Problems reviewed

by Joy Tatem

Jade Sharma’s Problems starts out like many alt lit publications: protag lives in city, protag has
crazy neighbors, protag does drugs and fucks a lot, but still has depression somehow, and so the
soul-searching begins. Protag reminds us this is a cautionary tale of addiction, mental illness and general
debauchery, etc. Enter Sharma’s Maya. Maya works in a bookstore and does too much dope; she has an
unfulfilling marriage and equally unfulfilling extramarital affair. Problems is the story of Maya’s battles
with her eating disorder, body image, heroin addiction, and trainwreck of a personal life.

Sharma’s characterization of Maya is ambitious: she’s undeniably informed by the experiences
of a woman of color. So many of Maya’s negative sex and dating experiences are entirely too familiar.
Sharma puts words to a particular dissatisfaction I’ve never felt free to express: “Sometimes I wondered
if there was a correlation between Peter always buying himself the crappy stuff and him choosing me: a
thrifty, generic brown one, instead of name-brand white one with blonde hair.” Assumed/inherent undesirability as a woman of color is the omnipresent threat that never truly received attention in body-positive movements. Love the skin you’re in—but what if that skin is brown? While the descriptions of Maya’s body image issues were hard to read, I was thankful for their inclusion; it is comforting to be reminded that you are not alone.

Hard-to-love female protagonists like Maya are rare and refreshing. Too many female characters
are carbon copies of the same toothless tropes: a perfect being (beyond reproach in all aspects) or “my
crazy ex.” Maya is a deeply flawed but painfully real human being. All of her sins are wails of pain;
Maya is being crushed under the weight of her own life. And while this sounds bleak, Problems never
has a dull moment. Sharma’s prose is silky smooth, with the familiar tone of a close friend recalling
something awful over coffee. She switches between crushing emptiness and bawdy one-liners
with ease.
Problems is available from Coffee House Press, $16.95.

My Music Report Of The Summer Of 2016 In NYC By David Huberman

It’s the summer of 2016 and Tammy Faye Starlight is Nico Underground and it is the show to see!  I caught her at David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center for free!  A dazzling gifted performance artist /singer who you would suspect has supernatural powers the way she channels Nico.  Tammy catches every nuance of Nico’s personality – the talented, the glamorous, the narcissism, and just a hint of the junky self-destruction yet to come.  Black comedy at its best.  Can’t wait to see her impersonation of Marianne Faithfull on her next tour!

Since Fela Kuti’s Nigerian band planted seeds in the late 1960’s the Afrobeat sound has grown into such a huge scene.  NYC shared this enthusiasm this summer.  I saw Antibalas open for the Roots at The Lowdown Hudson Music festival at Brookfield Place – a Brooklyn based band that modeled its sound after Fela Kuti’s The Afrika 70, and mixed with a strong Latin flavor.  My prediction? This outfit will be huge.  Catch this band while you can, before they become a deep pocket band!  Not only is Antibalas touring NYC’s free concert scene, there’s King Sunny Ade who just played Summer Stage and Metrotech doing his Nigerian Juju music.

I also grabbed in performances by Rich Medina (DJ), Orlando Julius and the Afro soundz, CYMANDE (the newly reunited UK Afro-collective) all seen at Central Park Summerstage and the price was right, free again!  I missed out recently seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Lincoln Center but I did catch them last summer.  They are a South African male choral group that sings and chants African folk music.  Their music is sweet and mellow, just right after a hard day’s work with a beer.

Last but not least, I did intercept with Maimouna Keita School of African Dance. Brooklyn foremost West African Dance Company at Herbert Von King Park.  And yes Femi Kuti is touring and keeping his father’s reputation alive and will be playing his version of Afro beats at Celebrate Brooklyn Festival in Prospect Park later this summer (July 23).  And let’s not forget Africa’s premier diva, Angelique Kidjo also playing Prospect Park on July 29. I did mention that I saw The Roots at The Lowdown Hudson music Festival.  Well they are a superb band to listen to and a very visual band to watch.  But old fans complained to me that they sold out since playing on the Jimmy Fallon show!  Questlove doesn’t have the chops anymore.  Well, all I know is that the crowd and I loved them playing over an hour and half in the blistering heat and all for free!

Now a report on the local bands in the clubs and bars of NYC.  With a lot of glue the scene is holding up and the glue is made up of only a few individuals who are virtually keeping the band scene alive.  ‘Frank Woods presents Wind Down Sundays’ at Otto’s Shrunken Head on 14th street is one such entrepreneur.  Only the reaper can stop Frank Wood from doing what he does best, promoting Rock bands for over 40 years and looks like the reaper doesn’t want to mess with Frank anytime too soon.  Also being a master of ceremonies is Unsteady Freddy’s once a month (first Saturday of every month) surf rock shindig at Otto’s.  Somehow Freddy gets the best surf bands in the whole USA to play at his monthly shindig.  I recently saw the Vibro Jets.  This band actually took my breath away!

