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First they came for the ‘scroungers’, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a scrounger.

Then they came for the ‘immigrants’, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not an immigrant.

Then they came for the unemployed, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not unemployed.

Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not disabled.

Then they came for the sick, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not sick, then.

Then they came for the poor, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not poor, then.

Then they brought in zero-hours and tuition fees, abolished human rights and healthcare, and sanctioned surveillance and mistrust

Then they brought in foodbanks and charity, and blamed those who needed them for not trying hard enough – and I did not speak out; I cried out.

Because the poor became poorer, and the rich became richer –
But there was no-one left who would speak out, and no-one left who could bear to listen.

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I remember my heart sinking when I first discovered the Tag Journal site (here) and read the following words:

‘We don’t accept submissions. The game is tag. You should hide and we’ll seek you out.’

Tag Journal is of the same ilk as Punctum Books, Object Lessons and Babel Working Group. It is part of a movement which is taking root in scholarship – or so I think, anyway – which challenges scholars to be innovative, to make their work accessible, to explore different dissemination channels.

But no volunteers, Tag? What chance did I stand? I gawped a bit longer, then shut the browser with a sigh. That was… ooh, about August I think.

In November an invitation came. I was more excited about being ‘sought out’ by Tag than by anyone else. Really. (Yes, I’m that easy to please.) I had despaired that Babel was too far to travel to; now I at last had a chance to join the movement. I didn’t so much jump as leap.

And that, my friends, is where my banner piece has found a home. And I can’t think of a better home for it. Have fun with Tag, and I look forward to being involved more in the future.

Multimodality and Medieval Music (Tag Journal, December 2013)

Multimodality and Medieval Music (Tag Journal, December 2013)

I created this when I first started to work on multimodality. It seems crazy that a field explicitly devoted to analysing how different modes work together should be so dependent on a single mode for its dissemination. Add music – medieval music, at that – into the picture, and, well, I drew this to stop my brain boiling, and to try and visually articulate – if not answer – some of the questions which haunt the field.

You can get to a link to a zoomable image by clicking here.

Yes, it’s full of resonances. Have fun finding them – my little holiday teaser.

Out of the Shadows conference poster

Out of the Shadows conference poster

Out of the shadows came beats from a drum,
Calling the dreamers, the lost and the just.
Promising freedom, promiscuous lust,
Wordsmiths and painters, musicians and fun.

Into the shadows went children and wives.
Broken, neglected, abandoned like fools
Sacrificed over the altar of cool;
Prey to the men who had ruined their lives.

There in the shadows they too found their art,
Glimmers of light in the benzedine haze.
Nightmares, depression, mistakes, the male gaze,
Motherhood, marriage: the price was their hearts.

Still now, the shadows stretch long over them:
Women, great artists, eclipsed by their men.

The last few days at the University of Agder have seen scholars of the beat world head through our doors. It is not at all incongruous that Norway’s ‘summer town’ should host a conference on beat art, literature and music: the University of Agder, together with the neighbouring Katedralskolen, is home to the world’s largest collection of beat art outside of the USA. Conference organiser and art historian Frida Forsgren gave not one but two tours of some of the highlights of this collection which includes Jay DeFeo’s ‘The Wise Virgin’ and ‘The Foolish Virgin’; the viewing of which was surely the high point of the conference. (For the Norwegian paper Aftenposten’s article on these paintings – including pictures – see here)

But when not looking at art (or taking a boat to an island for the conference dinner, or swimming), delegates were treated to a range of international scholarly papers. Keynote speaker Polina Mackay started with an assessment of Keatsian influences in Diane di Prima’s early poetry. Di Prima was also the subject of Lisa Chinn’s paper which also covered LeRoi Jones, and both Jones partners (Hettie and LeRoi) came under scrutiny from Raven See. The first day also saw papers from Jaap van der Bent on the women in John Clellon Holmes’s Go (which included a striking comparison to Jane Eyre), and Miryam Sivan on Jane Bowles as ‘proto-beat’. Finally, Anna Solonina and Estíbaliz Encarnación Pinedo investigated the genre of ‘memoir’ among female beat authors. The first day ended with a moving reading from Jan Kerouac’s memoir ‘Baby Driver’ by Rebecca Evans.

Day 2 returned to Hettie Jones, this time with Chelsea Stripe’s discussion of her editorship of the little magazine Yugen. Anette Irene Nyhagen challenged us to rethink the life, death, and work of Joan Vollmer Adams, and Eric Mortenson offered a fascinating comparison of the women beats to Turkish female underground writers of the 1990s. The day continued with Simon Warner’s location of Patti Smith within a post-beat tradition, Franca Bellarsi’s eco-poetic analysis of women beat writers, and Estíbaliz Encarnación Pinedo’s trip to travel writing, particularly that of Janine Pommy Vega.

The final day began and ended with Mary Kerr, first in a keynote, and then with the showing of her film ‘SF Wild History Groove’. This docu-film uses no voiceover, only interviews with beat artists and poets  together with a jazz soundtrack. The University of Agder’s very own Michael Prince gave an far-reaching paper on the use of Proust citations in the film version (Salles and Rivera) of On the Road, and in the final keynote A. Robert Lee combined poetry and decades of scholarship to make the valid point that women beat artists are now, thankfully, out of the shadows indeed.

It may have taken almost fifty years, but it is heartening that these women of the 1950s are now recognised for their work, and take their place in the ‘imaginary museum’ (to borrow Lydia Gehr’s term) of literary, musical and artistic talents.

I live-tweeted the conference. To see the tweets, search using the hashtag #OutShad. My twitter name is @skatemaxwell.

Caine Prize

The day has arrived. The five shortlistees are attending the award dinner in Oxford as I write this. The winner will be announced in a couple of hours.

Aside from wishing them all the very best – tonight and in the future – I also want to thank them. Thank them for five superb stories, for making me laugh and cry, and for making me write.

They carry a burden now, each of them. The renown that being on the shortlist has brought is a vote of confidence which they must live up to. I have no doubt that they will. Whether they like it or not they are now figureheads of African literature, its future lies in part on their shoulders. They have been wined and dined; their words have been listened to by those in power and those like me, at home on the sofa. They speak for more than just themselves.

From where I sit – the sofa, as I said, beneath a rainbow right now, in an Arctic landscape about as far removed as it is possible to be from Nigeria or Sierra Leone – it looks as if the nomination is at least as important as the prize. But what do I know? Yes, the prize will be an accolade. But personally, I would divide the money between them, even if the title can only go to one. Then again, I am a dreamer.

——

Before we find out the winner, I wanted to say a little about the poems I wrote in response to the stories. When I joined the blog carnival I didn’t intend to respond through poetry, but it seemed the only way I could do justice to the first story I read (Tope Folarin’s ‘Miracle’). Multimodal justice, perhaps, but still justice. And of course, the other stories were equally inspiring.

My responses, my poetic explorations, began with the unrhymed blank verse of my poem ‘Miracle’. The analyst in me wants to suggest that this reflects in proseful poetry the poetic prose of the text. With my response to Pede Hollist’s ‘Foreign Aid’, a story with a distinct rhythm and a protagonist who reminded me of a wannabe gangster, the poem took a definite rhythmic turn. It drives forward at first, halts with ‘But wait’, before concluding with a direct address to the protagonist, his tail between his legs.

‘Whispering Trees’ the poem also plays with rhythm, this time adding a refrain. In this story by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim I was struck by the three-fold rhythm of the action, which is why there are three stanzas and three refrains in the poem. While the poetic ‘I’ speaks to the protagonist in the stanzas, the refrain is a multitude of voices, tempting him away from his life, from his fate. These voices are inaudible to the poetic ‘I’, but in the story are almost deafening for the protagonist. Here, the reader hears both sides.

My untitled graphic poem in response to Elnathan John’s ‘Bayan Layi’ is another multimodal step. The image of the ‘good Muslim’, so prominent in the story, is overshadowed by the bloodied scythe, another of the story’s powerful symbols. It is also the symbol of death. The short lines rhyme, and while they all keep a steady rhythm, the number of syllables is important: three for the scythe; two for the lower part of the body, paralleled with the three for the part of the mat under the lower body; four for the upper part of the body (I admit it: should be ‘Then just don’t mix’ – will re-do one day) and for that end of the prayer mat. As the number of syllables increases, so too does the import of the words.

The final poem, ‘Mother and Daughter’, takes one of the central relationships in Chinelo Okparanta’s story ‘America’ and works it into a dual-voiced sonnet. The trickiest of all to write, the long lines (six feet) aim to be graceful, part of the ballet between the two speakers set out on the page. My aim was that the poem could be read as two separate poems (one per speaker), or as one poem (in sonnet form), and still make sense. Quite a challenge! The ultimate goal was to trace the complex mother-daughter relationship (entanglement?), and the difficulty of breaking free from it, all of which I found compelling in the story.

——-

So there we are. I had great fun with these, with reading the rest of the responses in the carnival, and most of all with the stories. I raise a glass to you all, no matter who will win tonight.

My your stars shine bright and your words ring true.

Read Chinelo Okparanta’a story here.

——

.                       Love is always something special to a friend.

What is love if not for children? I can’t tell.                           .

.                       Love is never something shameful to defend.

Barren lands produce no fruit; an empty well.                          .

.                       Spread those arms and let me see inside your soul.

You are all I have, my hope, my joy, my gain.                         .

.                       Sing a song of glory; tell of tales untold.

I release you though you’ll never know my pain.                        .

.                      Speak those words to those who wish to save the world.

Look at me my child, look close and learn from me.                        .

.                       Spread those wings until such ceaseless joys unfurl.

Love is greater when it learns to set love free.                        .

.                       When you fly please take love with you to the sky.

When you leave me to my sorrows let me die.                       .

Mamma og barn

Other responses from:

Kola Tubosun – http://www.ktravula.com/2013/06/no-not-america-but-love-a-review/ and http://nigerianstalk.org/2013/06/20/no-not-america-but-love-a-review/

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: http://walkingdiplomat.blogspot.com/2013/06/bev-is-blogging-caine-america-by.html

Chika Oduah: https://chikaoduahblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/my-thoughts-on-chinelo-okparantas-america/

Veronica Nkwocha: http://veronicankwocha.com/2013/06/24/my-thoughts-on-america-by-chinelo-okparanta/

Aishwarya Subramanian: http://www.practicallymarzipan.com/2013/07/chinelo-okparanta-america.html

Ben Laden: http://uninterpretative.blogspot.no/2013/07/blogging-caine-chinelo-okparantas.html

Lexzy Ochibejivwie (Africa in Words): http://africainwords.com/2013/07/12/blogging-the-caine-prize-thinking-through-chinelo-okparantas-america/

Created in response to Elnathan John's 'Bayan Layi'

Created in response to Elnathan John’s ‘Bayan Layi’

I think I’ll let the graphic speak for itself. But of course, please do read the story here.

Other responses from the carnival:

Kola Tubosun: http://nigerianstalk.org/2013/05/19/the-children-of-bayan-layi-a-review/

Veronica Nkwocha: http://veronicankwocha.com/2013/05/22/my-thoughts-on-bayan-layi-by-elnathan-john/

Beverley Nambozo: http://walkingdiplomat.blogspot.com/2013/06/bayan-layis-kuka-tree-review-of-bayan.html

C.E. Hastings: http://africainwords.com/2013/06/17/bayan-layi-blogging-the-caine-prize/http://africainwords.com/2013/06/17/bayan-layi-blogging-the-caine-prize/

Jeffrey Zuckerman: http://www.airshipdaily.com/blog/the-caine-prizes-prehistories-elnathan-johns-bayan-layi

Chika Oduah: http://chikaoduahblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/my-thoughts-on-elnathan-johns-bayan-layi/

Aishwarya Subramanian: http://www.practicallymarzipan.com/2013/06/elnathan-john-bayan-layi.html

Ben Laden: http://uninterpretative.blogspot.no/2013/06/blogging-caine-elnathan-johns-bayan-layi.html

Written in response to Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: ‘The Whispering Trees

So your hopes are dashed,
And your mother is gone.
Weep if you will, then,
Keep in with the throng.
You still have your dignity,
You still can be strong
You still have your love
Which has lasted so long.

Come away, O blind man, come to us and play!
We have whispers and laughter, here the wild waters flow.
Come join your family, leave the weary world below,
One time you tried, but she summoned you away.

Oh it’s anger you want, then?
Try that if you will.
Live in your head then,
And struggle uphill.
Imagine they mock you
When they love you still:
Lash out and curse them,
And love sends its bill.

Come away, O blind man, come to us and play!
We have whispers and laughter, here the wild waters flow.
Come join your family, leave the weary world below,
Two times you tried, but she pushed you away.

Come find your dignity,
Let faith bring you peace
Forgive those who hurt you,
Let insight increase
Lay down your burden
Amidst the deceased
Give unto others
Till life grants release.

Come away, O blind man, come to us and play!
We have whispers and laughter, here the wild waters flow.
Come join your family, leave the weary world below,
Three times you’ll try, and the third time you’ll stay.

(OK wrong bit of world but the colours of the polar night are suitably eerie...)

(OK wrong bit of world but the colours of the polar night are suitably eerie…)

This week’s posts on the Caine Prize blog carnival: