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Jun 25, 2012
Comments Off on Poetry Warriors & Other Such Heroes

Poetry Warriors & Other Such Heroes

My wife & sister both said on separate phone calls that I sounded good this week, sounded like I was floating.  We can blame the floating on the Cave Canem summer retreat I attended outside of Pittsburgh this week.  A hard (not soft) break from work, untethered – no Blackberry, no webmail in the cloud.  This type of letting go is usually unexpected when in a position of partially being the glue to an operation.  (check in, check email, answer back, call back, if you’re unlucky dial into a conference call 3,000 miles away – but I couldn’t possibly call my retreat a retreat if I stayed on the work grid.)  I did use a grey ethernet cable to jack in and set my “out of office” message up on day 2.

The Unexpected – #1 sleep deprivation

I came prepared as a first year fellow to write & write.  I just didn’t know how writing would go.  I am a slow flow-er.  I have written one or two poems as exercises in 30 minutes, and that one or two flash pieces have actually been published without a lot of heavy handed editing.  Usually doesn’t happen that way for me.  Partially because I haven’t been disciplined enough to set a regular date with myself and push a  timer button to work my writing out.  But at Cave Canem the right before bed or hang out on a bench to 4 in the morning fellowship reminder is “10 at 10 in the bin.”  A poem a night, 10 copies printed and ready for a three hour workshop by 10 am the next day no matter what time you went to bed 11 pm (hah!), 2 am (maybe), 3:45 am (too often.)

The Unexpected – #2 mentored craft talk

I came prepared to see Cave Canem founders Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady, the 2012 faculty Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Angela Jackson, with guests Amiri Baraka & Nikki Giovanni.  I did not come prepared to be with the faculty; I did not come prepared to hear loving gestures in their questions signaling (you might want to take a closer look at this part.)  In one case Terrence asked out the starting gate “why is this a poem?” in a tone that suggested we would engage in a brief (welcome) philosophical discussion on the elements of poetry.  Truth is the tell was – nice job bro but this thing here on the Buffalo Soldier on the western border is a personal essay…  I did not expect Nikki Giovanni to ask to come sit in our workshop, then ask me a question “Til Pharoah and Tell Pharaoh, is that what you meant?”  On the solid, secure in my work but a little star struck,  I answered, “yes” not a bit unsure if my telling Nikki & the class til meant until and tell meant say something about something.  Reading between the lines, those soft faculty questions were a telegraph to the deeper craft talk they often danced around in terms of going all in or not – perhaps you should make that more clear so your reader knows it ain’t a typo.

The Unexpected – #3 star struck – black poetry rock stars & legends

Yes, I brought cash to buy books for signing.  My only disappointment was not having enough greenbacks to buy one of each!  And the readings – I made sure to get front row seats so I could be, see, & hear everything these wonderful poets had to share.

Amiri asked, “where you from?”  (a question I think he asks everyone to break the awkward ice when signing a book for a complete stranger clearly in the state of AWE.)  “LA originally but I live in San Francisco,”  he responded with a wicked chuckle. “LA is an awful place.  Don’t know why anyone would want to live there.”  Underneath, I agree with a smile and walk away from the extended line with a signed copy of Razor.

 The Unexpected – #4 City of Asylum Pittsburgh

I had not heard of the City of Asylum in Pittsburgh & sister organizations/projects before Cave Canem.  Thank you Toi for your involvement on the board & connecting your fellows to the mission of this important work providing housing to writers in-exile.

The Unexpected – #5  tears, terror, ferocity dancing at 2 in the morn, teaching a few samba moves.
And now, writing this post on US Air’s Go-Go network – I hope the unexpected will continue in the pages of my writing journal.
Thank you Cave Canem!
Apr 9, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Succulent Love or Sucker for Succulents

Succulent Love or Sucker for Succulents

I’ve been stuck on snapping succulents on Instagram.  My love for succulents isn’t new.

Succulents are sculpture.  The soft & hard of it all.  Open & closed.


And the secret ingredient?  –  WATER!

Swollen leaves hold it, water to survive another day in arid climates.

Often relegated to the “back of the bus” in your local garden store.  Their beauty is underrated – glossy or hairy or spiny or sticky.  I love succulents!


Mar 14, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Blue Door

Blue Door


I’ve always wanted a blue door.


My front door is painted black.


Not green or orange, but jet black.


There is nothing on my door to ward off an evil eye.


No knocker to say you’ve arrived.


My black door is cool.  But it’s not blue.

Mar 4, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Creativity Explored – Visual art center for people with disabilities

Creativity Explored – Visual art center for people with disabilities


I got busted by a flat foot last week, but not before I snagged these photos of artist Daniel Green's work showing in an exhibition of developmentally challenged folk of the arts organization Creativity Explored in San Francisco.


The building I work in (which is an open/public access space in the Financial District) collaborates with various organizations to to curate rotating shows primarily for the benefit of tenants and visitors of The Mills Building.

"NO foto," the security guard barked waddling toward me from the west side of 220 Montgomery.  I smiled, tucked my iPhone in my front left trouser pocket and proceeded to Cave Venue for my large steak salad.


 Daniel's work and the whole show had a feel of controlled obsession.  I became very curious about the organization and wanted to know more about Daniel.

About Daniel from Creativity Explored:

A San Francisco native of African-American and Samoan descent, Daniel Green was born in 1985 and is one of the youngest artists in the Creativity Explored studio. He began working in the studio on a full-time basis in January 2008.

Green’s artwork conveys an intense and playful fascination with American entertainment and popular culture. Typically working on wood, he draws in ink, figures from television, politics, sports, or history, and then carefully lists dates, titles of shows and songs, cities, and names. The extensive listings crowd the surface in sculptural columns and are seemingly unrelated to his delicately rendered drawings.


Needless to say, I am a new fan! 







Feb 28, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Moving Behind Moses Project – 11 months down, 6 more to go

Moving Behind Moses Project – 11 months down, 6 more to go

I didn't think I was going to get this grant because there appeared to be a poet purist on the selection committee who didn't think a visual artist/poet/playwright/karate black belt/samba dancer/Berkeley MBA making a living in finance would ever pool it off – "not going to happen," she told her fellow judges/jurists.  She used Paul Hoover's recommendation (editor of Postmodern American Poetry – A Norton Anthology, as well as several poetry books – most recently desolation: souvenir from Omnidawn) against me.  Paul wrote in his letter that I was a poetry student and then switched to writing a play for my thesis.  OOPS.


People hate the betwixed and between until they are dead and gone.  I'm glad the poet/player hater was overturned.  And here I am – 11 months in.  I've used the grant money received by the San Francisco Arts Commission to travel to New York, DC/VA, and LA doing research.  Wait – you whisper.  I thought this was a poetry book?  Well… it's betwixed and between (just like me.) 

Right now my desk is filled with Harriet Tubman and images from several collections (Schomburg, Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, and the 20th Centurty Fox Research Library.)  The words… still on Moses and reeling over historical facts like she knocked her own teeth out with her pistol to "kill" the pain.  More to come as I get closer to the finish line.


Feb 21, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on UC Berkeley “Lost” Sargent Johnson Art – Million $ Relief “$Found” for $150.00 then Reacquired by the Huntington Library

UC Berkeley “Lost” Sargent Johnson Art – Million $ Relief “$Found” for $150.00 then Reacquired by the Huntington Library

This is an amazing report of  a 22 foot relief  by celebrated African American artist tied to the Bay Area "lost" to one of the school's storage stacks, sold for the pre-tax price of $150.00 then resold to the Huntington library – its first major acquisition of an African American artist.

Feb 21, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on SFMOMA | Explore Modern Art | Our Collection | Sargent Johnson | Forever Free

SFMOMA | Explore Modern Art | Our Collection | Sargent Johnson | Forever Free

SFMOMA | Explore Modern Art | Our Collection | Sargent Johnson | Forever Free

Feb 20, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Artist Mark Bradford – collaging a life with paper/glue/string – retrospective now at SFMOMA/YBC Feb 18 – Jun 17

Artist Mark Bradford – collaging a life with paper/glue/string – retrospective now at SFMOMA/YBC Feb 18 – Jun 17

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical of SFMOMA’s full page ad in The Examiner announcing Mark Bradford’s concurrent show with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; skeptical of what I would actually see on their white walls.  “Mark Bradford’s lush, richly textured, large-scale works express the energy of the urban environment through layers of materials scavenged from the street and subjects addressing race, class, gender, and sexuality.”  What the hell is the urban environment let alone its energy?  I was born in LA (I guess that could fit the definition) moved to South Pasadena (nope, not urban really but part of LA County and 10 minutes away from downtown LA via the Pasadena freeway), and now live in San Francisco (urban to most, for example the south side of Bernal Heights hill that overlooked the Alemany projects,  but no – not urban where I live now in District 7.)  Did the curator/copy editor mean City Life or Street Life because they aren’t one in the same.  Needless to say the ad worked.  I went to see the shows, looking to make the ad wrong (or right) – where and how was race, class, gender, and sexuality an integral part of Bradford’s art?


Bradford partially answered the call with an audacious piece, a taxidermied black crow flying so far above my head/slamming beak first into a wall at SFMOMA that I almost missed it; as I found throughout the show, Bradford is playing, poking, & prodding in his titles as well as the work itself. The broke beak bird offers overt and subtle references to Jim Crow laws as well as black-face minstrel shows.

Mark Bradford panel 4 "Rat Catcher of Hamelin"

                                                                                                            On view at YBC is Bradford’s 2011 Rat Catcher of Hamelin. YBC’s website describes this as “a large-scale four–panel mixed media collage created for the Istanbul biennial. 50 billboards collected from all around South-Central Los Angeles form the basis of this socially charged abstract art. Sanded, stripped surfaces reveal what lies below.”  

As a writer and a visual artist, I am a sucker for words or letters or literary messages embedded in living color within an object of art.  What YBC’s teaser on-line left out you find out in the show.  The four panels partially contain fragments of 50 billboards previously posted to assist the LAPD in the Grim Sleeper serial killer case (photos of unidentified women found in the suspect’s possession.)  After public uproar over the “postings” to assist in the case LAPD pulled the billboards; Bradford contacted authorities and obtained them for his own appropriation/art-making.  Breathing new meaning to appropriated billboard materials/found images – this is at the core of Bradford’s artistic practice.  In Rat Catcher of Hamelin, his source images are as important as the structure/they are obliterated/barely there yet articulated – CAN YOU HELP – technically the paper build up is so thick, the words are carved up & out.

Bradford hits gender (identify) over the head with an earlier piece Paris is Burning (I remember when the film came out.)  “Fuck straight people” is embedded/carved right there in the collage for all to make out if you look close enough to see.

While beautiful – both in technique and inventiveness – Bradford’s work goes beyond pretty things.  There is meaning for me here hanging on the walls and in his process; I am willing to trust what Bradford digs in and claws out.



Feb 14, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on The Art of Self Adornment – Henna

The Art of Self Adornment – Henna

I snapped this in Marrakesh; our guide pointed to the small crowd  in a nonchalant way at the same time trying to be informative as a zookeeper is informative about the mating rituals of monkeys.  It was his tone, the undertone if you will, describing this thing that women do – henna.  These women were in line mind you; their henna hand art was for sale.  I wanted desperately to let the rest of the group go on while I got mine done, but this would have been gender-line crossing heresy.  Our guide would have never understood my desire to do this womanly thing.  It would have been embarrassing (not to me…).

Feb 11, 2012
SN Jackson
Comments Off on Missing Morocco

Missing Morocco

I miss Morocco.  The breadth and call five times a day.  The men who almost look like me, their hair like mine.  I miss the push of the street, the meat, the vegetables, the village dust.  I miss the mint tea, the no protein for breakfast but perhaps a little yoghurt and an egg.  I miss the rose water in our riad, the fear/excitement of not knowing a language (are you Berber?)