Tracie Morris, Danny Snelson, and Marjorie Perloff joined Al Filreis to talk about one of Charles Bernstein’s early poems, “As If the Trees by Their Very Roots Had Hold of Us.” It originally appeared in Senses of Responsibility (1979) and in 2010 was chosen by Bernstein to be included in All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems. We know the writing of the poem dates at least to 1977, which is when he performed it at a reading at the Place Center in New York (on December 18); he read that day with Kathy Acker.
Sunday, July 14th, New York City: It’s been one week since the death of gifted multi-hyphenate writer, publisher, gallerist, mentor, and community-builder Steve Cannon, founder of the magazine and organization “A Gathering of the Tribes” in New York City. Although many of us are still in a state of shock at the loss, it is important that his recent passing is noted. This comment is a brief mention to mark this time. I’m sure more extensive commentaries by others will follow. Steve Cannon was a great writer. The roots of his work are as a proud New Orleanian. He often mentioned the city of his birth in his reflections on his life and cited his upbringing there in how he expansively considered life, culture, the spirit, art, and organizing disparate people and points of view. (One of his last publications was the book Black Jelly, with poetry by fellow New Orleans native Melanie Maria Goodreaux.
Tracie Morris has written the following to mark the passing of Steve Cannon:
Sunday, July 14th, New York City: It’s been one week since the death of gifted multi-hyphenate writer, publisher, gallerist, mentor, and community-builder Steve Cannon, founder of the magazine and organization “A Gathering of the Tribes” in New York City. Although many of us are still in a state of shock at the loss, it is important that his recent passing is noted. This comment is a brief mention to mark this time. I’m sure more extensive commentaries by others will follow.
Steve Cannon was a great writer. The roots of his work are as a proud New Orleanian. He often mentioned the city of his birth in his reflections on his life and cited his upbringing there in how he expansively considered life, culture, the spirit, art, and organizing disparate people and points of view. (One of his last publications was the book Black Jelly, with poetry by fellow New Orleans native Melanie Maria Goodreaux. Several months ago, he hosted a major event for the book at Langston Hughes’ Harlem home. An apt context.)
Steve very much made New York City his place. Earlier on in his relocation here he was a member of the culturally significant Black writers’ group, Society of Umbra. His impact on the influential Lower East Side/Loisaida/East Village art scene and its global influence from the 1960s to the present is incalculable.
In addition to being a renowned writer, publisher, and community organizer for authors, Steve was a friend of performance artists, musicians, and visual artists. Some legendary creative friends who predeceased him include Judith Molina, Miles Davis, Butch Morris, Ntozake Shange, and, if memory serves, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Appreciation of and respect for Steve by countless artists of all disciplines is a very long list, too long to begin to approach in this brief note. He was a draw. He was also an incredibly generous person with his time and care. Many of us are deeply indebted to Steve for his support, exceptional cultural memory, and deep connections throughout the larger art world. Even though he was known as more avant-garde in his personal approach to writing, he was extraordinarily well-versed and welcoming of all types of art and scholarship.
For many of us who grew up in the “downtown” New York City poetry scene in the early 1990s, Steve was a welcoming, fun, and brutally-hilariously incisive critic and supporter. His “throne,” in those early days of the revivified Nuyorican Poets Cafe, was the end of the bar where he could be heard to audibly and perceptively, well, heckle. “Read the got-damn poem!” was one of his most well-known critiques when the poet on stage was yammering through a warm-up to the text (present writer very much included). What Steve’s loving and bracing critiques, both toward the stage and in intimate conversations, helped to do was expertly mentor — and toughen up — many of the poets who embraced his company. I don’t think I realized how well he prepared so many of us for the writerly life through his witty comments yelled toward the stage. Those who had experienced that type of bracing humor that underlies a very precise suggestion on the poetry in the room were more than prepared for the critiques of, say, an MFA workshop.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Steve’s legacy, especially now in hindsight, is his ability to be a “neutral space” for many dedicated artists, including poetry cliques that naturally occur in communities by people of varying opinions. There were people who disagreed vehemently with each other or plain didn’t like each other, as people are wont to do, but everybody got along with Steve. He just refused to hold grudges or to hold on to bad feelings. He accepted that other people did, he listened but he wasn’t in a “camp,” he was the camp ground.
This included all the art disciplines that A Gathering of the Tribes represented on paper, digitally, and in live performance (including dance). He was a living “true north” for how to embody an open-minded, open-hearted practice and beingness.
Although it seems that Steve lived to a respectable age (84) before joining the ancestors, it feels to be a premature passing if you’d met him. He was consistently vibrant, vivacious, curious, and of sound mind and body (maybe just a bit frailer as he aged). He always was ready with a hearty laugh and intimate, smokey voice (unless he was loudly heckling) almost up to the moment of his death. He was a good friend and he loved connecting people. He was a fun organizer: “Introduce yourselves, introduce yourselves,” was another one of his known and beloved phrases when a few or a lot of people were in the room with him — and this was usually the case. He was extremely popular with people of all generations. (Folks loved to hang out with him and he was quite charming in his uniquely unaffected “Black boho” way.)
The fact that Steve was blind from 1989 until the end of his life might’ve been why newcomers, strangers, would introduce each other to each other at his request. After all, did Steve know who was in the room? Shoot, Steve knew who was in the room better than the sighted people in the room. What he did by suggesting that folks introduce themselves was to create a welcoming space everywhere he was. Rather than just take over the place, he’d encourage all of us to connect one to another, making ourselves at home.
Celebrations are being organized throughout the city for Steve (and beyond) as we mourn the tremendous loss to our communities. Steve was very committed to publishing voices of artists from around the world and to mentoring subsequent generations of artists. Although he spent much of his time “gathering” various tribes, Steve himself was a serious writer of extraordinary versatility and often heightened minimalism. His economy as well as his flourishes were not only on the page but in his articulation of what mattered and how he brought it across in his care for artists.
Joined by Alexandria Johnson, Tracie Morris, and Amber Rose Johnson, Al Filreis hosts this discussion of six short poems or sections from the long poem Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip. The sections discussed are numbered 2, 3, 6, 11, 21, and 26. They can be found, respectively, on pages 5, 6, 14, 20, 37, and 45 of the Wesleyan edition of the book, published in 2008. NourbeSe Philip’s PennSound author page includes several compelling performances of Zong! given over the years. For this PoemTalk episode we listened to a Segue Series reading at the Bowery Poetry Club, given on February 17, 2007.
Tracie Morris performed five of her poems in honor of William J. (Billy Joe) Harris on March 11, 2017, in Brooklyn, New York. Thanks to the efforts of Dylan Leahy, we are making them available as video segments. In the order in which the videos are presented below, they are: “Blackout, 1977,” “Enclosed” (a response to Gertrude Stein’sTender Buttons), “Morenita,” “Postcard of Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” and “Queens.”
So, AWP happened. It sometimes seems a bit shameful, a little shameful, to go. Like a form of selling out that also includes fessing up to your departmental cash and admitting to your desire, that might be worse than everyone’s desire, for attention, but might be more kindly described, by you to yourself, as only the human longing for company. But I did go and those mixed feelings, which also include feeling obliged to represent: the press, the other press, the program, the other program, one’s friends, one’s fanboy or fangirl desires and crushes, one’s “self,” got mixed up even more with other things.
So, AWP happened. It sometimes seems a bit shameful, a little shameful, to go. Like a form of selling out that also includes fessing up to your departmental cash and admitting to your desire, that might be worse than everyone’s desire, for attention, but might be more kindly described, by you to yourself, as only the human longing for company. But I did go, and those mixed feelings — which also include feeling obliged to represent: the press, the other press, the program, the other program, one’s friends, one’s fanboy or fangirl desires and crushes, one’s “self” — got mixed up even more with other things. The visits to the Senators’ offices, which included a melting-down Staffer, Staffer to the GOPER: Cory Gardner of Colorado, now growing famous for slipping out the back door into a waiting car while his protestors/constituents who he pretends are paid and eighteen of whom he had arrested shouted for their own health and dignity.
Camara Brown, Edwin Torres, and Brooke O’Harra joined PoemTalk producer-host Al Filreis for a discussion of Tracie Morris’s “Slave Sho to Video aka Black but Beautiful.” The recording used as the basis of this conversation was made at the 2002 Whitney Museum Biennial Exhibit and is available on Morris’s PennSound page. The performance piece/musical poem was first performed at NYU in the 1990s, in a graduate performance theory course, a last-minute improvisation after Morris discovered she misplaced or lost her planned text, accompanied by — and intuitively responsive to — two colleagues whose dance movements, in part, reproduced the sweeping up-down motions of rice harvesting.
To celebrate the one hundredth episode of PoemTalk — the series began in 2007 and is ongoing — producer and host Al Filreis convened seven poet-critics who had participated in previous episodes: Herman Beavers, Maria Damon, William J. Harris, erica kaufman, Tracie Morris, Steve McLaughlin, and Charles Bernstein. These seven were asked to listen again to the series and choose two episodes that in particular stimulated new thinking or the desire to revise, restate, reaffirm, assess, and/or commend.
If I reviewed her, if I reviewed her. I reviewed her. Her her button. Her boutonniere. Herbal. Her boobeleh. Her boo. Herr Too. Her tuchas. Her view. Her book.
If I viewed her like I used to. I talked to. I teased her. I teach her. I reach. I rearview.
“If ‘if’ was a fifth …” Black lettres. Black pov. “res” onate. Ur-words. Sona. Salon. If I revved up, I could view her through another glass, Toklas, another poem. Whats a smatter-shattering. That piece of bright bling attached to a cloth with sharp edges,
“The Motion of Light” is named for the Kelly Writers House celebration of Samuel R. Delany’s performative poetics, held on April 11, 2014, and archived at PennSound. This Jacket2 feature collects work by all those who were a part of the Delany celebration, of an event that celebrated the writer who, as Tracie Morris notes in her introduction, “is a constellation that continues to be fixed, yet revolves, for me and for so many lovers of poetry … a maker of many worlds.”