Sunday, March 15, 2009
Today, is a whole different story. I left at 9 toward Berea, a 2 hour drive in my own car, which was both comforting and enervating at the same time. I stopped at Cracker Barrel almost the exact same time as Hendrick and Bianca, and we went in and got some seats, next to a giant photo of a raccoon and a set of traps hanging from chains on the wall. You be the judge. Ricardo, Michaele, Frank, Hendrick, Bianca all ordered our food and talked. I got French toast and country ham, and got clowned for eating ham again. Well, it was more like a look from my big-sis Bianca, but you shoulda seen the look. hahaha. Turns out that Bernard got almost there and realized he had forgotten the money he had been the treasurer for, and had to turn around, and it wouldn't be for another couple of hours that we would see him.
We all met at the Kentucky Artisan Center, a giant (and awesome as hell) store, of sorts. It is filled with Kentucky art for sale, but with found art, statues, wood carvings, and other big pieces of art, it looks very much like a museum. There is jewelry, DVDs, music, candles, all kinds of things, and little cards describing the artists. They sold some Affrilachian work there too. Oh, and a girl with great giddiness asked Frank to sign her book. She recognized him. haha.
We sat at a table near the cafeteria, and work shopped, Hendrick taping us and Michaele reading, while the rest of us discussed our works. We finished up and I drove Frank, and we all met at the Appalachian Center in Berea. My parents arrived soon after and were introduced, or otherwise met, Frank, Michaele, Bernard, Bianca, Norman, Mitch, and Ricardo. It's weird to think they have never met Frank, but it's good that they finally were able to. Regan was with them too, which was great. Today, we were to read the poetry we had written on the road. I ran out to my car and got what I could, and then read it, along with a poem in honor of Danny, who had attended Berea. It was really great to be able to do that. We each went through a round of our poetry from on the road, and Norman read his works, and showed a full page newspaper page with our photos on it. It was awesome.
Then, upon second go, we read some of our other works, I read 6:30 P.M., one of my mom's favorite works, and my poem with the best general reception I've gotten throughout the tour, a poem about levels of racism that exist in America. There were many kind words said by Frank about me and us as a group, and all in all, the location, the audience, my family being there, the words, were all perfect in ending this tour. It was amazing. Hendrick said Frank has the energy or general vibe of Langston Hughes. Hendrick is a good, and honest man. We took group photos and spoke with the audience. One very memorable moment was speaking to a woman who knew Danny, and who cried hearing my poem about him. I gave her my copy, and the whole experience really completed a loop that started the moment I met Danny. Or I should say ended, but came full circle, ready to spin again.
We handled business, figuring out what we'd make back from mileage and discussing the plans for our money (including making is a non-profit organization and hiring a tour manager and getting a bus next tour. Plus we are working on that video. My family left and Regan and I walked around a bit before running back into Frank, his wife, Bernard, and Ricardo. We went to a pizza place down the street, ate some damn good pizza, and then Regan and I drove down to the Kentucky Artisan Center where we looked around more, and I got my mom a birthday present and a copy of Coal Black Voices for myself.
We drove the two hours back talking about the tour, and how awesome certain people from the tour were and are, and listening a CD of black Appalachian (Affrilachian) musicians. And here I sit now. Spent, like Bianca's afro after it ate Kentucky, Tomorrow will be a much calmer day, but one with new colors of lights and new shades of shadow; a whole world digitally restored, or in high-def for the first time.
And now it is time to write.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
We got on the road then and drove toward Marshall University in West Virginia. It was a relatively short drive, just about an hour. We went into a comic book place, then ate at a Chinese food place that was decent. Crystal came with her two kids and after we were done eating, we went to Marshall.
Marshall was by far the smallest crowd of any place we went just a handful. We were in the basement, and there were no flairs anywhere, and all kinds of other things gone awry, but I won’t focus on any of that. We were all exhausted anyway. I was interviewed for a student media thing, and I think it went fairly well. We answered questions at the end, Ricardo arrested the attention of a small group of students, and eventually we were able to pull ourselves out of there so we could get on the next leg of our trip, which was to get to a place called The Rudyard Kipling in Louisville where Mitch was reading to promote his new book.
