July 27, 2013

If day has to become night, this is a beautiful way.

Selected Poems
By E.E. Cummings

A favorite of mine:

Days of Innocence
who are you, little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window; at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

July 21, 2013

I wouldn't like Death if Death were good. (Not even if Death were good.)

Selected Poems
By E.E. Cummings

The first time I saw Ra Ra Riot was a few months after I started at Syracuse when one of my (now best) friends asked me if I wanted to check them out at the Funk N' Waffles on Marshall Street. I was indifferent and I'd never heard of them before but the show was 5 bucks, it was October, I was new to campus and had a try-anything mentality, so I went. This was before they renovated the place, so the stage was near the front and it couldn't have been elevated more than a foot off the ground.  Basically there was no real separation between band and audience. Not many people showed up that night from what I remember, or well, it was a small space. So it was intimate. And long story short: I fell in love and they're now one of my favorites. I've seen them five times since, including once at the beginning of this year and I'll probably see them again in October when they return to NYC. (A description I wrote of Ra Ra Riot in 2010 for CITYist.com.)

I am also a fan of e.e. cummings and the other day picked up Selected Poems, a book I purchased in January 2012 that I never finished. It was such a pretty cover (see above) and I like him so I bought it. As I was reading last week I came upon the below and realized that "Dying Is Fine," one of my favorites and one of Ra Ra Riot's most popular songs, was inspired by one of the poems! Instantly looked it up to make sure (though it had to be), and it was just kind of a great, quiet little epiphany I had one morning.

Read & then listen:


July 16, 2013

Mama borned a baby and she slept in the arms of hope.

The second and last excerpt from How to Be Black is another by Derrick Ashong. Not my intention and I literally just realized that the following words would be his too. He wrote a great poem. In the words of Baratunde: "I honestly cannot think of a better way to fully close this book than [his poem] and Derrick's explanation in this final space."

Water, fresh on the lips of one
Who has known no rivers.
What kiss could be so sweet
As the lingering taste of life?

Mama borned a baby
and she slept in the arms of hope
In her eyes she grew a lady
deftly robed in a cloth sewn centuries ago
with a needle threaded in tears
and guided by notes of a song
spun softly in a soul saddled
by a spirit so strong no noose
was ever long enough to break it.
Some people couldn't take it.
How could this thing with a different skin
sing so loud as to drown the stinking sin
of a nation?
Mama's baby was born post-emancipation
but pre-liberation, and so the song that she wore
within her skin was less a tale of times past 
than a calling.
A calling.

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock
"Who's there?"
It's me. Tell the man I came for my Freedom
It called for me while you were sleeping. 
It screamed that the hypocrisy of our fathers was
reeking and it needed to get out of the house.

America the beautiful
Adrift in a reverie of her own making.
Had Freedom locked up so long 
we wouldn't recognize her if she were taken
from right beneath the flag.
This dress that she wears 
is a song we don't care to sing
We'd rather go carelessly marching into
a war we can never win, for the enemy
Lies within.

Who put the terror in terrorism?
Ask any brother shackled in prison,
whether by the forefather's vision of 3/5ths
of a man, or Supreme Court decision that hands
the American crown to the 
prefabricate one.
The heir who cries WAR, when it won't be his son or daughter left to bleed our dreams
into the flood of the killing fields.
How long will it be before America yields
her thirst for violence to the people's need for Peace?

It is our calling
I done made my vow to the Lord.
Not the "president."

We wear the song of a slave, because in this 
home of the brave it was the hated one
who had the courage to cry Freedom.
We don't just sing Love, we live it.
For in our song strives the spirit that taught
us what it means to be FREE.

A Black tide carried us through the slaughter,
And so today we sing like

Water, so soft on the lips of one
Who has known no rivers.
What kiss could be so sweet
As the lingering sound of life?

*snap* *snap*

July 15, 2013

"America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem."

How to Be Black
By Baratunde Thurston

I first saw Baratunde Thurston speak at the same Skillshare event where I saw Eddie Huang. He was hilarious & friendly and had just released the above book a few months prior and shared some great anecdotes. (Even had the opportunity to meet him afterward & he was great!) I finally had the chance to read this last week. Let me just say, I put this book on hold at the library at the beginning of the year and my turn finally came at the beginning of this month. The Queens library system needs to order more because it's in high demand!

The back cover features a quote by an MSNBC analyst/writer for The Nation that describes How to Be Black as "part autobiography, part stand-up routine, part contemporary political analysis," and that's a pretty accurate description. Baratunde details his childhood, adolescence/growing up, his mother, his environment(s), education, his career(s), etc etc and evaluates how being black has shaped his life. Most of it is humorous (as evidenced by some chapters like "How to Be The Black Employee" and "How to Be The (Next) Black President"). At the same time, the underlying messages are profound and important to ponder. I loved hearing from Baratunde, but a favorite aspect of the book to me was his Black Panel, a group of his closest friends (including one white man) whose opinions and experiences he shares throughout to demonstrate the diversity of experiences black people have had in America. Very enlightening.

As "post-racial" (a term Baratunde hates) America believes itself to be given its progress, the term itself is ignorant and devoid of meaning. This is made clear on the daily, and coincidentally I have found the time to write this post two days after a jury's devastating verdict to find George Zimmerman not guilty of Trayvon Martin's murder in 2012. Blegh.

I'll excerpt the one passage I marked. (For the record, Baratunde says a lot of great things worth reblogging but they're more like entire chapters rather than passages i.e. just read the whole thing.) It comes from the chapter "How's That Post-Racial Thing Working Out For Ya?" and it's an answer to that question by Baratunde's friend (and Black Panel member) Derrick Ashong:

America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem. 
People will always find ways to determine who is in and a part of us, and who's an outsider. And part of that is because ... I define me to some degree in the context of you. I'm not just me existing in the world. I am, in part, me because I'm not you. We are part we because we're not y'all.
So folks will always find ways to create differences. The question is how much do those differences matter?
There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Catholic. That was a problem. There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Jew. Problem. Right now in this country, it's a big deal if you're a Muslim. Problem. But you know, you go down the street, you go in to eat in a little place and you're a Catholic, a Jew, who cares? Everybody's marrying each other, making little brown babies that don't know whether to go to church on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so they just be at the club.
So basically, it's one of these things where what was a problem causes to [be] as much of an issue. That is what is also happening with race, and it will continue to happen with race. Now you see a lot of beef right now because people who are used to, and whose worldview has been created in the crucible of how things once were in this country, they hearken to the good old days, which were not necessarily that great, even for them, frankly. But they hearken to those days, they yearn for those days of yore.
They forget that yes, fifty years later before the 1950s they were killing Irish people in New York. Their memory is limited. They forget that, yeah, you might persecute somebody for being Muslim here, but the Puritans who came out here back in the 1600s showed up to escape religious persecution. 
So I know that societies and people tend to have a short historical memory, but that history happens anyway. We are moving and we will continue to move to a point where race will not be the primary issue that binds or divides us. We'll find something else, and we'll combat that, too.