Friday, February 19, 2010

Memories of Lucille Clifton

I don’t know what year it was when I met the inimitable Lucille Clifton – 97 or 98? She came to Duke (where I was in grad school) to teach poetry and science fiction. At that time I wasn’t sure I was going to keep writing poetry, or at least what the big P big B Poetry Business would call poetry. I was thinking about other media and at the time I had begun to write a sci fi opera with Keith (which later became The Sour Thunder), so I took her science fiction class to workshop it.

There were many wonderful things about that experience. Only some of them have to do with science fiction. On the first day, she began: “I don’t know whether good writing can be taught, but I know that it can be learned.” I thought it was a wonderful thing to say, because even before I learned the good many things I would learn about discipline from her, I began to understand that I was going to have to become a seeker and do my own heavy lifting. With regards to “science fiction”, Clifton told us things you might hear in any fiction writing class, and I certainly learned some basics about the genre, but I was affected most deeply by the way she challenged our boundaries between science and the spirit and those between fantasy and reality. She was forthright about other-worldliness and comfortable in oddness. “I don’t mind being odd,” she said so many times. In fact, oddness was a quality she valued in herself and in others. I don’t yet know how to tell you what it did for me to witness her dedication to her craft and her awareness and acceptance of herself in that time of my life. I was trying to break out of some fears about being an artist and facing some unexpected fissures between communities of literary critics and writers. I have faith that I would have found my way one way or another, but the truth is that my
way was made easier and more joyous and, thankfully, otherworldly by listening to and learning from Lucille Clifton.

You couldn’t talk about writing with Lucille Clifton and have a poetic bone in your body and not yearn to have her eyes and ears on your poetry. My friends Evie (Shockley) and (Candice Jenkins) were in her poetry class and I was so jealous! The next year, when she came back to Duke, I had the opportunity to take her poetry class. We met in the little house she was renting. (Evie drove a bunch of us to every class and that, too, was a gift. I believe Amy Carroll, Yvette Fannell, and Mara Jebsen were in that class with us. ) I don’t know how to put down all of the things I gained from those meetings, but what comes to me simultaneously are two things: (1) the shape of the poem and (2) the idea of poetry as something we do for our lives. Clifton talked to us about shapes, lines, typing poems out (instead of writing them), economy, and rhythm that semester. She would cut right to it and didn’t mind telling you if you hadn’t gotten it right. She might chuckle and start by saying, “It’s funny . . .”, but she would tell you. Reading and writing and talking poetry with Clifton in that little house brought home to me how much writing poetry was a process of personal significance. Poetry was certainly something she valued doing in public, and it was certainly important to her to speak for those who could not speak for themselves (for a variety of reasons), but she also taught me that it was a way we could understand and improve our own lives.

When I came to Cave Canem in 2000, Lucille Clifton was guest poet and on the first day, she came to Group A with Toi Derricotte. It seemed mystical and yet, only fitting that she would be there as I entered a community that multiplied so many of these experiences. I cherish the memory of workshopping with her at Cave Canem and again at Duke--this time with Christian Campbell and Jill Petty, who went on to form a writing group with Evie and me: Four Bean Stew. I am so grateful to have these lessons, and to have shared the learning of them with so many wonderful others.

Each of us is a bridge. We lead one another to one another, and—if we do it right—to the lives we hope to live.

Love, love, love,


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

M in Urhalpool: 2 poems

Two poems from Mendi in Urhalpool, contemporary Bengali-English bilingual webzine: "Protest Poem" & "Fifteen".

Painting by Monica Araoz

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thinking about Haiti

I am thinking about Haiti, sending love to the people and hoping they get what they need to push forward. I'm writing in to post a link to this essay by our friend Ferentz Lafargue in Next American City: The Meaning of Progress: Thoughts on Haiti's Disaster. It ends with a list of large and small organizations through which you can donate to the relief efforts and to other, ongoing efforts to strengthen Haiti. I'm reposting that list here, but encourage you to check out the essay as well.

from Ferentz:

"If you are looking to help here are two things to consider:

(1) There are numerous organizations that are providing immediate relief in Haiti. A short list includes Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, Mercy Corps and the Red Cross. Donate $10 to the Red Cross to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting “HAITI” to “90999.”

(2) Without discouraging anyone from making a donation to the above disaster relief organizations, I encourage everyone to also think about smaller organizations that are also working in Haiti and which might have suffered significant damages. It is critical that we also keep these organizations up and running so that they can not only help with disaster efforts, but also do the work that they have been doing for years. Two such organizations include: Lambi Fund and Yele Haiti. A third is Haiti Soleil, a organization on whose board I serve. "

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mendi+Keith songs on youtube

from The Sour Thunder: Blue Jasper

The Sour Thunder blends science fiction and autobiography with pop music, new music, and a theatrical bi-lingual text (English and Spanish), creating a personal and surreal tale of cultural and racial identity. Commissioned by the Yale University Cabaret, the premiere of The Sour Thunder took place in two separate venues simultaneously, with images and sound streamed from both venues to the web. The CD recording of The Sour Thunder is a studio performance with all instrumentals and vocals performed by the Mendi + Keith Obadike. The Sour Thunder takes place as Mendi is traveling with a friend to study Afro-Dominican culture and Caribbean literature in the Dominican Republic. While Mendi's story is told, another story simultaneously takes place in Solaika Dast, a state where scent is the primary means of communication. From Solaika Dast, Sesom is sent to a new world where her sensibilities take on new meanings. While some pieces clearly tell Sesom's story, or Mendi's, others fit squarely in the nexus between the two. Musically, The Sour Thunder is told through a series of 23 sound-text pieces and songs. The textures that make up "The Sour Thunder" were created using digitally treated hollow body guitars, Nigerian mbiras, field recordings of environmental sounds, and electronically processed vocals.
get the song from iTunes
get the song from Amazon
get the ringtone

The song titles come from an English translation of an Igbo proverb: "Si kele onye nti chiri; enu anughi, ala anu." ("Salute the deaf: If the heavens don't hear, the earth will hear.") We have been mulling over the different choices our predecessors have made in the presentation of their lives and work. We note
how much Marian Anderson holds back as she tells her life story in her autobiography My Lord, What A Morning, and conversely, how much Audre Lorde puts forth in her biomythography Zami, A New Spelling of My Name and other works, and Marlon Riggs put forth in his documentaries. We place these praisesongs together because we want to recognize that while their choices may be perceived as contradictory, all of their choices were political, and all of them were made as part of an effor to move us forward.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Jan 20: Mendi reads in Brooklyn w/ Cave Canem and Kundiman

January 20, 7 pm
Cave Canem & Kundiman Poets Read

Cave Canem and Kundiman present an evening of poetry in Cave Canem's new DUMBO loft-space, featuring readers Regie Cabico, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Tan Lin and Mendi Obadike. Book signing and reception to follow. Recommended admission $5-$10 to benefit Cave Canem.

20 Jay Street/Suite 310-A
Brooklyn, NY

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Big Ups (NAACP Image Awards)

I just heard that our friends and fellow Cave Canem poetry fellows Adrian Matejka, Camille Dungy, Mitchell Douglas, and Dwayne Betts were nominated for the NAACP Image Awards for literature this year. Big ups, y'all!


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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

February 26: Mendi Obadike reads in Brooklyn

come through. M *****

Stain Poetry Series :: Hosted by Amy King and Ana Božičević

Friday, February 26 @ 7 p.m. – Goodbye Blue Monday – Bushwick, Brooklyn

1087 Broadway
(corner of Dodworth St)
Brooklyn, NY 11221-3013

(718) 453-6343

J M Z trains to Myrtle Ave
or J train to Kosciusko St


Mendi Lewis Obadike makes literature, art, and music. She is the author of Armor and Flesh: poems. She composed the The Sour Thunder, an Internet Opera and produced the audio anthology Crosstalk: American Speech Music with Keith Obadike. Her conceptual media artworks with Keith have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and Electronic Arts Intermix and the New York African Film Festival, among other institutions. M+K’s opera-masquerade Four Electric Ghosts debuted at The Kitchen in May 2009. Mendi is an Assistant Professor in Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute.

Jillian Brall received both her BA in Creative Writing in 2004 and her MFA in Poetry in 2009 from The New School, in New York, NY. She is a NYC certified Teaching Artist, currently living in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. She recently published a book of poems, Wet Information, under ZoeWo Press. She is also a saxophonist and visual artist, focusing on mixed media collage and painting. Several of her collages can be seen in the current issue of Pax Americana, as well as featured on The Best American Poetry Blog, and have been used as cover art for several electronic poetry books published by Scantily Clad Press. Prints of her collages, as well as copies of her book, Wet Information, are available for purchase at


R. Erica Doyle


Steve Langan is the author of Meet Me at the Happy Bar (BlazeVOX, 2009), Freezing, and Notes on Exile and Other Poems. He lives in Omaha and on Cliff Island, Maine.


Janaka Stucky is practicing the perfection of effort while working on silent relationships with knives, hairpins, & a history of tentacles. Other passions include whiskey and pugilism. He is also the Publisher of Black Ocean and its literary magazine, Handsome, and the author of Your Name Is The Only Freedom (Brave Men Press). Some of his poems have appeared in Cannibal, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Free Verse, No Tell Motel, North American Review, Redivider and VOLT.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Healing Waters Productions

We wanted to post a link to this great resource for anyone interested in health and performance. Healing Water Productions, headed by Cynthia Harris, does theatrical performances and workshops on black women's mental and physical wellness. Here is the latest post: Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls?

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