On the road. It was awesome to listen to and speak with Bernard and Frank. Frank was his own name sake today, because he was up front and honest the entire way. This isn’t really unusual, but he was very forthcoming with critique and general observations which was all really helpful and enlightening. I mean, I learned a ton of things, not just about poetry, so many things and so valuable that I am afraid (almost certain) I will forget much of it. Haha.
Bernard and I reflected a little about how fewer people came and spoke with us after we read at any place, and Frank critiqued our presentation abilities. I think I’m fairly good at taking critique, but this one was particularly easy to take because he was so honest and non-judgmental about it that it just seemed obvious. I won’t go into all the details (not because I am ashamed, but because there were a LOT of details. Haha) but some of the things he mentioned were that I read all my poems exactly the same (which is true), that I seem to think my work should stand on its own and therefore might not necessarily devote enough energy, or the right kind of energy, into my reading (which is true), and that I need to know how to read and work a crowd.
Also, I don’t know what the top 5 pieces I have are, and that’s a hindrance for me, and I see this now. I’ve never had to ‘work’ a crowd before; in Kentucky I just read all my new pieces with no real concern over presentation or cohesion because I am testing the waters and getting used to being in front of a crowd. But here, on this tour, I can tell that even when a crowd is digging what I’m putting down, that it’s on a lesser level than Frank or Bianca. I mean, our material is different and there will always be varying qualities of the material itself, but there is clearly something gained from knowing the audience, knowing what poems you can pull out to regain their attention, and reading what they may like to begin with, as well as mixing up the poems so that they don’t get nothing but race poems like I’ve been doing pretty heavily.
I think a part of my problem on this tour was my mindset which was as much about having the other poets hear the variety in my work, or the strength of my political pieces (Which I think are tighter or more finished than many of my other pieces) as with the audience. A rookie mistake, and one I never need to make again, for sure, but now that I’m surrounded by veterans I felt the need for a validation I don’t often get in Northern Kentucky. We have some poets, but I don’t get to spend much time with them.
We arrived at The Rudyard Kipling, which was a very shwanky (as Bernard would say) restaurant and poetry house. Apparently it’s booked for an entire year it’s so popular with readers. We stood at the doorway (Bernard, Frank, and I. Ricardo and Bianca were in another car which had made a couple of stops along the way). When Mitch finally looked up, the look on his face was hilarious, and he stopped a moment to explain who we were before moving on with his poetry. I bought his book and had him sign it afterward, and Frank’s wife took him home, while Ricardo drove back to Georgetown and Bianca went back with her husband Hendrick. Oh. I had a sausage pizza which was the size of a Totino’s party pizza and was delicious as hell. So delicious, in fact, that it coming super late because they ran out of cheese and didn’t even tell me what the holdup was? Forgiven.
Frank left us the car keys, so we did donuts in parking lots and taunted cops into high-speed chases. That, or Bernard called his girlfriend who found us a hotel about 15 minutes away at a super nice hotel. It’s got the biggest TV I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, a big open space, and modern furniture. I’m sleeping on the couch, but it’s a huge couch. Haha.
I have a lot to reflect upon. I learned more on this trip about what it is college should have prepared me for than college did, and more this day than any other. I even asked Frank his opinion about going to school far away, and he said that after this fall, I will have learned all he can teach me. And strangely, I think he’s right, because at that point, I’ll know everything, it’s just a matter of practicing it. I’m tired. But I also have two writing prompts to write.
Who knows what we’ll do tomorrow, Bernard and me. We shall see.
Friday, March 13, 2009
We stopped to get gas and I got some Arbys (sausage biscuit) then we drove for 5 hours to
We arrived at Capitol Market right before we were up. Capitol market is a big market that sells all kinds of fresh fruit and foods, including crocodile meet. We set up all our books and chapbooks, and then Frank and Bianca were interviewed by a local radio station. We all read our poetry and it was exactly what I needed. I read Ricardo’s blog on
Bianca ordered a tuna sandwich and I ate half so she wouldn’t carry it around. That’s what I’m telling myself.
