Archive for April, 2011


(PHOTO: Courtesy) James Tindle, an award-winning writer and high school senior at Booker T. Washington Charter School, is a writing club veteran.

Full disclosure: I’m the senior program director for the DC Creative Writing Workshop. The article below features the story of one of our high school students who takes part in the writing club. I thought his story was worth sharing here.

Thinking of where he would’ve ended up without the DC Creative Writing Workshop’s after-school writing club, James Tindle shook his head.

The 18-year-old’s been a part of the program since 2004, when he was a 7th grader at Charles Hart Middle School, where the Workshop operates. Considering what’s happened in his life since joining the writing club, Tindle shook his head again, thinking of the direction his life headed seven years ago.

“I don’t know, but it didn’t look good,” he said. “I was a delinquent before writing club.” He fought a lot with his peers if he attended classes at all; other times, he skipped school altogether to run the streets with his friends.

Tindle ended up in writing club when a school counselor referred him to the DC Creative Writing Workshop after he got into a fight with another kid with whom he later became friends. Through the Workshop’s unique and creative programming, Tindle learned to take his aggression to the page instead of taking it out on his classmates.

Taking it to the page, the award-winning writer excelled at Hart before enrolling into Booker T. Washington Charter School. As a result of the Workshop, the high school senior’s got a bright future ahead of him as he decides on one of the four colleges that accepted him.

Tindle’s story is just one of many students making their mark in a literary renaissance going on in DC’s Congress Heights neighborhood, an often ignored part of the city.

That renaissance—which is uniting parents, teachers and students—started when Executive Director Nancy Schwalb founded the DC Creative Writing Workshop in 1995. Since then, the Workshop’s expanded from Hart to two neighboring schools, Simon Elementary and Ballou Senior High, making creative writing instruction available to nearly 600 new students in fourth through twelfth grade.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) After a group interpretation of a poem written by a famous poet, Michael Johnson hard at work on his own poem.

From September through early June, the DC Creative Writing Workshop conducts 500 classroom sessions and 120 after-school club meetings each year.

The Workshop’s writers-in-residence work with English teachers at Hart and Ballou to give intensive literary instruction to students in all grades, while Simon’s fourth and fifth graders also enjoy creative writing classes.

Sequan Wilson’s been with the writing club since he was in 8th grade. He and Tindle are among the seven young writers-in-residence the Workshop hired through its youth employment program, helping students resist the lure of the streets.

As young writers-in-residence, Wilson and Tindle assist the writers-in-residence as extra supports for classroom management and help with other administrative duties. Aware that the award-winning status makes him, Tindle and the other young writers-in-residence role models to the younger writers, Wilson’s careful not to let it go to his head.

“Truthfully, I appreciate that they look up to us,” said Wilson, 17. “But if they explore themselves, they’ll see they have just as much to offer as we do.”

Each student keeps a personal literary portfolio to document his or her progress throughout the year. As a result of the program’s expansion, club activities are open to students ages 9-19 throughout the Congress Heights neighborhood.

As a writing club member, James Tindle and Wilson worked with their friends on a variety of projects throughout the year, which included creating an original adaptation of a classical play.

This includes them reading the text of the play and rewriting it line by line before the Workshop brings in a professional director to help them rehearse and perform their work for the community.

The drama club’s updated plays by Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides, virtually exhausting the supply of suitable plays from ancient Greece.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) Drama club members on the set of "R Town".

In 2010, the Workshop hired Tom Mallan, theater director and educator, to direct our students’ original adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” and together they created a masterpiece. “R Town,” written by and starring 40 students from our drama program, is the first feature film produced through the DC Creative Writing Workshop’s collaboration with Mallan’s Educational Theater Company.

The movie had a Hollywood-style red carpet première at the UPO/Petey Greene Center on Martin Luther King Avenue SE and a crowd of more than 100 formally attired students and their friends, parents and siblings, teachers and administrators.

The crowd overflowed the screening room as community members watched in amazement before erupting into applause as the closing credits rolled. The Washington Post covered the event. (Our home page at http://dccww.org has links to the Post article and both the movie trailer and the entire movie.)

Since the Workshop’s expansion, students from the three schools have attended readings, plays and other literary events, won dozens of writing awards, and enjoyed a wealth of new experiences not otherwise available to young people in Ward 8.

Many writing club graduates go on to study at New York University, George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, to name a few.

One former student went to Harvard. Another, who graduated from George Mason University and just finished his first year at Loyola University Law School, earned a paid summer internship at a Minneapolis law firm. Several former writing club members have graduate degrees or are working on them.

In James Tindle’s case, he got accepted into SUNY Purchase, the American Musical Dramatic Academy (AMDA), Barry University and Virginia Union University—choices he might not have otherwise had without the DC Creative Writing Workshop that’s kept itself afloat while other nonprofits folded.

(PHOTO: DCCWW) Sequan Wilson, an award-winning writer and senior at Ballou High School, enjoys a good book after writing club.

In these hard economic times, it’s the youths who suffer when budget cuts affect funding for arts programs. The DC Creative Writing Workshop’s long history makes it the only thing constant in their lives.

It was for Tindle, who attributed his change in direction to the Workshop. “It’s all accumulated experiences—I got a chance to do poetry, act and sing,” he said. “This is where I thrive—being in this community, being around other artists.”

And while he hasn’t yet made up his mind on where he’ll go next year, Tindle’s sure about one thing: “No matter what college I go to, I want to study English, Literature and Theater.”

Interested in donating to the DC Creative Writing Workshop? Visit them online here, then click on the “Donate Now Through Network for Good” button to get involved.

(PHOTO: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas) Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in creative writing, from American University. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem summer workshop for black poets and the VONA summer workshop.

Snagglepuss is bitter. He airs his frustrations with the Pink Panther on E! True Hollywood Story, after their short-lived love affair:

“When the big money came calling
Ol’ Pinky packed his bags and gave
me some song and dance about how
I’d never have to work again […]” (from “Snagglepuss Spills his Guts on E! True Hollywood Story”).

Then there’s Bonita Applebum. She’s not just a classic hip hop song anymore. In fact, she’s a grown woman “with a mortgage/ and two degrees under her belt” (from “Remembering Bonita Applebum”).

These are just a few of the characters that populate Derrick Weston Brown’s debut poetry collection, Wisdom Teeth. It’s an apt title for a book in which the speaker cuts his teeth on issues ranging from slavery and gentrification to love and hip hop.

I fell in love with DC all over again after reading “Missed Train”, though that poem could be a testament on dating in DC:

I smelled you at the Metro stop
Tasted you on the Yellow
Glimpsed you on the Green
Caught you on the Orange
Loved you on the Red
Lost you on the Blue

Now I need a transfer
or at least exit fare.

The elusive woman in “Missed Train” could be a metaphor for unmet expectations either on a date or in a relationship that takes us “for every dime” after investing our time in other people with no returns.

In Wisdom Teeth, the speaker’s searching for stability in every aspect of his life. It’s a journey that takes him through 110 pages and five sections—Hourglass Flow, The Sweet Home Men Series, The Unscene, Wisdom Teeth and Ajar.

(IMAGE: Courtesy of Busboys and Poets/PM Press)

And if you’re new to the city, the speaker lets you know what to expect in “What It’s Like to Date in D.C. for Those Who Haven’t”: “It’s like having a mouthful of prayers/ when all you looking for is that one/ Amen.”

Reading Wisdom Teeth, I felt like a passenger invited along for the ride, especially with the poem “Building”. The speaker’s details brought me with him into the coffee shop, where I noticed the “syrup of sunlight” like a second glaze on the wooden tabletops.

I heard the “trash talk and chuckles” of black men playing dominoes. I dug the music in “the snap crack/ of dotted flat backs” and the “dry bones/ glossy bones”.

It would have been easy to take that moment as a commentary on brotherhood and bonding, and not realize the game of bones is just a vehicle the speaker uses to drive his point home with the reader. The true commentary’s in the “steady trash talk” after “Fingers drum the table”: “I’m on my third house./ Where you at?! Jati?/ HUD is officially/ in the building!

Watching “the bones…/ like unhinged teeth”, I thought of the deteriorating houses in DC’s rundown neighborhoods. Watching as “Jati resets the fracture/ smiling as houses change ownership”, I thought of so-called neighborhood revitalization projects that displaced former residents.

And Jati’s response to his friend’s trash talking? “Eminent domain Fred!/ You getting gentrified!

I loved the speaker’s clever use of brothers bonding over a game as commentary on the changing demographics in America’s major cities. The speaker’s playful tone in “Building” reminded me how some of us use humor to help swallow those bitter truths.

What also helps those truths go down easy is the fellowship of black men  who “finish/ each other’s sentences” and chase red beans and rice “with/ rum that/ warms the gullet/ makes gut chuckles flow easy” in the poem “Kitchen Gods”.

(PHOTO: Mignonette E. Dooley) l-r: Brandon D. Johnson, Brian Gilmore, Joel Dias-Porter, Patrick Washington, Ernesto Mercer, Alan King, Fred Joiner, Derrick Weston Brown.

The men in this poem could be my dad, uncles and grandfather. These are men who “dust off/ old stories like records that hadn’t seen a turntable/ in some time.” And, contrary to masculine myths and stereotypes, these ordinary men “resuscitate the/ ghost of old lovers/ angry indifferent or otherwise.”

That resuscitation is really these guys assessing their life choices—where they’ve been and where they are now. These are hardworking men who support their families, men who’ve grown as a result of their experiences.

The physical details in “Kitchen Gods” are striking. I could see these guys mapping “[…] out/ a woman’s dimensions”, molding “hips out of thin air/ recreating/ her walk and/ arching calves.” I also saw the men dapping up each other and bumping fist “so hard/ rings skip sparks”.

I could hear the conversations punctuated with “g’dams” and “g’lords”. I even smiled at the memory of being shooed “out of the kitchen/ with gentle hands” when I was too young for the adult talk. Now that I’m old enough, I can appreciate the times I’ve been a part of “a small kitchen crew”.

One reason I love Wisdom Teeth is the poem “Gust”:

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The sky snarled.

We heard God swallow cumulus,

stratus, and anvil headed nimbus

before the hush.

We ventured outside

Peered up into the calm.

The sky      a frosted snow globe

swirl of stars.

The moon

a glossy clear polished

fingernail sliver

winked.

Odd

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The wind so strong

I could lean into it

arms out and not fall.

I was Pisa.

What did I know

of nature’s way

of teaching lessons?

That there is

an eye of the storm.

Watch me smile.

My back to the rifle

sight of lassoed menace

clueless to the coming stretch

and yawn of ruin.

In “Gust”, the speaker revisits Charlotte, North Carolina, ravaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I love this poem for other reasons.

(PHOTO: Marlene Hawthrone-Thomas)

If storms are metaphors for troubling times in our lives, then “Gust” speaks to the current political climate: the US military in Libya, rising militias and hate groups, politicians cutting funds for social programs as a solution to the budget deficit.

The “cumulus,/ stratus, and anvil headed nimbus” were the delusions of politicians and some finance experts who convinced everyone else that the markets were economically sound when history has shown us otherwise. “What did I know/ of nature’s way/ of teaching lessons?” Just replace “history” with “nature” and I’m sure that line says what we all were thinking.

God swallowing those delusions was reality setting in. That an alarming amount of people lost their homes to foreclosures makes Hurricane Hugo a metaphor for the current economic crisis, its “rifle/ sight of lassoed menace”.

That corporate CEOs, whose businesses stayed afloat with bailout money from the federal government, went on with business as usual is the sign of lessons not learned.  “Gust”, in its own way, warns against that kind of ignorance that keeps us “clueless to the coming stretch/ and yawn of ruin.”

Wisdom Teeth is right on time. In this collection, as one writer puts it, “Truth cuts its way beneath the unspoken like new teeth on their way to light.” I couldn’t agree more, grateful for their arrival.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) For many years, Ruth L. Schwartz made her living as a public health educator, trainer and consultant specializing in AIDS and cancer.

In both Ruth L. Schwartz’s Edgewater and Brian Gilmore’s Elvis Presley is Alive and Well and Living in Harlem, the speakers tempt God: “tell me why you ever thought/ you could improve on this/ music, this hunger[1]”. They call out the crazy notions floating around in both American history and its politics.

The difference between these two collections is that while Elvis Presley is Alive… is loud with a cast of personalities, Edgewater is quiet. Plants, animals, water and the sun populate Schwartz’s collection, as if she intended on taking us back to the Garden of Eden, before man’s destructive action.

Death’s possibilities hover over Edgewater. In this collection, nature is a teacher whose overall messages teach us that life is too short to wonder “what if”, so just do and have fun in the process.

We learn this in Schwartz’s opening poem, “Fetch”, where the speaker’s on a beach, tossing a stick to her dog. Here’s the physical details about the dog I thought were striking:

This one keeps swimming out into the

icy water for a stick,

he’d do it all day and all night

if you’d throw it that long,

he’d do it till it killed him, then he’d die

dripping and shining, a black waterfall,

the soggy broken stick still clenched

in his doggy teeth […][2]

(PHOTO: HarperCollins)

Here are the psychological details: “…watching him you want to cry/ for all the wanting you’ve forsworn”. While it’s unclear what the speaker’s rejected, or “forsworn”, it might be an opportunity for the reader to fill in the blanks with things he/she have rejected either out of fear or something else. I know people who want love and success but self-sabotage because of their fears of being hurt again or having so much expected of them.

I wanted to know more about the speaker’s situation—what “all the wanting” was about. But both the physical and psychological details intensify what the dog becomes to the speaker. Looking at the stick that’s thrown as the speaker’s affection for her four-legged companion, the dog’s act of retrieving it each time—“all day and all night”—to the point “he’d do it till it killed him” makes him courageous in a way the speaker is not.

While she’s rejected what she wanted (maybe love), the dog continuously goes after what he wants at that moment—the object of affection—despite the danger nearby, the dog possibly being “the soggy broken stick” clenched in the mouth of the icy waves.

A musical moment in this poem is the recurring “he’d do it”: “he’d do it all day and all night/ if you throw it that long,/ he’d do it till it killed him […]” That repetition is not unlike the stick being thrown and the dog retrieving it over and over.

(PHOTO: Carrie_W on flickr)

That “his body surges…as if to say/ Nothing could stop me now—[3]” is a lesson for both the speaker and reader to go after what you want in life.

The sexual charge in “Oh God, Fuck Me” is unbelievable. Here are some physical details: “[…] trees in spring, exposing themselves,/ flashing leaf-buds so firm and swollen/ I want to take them into my mouth.[4]

At first, those images seemed pretty easy, but the surprises came with the “kitchen faucet, dripping/ like a nymphomaniac,/ all night slowly filling and filling,/ then overflowing the bowls in the sink—[5]

If the speaker’s job is to arouse the reader, then it worked with me. While reading Schwartz’s poem, I felt like I was reading an erotic tale with surprises that were just as arousing. Here’s another surprise from Schwartz: “[…] English muffins,/ the spirit of the dough aroused/ by browning, thrilled by buttering.[6]

And this:

(PHOTO: Allison Thorton)

Fuck me with orange juice,

its concentrated sweetness,

which makes the mouth as happy as summer,

leaves sweet flecks of foam […]

along the inside of the glass.

Fuck me with coffee, strong and hot,

and then with cream poured into coffee,

blossoming like mushroom clouds,

opening like parachutes.[7]

Damn! The speaker’s tone is both playful and excited. A musical moment in the poem was the recurring “Fuck me”: “Fuck me, oh God, with ordinary things,/…Fuck me with my kitchen faucet, dripping/…Fuck me with breakfast.”

That Schwartz’s poem is a conversation the speaker’s having with God mocks the religious notion of the spiritual father as some elderly man repulsed by sex. Some readers might be put off by this poem, but it’s that same absurdity the speaker finds in the notion that God would be repulsed at all by sex, the thing he created.

“Oh God, Fuck Me” also raises a question: is it possible for parents to censor what their children watch when sex is all around us, even in the “ordinary things”?

(PHOTO: Sean Bonner)

Each “Fuck me” seemed to work not only as transitions between thoughts, but also intensified the pleasures experienced by these “ordinary things”. I automatically thought of my fiancée craving a slice of chocolate cake or key lime pie.

“Oh God, Fuck Me” also turns the idea of sex as something dirty on it head while implying that the act itself is a kind of church: “Fuck me…/ with the downstairs neighbor’s vacuum,/ that great sucking noisy dragon/ making the dirty come clean.” The church is in “the dirty”, or the sinner, becoming “clean”, or in good standing with God.

I could go on with other examples of what Schwartz’s speaker tackles in her 107-page collection, but, in the interest of space, I’ll keep it to the earlier examples and Schwartz’s poem, “Edgewater Park”:

Even now, at the end of the century,

when our survival as a species

seems a matter of dumb luck,

our bodies studded with these jewels of tenderness

the way so many dying insects

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

bead the spider’s web—

even now, on the cliffs above the beach,

I see two men who meet for pleasure,

nothing else,

fully clothed, in a cove of bushes,

standing face to face, as if to dance—

but one has both hands on the other’s cock

and is pulling at it, tenderly—

and the body, at least, would name this Love,

and who are we to contradict

the pure animal body?

all around us, in expensive houses,

men and women married many years

touch far less joyfully than this,

with less attention to the hunger of it.

And truly, what do we have left

but moments of this gazing, pulling

at each other, at ourselves,

(PHOTO: Rukhlenko)

the shells ground finer and finer

under our feet,

making a kind of jagged sand,

the insects we call Canadian soldiers

rising from the water in great swarms

to mate and die—

on my window they looked like tadpoles,

hundreds of them flooding toward

the light—

and some of them

made their way in,

the whiteness of the ceiling

became their water,

they massed there as full of joy

as if it were the sea.

By morning they were dead,

their many bodies

light and dry,

littering the tabletops.

And the spiders, lucky spiders,

ate for weeks.[8]

In “Edgewater Park”, the speaker’s examination of the quality and condition of human nature is through her comparison of humans to the “Canadian soldiers”, insects that rise “from the water in great swarms/ to mate and die—”

The speaker’s tone is pity, especially for homophobes, who, in this poem, haven’t evolved beyond the insects that “bead the spider’s web—” I mentioned earlier that life is too short to wonder “what if,” that the overall message is to just do and have fun in the process.

(IMAGE: Courtesy)

Well, these two guys seem to get it, having found the “jewels of tenderness” within their bodies. If the spider is death, would you wait for it to weave a web for you to stud? Obviously, the two men wouldn’t.

The few musical moments in “Edgewater Park” didn’t enhance the context or take away from its contents. Here’s one of those moments: “our bodies studded with these jewels of tenderness…” Reading those lines aloud, “our bodies studded with” made me think of a jazz drummer setting up his solo. I counted two trochees and one dactyl, which sped up the falling meter before the swing rhythm of “these jewels of tenderness”.

Other musical moments are the “O” sounds in “fully clothed, in a cove of bushes”, and the “S” sounds in “standing face to face, as if to dance—” There’s also the recurring “even now”: “Even now, at the end of the century,/…even now, on the cliffs above the beach”. The repetition seemed to bring the poem back on track from the extended metaphor of “our survival as a species”.

Going back to the two men, their economic status is not known. But the speaker makes one thing clear: that they found happiness instead of the appearance of it only enhances their quality of life more than the married couples “in expensive houses”. That the two men pleasure each other makes their act more courageous than the well-to-do “men and women married many hear” who “touch far less joy fully than this.”

Whether it’s the LGBT or black community, the speakers in Ruth L. Schwartz’s Edgewater and Brian Gilmore’s Elvis Presley is Alive and Well and Living in Harlem are bullhorns for oppressed groups.

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

Unlike Schwartz’s speaker—whose overall tone were at times playful, excited and melancholy—the tone of Gilmore’s speaker ranges from sarcastic and loving, to angry and pitying.

For anyone who thinks Elvis Presley is the king of Rock n’ Roll, Gilmore’s speaker is here to clear up the history of popular music, remind us of freedoms taken for granted and to scrutinize race relations in America. He starts with the opening poem, “Angry Voices”, which is in four parts. The first three honors Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bo Diddley, all of whom paved the way for a bitter Chuck Berry in the fourth part, titled “Memphis (the stolen)”:

“any wite boy wit’ dat much nerve,

to come in ‘ere wit’ that recorda’ ‘n all,

rite in front of all these spades,

wit’ all this hate,

wit all this energy jus’ ready to explode,

has gotta be a king.”[9]

For the most part, the speaker’s tone is a controlled-anger. In “Elvis”, the sarcasm cuts like a blade in a knife fight. The speaker transforms Elvis Presley and the mass of white imitators into an oversized animal that terrorizes black culture: “[…] i swear i/ saw him in harlem/ everyone bolt your doors!/ […] board up your windows!!/ […] stop […] singing […] !!![10]

The speaker calls out “the hug monster looming over us” and attacks it directly here:

(PHOTO: Daniel A. Norman)

a wailing soul simulating bantu and yoruba wearing

zoot suits and breaking more black sisters’ hearts

than chuck berry could mend with ‘maybelline’ or

‘thirty days.’[11]

A musical moment in Gilmore’s “elvis” is here: “such a mass,/ such a disturbing mass. such a wallowing in the mud/ mass          such a dangerous mass.[12]” I saw the recurring “such a” as exclamations. With each “such a” the mass seemed to grow to something “disturbing” and “wallowing in the mud” until it became “dangerous”. I also enjoyed the “M” sounds close together in “mud/ mass”. (I also appreciated the reference to Muddy Waters, who was another musician from whom “the mass” stole their sound, having wallowed “in the mud”.)

Here’s another musical moment: “the mass couldn’t do it all because mud   is like/ blood;          mud is about emotional outrage![13]” I like the internal rhyme of “mud” and “blood”. And like the earlier example, the recurring “mud” punctuates the seriousness of the matter.

Here are musical moments in Gilmore’s poem, “september is not change”, which focuses on the political casualties in South Africa:

(PHOTO: Robert Ruark)

in september leaves fall

from trees like the dead

children don’t wait until

december to be seen naked[14]

Reading those lines aloud, I enjoyed the “E” sounds in “leaves”, “trees” and “seen”. The stretched sound in “leaves” and “trees” slowed the rhythm to set up the surprise of “like the dead”.

Reading those lines, I thought of the Bisho massacre that happened in 1991, a year before Third World Press published Gilmore’s Elvis Presley is Alive… According to various sources, the Ciskei Defence Force shot at 100,000 protestors, leaving 29 dead in Bisho, the capital of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.

In the months leading up to the Bisho massacre, according to those same sources, the African National Congress was found guilty of human rights violations in some of their exile camps, and the violence between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party left 46 dead. Then you have the Bisho massacre in September, hence the poem’s title, “september is not change”.

Like Ruth L. Schwartz’s poem “Edgewater Park”, Gilmore’s poem is a plea for humanity. The other musical moments in “september is not change” intensifies this plea:

(PHOTO: Cooperative Baptist Fellowship)

the september papers read like

august papers

july papers

june papers

headlines of blood and fire

burning ash between my fingers

in september i pray for jesus

i pray for mohammed

i pray for someone

somewhere to make september

not like all the other months[15]

The listing of months, followed by the recurring “papers” helps illustrate the redundancy, or excess, of “headlines of blood and fire”. The recurring “i pray” gives the speaker an urgent tone, with each “i pray” as a plea not only to jesus and mohammed, but to some god who can “make september/ not like all the other months”. The recurring “september is not change” throughout that poem won’t let us forget.

Gilmore’s poem, “We must not be cows”, captures overall uses of both his and Schwartz’s speaker in their examination of the human condition and quality:

(PHOTO: Micro Cinefest)

I’ve always hated wiggly lines:

wiggly lines on my TV set

making the picture impossible to comprehend;

my doctor says—

this can ruin your eyes

this is unhealthy.

Wiggly lines irritate my wisdom teeth,

make them swell and start cuttin’,

I am watching news and eating chocolate

forgetting about next week’s check-up.

I ate a steak last night,

there was a little TV set on the

fatback,

(PHOTO: Narayan Vivek)

wiggly lines splintering a newscaster’s

face who thinks afrika is really a

“COUNTRY”:

Nigeria must be NY.

Mozambique is Florida.

Egypt is Michigan.

Rwanda is Rhode Island.

I sleep hard at night              dream of wiggly lines

that wiggle,

I eat jigsaw puzzles while reading Koran,

shatter dishes            scan the Bible,

when I wake I toss my television with the sliced up

(PHOTO: Banksy Graffiti Street Art)

newscaster out the window,

He still talks of country

still makes my tooth ache

still

makes

my sirloin taste

strangely like

hamburger.[16]

Gilmore’s poem is clearly about the media’s distortion of facts. With the physical details in “We must not be cows”, I heard the static from the TV and saw the “wiggly lines splintering a newscaster’s/ face.” I also saw the speaker “watching news and eating chocolate” or the “steak last night”.

The psychological details are just as striking: “Wiggly lines irritate my wisdom teeth,/ make them swell and start cuttin’”. That the “wiggly lines irritate” the speaker’s “wisdom teeth” and none of the others was a clever play not only on “wisdom”, but also the idea of rejecting the distorted information. The title adds context to the speaker’s plea for his readers to not be cows grazing the grass they’re fed from manipulative people.

(PHOTO: Digital Burn)

When I think of the “wiggly lines”, I recall what I learned about America in elementary school: our great armies and humanitarian efforts. Many of my teachers, who I’m sure meant well, unwittingly became the newscaster on the TV screen covered by wiggly lines.

A look at American pop culture shows that those wiggly lines also speak to distracting TV ads and consumerism. Like the speaker, I used to “sleep hard at night” dreaming “of wiggly lines”. It wasn’t until college, when I started reading more on my own about America, that I discovered her hypocrisies. That’s when I awoke. Like the speaker, I tossed “my television with the sliced up/ newscaster out the window” and started thinking for myself.

Here’s a musical line: “forgetting next week’s check-up.” The “eh” sounds—“forgetting”, “next” and “check-up”—mixed in with “K” sounds—“next week’s check”—made it pleasurable to read “We must be cows” aloud.

There’s also music in the wiggly lines’ recurrence: “wiggly lines on my TV set/[…] Wiggly lines irritate my wisdom teeth,/ […] wiggly lines splintering a newscaster’s/ face […] wiggly lines/ that wiggle”. That repetition successfully recreates the pattern of “wiggly lines” on a TV set. (In this case, the speaker’s message isn’t twisted by the “wiggly lines”.)

(PHOTO: LG Studio)

The barbed wit in “We must not be cows” is in the speaker’s sarcastic tone, which cuts at America’s ethnocentric ways in which it approaches other cultures:

wiggly lines splintering a newscaster’s

face who thinks africa is really a

“COUNTRY”:

Nigeria must be NY.

Mozambique is Florida.

Egypt is Michigan.

Rwanda is Rhode Island.

In both Brian Gilmore’s Elvis is Alive… and Ruth L. Schwartz’s Edgewater, the speakers have undertaken the ambitious task of calling out any absurdities no matter where they pop up. And looking at the 21stcentury, two things are clear: 1) their task is far from over, and 2) the speakers have their work cut out for them.


[1] from Ruth L. Schwartz’s poem, “Talking to God on the Seventh Day”

[2] Ruth L. Schwartz, Edgewater, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 3

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 43

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p. 44

[8] Ibid., p. 5-6

[9] Brian Gilmore, Elvis Presley is Alive and Well and Living in Harlem, Chicago: Third World Press, 1992, p. 6

[10] Ibid., p. 7

[11] Ibid., p. 10

[12] Ibid., p. 8

[13] Ibid., p. 9

[14] Ibid., p. 15

[15] Ibid., p. 15

[16] Ibid., p. 54

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Onlinecollege.org)

Editor’s note: At the request of Carol Brown, with onlinecollege.org, this article was reposted here. Article source: http://www.onlinecollege.org/2011/04/13/15-most-famous-cafes-in-the-literary-world

Some of the most famous novels and literary moments of all time were written and inspired by cafes in Europe. From the American ex-pat writers in Paris to Henrik Ibsen’s continental travels, cafes were a place to work while socializing, building stories, and of course, eating and drinking. If you’ve turned to coffee shops and restaurants to study instead of your room or the library, you’ll appreciate the literary significance of these 15 famous cafes.

1. La Rotonde: One of the most famous Parisian cafes during the great American literary ex-pat era is Cafe La Rotonde, which was actually written about in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, although Hemingway’s Jake Barnes seems to lament its overwhelming popularity: “No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde,” Hemingway wrote. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and T.S. Eliot were also patrons there.

2. Le Dome Cafe: The very next line in Hemingway’s quote above is, “Ten years from now it will probably be the Dome.” Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse in Paris was actually the first major cafe in that area to attract ex-pats and intellectuals. La Rotonde, Le Select and La Coupole were its competitors, but the Dome is now a more established seafood restaurant, no longer catering to up-and-coming artists and writers.

3. The Literary Cafe: St. Petersburg’s Literary Cafe supposedly entertained many top Russian writers, including Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky, and is said to be the last cafe that poet Alexander Pushkin visited before dying in a duel.

4. Les Deux Magots: Now a popular tourist spot, Les Deux Magots is known as Hemingway’s favorite spot in Paris. But the St. Germain-des-Pres cafe also served many other legendary writers and artists, including Rimbaud, Simone de Beauvoir, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Jean Paul Sartre, and even Picasso. It’s one of the oldest cafes in Paris, and pays tribute to its old but polished heritage in its current design and character (though is most likely more expensive than it was in Hemingway’s day).

5. Cafe Braunerhof: Like Paris, Vienna is a city dotted with cafes, many of which were home to famous writers, artists and intellectuals. The Cafe Braunerhof located near the Habsburg city palace is said to be lauded writer Thomas Bernhard’s favorite spot, and where we worked on some of the most important works in the German-speaking world after WWII.

6. Cafe de Flore: Now a popular hang-out among the fashion set and other glamorous types, Cafe de Flore — principal rival to Les Deux Magots — was another office for Hemingway and his contemporaries. In 1994, Cafe de Flore began handing out its own annual literary prize — the Prix de Flore — to promising young authors of French-language literature. Besides a cash prize, the winner gets to drink a glass of the white wine Pouilly-Fume at the cafe every day for a year.

7. Dingo Bar: Now the restaurant Auberge de Venise, the Dingo Bar was another Montparnasse staple that opened in 1923 and catered to English and American ex-pats in Paris, like writer Djuna Barnes and publishing house owner Nancy Cunard. It’s also the spot where Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald met for the first time.

8. Cafe Montmartre: This cafe is actually located in Prague and was sometimes called by its nickname, Montik, or The Monty. Some of the most important writers from Germany and Czechoslovakia — like Franz Kafka, Eduard Bass and Max Brod — all came here.

9. Pedrocchi Cafe: Padua’s Pedrocchi Cafe is one of the biggest cafes in the world and was known as a favorite hang-out for Lord Byron and French writer Stendhal.

10. Harry’s New York Bar: Actually located in Paris, Harry’s New York Bar was named for its early manager, a Scotsman. It opened in 1911, and Harry was supposedly responsible for making it a legitimate ex-pat cafe during the next decade, attracting Sinclair Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, Hemingway, and others. Side tip: Harry’s New York Bar is also where the Bloody Mary was first concocted.

11. Antico Caffe Greco: Situated near the Spanish Steps in a very posh area of Rome, the Antico Caffe Greco — founded in 1760 — is also the city’s most famous. Over the past centuries, writers like Lord Byron, John Keats, Henrik Ibsen and Hans Christian Andersen became patrons.

12. La Coupole: La Coupole is another historical Montparnasse cafe, which opened in 1927, soon after Le Select, and aimed to compete against Le Dome for the expat intellectual clientele. The massive cafe could seat 600 people, including famous guests like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. La Coupole is now an official historic monument.

13. La Closerie des Lilas: Also situated in Paris’ Montparnasse is La Closerie, which opened in 1847 and attracted everyone from Henry James to Leon Trotsky to Gertrude Stein and Hemingway, who references nearby statues and descriptions in The Sun Also Rises.

14. Caffe Giubbe Rosse: One of Florence’s most famous cafes is Caffe Giubbe Rosse, named for Garibaldi’s Red Shirts, and also inspiration for the waiters’ uniforms. Celebrated for its role in producing the Futurist movement, Caffe Giubbe Rosse was also a favored spot for many notable Italian poets.

15. Grand Cafe: The Grand Hotel in Oslo is home to the Grand Cafe, a famous restaurant and meet-up. It’s where the Nobel Peace Prize banquet is held each year, and is said to be the daily lunch spot of Henrik Ibsen. Roald Dahl also stayed at the hotel during his youth.

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