Black night! Black night!

In the case where fear presses back
Through the air, where the torch has expired
On the orphan river,
In the forest, soulless and tired,
Under the anxious and faded trees,
In the wan woods, squalling trunks
Ululate without respite
Over the accursed tom-toms,
Black night! Black night!

from "Nuit Noire" by Birago Diop, translated by Uche Ogbuji

This poem is excerpted from Birago Diop's short story "Sarzan", well known among literati with interest in African culture. I can only find it in French online right now, but I first encountered it in the collection Jazz and Palm Wine which my father loved and would sometimes read to the family. The excerpt above is from the very end, and I translated it form the French original:

Dans la case où la peur repasse
Dans l'air où la torche s'éteint,
Sur le fleuve orphelin
Dans la forêt sans âme et lasse
Sous les arbres inquiets et déteints,
Dans les bois obscurcis
Les trompes hurlent, hululent sans merci
Sur les tam-tams maudits,
Nuit noire ! Nuit noire !
Inline image 2
I've watched the "Kony 2012" hype and the subsequent controversy with both amusement and bemusement, thought I've thought whatever comment I might have better kept to myself. I wasn't even paying much attention to the whole affair except for a few nuggets that would strike me, usually from when it was on the news my wife was watching in the other room. The first case was when I believe NBC said they would be sending a crew to Uganda to do some fact-checking on the story. That really annoyed me.
Here is a list just off head:
  • Major unrest in Burkina Faso last year
  • Ethno-religious strife in Nigeria's middle belt
  • Al-Quaeda-inspired terrorism in Nigeria's North
  • The Nigerian fuel subsidy removal unrest
  • An oil spill by Shell almost as bad as the Deepwater Horizon disaster (in terms of environmental impact rather than barrels of oil)
  • South Sudan's independence
  • Eradication of Rhinderpest
  • Famine in East Africa
  • The arrest of Gbagbo in Côte d'Ivoire following the mayhem he caused after elections
  • The election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia
  • One of the most engaging African Cup of Nations competitions in my own memory (OK I had to throw that last bit in there).
So many compelling stories coming out of sub-saharan Africa, and it took a viral Youtube video to get NBC to send a crew to the continent.  Even if you were only interested in Uganda, the non-violent protests led by Besigye against Museveni alone were more newsworthy than "Kony 2012".

Now don't get me wrong. Joseph Kony and the LRA have been shocking and disgusting me for at least fifteen years, and of course I'd love to see him brought to justice, but the problem with Kony 2012 is that it perpetuates the approach of over-hype and lazy hyper-focus on one topic that has characterized so much popular Western attention on the continent. It's "Do they know it's Christmas time at all" all over again, and don't let me start on that unspeakable nonsense.

Anyway another snippet from the "Kony 2012" affair that struck me was the clip of the video's creator I half caught in which he was itching about some U.S. city street in the nude while muttering loudly. It instantly brought back a very powerful reminder of Birago Diop's short story, which Professor Willfried Feuser translated in his collection as "Sarzent the Madman." The "Sarzent" ("sergeant") of the story has returned from his military education in France loudly determined to "civilize" his home village. He becomes possessed by the spirits of his ancestors and goes around raving in poetry. I see the broader lesson of the story about the peril of insincerity couched in self-righteousness, especially when rooted in alien, Western values. That's certainly how the story struck me as a child, and in that wise I find the correspondence to this madness of Jason Russell extremely creepy. A friend of mine mentioned that it's as if the man was stricken by the Igbo deity Agwu Nsi.

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Some of the ravings of Sarzan/Sarzent come from Diop's earlier poetry, including his lovely "Souffles" ("Breaths"):

Écoute plus souvent 
les choses que les êtres. 
La voix du feu s'entend, 
entends la voix de l'eau
écoute dans le vent
le buisson en sanglots.

I found the above video with the poem's recitation. I translate it thusly:

Listen more often
To things than to beings.
The fire's voice is heard,
Hear the voice of the water
Listen in the wind
To the bush a-sobbing.

The Nigerian fuel subsidy quagmire

I caught rumblings of the fuel subsidy removal affair while on my holiday travels, but only in the past few days have I gained a sense of just what a delicate moment in time this is for Nigeria.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for whom I've always expressed much admiration, wasted no time after being installed as Finance Minister and over the past quarter, working tirelessly to convince the Federal Government of Nigeria to eliminate the subsidy on motor fuel forthwith. The subsidy was removed as of the first of this year, triggering immediate protests. This is not the first time the government has tried to eliminate the subsidy, and it has always backed down due to popular response, but this time the government seems determined to hold its ground, and Okonjo-Iweala has been quite tough in defending her position. She points out that Nigeria is in danger of financial meltdown to rival that of Greece because of the unsustainable borrowing, much of which goes straight back out of the country in subsidy payments.


The protests across Nigeria have looked to build on the extraordinary scope of popular actions in 2011, in which Time Magazine famously dubbed the protester Person of the Year, including the use of social media, where on Twitter they have adopted the hashtag "#OccupyNigeria."  Of course the "Occupy Wall Street" protests that have lent vocabulary to so many subsequent protests were against policies that support the so-called "1%" of people who make fortunes off globalized finance, while most of the U.S. is facing a harsh recession. There were actually plans for similar "Occupy Nigeria" protests even before the motor fuel subsidy removal, but the popular response against the fuel subsidy provided a spark that no protest organizer could possibly pass up.


I do think this convergence of events has led to an unfortunate side-effect. Rightly or wrongly "Occupy Nigeria" has become seen as a vehicle for protest against subsidy removal rather than a protest against the corruption and mismanagement that in effect creates Nigeria's version of the "1%." The danger, however, is that I think most commentators would agree that at some point the fuel subsidy does need to be eliminated, and the real problem is not the subsidy elimination but the likelihood that the cash that the government would save thereby would just also be siphoned into the pockets of Nigeria's "1%".

Prof. Adeola Adenikinju of the University of Ibadan has been one of the most sensible commentators on the issue, which should not surprise anyone, as there are fewer more coherent discussions of the fuel subsidy conundrum than his 2009 presentation at OECD's Global Forum on Trade and Climate Change. That presentation, "Energy pricing and subsidy Reforms in Nigeria", should be required reading for anyone pondering these current events. He argues convincingly the economic case for subsidy removal, but he also admits the considerable present obstacles. He concludes:

Nigeria needs to keep to a formula based approach for determining fuel prices in the short term, while expediting actions in respect of putting in place a vibrant domestic refining industry.

This is where I think even the brilliant Okonjo-Iweala has missed the road, and at the same time I think the "Occupy Nigeria" crowd must learn the lesson of the accusations of incoherence and unthinking populism leveled against "Occupy Wall Street." Okonjo-Iweala is all about GDP growth, and that one measure can be a powerful blinder for economists. I remember watching her famous TED talk headlined "Want to help Africa? Do business here" and thinking: "OK I can sympathize with the desire to focus on foreign development as a vehicle for recovery on our continent, but isn't it even more important to focus on domestic industry?"

Why must we slaves to the mechanisms imposed by the IMF and The World Bank when China shows that there is more than one way to turn around an economy? We are coming from a similar historical and demographic place with the immense damage caused by Chairman Mao not so different from that caused by decades of African despots and colonial meddling. Yes, I do realize that the biggest issue with that thinking is that no African nation has the combination of ruthless and effective leadership of Deng Xiaoping. Surely there is a middle path, an African path.

I can hardly think of a more apt fulcrum for weighing out such a middle path than this fuel subsidy crisis. Imagine a timetable that clearly leads up to later subsidy removal through a series of confidence-building measures, some of which Prof. Adeola Adenikinju outlines in his presentation. Even Okonjo-Iweala has been forced to articulate a bit better the material gains to the people she expects from the savings from subsidy removal, mentioning health and social welfare programs, urban mass transit and more, but coming as it has, after the fact of the precipitous subsidy removal decision, this satisfies no one.

Unfortunately present discussion has sometimes broken down into he-said-she-said, for example whether subsidy removal was supposed to wait until April, or claims that Okonjo-Iweala has threatened to resign if any compromise is made on subsidy removal. All this heat without light is not helping matters at all. Even shotgun measures such President Goodluck Jonathan's pledge this morning to slash government salaries by 25% are not enough to grow from this crisis into a pattern of long-term solutions. A continued loss in confidence the current president and his talented Finance Minister could play into the hands of the many darker interests in the nation who have been the main actors in the historical sabotage of Nigeria's welfare. I to truly fear the emergence of some player, perhaps even an agent of the "1%," who claims the populist card against the current government and ends up taking Nigeria even further into the dark ages.

Jonathan and Okonjo-Iweala need to repeat their decisiveness in applying the fuel subsidy removal policy, but this time they must rapidly decide on reform of that policy. They need to articular a clear timetable and plan to tackle corruption, addressing the fact that declared government salaries are a fraction of the mismanagement problem. They need to take firm steps to shore up the domestic, refined petroleum industry. They need to deliver credible assessments of the effectivity of the social welfare institutions that Okonjo-Iweala is promising to support with proceeds from subsidy elimination. A solid, independent advisory panel of the likes of Prof. Adeola Adenikinju and former Petroleum Minister Professor Tam David West, among other specialists, could draw up such a timetable for government approval, acting under the highest standards of transparency.

Would such a course be an easy one? Of course not. But I suspect it would be less difficult than navigating the economic (inflationary pressure) and political (popular revolt) perils of the present course.

Above all, I do hope that the government and its security apparatus sees fit to let the protesters have their say. I'm very troubled by reports of hardships suffered by the protesters, and I hope that we can show the first glimmers of a new, modern Nigeria in the treatment of dissent. President Goodluck Jonathan is no Bashar al-Assad, and shouldn't even take a step in the direction of the Syrian crackdown.  I do find myself hopeful that of all the post-war Nigerian governmental regimes, Jonathan's is the most likely to act with the necessary balance and prudence to turn this crisis around and start on the long, hard road to recovery for our nation.

Poetry, Western Slope sty-lee

This world glistens like a summer lamp saying open, open
In the time it takes to speak, everything could disappear.

—from "Looking for Fossils" by Sandra Dorr (from Desert Water, The Lithic Press, 2009)

What is that spark when you meet a friend, which crackles with instant recognition? And what is that spark multiplied like a moonless night sky's field of fireworks? It might be something like what I experienced at the Western Colorado Writers' Forum's annual conference in Grand Junction this past weekend.


I was introduced to the group by Wendy Videlock, who appeared on TNB Poetry at my behest and who then suggested I lead a workshop on submissions to online journals at the conference. I gave that workshop Saturday to a sharp, attentive group who had just heard María Meléndez's advice about submitting to print journals.

Earlier that morning I had encountered what this conference was really about, at heart.

What better place to call home
than this high desert cloud mesa wrong turn
rippling of the continental plates
before they slap down
fanning towards the Coast?

—from "The Wright Stuff" by Art Goodtimes

I woke up on the crisp, autumn morning to ride with Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason and his sweet, effervescent lover Cally Conan-Davies up Monument Canyon into the sort of jaw-dropping landscape that Colorado offers up to casually. There at the visitor center of the National Monument, a group of poets learned from Park Ranger Liz of the eventful geological and human history of the place, as well as present climate, flora and fauna. Fingers bit by the chill, we nevertheless scribbled scraps of what she said and what figments the vista inspired in us.


We then gathered in a room at the center where David Mason recited selections of poetry which exhibited rootedness to land.  He finished with Bristlecone Pine, his own poem written after visiting the oldest tree of that type in the Rocky Mountains; he started with:

We have no prairies 
To slice a big sun at evening  
Everywhere the eye concedes to  
Encroaching horizon, 

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye  
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country  
Is bog that keeps crusting 
Between the sights of the sun. 

They've taken the skeleton  
Of the Great Irish Elk 
out of the peat, set it up 
An astounding crate full of air.

—from "Bogland" by Seamus Heaney

I wrote a poem, "Parachuted," that seemed to emerge, great elk skeleton, from the dew-soaked sponge of my brain.  I also remembered that beginning of "Bogland" throughout the day, and when one of the organizers urged us to write and share weathergrams to post on Grand junction trees, "Bogland" wove into my offering.

I've since worked that weathergram into a tanka.

We have no tarn to
Mottle the copperplate face
Of rough entrada.
We've no black peat, dry fossil
Colorado, we repeat.

—untitled, by Uche

There were several fossil-marked rocks at the home of Danny Rosen, professional astronomer, director of the Western Sky Planetarium, poet, and host to a group of us. The first night Danny treated us to jaw-dropping views of the moon, Jupiter and its moons, The Pleiades, The Andromeda galaxy and more through his large telescope.  Friday evening I taught a couple of Igbo and Efik songs to Art Goodtimes, San Miguel County commissioner and Western Slope Poet Laureate and Rosemerry Trommer, runner, linguist, singer and proprietress of a large fruit orchard.  Rosemerry sang me a few Yoruba songs in turn. From there we joined the chat and debate at Danny's legendary poet's bonfire with Jack Mueller, Wendy, David and Cally.


It wasn’t the moon
that swooned me, but
the edge of the moon,
cratered and rough,
the shadow line
where substance ends
and space begins.

Plenary sessions were held in a lovely converted church with high, NBC peacock stained glass windows. Highlights included a poetry reading in which I took part, and offerings of words from elders. Saturday night, before the headlining presentation of Leslie Marmon Silko we had a bit of history from Ute elder Clifford Duncan. Sunday morning the conference closed with a series of reminiscences by elderly representatives of various cultures in the local Grand Valley: Hispanic, African American, Basque, Italian, Japanese, etc., as well as from a gentleman telling the history of geology, miners and military installations in the region. I was very impressed at the amount of time, attention and respect given over to those who have known that land the longest, and to their stories.

Maybe that is why we go on talking,
always trying to show someone we're here,
and look--I have a past just like you do,
a stream of words that fills the empty night
and sweetens troubled dreams, or so we hope,
and tells us not to linger long on bridges
staring at all the water passing by.

I thought my whole ambition was to make
the past and present come together, dreamed
into a vivid shape that memory
could hold the way the land possesses rivers.
They in turn possess the land and carry it
in one clear stream of thought to drink from
or water gardens with.

