Friday, March 19, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Thanks Jonathan and Cathy!

An incredible time was had by all last Friday at Artist Television Access for a talk by Jonathan Skinner followed by the screening of Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker by Cathy Cook.

Special thanks to Konrad Steiner (Kino 21), Fara Akrami (ATA) and Steve Dickison (Poetry Center) for helping to make the night possible!

Below is a report from the lovely Laura Woltag:


"Nature is a haunted house--but Art--is a house that tries to be haunted."
-Emily Dickinson

On a rain-speckled Saturday night, SPT gathered at Artists’ Television Access at 21st & Valencia for an exploration of Lorine Niedecker’s life in poetry. I arrived early and the theater was already full, seating snaking up the stairs. I was lucky to score a seat in the second row between Carrie Hunter and Stephen Vincent.

Jonathan Skinner began the evening with a presentation contextualizing Niedecker’s work, situating her in a post-Darwinian field of range finding. Skinner states, “She is a poet of ambivalence, for whom the poem is an instrument of balance…[to Niedecker,] the poet is an observer and instrument of place. “

Skinner explored formal aspects of Niedecker’s poems (a Dickinsonian employment of the em dash, poetics of condensing, sound structures) that bled her engagement with her ecological, biological, sonic, social, and political environs.

Tracking movements of consciousness within poems through the lens of natural histories, Skinner played close attention to the sonics of Niedecker’s work. In an excerpt from “Lake Superior”, Skinner’s colored sounds reveal all sonic events have corresponding occurrences, except for a lone ‘H’ in the middle of the poem that Skinner likened to primordial sound:

In Niedecker’s poem, the center is a lone sound.

In Skinner’s analysis of Niedecker’s poetics, he cited Leo Marx’s writings on the “complex pastoral”. Marx states the pastoral is located “in a middle ground somewhere ‘between,’ yet in a transcendent relation to, the opposing forces of civilization and nature.”





Cathy Cook’s documentary film, Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker opens with a drive to Black Hawk Island in the dark rural night. And so begins Cook’s journey through fields of Niedecker’s poetics, environment, and personal life. What was, for Cook, to initially be a few minutes of film, resulted in a six-year, 72 minute documentary (and aren’t we grateful!).

The narrative begins in a loose chronology of Niedecker’s life that tightens as it moves forward in time-space. Voices describing Niedecker’s “sparse” childhood on the remote island accompany sounds of splashing carp and the text of her early poems scrolling up-screen.

The film collages voices from a variety of interviews (from members of Niedecker’s local community, her family, the geographically dispersed poetry community, etc.) to piece together a narrative of Neidecker’s life. The voices are never identified, and their corresponding faces are left out of the film, yet “who is speaking” is of little significance to the narrative. Voices of “others” do not overshadow Niedecker’s life; rather, they speak with it—a life in poetics that is just recently receiving the attention it deserves, and the audience who needs it. Like a poem may, the film collages voices to tell a story:

“Lorine was famous.”

“Lorine, who are you?”

“I always thought of a wren. She had a lot of brown things. Brown and blue.”

“Then came the winter of ’54, and we wondered why she never had any heat in the house.”

“When it came to cooking, she was a blank slate…She ate words.”

“You can’t separate her from her place.”

These voices are transposed on the environs of the Wisconsin land/waterscape; the camera tracks movement of light over milkweed silk, cottontails, red dogwood branches, irises, forest fungi, ice fishing holes, etc. This visual narrative is never steady – it operates in a current of motion, disjuncting space and mashing together scenes.

Gaps in dialogue are filled with instrumental music. Mechanical in essence, these sounds exists in relation (at times juxtaposition, at times resonance) with the cacophony of sounds on the island: loon song, Canadian geese calls, cicadas, frogs, insects, lapping water, flapping great blue heron wings, an apple cider crank, etc.

In the film, as with Niedecker’s poems, the visual is dependent on the sonic—no sound is ambient. Both artists’ material arrives from a meditation with place.

And then there are the poems!

Cook intersperses Niedecker’s poems within the visual-vocal dialogue: a poem featuring beer can litter is transposed on an actual beer can litter, the text of a poem appears and then dissolves down a bathtub drain, a poem wavers with the lily pads on the surface of Lake Koshkonog. Above a field of sunflowers:

Along the river
wild sunflowers
over my head
the dead
who gave me life
give me this
our relative the air
our rich friend

Presenting poetry in a film creates the fact of its textual disappearance. Cook uses short poems and extracts from longer work to negotiate the challenge and limitations of the screen. She also layers the poem’s presence once it has left the screen, by installing visual resonances that flicker in the moments following the poem’s passing out of sight.

Cook also includes excerpts from Niedecker’s journals and letters:
“I conceive of poetry as the folktales of the mind and us creating our own memory.”
“Believing as I do poetry comes from the folk if it is to be vital or original.”
And: “Condense…condense…condense.”

The film is a story of it own making – of Cook’s numerous trips to Wisconsin to wade through flooded Black Hawk Island, to wheel open the library shelves that store Niedecker’s archives, to conduct interviews, and to peel away at the layers of Niedecker’s life. A life, as the film highlights, lived largely in necessity and in water. However, Cook works to highlight Niedecker’s connection the (then) contemporary poetry scene, and her correspondences with Cid Corman, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting, Jonathan Williams etc. Cook recreates Niedecker’s “immortal cupboard” of books, down to the exact editions, including works by John Muir, Thoreau, D.H. Lawrence, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Lucretius, and haiku collections.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great song wrote and preformed by Jen Benka (also a Wisconsin native), which anchors the film’s opening and rest. The piece was written before the film was conceived, and it haunts landscape of the screen in its channeling of Niedecker: “You will never know me/ But someday you will hear me.”

& in SF last weekend, we did:

Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws
Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land
May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Saturday! Leslie Scalapino and Bruce Andrews

Please join us for this phenomenal night with two of our best: Leslie Scalapino and Bruce Andrews!

Saturday March 20, 2010
Timken Hall/CCA Campus San Francisco
1111 8th Street
$8-15 entrance/members and students FREE

American poet, Bruce Andrews was born in Chicago and educated at Harvard. He settled in New York in 1975, where he became a professor of politics at Fordham. He was editor of L-A-N-G-U- A-G-E with Charles Bernstein (1979–81). He is a performance artist and poet whose texts are some of the most radical of the Language school (see Language Poetry); his poetry tries ‘to cast doubt on each and every “natural” construction of language’. Small linguistic units, idioms, phrases, and single words, taken from different, sometimes mutually exclusive registers, especially discourses which are socially sensitive and resonant to contemporary ears, enable the poetry to ‘suggest a social undecidability’. I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) (1990) comes as close as any American poet to fulfilling Whitman's aim of allowing the ‘forbidden voices, voices of sexes and lusts’ to speak, a vast cacophony of urban self-presentational idioms, even when these are in violent opposition to one another. Other works include Getting Ready to Have Been Frightened (1978/1988), Love Songs (1982), Give Em Enough Rope (1987), Tizzy Boost (1993), and Moebius (1993). His influential essays have appeared in The L-A-N-G-U- A-G-E Book (1984) and The Politics of Poetic Form (1990).

Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, prose (new-novel) by Leslie Scalapino, is published by Starcherone, February 2010, 168 pages.
The extraordinary range of imagination on display in this slim gem engages as many wildly disparate and imaginatively scenes and situations as a massive Pynchon novel -- miners, polar bears, insurgents sweeping the desert in Toyota pickups, a detective on the trail of illegal fur traders, Venus Williams' deconstructed forehand, wild horses, blooming chrysanthemums, tadpoles eating corpses in the Euphrates, and so much more. These narratives or moments of riveting meaning arrive out of inchoate states--an alexia where unknown words create a future--and the reader is continually and unexpectedly moved by the buoyancy and breathtaking velocity of Leslie Scalapino's dazzling gifts with language and the seemingly endless paths and potentials she has exploded in Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows. (Starcherone editors)

“This is a jewel book that has come out of the spagyric hinterlands of purest imagination, where it has lain for an immeasurable time alongside Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night, Hans Arps’ poetry, Monkey’s Journey to the West, and Mark Twain’s “Mysterious Stranger.”—and it blows with the elegance of a horse—or a wolf…Virginia Woolf.” —Michael McClure

“A rose is a rose is” not a rose in Leslie Scalapino’s new novel, Floats Horse-floats or Horse-flows. “A hartel is occurring.” But what is an event anyway? This is a question Scalapino has explored before, but never quite as she does here. Characters and events in this work are named with the dictionary’s most obscure entries. There is the known world where “one-box-fits-all-words” make “even plants indistinguishable from humans.” And then there is the world Scalapino creates, a world of fresh encounters where the “hartebeest is wandering” and the “vast shimmying fractionation is heard.” This other world isn’t Eden, though it might seem so at first. Like the one we know, this world is filled with disaster and violence. The difference is that here we don’t see it coming; we can’t hide behind dead verbiage; we can’t brace ourselves.

—Rae Armantrout

Floats Horse-floats or Horse-flows is an action novel. Using aspects of adventure, science fiction, crime and simultaneous time, Leslie Scalapino presents and represents an interwoven series of stories or vignettes that carry you along, ready or not. Among the many characters are the green fractionators, the people, the Comanche, Violet, powder monkey, Grace Abe, Fujimori, Venus, Serena (yes, that Venus and Serena), bugboy, Alice, infant Emmanuel, Lana Turner, Chrysanthemum, T, Demihunter, cougar, Gonzales and Rove (yes that Gonzales and Rove) and others. In fact, in this writing the sense of the present is the central action for the writer and the reader, as well as for the characters. “No really it’s one thing at a time but all at once…” There are horses and they do float and flow. In fact, there are pictures of this, as well as other photos. The sense of floating and flow is intricately, one might almost say intimately, maintained. There is time travel or, at least multiple times. “To produce the events before the present.” Everyday life enters into it. There is an insistence on life and a love (“No reason except love…) Politics and the war, the many wars, appear. There is a happy ending, a celebration of life. It is a wild ride. —Laura Moriarty

In Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows, people, the base runner, the powder monkey—Venus and herself as a young orphan—all, are moved to be in the same place that’s always the different stacked levels and times at once, all the places-levels at-one by being some configuration serially once. In the midst of it is a simulated ‘whole’ (it is the separated Grace Abe, not the Cheshire cat) splintered consciousness occurring only once. As each single place of the simultaneity, each is incandescence. You do it.—signed by Raymond Federman who likes to have the author write their own blurb, and if he approves of it, sign his name.

Leslie Scalapino is the author of thirty books of poetry, fiction, poem-plays, and criticism. Her new book is a work of new fiction from Starcherone titled Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows. It’s go in horizontal, Selected Poems, 1974-2006, was published by UC Press, Berkeley, 2008. Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night was published by Green Integer in 2007. Granary Books is publishing a collaboration by Scalapino and Kiki Smith of poetry and drawings titled, The animal is in the world like water in water (May 2010). She has taught at Bard College in the summer MFA program for the last sixteen years; and presently teaches at Mills College in Oakland.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Thanks Ronaldo!

Ronaldo Wilson was in beautiful form this past Saturday, when giving a fantasic and generous reading.

Here is the introduction by CAConrad:
Queer activist and filmmaker Marlon Riggs created the documentary COLOR ADJUSTMENT over a decade ago, tracing and exposing white, corporate America's racist template for network television. One of the most telling interviews on this embedded racism was with Esther Rolle, star of, and co-creator of the show GOOD TIMES. She told how network executives tried to convince her that it would be better for the show if she would agree to make her character a single mother. But she had a mission to make the black man visible as father and husband on network TV. Before GOOD TIMES all black women on television were single, or single mothers. On the first day of shooting John Amos, hired to play her husband on the show, had been quietly sent home and removed from the script. When Esther Rolle came to work and found out she REFUSED to allow the cameras to roll until her husband was written back into the script and returned to the set. She finally won the argument, and helped change the history of the disappeared. Such dedication to LIVE RIGHT by this world keeps true to the words of Frederick Douglass when he said, "POWER CONCEDES NOTHING WITHOUT A DEMAND! IT NEVER DID AND IT NEVER WILL!" The poetry and work of Ronaldo Wilson brings further light to the visible and invisible. Author Wayne Koestenbaum writes, "I applaud Ronaldo Willson's path-breaking movement into what has never, never, in history, been said. About sexuality, in particular, these poems speak with incorrigible and raving clarity." Please help me welcome Ronaldo Wilson!

And here is a link to an audio file of Ronaldo's reading. It starts mid-poem, unfortunately, but is otherwise fantastic

zSHARE - 04 Track 04 4.m4a

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

and This Saturday: an evening with Ronaldo Wilson!

Please join us for an evening with the incredible Ronaldo Wilson and a reading and discussion of The Visible Black Body: An Interventionist's Reflection

Saturday March 13, 2010
Timken Hall/CCA Campus San Francisco
1111 8th Street
$8-15 entrance/members and students FREE

For over 35 years SPT has been at the heart of where experimentation and community intersect. This season we continue to present a multi-pronged conversation that highlights some of the concerns of our readers’ work. These conversations include: bodies, communities and empires. Dialogues are intended to engender discussions around the themes of bodies, communities, and empires, putting each reader's writing into broader contexts and ongoing debates around poetics, politics, and practice.

Ronaldo V. Wilson is the author of Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, winner of the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, selected by Claudia Rankine and Poems of the Black Object. He holds a PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center, is a co-founder of the Black Took Collective, and currently teaches at Mount Holyoke College.

Find him online here and here.

This Friday: Imortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker

Please join us for an evening of film and conversation as we present, along with Kino 21 and the Poetry Center, Immortal Cupboard: In Search of Lorine Niedecker.

Filmmaker Cathy Cook will join us along with Special Guest Jonathan Skinner, who will be presenting his talk: Particular Attention: Lorine Niedecker’s Natural Histories

Friday March 12, 2010
Artist Television Access
992 Valencia Street, San Francisco
$8-15 entrance/members and students FREE

Filmmaker Cathy Cook takes cues from Niedecker’s work and the Wisconsin heritage they share to explore the poetry and life of Lorine Niedecker (1903 – 1970.) Cook has exhibited her award-winning work extensively in both solo and group shows including screenings at MOMA and the Whitney Museum; she is an Associate Professor of Film/Video in Visual Arts at The University of Maryland – Baltimore County.

Jonathan Skinner’s poetry collections include With Naked Foot and Political Cactus Poems. He founded and edits the journal ecopoetics, which features creative-critical intersections between writing and ecology. Skinner teaches in the Environmental Studies Program at Bates College, in Central Maine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Case You Missed It: Thanks Harryette!

We had a rare treat to enjoy Harryette Mullen last Friday.

Here is the introduction from CAConrad:

On the topic of bodies we have with us tonight Harryette Mullen. We will start by calling on a couple of transformed bodies of poets who have passed on, the missing bodies we honor.

(Samantha lights the half stick of cedar incense)

Cedar is a scent associated with the god Mercury, and is used to close the gap of time and space between us and the ones we wish to contact. This incense was a gift from poet kari edwards a month before she died, incense she brought from India with her partner Fran Blau.

When kari lived in Philadelphia in the 1980's she made friends with poet Gil Ott at the Painted Bride Arts Center. Gil was also friends with Harryette Mullen, and published her books S*PeRM**K*T and Muse & Drudge on his Singing Horse Press. When kari was on a book tour with her book "iduna" she hoped to see Gil Ott when she read in Philadelphia, but he died a few days before her reading. The night of her reading the poets in the room were somewhat melancholy due to the passing of Gil just days before.

The first thing kari did was to talk about Gil and how -- as everyone in the room knew -- he started all of his readings off with the song "The Moon Does Not Run On Gasoline" by San Francisco poet Kush. So kari sang the song, which translated all sorrow in an instant that night, but also transformed the way the room could open that night. We have a recording of Gil Ott singing that song for us to open the topic of bodies by his friend Harryette Mullen tonight, let's listen.

(Samantha plays Gil singing)

Please welcome Harryette Mullen.


And a reading report from Robin Treblay-McGaw (which can also be found on

The Bay Area was treated to two appearances of Harryette Mullen in one weekend. On Friday night Mullen was part of a group reading in Berkeley and on Saturday night, she ignited Timken Hall at CCA in San Francisco. Mullen began the evening by explaining that she wasn't going to be talking about poetry but would talk about what she's been working on for the last couple of years, a project that entails, as Mullen said, finding where the bodies are buried. Harryette Mullen has been engaged in a genealogical investigation to document her family history. This is a fraught project since many of Mullen's ancestors are not well documented. Often there were no birth or marriage records for blacks. Prior to 1870, blacks were not uniformly included in the U.S. Census. As a result, Mullen's project has extended beyond her family alone. She's let this investigation expand sideways, revising her idea of what family is, including ancestral cousins as well.

One of the things Mullen discovers through this process is that in the 19th century, particularly for blacks, it is possible to find documentation of a person's life through death records only. For example there are databases that contain information about black union (and a few confederate) soldiers involved in the Civil War. One such database is the National Graves Registration Project maintained by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Other sources of information include insurance company lists of insured slaves. Slave-owners would often take out an insurance policy on slaves who were expected to die within a year.

Witness the difficulty of tracing family history when a relative is never recorded as someone--someone who was born, married, had children. Officially, they exist only in their dying, and sometimes not even then.

Here the official records--or their absences and omissions--and family history and knowledge rub up against one another, revealing contradictions, social and political histories, and trauma. Mullen discovered that the causes of death listed for some of her ancestors include conditions related to malnutrition and starvation, such as Pellagra.

The complexities and construction of race as a category assert themselves.
A census record might one year record someone as black, at another time, mulatto. The category of "race" and who defines and names and records it is tessellated and troubled. One of Mullen's ancestors was said to be Mexican. While Mullen suggested that this might be true, it seemed more likely an intentional ambiguity for a black family living in a largely white part of town in the late 19th century. Mullen's family tree, like a good deal of American family trees, includes both black and white ancestors. While some white relatives discovered by Mullen in Texas have embraced her, her inquiries have not been met always with such interest. Trying to locate the burial ground of one relative, Mullen contacted a white family in Alabama whose 19th century ancestors owned slaves, including, I believe, one of Mullen's relatives. The family sold one of these slaves (one of Harryette's ancestors) so that one of their white sons could attend medical school. Once they understood Mullen's project--her search for her ancestor's burial site--this family promptly cut off communication.

Names. Starvation. Lives. People owning other People. Resting places.

Harryette said that her project had not produced any writing--poetry or prose--that really satisfied her and she is unclear where the project is going and whether or not it will be more than a family genealogical inquiry, when it will stop. I think many in the audience were hopeful that the project would continue and take a form that we might encounter again. It is heart-breaking and important work.

I find so much of Harryette Mullen's writing to be engaged with history in so many different ways. Mullen has investigated slave narratives in her dissertation and her poetry dives into history and language's troubled archives. In the work collected in Recyclopedia, Mullen enables the sort of “activity of thinking and imagination that open[s] out vast possibilities not just of memory but of counter-memory; the moral idiom and semiotic registers of remembering against the grain of the history of New World black deracination, subjection, and exclusion” that David Scott describes (vi).* Such a process entails both identifying and preserving histories and experiences elided and prohibited from official discourses and simultaneously exposing such discourses’ bad faith. Rather than placing them under lock and key in order to solidify, arrest, and exclude racist and sexist discourses, Mullen re-makes the encyclopedia—the discourse and its attendant pedagogies—through her recycling of its material alphabets, grammars, metaphors, and other tropes. She interrogates and improvises, and then re-uses them, stretching them to their utmost. In the process, these discursive investigations reveal the often unmarked and unnamed structurings of various internecine ideologies.

Past perfect food sticks in the craw. Curdles the pulse.
Coops up otherwise free ranging birds whose plucked
wings beat hearts over easy. Flapping aerobically, cocks
walk on brittle zeros. They make and break and scramble
to get ahead. Whisk the yokels into shape. Use their pecker
order to separate the whites (S*PeRM**K*T).

Harryette Mullen shows us how even "bad" or contaminated, and half-erased traumatic histories might be made to speak volubly and differently. A poetics of history and knowledges. Discrepant interdependencies, crimes, pleasures, sufferings. There are wounds. And words. There are names: Hannah Strange, Flemming Mullen, Horace Dangerfield, Granville Spangler....

While it comes from a different register entirely, a portion of Jacqes Ranciere's The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge, seems apt:

...this means nonhistory and history, the power of articulation of names and events that is tied to the ontological indeterminacy of the narrative, but that nevertheless is alone suited to preserving the specificity of a historical science in general. The revolution in historical study is the arrangement of a space for the conjunction of contradictories" (6-7).

I can't stop thinking about the evening.

*Scott, David. “Introduction: On the Archaeologies of Black Memory.” Small Axe 26 12.2 (June 2008): v-xvi.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This Saturday! an evening with Harryette Mullen!

Please join us for an evening with the amazing Harryette Mullen.

Saturday March 6, 2010
Timken Hall/CCA Campus San Francisco
1111 8th Street
$8-15 entrance/members and students FREE

For over 35 years SPT has been at the heart of where experimentation and community intersect. This season we continue to present a multi-pronged conversation that highlights some of the concerns of our readers’ work. These conversations include: bodies, communities and empires. Dialogues are intended to engender discussions around the themes of bodies, communities, and empires, putting each reader's writing into broader contexts and ongoing debates around poetics, politics, and practice.


from the Poetry Foundation website:

Harryette Mullen is a poet and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing and African-American literature. Her poetry has been hailed by critics as unique, powerful, and challenging. Elisabeth A. Frost wrote in Contemporary Literature: "Crossing the lines between often isolated aesthetic camps, Harryette Mullen has pioneered her own form of bluesy, disjunctive lyric poetry, combining a concern for the political issues raised by identity politics with a poststructualist emphasis on language."

Mullen was born in Alabama, but spent most of her childhood in Texas. "I've loved to write from childhood. I wrote to entertain my family, my friends, and myself," she told Emily Allen Williams in an interview for the African American Review. Mullen began writing poetry more seriously in high school, when she had her first poem published in a local newspaper. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, she went to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she wrote her dissertation on slave narratives. Even when writing essays and fiction, though, poetry continued to be important to her. "I feel that I need to write in order to know what I think and what I believe," she told Williams. "It's a way of keeping in touch with the inner landscape, I guess. And it makes me more alert to the outer landscape."

A key aspect of Mullen's relationship to poetry developed when she began going to poetry readings. "It was through the poetry-[reading] circuit that I began to realize that poetry is not just something on the page, but a community of readers and writers," she told Williams. Mullen's poetry draws on oral tradition, music, and the spoken word. Mullen described her intention to Frost in an interview for Contemporary Literature: "I am writing for the eye and the ear at once, at that intersection of orality and literacy, wanting to make sure that there is a troubled, disturbing aspect to the work so that it is never just a 'speakerly' or a 'writerly' text."

Mullen's first book of poetry, Tree Tall Woman, was published before she went to graduate school; the poems from this first book are included, along with other early poetry, in the more recent publication Blues Baby: Early Poems. Trimmings, her second book, came ten years after Tree Tall Woman. Partisan Review's Stephen Yenser called it "an ebulliently feminist, black and bluesy, bebop, wicked, scatty, addictive sequence of mazy prose poems, ostensibly about wardrobe accessories and the ramifications thereof, and in fact about language and semiotics in general." Mullen's characteristic dense, meaning-packed style is in full play here; Yenser wrote of her poems, "Compact, sometimes no more than eight or ten words, they are as loaded as chocolate truffles and the finest Vegas dice." Drawing much inspiration from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons, Mullen is unafraid to delve into the racial subtext ignored by Stein; as Molly Bendall noted in Antioch Review, she "brings her own contemporary African-American female voice to these poems." In one particular section, for example, she examines the common representation of femininity as "pink" and "white," inquiring how a black female might interact with these poetic constructions. Frost wrote in Women's Review of Books that "these relationships among femininity, clothes and language are beautifully orchestrated in word-play that dramatizes complex issues about gender and culture without offering easy or predictable answers."

Mullen followed Trimmings with S*PeRM**K*T, published the next year. Like the previous book, it consists of short, fragmented prose poems, this time with the wordplay revolving around the supermarket—both the concept and, as in the title of the piece, the word itself. "Mullen speeds up and down the aisle-like margins of American life spying out those strangest interstices of commodity and racial culture," MultiCultural Review's Aldon L. Nielsen explained. Race, sex, gender, and consumer culture interact in thought-provoking ways as Mullen's poetry comments on the racial and erotic subtexts of our commodified society. "The intertwinings of the commercial and the erotic are the crucial subject of Mullen's slim book—itself 'packaged' in a saranwraplike wrap-around photo of a meat case of packaged beef and interlarded with other photos of stocked shelves," Yenser wrote in Yale Review. Mullen explained to Williams some of the political ideas she explored while writing S*PeRM**K*T: "When I was writing this poem it made me very conscious of what I was doing in the supermarket—how we behave as consumers and define ourselves by the products we purchase. . . . We really are what we eat, what we consume. As a nation, as a culture, as a society, we consume way more than the rest of the world."

Mullen's fourth book of poetry, Muse and Drudge, examines gender, race, and art in an exploration of "the tension and creative possibilities between inspirational, existential, and mundane work," George Yancy wrote in CLA Journal. The title mentions two female roles common throughout the history of art: the idealized muse who inspires the artist, and the laboring drudge whose behind-the-scenes toil supports him (a "him" because of the male-oriented tradition to which Mullen is referring.) An exploration of race also plays a large role in these poems, which, as Yancy pointed out, are "hypertextually and intertextually linked to the lived experiences of being black in America and the religious and spiritual semiotic spaces of Africa and Afro-America." In fact, Mullen told Frost that the book "was written specifically to try to bring different audiences together;" after discovering that her two previous books reached a mostly white audience, Mullen wanted to her work to reach the black community as well. However, she understands that the dense wordplay and numerous references that contribute to her highly intertextual work require every person to read and understand the poem differently. She told Frost: "The reader is getting whatever the reader can get. . . . Black people get certain things particularly, and Spanish speakers get certain other things. There are people who recognize Sappho lines or Bessie Smith lines."

Muse and Drudge contrasts to her previous free verse and prose poems in that it is written in fairly regular quatrains; yet, as American Book Review's Mark Scroggins noted, she still "manages to keep her readers consistently off balance, surprised by a rhyme or disappointed at its absence." Mullen explained to Frost the meaning of this style: "It is very much a book of echoes. Some of the fragments rhyme and some don't, and that is basically the principle of the book—the recycling of fragments of language." At the same time, Scroggins noted, she "makes it all seem so easy: the language here dances, shakes, and splits itself into puns, allusions, and double-entendre, all the while maintaining a jaunty funkiness."

Mullen's wordplay becomes even more structurally avant-garde in her next book, Sleeping with the Dictionary, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Carol Muske-Dukes wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that "poetic expression here springs from a formal device, a game, a premeditated romp: a little like the Muse playing Scrabble"; many of these devices, such as replacing nouns with ones found seven entries away in the dictionary, were developed by the international literary group OuLiPo. "More diverse" than her previous books, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Sleeping with the Dictionary is filled with styles ranging from "exhaustive alphabetical language salads" to "strange rewrites of classics" (two poems that rework a famous Shakespeare sonnet). "Many of the poems' titles are careful twists on dead metaphors and other commonly used phrases," noted Hoke S. Glover II in Black Issues Book Review; "This is her art: to reconstruct, redefine and create out of splicing and stitching back together the pieces of meaning in language."

UCLA Today's Meg Sullivan felt that Sleeping with the Dictionary assumes "a more playful posture" than Mullen's previous works, but other critics felt the opposite, that the work is more serious. With Mullen's poetry these binaries of play and work, comedy and tragedy, coexist. "For me the comic is the other side of the coin of tragedy or oppression. They work together. I know people sometimes have a problem when the tone shifts abruptly. Some people find that disturbing, but for me it feels right," she told Frost. Mullen's poetry continually challenges the reader, and does so on many levels. As Yancy wrote, Mullen is "a word warrior. She preaches, poeticizes, and raps us, indeed, envelops us, into a tropological maze. She invites us to enjoy the logic of discursive possibilities, emotional entanglements, and the force of language."

Mullen told CA: "Writing became important to me when I was very young. It was the only way I could communicate with my father after my parents were divorced. My mother believed in educating 'the whole child.' She made sure my sister and I always had books to read, and she somehow found money to pay for music and dance lessons. She also encouraged us to draw and write. My sense of poetry was awakened by the formal and informal, written and oral rhymes and rhythms of family, church, and school.

"In all of my books, I try to find a balance between serious work and humorous play. At the moment, Sleeping with the Dictionary is my favorite because I enjoyed experimenting with different ways of creating poetry."

Poet and educator. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, professor of African-American and other ethnic literature; University of California, Los Angeles, professor of African-American literature and creative writing. Also worked in Artists-in-Schools program sponsored by Texas Commission on the Arts.

Tree Tall Woman, Energy Earth (Galveston, TX), 1981.
Trimmings, Tender Buttons (New York, NY), 1991.
S*PeRM**K*T, Singing Horse (Philadelphia, PA), 1992.
Muse and Drudge, Singing Horse Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.
Blues Baby: Early Poems ( "Bucknell Series in Contemporary Poetry"), Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 2002.
Sleeping with the Dictionary, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
Contributor of essays to periodicals and journals, including American Book Review, Callaloo, Chain, Diacritics, Light Work Annual, Antioch Review, and MELUS. Fiction and poetry published in numerous journals, magazines, anthologies, and textbooks.

African American Review, winter, 2000, Emily Allen Williams, "The Queen of Hip Hyperbole" (interview), p. 701.
American Book Review, May, 1997, Mark Scroggins, review ofMuse and Drudge, p. 17.
Antioch Review, winter, 1993, Molly Bendall, review of Trimmings, p. 154.
Black Issues Book Review, July-August, 2002, Hoke S. Glover III, review of Sleeping with the Dictionary, p. 63.
Callaloo, summer, 1996, Calvin Bedient, "The Solo Mysterioso Blues: An Interview with Harryette Mullen," pp. 651-669.
CLA Journal, June, 2001, George Yancy, review of Muse and Drudge, pp. 522-527.
Contemporary Literature, fall, 2000, Elisabeth A. Frost, "An Interview with Harryette Mullen," pp. 397-421.
Georgia Review, fall, 1996, Fred Chappell, review of Muse and Drudge, pp. 584-600.
Los Angeles Time Book Review, March 31, 2002, Carol Muske-Dukes, review of Sleeping with the Dictionary, p. 6.
MultiCultural Review, March, 1994, Aldon L. Nielsen, review of S*PeRM*K*T, pp. 72-73.
Partisan Review, Volume 61, 1994, Stephen Yenser, review of Trimmings, pp. 350-355.
Publishers Weekly, September 25, 1995, review of Muse and Drudge, pp. 51-52; December 17, 2001, review of Sleeping with the Dictionary, p. 85.
Sulfur, fall, 1992, Juliana Spahr, review of Trimmings, pp. 265-266.
Women's Review of Books, February, 1993, Elisabeth Frost, review of Trimmings, pp. 11-12.
Yale Review, April, 1994, Stephen Yenser, review of S*PeRM*K*T, pp. 161-181.
Academy of American Poets Web site, (August 1, 2001), biography of Mullen.
Arras, http:// (May 30, 2003), review of Sleeping with the Dictionary.
Bucknell University Press Web site, (May 30, 2003).
Center for African American Studies at UCLA Web site, (May 30, 2003), biography of Mullen.
New York Times, http: // (December 29, 2002), Mary Park, review of Sleeping with the Dictionary.
UCLA Today online, http:// (May 30, 2003), Meg Sullivan, review of Sleeping with the Dictionary.
University of California Press Web site, (May 30, 2003).

In Case You Missed It: Thanks Taylor and Lasana!

Here's the intro (written by CA Conrad) for these two fantastic readers! It was a pretty spectacular night!

Flying surveillance robots the size of insects will have prototypes completed in 2010at the University of Waterloo, Wright State, and Harvard.

The four-winged Wright Dragon-Flyer boasts impressive speeds and state-of-the-art maneuverability, and is said to be the size of an actual dragon fly. Our ability to hide and escape will soon become the new fiction.

Poets Lasana Sekou and Taylor Brady enter the magnetic fields of empire's rancor and tyranny, their poems signaling through the new killing fields and sedated living room walls, defying the ranks of death-as-cure. Millions of years of evolution have formed the minds of poets to counter the leaders and allies of empire: corporate, academic, governmental, etc.

At Harvard they are hard at work perfecting flying surveillance robots the size of common house flies which operate on optical and chemical sensors, and have communication systems which will allow them to exist in colonies and create autonomous flight patterns together to optimize their skills for locating programmed targets.

Sekou and Brady are poets who experience the same gravitational pull as any spy, human or robotic. They operate their own optical and chemical sensors, and have communication systems which also conduct autonomous flight patterns.

Please help me welcome the addressing of empire from poets Lasana Sekou, and Taylor Brady.