Monday, December 26, 2005

2005 Goals in Review

Things from my goals list, which I DID NOT ACCOMPLISH :-(

Reach target weight of 168 pounds.

I didn't follow my action plan of eating breakfast every workday. As a result, I didn't meet the goal. Nor was I consistent with one leg workout per week.

Attend a church (any church) once every 2 months.

Pay off my Capital One Mastercard (which has the highest interest).
I did not put the card in a Ziploc bag with water and stick it in the freezer, so I couldn't use it. Another failure to follow the action plan.

Give more compliments.A/P: Each day, give at least one compliment to a stranger/casual associate.A/P: Each day, give at least one compliment to a family member/close friend.

I did not follow the action plan here. As a result, it did not become a habit.

Visit parents once a month.
Travel to a Carribean island for a long weekend this summer.
Boy did I miss this one.

Complete a book by James Baldwin.
Keep the blog updated.A/P: Update twice a week.
Obviously, I didn't keep this one.
Get the book club involved in volunteering in a community project.
The book club didn't have a single meeting last year. (I think they're waiting on me to finish grad school.)
Resume Spanish lessons by my birthday (7/23)
Take an acting class.
Take voice lessons.
Bench press 225 pounds ten (10) times.

Things from my goals list, which I DID ACCOMPLISH :-)

Launch a website.

Give at least 1 free performance per month.
Start a separate wardrobe for performance
More sowing: Once a month, take a platonic friend/associate/co-worker out for a meal or coffee.
__it_; D___n; __ja; _a_a_; F__ie__; _a_u; D_n__k_; _ar_; __m; Da___;
_a__i_; _abi

Workout 3x a week.
Eat more vegetables!
Drink more water!
Attend at least 6 plays this year:

Porgy & Bess, The Syringa Tree, Flyin West, Take Me Out, Madea Goes to Jail
(that really shouldn't count)

Develop a standard pay scale for gigs.
Earn $_,000 in writing gigs/awards.
Call more often!
Say NO!
Break the routine.
Clean out my closet.
Become a better swimmer
Continue to expose myself to new experiences.
Learn five (5) new recipes:
sweet potato souffle; coconut rice; cajun red snapper; broccoli, rice &
cheese casserole; garlic lime chicken

Complete 1st year of MFA Program in Poetry
Halfway home!

Monday, October 31, 2005

To Bewitch or Not to Bewitch: Tone in Louise Glück’s “Witchgrass”

As a plant, it was introduced from Europe to North America for erosion control in cultivated fields, but as a word, witchgrass has a somewhat more colorful history. From the Middle English, quitch grass, the word came to modern English as the homophonic quick grass, due to its nature of spreading rapidly and uncontrollably. When American farmers discovered that the hairy weed, which can grow to over three feet tall, not only spread rapidly, but refused to die - as if protected by some other power - the name quickly developed the connotation, witch grass. In her 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning collection, Wild Iris, Louise Glück uses tone to give voice to this relentless supernatural weed with her poem, which shares its name.

The opening stanza of “Witchgrass” establishes the mood – dark and mysterious:

Comes into the world unwelcome
Calling disorder, disorder—

What is named here is not a plant, nor a man, but “something.” “Something,” implies that this thing is unknown - ‘the unknown’ being a key attribute of fear.

This “something” does not have a ‘natural’ arrival: It does not sprout, as a plant; it is not born, as a man; it, rather in a spiritual manner, “comes into the world unwelcome.” Which raises the question: Why is it unwelcome? And unwelcome to whom?

Supporting this tenuous mood, Glück’s repetition, “disorder, disorder” recalls the language of a spell – in the manner of the incantations of the three witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Double double, toil and trouble”


“A drum, a drum! Macbeth doth come!”

Having established the Salem witch-hunting mood in the first stanza, the poem dons second person in the second stanza. The tone: defensive – even defiant. As if accused of being a witch, the plant takes voice and scolds the reader:

If you hate me so much
don’t bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another way
to blame
one tribe for everything

One can literally feel the plant’s hairs rise from the page with the phrases “you hate me so much” and “don’t bother.”

The focus of the poem narrows as the plant clarifies who has considered it unwelcome: the “you” and “your” here, refer to those who call the plant “witchgrass” – i.e. English speakers, or more generally, Man. The plant construes its bestowed name as “one more slur” and “…another way/ to blame.” The personified plant’s tone for the remainder of the poem is appropriately indignant.

In the third stanza, the plant appeals to the religious sensibility of man for a change in its perception:

as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy—

“As we both know” is nothing less than patronizing. And if one considers that modern English speakers are overwhelmingly monotheistic, “if you worship/one god…” is merely rhetorical – and certainly sarcastic. The plant’s tone is undermining its appeal to be seen in a different light. Which raises the question: Is this really an appeal for a change in Man’s opinion?

And just in case Man is too thick-skulled to notice this subtle exercise in condescension, the fourth stanza, which contains the crux of the poem, opens with the plant stating its stance directly:

I’m not the enemy
Only a ruse to ignore
What you see happening
Right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure

The plant maintains that it is not the enemy of Man. The plant asserts that the negative attention its name garners simply distracts Man from his real enemy, Satan. And while the poem has presented itself as largely literal prior to this point, it announces itself as allegorical in the lines “here in this bed/ a little paradigm/ of failure.” This “bed [of soil]” where this “what” that Man sees “happening” is a microcosm of the failures of the World.

The poem then specifies this “what” that is happening and resumes its bitterness:

… One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day

The word “precious” here is filled with vitriol. This tone is not one of attracting more flies with honey. Rather, it is the scathing tone of one who has given up the art of persuasion. And taking the allegorical clue from earlier, the “here” where the “precious flowers” die can be read as the World; the “precious flowers”: as Man, who inhabits the World. The plant is saying that despite the reality that Man dies everyday, Man still searches restlessly for meaning. The plant underscores that this meaningless searching is the real root of the problem:

and you can’t rest until
you attack the cause, meaning
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion

and in the fifth stanza

… you… go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together

Here, the plant points out Man’s irrationality. Man’s “cause” of why the precious flowers have died is not specified. Rather, the cause is “whatever is left,” “whatever happens to be sturdier…” The repetition of “whatever” highlights the lack of rationale in Man’s process and speaks to the plant’s exasperation. The plant insists that its naming as “witchgrass” is not a result of any actual witchcraft – has no real basis - but is just another “whatever” in Man’s irrational process of “laying blame.”

If one considers that “a weed is just a flower out of place,” as the old saying goes, then “Witchgrass” is a poem of a plant bitterly asserting its flower-tude. And in the final two stanzas, the plant asserts its self-determination:

I don’t need your praise
To survive.

Finally, the plant ‘pulls rank’ on Man, attacking him with a dart of truth, which is undeniable, but also eternal:

I was here first,
Before you were here, before
You ever planted a garden.

The plant declares its seniority with, “I was here first.” It reminds Man that before Man exploited “witchgrass” for his own cultivating purposes – even before Man ever existed – the plant already lived on Earth.

This now yields a different reading of the opening stanza:

Comes into the world unwelcome
Calling disorder, disorder—

It is not the plant, who is unwelcome; it is not the plant, which causes disorder. It is Mankind. And if religion is a search for eternal Truth, then, in the poem’s conclusion, the plant leaves Man a taste of his own piety:

…I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

This is a truth which echoes. And after refuting being named for the witch for the entire poem, “Witchgrass” ends bewitchingly with these haunting lines.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Roots and Culture in Tanure Ojaide's "Akua-ba"

Nigerian poet, Tanure Ojaide writes, “The creative writer is never an airplant, but someone who is grounded in some specific place… Every writer’s roots are very important in understanding his or her work.” Ojaide’s axiom is especially true in his own work, which reflects the complex politics, religion, and culture of his birthplace in Nigeria’s Delta region. His poem “Akua-ba” is grounded in the “specific place” of the mythology of Ghana’s Akan people.

In traditional Akan’s matrilineal society, a woman’s greatest desire – and highest achievement – is to bear children. Consequentially, a woman’s inability to bear children makes her, in a sense, a failure. “Akua-ba” is based on a tale from Akan mythology of a barren woman, named Akua, who consults a priest to attain fertility. The priest orders her to commission the carving of a small wooden child, which Akua is to carry strapped to her back. Instructed to give the child beads, gifts, and trinkets and to talk and sing to the child, Akua is to treat the wooden doll as if it were real.

Fellow villagers laugh at Akua’s practice and begin calling the wooden doll, “Akua ba,” which means “Akua’s child.” Eventually, when Akua not only gives birth, but gives birth to a baby girl – prized in a matrilineal society - the same villagers who ridiculed her begin adopting the same practice to overcome barrenness.

With a flat, disk-shaped head, this wooden doll, akuaba (which is known more commonly in the West as a fertility doll) is the ideal of Akan beauty. Understanding this context of how the doll is used and its mythological basis is essential to understanding not only the content, but also the aesthetics, which inform Ojaide’s poem, “Akua-ba.”
The poem opens with a complex opening image:

a childless mother draws tears
from the cemetery of her mind
In line 1, by naming the woman “mother,” Ojaide signifies that this woman, at some time in the past, has borne a child. But by using the modifier “childless,” the poet also indicates that this mother no longer possesses this child. In line 2, “the cemetery of her mind” reveals that the child is dead.

