They dug a trench, and threw him in a grave
Shallow as youth; and poured the wine out
soaking the tunic and the dry air.
They covered him lightly, and left him there.

When music comes upon the airs of Spring,
Faith fevers the blood; counter to harmony,
The mind makes its rugged testaments.
Melancholy moves, preservative and predatory.

The light is a container of treachery,
The light is the preserver of the Parthenon.
The light is lost from that young eye.
Hearing music, I speak, lest he should die.

Richard Eberhart—"A Young Greek, Killed in the Wars"—Poetry magazine (Volume 85, February 1955)

Carl Sandburg is often put forth as the Midwestern American poet par excellence, which annoys me to no end not just because I dislike Sandburg's work very much, but also because a lot about Sandburg's institutionalization says as much about why a great poet such as Richard Eberhart never gained the recognition he deserved. Eberhart wasn't content to write the folksy, middle- American sentiment that people properly expected from farm country. He insisted on breaking his bounds by writing about the big human themes with extraordinary craft and sensibility. Richard Eberhart died on Sunday, 12 June 2005 at the age of 101.

Eberhart was born 5 April 1904, in Austin, Minnesota on a modest estate called Burr Oaks (later on the name of one of his books). He was educated in the US (University of Minnesota, Dartmouth, Harvard) and England (St. John's College). He served as private tutor to the son of King Prajadhipok of Siam (Thailand) in the early 30s, and otherwise had a fairly adventurous youth, with stints as a sailor and gunnery instructor.

As for his poetry, I'll quote from one of my favorite critics. John Wain's assessment is:

His varied and energetic life comes through in his poetry, which is rugged, inquisitive and forceful; clumsy in patches, supremely felicitous in others.

—Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963)

I think I'm lucky to have been spared Eberhart's clumsy patches: I've read him almost exclusively in anthology and journal. I have found that he is one of the most affecting writers on the horrors of war. His best known poem is this one.

You would think the fury of aerial bombardment
Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
Are still silent. He looks on shock-pried faces.
History, even, does not know what is meant.

You would feel that after so many centuries
God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
No farther advanced than in his ancient furies

Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man's fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?

Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.

—Richard Eberhart—"The Fury of Aerial Bombardment"

Eberhart was very generous in his criticism (that which I've read). Too generous at times, in my opinion, given his approval of the mess made by Ginsberg and the Beat poets. The AP article in which I read about Eberhart's death included a typical Eberhart quote:

Poems in a way are spells against death, They are milestones, to see where you were then from where you are now. To perpetuate your feelings, to establish them. If you have in any way touched the central heart of mankind's feelings, you'll survive.

And survive he did. 101 years is quite the achievement to be celebrated. Soon (July 29) we'll be celebrating the centenary of another great poet Stanley Kunitz. Kunitz's "Benediction" is one of my favorite poems to recite to my wife and sons. It's wonderful to see these poets live such complete lives, who have brought such feeling to the exploration of life's great themes.

I meant to link to "Benediction" but I can't find a respectable transcription of on-line. It deserves its own entry, so some other day I'll type it in for Quotīdiē. But I do want to mention that I found "A Young Greek, Killed in the Wars", "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" and "Benediction" all in my favorite small poetry book, John Wain's Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963), ISBN 0090671317. It's out of print and not easy to find, even used (here are the listings on Amazon UK Marketplace). I bought it in 1988 at the University of Nigeria and it has been one of my most treasured books all this time. It's a superb collection, and if you can lay your hands on a copy, I suggest you do so.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Mountain winter defies the order,
Denies the bonding of elements.
The wooded snow and the falling wind
Force the repentance of birdsong.
Unbroken sun razes gooseflesh,
Floods snow, and drowns the senses,
Pitched in broken bottle rainbow battle
With trenchant ice-cold mountain streams.

—Uche Ogbuji—from "Mountain Summer"

Yesterday I happened to be going through some of my verse, and I noticed the date on which I wrote "Mountain Summer": 11 June 1995. A decade ago to the day, today. Remarkable coincidence. I wrote it on a road trip with best friend Arild (who just became the father of twins Thursday), as well as Rachel and Dagmara. A Nigerian, two Norwegians and a Pole: two guys, two gals, driving across the West. It was one of those magical trips that serve so many of us as a marker of our twenties. We were lolling about at Yosemite National Park, where, even though it was the heart of Summer, we sought and found a few snowy peaks (we'd already found a touch of Summer Zero by hiking up to St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado earlier on that trip). While up there we saw a mother and child riding a saucer in the snow, and I was moved to write.

This poem and two others written at about the same time were published in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, a respected but now defunct lit mag, in early 1996.

In another neat bit of coincidence, for me, today was also a long- planned white-water rafting trip with a lot of my more recent friends. I certainly got to sample a good deal of the "trenchant ice-cold mountain streams". In fact, I got soaked in it. It was a glorious adventure, and it further reminded me of that other glorious adventure a decade ago, and the writing to which I was inspired back then.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Cause yo, I got the hairsplitting, self-written unbitten style
That leaves the competition running scared and shaking in their pants
You're best to set it off cause, black, it ain't no second chance
Once I'm open
All you doing is hoping
That the Live one
Will put the mic down, but son, don't try to snatch it after:
The laughter won't cease from the comparison;
How dare you, son,
Step around the booth when I'm on?
The microphone magician says "poof", you're gone With the wind. There's no trace of your friends
Cause you don't know where the beginning ends
Or where the end begins,
But you see that's the difference, you get sold, I get paid
Black I told you, get paid;
If you're broke I'll have to rain on your parade.
You belong in Special Ed if you think you Got It Made
J-Live with the mic is like the chef with the blade
Cause suckers get sliced and sautéed
Yeah, you thought your joint was fly but the flight was delayed

J-Live—from "Braggin' Writes"—The Best Part

As I demonstrate in Quotīdiē from time to time, contemporary Hip-Hop has some incredible wordsmiths (most of whom most people have never heard of, although it's good to see Common breaking into the mainstream). When you get to the cream of Hip-Hop lyricists, it becomes very hard to start working out who's really the best. How does one compare

And that's just rappers in English (Passi, en français, anyone?), and that's off-head, so I'm definitely forgetting some people. These folks are all clustered at the acme of lyrical skill. So where does J-Live fit in? I think it's enough to say that there isn't a better lyricist than J-Live, in any genre of music. His mastery of words is just amazing. A friend once marveled at how J-Live worked "amniocentesis" so effortlessly into "Braggin' Writes", but I maintain that it's not just J-Live's vocabulary that earns him the laurels (after all, he is an English teacher: he should command the language), but more importantly his effortless command of flow, Hip-Hop's prosody. (As the chorus of "Braggin' Writes" states: "everybody's rapping, and only few can flow".)

The "Braggin' Writes" quote above is ample example (and again you have to hear it to really appreciate it). Just to touch on one point, the line

You belong in Special Ed if you think you Got It Made

Works fine as direct (uncapitalized) statement, but is also a clever allusion to old school rapper Special Ed's song "I Got it Made".

I’m your idol, the highest title, numero uno
I’m not a Puerto Rican, but I’m speaking so that you know
And understand I got the gift of speech
And it’s a blessing, so listen to the lesson I preach
I talk sense condensed into the form of a poem
Full of knowledge from my toes to the top of my dome
I’m kinda young--but my tongue speaks maturity
I’m not a child, I don’t need nothing for security
I get paid when my record is played To put it short: I got it made.

—Special Ed—from "I Got It Made"—"Youngest in Charge"


Last night I went to the Fox Theater see "The Best Damn Rap Tour", headlined by J-Live (although it's mostly in support of Vast Aire's new albumThe Best Damn Rap Show). It was a long line-up of underground hip-hop stars. The kind of MCs and DJs who rule the ears of rap nerds like me, but who can't seem to get on first base in the unfriendly game of record label baseball.

Vast Aire is best known as front-man for underground sensation Cannibal Ox, and his counterpart Vordul Megilah was first up, spitting classic Can Ox in his trademark cadaver-focus style. Up next was C-Rayz Walz with tracks from his new joint Year of the Beast. I've heard of C-Rayz Walz, but had never listened to him. I definitely have to cop that album. And the man definitely has more energy than he knows what to do with: he stomped, stalked, swaggered and staggered all over the stage, often telling the DJ to cut the track so the crowd could hear his lunatic lyrics. Vast Aire was up after that, and again based on his set I'll have to cop his new album (The month's salary goes all to music, at this rate).

The crowd was a bit slow to get into the mood, which is unusual for Boulder. When J-Live came out to start his set, most folks in the front row had gone off to get drinks, or to hang with the earlier acts, who all got off stage to mingle. It only took the duration of the first song before it became a proper audience for J-Live, though. He did his amazing thing, rocking "MC", "Like this Anna", and "Satisfied?" to the jumping delight of the crowd (and me), there was an impromptu competition in the front row with folks trying to rap along to "One for the Griot". But the highlight of the night was when J-Live did something I've only ever seen him do (I saw him do this trick once before (with Chime and Davina) when he came to CU with Talib Kweli and others for a free concert). He rapped "Braggin' Writes" while dee-jaying the track at the same time (for the track he used Nas's "Thief's Theme", only the most banging beat of the new millennium), which hardly seems possible. And he didn't just prod occasionally at the wheels of steel: no, he was scratching and cutting almost throughout the song, without missing a beat in his rapping. Amazing!

I've already mentioned how down to earth all the acts were. J-Live was manning his own merchandise stand before the show, lounging in the same jeans, white tee and open red and white button-down flannel shirt in which he'd later perform. I asked him about "The Best Part", his first album, which never saw its way to stores because of record label troubles, and bought the last copy he'd brought along (duh! I should have had him autograph it). I considered asking him who his favorite poet was, but I didn't want to bug him before his performance.

One more quote to leave off with. This one Vast Aire's from an AllHipHop.com interview. He was asked whether he disliked that most of his fan base is white.

I don't even care about all that racism, it's all bulls..t. It’s a trick! It’s a demonic trick and it's disgusting. It separates people. Come on, remember Blondie? F..k Eminem, look at Blondie. F..k Vanilla Ice and Snow, look at Rick Rubin. When you wanna think about White people in Hip-Hop, think about the Beastie Boys. White people have already proven themselves in this. There should be way more White rappers, and way more woman in Hip-Hop today. But you have the powers that be. Hip-Hop is dominated by Nubian and Latino men. Where are the women at? All the women that are out now are damn near veterans, and that is sad. So I don't like any of that. I grew up in uptown New York. I grew up with a bunch of Latin and Nubian kids. Eventually, we got cool with two White kids, this kid Ralphie and his cousin, which was my first experience. And ever since that day, White people were more than Superman to me. At first, a White person is Superman, He-Man, a cop, or a bus driver. At first, you don't know a White kid. You have to meet and get cool with one, meet their family, and the next thing you know you have a friend. You are not looking at color then. And that is what happened to me. That kid was poor, that is the color we were. F..k all this racist bulls..t, we are the same color. So technically, we bonded because we were in the same class. It's class that truly brought us together. And I imagine the same thing happens to White people. A Black person has to be more than just Mike Tyson or Michael Jackson. You have to meet them, and invest time in them.

Co-sign (bowdlerization by AllHipHop.com, not me). Interesting to mention that in my list of top lyricists above there is one white guy (EL-P) and two women (Apani B. Fly and Jean Grae). Two other women (Bahamadia and Rah Diggah) are near misses. I don't go as far as to say "fuck Eminem": he's very talented, but he's just not in the same class as the folks I mentioned. It's a very tall barrier to be a top Hip-Hop lyricist.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


The only map is the map of the bear.
Your best hope is to follow it closely,
Closer than dogs. It's engraved with your spoor,
You wake in the night to find it partly
Charred by the dying fire. The only

Map is the map of the bear. Follow
It closer than dogs. Your best hope is
To read the part engraved below
The surface of the fire. Sleepless,
You move by night. The only map is

The map of the bear. Dogs know,
That's why they follow with no hope
The dying spoor. You're passing through
Fire, you've passed through sleep,
Now the only map is the map

Of the bear. Now hope gives up
Its secrets, now you follow where
Dogs won't go, even in sleep.
Above, the route's engraved on fire.
The only map is the map of the bear.

Tad Richards"The Map of the Bear"

Peter Saint-Andre mentioned the New Poetry discussion list, which he learned about in an earlier Quotīdiē. I'd been living in a bit of a shell regarding contemporary poetry before I joined that list. (Upon arriving in the U.S. in 1989 I looked around, aghast at mainstream verse, and retreated quickly to past classics). The list has been a good way to bring energy back to my study of poetry, and to keep in touch with contemporary work. It turns out that there are some very good poets on that list, though I didn't recognize them by name, because of my ignorance of the contemporary scene. I do recognize the quality of their work, and today's Quotīdiē is a piece by a regular on the list, Tad Richards. In addition to being posted on the list, it was also hosted on The Poets' Corner by Anny Ballardini, another regular. The list is a very rich find. I'll later post links to other good poems posted to the list.

Refrain-like verse forms are very popular in modern poetry, from Villanelle to Pantoum and so on. (I somtimes call these poetic fugues). It seems that in the past couple of decades poets have become especially skilled with the use of partial refrains. "The Map of the Bear" teases out a sense of desultory restlessness with its partial refrains. The meter is accentual, with four accents per line. This is a very versatile framework, but I've always found it easiest to hear gothic tones in it, and in this poem, that feeling is particularly apt. Another poem that struck me immediately because of its partial refrains is Dana Gioia's "The Country Wife".

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she's gone.
She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

Dana Gioia—from "The Country Wife"

Peter later followed up on my observations on how poetry slows down perceptions, leading to richer understanding and appreciation.

The other day, Uche argued for the continued relevance -- indeed, the increased importance -- of poetry in today's fast-paced times, since the concentrated and often difficult nature of poetic language forces the reader to slow down. Yet (as Uche knows) it is more than just diction: it is also the meter (or, more broadly, the rhythm) that induces a kind of slow time when one reads a poem. Poetry is a temporal art in much the same way music is -- and in one respect, a poem enforces slow time even more viscerally than a piece of music does because usually you perform the poem (by reading it silently or aloud to yourself) rather than having it performed for you at a poetry reading or by means of a recording. The post-modernists would call this co-creating the work, and for once they would be right!

Peter is right that rhythm is the primary tool for the slowing and enriching effects of poetry. I also agree that meter is the most established form of rhythm, and that it's harder for non-metrical rhythm to bring this richness. Peter is also right to reiterate that Poetry is a mere shadow without its performance (whether it's the reader sounding out the poem in his head, or in public performance). With all that in mind, I quite consider "The Map of the Bear" an example of how a poem can work such slow enrichment outside classical framework. Accentual meter is quite respectably meter for me, and the partial refrain, especially when read aloud, serves to deepen the incantatory mood. "The Country Wife" is also accentual. There is much more of an iambic tetrameter basis, as one would expect from a formalist such as Gioia, but it is still variant enough to be more accentual than accentual- syllabic, and I think this suits that poem well. Interesting, this juxtaposition of accentual meter and partial refrain—It makes me think of fugue, a baroque musical form, not just because of the echoing phrases (to go with the echoing melodies in fugue), but also because of the overstatement (in a positive sense) suggested by the four-stress line. It is an approach I shall have to explore more fully in my own verse.

A final note of interest is that "The Map of the Bear" originated from a misreading of a trite phrase. In Richards' own words:

I do have a poem based on a misread statement that was sorta interesting. Reading an article about a performance artist, I came across the statement that she explored a territory where the only map is the map of the bear.

I thought this was one of the most fascinating ideas I'd ever read. Then I looked again and saw that it actually said she explored a territory where the only map is the map of the heart. This was a territory, I realized, which held no interest whatever for me. But what about that territory where the only map is the map of the bear? I wanted to know more about that...a territory where the wilderness mapped itself. I had been deeply moved by Kurosawa's great movie, Dersu Uzala, where mapmaking becomes a symbol for both exploration and limitation, and I started to feel that I had to know more about the territory mapped only by the bear. This was the poem that came of it.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


The court awaited
As the foreman got the verdict from the bailiff,
Emotional outbursts, tears and smeared makeup.
They stated, he was guilty on all charges.
She's shaking like she took it the hardest—
A spin artist, she brought her face up laughing.
That's when the prosecutor realized what happened—
All that speaking her mind testifying and crying,
When this bitch did the crime—the queenpin...

Common—from "Testify"— BE

Common is one of my favorite musicians, and so I'm really pleased to see his new baby, BE emerge to commercial success (#2 on the overall album charts in the week of release) as well as critical praise. I was in Amsterdam the week BE came out, and I was too busy to look for it there. I did see it at the Heathrow HMV on my way back home, but it was crazy-dear (excuse me? £13.00?). I bought Blak Twang's latest (The Rotton Club) at U.K. prices while there (can't get that ish in the US) but Common could wait 12 hours. I'm back and I've been listening to BE on heavy rotation for a week now.

A lot of fans have expressed relief that Common has retreated to home base. With Kanye West replacing former gurus No I.D. and Doug Infinite, BE feels like the extrapolation of the straight line from One Day It'll All Make Sense through Like Water for Chocolate, and Electric Circus ends up stranded as an outlier. Common has confirmed that he has turned his back on the crazy next ish of EC. From a recent AllHipHop.com interview:

AllHipHop.com: How would you rate your albums from least favorite to greatest?

Common: Well my favorite albums would have to be Like Water for Chocolate and BE, my second is Resurrection, and my third is One Day It Will All Make Sense and then, Can I Borrow a Dollar, and Electric Circus is my least.

This is very sad, and Common has taken a bad knock on the head when he rates EC lower than Can I Borrow a Dollar (the only Common album even I won't buy, not even used). I don't know whether to be happy that Common has released a tight album with BE or bitter that he has abandoned the risk that was so fertile in EC. I had intended this article to be a review of BE, but I couldn't help its turning into a sort of measuring of BE against EC. I've already rhapsodized about EC here so no doubt where I stand on that album. BE is a major swerve from EC.

Don't get me wrong. I love BE. It is a lot smoother than EC. It's much more focused. We've seen this pattern before. With Phrenology The Roots broke their bounds and put us on some next shit. After the same mixed critical and fan reaction (though much less bloodthirsty than the reaction to EC), the Roots backed off from the experimental and produced an extremely focused and cohesive The Tipping Point. BE is as tight, coherent and cohesive. The sonic texture is pure Chi-Town soul from track 1 through 11. Chi-Town soul is rich and diverse enough the this never leaves your ears tired, and each song has an ingenious little touch that sets it apart from the rest (an example apropos of the main quote is the plaintive battology of the sample in "Testify"). In contrast EC was all over the place sonically, and in one place, "Jimi was a Rock Star" was so far out to the left that it falls off the face of the Earth (and we don't miss it). EC has that one fast-forward moment, and BE has none, so BE is better, right?

In thinking about this all I can think is: where in BE is the "Aquarius" (Common spits hard about his craft and definitely non-sullen art); where is the "Electric! Wire! Hustle! Flower!" (Common zaps us with shock therapy using the sharp honesty of his internal paysage moralisé); where is the "New Wave" (Common turns this exploration to the world at large, with the help of spaced out Moog synth and the marvelously affecting crooning by Laetitia Sadier of StereoLab); where is the "I am Music" (Common, still bent on exploration, journeys on all the many axes of 20th century popular music history). There is no one track on BE quite as powerful as these. In achieving greater consistency, Common has also shaved off the peaks a bit. He takes fewer risks, and it shows in the more modest rewards. Continuing with the Roots comparison, even though The Tipping Point is much less experimental than Phrenology, The Roots retain in the former a lot more of the edge that they bled into the latter. See the madhouse genius Sly Stone mash-up "Everybody is a Star" for easy evidence.

One of the things that fascinates me about EC is that Common drops a lot of easter eggs in the lyrics. The following lines are from "Aquarius".

Playing with yourself, thinking the game is just wealth—
Hot for a minute, watch your name just melt.
Same spot where its joyous is where the pain is felt
As you build and destroy yo remain yourself
They say I'm slept on, now I'm bucking in dreams,
And rhyme with the mind of a hustler's schemes

Listening to that just gives me a frisson. You feel everything Common is saying in the very fabric of the song. Indeed, you feel how Common has just summarized the entire creative impetus behind EC. He wants to build a lasting edifice in art, like Horace, and he doesn't care if the present audience writes him off as a day-dreamer. Common writes into EC a lot of other such apt lines to justify his eclecticism. From "New Wave":

How could a nigga be so scared of change
That's what you hustle for in front of currency exchange
Ya'll rich, we could beef curry in the game
out your mouth: Ain't nobody hurrying my name
[...] Seen hype become fame against the grain become main-
stream. It all seems mundane in the scope of thangs.

I could go on with these examples.

He is a great deal less introspective on BE, and he calls this fact out loudly.

I rap with the passion of Christ, nigga cross me
Took it outer space and niggas thought they'd lost me
I'm back like a chiropract with b-boy survival rap
This ain't '94 Joe we can't go back
The game need a makeover
My man retired, I'm a take over

—from "Chi-City"

He has come out of his dreams in BE, and how he has more material aspirations, as the reference to Jay-Z in the last line hints. And even though I'm rocking out to it f'sure, I just feel that I'm not experiencing the same level of magic as with EC, which certainly "took it outer space" but didn't lose everyone. EC brings me to mind of Gerald Manley Hopkins' poems. What would Hopkins have accomplished if he had the time and encouragement to work on sprung rhythm further? We got some superb poems out of his oeuvre, but nothing that quite matched up to Hopkins' claims for sprung rhythm. You get the sense that he could have built it into a new major branch of metrics in English. I feel that if Common had the time and encouragement to build on EC's approach, we would have not just one superb album, but an entirely new subgenre of hip-hop. Do I exaggerate? The reaction of people whose opinions I respect, to whom I play EC bears me out. I think being a long-time Common fan can give you a touch of tunnel vision when you first listen to it. A fresh ear recognizes the originality and genius.

Anyway, LWfC and EC are still my favorite Common albums, with BE close behind, and then SiWaMS followed by Resurrection (although the latter contains one of the all-time Hip-Hop classics in "I Used to Love H.E.R."). Despite Common's disappointing ranking of EC in the interview I mentioned, he also shows that deep down, he knows better.

AllHipHop.com: I know a lot of critics weren't feeling Electric Circus, but I liked the fact that it was very artistic and pushed your creative ability as an MC. Overall though, what has changed between Electric Circus and BE to cause such a distinction between the two albums?

Common: Exactly. I think Electric Circus was just a part of my evolution and my experimentation as an artist and it was kind of like since this was my fifth album I was trying to continue to grow and elevate in what I was doing. To me what changed the most is that I got more in tune with myself and more grounded. Electric Circus was me and I don't apologize for it, it is was it is and it's something I created, so it's a piece of my art. With this album I did something simple and raw because it felt good to me at this time. When I did Electric Circus I wanted to go way out there because I was tired of how Hip-Hop was sounding, that's why I did it like that. But with BE, I actually like some of the Hip-Hop now, but besides that I am more hungry on the creative side.

We were all tired of how Hip-Hop was sounding. We all needed EC. Don't you ever forget that, Common.

AllHipHop.com: How do you think Electric Circus will be treated in time?

Common: It's hard for me to say how it will be looked upon, but I hope that people will look back and say, “Man, this was an innovative album.” I feel that as an artists you should be able to paint a picture, so that even if people aren't feeling it now, they can go back with a different perspective later on and feel what you were saying because they are at a different point in their life. That's my goal when I create music.

Right. Right. And it wouldn't be our beloved Common if he didn't say:

AllHipHop.com: Do sales play into your satisfaction of the albums?

Common: People always looked at me like, “Aw man, you don't care about record sales.” I do want to sell records but I won't give up what I believe in, or take away from the integrity of my music to sell. I'm worth more than that.

But I'm determined to at least close with a bit of appraisal of BE. The master quote above is from "Testify", my favorite track. I cannot listen to this song as background music. I always have to stop and concentrate on listening. I already mentioned the foundational sample, and within that frame lies Common's softly-told story. You're all into the tragedy of this lady's predicament, until the sharply executed twist at the end, when you realize that she's sold her man off to prison. It's brilliantly done. Other favorites for me are "The Corner", "GO!", "Chi-City", "Real People" and "They Say", which I've heard somewhere else before (I can't remember where right now). And oh yeah, Pops is back in "It's your World". I just love Pops. That strong and dignified voice says so much about the nurturing of Common's agile mind. If you're a Hip-Hop fan, or a Soul fan you shouldn't be sleeping on BE, but then again, based on those sales figures, you probably aren't.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


We were supposed to to have our fence painted
By this weekend. The letter warned of fines.
That idle council, declaring suburban
Heresy—dire tone
Of grey flanking our homes—
Proclaimed a ceremonial purge for the times.

—Uche Ogbuji—from "May Day Flakes"

My plan was to post a new poem a week, and it's been two, so here are two:

I already posted the first stanza of "Epitaph" in an earlier Quotīdiē of Villon. In the third I have the line:

Charnel birds have plucked eyes from each face,

I'm having a lot of trouble deciding between "charnel" and "carrion". The latter word has the effect of playing on "crone" in the previous line ("crone" comes from old Norman "caroigne" which can mean "carrion" as well as "old bitty"), but "charnel" feels more expressive of the horror. Then again, John Cowan mentioned that he appreciated the matter-of-fact tone of the poem (gratifying, because that was my intent, and certainly the effect of the original Villon), and "carrion" is the more matter-of-fact word.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

The feckless rump of our so-called Justice Department...

Has fancied for itself the time and energy to do what? Wait. Hold up. There's a Quotīdiē in here.

There were lights and sirens, gunshots firing
Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent
Seemed like a bad dream, she, laid in a blood puddle
Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh
No room to rest, Pain consumed each breath
Shot twice with her hands up
Police questioned but shot before she answered
One panther lost his life, the other ran for his
Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her
Comprehension she was beyond
Trying to hold on
To life. she thought she’d live with no arm
That’s what it felt like, got to the hospital, eyes held tight
They moved her room to room-she could tell by the light
Handcuffed tight to the bed, through her skin it bit
Put guns to her head, every word she got hit
"Who shot the trooper?" they asked her
Putting mace in her eyes, threatened to blast her
Her mind raced till things got still
Opened her eyes, realized she’s next to her best friend who got killed
She got chills. They told her: that’s where she would be next
Hurt mixed wit anger—survival was a reflex
They lied and denied visits from her lawyer
But she was building as they tried to destroy her
If it wasn’t for this German nurse they would have served her worse
I read this sister’s story, knew that it deserved a verse
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All this shit so we could be free, so dig it, y’all.

[SNIP the verse about further abuse and imprisonment of Assata]

From North Carolina her grandmother would bring
News that she had had a dream
Her dreams always meant what they needed them to mean
What made them real was the action in between
She dreamt that Assata was free in their old house in Queens
The fact that they always came true was the thing
Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldn't have done
Medical evidence shown she couldn't have shot the gun
It’s time for her to see the sun from the other side
Time for her daughter to be by her mother’s side
Time for this beautiful woman to become soft again
Time for her to breathe, and not be told how or when
She untangled the chains and escaped the pain
How she broke out of prison I could never explain
And even to this day they try to get to her
But she’s free with political asylum in Cuba.

—Common—"A Song for Assata", "Like Water For Chocolate"

I'm a bit ashamed that I'm only now hearing that on May 2, 2005 a $1 million bounty was placed on the head of Assata Shakur, and that she was added to the FBI's Domestic Terrorist List, alongside Osama bin Laden (how dare they trivialize in this way the atrocities that bin Laden committed in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and New York City, among other places)? I suppose I'm more a slave to mainstream media than I'd thought.

As I listened to Common's heart-wrenching song over and over again this morning, I found myself in tears. America has to varying extent venerated Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, despite the fact that they were technically criminals in their time (peace to César Chávez who astonishes me with how much he accomplished acting entirely within the law). We accept the justness of their challenge to lawfulness because of what we have distilled from their struggle—Basic civil rights enjoyed by Black Americans—Basic civil rights for people such as me who can safely come to a country that has through most of its history shown people of my ethnicity nothing but savagery and violence. I'm grateful, and not just to the big names of the struggle, but also to the many who suffered horrifically in the name of freedom, and whose lesser fame has not spared them continuing injustice.

The personal story of Assata Shakur (see her home page and autobiography), like that of most of the Black Panthers, makes for dreadful reading. These people paid a high price for being part of a pincer movement that shamed and threatened America into civility (and no, I do not believe that either the shame from the non-violent movement or the threat from the militant movement would have been as effective alone). I accept a lot of the past horror of what they endured (easy for me, who didn't personally suffer this) as inevitable loss in battle, as much as I view the extensive casualties of the Colonies' minutemen during the Revolutionary war. But for me to witness the recent action of a U.S. regime, in 2005 against one of the hapless combatants in the battle for for civil rights is entirely unbearable. We are in the midst of a loudly proclaimed war on terrorism which we the Americans of African descent are supposed to heartily endorse, and the Justice Department sees fit to address its resources towards settling old white supremacist scores? Unbearable.

There has been plenty of injustice of all variety to go around in the U.S., and abroad in recent years, and in some respects this resumed persecution is just another story to be swallowed up in the ennui of the American public. It would almost be better if people came off their couches to cheer these abominations. At least we would recognize our times as a genuine struggle over the character of civilization rather than the reign of an arrogant cadre that recognizes opportunity in a population gorged and jaded propter panem et circenses.

It is furthermore intolerable to be so completely shamed by the vicious and autocratic regime of Fidel Castro. Assata Shakur ran to Cuba as one of the only places where she could find some escape from U.S. persecution. There was an unfortunate strain of communism that ran through the Black Panther Party, but this is no more remarkable, for example, than the fact that such a Communist strain ran through Jewish intellectuals in the mid 20th century. Intellect frustrated by oppression and alienation often drifts towards communist ideals. Only a vision of utopia sustains hope reared in ghetto soil. As oppression and alienation decrease, it becomes easier to see the evils of Communism. It is important to point this out because people are already conflating the campaign against Shakur with the campaign against her present benefactors. We perjure ourselves when we fling slogans and sanctions at the cause of freedom in Cuba while showing nothing but contempt for the freedom of one of our own in that very country, who has already suffered at our hands so much more than she could possibly deserve.

I urge anyone moved by curiosity of what I've written to learn more about this story. Look at both sides of the story. I certainly did. I'm no knee-jerk anti-establishment polemicist. This matter says as much about America (whether or not you support the actions of the Justice Department) as do the other handful of stories our media has deemed worthy of presenting to you.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


One of the great practical uses of the literary disciplines, of course, is to resist glibness—to slow language down and make it thoughtful. This accounts, particularly, for the influence of verse, in its formal aspect, within the dynamics of the growth of language: verse checks the merely impulsive flow of speech, subjects it to another pulse, to measure, to extralinguistic consideration; by inducing the hesitations of difficulty, it admits into language the influence of the Muse and of musing.

Wendell BerryStanding By Words

via David Graham, on the New Poetry mailing list

No sooner have I returned from Amsterdam (more on all that later) than juicy morsel falls straight in my lap for the neglected Quotīdiē. Wendell Berry is not the most interesting poet to me. I find him much like our current Poet Laureate Ted Kooser—Intelligently stated, but with nothing particularly compelling to offer for theme or diction. Not all bucolics have to be as majestic, as, say Vergil's, but I think more of our poets should look to (to give a parallel example) Horace for an example of how to personalize bucolics while still keeping them interesting.

But the quote is not from Berry's poetry, but from his prose, and it compels me to seek out more of Berry's philosophical essays. Many commentators have noted the role of poetry in presenting ideas in a form that requires such care to digest that they become more clearly communicated to the reader. This is so even if, paradoxically, obscurity is one of these tools of clear communication. Obscurity slows things down in the reader's apprehension in order not to lose the nuances. A perfect antonym of poetry from this viewpoint is the sound bite, and I think this comparison is also a good argument as to why poetry is as important today as it has ever been.

Poetry for new media culture

The problem has always been how to make the reader accept the braking effect of poetry on the digestion of information. I don't think it's engaging in too much Luddite hand wringing to say that these days people prefer their information in easily (and indeed trivially) digestible form. This is in part a natural reaction to high volume ("information overload" in the jargon). Most people, even among the trendiest of techies, are quick to praise the resource that presents a topic in both depth and breadth, and in coherent form. They find such treatment a necessary check on the dissociating effects of the contemporary knowledge feed—rapidly evolving blips of high sugar information. They accept a slow-down of perception and carefully read such resources, but only when advised by their peers to do so. They slow down because the "buzz factor" has compelled them to do so.

Poetry serves the same end, and buzz can certainly be important for leading people to poetry, but what really makes it compelling enough for the reader to accept the slow-down in apprehension is concentrated beauty of language. If the musical force of the words is strong enough, the intelligent reader will be obliged to dig more deeply. The reader will have gained a superficial aesthetic reward from the piece, in the sound, and such a reward as they never receive from their more quotidian resources. This reward is very satisfying, even if superficial, and it promises of richer reward, in the matter, once one has taken the time to consider the piece more carefully, most likely through multiple readings, and discussion with peers. And with the best poetry, we learn that the reward in the sound is not really superficial at all, but is the key to better memory of the idea as well as greater enjoyment in its presentation.

This is all well and good, of course, but the question is exactly where will the mastery come from to work new media concerns into compelling poetry? Is any such venture doomed by popular stereotype of poetry, especially its association with the mid-20th century cadre of slovenly, mentally unstable, kvetching pop art beatniks? From what I've heard and read of Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn, she opens up a useful discussion along these lines (yet another book on my really-should-read-soon list). I must also say that the same discussion leads me to question whether she has the critical acumen to help direct the class of potential poets who can serve the world in this time of great need.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Il me faut le cacher au plus intime de mes veines
L’Ancêtre à la peau d’orage sillonnée d’éclairs et de foudre
Mon animal gardien, il me faut le cacher
Que je ne rompe le barrage des scandales.
Il est mon sang fidèle qui requiert fidélité
Protégeant mon orgueil nu contre
Moi-même et la superbe des races heureuses…

Léopold-Sedar Senghor—"Le Totem"

When the late, great Senhgor expressed a sentiment, it stayed expressed. Founding president of la République du Sénégal (after an exile for revolutionary activities), and member of the Négritude movement poet, Senghor was one of West Africa's most astounding minds. "Le Totem" (above is the complete poem) is one of very few French poems I've memorized. It expresses a sentiment that I don't know that I feel directly, but that I can well imagine based on knowing so many Africans in the diaspora (and older ones, in particular). Here is my poor student's translation:

I'm forced to hide in my most intimate veins
The ancestor with the hide of storms streaked and burned with lightning
My guardian animal, I must hide it
So that I do not breach the barrier of scandal.
It is my faithful blood that requires faithfulness
Protecting my inborn pride against
My very self and the superb among the happy races

This poem has a lot that is difficult to render faithfully into English, and in some cases, I've preferred a somewhat unidiomatic transliteration to an anglophone translation that would lose too much of the nuance (the last line is the main example).

Another place where I could barely approximate is "sillonnée d’éclairs et de foudre". I've always had a vague feeling of the distinction between these two French words for "lightning". The first being more a display of lightning and the second being more of a thunderclap, such as Zeus would have hurled at impudent mortals. See below for more on this distinction. I always think of Senghor's line as juxtaposing the white flash of "éclairs" with the blackened result of "foudre", using the apt verb "sillioner", which means "plough" as well as "streak".

I have the same attitude towards the Négritude movement as Nigerian Nobel Laureate, great playwright Wole Soyinka. Soyinka said to Senghor: "A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. It acts."—from Myth, Literature and the African world (which is coming up on my re-reading list). I agree with complaints about Négritude as an overall notion. For my part, being an avid student of Western classics has never made me feel I cannot also soak myself in my own rich West African heritage. Négritude taken too carelessly can lead to a dangerous combination of anomie and chauvanism. But it's very hard to accuse Senghor and Césaire, the patrons of the movement, of themselves falling into such a trap. They and their colleagues through hard work and masterly writing carved into the world's consciousness a testament to the vast intellectual resources of their native land. They didn't just proclaim. They did act. And the value of their legacy is immeasureable.

I have the poem in Selected Poems of Senghor, edited by Abiola Irele (Cambridge University Press, 1977), which, according to my notes, I bought at Nsukka in 1989 (for ₦10.00). Incredibly, I can't find a good in-print source of Senghor's poetry in French. I must just not be searching rightly. If anyone can recommend one for fellow readers (I'm all set with my Irele edition), please leave a comment.

But appropriately enough, since it's Tuesday again, I have a bit more on "éclairs" versus "foudre". The visceral nature of this distinction was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago at la Table Francophone when Karen was explaining to me how a freak spring thunder and hailstorm had ruined her garden. She said something like "et partout des éclairs", gesturing upwards with both open palms. In my response I said something about "foudre", using the word I'm more familiar with for "lightning" ("fouldre" in Villon's (Old French) L'Épitaph, which I worked from in an earlier Quotīdiē. Karen gave me an odd look, and clarified: "éclairs". Since I'm there to improve my French I asked her for a detailed explanation of the difference. She explained that "éclairs" is lightning with the connotation of distant flashes in the sky, and that "foudre" is lightning with the connotation of striking the ground (or someone), with violent accompaniment of thunder, and the whole bit. Basically, the former is nature's display, and the latter is nature's vengeance. Makes sense given that "foudroyer" means to blast or strike (as with lightning), and "foudrayant!" is an exclamation (based on the participle) mixing terror and excitement. I had to stop using "foudrayant!" when my francophone friends would tease me about its quaintness (I suppose my beloved "donnerwetter" sounds just as quaint to a contemporary German).

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I was born in Calabar and my first musical impression comes from there. I listen to the Efik inhabitants. and lgbo settlers there. And of course you know, in that area they play a lot of drum.

—Bayo Martins—biographical interview by Wolfgang Bender of The Music Foundation, Nigeria

That's our heritage here on Copia. Through our father, Linus Ogbuji, we're from Umunakanu, near Owerri (Igbo area). Through our mother, Margaret Ogbuji, we're from Ikot Ana (Umon area), about 50km from Calabar (Efik area) with which our family has strong ties (I, Uche, was born there). The strong ties between Calabar area peoples and Igbo peoples are just as Mr. Martins describes, and in music it's a very interesting combination, as shown by the Igbo/Efik grounding of the late Prince Nico Mbarga, one of Africa's greatest musicians (despite the tragedy of his early death). Prince Nico is best known for Sweet Mother, the biggest African hit ever, and still one of the best-known songs throughout the continent.

Mom and Dad (Mom especially) introduced us to Prince Nico's music even while we were living in the US, before returning to Nigeria, where we found ourselves amazed at the diversity of musical styles from Nigeria alone, never mind all the imports from the rest of Africa (and the inevitable pop hits from the US and Europe). Prince Nico's music is highlife, which is a Ghanaian style that merged with Zaïrean style (which informs Zap Mama) and found a very warm home in Eastern Nigerian. The predominance of that Eastern Nigerian musical tradition were very strong everywhere, despite the combination of political concerns and musical experimental that brought about a rapid growth in regional styles. It's important to note that the third point on that triangle was Lagos, which despite all its problems has always been an amazing furnace of cosmopolitan energy. This is where the Eastern musicians joined their Western colleagues in legendary jam sessions to hammer out styles that are now world famous (not always through direct appreciation of the specific musicians, but always through their influence on music worldwide).

[Becker, asking about the attendance at the launching of the Zeal Onyias Band (started by Martins and friends) at the Ambassador Hotel Yaba, Lagos]: Were they all Yoruba?

[Martins]: No, it was mixed: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Nigerians. It was a big scene, a crosscultural gathering. Apart from the English language, popular music was another great rallying point for all Nigerians. Like we say Highlife was the melting pot of the various ethnic musics. In fact it is for me the first Nigerian culture that evolved. Before then if one was from another ethnic group it was difficult to understand or to dance or even appreciate the music of another ethnic group. But with Highlife every Nigerian could dance: Be they Yoruba, lgbo, Hausa or whatever, Highlife was one thing that crossed beyond the traditional specialized mould. It was something every Nigerian could identify with because it was 'detribalized' and de- ethnicalized. And then we did not only play Highlife, we played classical ballroom music too, waltz, tango, foxtrott, blues etc.

(Throughout the excerpts I've corrected typos that look like the result of OCR applied to scanned originals, leaving other typos as they are).

Mr. Martins describes his journey from Calabar through Lagos, Enugu (Igbo country), and then the leap to Accra and Kumasi in Ghana, and the further leap to London, and later on, to Germany. The following is from his very entertaining description of some of the hazards of the journey from Lagos to Accra.

Few months after that we had to go to Accra because Bobby had a six month contract there. From Lagos to Accra in those days unlike today was rough and we had too many bridges to cross and two or to three rivers upon which the car is ferried across. Like from Lagos to Idiroko. On getting to Togo there was a place called "Grand Popo". l am not sure if it exists anymore. l think its been swept away by the sea. There was a tug boat used to ferry the trucks and passengers from one end to the other before one could drive into Togo. And after Togo there was another crossing on the Volta-River before getting to Accra where we disembark and get into the pontoon to be ferried across. Sometimes, we slept in the middle of nowhere in the bush. Nothing around us but us. The car parked, we made camp fire besides the car and everyone climbs to the top to sleep. That was on our own risk. It was fun and we enjoyed doing it.

This is a good example of Martins' plain and matter-of-fact style. He writes mostly about the '50s, which is a time when West Africa was vastly different in so many ways. He doesn't shrink from the awful memories as well as the precious ones (his story about cleaning up overflowed sewage is sickening in an understated way). By the time I returned to Nigeria in 1980, things had changed greatly, some for better, some for worse (mostly for the better in that case). By the time I left Nigeria again eight years later things had changed greatly again, some for better, some for worse (mostly for the worse that time). The stories of all these changes are important for us to keep, especially from the personal viewpoint of sharp observers such as Martins. He talks about playing for some of the names whom all Nigerians will recognize as having been crucial players in these changes.

This was the period that the modern elites those who were to become permanent secretaries, solicitors general, prime ministers and presidents were returning home from Britain and the United States, and congregated in Lagos. The night-club, apart from the billiard tables and tennis courts, was a social outlet where they freely integrated and interacted with others. Dancing was a favourite past time of most them. And what marvellous dancers most of them were! l still remember a few like Bayo Braithwaite (the insurance and assurance magnet), Sunny Adewale (Chief, lawyer)'the boy is good', T.OJ:). Benson (Chief, lawyer, former federal minister of information in the first Republic), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe ( first President of independent Nigeria), Fani Kayode (Chief, lawyer former deputy premier of the now defunct Western Region), Freddy Benson ( 'Baba Kayode', an automobile engineer of Benson Transport Service ), Bode Thomas (Chief, lawyer and nationalist). Shola Macauley (business man) amd Tommy Rose (our taylor) among others. Chief Awolowo was the one man who hardly danced and betrayed emotions at such gatherings he attended in which l played with a band. l used to wonder often about that. So l was pleasantly surprised when he formed a band in 1979 for the Unity Party of Nigeria. However for the smart ones in the band to meet and talk with these eminent and distinguished men was a great privilege. Therefore the night- club for us was a great institution of learning and of assimilation: Ideas and knowledge floated freely from both black and white audiences.

It's fun to get the occasional etymology lesson

[B]: What about other expressions for prostitutes like waka-waka baby and ashewo?

[M]: Yes, waka waka baby like Rex Lawson termed it. Ashewo is the Yoruba word for prostitute. Waka waka is Pidgin English or coloquial for a women that goes from one setting to the other. She was a walk-about woman, thats what waka waka means in short.

[B]: And that expression in Yoruba could have other meanings or is it a traditional expression? Or is it a common place in Yoruba?

[M]: Well, ashewo itself means exchanger of money.

[B]: [It] doesn't mean more than that?

[M]: No, it implies that you exchange money for your body.

Straight rolled into a street sociology lesson

[B]: What women were these usually? What training did those women have? Where did they come from? From the city, from the country?

[M]: They belonged to various categories. Most of them had been married some time in their village to men they did not like or something like that. Some just wanted to experience life in the city and to get away from the villages. Others simply wanted good time. There were some fresh from the schools who didnt actually know what to do but throbbed with the music, the modern music and they loved it. They liked the socialization in the club. Then there were educated women who were ambitious and seeking opportunity to further enhance their lives. So it was a mixture of all these interests and backgrounds that one sees in the night-clubs. Not all of the women that one saw in the night club were dedicated prostitutes. Some were there just for the fun of it and satisfaction.

[B]: That reminds me of the argument that Highlife provided liberty or that kind of feeling to men and women in a way. Not to say that these women were prostitutes. Some of these were women breaking away from their traditional bondage and tyranny?

If you find these excerpts interesting, do read the entire interview. It's long, but very entertaining. Since the interviewer is German, Martins takes care to explain a lot of the phenomena that may be hard for a non-Nigerian to understand.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia