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:

Jedna dva tři čtyři / fancy-flung fremdsprachen sie

One two three four
Is OK, but you need more:

Un deux trois quat’
If you want a welcome mat

En to tre fire
With the krone getting dearer,

Bir iki uç dirt
Selling off your jeans or shirt

—from "Roughing It in Europe" by Robin Helweg-Larsen in Unsplendid 3.2

A delightful song, especially for a language geek.  I'm brushing up on Czech for a trip to Prague later this month, so I did think to myself "boo! where's the "Česky?"—I'm guessing the "Jeden dwa trzy cztery" line is Polish.  A glance at Mr. Helweg-Larsen's bio complements the spirit of his poem.  In his words: "My flag is the blue-and-white of the UN, all other flags are historically interesting at best, despicable at worst."  Amen! Amen! Amen!


We need some lines for Nigeria, though.

Otu abuo ato ano
Eat your fill of sweet paw-paw

Ení èjí ẹta ẹrin
Serious go-slow for Mushin

Daya biyu uku hudu
Let's go dude ranching at Obudu

A Trip to the Big Apple and Escaping the Black Hole of Tragedy

The last few weeks have been pretty emotional and quite busy for our family.  I received a call from producers of The Nate Burkus Show who were looking to do a 'while you were sleeping' episode in our home where they refurbished or remade a room for a a spouse (or family) member while they were unawares and over night.  They wanted to do this for my wife and for the cleveland area audience.  So, for a whole week or so, I had to help them coordinate the logistics remotely so they could come in and out smoothly.

Now, the first thing I asked them was if it was going to be discreet.  For my family, our home is very sacred and there are rooms in it that are essentially hallowed ground despite the fact that it is very different from the home it was before the fire.  For one thing, the room that they chose only needed to be refurbished since - on account of an incredibly philanthropic community effort - that floor had already been reconstructed.

It was alot of fun, very emotional, and cathartic for me to close some of the loops in the narrative of surviving the violent ebbs and flows of life.  This was definitely more fun than I have had in a while.  It was a great opportunity for Roschelle to have a stage to talk about some of the themes that are important to the both of us (and Andrea): Patient advocacy (as it relates to technology and law), organ procurement advocacy, surviving the violence of life, etc.  

Andrea Stricker - community organizer and logistics manager extraordinaire - was instrumental in keeping us all sane.  She helped coordinate Roschelle's schedule so she was out of the house with the two tornadoes that are Nkiru (9 months) and Ngozi (2 years) and upstairs during the night.  I (and almost all of the crew) literally had no sleep that night as they moved in furniture and incredibly personal effects (such as family albums with pictures, etc.) into a space that has seen jubilant love, gut wrenching fear, bustling reconstruction by various local union members, neighbors and friends, etc. - the full anthropological range.

The room has been completely transformed in a personal way and we are still trying absorb the sum total of it all.  Some days, I wonder if thousands of years henceforth, how much of the history of the events of a house remain.  One of the items they moved into the living room was a pair of columns that (we were told) were build in the 18th century.  

I don't know anything about them, which house they were a part of, whether the house they were a part of suffered moments of tragedy similar to the house they have been moved into and (in particular) into the location they were moved into (a location where so much utter destruction occurred).  Given how old they are, they must have their own history and memories that others might have chosen to forget and that I may never come to know about and not knowing them might help in being able to appreciate them for the great work of art and architecture they are.

I don't think people should be so quick to relocate from a home where disasters (natural or otherwise) have occurred.  The fear of wandering specters and/or perpetually revisited memories is only as much of a problem as we let it and this is proven certain by the fact that we don't have any fear about being in that house (at least to that effect), despite the fact that there are many people we know who have great trepidation stepping into it.  So, being able to transform that room and facilitate the journey along the determination to not allow our house to be defined by the events that occurred in it was a special thing.

Soon after they shot the 'revealing' (as they call it), they returned to New York and we flew out on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  That first shot is of Ngozi, who sat with me and I was lucky enough that she was sleepy just before boarding and - after having her ultimate pacifier (her "ba ba") - slept most of the way. 

On the way to the hotel, Roschelle convinced the driver to pass through the heart of the African American Harlem Renaissance, stopping by Silvia's, Central Park, and the Apollo.  I was doing too much contemplation and observation to take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did get a few in front of the Apollo.  

Given all the incredible history of the building, it seemed much smaller physically and belies its historical stature.  The hotel we stayed in is was in uptown Manhattan.  Soon after arriving, we turned the hotel rooms into a control center for a toddler and infant (as you can see in the picture of Nkiru rummaging through our things)

The last shot is of us heading to the CBS/BET studios in the Limo they were nice enough to pick us up in.  Outside the studios was this enormous line of people waiting to be in the audience of the BET taping where Cello was performing (we ran into him coming back from the on set taping at the elevators).

It was very interesting seeing the belly of the beast that carefully prepares the media that churns the vast entertainment engine of America.  Everything is carefully coordinated, and it reminds me slightly of The Truman Show.  I learned a few things that I found interesting:

  • The tapings of interview scenes are not continuous but can involve1-5 takes per 30 minutes
  • The framework of the narrative is stitched together with a priori editing work that is filled in with onset footage in a very coordinated way
  • Editing is a major part of how such things are put together

All in all, it was alot of fun but it was stark reminder of why I subscribe to the philosophy that once you understand that change is inevitable (and perceive its wave form), you learn to not become a slave of the amplitude of the wave.  Soon after we returned, my father became ill and had to come to the Heart and Vascular Institute.

The last few weeks, I have been reminded of my mortality and the mortality of the people I love in my life, of the wave form of change, and the importance of securing your family as insurance to the violent twists of life.  Keeping together the assemblage that is my family is hard work, but it is even harder to navigate without that foundation. 


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.

Back from Nigeria

The Boulder Super Shuttle dropped us off at home at almost 2 a.m. this morning after a marathon 50 hour trip from Calabar, through Abuja, Amsterdam and Minneapolis (we ended up driving rather than flying back to the airport in Abuja for our return flight).

We're all exhausted but otherwise very happy. It was such a wonderful trip. Lori and the kids loved it. Lori admits that it certainly defied all her preconceived notions of Africa, and even for me there was so much that I found changed after 15 years of absence. I'll write more about it later, but for now I wanted to mention that uche.ogbuji.net was down for the past couple of weeks. The server had a maintenance reboot while I was gone and I hadn't left directions for re-launching the new CherryPy set-up I'd made for the site. I've restarted it now, and will look to add it to the startup scripts.

Next I'll address the backlog of comments.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

I'm going going back back to Naija Naija

(Apologies for the title to the late Biggie Smalls). Fifteen years. Iri na ise. That's how long it's been since I've even stepped foot on Nigerian soil. The latter half of this December Lori, the kids and I shall be heading back for the holidays. Should be quite an experience for Lori and Osita. I expect Jide will just be generally aware that stuff's kinda different. Udoka will probably know no better than to squeeze the lungs when he needs Mom for that milk.

We'll mostly be staying in Calabar with my maternal relatives, since we're traveling with my mother, but we'll jaunt around some, including a visit to my father's home town. I hope to get to Nsukka, where I began university although that might not be realistic in the available time. It's a good time of year to go. Not only will there be a lot of folks to see, because Nigerians traditionally go home for Christmas hols, but the weather will be as close to Colorado's as it gets there, what with the dry season in full effect, the chilly Harmattan mornings and the intense midday sun. The mosquitoes should be at manageable levels. Should also be a good time for shopping. Thanks to Naijajams, I have a good sized list of music to pick up, and then there are all those books I just can't seem to find here in the U.S. Now that I'm finally starting to get over the shock of how much it's all costing us, I'm getting pretty excited.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

2006 conferences, part 3

Semantic Technology Conference 2006

Copia wasn't around for me to post about what a great time I had at STC05, which was in downtown San Francisco, but I did type up some notes in my developerWorks column . It doesn't hurt that my presentation was packed (pretty big room, too) with very attentive folks who provided excellent feedback throughout the rest of the conference. I'm wondering whether to propose the same talk again (updated, of course). I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. (March 6-9 in San Jose). STC05 was quite visibly a big success and if this one is as well organized, I expect it will become a fixture in my calendar year to year.

Three is probably my conference quotient for next year, but who knows? Things may work out for me to wander yet more. Extreme is the conference that I regret missing most year after year, but August is almost always an impossible time for me. We'll see about 2006.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

2006 conferences, part 2

"Save the date: XTech 2006"

The foundations are in place for my favorite XML conference. Have I mentioned how hard XTech 2005 rocked? Hmm? Haven't I?. Ah. Indeed I have. The reviews were pretty much overwhelmingly bright.

And perhaps the best news of all is that the conference is still in Amsterdam, but it's moving from the sterile RAI to the Krasnapolsky Hotel on Dam Square. More time to frolic in that fly city center.

As for XML 2005, Atlanta, I'd thought briefly about going (submitting a late-breaking talk and all that), but I'm through my conference quota for the year, and looking through the program I honestly didn't find enough to inspire me to make the stretch. I do hope they follow Edd's lead and bring in some fresh blood (topics wise) for future conferences.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

2006 conferences, part 1

"Dallas PyCon bid accepted"

Yay! PyCon moves out of the grey D.C. area. And it moves for 2006 to one of my favorite cities, Dallas, where I lived (Irving) from 1994 to 1996. PyCon comes at what lately has been a tough time of year for me to attend, but I think I'll just have to scrape together the odds for 2006. After all, it will be a chance to spend some time back at my favorite martial arts school (note to Dallas folk. If you're considering martial arts training, don't even think twice: get yourself to Tim Bulot's academy.)

w.r.t Andrew's disclaimer. Never fear. All signed, sealed and delivered, now.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia