Al Young title

Archive for April, 2008


Monday, April 28th, 2008


Photo: Eugrne B. Redmond

Poets Eugene B. Redmond and Al Young | Miami, FL 2009



Jane Hirshfield and Al Young at Books Inc, San Francisco, April 2008
Photos: Katherine Hastings


Ishmael Reed at piano
Photo: Al Young


Al at Cal Arts, July 2006


Scene on the river: Kerala, India 2005 | Christopher Wurst


Al on the river: Kerala, India 2005 | Christopher Wurst


Songster-guitarist Marc Silber and Taj Mahal at Saul’s Deli, Berkeley, Christmas Eve 2007
Carl Martineau


National Book Award poet Robert Hass and Sedge Thompson in ardent conversation on West Coast Live! from San Francisco, December 2007
Al Young


Robert Hass and Sedge Thompson following a broadcast of West Coast Live! from Piedmont Piano, San Francisco 2007 | Kathi Kamen Goldmark


Stanford classics lecturer Patrick Hunt and philanthropist Helen Bing, Stanford Faculty Club 2007


Biographer Diane Wood Middlebrook (1939-2007) at the 2005 National Book Awards, New York City
Miriam Berkeley


Black Classics Press founder W. Paul Coates and novelist Walter Moseley, New York 2005


With Aunt Doris, Detroit 2007


Aunt Mae, Detroit 2007


Carol Harris and Melba Joyce Boyd at the Detroit Institute of Arts 2007


With poet-critic-novelist-playwright Bill Harris, Detroit 2007


Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, fellow National Book Awards judge for poetry, Greenwich Village 2005


Poet and National Book Awards judge chair Michael Waters, Greenwich Village 2004


San Francisco’s KALW host Alan Farley interviews Al, December 2007
Al Young


devorah major, former poet laureate of San Francisco, at KALW in 2007
Al Young


Novelist-essayist-folklorist Cecil Brown describes a new project for 2008
Al Young


With California State Librarian Susan Hildreth at the2006 California Library Association Conference, Sacramento


With Lemlem Rijio, general manager of Pacifica Radio’s KPFA, on acceptance of the KPFA Peace Award, December 2006


An emotional Sunday morning performance with bassist Dan Robbins at the Brown Trout Gallery & Café in historic Dunsmuir, CA, April 2007


With New Orleans poet and Bob Kaufman biographer Mona Lisa Saloy, Marcus Books, Oakland 2006


Poets Conyus and Glenda Ewing meet at Marcus Books, 2006 | Al Young


Voting rights activist Emma Cheuse and her father, novelist and NPR broadcaster Alan Cheuse, swap jokes at a house party hosted by novelist Susan Richards Shreve and literary agent Timothy Seldes, Washington DC, 2006 | Al Young


The suave, effervescent novelist and raconteur Nicholas Delbanco, Washington, DC 2006 | Al Young


Pulitzer Prize journalist Clarence Page, Washington, DC 2006 | Al Young


Al Young with PEN/Faulkner administrator Jamilla Coleman, popular DC high school teacher Frazier O’Leary, and PEN/Faulkner board member Lisa Page | Run-up to the PEN/Faulkner benefit reading with Nicholas Delbanco at Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, November 2006


Michael Young and Dad holding a rare handmade poster for an early 1950’s poetry reading by Langston Hughes sponsored by the Palo Alto-Stanford NAACP; photographed Christmas 2007 | Arline Young


Reading with the Suezenne Fordham Chamber Jazz Ensemble in South Pasadena, 2007


Featured speaker at International House annual celebration, UC Berkeley, Winter 2007 | Evangeline Canonizado Buell


With Rhae Lynn Barnes and Jonathan Lewis of Berkeley Poetry Review following the 2007 Escape from New York Pizza benefit reading in San Francisco with poet-novelist Mary Mackey for Poetry After the Storm. In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans public libraries, like its public schools, are being left to die. Working at first with UC’s NAACP, Berkeley Poetry Review continues to organize benefit readings to help neglected libraries in the Big Easy. | Mary Mackey


Mary Mackey


Poet Colleen McElroy reads from Sleeping with the Moon at Marcus Books, December 2007
Al Young


With Colleen McElroy, Oakland 2007
Jack Foley


Al and Jack Foley confer at KPFA, Berkeley 2007
Adelle Foley


Photographer Charles L. Robinson and Al Young, co-authors of Jazz Idiom: Blueprints, Stills and Frames, forthcoming from Heyday Books
Joseph Robinson


With poet-memoirist Adam David Miller at California’s Livermore Arts Center, 2007



Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

California Poet Laureate Al Young’s ‘Blues’

spkr4.jpg LISTEN | Go to the NPR ‘Morning Edition’ original
7 minutes, 17 seconds


rmontagne_20061.jpg Al Young is California's poet laureate.
Renée Montagne
Photo: Sandy Huffaker | Photo: Richard B. Ressman

Al Young was born on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. He grew up in the rural South and in Detroit before moving to the San Francisco Bay area in 1960.

Book Excerpts

Morning Edition, April 24, 2008 · Al Young took to writing poetry, as he describes it in one poem, “to make out the sound of my own background music.”

He’s now the poet laureate of California, celebrating National Poetry Month with a collection called Something About the Blues.

Though he’s lived in California for decades, the 68-year-old poet was born in rural Mississippi and had the good luck to find himself in one very special classroom in the second grade.

In the segregated South of the 1940s, Young attended a black-only school. “At the Kingston School for Colored, we put a lot of emphasis on things that would be now called African American, on Negro literature and Negro culture,” he tells RenĂ©e Montagne. “So we memorized poems by people like Langston Hughes, of course, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.”

Young moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1960, “under the sway, all of the hullabaloo. The Beat Generation was sounding its horns … and there was just a lot of romance about it.” He had $15 and a guitar.

Young’s poems touch on not only blues and jazz music but also, not surprisingly, life in California. In “Watsonville After the Quake,” he writes about the Mexican immigrants forgotten in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In “Blues My Naughty Poetry Taught Me,” Young observes the state through the window of an Amtrak train:

Sea-fences, industrial wash-ups, slushy tracks
and rickety light: skies so soulfully watercolored
you’d have to be an arts commissioner not to see it.
Seen across the Bay through trees and the undersides
of freeways San Francisco looks lonely at the end
of one bridge and the beginning of another…

Poems: ‘Something About the Blues’

'Something About the Blues', April 23, 2008 ·

‘Watsonville After the Quake’

On Central Coast radio KTOM blasts
Eddie Rabbitt thru waves of air the sea
surrounds, & all the other country stars
come out (Claude King, Tammy Wynette, Shelley
West) & spread themselves in droplets.
The sacred moisture of their song is skin
to seal a pain that quavers in this ash blue night
coming on just now like a downcast motel date,
who’s warned you from in front that she’ll be coming
’round the mountain when she comes.

Whose tents are these? What’s with these shot
parking lot & alleyway families peeping around
the raggedy backs of undemolished fronts?
That brownskin kid on a grassy patch along Main,
catching a football & falling with joy
on the run, is his family up from Mazatlán,
up from Baja or Celaya—or edges of eternity?

Network TV didn’t do this news up right.
For all their huff & puff & blow your house down,
the mediators of disaster and distress
didn’t find this sickly devastation sexy.
Besides, who’s going to cry or lose sleep
over a spaced out, tar papered, toppled down town
by the sea, brown now with alien debris?


‘Los Angeles, Los Angeles:
One Long-Shot, One Cutaway’


Inside your belly, a new beast ripens.
While all your twilit litters guard the door,
the ghost of Ho Chi Minh pours out a toast:

Here’s to old Saigon, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Beijing;
Iran before the Shah; to Port-au-Prince,
and Port of Spain, Tijuana, Kingston Town;
to Tokyo, Bombay, Tel-Aviv, Nairobi and Accra.

Not Ghana but the oldest Gold Coast drums
her thoughts out loud in not so cooling colors,
The darkest nights of Seoul turn into tunnels,
where rays of hope, spaghetti thin, break skin
and ream the veins of dreams so long deferred

that laser-lined Thought Police 100 years from now
still can’t decrypt the meaning of their blood;
their blues.


A Stoly on the rocks, some rock cocaine,
a spoon of smack can crack the sound of barriers
and barrios alike. But light is hard.


‘The James Cotton Band at Keystone’

And the blues, I tell you, they blew up
on target; blew the roof right off
& went whistling skyward, starward,
stilling every zooming one of us
mojo’d in the room that night, that
instant, that whenever it was. Torn
inside at first, we all got turned out,
twisting in a blooming space where
afternoon & evening fused like Adam
with Eve. The joyful urge to cry
mushroomed into a blinding cloudburst
of spirit wired for sound, then atomized
into one long, thunderous, cooling downpour.

What ceased to be was now & now & now.
Time somehow was what the blues froze
tight like an underground pipe before
busting it loose in glad explosions; a
blast that shattered us—ice, flow & all.
The drift of what we’d been began to
shift, dragging us neither upstream nor
down but lifting us, safe & high, above
the very storm that, only flashing moments
ago, we’d been huddling in for warmth.

Melted at last, liquefied, we became
losers to the blues & victors, both.
Now that he’d blown us away with his shout,
this reigning brownskinned wizard, wise
to the ways of alchemy, squeezed new life
back into us by breathing through cracks
in our broken hearts; coaxing & choking
while speaking in tongues that fork & bend
like the watery peripheries of time; a
crime no more punishable than what the
dreaming volcano does waking from what it was.

Believe me, the blues can be volatile too,
but the blues don’t bruise; they only renew.

© 2008 by Al Young, from Something About the Blues. Published by Sourcebooks.







Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Go to the SF Chronicle original

Charles Burress
San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, April 21, 2008


April may have been the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot, but it’s kindly tossing laurels this year to poets in the Bay Area.

One of Marin’s bards has just been crowned the county’s first poet laureate, and Albany is seeking entries for the first person to hold the same title in the small East Bay city. Ditto for Dublin.

In fact, the job of community poet laureate may be the Bay Area’s fastest-growing profession. A decade ago, there was just one – the newly named first poet laureate of San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Marin pushed the local total to 13 on Friday, consolidating the Bay Area’s pre-eminence in the field. The nine-county area surrounding San Francisco Bay holds 20 percent of the state’s population and 57 percent of the state’s 23 local poets laureate.

Albany and Dublin will raise the Bay Area total to 15. Elsewhere in the state, Siskiyou County plans to add one within a year.

The boom in local poetry crowns is not limited to California. This month, the first Pikes Peak Poet Laureate was named in Colorado, and several other communities across the nation have bestowed the honor.

“The idea is sort of blossoming,” said Joyce Jenkins, editor of the 35-year-old Poetry Flash review, which finds a welcoming home in Berkeley.

Berkeley doesn’t have a poet laureate, but it is the haunt of many poets, including UC Berkeley Professor Robert Hass, a former U.S. poet laureate and the latest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Hass’ enthusiastic promotion of poetry as the nation’s official poet from 1995 to 1997 helped sow the seeds for the current crop of community laureates, and the interest in California has been intensified by the energetic support of the state’s poet laureate, Al Young, Jenkins said.

Crowns made of laurels can be traced to the ancient Greeks, and the official position of poet laureate began in England, where Ben Jonson first received the honor in 1616. The United States adopted a national poet in 1937, under the title “consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress,” and the name “poet laureate” was added in 1986.

Most states have state poets laureate, and California claims to have been the first, with Ina Coolbrith appointed by Gov. Hiram Johnson in 1915. It remained an honorary title, bestowed by resolutions of the state Legislature at irregular intervals with inconsistent regard for literary merit until 2001, when an official poet laureate position was created with two-year terms. The stipend is $10,000.

The Bay Area in particular has embraced the idea with unusual fervor.

“It’s really been a hotbed of poetry,” said Mary Rudge, poet laureate of the city of Alameda. Unlike most local laureates with fixed terms, Rudge has enjoyed an indefinite appointment as Alameda’s official poet since the post was created 2002, in part because the sponsoring agency, the Alameda City Arts Council, shed its earthly coil.

Many local laureates, like Rudge, serve without pay, although San Francisco and Marin each provide $5,000 to their official poets. Albany also will be an exception, offering $1,500.



Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Go to the SF Chronicle original

Heidi Benson
San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, April 20, 2008

California Poet Laureate Al Young at Heyday Books in Berk...

Poetry is music, everyone knows. But few poets connect the two as fluently as California Poet Laureate Al Young.

His latest poetry collection, “Something About the Blues” (Sourcebooks; 2007; $22.95), comes with a CD on which he reads blues poetry backed by a live band. And music is key to his forthcoming book, “Jazz Idiom: Blueprints, Stills and Frames,” out from Heyday Books in September. His poetic riffs pair with Charles L. Robinson’s portraits, taken at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Born in Ocean Springs, Miss., in 1939, Young grew up in Detroit and worked his way through school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as a folksinger in the late ’50s. The lure of the San Francisco Renaissance in poetry and art brought him west in 1961. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish at UC Berkeley, all the while writing poetry and playing jazz and blues.

He won a Stegner Fellowship in creative writing at Stanford in 1967, and stayed on to teach until 1976. Since then, he has written poetry, novels, essays, memoirs and screenplays, received Guggenheim and Fulbright/NEA fellowships and been the winner of two American Book Awards and the PEN-USA Award for Nonfiction, among other honors. He teaches widely; in 2003, he was McGee Professor in Writing at Davidson College.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named him poet laureate in 2005. And on April 13, Young received the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement in literature from the Northern California Book Reviewers. Young lives in Berkeley and likes to sing ballads and standards, backed by musician friends.

Q: You’ve called poetry more popular now than at any time since the 19th century. Why?

A: Google says that the word “poetry” is the sixth-most-accessed word in the search engine. When things become repressive enough or dark enough or confusing enough, poetry always resurfaces because it’s a way of cutting through that darkness.

Q: You’ve lived through difficult eras. Are things worse today?

A: Yes, because people don’t know what to do. They’re blocked at every exit. They’re not even sure if their vote counts.

In 2003, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, millions and millions of people all over the world took to the streets and said, “Don’t do this!” And their governments just ignored them. That’s the first time I’ve seen that happen.

Q: Earlier this month, you spoke to a gathering of California poet laureates. What did you advise?

A: I reminded them that language is very important in shaping our consciousness. We’re surrounded by a dead sea of language or a sea of dead language – either will do – the kind of received language that used to be placed within quote marks. “Plausible deniability.” “Enemy insurgents.” It’s not real language, but it escapes into public forums without being screened.

When the vice president tells us that people are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq for a “just and noble” cause, I worry about that 8-year-old who is just getting a grasp on language. What will they think justice or nobility is?

Q: But should there be a connection between art and politics?

A: There is no separation. Culture is politics. The poet who decides not to take a political position is taking a political position.



Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

spc1.jpg April is National Poetry Month, Jazz Appreciation Month, Earth Month, and National Library Week (April 13-19). “Far from being the cruelest month,” Al Young says, “April is the coolest.”



Alex Banuelos: Grand Prize Winner


Deity comes home late
the lovely, tired little drunk
hair let loose and curling at the ends.
In the darkness of the living room,
and in her stocking feet,
she tiptoes to the couch
with exaggerated sneaking—
knees lifting almost to her chest
and arms outstretched like airplane wings—
to pass out limp and dreaming in her dress.

She does not see me in the doorway
a shadow leaning heavy on the frame,
the hollows of my eyes gone blue
a dozen years ago.

My vanity and my good looks
had the decency to leave together.
There is some mercy, after all, in our design:
a soft amnesia to the frequently mistreated, an adrenaline flare to the cornered and outnumbered, a flash of white light to the very nearly dead.

If I could sweep together all my scraps of time:
the leap years in my arms
and the hours lost in airplanes
flying east against the turning world,
I’d stitch them front to end
and weave a garland
like water lily crown,
lay it wet and heavy
on Deity’s spinning head of sun bleached hair.

Her even sleeping sounds
bounce lightly off the walls and floor
compounding ad infinitum
in the echo chamber of our home.

She is indifferent company,
member of the privileged caste
exempt from housework,
and the sticky paper of intimate associations.

Still, I can’t resist the waif
flushed pink, and posed
exactly as she fell.

She is time-sick,
drunk and lovely.
I am just an incidental:
the kindly aging organism
that puts her down to bed

Alexander Banuelos


Naomi Neal: Runner-Up
(School of the Arts High School, San Francisco)
Photo: Sasha A. Vu


A boat found me,
followed me home like a hungry dog
followed me far from home, like memory
and I found my sea legs,
and they were stronger than my
land legs.
The boat was
busted fenders
and t-shirts
and forgiveness
and sleep,
it kissed the water sideways like cinema
and swam.
And it was me and the boat and my sea legs
and my white sky and my ocean, clean.
In the North we passed an island
where the last bears lived
in houses of honeycomb bricks.
In the South
a boy with a cowlick swam out from shore
to bring me a Coke.
In the East I bought knick-knacks,
In the West I was scorned.
We shored up in the center of the compass
where the arrow ate itself, feet first
on a rock painted in a bird shit palette,
my boat and I.
It grinned goodbye with bear teeth
and dissolved into the sea, litter and
cotton balls spotted with blood.
My sea legs and I strolled snowy beaches
and ruined woodlands
and corporate deserts
each other’s and our own.

Naomi Neal


Finalists in Sacramento Poetry Center’s 2nd annual high school competition gather at “The Stage” (April 2008)
Photo: Rebecca Morrison

SPC’s 2008 High School Poetry Contest finale was held on April 14th at “The Stage“ in midtown Sacramento. Local poet and CSUS professor Brad Buchanan had selected 17 finalists from all over Northern California, and the finalists read their poems to an enthusiastic full house. Then the final judge, SPC President Bob Stanley, presented the grand prize winner, Alex Banuelos, and the runner-up winner, Naomi Neal, with cash awards from the Poetry Center. There were nearly twice as many entries as the 2007 contest – over 500 altogether – and the quality of the work was superb.

— Bob Stanley, Director
Sacramento Poetry Center


Photo: Frank Dixon Graham
State laureate Al Young, Sacramento’s laureate Julia Connor, and Bob Stanley, Director of the Sacramento Poetry Center, April 2008.