We left from there and went to a middle school. The room filled up with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I had been telling myself: Regular reading, but they are children instead of adults. Just tone down the language. Frank went up and went first and I instantly became terrified. That is 100 percent the correct word for what I felt. These were not small stature-adults, this was an entirely different animal.
Frank was inspiring; I saw in him something I have only ever heard him talk about and never seen, which is a deep concern with giving back and communicating with the community, but what made it really affecting to me was that they were children and he was catering to that. He spoke the way I remember people speaking when I was that age (because those who didn’t? I don’t remember). I have a fear of high school, because it was the worst time of my entire life, and middle school was alright but in my head, it’s hard to separate the two because there is only a year between 8th and 9th grade, between childhood and hell. Frank gets done and Bianca goes up, and she kills it. I had been watching her a little when we first arrived, as the film crew for the news set up cameras. I saw that she was circling things and writing notes; she was coming up with a lesson plan right there on the fly. She read her Constella series, and got 7 volunteers come up and do actions and sounds when she got to a certain part, and then also got total class participation by having them shout out a response when she got to that part of the poem. It was amazing. During this time though, I was pretty well zoned out looking through poetry and about having a cardiac arrest. But there are things I committed myself to when I decided to really become a writer and not just talk about it, so there wasn’t the inkling of a chance that I was going to duck out of this or anything. I was just trying to stop myself from even thinking about it. It was very out of body experience. Frank came over and gave me a way out, a book with a poem by a child from
I went up with , one of my poems. I very much appreciated the gesture from Frank, but I felt as if that was my whole life, choosing the easier thing over the thing I could really learn from. So I explained each stanza, asked questions, got responses, and then read the stanza. At the very end, with the suggestion of
The rush of it all coupled with the fact I didn’t want to admit to myself how hard it was meant that I didn’t really say anything at the time. But that was some real but shit for me. Real big. I’m torn between wondering if I could have done it if I would have known before the tour I’d have to, and whether there is anything that could have stopped me from doing this.
We went on to an after school program in a black neighborhood. They didn’t know we were coming, and we were so damn tired that we said we’d just go back to the hotel and sleep on it. The woman freaked out (in a good way) when she realized we were poets and said “Oh no. I’ll get the kids together for this. I am not letting you guys go.” It was awesome. I mean, she spends so much time with these children and that she cares so much that she would not let an opportunity for them slip by was really refreshing.
The kids at this room were ages 7-9. This was a rowdy bunch and I was again very nervous, this time because I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t know what they were thinking, what words they’d understand of my poetry. Frank lead with an exercise he had done in my poetry class at NKU where he draws a line on the board and asks us to say what it is (toothpick, a tree with the top cut off, etc) and keeps adding lines. The kids were better than we were; Frank says it’s because children have unlimited creativity and we stifle our own. He’s right. I read a poem about playing on the asphalt (they thought this was a cuss word, and didn’t know what blacktop was) when I was a kid. It went okay. Bernard read about the po-po, Bianca read about her afro eating Kentucky, Crystal read about the factories in West Virginia, and at the moment I’m blanking on what Ricardo did because I seriously feel like I’m falling asleep at the keyboard. Insert here when I remember. Hahaha.
We went from there to the hotel,
The bar was as close to being a rock star as I will ever be. We drank (well, everyone else did), I ate pineapple upside down cake, and we had some of the best discussions we have had. It was the definition of brother and sisterhood. I have never said that about anyone.
We drove back and now Bernard, Frank, and Ricardo are hanging out while I finish this up. We wake up bright and early tomorrow for hardcore work shopping. The past three days are like children. I keep thinking I have met my capacity for love of them, until the next is born. Man, listen to those metaphors, this trip is better than college. No offense NKU. Although I did pay you, and this trip is paying me. And I am actually speaking about literal dollars.
Prompt: "What secrets do the mountains guard?"
i've been through enough of the mountains
to have seen cadence defy tepid television portraits.
I've caught glimpses of good ol voices
saunter off through a curtain of trees
holding hands with philosophy
only to return an hour later with a smirk
and a good story.
I have born witness to drawls
that gave birth to lightning
heard twangs that make violins blush
and a memory kicks in
narrated by the overly boiled voice of a news anchor
dragging down what the mountains hold
and then almost hear that misty response
"that's y'alls problem"
Thursday, March 12, 2009
This day is so long it's almost difficult to remember it all. Bernard had to wake up at like 6 to follow Frank and help tape him as he spoke in front of a high school, but I got to sleep in. Even still, at the end of the night, I am exhausted. Bernard pointed out that our day was essentially that of a teacher. Something to think on. Oh and Bernard bought breathe-right strips. I really was okay, but that was very nice of him. I swear I wrote this of my own accord. haha.
So I met Bianca outside in the lobby, we talked about girl-guy drama, drank some lemon tea, and waited for Susan. She arrived and drove us to a coffee shop where I ordered the "We don't know what to call this, but it's good." It wasn't good. It was amazing. It took me like 10 minutes to fully figure this out, and how to eat it, but it was two kinds of cheese some kind of fried bread, a sweet bread, blueberries, two kinds of melon, strawberries, pecans, lettuce, and green chicken salad. We got cookies too (I got pecan).
Susan then drove us to Ferrum. Before I go on, I must say that
Also a bit on Susan. I met her at Emery and Henry college when Frank read. She is a sociology professor who has her students use poetry, fiction, and visual art to learn about their subject. This means she engages them on many levels, she tries new things out, and they've been studying Pluck! and Black Box for some time now. Their current project, which we watched and talked with them about, were poster board collages of a famous black man or woman, haiku's about them, lists of snippets of information, and a traditional series of writings and works cited. It was really cool. Susan cares so much about getting to her students that she really gets upset when she can't reach everyone. And that is something very, very amazing.
Anyway, I set up the camera equipment like Bernard taught me and Bianca and I spoke with the students about their projects, what they had learned, listened to their poems, and then answered questions. The questions of the day (ones that were asked multiple times) were "How many Affrilachian poets are there?" (24), what is your inspiration, when did you start writing, and why do you write just poetry (we don't). The first class was just after lunch and a little quiet, but the next class, while smaller, was full of liveliness. It was fun.
Frank and Bernard came in during this time. After the class was over, they updated us. The high school Frank had promised to read three workshops of 20 ended up getting mixed up, or something, so he had to speak to something like 5 times that amount. But it's all good.
We all moved in to another classroom. This time we were asked questions pertaining to Frank’s book, which many of them had read, to whether or not we had ever felt we ‘crossed the line,’ and a super suspicious question about CP time made by a non-Susan faculty member, made all the more suspicious by the fact that we were not late.
We headed back to the hotel and rested for what felt like minutes but must have been seconds then headed back and read. Bianca tore it up, and Bernard owned the place just like the legends foretold. You know how Superman is a regular person on Krypton but the yellow sun gives him super powers on Earth? Ferrum is the yellow sun for Bernard.
We answered questions at the end, and Frank stepped out of the limelight into the shadows to let us show that we can handle things on our own. I swear, black men must go to a school for this because it’s a very familiar feeling. Haha.
After I sold about 8.5 billion copies of Bianca’s chapbook, a few of mine, and we had all taken some group photos, we could enjoy some of the food they supplied. Plus they wrapped us up a plate each, and Susan gave us glasses as a gift for coming, then invited us each back individually and as a whole. Above and beyond the call of duty.
We headed to Wal-Mart, because everything here closes at 9, and got some adult beverages (well, not me), lean pockets, and TGI spinach and artichoke dip, then hung out in Bianca’s room, which seems to be the most hospitable of our three rooms for whatever reason. After Frank left, we watched Jamie Fox on Youtube. Then we headed back and started working on poetry and blogs and all that good stuff.
Tomorrow, it might snow, and we have to wake up super early and read as soon as we get there. Plus, possibly no cell phone connection if I remember correctly. How will the bill collectors get in contact with me???
The writing prompt: “Who or what is waiting for you when you get back?”
At the door I remember
the first time I saw you
like a summer hat
in the store front.
How you found trouble
to wrestle to the ground,
your bag of wind to tame,
struggling ever deeper
into the grey sucking mud
at any sign of open arms.
I open the door
as I remember all this
at what point
between then and now
did trips become so long
and when was it
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
We woke up early as ever. Earlier, it seemed, because when I woke up, Bernard and Frank were standing in the room ready to go to breakfast. I had worn ear plugs the night before (I swear though, Bernard, it's really no big deal, but they were free ear plugs!) and it was kind of jarring. No one wants to see Frank that early in the morning. hahaha.
Anyway, I threw on my clothes and walked down to the hotel dining room, where I realized I didn't have my wallet. Bianca wasn't there either, so it was my mission to go get her and my wallet. Turns out, Bianca had overslept too, so I was not alone. Anyway, after it was all said and done, we had eaten a fair breakfast served by a friendly and very helpful waitress and her mad-devil woman boss who would not. leave us. the fuck alone.
Frank must be part Russian because he Tetrised (as Bernard put it) all of our luggage and some camera equipment from Ricardo into our trunk. By the end, the Pluckmobile was a leather glove over the smooth hand of Frank's packing job. Yeah.
We were on the road forever. Frank doesn't turn on the radio because he's afraid of the airwaves transmitting alien signals (I think each blog includes more and more trash talk...). Actually, the radio remains off for us to speak and think easily. Also, it helps when we are actually able to catch one of our conversations. A lot of the car conversation has to do with utilizing technology, something Frank points out a lot of black America doesn't seem to be quite as connected as they could be about. Not in this car. Bianca can whip up a direction in I-Phone minus 3 seconds, Frank can work a GPS like he was trained at Nasa, and if I mentioned how Bernard truly moves behind a camera, he'd have even more groupies than he already does. Plus I'm a member of just about every community online there is. Even the Myspace for tattoo enthusiasts. Seriously.
We had a couple of bathroom breaks, bought some snacks, but most importantly, Bianca had the very strange (I thought at first) request to stop at an army surplus store if we saw one. I thought, "okay, well, what are the chances we find one of those?" 10 minutes later we were in one, looking at a native American crafted choker made from parachute straps, black buffalo bone, and bullets. Which is now sitting beside me; I bought it. Poem to come, I'm sure. Frank also found some buffalo badges and learned about how buffalo bones are burned to get the deepest of blacks. Tell me THAT isn't some heavy shit.
Back on the road, then the hotel, and finally Red Clays, a very modern restaurant with very VERY good food. Try the fried green beans. We're going back tomorrow, and that says something. The service was great too, and we met an Appalachian artist, our waitress.
We came back and considered work shopping, but decided that we need a night to catch up on all this work. Blogs, writing poems, learning to use the cameras (and now I know), updating websites. From the looks of the emails I'm getting, we're writing some inspired stuff.
The writing prompt: "Write yourself as a super hero of poetry. Include a name and a super
I am the Robotto Mulatto
the day walker, the glimmer in the night
the shadow of the day
I am the ambiguous apparition
shifting colors like a conch shell
in and out of cultures,
I am the halfrican hulk
the onerous oreo who will not let you know
where these big lips come from
I am the Robotto Mulatto,
I am more than meets the eye
My skin seperates along perfect tan seams
lifts with a hydraulic hiss
flips in on itself
and transforms into something else
controlled like a remote
with the styling of my hair
I shift color circuits
whether mustached mexican, bearded Egyptian,
or a mysterious collage of whatever it is
your half-cousin is
my words are double edged knives,
i have a battery in my back energizer bunny style
labled offense, it has twin meanings.
I can say things that you can't say
because I have one foot in your door
and go go gadget another foot in someone else's
and when all else fails I have a race card
one up each sleeve.
My weakness is the tug of war between
being fully Clark Kent and Superman
don't understand the master/slave jumpers
on my hard drive
can't hug my white motherboard
with this holy red-blue-green trinity
pinwheel spinning like a Mac in my head
my weakness is that people don't learn Linux
with easier to grasp systems on the market
that when people might actually vote,
electrons are so negative
my weakness is that silicon valley
isn't big enough for the idea of me,
and that around here things move so fast
that before the world is ready for me
i'll have become obsolete
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
Woke up bright and early. 9 in the morning. Before too long, Frank, Bernard, and I were headed to Loretta Lynn's Buffet (she comes there to eat sometimes, they say). Now, I'm ashamed to admit this, but I had absolutely no idea who she was at all until last year. Danny Miller told me about her, and Regan and he were both kind of amazed I didn't know who she was.
If I didn't then, I do now. The place was decked out in all manner of Loretta Lynn memorabilia; tapestries, posters, a Crisco ad (discussion with Frank about how his family just called it lard), all kinds of stuff. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. The bacon was heaven. If ambrosia were a dead pig, this was it. There was also blueberry pancakes and eggs. But let's be honest, you know there's something earth-shattering going on when you mention blueberry pan
We checked out the store some and looked at the merchandise with all the confederate flags on them (yay the South. A little bit like buying an LA Raiders sweatshirt isn't it?). Nothing else happened in the restaurant than that, besides Frank making us feel like asses by first making us honestly believe he was a little bit offended that we would ASSUME he knew who John Colbert was, and then listening to us spend a good 5 minutes explaining the show to him before he chimed in with more information than anyone ignorant of the show could possibly be aware of. Same ol same ol.
Oh. One more thing. Outside Loretta Lynn's is a giant buffalo, our totem animal. It actually looks directly down at the hotel we stayed at. Well, turns out the city we're in? Buffalo. Serendipity at it's best. What's more is that we had stopped (Frank's car AND Ricardos) two separate times, without planning it or knowing it, at this same location earlier in the trip. Ridiculous.
So we got on the road, talked a lot, and watched the country-side pass by; all hills and trees and confederate flags and warnings from God to make sure we don't go to hell.
We eventually made it to a Staples where I bought a super long stapler for making my own chapbooks from scratch to save money. It was Frank's idea, but don't tell him I'm not still claiming it as my own.
We eventually made it to Crowne Hotel. Frank had said it was "Crowne with an e" and for whatever reason, that made me think it was going to be rundown imitation of a real hotel sort of place. Not even close, this place is amazing. Apparently schools have money. My money, in some cases.
We all went to eat at Applebees, then back to our rooms. We
went to a bar called Library within the hotel, and Bernard and Bianca drank a bottle of wine and I drank a Shirley Temple (a man's man drink) and oh how we talked. About everything. One of my favorite moments
of this trip; I learned all about Bianca
We went up, then, to Bianca's room and talked a little more, watched terrible reality TV, and I wrote, while Bianca and Bernard worked on their chapbooks. It's now 3 in the morning and in the past 2 days I've had less than a full night's rest, grand total, but I present to you first Bianca's second day writing prompt and my poem, written today, only an hour ago:
Prompt: Create an Affrilachian (the region, not the poetry group) Genesis story. Include a regional hero. Reference James Weldon's "The Creation"" for an example.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
My girlfriend Regan dropped me off at Frank's place this morning. From there we drove to Bernard's place in Louisville. It was my first time there. I got a chance to run out and take some photos of York's statue while we were there though--the one that's on the cover of Frank's book. It was a piece of Affrilachian history; it'll be in our museum someday. Lewis was within gazing distance, looking like a creep. Meanwhile York has a gun, some ducks hanging from his hand, you know, typical pimp.
We began the trip at that point and talked the entire way there, trying to figure out the massive amounts of technology at our disposal, taping some of the conversations, missing many more, and many times taping each other taping each other. But we got a lot of good stuff too, and a decent start, I think. Some of the things talked about, either before or after we picked up Bernard (who I have only had the opportunity to meet because of the tour):
My embarrassing mishaps working at White Castle, and the Ricardo-esque statement posed by Frank: 'There's a poem in that.'
We got to the library and met with Norman. The whole event was awesome. There were people standing. At a poetry event.
Norman's house was fun, we got to meet his wife, see the history he's made (published next to Langston Hughes, and he threw the letters away because they had critique about his poetry in them. Amazing). Then we eventually found a hotel, went to Arby's and got some food, and everyone else fell asleep. While I spent the entire night trying to get the files off my camera. Not entirely successful in that respect, but I do have photos, so it wasn't a wash.
I've got tons of ideas for poems, written in my moleskin and any scrap of paper I could find. The next blog will have something of that, maybe. The process itself presents itself tomorrow. Or that's the plan. For now, it's off to write, then sleep, tonight.