Revolutionary hilarity

Lots of people coming over lately, which makes me happy! Tea and pastries on the back patio!

I went to an intense and strange poetry reading, or performance thing, at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. It was weird enough to have its own name: Iapetus. My friend Steve Arntson organized it, and true to his long-form genius it was set up to give us all a lot of time to explore words and sound. I had the feeling that everyone who came to it was ready for that and willing to hear anyone with the mic do something unusual, take us all on a trip.

Iapetus Berkeley flyer

Steve opened by reciting a 15 or 20 minute holographic poem on the theme of bones, full of natural history like no other poem about bones you’ve ever heard. He was fantastic. I had to just laugh with pleasure many times throughout. I got up next reading a couple of short things, my translation of Mariblanca Sabás Alomá’s Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico, explaining first that I would shout whenever the poet busted into capital letters. It was well received. You can’t read out this poem without giggling and shaking your fist at the sky (if you are me). Then I read a couple of other short-ish things including my poem about Pat Nixon in China, a thing about time and memory and children, and a segment of my poem about Henry Ford (which I can’t seem to finish).

Liz iapetus

Highlights of the strange hours to follow: the guy on guitar doing quiet tone poems behind us, Dr. Hal in an australian bush hat endlessly reciting Dylan Thomas W.S. Merwin, and one I liked very much called Under the Vulture Tree by David Bottoms. (Even if it does suffer from the “hummmmm” problem at the end.) And a crapload of William Blake. Managing to infuse it with a hint of creepyness. Then Clara Hsu creating a meditative atmosphere with one of those tibetan bronze bowl thingies, singing the Langston Hughes poem about rain, more things about rain, a poem about Cuba, and a Bach prelude of words about being in a city which I wasn’t sure if I would like but in the end, felt like cheering at how she carried it off. A guy named Tom Stolmar rapid fire ranting with a lot of pop culture and a bitter aftertaste. Fragments of my notes: “Welcome to the endless high school reunion” Something something Morocco, almost went to Paul Bowles’ house, nose surgery, imploding tootsie roll Marky Mark toastmaster creamsicle”. I’m sure that was not all in the same poem. It’s a good sign when I laugh during your poem since if I were laughing in the way of hating it I would be more polite. I also now describe this guy as “the guy who says ‘horripilating'”. Mary Marcia who I remember from Waverly Writers at the Quaker Meeting house in Palo Alto got up and read a slow poem about a million kinds of birds then played on a thumb piano and a Harpo Mark horn. There was another point where someone got up and kind of beatboxed their way through Jimi Hendrix’s entire performance of the Star Spangled Banner complete with explosion sound effects which was slightly hard to tolerate but also amazing. Deborah Fruchey read some poems but my note-taking hand fell off by that point. Someone whose name I didn’t catch performed a long and very disturbing piece that was like a conversational fugue about dating and sex and abuse and rape and relationships. I liked it. And finally ToReadah performed a long piece angrily demanding answers from a “churchman” which she said she normally would not feel comfortable reading. I did not know most people at this reading, as I have not been going out in the past few years to any sort of literary events, just not enough time or energy. Maybe it’s time to put my toe back in the water.

It was not your average poetry reading! There will be a video of this event (I heard that when Steve gets back from Burning Man in October we will get a DVD). Why in October? Is he walking back from Nevada? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile, in books, I read a great book by Danez Smith, Black Movie.

. . . . . This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —

children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors

with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. . . .

Good stuff!!! And an excellent book!

I also read Ho Chi Minh’s Prison Diary translated by Dang The Binh and with a forward by Phan Nhuan. Came across this because it was quoted in Huey P. Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide. I was most struck by “Reading the ‘Anthology of a Thousand Poets'”, the one Newton quoted, and the poem about a milestone (which made me cry a little). While this is not my favorite translation style (rhyming, formalist), I read a few other translations online and got the flavor of what’s happening enough to enjoy the book very much. But possibly the best thing is that my cheap used copy ordered off Amazon was printed in Hanoi in 1972, with truly beautiful layout and typography and everything about the book design, including the art. (Drawings by Tran Van Can and Nguyen Do Cung. Jacket Design by Nguyen Tho. Printed at Tien Bo Press, Democratic Republic of Vietnam.) It is also inscribed in the front in Vietnamese to Robert Miller, dated 1975, and I can’t read the signature but would guess it may be signed by the translator. Now while Bob Miller is a common name I can’t think who would be in Hanoi in 1975 other than Robert L. Miller, illustrious author of “Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage” and “Indochina and Vietnam: The Thirty-Five Year War”. Bob, I have your Ho Chi Minh book! Why’d you let it go?! And can you tell us the story of how you got it?

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Reading some history

This week I read Elaine Brown’s autobiography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. What an excellent read! It is very dramatic and full of situations that had me screaming with surprise or outrage or sadness, and sometimes with celebration of Brown’s fierceness or laughing with affection for her when she would start describing some guy’s cheekbones and you know she was about to fall into bed with him. A book that led me to look up many events and many different people and to line up more reading. I have so many questions! I’m not going to summarize the events though. I am in the middle of Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton now, enjoying it more than I thought I would based on how mad I got at him from Elaine Brown’s book. Also I have lined up Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy edited by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas as well as Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.

One thing that struck me was the moment when Brown describes her anger at Gwen Fontaine (who has just gotten married to Newton while they were in Cuba) and then how she sees Gwen suddenly as a sister, resolving to respect her mind and work. I noticed this alongside how she describes Kathleen Cleaver — never getting to that point of respecting anything about her but seeing her in that same way she saw Gwen, as a patsy or a sucker following her man and taking abuse unquestioningly. I had to roll my eyes since Brown also is in love with various men in the Party and takes abuse from them too. It just shouldn’t delegitimize any of the women’s work or their politics that they are in a relationship with … anyone. But I also got very curious about Kathleen Cleaver (because Brown disses her so badly – mostly by passing over her). Naturally as soon as I looked it was clear that Cleaver was super legit, was intensely politically active and known as an effective writer and great speaker. As Brown describes her she was just hanging out looking pretty, getting pregnant and smacked around by Eldridge. More than anything else this undermined my desire to trust Brown even halfway.

Now let’s not even go into the level of what the fuck, as Bobby Seale orders her to get actually whipped on her back in a basement of the party headquarters for not putting more of his articles into the newspaper. Seriously what the fuck, all around.

Another thing that left me with a million questions was the book’s ending. What about those other women from the Central Committee? What happened next? After they broke Regina Davis’ jaw in the name of party discipline. It is very ominous. When I look them up (only casually so far) they’re mostly mentioned in paraphrases from this very book. I want to know more about their work together.

And then even more questions about Elaine Brown’s amazing strategic politics in Oakland and plans with the mayor, governor (Jerry Brown) and others and her thoughts on what could happen if she and the Party controlled 10,000 jobs in downtown Oakland. And then the Port of Oakland itself and then having some momentum to get Jerry Brown the Democratic presidental nomination. Super fascinating! What if that had happened? An excellent alternate history to write. I can’t help but admire her grab for political power. Maybe her socialist approach to distributing those jobs would have worked a little better than whatever else was going on.

It took me a bit of background reading to wrap my mind around the split in the Black Panther Party(s) Between Huey P. Newton and Elaine Brown and their faction vs. Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. OK so in a nutshell, Newton and Brown don’t like the “revolution right now” style talk of the Cleaver faction or at least of Eldridge himself. The Cleaver bunch were super pissed off that the Oakland BPP had turned reformist. Well, meanwhile Brown along with the women (and men) she appointed to powerful postions were gathering people and power, then Newton rolled back into town and fucked everything up with his macho trip and drug addiction. (& his support for patriarchal power in general despite what he writes… which I want to believe as I read it even now…) Brown accuses Newton of destroying the organization and trust that she built.

And, according to at least the beginning of Kathleen Cleaver’s book, the BPP basically ended in 71 before Brown even was leading. Now that’s a dismissal right back…. how harsh!

Everybody is complicated!

Anyway, Elaine Brown wrote a great book very useful for getting into the mind set of people forming and coming into the BPP but is somewhat unreliable as a narrator and since so many others involved wrote about it all, it’s good to read them too.

The bits of Cleaver’s work that I’ve read so far, she speaks to me pretty strongly,

In fact, according to a survey Bobby Seale did in 1969, two-thirds of the members of the Black Panther Party were women. I am sure you are wondering, why isn’t this the image that you have of the Black Panther Party? Well, ask yourself, where did the image of the Black Panthers that you have in your head come from? Did you read those articles planted by the FBI in the newspaper? Did you listen to the newscasters who announced what they decided was significant, usually, how many Panthers got arrested or killed? How many photographs of women Panthers have you seen? Think about this: how many newspaper photographers were women? How many newspaper editors were women? How many newscasters were women? How many television producers were women? How many magazine, book, newspaper publishers? Who was making the decisions about what information gets circulated, and when that decision gets made, who do you think they decide to present? Is it possible, and this is just a question, is it possible that the reality of what was actually going on day to day in the Black Panther Party was far less newsworthy, and provided no justification for the campaign of destruction that the intelligence agencies and the police were waging against us? Could it be that the images and stories of the Black Panthers that you’ve seen and heard were geared to something other than conveying what was actually going on?

Yes!!! That’s true of just about everything. You look beyond the surface and there are women doing the work (too) and the processes of history formation start to leave them out until there’s just a couple left and then maybe just one —

Honoring the sisters poster

Meanwhile, thinking of this from an epigraph in Newton’s book —

Ho Chi Minh’s “Wordplay”:

A man, once freed from jail, will build his country.
Misfortune is the test of loyalty.
He earns great merit who feels great concern.
Unlock the cage – the true dragon will fly.

or translated another way,

People who come out of prison can build up a country.
Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity.
Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit.
When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.

Good to have a little grounding as #BlackLivesMatter protests continue and deepen. People try to watch the cops with cameras and report on them more closely, rejecting the bullet for the …. camera and I guess, the ballot. I don’t have any faith in either bullet or ballot. Our images and words will move people or at least speak to the future. This isn’t anyone’s first go-round and it won’t be the last and when it heats up the backlash is horrible. Though the horror is already unspeakable with our daily acceptance of our lives within the prison industrial complex — vile complicity.

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Hooray vacation! Goodbye shingles

I’m in Akumal (again) and it’s amazing! Last night the kids and I were lying in shallow water looking up at the Milky Way! I saw Cygnus and a shooting star (Thanks Perseids! Perfect timing!). I can scooter down a short walkway and then walk onto the narrow beach. Perfect for me and very easy for me to get to the water.

There are sea kayaks here! I took one out experimentally. Maybe I can go further as I get stronger and rest more. The kids went snorkelling a little with another family who have younger children.

I have seen some yellow finch-like birds, a ton of grackles, constant Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead, and a woodpecker of some sort. Spending a lot of time in lounge chairs with my binoculars.

beach view in akumalDigression time!

The first week of July I got shingles. It was pretty intense the first two weeks. I barely remember it. My mom came to visit and cooked us amazing food. I had a house call doctor from ERDirect.com. I recommend this if you suddenly fall ill on a holiday weekend. This guy came out within an hour, prescribed me antivirals and steroids, and saved me hours of pain that I would otherwise have had to spend in the ER. The shingles covered most of the left side of my torso (in multiple dermatomes). It was difficult to have any clothing or anything touch that part of my body for the first couple of weeks. Lots of vicodin. I was off work for 3 weeks.

I had that bus hearing in the middle (in week 3). That was kind of wild. I was barely coherent (for me). Did it, somehow! My sister and my son came with me and there were a lot of TV people from local channels.

The things that ended up helping the most were high doses of gabapentin, and ice packs. I feel like the prednisone was also kind of good. At least, it helped me walk better (my knees and ankles were in less pain than usual.) The gabapentin was scary though, in that it made me dizzy and unsteady feeling. It also made my vision blur. I had to increase the font on the computer about 3 or 4 times to see words clearly. But, it still worked better for the shingles pain. It didn’t get me to “pain free” by any means but to a tolerable situation. I also recommend listening to music if you ever end up in severe pain. Albums that kind of hang together, old school style hip hop where you have to carefully listen to get all the words and there is plenty to think about, jazz, opera, and some classical music (baroque – Bach!!) were best. I must have listened to the Mingus “Ah-Um” album at least 3 times a day for a while.

One thing that was unexpectedly difficult was going in a car. I went in taxis or got rides and I could hardly bear to lean back into the seat of the car. I had to hold the seat belt off myself. No way could it touch my body. Horrors.

I also got pain down my left arm (which didn’t have the rash) and in the area on my front and back below the rash but above my hip. It was scary to have my arm affected. It is getting much better. Now down to a low “buzz” feeling.

It was a relief that people seemed to understand the severe pain level, and that life was more difficult for me because I already have pain and some impairments. My son got a sudden crash course that I am calling “Chore Camp” in weeks 2 and 3 of this ordeal.

I recommend you not get shingles, ever.

Luckily I felt pretty decent by last week. I dealt with a sudden intense 2 days of work working 14 hours last Thursday and doing a pretty good job. Not perfect but decent. I did normal things like go out to get groceries. This is so comforting after being ill. The plane ride was OK. Danny got a seat upgrade (he travels a lot and so gets all sorts of perks) and gave me his seat in first class while he sat with the kids in the back of the plane. I didn’t need any painkillers until we were off the plane. Then I kind of gave in and had half a vicodin.

Painkiller free today, still tapering down gabapentin. I am down to 900 mg total per day. Things are so much better. Soon I’ll be completely off of this drug.

My arm is better enough that I kayaked for maybe 10 minutes. Halfway to the reef. I have also walked around a fair bit and have gone “out” to the little mini mart.

Beach paradise, nice breeze, birds flying around, lizards and hermit crabs crawling over everything, hibiscuses and coconut trees, and the sound of the gentle waves in this protected bay!

I’m hoping to swim short distances several times a day, and also kayak!

And I am hoping to find someone willing to be my tutor in (Yucatec) Mayan. I have made a list of words and phrases, and some flash cards. I have also read a fair amount of local history at this point. Very interesting.

Last visit, we were only in Akumal for two and a half days. I explored around the point where the cannons are, and looked longingly at the tide pools (not walking well enough to go to them), found the Lol-Ha restaurant (fabulous) and visited the minimart (Super Chomak) about twice a day. This visit I’d like to explore further — but may instead focus on swimming and resting while the kids explore independently.

There is more seaweed on the beach this visit and the “visibility” under water near the shore is bad, which many people on the beach complain about! I have a scheme to practice getting into the kayak from the water. Not sure that is possible for me. But if it is then I will kayak out to near the reef and then jump in to snorkel! I can kayak a hundred times better than I can walk. Like a sturdy voyageur! But I will need to work up to it.

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