Saturday, January 30, 2016

Oxford Dictionaries agrees usage examples should not be political

After anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan created a stir on Twitter about the Oxford English Dictionary's questionable common usage examples, he discovered that I had written a blog post almost two years earlier on the very example he cited, "a rabid feminist." Consequently, he credited me on Twitter and at his own blog and asked that reporters interview me and other women instead of him. 
As a result of Michael's fairness, a number of news media websites, such as the Washington Post, the Huffington PostPajibaVox, and SheKnows, have quoted me to explain why Oxford's example for the word "rabid" is troubling. 
What's more important, however, is acknowledgment from the head of content creation at OxfordDictionaries.com that our critique of that tome's usage example is valid. She asserts that although the dictionary shows accurately a common usage of "rabid," its example is a poor choice.  In her blog post, "How are dictionary examples chosen?," she writes:
 . . . the real-life sentence from which the example was taken involved someone denigrating a person described as being a feminist. However, it was a poorly chosen example in that the controversial and impolitic nature of the example distracted from the dictionary’s aim of describing and clarifying meaning. 
Multiple female anthropologists and linguists came forward during the protest documenting that they also have written about sexist language in dictionaries in the past, but their objections to such entries went unnoticed, as did mine. Michael agreed that his complaint probably received more attention because he is male. Some will wish to argue whether that conclusion is the case, but in the meantime, I am pleased that the Oxford English Dictionary is revisiting its common usage choices.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Steven Hart: Star Wars does not draw on literary classics but on classic pulp SciFi

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on New Years Day with my daughter, her boyfriend, and their friends. Yes, I enjoyed it. Director J. J. Abrams and co-writers Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan have crafted a wonderful balance between the wit and action of the first movie released in 1977 and fresh material that old fans and new can appreciate. But this post is not a review of this latest entry of the franchise.

This post revives Steven Hart's 2002 essay at Salon.com, "Galactic Gasbag" that slams any promotion of the original Star Wars movie as inspired by Joseph Campbell's works on comparative mythology. As I watched the new movie, I thought often of Steven, an investigative reporter, brilliant man, critic, fiction writer, and friend. He died last year on January 20, a shock and great loss to me, his family, and all who knew him.

According to Steven, Lucas never said anything about basing Star Wars on classics such as The Odyssey or consciously tapping into mythology and archetypes Campbell studied until the franchise had become "a pop culture milestone." The belief that Lucas had created Star Wars with ancient mythologies and literary classics in mind grew as increasingly more critics shoveled similar analyses, and Lucas pushed it further when time came to promote the prequels, Steven argues.

After turning Lucas over a gentle flame about his box office flops, which Steven perhaps implies do not reflect the mind of an scholarly thinker, Steven turns up the fire on Star Wars itself as being not original but a bricolage of old Science Fiction novel images and figures. "More damningly, the real roots of 'Star Wars' are obvious to anyone not blinded by snobbery or the need for self-inflation," he writes:
They lie not in “The Odyssey” or the “Upanishads,” but 20th century science-fiction magazines such as Astounding, Amazing Stories and Galaxy. The “true theology” of “Star Wars” was written not by Virgil or Homer, but Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, E.E. “Doc” Smith and a host of other S.F. writers.
The original “Star Wars” and its sequels are echo chambers of tropes and images from literary science fiction, used in ways that strike a careful balance between affectionate familiarity and outright plagiarism. The first glimpse of Luke Skywalker’s desert homeworld, Tatooine, evokes the setting of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune”; Lucas even throws in a shot of a skeletal desert serpent reminiscent of Herbert’s gigantic sandworms. The amazing visuals suggest an eye nourished by the magazine art of Frank R. Paul, John Schoenherr, Kelly Freas and Chesley Bonestell.

Even when he was alive, I didn't argue with Steven, so I won't start now. You may read the rest of Steven Hart's article, "Galactic Gasbag" at Salon.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Personal Goodbye to All That for 2015 and Hello 2016

We humans love to make resolutions for the New Year. I don't really do that, but I think New Year's Eve is a good time reflect on 10 things I did in the year that's ending that I would prefer not to do again and to have in mind ways to become better at living life. Naturally, some of the issues end up on the list year after year, but since this is my first time sharing my list publicly, who will know which ones repeat?

Here's my list for 2015.

  1. If I've said anything to anyone about my ex -- good or bad -- even as an example to help somebody and other than as required to communicate objectively with our offspring, goodbye to all that.
  2. I make too many wisecracks about my failing memory, which probably makes it more likely that my memory will fail, so goodbye to all that.
  3. I put down my own poetry. When I do that, people tend to compliment my work. I never feel compliments are genuine when they result from sympathy and then self-doubt creeps in because of it, so goodbye to all that.
  4. I've spent too much time watching television instead of doing things that will enrich my life. I love TGIT on ABC and SyFy series, but Shonda Rhimes and NBC Universal stockholders have already made their millions. Where are mine? So, goodbye to all that.
  5. I admit my addiction to Haagen Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream and my cake thing, also that I can't seem to stick to an exercise regimen. I probably set impossible goals instead of goals that stretch me but are reasonable, so goodbye to all that.
  6. My MFA mentor is pressuring me to submit my writing to literary magazines. I think I must still suffer from fear of rejection. I have been resistant to almost all things literary and generally grumpy about my poetry, so good-bye to all that.
  7. I've been avoiding learning new coding skills and food recipes, but not learning anything new is the fastest way to lose the ability to learn anything new, so goodbye to all that.
  8. When great ideas for fiction and nonfiction pieces pop into my head, I don't stop and record the ideas or take notes, stifling my own creativity, so goodbye to all that.
  9. Thank God I don't worry about what other people think as much as I used to, but I still worry about what other people think too much, so goodbye to all that.
  10. I have a ton of books on my shelves that I haven't read or I need to reread, but for whatever reason I don't get to them. In general, I procrastinate, so goodbye to all that.

This new year, 2016, will be the year of me becoming a better me. If that means I go through hermit periods, then so be it. What are you leaving behind in 2015 so you can move forward in 2015?




Note: The picture used in this post is a cover from the new covers for the 2012 reprints of Octavia Butler's books. This picture is on her book Wild Seed from her Patternist series.

Monday, December 21, 2015

An Absence of The Donald

Notice that this blog has not given any real 
attention to 
Donald the Dump Trump 
this election season.


I'm just saying.

Black Writers in a Post-Racial Age?

By now, anyone who's been paying attention knows that post-racial is just another myth among America's press clippings. I doubt that the publishing world has ever believed itself to be post-racial though. Consider the watermelon joke at the National Book Awards ceremony just last year when Jacqueline Woodson received her award for Black Girl Dreaming.

And it's hard to ignore that some bookstores still segregate writing by black writers from that by white writers. Even Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has been sometimes cordoned off. So, there's not much more to say about that.

Still, I share this link to an extraordinarily beautiful and provocative essay by Saeed Jones at BuzzFeed, "Self Portrait of The Artist As Ungrateful Black Writer." For a number of reasons this article resonated with me. I especially appreciated his honesty about the pressure for black writers to be more polite and docile than white writers if they want to have careers:
You can make yourself crazy simply by paying attention. The publishing industry on which my work depends is 89% white. And so, when one of those white people puts their hands in my hair, it’s difficult for me to speak up in the moment, or even months later, because I want to have a career, not just one book. I suspect there are limits to the literary elite’s willingness to tolerate an insistently “angry black writer” in their presence. Writers who speak out too loudly, too often will never be told explicitly “you’ve bitten the hand that feeds you” but there are so many ways to starve.
Yes, the need to eat and live indoors is a thing.

Jones also tells of his experience going to and being at a party with the nearly all-white literary elite and how he felt about that experience as a young, black, gay male. He acknowledges that creepy impression we black writers sometimes get that we are a trophy in someone's effort to prove she or e's open to everyone, even black people. It's a cleansing read.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Black Woman at the Intersection: Sean Penn vs. Lee Daniels



This is not going to be some super thoughtful post such as one Tammy Winfrey Harris would write. This post is just me saying, "What the hell!" Sean Penn has filed a $1,000,000 defamation lawsuit against Lee Daniels, the man behind Fox's saucy, ground-breaking, hit show Empire. And as a black person who is also a woman, here I am squished at the intersection of being female and black. To whom should I remain loyal in this situation, a wealthy black man pointing out the plight of black people or women who are also opppressed? What is my opinion and why did Daniels and Penn have to go public with their jackass behavior?

On one side we have Penn pulling a typical white male of privilege move. He's suing a black man for millions of dollars for saying something numerous white-owned magazines have reported for decades.

And on the other side we have Daniels, a successful black man who seems to be more concerned about defending a man who's admitted to beating women than he is to finding a better way to tell reporters, "Stop asking us about that." He instead said something that gives the impression that it may be okay for Howard to beat women because white men do it all the time and get away with it. I know that's not what he meant, but it feels like he's in the ballpark of that poor logic.

The Penn-Daniels feud began with Daniels's statement in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter regarding one of the Empire stars, Terrence Howard. In an effort to defend Howard against constant questions about his domestic violence incidents, Daniels called out racism and brought up Penn's name along with Marlon Brando's in a "white guys have all the luck" kind of way. (He should have gone for Sean Connery, too, while he was at it.)
"[Terrence] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f—in' demon," says Daniels. "That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."

See what Daniels tried to do there? But his deflection game is off.

He's alluding to the the double standard to which black men are held versus white men. And it's true that black men are berated and punished more harshly than white men for the same crimes. But Lee, really? Who writes this man's talking points, and why didn't he follow the advice given to everyone else working on Empire? If asked about Howard, say nothing.

I can possibly understand why Daniels, as Empire's co-creator, thought he should speak out, but he definitely said the wrong thing because:

  1. Howard has beaten women.
  2. It's never a good idea to defend yourself or others by saying, "Well, Johnny over there is also guilty."

Here is what Daniels could have said, "Terrence knows he was wrong. He has admitted to his deeds, and he's trying to change. How does constantly bringing it up help him work through this?"

Let me stop here a moment and say, "It is wrong for men to beat women." And "It is wrong for men to beat women."

But Penn, you also have a lot of nerve.

Multiple entertainment and gossip news sources, such as Huffington Post and TMZ, report Penn's lawsuit claims:
Daniels' statements are "egregious," as well as "reckless and malicious," as Howard has "reportedly, and publicly, admitted to physically abusing at least one woman and reportedly been arrested approximately five times for violent acts against women." As such, Penn finds the comparison to the "Empire" star to be untrue, claiming that while he has had brushes with the law, "Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest.'

It may be true that Penn was never arrested or convicted of domestic violence, but Daniels's statement was neither "egregious" nor "malicious." Reckless? Maybe -- but not for the reasons Penn says. It was a reckless statement because Daniels should have avoided saying anything that sounded like he was defending a man who's admitted to beating women.

Maybe Penn's suing because he is hard up for cash and craves the spotlight again. He also claims that Daniels mentioned him to get publicity for Empire. Again, really, Penn? Who's riding high right now, you or Empire? Didn't your last film, The Gunman, lose money?

As far as malice goes, that's probably just lawyer talk. Unless Penn's attorney can prove that Daniels has some seething beef against Penn, it's hard to argue malice. The lawsuit is probably just blowing smoke, too. A cease and desist letter telling Daniels that Penn has never been arrested or charged with such an act and maybe a public statement saying, "I want Daniels to stop it" would have sufficed. All the lawsuit is doing is reminding a new generation that Penn used to be extremely volatile and violent. I mean, how many people under 30 would know that Penn spent time in jail for assault without this lawsuit spotlighting him?

It's even difficult to argue that what Daniels said was egregious because Daniels is only slightly older than I am, so we're of a generation that recalls Penn's former life as Hollywood's bad boy.

About 30 years ago or so, I recall, stories that police had to go to Penn's home because his then-wife, Madonna, accused him of domestic violence. As that screen shot shows, the Associated press reported the story in 1989. Did Penn sue the AP wire? Has Penn been suing every publication and news show that's repeated the story since then?

Madonna's accusations may have been purely her speaking in anger because the pair was going through a vicious divorce, but it's also true that due to Penn's repeated run-ins with police for punching people in the face and hitting at least one guy over the head with a bottle, it's reasonable that Daniels and everyone else who read an article like the AP story back then to have believed that Madonna was telling the truth.

That the superstar dropped the charges against her husband later means nothing. Any divorce lawyer will tell you that women are pressured to drop domestic violence charges all the time, and many do. "Do you want him to have this on his record? This will ruin his career. He won't be able to bring in any income." That's usually the kind of thing women are told. So, some of these women decide not to see a prosecution through, especially if they feel guilty about their part in the fight or split. They know the American justice system prefers pure victims.

Did Sean Penn hit Madonna? I don't know, and if he did, he's probably not that man now. I think that he's matured and has learned to control himself. He's also tried to help people and do more good in the world. Still, is his getting in a huff and suing Daniels is a sign that Penn is regressing?

I believe that like anyone else Penn, as well as Howard, wishes people will stop bringing up his past misdeeds whatever they may be. Nonetheless, my questions to him are: Why doesn't that 1989 AP story say something like, "Penn denies ever hitting his estranged wife?"

Also, Daniels didn't start the rumor that Penn has beaten a woman. Madonna did that. Why isn't he suing her and the many publications that have since then reported the accusation? Why is Daniels his target?


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Quaint Magazine Interview with Nordette N. Adams

And so this happened: I was interviewed by Quaint Magazine about the big poetry and music event I coordinated for this weekend, Born to the Beat.


I am grateful to Quaint for interviewing me about Born to the Beat because I am trying my best to promote the mini-festival so the poets have an audience. And I.do not deny that I can be so corny that I would make a Poet Tree for a poetry event because I did, That's what you see above. I've been tweeting that and other graphics to get the word out that this Saturday is the big day, 2:00 p.m., at Morning Call in City Park.

As they say in the old church, "Those of you who know the word of prayer, please pray for me." I need all the help I can get.

Kia Groom, the publisher and editor of the literary magazine asked me a question about the list of impressive poets lined up for this event in honor of the Beat Generation. Here's the full list here with the most recent addition, Nigerian poet and University of New Orleans professor Niyi Osundare, Ph.D. And it is an impressive group. I think I may have intimidated myself. Every one on the list has been published and many of them have won award for one of their poems or for a collection of poetry, even the emcees are literary stars, Megan Burns, a poet, and Alex Jennings, a fiction writer. The Shiz band is playing, too, and it has a poet as well.

What I was thinking pulling together all these gifted people in one spot? I've scared myself.

William F.DeVault
Dennis Formento
Gina Ferrara
JohnGery
Tyler Gillespie
KiaGroom
Kelly Harris-DeBerry
Carolyn Hembree
Julie Kane
Kay Murphy
Biljana Obradovic
Niyi Osundare
Valentine Pierce
A Scribe Called Quess?
M. E. Riley
Kristina Robinson
Mona Lisa Saloy
Terri S .Shrum
Clare Welsh
and our emcees,
MeganBurns
and
AlexJennings 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Alexie and Another Dolezal

Posts about Alexi's editorial were the first thing I saw when I entered the Facebook vortex today, and the topic was so full of smoke and mirrors identity issues that my head exploded. Here are its contents:

The summer was strange and wonderful, but since my return to the real world my mind's been full of American splinters, namely race matters, even race matters in the poetry community. Call me an observer.

The last time I wrote anything on this topic I think it was the Hoagland-Rankine thing at AWP, which I've since moved offline except for the initial post. Then last week I poked at the wall a little myself when I discovered the Poetry Foundation suffers from a certain obtuseness about European denigration of Africa and African-Americans. Other than that, I am essentially a nobody in the world of poetry, and let that admission serve as the excuse you need not to read this lonnnnng essay that I pecked out before I even realized I was writing.

On the blood trail of even more well-earned AWP drama about lack of diversity with blind push-back from a Kate Gale, the poetry community has been again upturned with Sherman Alexie's recent editorial for The Best American Poetry 2015 anthology in which he justifies his inclusion of a poem by a white man who used a Chinese  woman's name. This white man was apparently in the middle of a WMT (white man tantrum) when he did this, the conniption some white men have when they perceive everything they say and write is no longer the Word of God.

He pretended to be Chinese because he wanted to prove that people of color are favored over white people in poetry publications these days or something like that. This attempt is akin to what Rachel Dolezal wanting to prove about Africana studies, I think. She did, after all, first sue Howard University for "reverse discrimination." And it's definitely what Mindy Kaling's brother wanted to prove about med school admissions except he did so because he believes black people are favored over Indian and Asian people. Even getting harassed more by the police and store clerks didn't turn his unethical ship around. The difference is the impostor poet targeted Asian people and did not change his speech or subject matter. He merely lied about his name.

That said, no matter what others may assert, the impostor's poem selected for BAP 15 was still published because of its white maleness and affection for the hegemony. Alexi admits he thought first about the oddity of such colonialist affection in what he thought was a Chinese mind when he first put the poem in the maybe pile:
"When I first read it, I'd briefly wondered about the life story of a Chinese American poet who would be compelled to write a poem with such overt and affectionate European classical and Christian imagery, and I marveled at how interesting many of us are in our cross-cultural lives, and then I tossed the poem on the "maybe" pile that eventually became a "yes" pile."
Identity always plays a role in the creative process and how we perceive the world. In the Alexi case the European aesthetic still won. Alexie was curious about the poem as banana and in that way he reveals something’s going on in his head regarding his own appleness. (Yes, I’m playing off the Oreo trope.)

When I worked at a black weekly back in the 90s, whenever we didn’t seem to be down 100% with “the struggle” the editor would say, “That’s 'cause you’re not black in your mind!” The statement always struck me first from the view of slavery as death of the self (Slaves are forced to take on the identities of the masters.) and later as the ways in which the colonized often suffer from Stockholm syndrome. Even when we resist, some thread of whiteness remains in us because it’s difficult to not be influenced by the culture that surrounds you with claims of superiority.

So, Alexie's published a poem that's not Chinese in its mind, so it is not "Chinese;" therefore it has no real validity as proving a point about people of color being more privileged in poetry publications (statistics prove they are not). The only thing it's proven is how Sherman Alexi's mind works.

Poems that show no evidence of the ethnic identity of a poet of color are not “ethnic” poems. If I write a poem about a love of nature in a way that has no relation to how I identify as a black woman, then I’ve written a nature poem, and unless people know I’m black, the assumption of authorship defaults to white poet. If I write a poem about my old life in the Jersey suburbs that reveals nothing of my identity other than frustrated housewife, then it’s a life poem also known as a white poem and it's assumed the speaker is the stereotypical frustrated white housewife.

Someone could publish an anthology of a hundred poems written by people of non-European descent, but if in reading them you get no inkling that any of the poets were written by black, brown, and yellow people, and none of the poems challenged the status quo of white supremacy, you would be reading a white anthology also known as vanilla. It would be an anthology with which even a conservative white male might be comfortable, and it too would probably be called something something American.

This doesn’t mean that POCs should only write poems that reveal their ethnic heritage or overtly protest the hegemony. It means that often publications produced by white publishers get to count having a representative publication when they actually don’t have any such a thing. What they have is another book that completely upholds the white perspective and Western-European aesthetic but happens to include some people known to have darker skin.

Think of my current governor Bobby Jindal and his position in the Grand Old Party. Think of the words that come out of his mouth. The GOP counts him as evidence that they’re open to everyone, but who is Piyush "Bobby" Jindal really? Is he saying anything different from his Duck Dynasty friends?

Alexie has over-analyzed himself away from the anger he could have maintained and convinced himself that he published that poem simply because it’s good, but he’ll never know the truth about the poem:

  1. He can’t un-think his first curiosity about what kind of Chinese person was that in love with European culture.
  2. He could not separate his ego from his initial decision to publish the poem and from his desire to prove that he was still objective when he learned of the deception. Nobody is that objective. In fact, it’s the Enlightenment Age mind that privileges white male notions of rationality that has Alexi thinking he could be objective at all. He fought with his own thread of whiteness and his own maleness and  those aspects of himself won.

I noticed that he never discusses whether the poem moved him other than to a place of confusion and curiosity.

So, even if the impostor had actually been a Chinese poet, the poem itself added nothing to diversity in the anthology no matter what Alexie told himself when he accepted it and what he says now. The poem may be a good poem, but it was its perceived unique identity that drew him in. Would it have made the cut if the BAP used a panel of editors from different backgrounds? We'll never know.



Sunday, August 30, 2015

I love Michelle Obama laughing in this picture


Right now I'm doing something that people on the Internet used to do a lot more of, informal reciprocal linking. An example of that would be Bob links to one of Susan's post for good reasons and without any prompting from her, and when Susan finds out that Bob's linked linked to her post, she finds something of Bob's she'd like to link to at her blog. People used to do that automatically back in the day.

And I'm not talking about link farms, web rings, etc. I'm talking about the honest exchange of links without one party pushing the other to do anything. But as more people came online and more marketing schemes came about to formalize reciprocal linking, people began to do it less. Also, I think as more people came online, the web became less about community building and information providing and more about trying to get hits at your blog or website to become famous. JMO.

Checking my stats (the lowest they've ever been because I don't post enough), I saw a lot of hits from Parade Magazine to my article about the music industry and the California band Gooding. It turns out a Parade writer interviewed the band, which is a good thing since Gooding deserves attention.

While poking around at Parade afterward, I discovered this great photo of Michelle Obama. It happens to be in a post by the same writer who linked to my music article.



This picture is from one of the White House Nerd Proms, the one last year. It shows here genuinely laughing at something Jimmy Kimmel's saying. The article at the Parade link, however, covers an amusing exchange between the First Lady and Kimmel in a PSA about her program FNV, (Eat your Fruits and Vegetables) a campaign to brand vegetables the same way junk foods are branded to sound cool to youngsters. The FLOTUS appeared on Kimmel's show last week.