Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Introducing Remica Bingham to Poetic Notes

This year I will periodically invite outside folks as a guest blogger. I saw Remica Bingham on the campus of Howard University last year. She and poet Tara Betts both presented papers on Lucille Clifton. What appealed to me about their papers were the ease and fluidity with which they delivered them. They didn't strike me as straight-laced academics. I had a haunch they they knew something about poetry, in a way only a practicioner would know. They weren't just speaking from an esoteric space. The subjects of their papers was their mentor-teacher. They probably chipped their teeth as poets reading Lucille Clifton or studying with her as fellows of Cave Canem.

After reading so many blogs last year, I thought I'd borrow a few ideas from Blog deity E. Ethelbert Miller and Tayari Jones. (You can google either of them to check out their lively blogs.)

I have done brief interviews on here previously but with the guest bloggers I thought I'd give them a blank sheet (or screen) to speak to us about something that they are intimately familiar with. Without further ado here's Remica Bingham:

There are very few poets in this country that can survive without a day job and I am certainly one of them. My job, however, does afford me the opportunity—the time and space—to write more often than not, and I am grateful that this is the case. Currently, I’m at Norfolk State University, an HBCU in Norfolk, Virginia. My proper title is Writing Competency Coordinator for Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, which basically means I handle a big exam. I’m an administrator, and the move from teaching has been a strange one, but I have gotten a sidelong glimpse into the administrative life. I’m hoping it will give me some sharp insight when I am finally able to return to the classroom.

Though I was a bit leery about engaging in a 9 to 5, five days a week (and a few Saturdays each semester), it has been a beautiful thing as far as my writing is concerned. I have gotten more done here than I think I would have been able to if my primary work were in a classroom setting. You cannot leave the classroom; the students--their thoughts and personal lives--stay with you constantly. You worry over them, think on them, even write about them long after they’re gone and the day is over. As I don’t have a set group of students that I work with on a continual basis, this is not the case with my current position.

As a poet, I lean towards the narrative more often than not. I am interested in the minute details that create the bigger pictures of our lives. Clarity is something I strive for in all of my work, and plainness, in the sense that I want every line, every word, every comma to be used in the best way and as sharply as possible. As a reader, I want to come to the page and find some foundation, some grounding, in the things that make up our real lives. So, as a poet, I am intensely interested in everyday occurrences that help define who we are and how we are able to survive in the world. The only ideas I have about craft that I am married to are: to always use the essential phrase, never the incidental one and revise, revise, revise. Also, I think it’s important for young writers (not necessarily in chronologically, but in practice as well) to know is that all good writers should read ten times more than they write. For every ten poems you write, you should have read at least 100.

Making a living as a poet is almost an oxymoron, but some do. If I could change one thing about the process it would be that the business world that governs over the publication of our writing would be more like, or at least more appreciative of, the actual process of completing a poem. You don’t expect artists, or those who profess to love art, to be cutthroat or so preoccupied with numbers that they miss the importance of what is being said and how. Poetry isn’t about the numbers. If it were, we’d all be failing miserably.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Prelude to a New Year/ New Blog

A few weeks have gone by since I last posted. It's a New Year. So, I need to step it up on all fronts, including this blog. I think the biggest challenge is not knowing if people actually read this blog aside from your friends and family (thank you all!) When I go crusing in cyberspace or blog-o-sphere I note how many bloggers have an audience either by publishing, doing something fantastic, or achieving minor fame in some of other way.

So, to my audience, or the audience that may come, I've decided to make my blog more personal, and hopefully interesting by including posts that are relevant to people like me: students, artists, those at the start of their careers, those needing information about publishing or getting started, or those seasoned artists who wish to connect with a younger voice, dare I say generation.

A lot has happened. The political climate is changing rapidly. It's almost impossible to keep track of anyone's campaign (except if you're like many people and have concluded that the election will go the way of status quo.)

I am not a particularly political person. However, I consider myself a conscientious individual. A person concerned about the inside life and thus the outside life: the two are intertwined. I want to not just see a change, which has become a bit cliche, but I'd like to smell it, taste it, know its there because you are actively participating in that change. But, what does change mean, to those of us who aren't running for office?

For me it means, being able to wake up proud of this country. T know that one's voice makes a difference, matters outside of those who think as you do. That the "people" are able to resist the machine and take their destiny in their own hand. I'd like to do my part to make sure that facism is not synonymous with American Democracy. I'd like to know that working class and the poor feel that they, too, are a part of America. Not like those characters in Langston Hughes' poem who not only aren't aloud to Sing America, but are relegated to the Kitchen.

How many of us are trying to break out of the cage, to sing America, but have to clock-in at McDonalds?

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year from Beltway Poetry Quarterly!

We begin 2008 with a rousing new issue of the journal, celebrating political poetry "borne out of a hunger." The Split This Rock Issue features seventeen poets who are participating in the upcoming festival of the same name, either as organizers or readers.

As co-editor Regie Cabico writes in his introduction, these poets sing "about gentrification, pop culture, immigration, war, heritage, disability, history and American iconography" to create a home "in the gut of a government that should hear, swallow, and ingest verses of provocation and witness."

Split This Rock Poetry Festival will take place in Washington, DC March 20-23, 2008. In addition to Beltway Poetry Quarterly, other co-sponsoring organizations include the Institute for Policy Studies, Sol and Soul, The White Crane Institute, Washington Friends of Walt Whitman, and Beloit Poetry Journal.

The Split This Rock Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly features poems by the following authors:

Winona Addison * Naomi Ayala * Sarah Browning * Grace Cavalieri * Teri Ellen Cross * Heather Davis * Joel Dias-Porter * Yael Flusberg * Brian Gilmore * E. Ethelbert Miller * Princess of Controversy * Tanya Snyder * Susan Tichey * Melissa Tuckey * Dan Vera * Rosemary Winslow * Kathi Wolfe

The Split This Rock Issue (Volume 9, Number 1), is co-edited by Regie Cabico and Kim Roberts. The issue is available online now at:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The end of the year gets me a little nostalgic. Not sure about everyone else but time seems to literally be flying. I recall as a teenager figuring out that year 2002 would make me eighteen years old. For whatever reason eighteen sounds BIG and LIBERATING, and largely it was. Then 2003 happened, 2004, 2005 . . . and so on. It is important to be conscious of time as you move through and reflect in hindsight. Lately, I’ve pondered what can be carried into the future given modernity—the fleeting present—making things past and future. Perhaps, all that we can take with us from one year to the next are our memories and stories, remembering the unsaid as well as the said, remembering those whom we’ve hugged and later watched the earth hug their coffin as they transition to the other world. Here are some highlights of 2007 that I wish to share with you. If you have a 2007 moment you’d like to share, by all means, please send them to me.

Best Movie?

So far, my favorite film of 2007 is “Talk to Me.” This film saved me from being a cynic of black cinema. When you look at the mile-long list of crap that’s being produced and bankrolled it easily give me the impression that there are no intelligent black actors, directors, or writers out there. Obviously, this is not true; nonetheless, we need to push a little harder to get quality movies out there. Kudos to Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington for teaming up to create “The Great Debaters.”

Best Blog?

Tayari Jones has a marvelous blog It’s multifaceted, the entries extend beyond little post-it notes that so many bloggers tend to produce. The subject matter ranges from personal to political—yet all grounded in the writing life.

For local happenings and humorous commentary on politics and culture, I like to read E. Ethelbert’s blog. He’s a writer, but more than a writer he is an activist writer. You get critical commentary on matter of labor, politics, race, current events, job openings, causes one ought to know about. Become a part of the literary and activist world of E. Ethelbert Miller, check out his blog at

Best Moment?

The summer of ’07 was the greatest. I hopped on the Chinabus and went up to New York City to Central Park to hear Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez read from their respective corpses, then a post-show conversation about how the Black Arts Movement began ensued. It was a highlight of the year. And, I got to see Asha Bandele and my teacher and poet-friend Tyehimba Jess.

I could go on and on but I would love it if my readers can tell me what their best CD of 2007 was? Best Books? Or any of bests they’d like to share.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ann Darr (1920-2007)

I received this note moments ago--

"We note with sadness the passing of Ann Darr, a prominent DC poet. Dryad Press has started an 'In Memoriam' page on their website that is terrific. The link reprints poems, and gives biographical information.

Though, I did not personally know Ms. Darr, I tend to look at the writing community as a body so when someone leaves that body, it's almost like suffering a lost limb or digit.

Merill Leffler, publisher of Dryad Press is accepting remembrances of Ann Darr; you may sent them to

Monday, December 3, 2007

I'm listening to Lauren Hill's Selah. It's a beautiful song. A good friend of mine first burned this song on a cd that she created just for me, on Valentine's day a few years back. She created an entire soundtrack for me. And in the playbook was this song with a note that read something like I think everyone feels as though they need to be "saved from themselves" sometimes. I think you do that for me when I need it: nagging me to sleep and eat all that. So, thanks... This one's for that.

Ain't it funny how one song can unlock the flood gates?

The weekend was spent writing papers. On Sunday, I visited a Buddhist community center and saw some of the happiest looking people I've ever seen. And they were very warm in welcoming me into their space. I love the idea that we are accountable for our happiness. That there is something in us that really can direct the kind of energy or results we want to see.

Back to writing papers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The African Burial Memorial

This past summer I hopped on the Chinabus and made my way back home, to New York City. I had spoken to brother Rasul on several occasions about the African Burial Memorial. It took me some time to process that New York had slaves. I always believed that my home was the place that enslaved brothers and sister fled to.

What follows is a brief discussion about this special place. My thoughts are in bold italics and Brother Rasul's are in regular typeset. I hope each of you will take your family and friends and learn about this part of history.

What follows are my personal observations and are not necessarily reflecftive of the positions of the National Park Service. While I am a volunteer there, I am speaking here for myself, not for them.

I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity they have afforded me to honor the ancestors through my efforts, but I am a spokesperson for myself alone, not for the National Park Service.

1. How did you first encounter this memorial?

nomenclature: the burial ground, the national monument, the memorials - city memorial in Foley Square, Triumph of the Human Spirit, and the federal memorial, The Ancestral Libation Chamber Memorial dedicated the weekend of October 6Th. We have since seen some 40 thousand visitors to the monument.

In 1991, when it was discovered by the African Descendant community what had been uncovered by the government and what disrespectful treatment was being afforded the discovery, the burial ground became a focus of action for the descendant activist community and word went out urging folks to attend the regular protests, ceremonies, and commemorations that were being conducted to support the elders who were leading the fight to halt the exhumations and the construction and assure proper respect for the remains of the ancestors.

Like many others, as my work schedule permitted, I visited the burial ground to lend my support. After the initial success and the dispatch of the remains to Howard for study, I assisted the government funded Office of Public Education and Information, both as a volunteer, at their various educational events, and as a volunteer consultant in automating their mailing list.

After the return of the remains from HU and the subsequent designation of the burial ground as a national monument, I began to volunteer as a docent, giving tours of the monument and the art work commissioned for the burial ground. I have been giving a tour of "Old Manhattan and its African Past" for many years, and the burial ground was a logical involvement for me, especially after my retirement.

2. What impact has working with the African Burial Memorial had on you?

Impossible to truly assess. It has been a profound turning point in my life. It has set me on one of the steepest learning curves of my intelectual life and on a spiritual journey that has only just taken its first baby steps. I have embarked on a literary challenge that is testing my craft in new and expanding directions.

The Burial Ground has become a focus for my retirement. There is the time there doing tours, the time spent reading, digeting, considering and learning new things about Manhattan and its African past, the efforts to capture the voices of African New Yorkers in my poem-becoming multi-media-performance-piece, and the persuit of the spiritual understanding I am being offered - all this and much more that I don't even have words for.
Can you recall how it has affected others?

The reactions vary, from surprise at all that visitors have not known before, to appreciation for the recognition and acknowledgement the ancestors are receiving, to a profound sorrow at the circumstances of early African Manhattanites. The many students of every age leave with an understanding of their history, Euro and African descendant alike, that was not previously available to them. The affect on them will only become evident as they become adults and we see the real impact of what they have learned on their committment to justice and peace.

There are those in the African descendant community who harbor deep disapointment that the sacred ancestroral grounds are not under the control of the African descendant community. The government building and the present federal memorial area should not, these elders suggest, have been built on at all, but the grounds should have been preserved as a completely undeveloped green space with signage.

While I respect and understand their position, I think that the educational potential of the monument as a national monument, with its visitors center and memorial, offer a greater educational opportunity, one that would be understood by the ancestors whose remains we honor.

3. How frequent do tours take place?

The visitors Center is currently housed within the Federal Building at 290 Broadway open from 9 to 5, Monday through Fridey, except on Federal holidays. There is a 25 minute video available and a walking tour of the commemorative art work in the lobby of the building on the site as well as of the memorial. Sometime in 2008, we will see the opening of a new visitors center in teh 290 building that will have its own enterance and allow us to be open 9-5 every day except major holidays.

Currently, there is a Park Ranger available at the memorial to provide tours of the The Ancestral Libation Chamber Memorial 9-5, every day except major holidays.

Group tours can be arranged by visiting the official National Park Service burial ground web site at Tours can be arranged for Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 or at other times, by special arrangement. Off site presentations can also be arranged. The current visitors Center can only accomodate 30-45 people at a time for a presentation of the video about the burial ground and I recomend that groups plan a visit of 90 minutes to two hours to fully benefit from the monument's resources. When the new visitors center is opened next year, we will have facilities to accomodate larger groups.