Open Letter to the Ambassador of the State of Qatar

Superior, Colorado, USA

20 January 2013

Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi, Ambassador
Embassy of the State of Qatar
2555 M. Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20037-1305

Dear Ambassador,

I write with justice in my head,
I write with all impulse of peace,
In fervent hope of Mohamed
Ibn Al Ajami's release.

Please might we find your magistrate
Well understanding of the fact
That poetry surpasses state,
Liberty trumps Sedition Act.

It will be poets who ensure
The glory of your fine Emir
And even when they do incur
Displeasure, they're his vizier.

I pray you grant your poets space
To work the profit of their mind.
Reconsider this Ajami case,
In which all freedoms are enshrined.

Sincerely,

 

Uche Ogbuji

Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami

[Crossposted]

Photos on the cloud, and your metadata

Every now and then I cast an eye about to see the state of the art on photo storage, sharing and backup.  Like most of us I have far more digital photos than I know what to do with.  For the most part we manage the lot on iPhoto on my wife's iMac.  It's getting to the point where iPhoto is struggling to keep up and I've pondered LightRoom, but it's still a tad bit of overkill, I think.  For now we just using the various tricks of the trade to boost performance.  I think the next step will be to move the iPhoto library to an SSD drive.  Time to start saving up!

Given my technical background, one of the biggest things I look for in photo management of all sorts is preservation of metadata.  If you are not familiar with photo metadata, you should really acquaint yourself.  It's also worth acquainting yourself as to why it's important to separate photo sharing from storage.  Whether it's the EXIF data recorded by the camera itself, or supplementary metadata added, sometimes out of band, by management apps (e.g. face matches, titles & descriptions you add yourself in iPhoto or other tools), it's really important that software respect what's there as much as possible, adding layers of metadata non-destructively.

Alas this is one area where cloud photo services fail miserably.  I think the most pernicious case of this is Dropbox, which is such a handy service for the most part, but I think is nothing short of evil with regard to photos.  First of all it is loud and persistent in pestering you to switch to its photo import and storage module every time you connect a memory card or such to your computer (I understand: they want to nudge people in a direction that leads to paying more for storage.)  The problem is that if you make the mistake of succumbing to their come-ons, you'll find that they happily mangle and destroy any photo metadata that precedes them.  The comments on their blog entries about the photo features are full of customers complaining about this abuse, but they don't seem to be listening.  They are not alone.  Google Picassa also mangles metadata.  Facebook surprises me by actually trying to do the right thing, and getting a bit tied up in knots as a result.

For now I'm sticking with iPhoto, and I'll copy photos from there to Dropbox, Facebook, etc. as needed for sharing.  I'm also trying out AeroFS, and hoping for good things from them, from the general perspective of meddling-free file distribution and sharing.  I hope more people get familiar with the issues here (there are real consequences to having your photo metadata mangled), and that it adds up to a voice in the marketplace for better solutions, including on the cloud.

Malala story is explosive mixture of emotions for me

I had only heard about this story briefly.  Then, while the details of what happened was being discussed, they showed some video footage of previous interviews with her.  I was very impressed by the conviction in her voice as she spoke about her desire to have young girls such as herself receive education and even more so when I considered she would have had good reason to be too scared to speak with such conviction: the very tumultous nature of Pakistan, of where she went to school (in Swat), etc.

She was speaking like a woman at least 3 times her age.  It was more than just the clear benefit of the very education she was advocating for that you could see in the way she was talking and hear in her voice, but something much more.  Something more than just a girl more mature than her 14 years of age.

Then, they showed footage of what I believe must have been her first (or one of her first interviews) with her father.  She was saying "I want to be a doctor" and was immediately overcome with emotion and couldn't finish her sentence.

Her father was sitting next to her and the moment didn't change the look on his face and it was the look on his face that tugged on some strings burried very deep inside of me.  It was the look of infinite love and pride for your child.  He was smiling with such powerful pride.  

I imagine her emotions were more than just being camera shy, perhaps the thought of the danger of her speaking out crowded her mind at that time.  Then the father says "Relax" and looks into the camera, still beeming with pride.

I'm not able to see that video without losing composure myself.  This is because I know how that deep love the father was displaying could be so efficiently transformed into the deepest kind of pain and helplessness a person can imagine.  I don't believe that the aggregate of all the pain-by-proxy Pakistan, the world at large, and even myself might feel on her behalf would come close to eclipsing the pain he (and her mother) must have felt.

The intensity of the love he was showing in that video is exactly the inverse of the pain he must have been feeling as she remained in critical condition, unresponsive, and without anything else to be done but to place his faith in the hands of the medical professionals who were fighting to save her life.

And so, when I read in the Guardian this morning that "Malala Yousafzai can make smooth recovery, doctors say," I was overcome - again - with an explosion of emotions, not just for her but for her family as well.  Yes, Pakistan needs to heal in so many ways, but that family needs to heal first and this is a great first step in that direction.

I deeply hope that she fully recovers and can use the platform she definately will now have to help her achieve the goals of her incredibly brave activism.  I may be able to empathize with how her father, when he got word of her attack and when he was on her side, must have felt, but I can't say that I know what her recovery must be feeling like for him.  

However, at least I have some sense of the magnitude of how that might feel, because I feel some of it now.

Introducing Kin Poetry Journal

Continuing in the theme of too busy doing stuff to blog about it, this is a belated announcement of my new literary venture. I launched Kin Poetry Journal last month along with fellow founders Wendy Chin-Tanner and Eric Norris, and with plenty of help from Walter Ancarrow.  I'm very excited about some of the poets we have coming up, but then again I would say that so it's a good thing there's enough at the journal right now to let the content do the talking.

Poems on birth and infancy

[Crossposted with the Kin blog]

Yesterday David Orr of NPR blogged, "It's A Genre! The Overdue Poetry Of Parenthood," in which he suggested that poetry celebrating childbirth and early infancy has ben historically rare, but is emerging as a new genre.  Maryann Corbett, poet and author of Breath Control, mused on FaceBook that she thought there have long been a fair number of new-baby poems, leading to an interesting conversation on her wall.  I've gathered up some of the poems that were brought up in the thread and elsewhere.

I'll start with Corbett's own "Circadian Lament, Sung to a Wakeful Baby,"(Umbrella Journal) which was linked by one of her friends, not the poet herself.

 

Go back to sleep. You’ve made a slight mistake

switching your days and nights around this way.

The time will come for nights you spend awake,

 

for cough and colic, ear- and stomach-ache.

Though now you babble charmingly and play

the infant hours away (a light mistake), …

 

I mentioned  Catherine Tufariello's "Aubade" (The Nervous Breakdown).

 

Your language has no consonants.

No babble but a siren’s cry,

Imperious as an ambulance,

Yanks me upright, drains me dry,

Returns me to the languid trance

Of timelessness in which we lie.

Your language has no consonants,

Imperious as an ambulance.

 

Kin Poetry Journal co-founder Wendy Chin-Tanner ups the ante by touching on all the brute biology of birth, including post-partum marital sex, in "Veteran", also in The Nervous Breakdown.

 

When our bodies parted, it was without

violence. She slid from me like a sloop

on the crest of that final mighty wave,

the surge sucking her backwards before

spilling over, like breath, like confession,

her arms reaching forward towards the dry

open shore and mine reaching down between

my legs to receive, meeting her, round bright

bud of us combined, her astonishing

glaucous eyes staring steadily,

curiously, seeming to see.

 

A correspondent mentioned "The Victory" by Anne Stevenson, a taut, sharp lyric.

 

Tiny antagonist, gory,

blue as a bruise. The stains

of your cloud of glory

bled from my veins.

 

Some of the discussion was about whether such poems are a new phenomenon. I suspect some of the explicit imagery and language of recent poems is new, but the topic certainly is not, though the article seems tangled upon this point, mentioning, for example, Blake's "Infant" poems from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience." That brought me to mind of the twist represented by To an Unborn Pauper Child by Thomas Hardy. Every good poetic topic wants for a strong, countervailing current.

 

Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,

And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,

Sleep the long sleep:

The Doomsters heap

Travails and teens around us here,

And Time-Wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.

 

The list could go on and on. One of the correspondents mentioned A.E. Stalling's Olives, which includes poems on early motherhood, and the NPR article itself mentions Morning Song: Poems for New Parents. The latter of course recalls "Morning Song," by Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poems.

 

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements.

 

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival.  New statue.

In a drafty museum, your nakedness

Shadows our safety.  We stand round blankly as walls.

 

Jam Session at East Cleveland

I had the priviledge of having (the equivalent of) front row seats to a jam session at the home of a fellow Taichi student was kind enough to let me come.  He hosts these sessions at his home every year, apparently.  It was a blast.  Good food, folk, and an incredibly talented group of musicians: 2 trumpets, an alto sax, drum set, viola, piano, and an upright bass.  

The drum sets and upright bass had rotating musicians (2 on each).  One of the trumpeters was also a fellow Taichi student who had never played with the group before.  I couldn't even tell as they blew some incredible music from their horns.  

The rain caught up with the set and I had to leave prematurely, but took some pictures from the steps where I was sitting right in front of where they performed.  

Emulating the root [by way] of bringing to rest the stem and branches

Wang Bi (226 – 249 AD) attempted to provide a one sentence summary of the 81 chapters of the Laozi ( The Classic/Canon of the Way/Path and the Power/Virtue ), written in the 6th century BC:

Emulating the root [by way] of bringing to rest the stem and branches

This is a bold thing to attempt for any piece of literature, much less one of the most translated of all. However, I think it is a very thoughtful analogy. He elaborates on this sentence in his commentary on the following line from chapter 16.416.5 of the Laozi. The original text and his commentary (immediately following) are below:

Generally speaking, while [all things] are of unending diversity, each one of them returns to its [common] root. [Their] reverting to [their] roots means stillness.

The ‘root’ is the beginning. [That is], each one of them relates back to that which began it. Once they revert to [their] roots, then they [reach] stillness.

This reading brings to mind this picture I took from the roots of a big tree, looking up at its branches.

It also brings to mind the general thrust of modern quantum physics and the ongoing search [ Large Hadron Collider purpose (Wikipedia) ]:

concerning the basic laws governing the interactions and forces among the elementary objects, the deep structure of space and time, and in particular the intersection of quantum mechanics and general relativity

ALICE magnet with the doors open

Many of the experiments being run in the Large Hadron Collider seek to answer these questions by investigating (and attempting to replicate) conditions as they existed shortly after the Big Bang (the mother of all roots). Two and a half millennia later, we still seek to emulating the root.

Ikot Abasi

Ikot Abasi, also called Opobo, formerly Egwanga, port town, Akwa Ibom state, southern Nigeria. The town lies near the mouth of the Imo (Opobo) River. Situated at a break in the mangrove swamps and rain forest of the eastern Niger River delta, it served in the 19th century as a collecting point for slaves. In 1870 Jubo Jubogha, a former Igbo (Ibo) slave and ruler of the Anna Pepple house of Bonny (28 miles [45 km] west-southwest), came to Ikot Abasi and founded the kingdom of Opobo, which he named for Opobo the Great, a Pepple king (reigned 1792–1830). Also called Chief Jaja by Europeans, he destroyed the economic power of Bonny and made Opobo the leading power of the eastern Niger delta oil-palm trade until he was deported in 1887 by the British, who established a trading post at Opobo Town, 4 miles (6 km) southwest, on the west bank of the Imo River.

Modern Ikot Abasi serves as a trading centre for the yams, cassava (manioc), fish, palm produce, corn (maize), and taro produced by the Ibibio people of the area; it also is known for boatbuilding, although a sandbar partially blocks the entrance to its port from the Gulf of Guinea. The town is linked by highway to Aba and Port Harcourt. Pop. (2006) local government area, 132,023.

It was in Cross River state (Akwa Ibom was later carved from Cross River) when I was there, back in 1990, visiting my then girlfriend who was doing her post-University National Youth Service. We took a Toyota taxi van from The University of Port Harcourt, where I was living with my lecturer Dad. For a variety of reasons the trip lives lushly in my memory, not least because of the gorgeous tropical setting (We were in the rural part of Ikot Abasi).  I was also aware of the area's rich history, centered on Opobo, where "King Jaja" went from captured Igbo slave to local leader, undertook an extended campaign of defiance against the British, was eventually captured through deceit and sent into exile.

