Sunday, December 20, 2009

turning year...

(via Flickr)

Well Happy Holidays.

What an autumn, what a fall. (That word fall was too appropos from September on this year) . I swear Murphy's Law was all in 2009. (And sadly, that goes for Brittany Murphy too. How sad that such a young person has died.But passings are sad irrespective of age...) Over the last couple months I've had two family passings several computer crashings and well, let's just cut the list short there. Looking forward to winter being here for real. No puns for that season.

I guess I could segue into "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer..." etc. but today was neither season just a peaceful day. We got our first proper snow in NY yesterday as some foreshadowing. If it had to snow, it really couldn't have been more convenient: we had enough lead time to get the remaining shopping done and it didn't really hit until the late afternoon. It's quiet (for Brooklyn anyway) and kinda nice. The snow will stay white for at least the end of the day. Tomorrow's rush hour is a whole other story...

I was sitting here on the penultimate Sunday of 2009 thinking about the year and stumbled upon something in my iTunes folder. (I don't know about you, but I haven't listened to everything I've downloaded or transferred.) I finally heard, in its entirety, the beautiful anthology "The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music".


This project was embarked upon by the great Harry Belafonte in the 1950s but didn't come to fruition until this (rapidly ending) decade.


Although he didn't put his name on the tracks or the cover, his sound is so singular, it's impossible not to know it's him coordinating things. He also included the phenomenal Gloria Lynne and the great Joe Williams among other luminaries in this 6 CD set. It's so arresting, beautiful and understatedly heart-breaking. The sense of optimism in the songs allude to the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow.

Confluently enough, I just put in the first two words "Long Road" into iTunes to play the discs through, and at the very end of the 4+ hours of music, Robert Creeley's poem "The Long Road" played. It was such an unusual, yet completely appropriate close to hearing the anthology, that I had to pause. Not to be to self-reflective but I have to say that I felt a strong sense of being part of a long (and very winding) road: from African praise songs, to slavery songs, to the Blues and the Fisk Jubilee Singers along side Robert Creeley (but certainly not as a peer). What an interesting terrain this poetic landscape is.


I guess going to two funerals kind of close together also made me think of "The Idea of Ancestry" to quote the great Etheridge Knight. Poetry makes me feel solitary often but not alone usually...

Got back to Chi town again and snuck a peek at the Chicago Shakespeare Theaterl's Richard III. This was the first time that it really got into my head/heart how hard it is for actors to work in and at their parts. I do appreciate people getting up there. I also really do like how thoroughly the cast knows what every word means and why it's there. American actors aren't always socialized that way and I appreciate when folks on this side of the world are focused on that.


Speaking of bardic stuff, Ian McKellen is reprising his role in Waiting for Godot so if you're in London, go see. (I am not putting yet another picture of IM up.) He's breath-taking. Alas, his colleague in the previous incarnation, Patrick Stewart, won't be there but McKellen is worth the ticket, he's a Gemini so go see him. I'm looking out for my peeps!

(Because of this silly rule, I'll also be buying Clint Eastwood's new biography that I saw in the store. But that's as close to repubby as I'm gonna recommend. You can leave the Giuliani book in the remainder bin.)

(via MERIE W. WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

This weird rule is an excuse to make myself read books I don't usually "have time for" or normally wouldn't peruse. I read Katherine Graham's autobiography (late publisher of the Washington Post), (Sir) Christopher Lee's later autobiography "Lord of Misrule" and Rupert Everett's autobiography because of this pretext. His name for the book, "Staged Beauty" also encouraged me to see the film by that title and I literally wept at the end. I love good films about acting so that was that: one degree of separation between arbitrary sun sign-ness and tears. I read other people's work too, obviously, but not often enough "for fun" as it were. Nodding toward Clint, I also love CE's work with actors and finally have "an in" with the reading of this bio. It's strictly how he works with actors, irrespective of the story. (My mother is still mystified that I know, and enjoy, Eastwood more as a director than an actor. Generational thing. And my Mom's a Sagittarius: I read Kenneth Branaugh's autobiography to understand "her people". (Okay, that's not really the reason.) I do not, however, need encouragement to read archers Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle's though, so put out autobiographies guys!)

Well, performance talk always perks me up which is good. I was getting too somber and introspective after humbling myself the work of Mr. Belafonte and the subject matter he works with. Here's to looking forward with clear eyes and good inspiration.

I wish all my family, friends and students (past and present) happy new year and congrats for making it through another one. Lots and lots of people with many advantages did not. It has been a very intense year for everyone including our planet as the climate change talks in Copenhagen, concluded last week, indicate.


See you in the '10s,

The Idea of Ancestry
by Etheridge Knight


Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know
their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style,
they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.

I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins. I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).

I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle. The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say). He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space. My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him. There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown."


Each fall the graves of my grandfathers call me, the brown
hills and red gullies of mississippi send out their electric
messages, galvanizing my genes. Last yr/like a salmon quitting
the cold ocean-leaping and bucking up his birth stream/I
hitchhiked my way from LA with 16 caps in my pocket and a
monkey on my back. And I almost kicked it with the kinfolks.
I walked barefooted in my grandmother's backyard/I smelled the
land and the woods/I sipped cornwhiskey from fruit jars with the
I flirted with the women/I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down. That night I looked at my grandmother
and split/my guts were screaming for junk/but I was almost
contented/I had almost caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croaker's crib for a fix.)

This yr there is a gray stone wall damming my stream, and when
the falling leaves stir my genes, I pace my cell or flop on my bunk
and stare at 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,
they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
to float in the space between.

Big qualifier here: I don't have this poem in print. This is how I heard it though after hearing "The Long Road to Freedom". Take this as a typographical interpretation of Creeley. Despite my flaws, his beauty comes through and again, is a wonderful coda, this time after Etheridge.

The Long Road
by Robert Creeley (as I heard it)

The Long Road: The Long Road of it all
is an echo, a sound like an image expanding
frames growing one after one in ascending or
descending order. All of us arising, falling
thought and explosion of emptiness soon forgotten.

As a kid I wondered, where do they go
My father dead the place had a faded dustiness
despite the woods and all. We all grew up.
I see our faces in old school pictures.
Where are we now?

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