read the words

Anthony DeCurtis had a piece in the New York Times yesterday, called "Peace, Love and Charlie Manson"--Anthony's contemplation of 1969, partly written in response to Arlo Guthrie's recent assertion that other than Woodstock there wasn't really anything else to remember from that year. Because I've been on the road a lot, and knew I wouldn't be able to take time to read the piece on paper or on screen, I decided to use Read the Words to make a quick audio version of it - read by a one of the Read the Words avatars, "Tom." Tom misses his share of pronunciation but I'm at least going to hear the piece twice tomorrow when I'm on the road again. You can hear Tom read Anthony's piece here.

Choice and style (PoemTalk #20)

LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), "Kenyatta Listening to Mozart"


"Kenyatta Listening to Mozart" is an early poem of Amiri Baraka, then known as LeRoi Jones. It was published in a periodical in late 1963 and we're assuming--for the sake of our discussion, which gets into some political history--that it was written earlier that year. Our recording was made at the Asilomar Negro Writers Conference held in the summer of 1964.

Mecca Sullivan, Herman Beavers and Alan Loney were our PoemTalkers for this quietly provocative--and perhaps brutally self-critical--poem. All four of us saw two political and aesthetic scenes, at least in the opening: "the back trails" of pre-Independence Kenya, and "American poets in San Francisco," certainly standing in, at least momentarily, for Baraka's two somewhat distinct concerns at the time: post-colonial radicalism, and the Beat aesthetic. One could say, not quite accurately--but helpful for starters--that this was a time when Baraka was making the move from his Beat nexus to world-conscious political heterodoxy.

Mecca and Alan discuss the apparently ironic juxtaposition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jomo Kenyatta, the Euro-trained anthropologist Kikuyu tribesman who helped lead the Kenyan negotiations with the British. Mecca wonders if, as elsewhere in his writing, Baraka is making Mozart as a cultural symbol susceptible to criticism in light of non-European struggles for basic freedoms. Is the "zoo of consciousness" the situation one finds oneself after one has separated and lost ("Separate / and lose") or is it indeed endemic to the decision to cross aesthetics, share "in- / formation" (formalisms), and assimilate apparent opposites? Do we need to figure Kenyatta walking on the back trails, in sun glasses (a marker of "cool," one of us says), wearing spats, in order to shake into being a real postcolonial anthropological notion? It's not just "choice, and / style." Well, it's that, but also more--for the "beautiful / categories" with which we discern what gets to be called beautiful are not necessarily things we should "go for."

We're grateful to Alan Loney for sidetripping during his U.S. visit from Australia. And as always we're happy that Steve McLaughlin is our crackerjack editor and that James LaMarre does our engineering and recording.

Visit PennSound's Baraka page here. Our poem is here. Click on the image of the text below and you'll see a larger, readable copy.

chip off superblock

And another old video. We've been in the convert-from-VHS biz lately. I like this one. It was produced by Penn admissions and featured George "Chip" Blaustein as a Writers House mainstay: he was on the KWH staff, member of the "Virgin House Quartet" which played in our Arts Cafe every Thursday night for several years. Click here and watch the excerpt.

When "Chip"/George graduated, we honored him and here is the recording of that toast.

Writers House on the agenda

Penn made its "Agenda for Excellence" video a few years ago (during the Judith Rodin administration) and the Writers House had its 30-second segment. Go here to watch the whole video. To see the KWH segment, click anywhere on the video image to open up a QuickTime video window. Then set your counter to 2:40.

my six-word memoir

Sometimes I have a good notion.