly recommend The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door to all who love literary poetry, poems that show up beautiful and slanting across the page.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

1. Autopsy of the Deceased

Last Saturday, I attended my first leadership conference. It was at my church, under the direction of my pastor. Our assignment was to read the slim selection: Autopsy of a Deceased Church.

I was so glad that I read this book. It was very readable; it was straight to the point.

This selection was important to me because it reminded me that Ye are the City and my body is a temple. In short, I am the church. The church is me. There is no separation. If my church survives, if my church grows it will because of me, because of my fellow church members.

In this book, Thom S. Rainer discussed the conditions that arise before a church dies. In the beginning he writes, "He did not notice the deterioration... You don't see the accumulation of dust in hours." I this case he was talking about the deterioration of a town; however, it could be applied to a church, it could be applied to our lives.

This paragraph struck me. Is there any dust accumulating in my life that I have not noticed?

There is a section entitled: "Others First = Life. Me First = Death". This ought to be my life's slogan. This should become my motto. The first sentence reads, "When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for the community, it is on the path towards death."

I am so grateful for this reminder. I want my dance ministry to be for others. Not for myself, my health, my popularity. And I want my writing career to be for others -- not for money or fame or anything other that my audience.

At one point Rainer states loudly, "Membership in the church is not country club membership. It's not about paying your dues and getting perks." This sentence was directly for me. I have to make sure that I am not in church for networking purposes; I am not in church to gain an audience for my writing or my dancing; I am not even in church for the sole purpose of gaining friends. I am in church to serve. If I gain friends, of course that is okay. If people enjoy my writing or dancing, then that would be a blessing. If I gain a network, fine.

However, I am here to serve. Period.

One of the most important statements in the book said, "None of the members asked what they should be doing; they were too busy doing what they've always done."

All I can do is shake my head. I've realized that it is time for me to stop doing what I've always done. That's not good enough. Perhaps, it never was.

I must ask my community, my church family, my pastor, and indeed, I must ask my God, what should I be doing? How can I serve?

I highly recommend this slim book for church congregations across the country and across the English speaking world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If I Were a Poor Black Kid

Forbes: If I Were A Poor Black Kid

I'm not sure if it sounds silly or condescending, but as a Black person... I kind of contemplate the, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid" scenario to myself all of the time. It's almost impossible to address everything in a single blog entry. 

To be successful and Black in America, in my opinion, takes a hell of a lot of luck. Once you have a broad range of lucky conditions... then you have to work your ass off. Since I studied undergrad at the University of Michigan between the Supreme Court Cases of 2003 and the transfer of the Wardell Connerly movement to Michigan in 2006, I've been thinking a lot about what it takes for a Black child... especially a broke Black child. 

One of the things that the Forbes article doesn't account for is every Black person in America, whether they are conservative or liberal, knows that you any Black person has to learn everything twice. You have learn everything that is on the surface which Marks addresses and then you have to learn what it means when you are black. (Then, if you are a woman you have to learn how to navigate patriarchy and racial issues).  It is extremely difficult to learn this concept by yourself. It's damn near impossible. Basically, in addition to learning the academics you have to learn 1. how to have white teachers, 2. how to have white classmates, 3. how to be a token in networking situations, 4. how to be a token in corporate or academic situations, 5. how to have a drink with a bunch of white folks in academic or corporate situations... I haven't really found any book on it. It really takes a Black person in academia or a Black person in corporate America to say, "Look, this is how everything really works."

1. Grades. A lot of people undereducate Black children. Even if you have the best grades... it's hard to compete with someone who is being taught 2-4 levels ahead of you. For instance, when I entered U of M wanting to be a physics major... I realized that many of the white folks had already completed Calculus 2 (or AP Calculus BC) and Differential Equations. On the other hand, many of the Black students from Detroit did not come from schools where AP Calculus was available... let alone Intergral Calculus or above. 

So even if you get the best grades in Trigonometry or Algebra... How do you compete with someone the same age who has already been taught so much more? 

2. Libraries. Many libraries close by 7pm. If you are lucky you might be able to find a nearby university that stays open until 12. But if your not lucky... then what? Many suburbs have internet cafes... but inner cities don't. And even if they did, you wouldn't have the money to pay for them. 

3. Even if you get a computer... How in the world would you pay for internet? You need credit, good credit in order to buy the internet on contract. And so far they don't have prepaid internet services. 

Perhaps you can go to McDonalds, but they don't have any sockets to actually plug in your lap top.

4. And if you are an inner city black kid... There just so much that you won't be exposed to... Your music departments will be cut. You won't learn an instrument until you get to high school because the middle school programs are obsolete. So how do you win a scholarship for music when you've only been playing for 4 years... versus a person with private lessons who has been playing since they were 4 years old? 

You won't have a swim team, or a lacrosse team, or a soccer team, or a hockey team. You might have a track team that may or may not have a track. 

5. And what will you eat. A person's diet has a huge effect on their long-term brain development. Most inner cities don't have very many health food stores... And most of the grocery stores in the cities barely carry produce. I don't know. 

And that's just the basics. I don't know anything about going to schools where there are metal detectors. And actually partial police departments based on school grounds. I don't know anything about going to school where there are active gangs. Sometimes folks can't just get "good grades". 

I just shake my head. I don't know what a broke kid could do. Or should do. 

A year ago, I read an article about a young Black man who was valedictorian of his high school. It was a congratulatory article, praising the young man for going to college in spite of all of the odds. But at the end of the article, it mentioned that the young man was going to community college! I was so furious! If was was valedictorian, with decent scores... and he went through everything the article mentioned. I think he should have had a full ride to Harvard, Stanford, Michigan or Wharton... There's no way in the world he should have been going to a community college. 

But that would take a guidance counselor to say, "hey-- you've gone through enough... there's money out there. Here, apply to Harvard. Here, apply to Northwestern. Oberlin." Whatever. 

Part of the problem when your Black... is just having enough people tell you that you really can compete with White folks. Really.

Everyday, I'm reminded of how priveleged I have been a Black middle class lady. I didn't have a car, or name brand clothes... But I definitely had one of the best educations a Black person could have in America.

What would I do if I was a poor Black kid?

1. Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
2. Jr. Achievement
3. Free Sports Teams
4. Free or Cheap Private Lessons for a Musical Instrument
5. The smartest, coolest, most-down-to earth Black frieends I could find in the city
6. maybe Jack and Jill parties (to learn how to network with Black folks)
7. Church (maybe that should have been number one)
8. A mentor or two or three or four (who are black)

9. And the most important thing is summer programs. Every major college has summer programs for people of color or people without the most money... Sometimes they are absolutely free.

10. A lot of inner city Black schools won't let you take college courses while your in high school, but a lot of white schools will. I guess if I was broke I would try like hell to take college courses while I was in high school. Even if I was just auditing and couldn't get credit...

Its really hard to know what you don't know. I don't know how I would have known about summer programs  1. if I didn't have sibling who went to college before me, 2. if I didn't have Black friends going to the programs, 3. If I didn't have a guidance counselor who knows.

I don't have any real answers. In some ways, I'm still trying to figure out what I would do (or will do) as a poor Black parent. 


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