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Archive for February, 2013

EGYPTIAN CARTOONIST DOAA ELADL ON FGM | Public Radio International’s ‘The World’

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013


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If the cartoon below makes you uncomfortable, it should. Egyptian cartoonist Doaa Eladl — never one to shy away from tough issues — is commenting on FGM (female genital mutilation).

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© Doaa Eladl | Courtesy PRI The World/Tumblr

Egyptian Doaa Eladl is a woman in what is still a man’s world: political cartooning. She’s one of just a handful of female political cartoonists in the Middle East.  And her cartoons often comment on that fact. Eladl publishes her work in an Arabic language newspaper but here’s a chance to hear her — through an interpreter — and see a selection of her cartoons.

Doaa Eladl at Work

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Doaa Eladl Flower


FAME AND OUR NATIONAL HOLIDAY | Gary Gach and Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday, February 24th, 2013


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Gary Gach

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As my fellow Americans celebrate their national holiday of idolizing
their craving for idolizing fellow human beings who’re famous for
being famous, I offer a few words from poet Naomi Shahib Nye.
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Gary Gach


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Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.

©1995 Naomi Shihab Nye

“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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button camNaomi Shihab Nye at the 2008 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

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DONALD BYRD (December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013) | In Memoriam

Sunday, February 10th, 2013


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“I loved Donald Byrd’s playing. All of us jazz lovers in the Central High School band did. I was playing tuba then, but later eased on over to trumpet. After school sometimes, a bunch of would walk a couple of miles all the way from Central over to the Eastside. We’d stand on the sidewalk outside Byrd’s house near Northern High School. He’d be up there on the second floor, practicing. We’d get quiet and listen.  I got the idea that if I practiced the blues in all 12 scales, then maybe I’d be on my way to learning to play.”
— Al Young


Donald Byrd, extraordinary jazz trumpeter, dies at 80

By John Andrews
11 February 2013
World Socialist Web Site

Donald Byrd, an exceptional jazz trumpeter associated with the “hard bop” school of jazz exemplified by the Blue Note record label during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, died February 4. The cause of death has not been released.

Born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II on December 9, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan, Byrd was very much a product of the post-World War II economic and cultural boom. As a student at Cass Technical High School—which then had a highly advanced music program—Byrd developed enough basic skills to fill in with the Lionel Hampton big band.

Rather than go directly into professional music, however, Byrd continued his education—interrupted by a four-year stint in the Air Force—obtaining a bachelors degree in music from Wayne State University before moving to New York City in 1955.

New York had been the center of jazz development since the early 1940s, when young musicians such as alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell and drummer Max Roach modernized the conventions of swing era jazz into what became known as “bebop” or “bop.”

Byrd quickly meshed with major bop figures as well as the emerging players associated with the straight-ahead, small combo jazz style that became known as “hard bop.” He also attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned his first of five postgraduate degrees.

Byrd’s first recording session took place on June 28, 1955, three months after Parker’s death at age 34 from the consequences of substance abuse. Under the leadership of pioneer bebop drummer Kenny Clarke for Savoy Records, the recording session was also the first for alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly.

Byrd came to New York with excellent technique and played with great lyricism, which placed him in great demand. Before the end of 1955, Byrd had three recording sessions for Savoy as a leader, and replaced trumpet star Clifford Brown in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then considered a key incubator for the further development of the bop style.

Brown died tragically in a 1956 automobile accident, but other young, brilliant trumpeters, notably Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, along with Byrd, filled the void …

To read John Andrews’ entire obituary, go to the original

Early Byrd   Courtesy photo

Final track from Donald Byrd’s “Slow Drag” album, recorded at the Van Gelder studios, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 12, 1967. Donald Byrd (trumpet); Sonny Red (alto saxophone); Cedar Walton (piano); Walter Booker (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).



Monday, February 4th, 2013


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Forever Young: A Poet on a Tuesday! A Writer for a City! A Life in the Wor(l)d!

By Andrew Tonkovich
Fri., Feb. 1 2013 at 5:10 AM

The City of Berkeley, California will honor poet and writer, teacher and essayist, screenwriter, singer and professor Al Young next week. Tuesday, February 5 is Al Young Day in the progressive burg on the East Bay, which is a start, and a great one, for all the guys listed above. Indeed, Young was also Poet Laureate of the State of California, has worked as an editor and activist and musicologist, and so probably deserves at least a week. Poets, said Shelley, are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, so it’s good and right that Berkeley is acknowledging one of our most important, a legislator of careful articulation, exuberant celebration, urgent historical and cultural memory-keeping and an all-around life force whose voice has shouted, hummed along, led the chorus and yet always sung its own story.


 Forever young

I hope you can tell I am a fan, a guy who lives part-time in a Berkeley of the mind, where poets are revered, while residing in Orange County, which is maybe the opposite of Berkeley. (I travel a lot, in my head. I sometimes explain my little canyon community in the foothills of Eastern Orange County as the Topanga Canyon of OC. Weirdos, real imaginary friends, Fahrenheit 451 talking books. Wishful thinking, but that’s the best kind.)

Al Young is a hero of mine, wherever I am! He is a mentor, a political activist scholar jazz-cat who can offer you the “real story” at the drop of an anecdote. It’s been this reader-writer’s good luck to have sat in on dozens of lectures, poetry readings and round table discussions featuring Al, who is almost always the singular attraction, with something to tell, an analysis to offer, a joke or gossip or quotation or song to offer by way of making his point. He is in some ways an old-fashioned person of letters, which is to say that he has a CV as long as your arm, publication and prizes in every genre, a teacher much beloved and, yes, former state Poet Laureate, appointed by, seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Young is African American. He was born in Mississippi, lived in Detroit, attended the University of Michigan, moved to San Francisco, and graduated from Cal. He went on to be a Stegner Fellow.  Along the way, he worked as a singer, disk jockey, medical photographer, in other words, did all kinds of jobs and met all kinds of people, always writing and singing and telling stories, whether for the US Department of State or PEN USA or as an academic fellow for all kinds of academies and institutions.

But I don’t think that’s why he’s being honored by Berkeley, and why you should write “Al Young Day” on your calendar, watch the video clip below, listen to the public radio story, buy and read his books, and maybe share an Al Young poem, as I will in a moment, with a friend, work colleague, fellow student or stranger. No, it’s because I can think of few others whose life and work more completely answers the need, urgent and real, for citizen-poet in our gorgeous, troubled, big-hearted democracy. Which needs a poet on a Tuesday, and the promise of laurels for its truth-tellers and music makers.


Word on the street

Sure, Al Young has already been honored, feted, celebrated, including in the civic venue with inclusion of his poem “Who I am in Twilight” on Berkeley’s famous and wonderful Addison Street poetry walk, where all kinds of poems are memorialized at your feet. Which suggests another way to be introduced, or reintroduced to Mr. Young: The terrific anthology of poems from that bit of concrete poetry (ha ha), the Walk of Literary Fame near the city’s City Hall.

A few years ago NPR interviewed Al on the occasion of a recent collection (Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry), a good place to start because it includes a CD of Al doing his thing. The audio clip HERE includes him reciting that poem you can stand and read on the sidewalk, with him talking about his favorite poets, maybe teaching the interviewer a bit about the art of people’s poetry vs. Modernist, academic poetry.  But check out how Al slides generously into professor mode, albeit in his deep, mellifluous, welcoming voice. Indeed, voice is Al’s ace in the hole, or voices. He is a narrator, a one-man chorus. He makes things universal, without compromising on the details. Check out the story he tells about another poem, “Conjugal Visits,” (from a collection of the same name) and how he lives and writes about his progressive liberationist politics, even as an ambassador of the


 ‘Hurray for the Blues!’

State. No, make that especially as ambassador of what is best about our state, and our country. So, to read along as you listen to him recite it, here’s the poem, which so evocatively answers in the idiom of our original American art form the beauty and horror of our original American sin and makes holy the struggle, in travelogue and simile and image and prayer.

Who I Am in Twilight

Like John Lee Hooker, like Lightnin’ Hopkins, / like the blues himself, the trickster sonnet, / hoedown, the tango, the cante jondo, / like blessed spirituals and ragas, custom-made, / like sagas. like stories, / like slick, slow, sly, soliloquies sliding into dramas, / like Crime and Punishment, like death and birth, / Canal Street, New Orleans, like the easy, / erasable, troubled voices a whirling / ceiling fan makes in deep summer nights / in hot, un-heavenly hotels. Oklahoma, Arkansas, / Tennessee — like the Mississippi River / so deep and wide, you couldn’t get a letter / to the other side, like Grand Canyon, /  like Yosemite National Park, like beans & / cornbread, / like rest and recreation, like love / and like, I know we last. I know our bleeding stops.


Lady sings the blues

And here’s a short, perfect YouTube video clip of Al at the Watershed Poetry Conference, doing his spoken word blues poetry performance of another piece from Something About the Blues. I love his farewell encouragement to the audience, as he bounces off to the next gig, the next classroom: “Let’s go out in daylight and dream the world!” I haven’t even mentioned his musical memoirs, including an appreciation of Charles Mingus, or his five (!) novels. A good place to start there is Who is Angelina?, reissued as part of its California Fiction series by the University of California Press. And teachers, students, scholars and lay readers know about and treasure his contributions to the first volume of an amazing popular scholarship project, The Literature of California, a survey of all kinds of traditions of writing across genre and history and culture. There’s more, and most of it is documented on his terrific website as Al is the consummate communicator bard, hip about multi-media and photography and blogging, too. All of it is, in his words, “spirit.”  If you’re anywhere near Berkeley City Hall on Tuesday night, show up to cheer for the people’s poet and hear recited the official proclamation. Here’s mine: Hooray for Al Young! Hooray for Berkeley and California! Hooray for the Blues!


Photo © Mark Cohen

Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry
(with CD), Al Young, Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 224 pps., $22.95

Addison Street Anthology. The Berkeley Poets Walk, Robert Hass, ed., Heyday, 224 pps., Out of print, but available used.

Who is Angelina?, Al Young, UC Press, 280 pps., Out of print, but available used.

The Literature of California, Vol 1, Jack Hicks,James D. Houston, Maxine Hong Kingston, Al Young, eds, UC Press, 870 pps., $32.95


Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.