In a few days there I read a lot and wrote a few poems, including one about Ikot Abasi itself.  This week YB Poetry published my poem, Ikot Abasi Redux, written a couple of years ago as a sort of echo of that poem I wrote in 1990. That earlier poem, written when I was still a teenager, isn't really publishable in any proper journal, but I thought this a good time to post it in this informal setting as a sort of bookend to the "Redux." You can see the themes I carried into the more recent poem.

Ikot Abasi

(Thoughts from the World's Navel)

I. Fauna

In the wake of age-old night,
A downy, dewy new born baby
Ourang-outan hangs face downwards,
Legs in mother's knowing grip,
Wide-eyed at the brown, the chlorophyll.
Apprentice to the simple art of gestures,
It takes, in breath, the dizzy scene,
The trailing vines and sea-green herbs,
The brown dehiscent pods,
The endless symbiosis (breathe)
The roiling food chains (breathe again);
In mother's knowing grip,
It learns that which the eye can't see
In this plush romp of deity,
This nursery of being...
The primate urge that shaped our shrilling tongues to trope
Shows roots here like the ageless, sprawling tree in shallow soil.

II. Sylva

A tree is not a poem, but a poem might be tree:
A poem that is not a tree is grass or birophyte.
A poem, tree through hardened truth or old acuity
Is ringed by lesser stalks and shoots that struggle to the light.

Knowing truth in things unseen and rarely comprehensible,
A poem's tree by virtue of compression (heed the lesson)
Images, insisted Pound, are acorns—hard, inedible
The poet's business lies in rearing oaks to dine the mind on.

III. Antiquissima

Bah!
These centuries of prosody and rhetoric are latent here,
And have been since our times before imagining,
Flowing through the veins of leaves.
There are no hamadryads here,
No wooded tabernacles,
No slave moods in the elder's stool,
The hoe, the hollow ikolo.
Wisdom is never exercise
At the world's damp navel,
But an endless dance to soundless measure,
Answering to none at all
unless the simple seasons.

© Uche Ogbuji
27 March 1990
at Ikot Abasi, Nigeria

Amateur, Filtered Shots of Venus Transit

Chidi and I used a filter that was passed out during an organized viewing at the Shaker Heights Middle School athletic field to take direct shots of the sun. One of the 3 shots is a 'before' and the other 2 are with the filters. Unfortunately, you can't see the dot that is venus with the weak magnification capabilities of my Droid Razor, but it was fun do to.

Bis: So much going on I keep forgetting to write

In September I bundled together a bunch of news and updates from my literary work in one big update, and I continue to have trouble finding time to post updates here more regularly, so time for another big round-up.

The latest issue of the lovely Scree Magazine has an interview with me, and showcases 2 of my poems "Mango Flesh" (p. 55) & "Mysteries of Harvest II" (an Igbo-themed sonnet on p. 59).  There's also a summary in simpler Web form.


Potomac Review had me as a featured guest blogger to write on my participation in National Poetry Writing Month. In my article I touched on the practice of writing in a marathon, and the advantages that come with community, memorization and form.

One of my poems "A heart to break for longing" is up at Blind Oracle Press. It's an especially dear to me as it was my first experiment with what has become a form I call the Dialette, which has now become one of my favorite forms in which to write.

I have twin poems in String Poet. A straight translation and adaptation both from “El Amor Ascendía Entre Nosotros,” by Miguel Hernandez.  "Love ascended between us" and "Folly between us"

My poem "Manna in the Maxim Gun" is up in Unsplendid, tagged as "an expat ponders Nigeria's past & future."  Also "Endo" in Mountain Gazette, both in print and online.  It's the fifth poem on the page, a Tanka. I also posted an idiosyncratic performance piece "Annette Fu Frankie A Frankenstein Freaks!" on The Nervous Breakdown.

Finally, I've contributed a poem, "Sendai Space Elevator," to New Sun Rising, a charity anthology to benefit victims of last year's Tsunami in Japan. The book is due out soon, and there is now a trailer available.