I learned that I must first talk to myself,
retelling stories, muttering a few
remembered lines of verse, to make the earth
substantial and to bring the sunlight back.

Stories were how my long weekend began, as well as how it ended. I arrived at Wendy's household, met and had supper with her charming family, after which Wendy and I discussed lives and poetics, our own, and of others, into the night.  Then it was time to sleep, because in the morning Wendy was leading a workshop, "Totem Poems and the Subconscious Muse," which was my first writing workshop, an experience I approached warily because my remote impression of workshops had been rather dire.  On the day I enjoyed Wendy's approach, and was very impressed at the quality of poems written by participants. I wrote a couple of poems which seem worthy of further attention, including a leopard poem, which I'm always grateful to receive.


Only bone, like the shadow, knows
that lasting metaphors are born
of architects and alchemists,

of those who love the arch
and beam, and of the fleshy need
to leave and have something remain.

—from "In Praise of Form" by Wendy Videlock, from Nevertheless, Able Muse Press, 2011

Sandra Dorr was too busy running the show for me to have much opportunity to hear her poetry, so Desert Water was my first read this week of the many volumes I'd bought at the conference. In the way she switches from the telescope of landscape to the microscope of intimate personal detail, Sandra is like so many of the remarkable poets I met that weekend. Something very special is welling from the ground in Colorado, and I'm excited to be a part of it. I spent about a half hour with Sandra walking to lunch one of the days, and she told me of how she had gotten involved in local literary initiatives, pointing out the many points of artistic interest in the small town of Grand Junction. I have no doubt that her tireless efforts, and that of her collaborators at the WCWF, will continue to bear fruit, and that I'll always be of a mind to witness the resulting magic in person.

See also:

So much going on I keep forgetting to write

It has been a crazy past few months. Not only has the day job been running at a gallop, but it's been full-on on the family front and back-to-school and all that. No shortage of activity in my corner of the poetry department, either. I've been posting a lot of interesting work at TNB Poetry, and other have been publishing a gratifying run of my own poems.

My poem "Villonaud of the Barflea Bard" was selected to be part of the 2nd anniversary issue of The Flea.  An excerpt:


Maenads are snarling their decree:
‘So who d'you think you are,’ they howl
‘To seal your bonnet from the bee?’
Those bouncers at the Muses’ hill
Take down attendance in their hall—
You’re conscript to the gathering
To rouse the skaldic clan again
With clinking roar of brannigan.
Yield bruckle skin to miching flea.

I've mentioned The Flea several times in Copia since I discovered it this year. I'm in the first place delighted to find a journal featuring the sort of witty and expressive poetry I love, and in the second place excited to have my own work in such brilliant poetry. In the same broadsheet are too many superb poets to list here, but I must give special mention to the contemporary Australian master Alan Gould. As for my own poem, I had a good deal of fun writing it specifically in response to the call for carouse-house poems to celebrate the anniversary. "Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief"--Hamlet, III. ii. 146

Next my poem "Fortune of Chi" was published in Soundzine, with my recitation. The poem is fairly typical of the manuscript on which I've been working for a few months, with its dash of Biafra and undercurrent of Igbo cosmology, so it was great to place it in such a great journal.  An excerpt:

Some randomized permutation of genes
Spelled these very left and right brain cortices–
Spotlight nerves on sheer possibility;
Some Mendel melody conjured these eyes,
These muscles, grafted these veins under this skin;
I am too many pin-point faults to be
By design yet I crown my own life's fitness:
I am perfected fortune of my chi.


Close on the heels of "Fortune of Chi" came the appearance of "What Belief" in Lucid Rhythms. An excerpt:

I've stroked it while it gently weeps,
Caressed each trembling string,
Cranked up to weapons grade at times
I undertake to sing.

And yet I disappoint, I rip,
I charm a wicked scar;
Hot venom as the scorpion bows
To cantor de Ronsard.

If poetry and song provide
The island with a reef,
What heroes championing what gods
Are left to my belief?


And shortly afterwards my poem "Rhapsody On Q A" appeared in Red Fez., where it was classified as a villanelle but is actually a variant of the villanelle created by Lewis Turco and named the terzanelle. Lewis Turco then added "Rhapsody On Q A" to his exemplar list of terzanelles. An excerpt:

Light on temples, Nepal to Sri Lanka,
You glide, traveling soul, earth-bound fixed foot,
Each step mounting from base camp Casablanca,

From past-life luxury of Hatshepsut
To present serene, composed asana;

Last month I was selected to read at The Poetry in Motion Project at the Boulder Fringe Festival on the basis of my submitted poem "Cabeceo de Niwot." I recited that poem and another, "Run It!" to great response by the audience.

And mixed into all that I found time to write and record a spoken word piece flowing into an old school rap to celebrate TNB's 5th anniversary, and I also wrote a great deal of verse in the 2011 session of Heather Fowler's poetry marathon. I'll also be co-leading (with María Meléndez) a workshop on submissions at the Western Colorado Writers' Forum October 7th-9th in Grand Junction, Colorado, which should be a great time to meet many of my fellow Rocky Mountain poets, including Wendy Videlock, whom I've mentioned on Copia, and David Mason, Poet Laureate of Colorado.  Busy, busy times. Fun, fun times. And I'll have more to report soon, with poems forthcoming in The Flea (again), IthacaLit and The Raintown review.

Never mind back then, never mind that next, enjoy the Arsenal now

On Monday, Valentines, my true love gave to me an Arsenal beer mug.  Here's what it looked like yesterday:

I know! I know!  A bit much, innit?  And why not?  A few hours prior I had just about lost my voice, struggling from effects of fighting winter crud, and my mind, when Arshavin netted the winner for Arsenal over the mighty Barcelona.

A week and a half earlier was that horror show against Newcastle.  I was already feeling better by that evening when Wolves (of all teams) ended United's unbeaten run (if you're addicted to crack, still nothing will do but the Invincibles).  But regardless, all the talk were that Arsenal's "brittle", "perennial underachievers" had crumbled yet again.  I was glad to see their no nonsense attitude against Wolves the next week and I remember thinking to myself "if they work this hard on Wednesday, even Barça will have trouble coping with them).  My words turned prophetic last night.  Yes Barça was Barça, absolute masters on the ball, but despite long periods of domination (people tend to forget we had spells of our own), they succumbed to our combination of slick passing and directness.  Now Newcastle is forgotten in the euphoria, and rightly so.

The players are the first to admit that it's far from over.  Even a 1 goal lead can feel like a slim margin at the Camp Nou.  Just ask Real Madrid.  Barça are still favorites to go through and all I can hope for is an upset (though such a hope is far from unreasonable).  But that is a matter for three week's time.  For now, it's just time to bask in one of the most enjoyable illustrations ever of "Wenger knows".  How do I mean?

Jack Wilshere.  How often has the English media derided Wenger's attitude towards English players?  How often has Wenger replied that if he were to find a local player with the quality he'd be happy to work with him.  Now you can't open your eyes without seeing headlines of how Wilshere is the future of England.  And yes.  This came from training in the English system.  Wenger doesn't care about nationality.  He knows how he wants his players to play, and he's not looking to pay over the odds to compromise on that.  He'd rather produce a Wilshere his own damn self.  And soon after making his full England debut to great praise, young Jack, impossibly young Jack, completely PWNed a Barcelona midfield including 3 of the best players in the world.  He was just astonishing last night.  Immaculate.  What a future in store for that young lad.  England, what's that you mean to say to Wenger? I think it's "Thank you".  And with Walcott around, and J.E.T., Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Sanchez Watt and more to come, I think you'd just better get used to saying that again and again.
(Image credit: Gunnerblog)

CF4.  The media seems to trip over themselves to consign Fabregas to a move to the Camp Nou any minute now.  Yes even Cesc expressed such desires over the summer, and some of my fellow fans got rather silly in that response.  Wenger said that Cesc is committed to winning with Arsenal, and many scoffed.  It might have been a blessing to draw to his supposed home club, even if it means doom for us in this Champion's League campaign, because everyone needed to see how badly Cesc wanted Arsenal to win.  After the game he warmly embraced his many Catalan friends, but during the 90 minutes, he was an intense leader from the front of the Red and White cause.

Le philosophy.  Part of the drama over Cesc to Barcelona has been that the Catalan giant is hoping to get him on the cheap. They can't afford the sorts of enormous splurges they're used to.  Financial realities have caught up to them, as so many other clubs.  Arsenal's squad was assembled for a fraction of the cost fo their opponents, with our own big spending on Arshavin and Nasri looking like a joke against the fees for players such as David Villa and Alves.  We're full of the young fruit of our academy, while many of Barça's best are nearer the end than the start of their careers.  Barça are still the juggernaut of Europe, but they represent a fading regime, and Arsenal shows the way forward for football within global realities.  Wenger has known this for years, and his fiscally prudent, philosophically coherent master plan is over a decade in the making.  He's received a lot of criticism from the impatient, and he deserves the vindication of last night.

Koscielny.  This poor bloke has received a lot of criticism this year, and people forget that he has dealt admirably with a meteoric rise.  Just 2 seasons ago he was playing in Ligue Deux!  And last night he played the most successful recent team in Europe, chock full of World Cup winners.  And he took the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, and put him firmly in his pocket.  I've heard some people say Messi had an off day.  Bollocks!  Watch very carefully what happened 95% of the time when Messi encountered Koscielny.  It was a great day for the latter more than a poor day for the former.  And yes, credit Wenger's vision for spotting that potential and snagging him for almost nothing, as he did with Vermaelen a year earlier.

I could go on and on and on (believing in the young Polish goalkeepers, playing the recently much-maligned Arshavin, gambling on Nasri's hamstring, leaving Song on for a while to learn how to simmer down when on a yellow...), but screw that.  I just want to keep basking in what might have been the most thrilling single victory I've enjoyed as an Arsenal fan. What was I listening to last night as I drank that Arsenal flavored beer?  Oh yeah, you proper Gunners won't need too many guesses.  Enjoy the afterglow!

"Bolder Barefoot" Audio

Uche's bolder bare FootI'm featured on the TNB podcast this week, reading my piece "Bolder Barefoot."  The production is by Aaron M. Snyder and Megan DiLullo, and I don't know what I did to deserve such awesomeness.  They've made me sound very nice, if I do say so myself, and they've also injected a lot of character into the proceedings.  It's also up on iTunes.  If you're not subscribed to TNB on iTunes, you should be.


To belong? What's it mean? Is it creature of tense? Is it active or passive?
Is it cold set in bone, magma oozing to plate ocean floor, or explosive
Crackling reaction, plume clearing to flesh jacked into the massive?


Hussein's family had fled Iran in retreat from the Ayatollah muhajideen
But became the yard's only-good-one-is-a-dead-one once the hostage crisis went down.
Hussein had seen worse than punk clique kids.  He was like: "Bring that shit on!"


When your eyes learn to look beyond state, to peers beyond infinity,
Okigbo, Villon, Pound, Plath, sometimes you forget that misfit can grow to vanity.
I've come to grow into readiness for company, the scent and crinkled space of shared humanity.

My recital of my poem, "Growing up Misfit", from the Spring, 2010 TNB Literary Experience in New York, is the lead piece in this week's TNB Podcast Feature on The Nervous breakdown.

"TNBLE - Episode 7, Part I.  The Nervous Breakdown's Literary Experience, recorded live in New York City at Happy Ending Lounge on 26 March 2010. Featuring Uche Ogbuji, Daniel Roberts, Tod Goldberg and Kristen Elde. Produced by Aaron M. Snyder and Megan DiLullo. Music by Goodbye Champion."

I've revised the poem a bit since that recording, but it's nice to hear the audio so crisp.  Major props to Kimberly and her peeps at the event, and Megan and her peeps for the post-event production.  I don't think I've ever heard myself so clearly.


I say people, people come on and check it now
You see the mic in my hand now watch me wreck it now
What is a party if the crew ain't there?
(What's your name, kid?) Call me Guru; that's my man Premier
Now many attempts have been made to hold us back,
Slander the name and withhold facts.
But I'm the type of brother with much more game
I got a sure aim and if I find you're to blame,
You can bet you'll be exterminated, taken out, done.
It doesn't matter how many they'll go as easy as just one.
Bust one round in the air for this here
'Cause this year suckers are going nowhere,
'Cause my street style and intelligence level
Makes me much more than just an angry rebel.
I'm Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal
MCs that ain't equipped get flipped in my circle.
I'm aiming on raining on the bitch ass chumps
Cuz their rhymes don't flow and their beats don't pump;
And niggaz better know I've paid my dues and shit.
I'm 'bout to blow the fuck up because I refuse to quit.
I'm out to get the props that are rightfullly mine,
Yeah me and the crew think its about that time.
But on the DL you know that Gangstarr will conquer.
That's why you stare and point, and others cling on to
My Nautica, asking for a hook-up;
Well sorry but my schedule is all booked up.
Nobody put me on; I made it up the hard way;
Look out for my people but the suckers should parlay.
'Cause it's business kid, this ain't no free for all
You have to wait your turn, you must await your call.
So now, now it is my duty to
Eliminate and subtract all of the booty crews,
And suckers should vacate, before I get irate
And I'll kick your can from here to Japan
With force you can't withstand
'Cause I'm the motherfucking man.

—Guru's verse, Gang Starr - "I'm the Man"


When I heard yesterday morning that Guru had died, a sequence ran through my mind of classics rendered in that inimitable monotone.  "Just to get a Rep" and "Words I Manifest" were my introduction to Gang Starr and the group's charismatic MC.  I'm not one to dwell much on celebrity life milestones (though I do remark the excellent NY Times obit), not even in the tragic case of a quietus descended at young age. But it is certainly occasion to remember the music that kept me, my brothers, and my peers well entertained for a good while.  As you can see from the above verse, Guru never pushed the bounds of complexity too far.  His rap was mostly classic B-Boy swagger.  But classic B-Boy swagger is what drew so many of us to Hip-Hop in the first place, the rump-of-cold-war kids born of the first generation able to take full advantage of the global village, finding our way as far-flung misfits.  We didn't really know of any advantage to our polycultural dexterity, but we definitely understood the message of uncompromising personal expression, no matter how awful your personal ghetto.  The braggadocio was the gateway to something that became richer and more abstract as we brought that polycultural dexterity to bear, and one of the last pushers of that pure, gateway drug hit was the Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.


"Dwyck" was the anthem around when I arrived in the US as my family immigrated.  Daily Operation is probably my favorite album, with killer tracks such as "Take it Personal" and "Ex to the Next."  I also enjoyed a lot of Guru's creative collabos in the Jazzmatazz series, and being a Soul junkie, I definitely dug the likes of "Keep your Worries" with Angie Stone and "Plenty" with Erykah Badu.

Guru always surrounded himself with talent that complemented his skill and curiosity, and in a later verse to this Quotīdiē's track, for a cameo that straight flipped my wig (and those of many others), Guru introduced a young bridge from that B-Boy classic style to the emerging abstract/black-power style, Jeru the Damaja.

I'll tap your...jaw; you probably heard it before
step to the Bedlamite I'll prove my word is law
Drugstore worth more, dope rhyme vendor,
Not partial to beef, the chief ambassador
Niggaz get mad 'cause they can't score
Like a wild west flick they wish to shoot up my door
But I incite to riot, don't even try it
Bust up chumps so crab kids keep quiet
Like I said before, I tap jaws, snatch whores
Kill suckers in wars, vic a style you said was yours.
Money grip want to flip, but you're fish;
House the mic like your hooker and did tricks on the bitch
Dirty Rotten Scoundrel and my name is Jeru
Utilizing my tools in '92
MCs step up in mobs to defeat us
When we rock knots and got props like Norm Peterson;
Lot's of friends, lot's of fun, lots of beers
Got the skills, kreeno, so I always get cheers.
Troop on like a trooper, no tears for fears.
I'm a get mines 'cause the crew will get theirs.
Cut you up like Edward Scissorhands
you know the program I'm the motherfucking man.

—Jeru the Damaja's verse, Gang Starr - "I'm the Man"

By the way, when a friend confirmed for me that Jeru had thrown in a word of New Testament Greek ("κρίνω" or "krino"), I thought it helped confirm him as the motherfucking man, but if so, that became the case under the mentoring of Guru, and the same can be said of a fair number who now make up hip-hop royalty.

Unfortunately, mad drama has started immediately in the wake of Guru's death.  All the reports are dominated by an unseemly spat between different factions from the man's life.  Despite that ugliness and indignity, no drama can take away the essence of Guru's legacy, which lives its part in my collection of three Gang Starr CDs and all four Jazzmataz joints.  The hard monotone in which the Words Manifest.

Phoenician Crimson (or more prosaically: Utter madness in the Middle East)

But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
—Matthew 11:22 (KJV Bible)

[Disclaimer: No, I'm quite agnostic, but I went through several denominations of religious education, and some passages from the Bible still rise unbidden to my mind in times of stress, such as this is.]

The situation in Lebanon just boggles the mind. What on earth is Israel thinking? What are the U.S. and U.K. thinking? Are they even thinking at all? Or are they wrapped up in a frenzy of emotion? The latter possibility might explain what's going on. Make no mistake about it. Israel was sorely, sorely provoked. No sovereign nation can stand by while its cities are being shelled. Israel had to respond, and to respond forcefully. But what of that response? Israel seems to be killing everyone but their enemy. They are killing Lebanese civilians by the hundreds, blasting infrastructure back to the stone age, and even taking out U.N. observers. All the while they are making no dent in Hezbollah's operations, despite the chest-pounding of their generals. It's surely unacceptable that Northern Israelis have to cower in fear of constant rocket attacks; nevertheless, the devastation that Israel is handing out to Lebanon can hardly be considered anything short of indiscriminate and even criminal reprisal.

The U.S. is irrelevant in this whole affair. It's interesting to see how an ally's unstinting support even in the face of obvious breakdown in morals has the perverse effect of making the supporter somewhat irrelevant. Britain under Blair has learned that their obsequiousness has gained them kind words, yet real contempt from the Bush administration, and the Bush administration is subject to no less contempt by Israel, and for no less reason. Bush and co. wouldn't dare criticize Israel anyway because the response would probably involve deep embarrassment. The only reason I'll mention the U.S.'s hands-off approach to the Lebanon crisis is to point out their certain hypocrisy.

Turkey is also at present suffering attack from militants across its borders. In this case it's Kurdish separatists (of the PKK) holed up in the hills of Northern Iraq. Now make no mistake: I am sympathetic to Kurdish separatist aspirations (Turkey has been quite oppressive of its Kurds), but in the simplest terms, a response from Turkey equivalent to that of Israel would involve Turkish bombing and shelling of Kirkuk, while also destroying most of Northern Iraq's oil infrastructure. Needless to say the U.S. would never allow that, and this is just one measure of the staggering hypocrisy that underlies the bombing of Beruit.

Ho hum, hypocrisy is the grease of foreign affairs, and has always been. What truly amazes me is the suicidal nature of Israel's devastation of Beruit. Yes. I said "suicidal". But what does Israel, one of the world's preeminent military powers, have to fear from tiny little Lebanon? Nothing directly, unless you take a step back to history's lesson book to see that no military might has ever been able to defeat the force of demographics. Israelis are badly outnumbered in their little corner of the world, and their survival depends on the fragmentation of their hostile neighbors. Israel has historically been very skilful at encouraging this fragmentation, and this has been more of an asset than its military might. Unfortunately, in recent red mist it has dumped all such subtlety and practicality, and is in the process of not only deepening the radicalism of the region, but of uniting it as well. It's a very ugly irony that when Lebanese families are rendered homeless by Israeli warplanes, and their children killed, it is usually Hezbollah's charitable wing that has been coming to their aid. This is no different from how Israel's devastation of the West Bank and Gaza strip a few years ago led inexorably to the rise of Hamas to power.

Lebanon's Hezbollah and Hamas are not historically likely strike partners: The Shi'a/Sunni divide in the region is almost as deep as the national divides, but Israel's recent fits are uniting the radicals, and their sponsors, and when innocent families helplessly watch the loss of loved ones and property, they often end up joining the ranks of the radicals. Israel cannot afford swelling numbers of militants, as the simple mathematics of the Lebanon war illustrate. For every 10 Lebanese casualies there has been one Israeli. There's no reason to believe that sheer military might will improve that ratio. The problem is that Hồ Chí Minh's famous boast could just as easily come from Israel's enemies:

You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win.

Over time Israel's population, which is essentially at a plateau, will lose the demographic war unless it can find peace among the growing populations immediately beyond its borders. Israelis like to say "yeah! We do want peace! It's everyone else who wants war." Their government's near-sighted decision-making process far too often gives the lie to those claims.

Two things I have learned from my many encounters and friendships with Lebanese people is that (1) they are perhaps the most resourceful people on Earth (2) they are perhaps the most pragmatic people on Earth. I think they have the wherewithal to rebuild once Israel's fit has passed (to be blunt, I don't expect their institutions to crumble as hopelessly as those of the Palestinians), and I do think that their population will end up much less radicalized than one could expect under the circumstances. That is the only basis for a faint glimmer of hope, for Israel, the region, and the world. There may be no soothing the moral outrage of Israel's present, apalling brutality, but perhaps if they can be shamed into moderation the slow agency of time will prevent a spiraling escalation through which there will be winner (most certainly not Israel).

Oh, and at some point someone still has to uproot Hezbollah from the border regions, so there is some containment of the effects of their murderous recklessness. I suppose the fact that Israel would rather bomb civillians than meet Hezbollah head-on is no different from the U.S.'s preference for invading Iraq rather than focusing on the elimination of Bin Laden and his henchmen. I just wish I could apprehend their logic. On the other hand, perhaps it's a healthy thing I can't.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Why U.S. broadcast talking heads should be lined up for the garrotte

So Brian Williams and Bob Costas are sitting there commenting on the parade of athletes in the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Just to be sure. It's the parade of athletes. Yes athletes. Hello? Could someone phone Brian Williams and Bob Costas and remind them that it's the parade of friggin' athletes?

The Iranian delegation goes by. The discussion is something like "Iran, a country under such pressure right now. The new president is very controversial. He has called for the annihilation of Israel. He has run a competition sponsoring cartoons about the Holocaust. A lot of anti-Americanism from that country". Yes. Not a single word about the athletes. Helllloooo! Last I checked Ahmadinejad is not in the fucking athlete's parade. Oh wait, is that him over there in the burqa? Hell no! Jeez.

Denmark goes by. It's approximately: "you might have heard of all the anti-Islamic cartoons that started in that country. The Danish delegation has been the subject of much attention. As if security wasn't a big enough issue for the hosts." Again not a word about the athletes. What they're competing in. Where they have the best hopes for success.

The spiel on the delegation from Lebanon was, and I got this almost verbatim: "Lebanon. Used to be called the Paris of the Middle East. But it's been wracked by Civil War for so long. Let's hope they can keep the peace there." WTF? I mean what the fuck? Lebanon is not exactly the ultimate crucible of snow and ice sport athletes. I'd like to know who from Lebanon had the guts to give it a shot. In which sports?

When Canada, France, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden and the like go by, OK. They actually say something about sport. To be sure, even this generosity is framed entirely in the parochial context of the U.S., as in: "Netherlands used to be dominant in short track until recently when they've been upstaged by the United States" or "the lone Ethiopian athlete learned to ski in New York and earned a skiing scholarship to [some US college]."

Disgusting. Just disgusting. Not only is this farce an insult to the athletes, who are not just cardboard proxies for whatever tiny window into geopolitics NBC news opens up for its news audience. It's also an insult to the intelligence of the audience. As if we are not capable of appreciating the glorious diversity of competitors that is, after all, the ostensible point of the Olympics.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia