Sunday, March 15, 2009

[Tour] Berea

Not a whole lot happened yesterday, which is why I didn't blog about it. Let me run it down real fast: Woke up, Bernard and I went to this cool restaurant in a strip mall area that sold sandwiches and fresh food, then to the theatre and watched the Watchmen. I really liked it and he thought it was so-so. He drove back home and from there I drove back to Northern Kentucky and dropped Frank's car off, and Regan drove me to a liquor store to cash my check. Day over.

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

[Tour] Marshall, West Virginia

Woke up bright and early today (with coaxing from Bernard who has been keeping me on point with getting up for things) and headed down for work shopping. We all ate breakfast first (I had some very old crunchy biscuits with gravy). We stayed in the lobby and critiqued one another’s works, which we had printed out. Crystal came after the first critique, and had a Facebook poem that was really novel, something I’ve never seen done before. The strangest part about the critique was when it was Frank’s turn, because I refuse to back down from anything this tour, but critiquing my own former professor/mentor was a strange thing. Not uncomfortable, just interesting. The poem I had critiqued was the Mulatto Robotto.
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

[Tour] Charleston - West Virginia

We had to wake up way earlier than felt natural to get on the road toward West Virginia. I think it was all just one big blur. Before too long we were on the road, and for the first time two APs fell asleep while in the car. I’ll give you a hit who they were. Frank was driving, and I didn’t fall asleep.

We stopped to get gas and I got some Arbys (sausage biscuit) then we drove for 5 hours to West Virginia. The mountains are interesting. You might think “oh, mountains, just like hills but bigger” but there’s something very different than that, because this is not like Kentucky Hills times two. Saw a lot of factories (I assumed coal, but apparently they have a lot of chemical factories? Even the children here know that. More on that later).

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 Charleston and he said he felt like he was at home here, and that’s exactly what this felt like. Like I was reading at the BeanHaus in Covington, complete with people who don’t give a fuck about poetry walking by during reading. That’s fine. It’s sort of refreshing for the audience you have to be there solely for the benefit of your poetry and not because they are being forced to.

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 West Virginia I could use to call up a volunteer to read the poem. I said thanks and sat staring at the space in between space. Then, it was my turn.

I went up with 6:30 p.m., 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 Crystal, I read the entire thing as a whole. I had done it. (And let me point out that Crystal, who was there, as a central part of each of the experiences in West Virginia, will get her very own paragraph.) I tried to relate everything to why I wrote it in the first place, and especially how things that you might think are every day occurrence are suitable for poetry. I think so many people think their lives are too boring to write, and that’s just not true.

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.

Crystal read poetry that had to do with the area, which was awesome. Bernard read a poem about shoes, which was also nice, because it was definitely something the kids could relate to. Ricardo read an entire poem in Spanish, then took a lot of listener’s responses to create a poem (about bread) based on those results. But the best part about his choice, was that he told the kids that if they wanted to find out about the poem he read (he did quickly explain it) they had to learn a second language. It was impressive and admirable. I respect every one of the poets I have gone on this trip with even more now than when it started, and that’s saying something.

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, Crystal didn’t know he hadn’t already gotten a place to stay. We sat down and relaxed for a little while, then out to the Tricky Fish. It was a really awesome restaurant, and let me tell you. If you need a slice of Appalachia that goes against the grain of the stereotypes, go to Charleston, and if you REALLY want to go against the grain, go the to Tricky Fish. They gave us free food and we all read our poetry in front of an extremely receptive crowd. We mingled at the end, and move on to the other building that the owner was in possession of. A bar.

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.

Now Crystal. She gets her own paragraph, because she commandeered all this like a pro. Affrilachian woman can hold their own, I swear to God. Crystal set all this up, this entire day of life changing experiences. I had never done any of the community things I have done today, for instance. And she did all this, on her own essentially, because she is our West Virginia rep (other than Norman, but he lives in Tennessee now). She packed our day full, which was hectic at first, but I am all about it. Her poetry is also great (I may be seconds away from emailing her to ask her for some of it to read on my own, and to thank her) and she was so welcoming. Plus, I think she’s a local celebrity. Everyone knows her. Haha.

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?"

ascending accent

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
lampooning lexicon
dragging down what the mountains hold
and then almost hear that misty response
"that's y'alls problem"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

[Tour] Ferrum - Virginia

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 Virginia is the most jaw droppingly beautiful state I've ever been in, even in the deadness of winter. And when the soil is dug up, it's red. Even more amazing against a bright green of grass.

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,

a horse

struggling ever deeper

into the grey sucking mud

at any sign of open arms.

I open the door

as I remember all this

and wonder

at what point

between then and now

did trips become so long

and when was it

that you

became home

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

[Tour] More Interim, Virginia

Today was all about driving. And writing.

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.

Appalachian inspired.

The writing prompt: "Write yourself as a super hero of poetry. Include a name and a super

Robotto Mulatto

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

[Tour] University of Tennessee

This is the second time so far on the tour that we had more audience members than seats. I swear we're not getting there early just to remove seats. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Woke up feeling, for a moment, fully refreshed. I then found that I had slept about 5 hours, and felt immediately tired again. I took a nap (does that even count as a nap when it's so soon after having been asleep?) and when
I woke up, decided to go down into the lobby and do some serious writing. The whole gang came out after a while and I thought "hey! I have my poems, I don't even need to go back to the room? I am a Mensa quality genius." Turns out that I had forgotten both my chapbooks and the address book we are going to use to allow people to sign up. But I wouldn't realize this until much later.
We met up at a BBQ restaurant overlooking the river with an administrator and professor from UT. We ate and chatted. I ate a BBQ pulled pork sandwich and confirmed some kind of darkly fermented suspicion of everyone that I am too in love with pork. What have I become?

From that point we drove to UT to set up our camera equipment, which we're beginning to be pros at, it would seem. And by we, I mean Bernard, who is like the Jean Claude Van Dam of camera work. Take that as you may. But he's really very good.
Bianca needed her chapbooks, which was apparently a nightmare, but with which she displayed great optimism and non-diva-ness. Ricardo needed a car charger for his dead phone and tapes for his camera. We ran out of time to get my chapbooks. Obviously, by this time I had realized I was an idiot and forgot them. But no one at UT knew that, they just thought I was an idiot who never had any chapbooks.

The reading went very well, I think. Norman drove 5. FIVE hours to read with us, and was as usual a joy to watch. Bianca did that one poem that pretty much makes me want to retreat into my poetry shell it's so damn awe

some. Which one? Buy her book. Coming soon. Bernard was frazzled from having ODed on caffeine, but that only made his blurring image that much more impressive behind those cameras. Ricardo killed it so bad that he had groupies, and Frank was Frank, which is to say he managed to mix the dirty work in gracefully with the entertainment/poetry. This is very much under-appreciated, because you don't want to see the boring black hole that would be created if I was trying to promote Pluck, explain our website, get the fundamentals of our writing group understood, etc.
The real joy of the night was the dialogue. We have done them before, but this was my first real chance to answer a question posed directly at me, which was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Now's my chance to explain my opinion, but also my chance at ruining a poem someone enjoyed by making a fool of myself. But all in all it was really awesome. I spoke with a publisher about his books, a student about how we address sterotypes without catering to them, a grad student about her paper on multiracial affairs (I really hope she contacts me, her paper sounded right up my ally. Or allies, I guess), and a number of other people.

After Frank and Ricardo frightened us with the level
of fanaticism they have over their fraternity (I don't even feel bad about that after the jibing I got at dinner. hahaha) we took photos in the lobby and had a long discussion about the writing process and the reading process. And the dialogue itself. More on all this on my other blog, on our Affrilachian Facebook fan page.

We drove to a pizza place... the Mellow Mushroom. It
was like an acid head's dream in there, giant mushrooms, strange dragon filled wall paintings.... I ordered hummus for the first time, delicious, and an avacado hoagie, double delicious. We left after a while, and I got to the writing. Which brings us to the prompt for the day:

If Appalachia were a person with a family, a personality, the body of a person, tastes, and so on, what would that person be like

Good question Bianca... Let's see...

Knowing Your Mother

If Appalachia had one Morehead, it would molt wisdom like feathers
great plumes of it would fold back on themse
lves like tall-tales
and strike the ground running so fast
the news would miss it and act like it never happened at all
or maybe Appalachia is so brittle it would fracture under the pressure
of any more demand, buckle like a can into its

Or maybe Appalachia would
make with what he has
which is a proud face with freckles he is ashamed of at times
and at times beholds with such fierce pride that they are named,
this one Knoxville, that one Jackson, Berea, Lexington
each one forgotten by the countenance of his w
hole face
by those who are not kin and see in a textured face
ugliness instead of stateliness and in tradition backwardsness
instead of culture.

It is a beautiful face even after what they have done to it
left it in Hazard in the best of times and in th
e worst
the craters of deep pock marks that so severely scar his skin
that he is unable to look in the mirror without remembering
in the back of his mind why it is that tradition withstands
long past the dark dwelling of machinery.

Appalachia is angry sometimes, hurt, bitter, ha
ppy, sweet,
he is all things, his skin bleeds a
ll colors
his hands rough in the winter and smooth in
the spring
or forced to roughness in the spring and smooth despite the winter,
Appalachia is too many facets to describe with a word
too many tones to play on a single string.
because how do you let your children know who your mother was
if you're only given a handful of words
how can they know her in a sentence
when it took you a lifetime of words
to know.

Oh yeah. I got paid!!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

[Tour] The Interim - Knoxville

For a day where nothing happened, a LOT has happened.

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

cakes in such a terse manner. Earth-shattering is what that bacon was.

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

being inducted, about Bernard's experiences with the Governor's school, opinions about writing, suggestions for reading (I took notes. Seriously) and everything in between.

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.

The No. 4

"John Henry's woman heard he was dead,
She could not rest on her bed,
She got up at midnight, caught that No. 4 train,
"I am going where John Henry fell dead." -John Henry Folk Song

In the beginning there was God
we know this much
but there was also the devil
not quite at the start but close enough.
he filled the air like a hacking cough
simmered on the ocean and made it flat
slunk deep into the earth
and taught worms to eat the dead
and before too long he became bored
with breaking his own things,
and got to thinking.
the devil is nothing if not patient
so he waited quietly

before too long God became restless
created children in all his images
turned his face and made more
scattered most like pebbles onto his beach
tilted His head, squinted
then took another handful
pushed the first around,
placed stones in lonely places
matched them like a mosaic
and nearly satisfied saw a bareness
and planted black diamonds in the hills.
he told them about the devil
who was allowed to walk the earth
for his punishment was futility
and all was content for a while

like the scream of a fiddle
rising slow and firm
the devil came out to play
spent time unrushed
listened closely
listened especially closely to the women
who kept their burdens in their bellies
or when they were full on their backs
listened for so long man forgot about him
then waited still longer for women to follow

He came to them in a dream
his breath hot and wet in the air
his body serpentine and shining silver,
he stampeded with measureless speed
came to them first as inspiration and then incarnate
bowed before man as their servant.
the devil bore into the earth for them
hollowed the corpse of it maggot-like
just as he had before their time
but moving now where man gave him road
only followed their trails
for the illusion of being fettered to their will

The devil's plan was to grind clockwork slow
gorge himself on the silt and clay flesh of the land
allow man to see the apple red skin of things
while burrowing ever deeper, eating at the insides.
he had planned for so very long,
tested the waters until they were waters no more
now crawling in the womb of the mountains
where the world pulsed
when like lightning a black diamond fell
from where it lay trapped by great burden
falling now, every face of its maker glittering
like sunshine

the diamond hit the ground of the tunnel
folded out of itself like a cornhusk doll
lifted the hammer in its hand
and struck a fork into the tunnel
which rung as the the devil's first challenge,
scared the devil for the first time
for this man was not frightened himself
had already made much time in his journey
entering the heart of earth
pounding his hammer so hard that the devil was shaken
and for the first time forced into action

stone was beaten until it weapt
each tunnel sinking deeper and deeper into the earth
the devil laughing to himself at his speed.
he thought about those first dreams he had crept into
about how man still dreamt about him
when he hungered to move mountains
how this black rock of a man must dream of him now
even as he must trail behind the gaping wound
left in the devil's wake.

the devil had seen seasons grow old
and water beat stones to dust
had seen all things in all ways but was still
unprepared when he found himself falling
like a star into the fires
the only man who had never shown him fear
falling ahead of him, beating him even now
and laughing the way down.
He had beat the devil to the core
dug into the devil's path and made it a pitfall
all in the time it took the devil to gloat
and as the devil fell to his new home
dreamed not of the devil
dreamed instead, of being free
dreamed he held hands with his wife
never dreaming one thing
that up above on the shores of the land
she had caught the number 4
sharing as she always had in his burden
even now as she raced to catch her husband
in the fires

Sunday, March 8, 2009

[Tour] Tennessee

I've been awake since 6 o clock this morning, it's almost 2 now, and I'm running on a total of about 4 hours of sleep. So what's left to do? Blog, of course. Bernard's snores shall constitute my collective muse.

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.'

Family business that is not to be shared. Except in stories, and poetry.

The abolishmentof slavery as a method to enslave an entire new class of people in a new way.

Bernard and Frank almost got in a fist fight over Jack Daniels vs. Bourbon: Are they the exact same thing?

We ate at the Cracker Barrel. Which, of course was delicious. I got ham, grits, scrambled eggs, a biscuit, potato casserole, and fried apples. Being a poet makes you ravenous. I swear it. We talked business, marveled at the equipment Ricardo brought (mind out of the gutters), and wondered how many government agencies are tracking the group of colored folks with enough electronics to start their own independent enclave.

We got to the library and met with Norman. The whole event was awesome. There were people standing. At a poetry event.
There was also a ton of children, which messed up my game plan. My game plan began as 'choose some poems to read' but suddenly, it became 'don't scar the innocence of a dozen children.' Mission more or less accomplished.

Stumbled over my last poem, but overall pretty good. We watched children get their awards in a poetry contest they had run (out of 5 children recognised for each age group, nearly all of them showed up. The exception being the high school kids, of which, only one showed up. What's up with that, high school kids?)

It was all very nice. Bernard's poem about women's hair got the room rolling, Bianca's arc about violence was extremely poignant and relevant, and Ricardo and Frank's poems about divorce made a woman cry. And of course, Norman's poetry was awesome as hell.
We went to his place after we ate at the West Tennessee Examiner's home base, which was much like a very nice house. Physically as well as in the manner the community engaged with us and one another. Very much unlike the Community Recorder at home.

whole community was, though. The audience at the reading was something like 60% black, and the tow n apparently close to that as well, about half. That never hap pens. And they run poetry in the paper. I'm serious, they really do. We talked about a boy who was shot in the back running from the cops for a speeding ticket, or something like that. No matter where you're at, that's happening. It's like a real life archetype.

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.

Writing prompt for today:

What does the road speak to you?

Dixie Stream

the road yawns before us, its horse whispers
croaking in a crinkling brown paper back in kentucky
trees stiff legged from laying so long.
when the water runs,
the road hums a dixie marching song
and the skin of the confedarcy waves good morning
from a pole thin as a silver switch.
the road nods politely
chatters excitedly with the rusty ribs of land
exposed and stretched away like a hot sweaty quilt.
it whispers something
so that the grass's bourbon cheeks blush again green
and the tennessee trees shake with laughter.
they flutter like soft cotton confetti
and the road smiles across the hills.
its hands shuffle color to color like dice
and pours its evening waters out to sea
leaving us helpless in the red and blue tide
then, it is silent

Saturday, March 7, 2009

[Tour] When Winter Come: The Choreopoem

While not a reading, Frank's book-of-poetry-made-play is part of the tour, and an awesome one at that. It really was fun as hell to watch. But I'll leave it up to the audience:

"I thought it was very sensual, very passionate, it left nothing unsaid."

"It was from a very different perspective than you normally get in history. It was a very personal point of view."

"What little bit of research I've done of York, it obviously transcended that. The words he used--making the ash fire again.That's what it was."

"Me being a writer myself, it's just, damn. How do I do that myself?"

Full house, opening night. 'Nuff said.

Friday, March 6, 2009

[Tour] Morehead

Morehead was a blast. Someone said it was like stretching our legs out at the start of our journey and that's just what it was. I opened the night; which always makes me a little nervous because I have nothing to judge myself against (I think that's what's supposed to make it less nerve wracking. Look at me, going against the grain) but it was all good.

I've gotten a chance to listen to Bianca, Frank, and Ricardo a few times, so it was really great to hear Crystal read her stuff. And damn. She says she's not a poet like Frank said once his voice is not an instrument. It was inspiring; the best thing for a writer or any artist, I think, is to be reminded constantly of what art can be, because when you write in a bubble you can't help but forget yourself within yourself.

The drive down was killer. It was only 2 hours, and I love the Kentucky hills more than the landscape of any place I've been in the world, but it was foreign in the same way I don't like taking back roads to get home in Northern Kentucky.

In any case, I got to check out some art at the Kentucky Folk Art Museum. There were so many trees on the hills it was a little spooky; like rigid hair on a great camel's back. I wish I could have seen it in spring.

The room itself was all brick, like a New York Nightclub, very intimate. It was nice, like a slightly more formal Running Word. At the end we closed with questions from the audience; that's always been my favorite part about any reading I attended as an audience member. Someone asked about Affrilachian Poets as a vehicle for giving representation to those with voices that aren't being heard, and that's what it is for me. I didn't write about being biracial, as important as that's been for me, until the Affrilachian poets, and that's heavy. This tour is gonna be great, I'm all kinds of nervous, and that's always a good thing.

Oh, I outsold myself from Chapbooks I brought. You should have seen how fast I ran to that car; the darker your complexion the slower you should be moving in the dark of a parking lot, but I shattered that rule, and probably my own land speed record.