Get ready for the birth of Humble Bear Production, a video production company that produces book trailers and provides services for nonprofits and businesses including video storytelling, welcome videos, commercials, campaign videos and mini docs.
I just read The Overground Railroad, an anthology soon to hit the streets from Cherry Castle Publishing.
And – LAWD! – I’m still reeling from these poems produced in a workshop that poets Truth Thomas and Derrick Weston Brown conducted at Chicago State University last year.
It’s been a longtime since a poetry collection knocked me upside my head and made me listen.
Reading these poems reminded me that I’ve been in a literary winter.
And “Spring has returned,” Rainier Maria Rilke once put it. “The Earth is like a child that knows poems.”
The Earth would be even giddy to know that these poets – some experienced and others new to poetry – bring a fire I haven’t felt in a while. In fact, these poems are so charged that they put exclamations in my pulse.
And there’s also tenderness in this collection, where “commitment/keeps us warm” and where “jealous pens and pencils/spend eons” looking for “metaphors and similes” to woo the fine poem “pranc[ing] through line/breaks.”
The Overground in the collection’s title is an apt description. There’s nothing underground about these voices on their way to freedom, calling “to all hues/of brown” and “calling all bullets and other non-intellectual/weapons to cease.”
For the Rudy Guilianies and other propagandists wondering, where is the outrage against black on black crime, well it’s in these pages.
It’s in the wishbone of an alley “connecting Ludden to Preston,” where a basketball rim “graduate[s] from crate, to hoop with chains, to one with nylon.”
Pre-order The Overground Railroad from Cherry Castle Publishing. You need that in your life!
note: the quoted lines came from the poems in this anthology
I know I’ve been off the grid for a while, and hope to get my writing mojo back. But here’s a brief update: I’ve been taking a Videography 1 class, and my final assignment was to do a car commercial. Well, here it is!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Everyone’s got their list of favorites – favorite movies, books, restaurants, etc. Inevitably, someone gets left off those lists.
This is an on-going list I’m building. In honor of this wonderful commemorative month, I’m highlighting these eight artists I’ve profiled here on this blog, and who I think people should know. Click the collage below to visit my new “Memes” page, where you can learn about each of these talented artists and people I’m proud to call my friends.
Again, the list is on-going. I’m still creating memes for other folks I’ve profiled. So please check the “Memes” page often for new faces.
Happy Art Appreciation Month! Since I like dialogue, please list your favorite artists with links to their pages in the comments.
Three years ago, I did a story on Jason Tyler and his film crew’s project, Hustle vs. Heartache — a story about up-and-coming rapper, Hustle, fresh out of prison with a dream of making it big as a hip hop artist, forging a relationship with his young son and finishing old business with his soul-singer dad, Heartache.
Back in 2011, Jason was a grad student at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
When I interviewed him and his crew, they already raised $30,000 with a goal of reaching $100,000 for what started as a thesis film and became a feature.
Jason’s team has since graduated, exceeded their fundraising goal and are now in post-production. They’re an edit away from picture lock, a stage in film editing before the changes are complete and approved.
Afterwards, Jason’s crew kicks their film into the next stage that includes additional edits and audio mixing.
In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Each writer of the blog tour is asked the following questions. Here’s what I had to say:
1) What am I working on?
Right now, I’m trying to get my manuscript, Point Blank, published. Some of the poems were written before I started the Stonecoast MFA program. Once I started grad school, Point Blank took on a life of its own — exploring race through various Black male archetypes.
The characters that populate these narrative poems exist between urban and suburban areas. The imagery in Point Blank is influenced by natural landscapes, hip hop, and the urban scene. It’s my hope that Point Blank also speaks to injustices committed by or against people left in the margins as a result of racism, classism, and related economic disparities, while showing their humanity in a way that invites the reader to reconsider what s/he thought s/he knew.
I was honored that my mentors, Joy Harjo and Tim Seibles, helped me shape this manuscript. Tim showed me how sensory and psychological details intensified a reader’s experience of each poem. I added details to earlier drafts that not only make the reader feel like they’re inside the poem and experience, but also takes them inside the head of the speaker.
When I struggled during my first semester with how detailed I wanted to be in my poems, Tim offered this bit of advice: “We love soloists for what they give us, not what they hold back.” That’s become my mantra whenever I approach the page.
I owe just as much to Joy Harjo, who, with my title poem “Point Blank”, had me consider the age of my speaker and his friend, both 12-year-olds, which Harjo noted was the age most guys are at the edge of puberty. Adding those extra details helped make the poem richer. Harjo also had me consider alternate time (what’s happening in another time that connects to the moment in the poem).
“A poem is an energetic system,” she once told me. Because of her suggestions, I now consider various levels on which my poems work. Because of Joy and Tim, I’d like to think the poems in Point Blank pose like bodybuilders, showing off their new muscles. Seibles and Harjo forced my poems to do extra bench presses despite them being tired and wanting to relax.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work differs the same way we’re all different. I can only bring my point of view, which is shaped by personal experiences, to a subject. While I’m not the only writer to explore certain issues through persona — Peter Parker, an earth-bound angel, Hulk and others — I do bring my own insights, which are going to be unique to other writers the same way their insights differ from mine.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The late John Wooden, basketball player and coach, once said: “Be true to yourself…make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books…”
With that said, being true to myself requires me to write what I’m passionate about, what inspires me after drinking deeply from life.
Most of my work is autobiographical because I pull from my own experiences. Being true to myself requires me to bear witness to my life while I hope my experiences speak to someone else’s. Tim Seibles said it best during my interview with him for BOMB magazine:
What I’m trying to do, as a poet, is to bear witness to my life because I believe my life is like other lives. What I mean is that my problems, my anxieties, my passions, my loves, my disappointments link up pretty readily with those of other people.
…[I]f I talk explicitly about sexual desire, I’m not the first man in the world to look at a woman and feel that burn in the gut…
With my poems, whether they be explicitly erotic or explicitly political, I hope I am simply putting language to something that many people feel.
That’s what I strive to do in all of my poems: speak truth to power.
4) How does my writing process work?
I am not productive away from people. I need the sounds of life as my backdrop — overheard conversations in a restaurant or coffee house, the squealing bus brakes, car horns, the loud scrape of a chair leg sliding across floor tile, etc. I need something happening in the background while I write.
I also don’t do good carrying a pen and pad. The expectation of writing turns off my creativity. That’s why I love my EVERNOTE app, which I’ve installed on my android phone and my laptop. So when I’m hit with an image or a few lines, I whip out my phone and start typing in that app. When I get to my laptop, I can flesh out the ideas and keep going.
I’m often inspired by people-watching. The conversation of things unsaid between strangers. I’m big on body language and the narrative therein.
Let’s keep the blog tour rolling with these next two bloggers:
Robert Hookey is an author and a bellman at a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. He grew from a “stereotypical shy, retiring kid” to a wonderful storyteller, who’s days as a bellman aren’t short of funny and awkward adventures. He’s the personality behind the blog, You’ve Been Hooked. The funniest story he told me was the situation with him and Min. Louis Farrakhan. You have to read his profile here to find out the rest.
Next up is Ned Hickson, an editor and humor columnist for the Siuslaw News, a small Oregon newspaper where the motto is: Your dependable source for local news. Twice weekly. Unless we lose count. He’s the personality behind the blog, Ned’s Blog: Humor at the Speed of Life.
Today, I started — then stopped reading — the article, “The Top 10 Worst College Majors, Definitively Ranked.”
I saw it this morning on Facebook and, despite the red flags it, and other titles like it (“top ten” this or that), usually raised, my curiosity told me to click the link and skim the list.
It didn’t take an educated guess, however, to know where the article was going.
Of course, the fine arts was among those listed with anthropology and archeology as well as film/video & photographic arts.
The only point of those articles is to reaffirm this hierarchy of personal pursuits and professions, as if success, whatever that is, could only be measured by the same yard stick.
And why are we measuring against one another anyway? The Canadian author Ann Voskamp said it best: “Pick up a yardstick to measure your life against anyone else’s, and you’ve just picked up a stick and beaten up your own soul.”
These soul-beating articles, like “The Top 10 Worst College Majors…,” aren’t only pointless, but do more harm than good.
They discourage people from pursuing what they’re passionate about and, instead, encourage them to major in what they think will get them good jobs that, while paying generously and offering great benefits, will ultimately make them miserable.
My father didn’t understand that then (study something that’s going to make you some good money, he usually said), so I majored in computer science — convincing myself that it made sense because I loved video games.
Nevermind that I didn’t have any coding experience.
After graduation, I could make $90,000 starting pay. That’s what I kept telling myself until I flunked my major and ended up on academic probation.
It took an advisor, running off a list of other possible majors, to help me rethink things. When I asked her how much money I’d make after graduation, she frowned.
“What do you enjoy doing?” she asked me. “What gives you the most fulfillment?”
That’s when I remembered the poems my classmates and I studied from Elementary through High School. That’s when I remembered the short stories I wrote to get the characters out of my head. That’s when I remembered how fulfilling it was to — having sweated out each line and stanza of my own poems — to see a draft that got closer to what I wanted to express.
That’s when I decided to study journalism.
Yes, the publisher paid pennies for work that always followed me home. Yes, that same publisher laid me off and I went unemployed for a while.
But doing what I thought was fulfilling allowed me to explore other careers in writing. I worked a handful of gigs — from a contract consultant on a book project, to teaching middle and high school students creative writing, to touring D.C. Public Schools as a visiting writer for a prestigious literary organization.
During that time, I went to grad school and published DRIFT, which continues to open opportunities for me.
After graduating with my MFA in Creative Writing, my pay jumped by $15,000 when I landed a full-time position as a communications specialists for a national nonprofit.
If there’s anything I learned during those days of uncertainty, it was this: diversify your income streams; never just have one source of income.
Right now, I have four — three in addition to my full-time job. And guess what? I wouldn’t trade my experience for another.
To paraphrase Vince Lombardi: fulfillment of all we hold dear is that moment when we work our hearts out in a good cause and lie exhausted on the field of battle — victorious.
And that, not the “Top Ten” articles, should be the yardstick with which we measure both our personal and professional successes.