The Beige Notes

My poetry is open to everything. Sort of. I write so you can see there is a world outside the page/screen. Breaking my own rules and habits is how I work.

Like rippling waves: the music that irrigates the writing of a poem. The ferment of each poet seems to be a contentious subject.

I’m a poet in quest for something beyond conformity or rebellion. Helplessly writing poems that burn.

A chance to engage in fruitful mistranslations. Dismantling both comprehensibility and incomprehensibility.

The new poems I’m writing are forcing me to respond to what’s in front of me. America is a middle-aged country.

Every poet should have his/her filmmaker, composer, sculptor, painter.

The distance a poem travels is always provisional and though it is a gamble I need to help take this oncoming poem where it needs to go.

I see my poetry mostly as a spiritual mission. Poetry exists with a view to fraternity. The politics of literature pigeonholes poetry.

A poet as a totem of energy? I feel born to the loose graces of an eccentric course.

Don’t just truck through that poem. Poetry is not proof. I believe in the wisdom of the unfamiliar. A political poem is not bound to politics alone.

Rupture is so accurate. Bremen allowed me to become most fully myself.

As a man and artist my poems are evidence of a life-in-progress. I’m getting saturated with New York City. Whatever that means.

By nature, I’m not and cannot be an aesthetic monk. Do inanimate objects think we are inanimate too?

Poetry is fundamental to the human condition. These days have earned their crankiness.

I like to believe that my poetry is not doctrinaire or academic. Watch the chatty color when fun becomes form.

His body could barely contain the poem. Continuous refinement of a compositional sense.

A poem charges at the world and pierces it. What is poetry without impunity? The general public is fallacious.

Nobody stays long enough there to claim the prerogatives of poetry. Anti-authoritarianism is a necessity.

In my writings I don’t aspire to completely satisfy the reader’s curiosity. I proclaim translational uncontainability.

Worlds within new truths. Whether approachable or not, a poem requires fluctuation. To write on impulse. Rooting a poem to the ground of vulnerability.

I still feel idealistic about this country. It seems I can’t get out of that headspace. Was modernity just a moment in time?

Throw your whole weight on the birthball. May the poem hit you where you live. See us through evanescent deformations.

It was the fraternity of poets and hookers that saved my life in Lagos.

And the day goes to pieces, drives us crazy. This is oblivion with a view! The coronation the incrimination continually underway.

Swam through the transit system and the cheerless logic of common sense. Everything you need to know about a chic makeover.

Lord Byron drank wine out of a human skull. So, what? New things happen when you read for an audience.

Why do you always give language a blow job? Giving poetry to those readers capable of being enchanted and horrified.

These poems and the strategic economy of their organization: FACING YOU. Why be earnest at explanation? I reject the logic of despair.

The poem is a delivery system for vanilla bean. If we don’t love, nothing else matters.

Black artists with whom the surrealists identify suggest that a thorough understanding and acceptance of the Marvelous existed in the lives of blacks and non-Western peoples before Breton, before Rimbaud, before Lautreamont—in music, dance, speech, the plastic arts, and above all philosophy.

—Robin D.G Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

Biafra is still veiled in silence in Nigeria. I don’t understand why. Having once been a Biafran, I have to work against forgetting. I owe a responsibility to all those that perished in that Biafran-Nigerian war.

I can’t do without adventurous reading or living in a revolutionary spirit. Poetry is not quite a calculated enterprise.

Harry Garuba

Harry Garuba, poet, once escaped a mattress fire in his apartment in Ibadan. He is a poet who is in constant dialogue with all that is deep and lofty in human experience. His poetry is vagrantly ambitious and allusive in language. Most of his poems evoke echoes of millennial themes: nature, the subconscious, childhood, myths, legends, adolescence, politics, love, death, war. In his art he could be serious, colloquial, playful, intellectual, mocking and acidic. Though crafted with linguistic and poetic opulence, the fluency and energetic erudition of his poems is never in doubt. It must be stressed, however, that Garuba is a chameleon-poet who assumes the style and tone that takes his fancy each time he sits down to write. Is it any wonder then that all shades of opinion that have confronted his poetry—from the conservatively classical to the radically ideological—have not quite succeeded in explaining his poetic offerings and poetic workmanship?

Some people have leveled the allegation of poetic affectation and introspective weirdness against him. Others have charged him with being universalist and therefore to them, rootless. To my mind, all these comments on his poetry are mere products of provincial criticism. This form of criticism is sheer bunkum and vile deceit. One should not uphold this balderdash that has been inflicted on the imagination of readers, students, and literary enthusiasts. I am against the rotten tendency, romantic or otherwise, which posits that a writer must be a political crusader, cultural revivalist, and social commentator for his or her genius to show. No writer worth the name should allow himself/herself to become a prisoner of the partisan expectations and myths of his/her art. Thus, the importance of Harry Garuba. I think we have not paid enough attention to this poet in whose poetry dream and reality, pain and joy, despair and faith intermingle. There is an adroit intimacy to his voice:

Today solitude rides on the waves of anguish
The lonesome lobster finds its kind in the deep
The flustered fish finds the fatal friend of the bait
But I, in the cavern of my soul, find only the brine of sorrow
Which neither the full seawind nor the melody of a song
Can assuage

He sometimes allows himself to melt into the complexities of the social permutations of his environment:

Surely the poet is
estranged who cannot share
his people’s fount of being

Garuba—the author of Shadow and Dream and Other Poems (1982) and Animist Chants and Memorials (2017)—has the authentic mark of the poet on him.

Sometimes becoming invisible behind a poem. A poem is bolder than theory. More about aesthetic ravishment in the service of the arbitrary.

I came from a life-celebrating culture. As an investigative poet, I do try to shake up my writing practice from time to time.

Writing poetry is as exciting as it is demanding. I don’t preplan my poems. A poetry of accretion. Each poem signifies. Cryptic fugitivity.

In terms of seeing a poem as being capricious, no one is an alien in poetry. Interior and exterior are exploded in LIVING IN PUBLIC. Boundaries are not fastened to each state.

Taking stylistic and thematic liberties; sequencing idiosyncrasies. A poem about to break into pieces in order to survive a perpetual disaster.

How does a poem record its own process? He did not write; he became the poem. Self-exposing, self-exploratory poems. Why do you keep asking about the spell I cast on younger poets?

I don’t want to be immobilized by thematic coherence. Some of my new poems exist somewhere far away from geographic imprints. Writing poetry is a messy business.

Poetry is a form of public faith. A poem is the dance of the real and the imaginary. Through poems I talk to strangers. I find emotional resonance appealing in a poem.

A book not bound by program, era. Multiple iterations and nonconforming spirit of the book. Stylistic inconsistency is, for me, a necessity.

The necessity of not seeing poetry always as withholding fare. Poetry of desire. A poem fragile like love. A poem’s elemental power.

Poems of autobiographical tease. A poet shouldn’t shy away from making a reader furious, ecstatic, sad, bold. Be careful of endless evasion.

There is a connection between the practical and the mystical. Most times I’m not interested in making concessions to populism.

It matters a lot that poetry is mostly about spiritual liberty. Some people underestimate a poet’s force of character. Poetry is its own reward.

Erica Hunt

Erica Hunt cannot stand the demeaning of humanity. She doesn’t condone the brotherhood of the snake or the lust for shoot-ups. She refuses the siege on innocence. In “Mourning Birds” from her latest book titled Veronica: A Suite in X Parts, her lines flare:

Here a thousand birds dispute
the fresh blood on the sidewalk
the battle line, how it was drawn
how the sides were chosen
had there been a trial
or any doubt and if so
how it was framed
did the shot hang in the air and who
was there to hear it, and here
Hold this thought- 4 are shot per day

Those lines do not ignore the put-up or shut-up regime. In Hunt’s poetry, catastrophe refuses to be anything but catastrophe. The psychic and social footprints in her tightly scripted book are conscientious. Though her lyrical and stylistic sophistication is incontestable, she never equivocates when it comes to disturbing truths/circumstances. Her inventiveness is different every time I read her. I am in awe of her creative strength and intense renewals. Her writings never cease to amaze.

The frisson of writing. Poems have the capacity to query the unsublimated. Is there a point at which a poem can no longer be improved upon?

I’m agreeable to the wisdom of feeling. I don’t see uncertainty as something to be combated. Poetry is a kind of hope. My work is sometimes nonhypothetical.

It is critically important to live the uppercase life in lowercase letters and to live the lowercase life in uppercase letters. Varied poems of continual change.

As I write I collect influences too. I am for radical solidarity. The poem in relation to what surrounds me.

Part of what I gave Nigeria before I left was an impression of what “poet” stands for. I write poetry because I have to. Being a poet is not an uncomplicated calling.

Each poem seems to ask a different question. It’s not about how much I worked on a poem. I do change my mind many times while I am writing a poem.

A poem is both a return and departure. I try to write what is true to me in the moment. Explanation will not always align with the intentions of mystery. That inner life of poetdom.

The poems I write now have a lot to do with literary hedonism. I work on multiple poems with different subjects and structures at the same time.

Always on the lookout for kindred poetic spirits. Igbo identity and tradition are not inflexible. I can’t stand a detached and clinical approach to writing poetry.

The poetic act is a kind of insurrection. Careerism produces or leads to formulaic poems. There is no end in studying the nature of consciousness.

Sometimes the poems come at you whole as I come at them whole. Or, in pieces. A melologue with the loose change of diaspora. I’ve made a concession to pleasure.

The sharing of influences among poets has been going on for centuries. Collecting the promissory notes of desire. This metronome of readiness.

Intransigence does not leave baloney to its own devices. Or does it? Poetry is life put to words and silence. There seems to be a historical bias against enticers.

Leaning towards the buttcrack of a word. Within and beyond bewilderment there is still testifying. A poem situates and extends its oneiric disturbance.

What would happen if the tables of power were turned around? One self-canceling poem inside burnt umber. My poems do not regard cause-and-effect as inevitable.

I don’t think it should read like honey pouring off a page. There is no transformation in a performance of oppression. It’s just a pose.

Galaxies probing the inner mystery of the marvelous. Aiming for bullshit reduction from multiple positions. I write with the primal forms of our animal selves.

A shadow hollers at a cudgel. I’m text and subtext. Wherever surprise surfaces, it is not plucked clean of trepidation. City Hall is a brainwashing edifice of propaganda.

Bill Berkson

Bill Berkson. Image courtesy of Robert Eliason.

Friendship, passion, love, and work are of utmost significance to Bill Berkson as man and poet. He flourishes in embryonic optimism (mild pessimism); he is heavy on incongruity.

I have the feeling that Bill’s practice of poetry has rewarded him with youthfulness of spirit and looks. Even with his gray hair, he still looks like a boy. An unexplainable innocence clings to his smile. Most of Berkson’s poems are unencumbered even when their subjects are painful. The craft deployed in his poems are not too showy. His communicative techniques come with a light touch. It is as if he does not want to let the reader know of the heavy toil that went into the making of his unflinching poems.

The first impetus to write came when an early girlfriend left him. He was heartsick/heartbroken and unburdened himself through writing poems.

Influence-wise, he wrote his way backwards to T.S EliotEzra Pounde.e cummingsGertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.

He discovered the Beat writers by himself rummaging through bookstores. It was during this time that he came across the work of Gregory Corso. Corso, thus, became of special interest to him and his growth as a poet.

Among the books of Jack Kerouac, he liked The Subterraneans best.

He studied for one semester at Columbia University and dropped out. In those days, frequenting the Cedar bar (where writers and visual artists usually congregated) was, as he jokingly called it, his “Graduate Work.”

The poet Kenneth Koch taught him in a workshop at Columbia. He observed how a poet lives by visiting Koch at home because the latter’s life is poetry-centred.

Berkson believes that his generation’s artistic life was saved by the new adventurous American poetry written by Frank O’HaraJohn AshberyBarbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler. When Ashbery and O’Hara met, they shared the belief that art is already too serious and there is no need to take it to a more serious level.

Of course, this belief informed the playfulness that was the hallmark of the writings of the first generation of “New York School Poets.”

Wanting to get out of the New York poetry scene or any scene for that matter, he moved to Bolinas to live. Apart from the landscape, the sun, and the ocean that drew him, he also met poets and soulkins like John Thorpe and Joanne Kyger. There was “no aesthetic unity in Bolinas.” Only a few writers lived there. He enjoyed the isolation although the “Bolinas-New York Axis” emerged when Robert Creeley came to live in Bolinas.

It may be said that the “abstract” and the “real” are confidently welded in his poems. Yet, when Berkson writes “start a verb/through the motions/the motions all ring true,” that suggested movement may prove to be precipitous.

A poem overflows its own existence. There are poems that can’t be read in the same way every day. A tugboat full of half-opened buds.

Poetry has always been a staple of African life. Language is an inheritance, but in my work, I distort it a bit. I’m in a shifting relation to what is being written.

The translational rhythms of love-making and word-making converge in my poems, prose, songs. I see translation as a gateway to a passionate and visionary artistry.

Poetry is a bridge that facilitates the meeting between the divine and dailiness. Poems are written love. Poetry is my love-cry. A poet needs to be addressed with a phenomenological awareness. This scowl in a scrawl. Give the void its due. Poets are the insurgents of the abyss.

More and more I appreciate the complicated grandeur of diasporic blackness. How can I forget that we can hear with our eyes?

I don’t know whether I’m talking about metamorphosis or erotic truth. I swim in longing. Three guitars past midnoon. Beware of fascist post-colonialism.

Colors that clash. A sense of the poem as floral print, as soft sculpture, as hammerhead. A life being lived out in language-filled vulnerability.

I know what I have crafted. I have not crafted absolutes. I honor the aesthetic of awkward experiment.

Poets are not only needed during peaceful times. They are also indispensable in warring and chaotic times.

Relentless public readings led to all corners of Lagos, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Bern, Berlin, Paris, Cologne, Nsukka, Santa Fe, New York City, etc.

I like both apocalypse and redemption thematized without bombast. In my forthcoming book titled Facing You, there is a multiplicity of acoustic distillations.

Where and when can I find a non-exploitative society? In the United States of America, INDIVIDUALISM is another name for LONELINESS.

I don’t define my poems by the spaces in which they are published. The mainstream and the underground culture are in courtship now.

Detox is not a reprieve from spitting contradictions. Poetry is a buoyant vice. I’m attracted to paradoxical beauty. Throwing the fights and the unhappiness into poems.

Not pinwheel, not glitter, but the necessity of poetry. Days accrue to how poetry uses me. Some people are in despair seeing premonitions turn into poems. I have written in wide streets and cramped rooms. Even in my outsiderness, I’m still very much of my time. This period in history. Its inquiries, presences, struggles, dispersals, blunders, and victories.

Vibrato as foot-rest. Floridity does not diminish the importance of empirical truth. In this plague season I’m a witness to the craftmanship of cirrus clouds.