Sunday, January 24, 2016

Urchins keeping a secret; black boys in league against the world: a figure in James Baldwin

The other day I read this in James Baldwin's essay on Ingmar Bergman, "The Northern Protestant":
He had made it sound as though we were two urchins playing a deadly and delightful game which must be kept a secret from our elders.
I noted this in itself but also because it reminds me of Tomas Transtrømer's wonderful idea of poetry as "inspired notes" passed back and forth as secrets from "official life". I was also intrigued by the coincidence that two great artists from Scandinivia had made the same point (or, to be precise, in Bergman's case, had made that impression on Baldwin).

Today, reading further in Baldwin's essays, I came across Baldwin's description of his first meeting with Richard Wright in "Alas, Poor Richard", his three-part memoir-essay after Wright's death:
He had a trick, when he greeted me, of saying, "Hey, boy!" with a kind of pleased, surprised expression on his face. It was very friendly, and it was also, faintly, mockingly conspiratorial – as though we were two black boys, in league against the world, and had just managed to spirit away several loads of watermelon.
Now I'm struck by this as a figure in Baldwin's work: the way he sees – even wants to see – the mentor (Wright) and the filmmaker (Bergman) as his co-conspirators in the secret world of art.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Melissa Lee-Houghton's "Beautiful Girls": A sixth excellent Christmas present

Here's a sixth Christmas book suggestion: Melissa Lee-Houghton's Beautiful Girls (Penned in the Margins, 2013).
I first read this book at a time when I was not reading much poetry (the only time in my adult life that that was the case), and it re-invigorated my reading of poetry, and I read it multiple times.

(If I humbly mention that there's also my book of poems, I hasten to add that when I "listen" to Melissa Lee-Houghton, I am in the state that I imagine Thomas Hardy could have been with respect to Louis Armstrong – the state of sheer astonishment.)

Monday, December 07, 2015

John Agard's "Alternative Anthem": a fifth excellent Christmas present

Here's a fifth Christmas book suggestion: John Agard's Alternative Anthem, his 2009 volume of selected poems.
Of if you want a collection rather than a selection of Agard's poems, I also recently read his wonderful sequence Clever Backbone, which spins out variations on the evolution of Homo sapiens going back to the African savannah several million years ago. It's 60 14-line poems that are sometimes very close to being sonnets and sometimes a bit farther.

Or if you prefer a more recent collection, there's Travel Light, Travel Dark from 2013, another excellent collection of Agard's brilliant poetry.
(And of course this wouldn't be one of my recommendations if I didn't mention that there's also my book of poems.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Patience Agbabi's "Telling Tales": A fourth excellent Christmas present

Here's a fourth Christmas book suggestion: Patience Agbabi's Telling Tales, her rewriting of The Canterbury Tales for contemporary Britain, which she published with Canongate Books in 2014. Each revision of one of Chaucer's tales is written in its own form and in the voice of a different fictional poet. It's a wide-ranging and highly entertaining book.
(And of course there's also my book of poems.)

Call for Papers: The Beautiful Game: The Poetics and Aesthetics of Soccer in Transnational Perspective

The Beautiful Game: The Poetics and Aesthetics of Soccer in Transnational Perspective
University of Basel
June 30-July 2, 2016

Confirmed Speakers:
Simon Critchley (New School for Social Research)
Eva Lavric (University of Innsbruck)
Emily Ryall (University of Gloucestershire)

This conference, scheduled to take place during the 2016 European Championship and hosted by the University of Basel’s Department of English, takes up soccer with a special focus on its poetics and aesthetics. The conference particularly seeks to scrutinize the poetics and aesthetics of the game in light of comparative as well as transnational, transcontinental, and global perspectives. In doing so, it aims to shed light on the poetics and aesthetics of all aspects of soccer, from the actual game to fan chants and choreographies, from representations in the arts to the aesthetics of media coverage, from the poetics of live commentary to institutional image cultivation (MLS, FIFA, UEFA, etc.), from aspects of design (jerseys, balls) to recent developments in stadium architecture. Given this range and diversity of the forms in which the poetics and aesthetics of soccer manifest themselves, the conference by necessity is interdisciplinary in nature, with possible contributions coming from fields such as literary and cultural studies, philosophy, linguistics, visual studies and the arts, design, and architecture to name but a few.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:
• the poetics and aesthetics of the game
• “skill,” “creativity,” “intuition,” and “style” in soccer
• soccer and the notions of the beautiful and the sublime
• fan chants
• fan choreographies
• Ultra aesthetics
• the aesthetics (and politics) of institutional image cultivation via the staging of events such as opening ceremonies, fixture draws, player award ceremonies, etc.
• languages of/in soccer
• the poetics and rhetoric of soccer live commentary
• the poetics, rhetoric, and aesthetics of soccer media coverage
• representations of soccer in the arts (including literature and film)
• the aesthetics of stadium architecture
• design in soccer: jerseys, balls, gear, club emblems, etc.

In addition to academic talks, the conference will also include an art event, exhibiting some of the original art that is the basis for tschuttiheftli’s sticker collection they create for every World Cup and European Championship (

Please send your 300-word abstracts and 100-word bios to:

The deadline for submissions is December 14, 2015. The conference organizers plan to publish a collection of essays based on selected contributions to the conference.

Conference Organizers:
Dr. phil. des. Ridvan Askin and Dr. Catherine Diederich, Department of English, University of Basel, Nadelberg 6, CH-4051 Basel

Friday, November 27, 2015

C. Dale Young's "Torn": A third excellent Christmas present

Here's a third Christmas book suggestion: C. Dale Young's Torn, his third collection of poems, which he published with Four Way Books in 2011. I also recommend his first two books (The Day underneath the Day and The Second Person), but Torn (as many of my friends know) is my favorite collection of poetry from this century.
And for those who want to read a book that will be just as extraordinary, C. Dale Young's new collection The Halo will be published by Four Way on 1 March, 2016, and you can preorder it now.
(And of course there's also my book of poems. Yes, this is the third time I have repeated this point!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Major Jackson's "Roll Deep": Another excellent Christmas present

Here's another Christmas book suggestion: Major Jackson's Roll Deep, his fourth collection of poems, which he published this year. I also recommend all three of his other books (Leaving Saturn, Hoops, and Holding Company), with Hoops perhaps being my favorite of those three.

(And of course there's also my book of poems. I hope you'll forgive me for repeating this point!)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Claudia Rankine's "Citizen": An excellent Christmas present

If you want to buy a good book for someone this year for Christmas, how about Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric"? I especially recommend it for anyone who has read Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me" (which is another great book to give someone for Christmas).

(And of course there's also my book of poems.)