This is an intriguing image. A cemetery is typically thought of as not holding water, but of holding its antithesis, dirt and stone. A cemetery is, rather, dry. That a “childless mother” is drawing tears from a place of dirt and stone speaks a depth of emotion that is beyond literal comprehension – that is, metaphoric. She grieves her dead child, drawing tears from a place that has no tears to give. When one considers the value placed on motherhood in Akan culture, the pathos of “Akua ba” is magnified.

In lines 3-4, as Ojaide extends the water metaphor, he introduces the first-person perspective:

In her face I see the bed that
The river hasn’t covered with sheets

The introduction of the first person here further amplifies the pathos of the poem. The scene of this grieving woman becomes even more immediate. The water of her tears, which has been drawn from a cemetery, is so overflowing that it is now called a river; and this childless mother’s face becomes “the bed” of this river. Ojaide’s specific choice of “bed” and “sheets” as images, while furthering the water metaphor, also conjure a haunting image of the empty bed of the woman’s dead child.

But all here is not loss. Line 4 suggests that this grieving is not relentless as “the river hasn’t covered” the woman’s face “with sheets” [of water]. It suggests that there is some reprieve from this outpouring of grief – perhaps, even hope.

And in the next stanza, this glimmer of hope is developed:

Even the singing bird that loses its voice
Still loves to bathe in the stream
Where its feathers will explode into colours
That relieve silences of a dumb creed
Now, Ojaide equates this mother, who has lost her child, to “the singing bird that loses its voice.” Each has lost its instrument of purpose – the Akan mother, her child; the bird, its voice. Yet, the singing bird reclaims its happiness; it still “loves to bathe in the stream/Where its feathers will explode into colours.”

The use of “stream” here is significant as it illustrates the transformative power of water. First, water appeared as the singular “tears/ from the cemetery of her mind.” Then, it became the more overwhelming “river,” or an outpouring of grief. And now, it becomes a soothing “stream” which “relieve[s] silences” of a singing bird – i.e. a stream of renewal, a stream of rebirth.

In the third stanza, the poem itself transforms into a healing device. Incantatory and ritualistic, the anaphora of “For her who” is true to the oral roots of Akan culture. Each action is a call for a total healing – of body, soul, and mind; of past, present, and future:

For her who in prayer rubs her breasts with saliva,

This first incantation is centered in the body (breasts) and rooted in the past. It is the gesture of a mother whose breasts ache for her dead child.

For her who sings lullabies to a doll,

This second incantation is centered in the soul (singing lullabies) and straddles the present. In Akan society, singing lullabies to an akuaba is a ritual done to mourn a lost child (past), but it is also a ritual done to promote fertility for a new child (future).

For her who in dreams plays in after-rain puddles

This final incantation is centered in the head and is projected in the future. The woman here does not mope in these puddles, but “plays” in them as the singing bird of the third stanza, who bathes in the stream. This is the language of overcoming, the language of holistic healing.
The poem climaxes in the final line of the stanza where the poet reasserts the first person, proclaiming, “I sing this song.”

Rather than neatly resolving the poem with a cliché equivalent to “Time will heal all wounds,” in the final stanza, Ojaide leaves the poem open-ended with possibility:

Every womb’s a gate – ahead
An evergreen livery of singer birds

Ojaide offers solace to the Akan woman in that her womb is a gate to a very lush “evergreen livery of singer birds.” The poet does not specify the number, only that it is plural. This rich, green image suggests fertility - the possibility of more children in the future.

The last two lines of “Akua-ba” are consistent with the poem’s mythological basis. As the myth of Akua offered a lesson to those who ridiculed her in her challenge with fertility, so this poem offers a lesson to the Akan woman who has endured this tragedy.

Last fruits of the season,
So dearly priced

This is no occasion to stop living, but to do the exact opposite – to hold life even more preciously.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I have two
left feet. I can’t soul
clap. My lips: a line. My ass

is too.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

To My New Pen Pal from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

I'VE GOTTEN MY FIRST, shall I say, disagreeable response to a blog posting. Before I respond to it and taint your opinion, I'll just provide the facts:

Here's my post from 31 January 2005.

And following is the not so agreeable response:

I find it amazing meeting some Americans in South Africa. I never imagined that there could be people so opinionated regarding subjects on which they have very little real cultural knowledge. I am a South African living in Pietermaritzburg, and the depth of the issues of which you speak is way beyond your comprehension, as a tourist, which is what you are. You are American, not African, as much as I, as a white person, born in this country, am not British. I am an African, and I resent your ignorant opinions regarding a country which is not your home. Stop chasing your roots, and enjoy being what you are, which is what you know, obviously.


I should first point out that this posting was a part of a DIALOGUE. Say it together now, DIA-LOGUE. Ever had one? That is, a two-way communication which involves speaking and LISTENING. LIS- TEN- ING? You know, that thing that some White South Africans (perhaps like yourself?) refused to do with Bantus for over 40 years under apartheid? But what do I know. I'm an ignorant American.

Back to this dialogue thing. The post to which you responded was part of DIALOGUE I was having with another South African. It was my attempt at addressing my lack of knowledge, an attempt at gaining understanding. As a matter of fact, there were 7 total correspondences with that South African, Vonani Bila. Did you read those? Or are those dialogues invalid because they were with a BLACK South African. I imagine Vonani is as ignorant as I am - that neither of us knows the story. So, why don't you tell his-story for us? But isn't that what you did for 40 years under apartheid? (And continue to do with revisionist textbooks?)

But this is not about apartheid. Apartheid is over. Whites peacefully relented to democratic elections and now South Africa is the model of social equality.




This is about me and my roots. Which, according to you, have nothing to do with Africa. Have you ever visited the States? Have you ever lived with a Black American family? Have you seen the pictures of the impoverished hurricane victims in the Superdome in New Orleans? If you can't see the similarities between the systems - if you can't see the similarities between the peoples on both sides of the waters, then you are as blind as you are ignorant.

In searching for (not chasing) my roots - which is a lifelong journey - I found that not everything was there in South Africa, but something was there. You might be surprised to find that I also found a strong kinship with several White South Africans. You might be even more surprised at how much you and I might have in common as minorities in a White-Black dynamic.

And furthermore, I'm quite comfortable with who I am, which is why I am comfortable posting my thoughts without the cloak of anonymity, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous.

And even further more, how can you resent that I have opinions about my experience? Who better to have an experience than someone who actually has visited your country? And especially when I presented my opinions alongside someone actually from your country? I would say that this speaks more to my objectivity than bias.

And to further demonstrate my objectivity, I am inviting you, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, to challenge/correct me on any ideas which you find resentful. In fact, I encourage it because I am not interested in defending myself, but rather in growth.

I am comfortable with myself, yet I am also uncomfortable in my ignorance. So, if you happen back to this site, articulate your side. I'm open. Human to human. I'd love to hear. I'd love to grow.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

UPCOMING EVENT: Rep & Rev Writers Conference - Aug 25-26, 2005

THIS THURSDAY AND FRIDAY I'm teaching a workshop, "Performing the Poem," at the Rep & Rev Writers Conference at Dunwoody's Spruill Center for the Arts.

I'll cover voice, body language, pathos, audience, and writing for performance among other things.

For more information, visit the website.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Healthify with Dr. Heath: A Wellness Column

WHAT PART OF YOUR day do you most look forward to?

If your answer was, "the end," then you may suffer from Fastforwarditis.

Fastforwarditis is a condition of the lower... Life, which emerged in the late 1970's shortly after the invention of the VCR. Symptoms include: an uncontrollable urge to press the fast-forward button (especially when none is available), but also excessive tapping of the foot, jittering of the index finger, frequent eating on the go, finishing other people's sentences (often incorrectly), obsession with the movement of clocks, and a neverending wishing for the ends of the things (the work day, the punch line, your life).

Sufferers of fastforwarditis may find themselves cutting in line, speeding through redlights (to wait at yet another redlight), rushing to work (only to be unable to wait until the work day is over), and always being the first to say good-bye.


1. Slow down. Who knows what blessings await in waiting - in line at the grocery store (you may see a special on ground turkey), at a sit-down restaurant (treating yourself may make you feel special), at the stoplight (look around - you may find a special someone).

2. Enjoy life. Include at least one activity in each day to look forward to - one edifying thing that you love, one thing that makes you want to wake up each morning, one thing that makes you excited to be alive!

3. Make the most of it. If you've got a life, you may as well live it. And if you're gonna live it, why not live it to its fullest? And once the moments are gone, no amount of money can recover them.

Moments are priceless. So, don't rush them along. Hold each one - like a lover in the moonlight, like a gift from God.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Exercise: Homophonic Translation

EXERCISE*: Take a poem, or part of a poem, in a foreign language and translate it word for word according to what it sounds like in English. Try this with a language you know and then with one you don't know. Don't use a dictionary, just rely on what your ears hear and go from there.

This exercise is courtesy of Charles Bernstein from p. 126-8 in The Practice of Poetry, ed. by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell.

The source poem I chose is "Negro Bembon" by Afro-Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen. For your convenience, I'll post the text here:

Negro Bembón

¿Po qué te pone tan brabo,
cuando te dicen negro bembón
,si tiene la boca santa,
negro bembóm?

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene, te lo dá tó.

Te queja todabía,
negro bembón;
sin pega y con harina,
negro bembón,
majagua de drí blanco,
negro bembón;
sapato de dó tono,
negro bembón.

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene, te lo dá tó.

Following is the homophonic translation I came up with. It's a rough draft, but it definitely succeeded in making me look at language differently:

Nigger of my bones

Poor, okay. Tea? Pour nothing. Pray boy.
Wonder. Tea the ice, Nigger of my bones.
See the tiny, lost boa constrictor,
Nigger of my bones?

My bones, I see you coming over the air.
To any, to
carry the tea. A man, to any. Tea low? There is no

Tea. Cage & tow the beer,
nigger of my bones.
Sin. Pay God. Come, hurry now,
nigger of my bones.
Ma’s hog is washed this day - dry & blond,
nigger of my bones
Sow, Pa told us that day, There is no
Nigger of my bones

My bones, I see you coming here
today, to
Carry that tea. In the meantime, the tea is low.

The day, too.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Day in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student (2.3)

FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2005, 2:30 p.m.
LECTURE: MIHAELA MOSCALIUC “Translation: The Art of Treason”

MOSCALIUC'S LECTURE ON THE art of translation was fascinating - mostly because, prior to the lecture, translation of poetry was virtually uncharted territory for me - at least until last semester.

(As an aside, last semester I did a unit on Spanish language poetry with Anne Waldman and, when I decided to read Neruda, she asked, "Whose Neruda?"

My internal response was, "Well, Pablo Neruda, of course!"

It was only when I dug in and started making comparisons between different translators' versions of the same poem as I was trying to memorize "Love Sonnet XII" from One Hundred Love Sonnets in which I saw line 6, for example, variously translated as:

with smothered air and abrupt storms of flour (Steven Mitchell)


of suffocating air and brusque storms of flour


with drowning air and storms of flour (Stephen Tapscott)

- that I realized the nuances of translation - that I realized what a difference a single word could make - that I realized that translating poems is as much of an art as writing them.)

Moscaliuc began with a rather colorful etymologyical history of the word, translation, which set the tone for the lecture as being inviting and pliable as opposed to being insular and rigid - i.e., that translation is as much an art as it is a science.

Yes, she gave us plenty of technical jargon - SL (source language) vs. TL (target language), intralingual (from one dialect to another dialect within the same language) vs. interlingual (from one language to another langauge) - but in a tongue-in-cheek fashion which was refreshing and which said that translating could be fun!

Moscaliuc raised several key concerns of the modern translator starting with the premise that it is an impossible art: "Nothing in poetry is accidental. In this way, a poem is untranslatable," and also "Translation is a utopian dream - there is no such thing as a perfect translation."

A translator must make decisions what to keep and what will be lost - what will be sacrificed. Maintain meaning at the sacrifice of... music? Maintain syllabic consistency at the expense of... rhyme?

For instance, a sonnet which rhymes in Italian is not the same sonnet if it loses its rhymes in the 'carrying over' to English. And if the rhymes are kept, then - no doubt - some of the subtleties in meaning will be lost. (How tragic!)

(As another aside, on the second-to-last day of the program, senior student, John Rippey ,gave me a captivating one-on-one talk about the challenges of translating poetry into English from Japanese. He demonstrated how, in moving from the Japenese kanji (ideograms) and hiragani (phonetic symbols) into English, double entendres and ironies can only be imitated, and are impossible to carry over in their original form.)

Moscaliuc showed that there is a human side to the translative art - that translators inevitably bring their own personalities into the translation. Which, for me, immediately raises the question: Are there many people who look like me who translate poetry? Are there any people who look like me who translate poetry? At what level do the translator's personal politics censor what information I receive as a reader? At what level do the translator's personal prejudices inform what poems even get translated?

Furthermore, the translator faces the decision of domesticizing versus foreignizing, something which I'd never considered. Does the translator translate in a way to reflect the values/aesthetics of the target language culture, or to retain the values/aesthetics of the source language culture? For instance, Joan Larkin's extremely liberal translation of Sor Juana de la Cruz's Love Poems would no doubt have been handled differently by, say, a religious scholar in Nigeria. (The religious scholar may decide to omit all poems containing lesbian references, or may decide to rewrite them in a way to reflect heterosexual love.) Is censorship, then, a form of translation?

To further demonstrate the impossiblity of translation, Moscaliuc noted that if one translates a poem into a language, one would typically end up with a different source text if one translates it back. Which reminds me of irreversible reactions in chemistry. Yuck!

Toward the end of the lecture, I asked Mosaliuc how she would handle a particular intralingual to interlingual translating dilemma: How would one translate the African-American dialect of English into her native language, Romanian? (I think, in particular, of Langston Hughes, who is the most prolific - and possibly most widely-read - of all African-American poets. I think of Hughes' his "Madam fo You" series - "Madam and the Rent Man," "Madam and the Phone Bill," etc. How would one translate the blues sensiblity of the stanza:

I'm mad and disgusted
with that Negro now.
I don't pay no REVERSED
charges nohow.

The presentation here is essential blues - the dialect, the rhyming, the peculiarity of the syntax. It would be difficult, even to do an intralingual translation of this stanza to a different American dialect. The simultaneous humor/sarcasm/sadness/music are what make it bluesy. And losing any one of these elements is to lose the blues of it.)

I didn't ask the question necessarily because I thought she'd have an answer, but more to see if she had ever considered it. Based on her answer (and I appreciated her honesty), it appeared that she had not, in fact, considered it. (She did approach me at lunch the next day to say that it was something that she thinks is important and something which she will definitely be thinking about in the future. Two points!) But when she confirmed what I believed - which was that she had not thought about it - suddenly I saw the importance and, dare I say, the need for me as an African-American poet to invest in learning the skills of translation. If I don't do it, then who will?


The most priceless moment in the lecture came when Moscaliuc recounted a story, decades ago, of a certain American translator who, in translating a French love poem into English, was confronted with translating the French word, cyprine.

It turns out that the literal English translation for cyprine is… cervical mucus. Yes, cervical mucus! As in, cervical snot! Aside from creating a syllabic issue (5 syllables instead of 2), cervical mucus sounds disgusting! Not to mention infectious!

Word has it, the translator decided to take it upon himself to use the word, gleet, which sounds equally disgusting in itself and is downright repulsive if you read its full definition. Not sexy!

Which again demonstrates the importance of translators and the need for diversity among translators (for example, no woman would have ever translated that word as gleet!)

Thanks, but no thanks, mister. I'll be taking my cyprine straight.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Check out Damali Ayo's

Hilarity to the 10th power. This is truly a woman after my own heart!

Thursday, July 14, 2005


“Mama, I’m hungry,” I complained one afternoon.

“Jump up and catch a kungry,” she said, trying to make me laugh and forget.

“What’s a kungry?”

“It’s what little boys eat when they get hungry,” she said.

“What does it taste like?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then why do you tell me to catch one?”

“Because you said that you were hungry,” she said, smiling.

This is what did it. The first time I felt it.

8th grade. Miss Villenauve. American Lit. This excerpt from Black Boy by Richard Wright. I will never forget it.

Specifically, it was the word, kungry - light while dark, laughing while crying, improvised yet all too familiar - the linguistic equivalent of blues. A blues which I recognized, yet a blues which, after months of ingesting pages of Poe, Hawthorne, and Hemingway, I had never seen before. I wanted more of it. I wanted to make it. And so I sought it.

Though I knew what the passage said, I read it over and over trying to figure out how it said it. I tried to pull it apart - to see the gears inside.

There seemed to be nothing special about the language. These were all words I'd seen before... except one. And this word, kungry, meant nothing when taken out of the context of this passage, yet it meant everything within it. It had the minuteness, yet the boundlessness of nuclear reaction. In such a small space, it said so much. I didn't yet have the word for it, but it was poetic.

And then there was this organic rhythm to the banter between Mother and child. I recognized its echo from the halls of my Father's house. And though we students were each reading this passage to ourselves silently, my heart audibly thumped, my tongue wettened, my throat tightened: I could not wait to go home and read it out loud.

Indeed, It was music; It was poetry; It was theatre. And It would be my start...

The above entry, It, is my output after completing the first exercise in Robin Behn's The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach. This exercise, called First Words, was to try to recall the first moment in which written language
struck you, and was supplied by Ann Lauterbach.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I JUST TOOK the Which 20th Century Poet Are You? test.

(I wonder what it says that I came back as a 63 year-old White woman from San Francisco.)

You are Sharon Olds, master of the everyday,
explorer of the female body and family.

Which 20th Century Poet Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Day in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student (2.2)

TUESDAY, 28 JUNE 2005, 9:30 p.m.

FROM THE MOMENT I ENTERED THE DOORS of the NEC MFA in Poetry, I struggled with this dilemma: Do I leave my slam performance history behind me, or do I drag it with me inside the door? (Furthermore, would it even fit?) Prior to my first residency, my concerns were slightly alleviated when I learned that Tara Betts, who also had a history in slam, would be entering with me in the same class. Ah, a kindred spirit!

During the January residency, once we were alone, Tara and I had a long conversation about the stereotypes of slam - especially within academia. One might be surprised at people’s misconceptions - particularly those who’ve never even attended a slam! Some of these:

"I thought the poets ad-libbed their poems on the spot"

Or "Doesn’t slam mean that the poets put each other down?"

Or (gasp!) "I really liked your rap!"

As I began to hear these sort of things coming out of the otherwise-well-educated mouths of my fellow classmates, I saw it as an opportunity to shed some light on this black sheep of contemporary literature. And so, an army of five - Tara, Misha (Melissa), Lea, Regie, and I - brainstormed during lunch as how to best go about dispelling some of the myths.

One thing we all had in common: We wanted the student body to understand that the craft elements of the writing were as important as the more in-your-face elements of the performance - more specifically, that these craft concerns are not very much different than the craft concerns we discuss daily in our workshops for quote-unquote "work-on-the-page."

(This would be validated in my next day’s workshop as Jeff Friedman gave us handouts on rhetorical structures - anadiplosis, gradatio (climax), and parallelism - in which he cited examples from our slam performances.) We also wanted to show, indirectly, that performance isn't just relevant for one particular type of poem, but that performance applies to all types of poem - narratives, lyrics; ballads, villanelles, sonnets - especially when considering that poetry's origin is as an oral art.

As a plus, Tara and Misha came up with the excellent idea of providing a handout giving a history of slam and explaining the rules of competition. As not quite a plus, Regie seemed concerned with being "labeled" as a slam artist. So my work as emcee: to (hopefully) provide the student body (and faculty) with a brief background on slam, to showcase the diversity of slam, to clarify that slam refers to the competitive format and rather not to the writing, and to ensure that the performers - most notably, Regie - felt comfortable with the way they were being presented - as poets first and performers second. Whew! (Now that I list everything, it’s no wonder I blanked out in the middle of one of my poems! I was quietly devastated.)

Since none of us wanted to compete against each other, we decided to perform without the score cards and timekeeper, but decided to pull names from a hat to determine our order of performance to give a pinch of the drama of a slam competition. We would perform two poems each.

When I asked the room the question, "How many of you have never been to a poetry slam?" and three-quarters of the room raised their hands, I think all five of us were surprised - at least I was. And so, in fact, we weren't just performing, but we were educating. Which made me suddenly feel a lot better.

If the attendees were disappointed that we didn't hand out scorecards and give an all-out slam, they didn't show it. The presentation moved along quickly and, despite the length of the day, the audience remained attentive - enthusiastic, even!

Perhaps against his will, I decided to 'out' Regie as a former national poetry slam champion. I wasn't sure how he would take it. But he lived.

Overall, I felt the performances went pretty well - diverse in content, delivery, and length. Regie is otherworldly. The audience asked thoughtful questions and seemed genuinely appreciative afterwards. And most importantly of all, they seemed to enjoy our words. Now that we've unveiled the mystery and now that most of the pressure is gone, maybe next residency, we can open it up to all of the students and have a real slam!

This is an excerpt from a residency journal I was required to keep as part of the low-residency MFA in Poetry program at New England College.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Day in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student (2.1)

SATURDAY, 25 JUNE 2005, 2:00 p.m.

"READING AN ENTIRE BOOK of Lucille Clifton's poetry may take as little as ten minutes," said Michael Waters to open his lecture, The Light of Lucille Clifton, "which may lead some to dismiss her work, believing that it has little substance..."

And over the course of the next hour, Waters would take on the task of illuminating the deceptive simplicity of the poetry of Lucille Clifton.While I was moderately familiar with Clifton's work, I will have to count myself as one among the 'some' to which Waters referred, one who at one point dismissed her work as a little too plain and a lot too uninteresting. It was only in the last five years, when I came to her collection, Blessing the Boats, that I, having matured as a reader, came to a greater appreciation of her aesthetic - of the power in the leanness of her work, akin to the novelist, Ernest Hemingway's. And so, already partially converted, I eagerly awaited what Waters had to say.

Quoting Lucille Clifton, Waters said, "I am a Black woman... and I sound like one." (Which took on an added dimension of humor coming from a White man’s mouth. The room chuckled.)

Waters demonstrated how this tone was an essential element in Clifton’s poetry - matter-of-fact and deceptively straightforward, which allowed her to be earthy while often engaging the most unearthly topics - directly addressing her Dahomey ancestors and conversing with her dead mother.

As examples, Waters provided Clifton’s "i was born with twelve fingers," "at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989," "homage to my hips," "poem to my uterus," and "dreamchild."

"i was born with twelve fingers" and "at the cemetery…" demonstrated an aspect particular to Clifton’s poetry, which Waters called ‘spiritual vitality,' combining elements of conjuring and incantation, similar to the phrasings of a preacher in a Black church. To further demonstrate, Waters read aloud a section of "at the cemetery…" in call-and-response fashion:

WATERS: "Some of these honored dead…"
CONGREGATION: "…were dark"
WATERS: "Some of these dark…"
CONGREGATION: "…were slaves"
WATERS: "Some of these slaves…"
CONGREGATION: "…were women"

Incidentally, having grown up in a Black church, I can testify that it did indeed remind me of a Black church! (That is, of course, if you ignore the White leader.)

Waters also spoke on how Clifton’s poems are a call-and-response between the worlds of the living and the dead - again, in "at the cemetery" and also in "i was born with 12 fingers…" - with the use of nouns like "ghosts," "bones," and "blood" invoking the incantatory quality of which Waters spoke.

In discussing another aspect of Clifton’s poetry, Waters quoted D.H. Lawrence, "The best poetry is nobly disheveled," which is an interesting aesthetic premise, especially considering the atmosphere of the typical MFA poetry workshop where the attitude is to cut-cut-cut, until a poem is finally axed down and loses its life, decomposing into its most essential elements (do I sound bitter?) - where the very naturalistic notion of dishevelment would cause some workshop leaders to break out in hives. But in Clifton’s poetry, this intentional imprecision is part of what makes her poetry work - it’s what provides the earthiness that makes it ring with veracity.

Waters concluded the lecture with a moving anecdote regarding Clifton’s mother, who aspired to be a writer herself. As the story goes, the mother wrote poems and asked her husband if she could publish them. He forbade her, and so she threw the poems into a fire, never to write again. Which becomes intriguing when one considers the notion of lineage as a theme in Clifton’s work - from daughter to mother to grandmother unblinklingly descending into the grave and into the realm of the unliving. All in all, I enjoyed the lecture and can now count myself as one of the converted to the church of Lucillology!

This is an excerpt from a residency journal I was required to keep as part of the low-residency MFA in Poetry program at New England College

Thursday, July 07, 2005

30: A Year of Personal Firsts

As I approach my 31st birthday on July 23, I've gotta say that 30 has been - to use my favorite word - transformative, a year of firsts. In my opinion, much of this has to do with goal-setting, but it has as much to do with surrounding myself with beautiful people like yourself who constantly elevate me. So, thanks to you all, elevators!

And if you recognize yourself on this list, then I owe you lunch! Take me up on it, seriously.

1) 1st trip to Africa

Thanks, Fulton County Arts Council!

2) 1st painting

Thanks, Peter Cl__ke!

3) 1st safari

Thanks, M____m and _oz

4) 1st word in Zulu

Sawubona (Which means I see you), G__isile!
5) 1st pedicure

Thanks, B__e!

6) 1st time installing track lighting

7) 1st time performing poetry in a cemetery

Thanks, B__e!

8) 1st time performing poetry for Republicans (or is that the same thing?)

Thanks, __t!

9) 1st time I saw someone else perform one of my poems

Thanks, J_n!
10) 1st time seeing the Indian Ocean

11) 1st vocal lesson

Thanks, _a__i_!

12) 1st year of keeping a blog

Thanks, C_llin & B__e & K__t_!

13) 1st time I got __d on a balcony

Thanks _o_!

14) 1st time I floated on my back

Thanks, K__t_!

15) 1st time I swam the length of a pool

Thanks, K__t_!

16) 1st time I ate food growing in the wild

Thanks, V_nani!

17) 1st time attempting to give myself a haircut

18) 1st time I had cheesecake from Junior's of Brooklyn

Thanks, T__sa!

19) 1st time I've owned a cell phone

Thanks... but no thanks!

20) 1st time memorizing a poem that was not my own

Thanks, New England College MFA program!

21) 1st time I composed a Curriculum Vitae

Thanks, M_lcolm!

22) 1st time I performed a poem for my family - I mean the whole family - all the aunts & uncles & cousins and dem

Thanks, Pops!

23) 1st time producing a limited edition print

Thanks, M___om!

24) 1st time writing a poem longer than 3 pages

Thanks, Anne W_ldman!

25) 1st year in grad school

Thanks, T___sa!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Lauryn... Lauuuuuuryn? Lauryn?: Last Letter from Your #1 Fan

Dear Miss Hill:

I'm sorry, I just can't hold this any longer. As President of the Lauryn Hill Fan Club - Western Hemisphere, I've been waiting for your comeback for Godknowshowlong. I've held my breath well beyond turning blue. Now, I'm black... and bitter... and BELLIGERENT!!!

To prevent any further heartache (on my part), I'm sending you this final notice. I'm calling it QUITZ! SAYONARA, BABY!!! YOU'RE GONNA MISS THIS GOOD THING, MISS THING! Find yourself a new number one fan, cause this number one fan has HAD IT! HAD IT!!! {in as high-pitched and neurotic a voice as possible} HAD IT!!!!

But before I say so-long forever, here's a brief recap of what pushed me over the edge:

First, there was the two-hour acoustic tragedy on MTV Unplugged, which you had the nerve to try to sell as a double-CD for $20. Three chords for two WHOLE hours. Should I tell you how I bought a back-up VCR to make sure I could record that trash? Should I tell you how I turned off all of my lights, closed my blinds, unplugged my phone, drew a long bath, lit candles, prepared a dinner - all to set the perfect mood for you! Should I also tell you how many times I watched and rewatched that sh*t to try to convince myself that I was watching virtuosity, when in fact, I was watching UTTER CATASTROPHE.

Then, there was the sham of a website peddling blurry autographed polaroids of yourself for five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars?

QUESTION: Do you know what happens to a man who has wandered in the desert for weeks?

ANSWER: If you placed a pot of piss in front of him, he would drink it!

How dare you leave that out there for us! And you still haven't taken the site down. Five hundred dollars. Hmmmph. You oughta be paying us for sticking with you! You psychoderanged biyotch!!!

And let's not even start on your most recent... er... performances:

The Kool NuJazz Concert series in Atlanta - one of only two scheduled performances in the whole world for all of 2004: You called in sick. A no-show. Do you know how far people drove to see you? How they planned? The babysitters? The rent-a-cars? The planes? The hotels? The thousands of cleared weekends? Do you hear us, Miss Hill? Can you hear us?

We'll just pretend that you weren't even billed for an appearance in Berlin for the Live 8 concert last weekend. Disappearance was more like it.

And we won't even mention the robotic poetry reading last month on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.

But we will mention your opening the BET Music Awards and that horrendous mushroom wig. What the HELL was that? Obviously, your wig is flipped!

And what about the VIBE MusicFest, also in Atlanta, in which your bizarre performance neither dazed nor amazed, but rather confused? Upon your arrival (which, I might add was 4 hours late), you demanded that all people backstage either 1) be banished from your queendom or 2) turn their noses into the corner, so as not to gaze upon you as you passed. I wish I woulda been backstage. I wish you might ask me to turn my back on you...

So, here I am, turning my back on you. I would say it's been great knowing you, but apparently I don't know you at all!

So, adios, ciao-ciao, good-bye to WhoEverYouAreYouImpostorAlienWitch-



To read one man's unabridged account of her collapse, read here.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Semester in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student: The Reading List (Semester 2)

Following is my reading list for the Fall Correspondence Semester in the New England College MFA in Poetry Program. The four areas of study are mostly my choice. The reading list is jointly designed with the input of my faculty advisor, Ross Gay.


1. Bloom, Harold, ed. Shakespeare's Sonnets. (sonnet)
2. Keats, John. The Complete Poems of John Keats. (ode)
3. Shahid Ali, Agha. Call Me Ishmael Tonight: a book of ghazals. (ghazal)
4. Shiffert, Edith, ed. Anthology of modern Japanese poetry. (haiku, tanka)
5. Turco, Lewis. The New Book of Forms. (a survey of forms)
6. Young, Kevin. Jellyroll. (the blues poem)

1. Anyihodo, Kofi. A Harvest of Our Dreams. (Ghana)
2. Banyiwe Horne, Naana. Sunkwa: clingings onto life. (Ghana)
3. Ojaide, Tanure. Poetic imagination in Black Africa: essays on African poetry.
4. Ojaide, Tanure, ed. The new African poetry: an anthology.
5. Segun, Mabel. Conflict and other poems. (Nigeria)
6. Soyinka, Wole. Idanre: and other poems. (Nigeria)


1. Clifton, Lucille. Mercy.
2. Eady, Cornelius. Brutal Imaginiation.
3. Gluck, Louise. Wild Iris.
4. Ostriker, Alicia. Volcano Sequence.
5. Stern, Gerald. Odd Mercy.

1. Alexander, Elizabeth. The Black Interior: essays
2. Eady, Cornelius. You Don't Miss Your Water.
3. Harper, Michael. Dear John, Dear Coltrane.
4. Hayden, Robert. Collected Poems
5. Jess, Tyehimba. Leadbelly.
6. Jordan, June. Haruko: Love Poems
7. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The American Discovers How the Lion River Got Its Name (Kwazulu Natal province, South Africa)


A tail -
yes, a tail.
See how it winds & wraps
the green curve of the earth?
Yes, a tail. Whish-whish, it plays,
lapping the lush hills of Zululand.


No, it's big,
as all in Africa is big. But don't worry,
the king cat no longer prowls these banks.
Lion is for bigness - like the river's crocodiles,
who've grown stout on their diet of tigersnakes.


No, they bathe.
Yes, they bathe. The lions climb
from the sky 'cause Africa is hot.
& they splash as they daydream
of bones for whetting their white knives
of teeth.


Can you hear that?
That's no river's roar.
It's the growl of all the lions'
empty bellies. They've keen noses -
especially for Americans.
It's suppertime - we're ALL starving,
& looks like we're having


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ascertaining Truth in South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission: Ingrid de Kok's "The Transcriber Speaks"

As my life has been a whirlwind of deadlines lately, I'm scrounging for material to post. Here's another essay from the semester I just concluded in the New England College low-res MFA program. It examines White South African poet, Ingrid de Kok's poem, "The Transcriber Speaks." As usual, it probably helps to read the poem first.

(_ei__, I promise I''m going to generate a new entry.)

IT IS 1996, JUST TWO years after the fall of the apartheid regime. From 1960 to 1994, the South African state was an absolute censoring, torturing, and killing machine. Of the innumerable crimes committed by the government, perhaps the most brutal was the suppression of ideas: How many dreams deferred in 30 years? For one man? For millions?

Which creates a direct issue of voice. During apartheid, White citizens, who made up less than 12% of the country’s population, received a full vote in national elections; Indian and Coloureds (citizens of mixed ancestry) counted only as 1/3 vote. Blacks, comprising 80% of the population, were not considered citizens and thusly received no vote at all. Add to this, the systematic censorship used to dismantle the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid organizations and it becomes obvious why the Mandela-led administration had to create a forum where all South Africans could vocalize, could “come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation,” Dullah Omar, former Minister of Justice – a forum to detonate these volatile dreams before peace-building could begin.

Which brings us to the 1996 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the scene of White South African poet, Ingrid de Kok’s “The Transcriber Speaks,” from her 2002 collection, Terrestrial Things. The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is to pave the way for forgiveness, so that bombs could defuse within the safety of government chambers and not out in the open streets. What horrors? What unspeakable terrors would await? So it is that here the silenced get to speak – except for the one person whose duty it is to remain silent and neutrally record the speech of others – the court transcriber. This becomes becomes de Kok’s poetic conceit.

Ingrid de Kok’s technique for this exercise is to employ the first person perspective, creating a dramatic monologue to give the transcriber voice:

I was the commision’s own captive
Its anonymous after-hours scribe,
Professional blank-slate

Choosing the words captive, anonymous, professional, and blank-slate, the poet creates an opening tone which is pink-collar, passive, and controlled, as if the transcriber is merely a cog in a corporate machine. De Kok furthers the mindlessness of the transcriber’s work in line 4 with the droning “Word by word by word,” a device which she repeats in line 10 with “Word upon word upon word.”

In lines 5 thru 8, the poet invokes the mechanical - “from winding tape to hieroglyphic key” and stresses the sense that this is work being performed without feeling:

Like bricks for a kiln or tiles for a roof
Or the sweeping of leaves into piles for burning:

Here, the poet juxtaposes the notion of building something with “bricks for a kiln or tiles for a roof” against destroying something, “leaves into piles for burning.” Which is she, in fact, doing? But in the true spirit of a peon worker, in line 9, the transcriber remains unquestioning: “I don’t know which.” Which is to say, whether it is creation or destruction, the transcriber is not here to offer her opinions or feelings, but to simply take sounds and equate them to letters and syllables.

But then something pivotal occurs in lines 13 – 16:

But how to transcribe silence from tape?
Is weeping a pause or a word?
What written sign for a strangled throat?
And a witness pointing?

After successive declarative statements for the first half of the poem, the transcriber rattles off four successive questions. This turn in the poem symbolizes awareness, a change in consciousness. If we look more deeply at the nature of these questions, we see the speaker raises greater issues about the nature of objectivity and truth – especially in the context of this Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Is truth simply a literal transcription? Or is there more to it?

If the transcriber is transcribing literally - as neutrally and objectively as a machine - the silence in line 13 would be indicated by no keystrokes, blank space on the transcription page. But such a system quickly deteriorates in line 14:

“Is weeping a pause or a word?”

It is a legitimate concern. How does one transcribe the sound of tears? And once that tide has started, it leads to lines 15 and 16:

“What sign for a strangled throat? ... a witness pointing?”

The more visceral the communication becomes, the more challenging it becomes for the transcriber to communicate its truth.

The poet’s plain-spoken, almost childlike, diction in these questions indicates a yearning for a simple truth, an essential truth; but can this be arrived at using the mechanical tools in the transcriber’s hands?

The answer is, No. And so in line 16, the transcriber crosses a line:

“And a witness pointing? That I described.”

As the transcriber’s duty is essentially to take dictation – not to provide commentary - she breaks the fourth wall. This again challenges the notion of the telling of truth. What limitations are there depending upon one’s chosen medium of recording? In text? In video?

Which raises another question: Is there a truth beyond “the spoken truth” in these proceedings? It certainly suggests that there is a truth beyond what the constructs of conventional language can bear.

And so the poem turns to an examination of negative space and what pregnant truths are held there:

But what if she stared?
And if the silence seemed to stretch
Past the police guard, into the street
Away to a door or a grave, or a child,

Do these questions lead to more truths (“a door”), a truth with an end (“a grave”), or a truth which continues to grow and change (“a child”)? Rather than answering, “The Transcriber Speaks” raises more questions about the impossibility of ascertaining truth – that truth is an ideal, that it is larger than life, that it defies transcription, especially when it is as suppressed and horrific as that of apartheid.

Ingrid de Kok articulates this in her conclusion - not with the mechanical tools of the transcriber, but rather with the empathetic and ironic tools of the poet:

Was it my job to conclude:
“The witness was silent. There was nothing left to say?”

Sunday, June 05, 2005

South Africa: 32 Exposures


Arrival in Johannesburg airport: So many
White faces: I must be
in the wrong country!


That is, till I see
the baggage handlers, who all look
just like me.


STANDARD TIP IS 5 RAND! the airport sign


The woman with
bare breasts, looks like she has
something to say:

Amandla, or
I refuse to die
of AIDS.


Zulu must be the loveliest sound
to ever caress my ears: Soft.
Percussive. Music. Click-Click!

when spoken. For example,
ngqongqoza, has two
clicks & means

to knock. Ngqongqosha has two,
too & means
to carry a child on one’s shoulders.


To stand
so tall, yet balance
so much: a woman's work.


Such bright scarves sing
as they are beaten
against the rocks.


Is such a shade of purple possible? -
The locusts look like they're painted
by an Artist's hand.


Yebo, Mr. Cow,
are you coming or going
down this dirt road?


The skyline's teeth
will swallow your eyes!
the sangoma sez.




This Xhosa girl is taught
not to look
me in the eye,

But when she sings
I feel the floor


Where have all the diamonds
gone? Certainly not
on her black hands.


When he leaves for the mines,
the moon is full. It will fill again
before he returns.


As he flaps among the clouds,
the shrike's impossible tail
drags through the acacia trees.


Zulu lightning show: How do
our bones, the sky, the earth
rumble so & not fall apart?


There goes
another lion -


Zululand is greener than
even Ireland: No wonder they came
& would not leave.


Tea time for one
is work time
for another.


End of the day, 25
kilometers home: Left.
Right. Left. Right...


Chakalaka tastes
just like it sounds:


Night here is so dark
I cannot even see
my own skin.


Radio deejays transmit
in eleven different languages: What
a wild dial!


With my 2 left feet
can you teach me
the latest township dance?


How odd it is to be suddenly aware
of the American accent
coming from my own mouth.


the witchdoctor's promise -
even here.


Named after apartheid's architect,
Verwoerd Ave. still runs through the heart
of Johannesburg.


The letters on this park bench
have faded from use.


Another expired goldmine,
another horizon of ghetto: WELCOME


Heavens! Is THAT mammoth
yellow thing really a tank
the Afrikaaners used?


How can one man's heart
hold so much


How long can this
red clay withstand
so many buried


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Semester in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student: The Reading List

Following is my reading list for the Spring Correspondence Semester in the New England College MFA in Poetry Program. The four areas of study are mostly my choice (Poets of South Africa, the Booklength Poem (or the Long Poem), Spanish Language Poets, Poets in Performance). The reading list is jointly designed with the input of my faculty advisor, Anne Waldman. At this point, iambs are dripping from my ears:


Berold, Robert, ed. South African Poets on Poetry: Interviews from New Coin 1992 - 2001.
Brutus, Dennis. A Simple Lust.
Butler, Guby and Jeff Opland, ed. The Magic Tree: South African Stories in Verse.
de Kok, Ingrid. Terrestrial Things.
Kgogitsile, Keorapetse. This Way I Salute You.


Doolittle, Hilda. Trilogy.
Ecclesiastes (King James Bible)
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos.
Song of Solomon (King James Bible)
Waldman, Anne. Iovis.
Williams, William Carlos. Paterson.


Borges, Jorge. Selected Poems.
de la Cruz, Sor Juana. Sor Juana's Love Poems.
Ellis, Keith. Poetry and Ideology of Nicolas Guillen.
Garcia Lorca, Federico. Poet in New York.
Neruda, Pablo. The Book of Questions.
Neruda, Pablo. The Truly Essential Neruda.
Neruda, Pablo. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
Paz, Octavio. Selected Poems.


Baraka, Amiri. Transbluesency.
Feinstein, Sacha and Yusef Komunyakaa, ed. Jazz Poetry Anthology.
Kerouac, Jack. Mexico City Blues.
Rothenberg, Jerome, ed. Technicians of the Sacred.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

You Can Tell a Lot About a Man by His

shoes Googlehabits.

There has been a lot in the news in recent years about the notion of personal privacy in virtual reality - about the use of various tracking mechanisms such as cookies which track a user's web-surfing habits and which may be used for anything from target e-mail marketing to out-and-out spying. Learning that you have been the unwitting subject of such surveillance can be quite unnerving - something akin to learning that you've been walking about with toilet paper attached to your shoe, or a giant hole in the seat of your pants.

I say this to you because you (yes, YOU) are being surveilled at this very moment. But before you get alarmed, please know that I wouldn't do anything to you to that I wouldn't want done to myself. There is an eye in the sky - yes - but it cannot see down into your cubicle, or into your living room, or into your boudouir. Right now, it only sees the equivalent of, say, your voting precinct, so you can relax. And besides, I don't want anything from you. Nothing, that is, except your readership. I'm a writer. I'm harmless. Ask Queen James!

Without building any more suspense, I'll get right to it. Last October, I installed a free webcounter, Site Meter, which you can see if you scroll down to the very bottom of this page. While I only intended to get a general idea of how many visitors were stopping by (over 2000 now in a little over 6 months), it gave me all sorts of extra information about you (yes, YOU) that I had not bargained for.

If you click on the Site Meter icon at the bottom of the page, it takes you to a site summary screen which tells you the average number of visitors per day, within the last hour, and the average visit length. That's helpful, I suppose, but pretty boring.

What is more interesting is if you begin clicking in the left-hand column under the Recent Visitors heading. The first heading, By Details, tells the domain name of a visitor such as or or 12.166.247.# or or In some cases, this isn't very helpful as in AOL or Verizon which have millions of subscribers, but in other cases, if a person is surfing from their job like say,, and I happen to know where they work and that I had a recent conversation with them, I can deduce who the visitor might be.

That's nice, you may say, but you still don't know anything. Where it really gets juicy is the next heading, By Referrals. Here, I can see how a visitor arrived at my doorstep. It's not enough to know that the person visited, but it helps to know whether they walked or drove, whether they just came from, say, a coffeeshop or a Klan meeting. For regular visitors, those who enter via, the referral information isn't very telling. But for new visitors, it is perhaps a little too telling.

In some cases, the referral is straightforward where visitors have come via other bloggers who have linked to my site such as Collin Kelley, Cherryl Floyd-Miller, Christina Springer, or scoplaw.

But when a person arrives via a yahoo or Ask Jeeves or Google search, the results become quite, shall I say, colorful. Because of the nature of a blogsite such as mine - text-based, ever-increasing, and in which I write on a wide range of topics (poems, reviews of stage plays and movies, love and relationship advice, a Mother's Day excursion, an episode at the Coinstar machine, a search for a slave plantation, South African travels) - because of this, people doing searches on all sorts of unthinkables accidentally wind up here.

Allow me to give you some examples of what people typed into a search engine to end up a this blog site. Click on some of the links for kicks. They contain actual screen captures of the visitors' searches. The first time I did it, I felt like I was peeking into someone's bedroom window. Weird:

how to catch a liar
coon fingering slang
she blew a big bubble
pumpkin carving contest in san francisco with $1000 prize
origin missionary position
spic watch
xiao lao-shu
Christianity vs monsters
Byrd family history
Tearsa Coates
Juneteenth *T shirts

While it shows the 'how' of the person arriving here, it doesn't give any identifiable information about the 'who' of the person arriving here. Or does it?

Who is the man driving across the golden gate bridge dreaming of jack-o-lanterns? Who is the woman haunted by a missionary each night she lies down with her husband? What young girl's eyes are just a little brighter now that she knows the significance of Juneteenth?

What is even more interesting, perhaps, is what this says about me. What might a shrink deduce about my personality from a random sampling of my blogging habits? Of liars and spics? Of Christians and monsters? Of whom and what I, via my blog, attract?

Now that we are both standing here exposed, I think I'd rather turn back off the lights.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Love is Lucillology (Part 2 of 2)

"I'M SORRY," THE CASHIER SAID, "BUT WE DON'T HAVE any more tickets."

"What!" I said before I knew it as my heart crashed through the floor. My perfect gift - ruined!

That's what you get for waiting until the last minute to buy your tickets, I heard a voice say.

I thought I left my Mother at home.

"Yeah, we sold out this morning," the cashier repeated, "but you can buy tickets at the first house on the tour."

"So, let me get this straight. I can buy tickets at the first house on the tour, but is there any chance that the tour will sell out?"

"No, I don't think so." She blew a big pink bubble of gum. Pop! "Here, I'll write down the address to the first house for you. It's right around the corner. I can also give you directions."

She handed me the slip of paper and I sped off.

I wanted the tickets in my hands when I picked up my Mother to eliminate any possibility of future embarrassment - besides, I didn't want her to see that I waited until last minute to purchase tickets. So, I zipped down Roswell Road and onto Habersham into the green pulsing heart of Buckhead.

As I neared the house, passing estate after estate, I saw snowstorms of old White women in florals, in pastels, in white; in Panama hats and visors; with their sons or with their daughters; smiling, laughing, snapping pictures - all in all having a good time. As I walked up to the information table set up on the street, I felt good about my choice.

"I was just at the Buckhead Pike Nurseries up the street," I said to the official-looking blonde in the white sunhat, sitting in a lawn chair, who'd been chatting to a security officer, "and they told me they'd sold out of tickets. They said that I could purchase them here."

"Well, actually, we've sold out too."

My eyes widened.

"But it's no problem," she smiled, continuing in her almost-theatrical drawl. "What we've been doing is giving people these programs," she opened one, "and signing them here. We ran out of tickets early this morning. The demand for the tour has been a lot greater than we expected this year."


"Do you take Visa?"

Okay, now you're pushing it.

She looked around the table. "No, we don't have a machine here. Unfortunately, we're only able to take cash."

"Okay, then." I was cashless. Off to the ATM! "I'll be back."

"Alright, we'll be here!"

It was five before one, which was five minutes before I told my Mom I'd pick her up, and I was still in Buckhead, at least 30 minutes away.

"Mom, I'm running about a half-hour behind." I said. "I'll see you about 1:30."

"Oh, okay," she said.

Naturally, the Braves would be playing at 1:00, which meant there would be a rough ride through downtown. Nevertheless, I pulled up in my parents' driveway at 1:25.

Before I could even ring the doorbell, the door flew open.

"I'm ready!" she said in her pink cotton top, white pants, and sandals. "Are these shoes fine? You said we'd be doing a lot of walking."

"They should be fine."

"What about this hat? You think I'll need it?"

"Yeah, you should take it just in case."

"And I brought my camera. You think I'll want to take pictures?"

"It would probably be a good idea."

Boy, she was excited, and she didn't even know where we were going! Could it be that she was just excited about spending time with me?

And we were off.


As we pulled up to the first home on the tour just before 2:00, I handed my Mother the brochure.

"This is what we're going to see. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens has put together this garden tour of ten-or-so private homes in Buckhead that have opened themselves up to the public for viewing."

"These are actual people's houses?"


"Are we going to walk to all ten houses?"

"No, they're in the same general neighborhood but they're not close enough to walk to. We'll be driving to them. So, we'll only visit about 4 or 5, depending on how you feel."

"Oh, okay. Does my hair look okay in this hat?"

"Yes, Mom, you look great."

I paid for our signed-brochures-substituting-for-tickets and we walked up the driveway of 3018 Habersham Road.

You couldn't see the house from the street for all of the foliage. And I had no idea what to expect as we stepped onto the property, onto a shady wooden path and into a deep green world. It must have been ten degrees cooler in here beneath the trees. And 30-or-so yards on the slightly-inclined gravel walkway, the winding path opened up to a patch of sky, splitting in two - one path leading up a hill where we could just see the peaked roof of the house; the other path swung out disappearing around a bend.

Various guests ahead of us audibly oohed and aaahed.

"To your right is a more natural garden," a woman with a name tag, standing at the split, said. "Upward and to your left is a more formal one. I'd recommend going to your right first, and you can come back this way when you leave."

Various pink, white, and yellow exotic blossoms perfumed the path we walked as we crossed over a short bridge. A man-made brook gurgled beneath. Surrounded by classical stone sculptures of plants and cats and birds, green bursting all over - far from traffic, from smog - it was hard to remember that we were still within Atlanta city limits. That this garden unfolding before us, which was on some of the most expensive real estate in the city, added to its impressiveness. I couldn't fathom how much this acreage must cost in this part of town, much less how much it cost to maintain it.

"Oooh look at the rhododendrons," my Mother said. "Aren't they beautiful?"

"Yes." I smiled. "They are."

"And ooh, look at these trees. Look at the beautiful white blossoms... And look at that tree."

It was like walking into an issue of Better Homes & Gardens - except I was actually enjoying it. That is, because she was enjoying it. At the end of the gravel path, we came to the back of the ample two-story house with a cascade of steps down to the pool, where vines of white roses climbed up brick walls and the back of the house.

"Oh my," she said. "Let me take a picture." She snapped with her digital cam. "How do you think it turned out?" she asked, showing me the shot.

"Fine," I said, looking at her smile. "Just fine."

Monday, May 09, 2005

Love is Lucillology (Part 1 of 2)

EVERY YEAR AROUND THIS TIME - which would be the week leading up to Mother's Day - I get a mild rash, which is directly related to the not-so-mild panic that I feel as I search far and wide for some small token of appreciation for the woman who, in addition to giving me enough life lessons to earn a doctorate in Lucillology, also gave me life.

If it were any other institution besides the Institute of Lucillology, I might expect a whopping 100 billion dollar bill for the courses (10 katrillion dollars after applying the avalanche of delinquency charges - Hello, Georgia Institute of Technology!) -

WALKING 5/3/75 - 7/15/75 $500 million

TALKING 7/23/74 - 5/19/78 $100 million

DRINKING FROM A CUP 11/26/75 - 12/24/75 $10 million

USING A FORK 9/2/77 - 10/18/77 $10 million

GOOD GRAMMAR 7/23/74 - PRESENT $200 zillion

But not only does she have no intention of ever billing me for her services, the fact that she never complained about administering her services warrants canonization, if not popehood. That I still use these lessons on a daily basis not only attests to her level of excellence but to the incalculable market value of her services. Which is to say: There is no way I can possibly repay her.

And so, while I am not one to get caught up in the commercial craze of holidays - never been big on birthdays, Christmas, etc. - I do hold Mother's Day (and Father's Day, for that matter) holy. And so it is that I end up in this panic annually in the second week of May.

Before I go any further I should tell you some things about my mother. Lucille is not a fussy woman - she rarely wears make-up or perfume; doesn't wear dangling earrings or much in the way of jewelry; doesn't care particularly for fancy restaurants; and her favorite color is BEIGE.

"Beige?" I, an eight year old, questioned, as if she had just defied a law of physics.

"Yes, beige."

"That's not a color. What's your favorite color? "

"Beige is a color."

"No, I mean like red or purple or green."

"Oh," she said, as if she had never considered red or purple or green. "Well, then... tan!"


Which is all to say that my mother has simple tastes. And while this may lead one to believe that it is easy to make her happy, quite the contrary is true. It took me years to learn that her very genuine "That's nice" upon receiving gifts was a showing of genuine appreciation - not genuine happiness.

Over the years through trial and error, through permanently-closeted mohair sweaters and still-shrinkwrapped music cassettes, I managed to figure out that my mother likes three things: 1) a nice meal, 2) shopping, and 3) flowers.

Which is to say that I have seen my mother genuinely happy before, and that is a joy greater than any in the world. But as I am settling into the role of artist, as 'the cultured one' in the family, I feel an added responsibility to produce something beyond brunch, beyond a bouquet of roses - something one-of-a-kind to make her happy.


This year I decided on the Atlanta Botanical Gardens' "The Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour," a 13-home tour of Atlanta's finest private gardens which have been opened to the public. After reading samples from the brochure:

1. BERNADINE & JEAN-PAUL RICHARD 1295 Heards Ferry Rd., Atlanta, Ga. 30328 Sandy Springs. Eight fabulous acres rich with whimsy include a fanciful symphony garden, terrace garden, tropical lily garden, and notable Cunninghamia stand. Tiny stone chapel, meditation garden and labyrinth, abundant water features, sparkling fountains and stream. Dreamy stone garden house.

4. NANCY & JOHN WILLIAMS 4615 Northside Dr. NW, Atlanta, Ga, 30327 North Buckhead Ten-acre tour de force never before on tour! Entry drive, 1/3-acre lake, notable Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’, largest in the U.S. Formal oval garden, “ruins”, rose, vegetable, hillside and hydrangea gardens. Streams play into koi ponds. Easy living includes pool and treehouse/ playground areas.

Between "largest in the U.S.," "ten acre tour de force," the scientific names I couldn't pronounce, and "ruins" - a house with ruins? - she would be bombarded with beauteousness-ness. I was sold.

And so on Sunday, Mother's Day, a little before noon, car shined and I, freshly showered and groomed, floated through cloudless skies to a ticket location, the Buckhead Pike Nurseries, to pick up my passway to my Mother's happiness.

It was a hive of activity. I had to wait in a line of five - on a Sunday morning no less - just to purchase.

When I finally reached the register:

"I'm sorry," the cashier said, "but we don't have any more tickets."

"What!" I said before I knew it as my heart crashed through the floor.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE: Sunday, 5/15, 3:30 p.m.

On Sunday, May 15, 3:30 p.m., I will be reading in an event called The Language of Bones as part of the weeklong Arts in the Park series at historic Oakland Cemetery on the edge of downtown Atlanta. Visit for directions and more details. The basics follow:

3:30 PM - Oakland Cemetery - African-American Section
Spoken Word: The Language of Bones
Cherryl Floyd Miller & Friends

Some of Atlanta's most prominent citizens are buried at Oakland Cemetery, including former mayor Maynard Jackson and writer Margaret Mitchell. Join Fulton County Arts Council DIALOG Fellow Cherryl Floyd-Miller and other contemporary poets as they commemorate the 12,000 black Atlantans who are buried in these grounds.

Featuring M. Ayodele Heath, Lita Hooper, Ikem Leigh, jessica Care moore, JW Richardson, Dorian "Paul D" Rogers, Ariana Santiago, Sharan Strange and local Jazz singer Wafiyyah. Artist's books and CDs will be available for purchase.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Starting today, May 3, thru May 14, I will be the featured artist on Collin Kelley's Internet radio talk show, Business of Words on It's the show's one-year anniversary.

A 30-minute show, it will air every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 2:00, 6:00, and 10:00 (both AM & PM).

You'll need RealAudio or Windows Media Player. Just click on the link above during the airtime.

Monday, May 02, 2005

A Tale of Rain & Shadow

ONCE UPON A TIME, WHEN TIME WAS MEASURED in the length of shadows, I met a woman - on a dirt road much like this one - who didn’t know the smell of rain.

“How sad,“ she said to no one. “I want to know it.”

Her long black eyes were not quite as long as her gaze, and so it was, on a day like today - impossibly February, in the height of summer - the infrared waves rose as the sun lowered that final time it would lower among the skyline of aloes - as if by great pallbearers of Light, into the ground.

It was on an eve such as this that I stumbled over her shadow, the woman with the long black eyes, and felt a chill - cold and black as thunderclouds.

Stretching long beyond valleys and rivers of dust, beyond the red blaze of sea, I knew not where it had begun, but her shadow was easily the longest I’d ever seen. It must have been the longest in the world - beyond deserts without clouds, beyond clouds without dreams.

This shadow must have meant that she was very old in this time when time was measured in shadows - she, with her long black eyes and longer black gaze. She must have been, perhaps, the oldest woman in the world.

“But I am not,” she said suddenly as a crack of lightning, as if reading the pages in my eyes.

“In a dog’s time, I could count my years on one paw.” And she howled a startling blue song that made the ground tremble. Her shadow:

“Long as a difficult birth,” she sang. “Long as lovers‘ time.”

She should have passed away long ago for that long, blue shadow of a song she sang that first time that she smelled rain. And what a long soft rain it was. Like a dusting on her crackling black skin. Or the crackle of an overdue smile.

Long as shadows go when the sun is low, it was. Or low as a hum as a hum can be

And still
be light.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

UPCOMING EVENT: Wednesday, May 04, 7:30 p.m.

Oglethorpe University Museum of Art

a special
"Masterpieces from European Artist Colonies 1830-1930"

Artists in Residence: Fulton County Arts Council
and the Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers in South Africa

A panel discussion about this ongoing international residency program,
moderated by Val Porter, Deputy Director, Fulton County Arts Council


Terri Dilling (visual artist)
M. Ayodele Heath (poet)
as well as Lisa Tuttle, Kevin Sipp and others.

Wednesday, May 4th
7:30 p.m. in the Skylight Gallery
$5.00 admission
FREE for OUMA members, Oglethorpe University community

Also see:

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Defining Black Consciousness: Mongane Wally Serote’s “What’s in This Black ‘Shit’”

If you've been following, you know I'm enrolled in the low-residency MFA in Poetry program at New England College. Some of you may be curious about the nature of my assignments. So, I've provided an essay from my February packet, a unit on writers of South Africa. This essay analyzes one of the major writers of the South African Black Consciousness movement, Mongane Wally Serote and his poem (it may help to read it before reading the essay), "What's in This Black Shit."

THE APARTHEID government shattered Black resistance movements in the 1960’s by imprisoning many of the African National Congress’ key leaders and by forcing the rest into exile. As political, social, and economic conditions spiraled, the need for new movements and new leadership emerged. Enter Black Consciousness.

Born on the campuses of the ‘Bush’ universities – segregated institutions of higher learning for Bantus, or native Africans – the Black Consciousness movement was inspired by the Black Power movement in the United States and by Pan-Africanist scholars such as Kwame Nkrumah and Frantz Fanon. Among the movement’s goals: to reinterpret the meaning of blackness, to seek the psycho-logical liberation of the black man, to reject White liberalism, and to rewrite the history of South Africa so that Black dignity could be restored.

One of the key tools of Black Consciousness was its cultural component. And one of its master craftsmen was the poet, Mongane Wally Serote, whose poem, “What’s in this Black Shit” from his 1972 debut collection, Yakhal'inkomo exemplifies the Black Consciousness aesthetic.

Before we even enter the poem, Serote challenges the Western reader’s aesthetic values. The title, “What’s in this Black Shit?,” in its vulgarity and profanity, directly confronts the trees-and-flowers aesthetic of European high culture. ‘Black shit’ as a poetic subject is, in itself, a reinterpretive, or revolutionary, act.

Once we enter the poem, the tone is blatantly didactic, another feature of Black Consciousness literature. While Serote does use poetic techniques (which will be examined later) his primary mission is to instruct, that is, to redefine the meaning of Blackness. Thus, his language in the opening lines of the poem is that of definition:

It is not the steaming little rot
In the toilet bucket
It is the upheaval of bowels

But even in his definition, instead of straightforward equivalizing, Serote chooses the form of negation, “It is not the steaming little rot,” which is to emphasize that “What’s in This Black Shit” is not simply about definition, but about re-definition.

And Serote’s redefinition in the remainder of the first stanza is performing a bit of psychotherapy as well. In the opening negation, he describes black shit with “steaming little” – as something dimunitive, which could fit neatly in the toilet bucket. But in his redefinition, he uses the language of something which is much bigger, all-consuming – the wrenching “upheaval of the bowels,” a “bleeding… coming out through the mouth.” He makes it real to the reader, engaging shit with the tactile and savory senses: “rolling in the mouth, feeling its taste.” This black shit is something which must be faced, not something which can be forgotten, or flushed.

With a very instructional direct address, the opening line of the second stanza abandons artifice altogether, continuing the didactic tone common in Black Consciousness:

Now I’m talking about this:

And so here it is that Serote, in a poem about definition, begins redefining his redefinition. After describing black shit in literal terms in the first stanza, Serote uses a less direct method of definition for this second stanza - context:

“Shit” you hear an old woman say,

Here, Serote creates a dramatic scene with “an old woman,” a Black domestic worker. ‘Shit’ becomes a curse, or a swear, and the modifier, Black, is used to identify it as the curse coming from a Black person’s mouth, as opposed to a White person’s mouth. In the social context of this Black woman’s mouth, ‘shit’ is not a flippant curse. Rather, it is the pent-up frustration of one who has lived – who is “old” with “gigantic life experience” but who is nonetheless seen by this society as insignificant – “squeezed in her little match-box,” “a child.” When one considers that in African societies, elders are given the highest respect, the offense becomes compounded.

When the domestic worker is placed in a situation with her employer, then the poem rises to social criticism:

‘Cause the next day she’s right there,
Right there serving tea to the woman
Who’s lying in bed at 10 a.m., sick with wealth

Here Serote is making a commentary on the wealth and comfort of the status quo – the apartheid regime - symbolized by a woman “lying in bed at 10 a.m.” being served tea by a Black servant. Not only is this woman lying in bed while the domestic is busy at working, but the woman is “sick with wealth.” An arresting redefinition, it is an attack on the values of the status quo, who have profitted from Black servitude. And ‘black shit’ is a curse which contains all of this.

After placing Black versus White in the second stanza, Serote begins the third stanza, “This Shit can take the form of action,” which sets the reader up for talk of revolution. But wait, the characters are Serote’s younger sister and his father.

My younger sister under the full weight of my father
And her face colliding with his steel hand.
Cause she spilled the sugar I work so hard for
He says, not feeling satisfied with the damage his hands

This is not the action which we expect at all, but it is, unfortunately, action which is precipitated by the social pressures presented in the second stanza – violence within the Black family. In keeping with the objectives of Black Consciousness, Serote is presenting this mirror – this ugliness – as a means to coming to terms with it and restoring Black dignity.

In the final stanza, Serote brings it all together to define ‘This Black Shit,’ or what Black Consciousness means in the context of 1970’s South Africa:

I’m learning to pronounce this “Shit” well
Since the other day
At the pass office
When I went to get employment,
The officer there endorsed me to Middleburg
So I said hard and with all my might, “Shit!”

Here, the poem becomes personal and more immediate as Serote himself is placed in a situation. Unemployed and going to the pass office, where Serote is applying for a pass to work in a Whites-Only area – which is, in itself, a source of impossible frustration – the government worker endorses him to work in Middleburg, which is in the Eastern Cape, metaphorically (and literally) in the middle of nowhere – most notably, not in the middle of any jobs.

And so, as Serote says it “with all [his] might,” ‘black shit’ becomes the all-consuming of the first stanza, the curse of frustration of the second stanza, and the violence of the third stanza rolled into one. But what makes this the ‘black shit’ of Black Consciousness is the final three lines:

But what’s good, is, I said it in his face,
A thing my father wouldn’t dare do.
That’s what’s in this black Shit.

Black Consciousness is a change from the old generation, whose pent-up frustrations, as his father to his sister, led to Black self-destruction. In this final act of utterance, Serote is directing his angst toward its proper source, to the face of the apartheid regime.