Then there is Anne Husick’s Friday nights at the Sidewalk Café with rocking great bands like The Dive Bar Romeos, The Cynz’s, The Hipp Pipps, Ricky Byrd (Joan Jett’s guitarist and Rock n Roll Hall of Fame 2015 inductee), and The Bowery Boys.  Puma Perl mixes spoken word performers with avant-garde bands in her Pandemonium series at Bowery Electric map room that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, which is always a lot of fun and very well attended.  Chris Iconicide hosts a female fronted Rock N Roll showcase called ‘A Witches’ Night Out’ at Otto’s, every few months plus he books hardcore bands at his Puke Island shows. Kipp Elbaum keeps it real and gets things going at Hank’s Saloon and the Delancey club, while Apfel/Krebs puts together Rockabilly and Glam nights at their ‘Flip, Flop & Fly‘ and the ‘Endless Party’ spectacles at various dive bars around the city.  Tom Clark’s treehouse weekly gigs at 2a, is a nice destination on Sunday nights, hosts untraditional hard rock, blues and folk bands from across the country.

Almost all these shows are free or very cheap to attend.  Due to gentrification, and the insane policy of bars and clubs in New York City not only to not pay the musicians, they also expect bands to bring their own audiences!  So it’s expected that not only do bands like Puma Perl and Friends, Iconicide, and New York Junk have to be excellent musicians and entertainers (which they are), they also have to become their own bookers too.  In the summer of 2016 local bands are having a hard time surviving in NYC.  Hopefully ‘in the year 2525’, Rock will have a strong habitat and be back in vogue again.

 

DEAR PEDRO

by martha mims aka martha cinader

87286100270500L

John Dean interrupted my
regularly scheduled Sesame Street
when you were getting turned on to grass
i was watching Vietnam on TV
when you met Agent Orange
and he stuck to you like glue
i didn’t know i just heard
it was the word

later i got turned on to Jazz
ran away from college
searched for uncommon knowledge
didn’t know i could be Puerto Rican
dreaming in New York i never left
you never arrived at
didn’t know what was Taino
never missed My Island
didn’t know i could get a visa
from El Puerto Rican Embassy
didn’t know who was Miguel or Lois or Steve
just knew what i knew
putting words on pages too
i heard it was the place to go
a man dressed in black appeared
carrying freedom from misery in a briefcase
thinking radically under his hat

today they still argue in the capitol of capital
about the final arrangements of the funeral
for tomorrow
when they will sell back what was taken
but i know that El Puerto Rican Embassy
is at a secret location
where you can’t book a vacation
you have to bare your soles instead
get with the Manifesto seal the deal with grass
sit on your ass look at the sky
see what was is what will be was

i’ve been reading your book
looking at your picture on the cover
sitting at a table
(so dutifly holding your Selected Poetry)
writing on a blank sheet of paper
a letter for you to pick up on Mars
well honestly it’s a blank screen
with a desktop picture of a chunk of cheese
well honestly i made that part up about the cheese

you took the stage
read from your page
we laughed
i didn’t know what was your degree
in poetry that you were royalty
except like Lord Buckley
i thought everyone was a Lord or Lady
i didn’t know what was slam
Bob explained the rules
but i must not have been listening
maybe that night they were all there
Tracie Edwin Willie Paul Reg Suheir
i don’t know cuz i didn’t know any of them
the crowd booed me off the stage
before i got to the end of the page
but the man in black who made everyone laugh
said to me i dig your originality
i nodded and left cuz i had to pay the babysitter
you know this story but maybe you forgot

down here in Greenville i have a family
i water my vegetables with words
and serve my poetry on dinner plates
i walked into a coffee shop a little while ago
and there was a young man at the register
a sticker on his laptop said
City Lights
i said
that’s far away from here
he told me
it was the name of his church not far away
i told him
about a famous bookstore he never heard of
he told me
he was studying to be a religious musician
i asked him
had he ever heard of Pharaoh and Leon
and The Creator Has a Master Plan
he stared
at a 52 year old lady with wild hair
he didn’t know
i drank coffee and checked e-mails
and there was a message from Mars
that your poetry that i searched for
and found out that your poetry is hard to find
and i was looking for those telephone poems
at the time
cuz i had heard that you had a book party
but i didn’t get there yet
the message from Mars said that City Lights Books
was publishing your poetry and Lord Buckley
who i listened to on an LP when i left home young
who inspired me ten years later
to tell that Cinderella story at Nuyorican
that was not welcome by anyone but Pedro
who i didn’t know who you was

messages from Mars don’t come often
i don’t know what it means
but it means something
these were no ordinary co-incidents
and there’s more to the stories
you have appeared again
that’s the way it was too

you were the first only person on line
at the table that was holding up
my first limited limited edition book
off the restaurant floor
you asked me to sign it
i don’t know what it means
but it means something
in this same year that City Lights
has published your Selected Poetry
and Hiparama of the Classics
is also the print on demanding
of the limited, limited second edition
of my first book that you took the first copy
the Pedro Pietri Bought My First Book Prize
but i have to confess how to utilize i wasn’t wise
you sat for a little while at a little table
that held your drink steadily
and then you disappeared
like an angel i didn’t know was an angel
i thought you probably drank too much

when we saw each other early in the mornings
walking our daughters to the same school
hungover maybe you was
me out of order
was rats in my kitchen
compromising positions personal conditions
when we smiled and waved from across the street
while we held their hands
and led them away a little more each day
i have to confess that i forget
when i try to piece together the order of things
which came first what happened next
you told me you taught my book in your class
and i went to your new years eve party
up there in that tower just for people like you
who write unforgettable obituary
that i couldn’t remember when you
wished me happy b’day inside the cover
yesterday when i handed it to my oldest son
to bring to his poetry class
but even though i won
the Pedro Pietri Bought My First Book Prize
i still got evicted before that boy could talk or walk
i left New York that never leaves me
after you never arrived
i have to confess i don’t remember even
where was the poetry reading before leaving
that got started after it ended
when you opened the pages of a telephone book

you know this story but maybe you forgot
i have to pause here to drink some rum
in your honor
well honestly it’s not rum it’s honey whiskey
but tonight it tastes like rum on Mars
i have to say that you were surrounded
by poets who listened and laughed and cried
there were no dry eyes
El Reverend sermonized
i could never forget

i heard
you had a telephone book party
i heard
Agent Orange told a dirty joke
left his tab on your table
it was the word

now it’s later than later
i’ve gotten to the so True short story at the end
which wasn’t the end of your Selected Poetry
i laugh and cry and nod my head
i’m looking at your face that remains unchanged
on your book resting on my table
i hear your voice clear as a bell
tell it like it is like it was like it’s always
here is not New York
Dizzy was born in South Carolina
but he didn’t give it a song
at all times i keep my visa with no expiration
from El Puerto Rican Embassy
anyway anywhere is everywhere
asses of the masses grow large on sugary lies
we have the right to work 9 2 5
numbers games with no claims to
organ eyes or brains with imaginations
no one i know down here knows your name
but some of them would wannabe Puerto Ricans too
if they only knew

now i have read the very last words
at the end of your Selected Poetry
written by your true friends who kept their promise to you
they say that your 3 thousand poem telephone book
was a limited limited photocopied edition

now i am writing a Dear Pedro letter
there’s another book party to come
it will be just like i’m writing it
unless you want to rewrite it
there won’t be any politicians just
live muse ishans and poets and lovers
and rum and grass
i don’t think you’ll get this on a computer
or in a glossy magazine selling things
so i’ll send it to a blank page
take it to the stage
read it under bright lights
just like you in your picture
on your book on my table
i’ll say your name loud
you’ll have a dream about your Big Book party
at El Puerto Rican Embassy on Mars
it will be so

see you when i get there
yours in Poetry
Martha

AFROFUTURISM reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

AFROFUTURISM, by Ytasha L. Womack.(2013) Lawrence Hill Books: Chicago. $16.95.

Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

 

AFROFUTURISM, The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, from Ytasha L.

Womack (a Multi Media artist) will have you wanting to step on a star ship, meet

androids, robots, extraterrestrials, and travel through time. Here one finds the cosmic

and science fiction muse as a means for new rights, freedoms, and chances to save the

world. There is acknowledgement here of the past that we have shared and hope to

move beyond, but there is also hope, optimism, and wonder. This book which inspires

dreams came at a good time with us needing to acknowledge the 500 year anniversary

of Utopia (1516) from Thomas More this year. Afrofuturism reminds that not all of us

have lost our capacity to dream. The mind has also been set free here with Afrofuturism

acknowledging Star Trek, music, fantasy and influential writers like Samuel Delany and

Octavia Butler. These progenitors have inspired many new artists, cosmic musicians,

and writers. There is also as always the wonder of the unfathomable cosmos out there.

It is not clear when this movement began, but there are now many eloquent voices and

fantastic art and music that has resulted.

 

Womack quotes another early on to define the subject that has morphed since her book

from 2013 which answers: “What is Afrofuturism?

 

Afrofuturism is an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation. “I

generally define Afrofuturism as a way of imagining possible futures through a black

cultural lens,” says Ingrid LaFleur, an art curator and Afrofuturist. LaFleur presented for

the independently organized TEDx Fort Greene Salon in Brooklyn, New York. “I see

Afrofuturism as a way to encourage experimentation. reimagine identities, and activate

liberation,” she said.* (Page 9: Ingrid LaFleur, “Visual Aesthetics of Afrofuturism,” TEDx

Fort Green Salon, YouTube, September 25, 2011)

 

Womack adds:

“Whether through literature, visual arts, music, or grassroots organizing, Afrofuturists

redefine culture and notions of blackness for today and the future. Both an artistic

aesthetic and a framework for critical theory, Afrofuturism combines elements of science

fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism

with non-Western beliefs. In some cases, it’s a total reenvisioning of the past and

speculation about the future rife with cultural critiques.” (Page 9)

 

The Cosmic muse and the wonder of existence has inspired many with hope, dreams,

and sometimes a few nightmares. We can join those who have gone there before us.

There are writers like Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, N. K. Jemisin, and others before

and since. There have been tribute anthologies for Butler and Delaney since this book.

Jemisin has been shortlisted for awards. There is also coverage of some to the science

fiction shows that have Afrofuturists. Star Trek which has black characters in all of its

series is acknowledged in part. There is also mention of the impact of musicians like

Sun Ra, George Clinton and Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am who have been inspired by the

cosmic music. Some have explored and communicated with other planets in their own

way.

 

This accessible book explores some interesting subjects like Human Fairy Tales,

Motherhood on Mars, Modern Mermaids, Moonwalkers in Paint and Pixel, Time

Traveling, The Surreal Life, the Future World, and Agents of Change.

This book though does not have whole chapters on the writers mentioned or Star Trek

which always had black characters. One can find such subjects elsewhere if they look at

a library, bookstore, or on the web. Hard to imagine that the first bi-racial kiss took place

in Star Trek almost fifty years ago. Women only gained the right to vote in 1919. The

Civil Rights Movement continues, but without very powerful and famous spokespeople.

It can still shape one’s life. Even with a black president there is still need for social

change. There is likely to also be a need for social change with a woman president.

This book has a wonderful prose style and abounds with hope. It is inspiring and multi

ethnic in many of its pronouncements. There is though the grim reminder of some of the

things people experience on the street. From a white perspective there are encounters

with those who are playful, but also some who send warnings and threats. There are

those who are inspired by Bruce Lee who would have you move out of their way. There

are people who are not interested in sitting next you on the bus. There are those who

are inspired to spit on the ground in disgust when you pass by. Even in San Francisco.

One wonders about people self policing themselves. Most are busy or on their way

somewhere, but there are some idle who prey on others, usually out of necessity.

The idea that there are new Blackulas out there seems very racist to me. Vampires were

spawns of the devil and usually evil. Maybe there needs to self policing, but Blackula

seems like an example of Blacksploitation (There was an old movie from 1972 that I

don’t want to watch). Despite laws against segregation some choose to remain among

their own kind though.

 

Truer to this subject, an inconvenient truth to reminded of for those who found this

exploration too hopeful, is the idea of a new Blackenstein (There was an old movie from

1973 that I would watch). This potentially reconfigured entity is not the spawn of the

devil. Rather the result of the failings of the Socially Concerned, Social Programs, and

Social Engineering. Here is a pariah, an outsider, a stranger, who has not found a place

in society. Here is an example of the failing of a social and Wealthfare System that does

not always work for everybody. It is interesting to note that many consider Mary

Shelley’s Frankenstein to be the first science fiction novel. Her’s also was an outsider

with unmet needs. Science Fiction has had a hard time following this classic. There

could be a Movement sequel to it, but it might not be best in science fiction. Maybe

Blackenstein would be more happy on a space voyage, in the future, or a Utopia. I don’t

think it is accurate to say we put him on Star Trek. It is strange that we live in a society

where people cannot ask for what they need. It is also sad that we cannot always trust

strangers. There are also not always places where people can go when they need

something.

 

This might have been a necessary urban and sociological digression for some.

Not everybody is with the race into space though. Realists have made fun, even though

they have used cosmic metaphors and symbols. Some still think it is escapism.

Even as late as last year, luminary Toni Morrison wrote in the modern and sordid God

Help the Child (2015) in the same chapter:

“The moon was a toothless grin and even the stars, seen through the tree limb that had

fallen like a throttling arm across the windshield, frightened her. The piece of the sky

she could glimpse was a dark carpet of gleaming knives pointed at her and aching to be

released. (Page 83)…. Outside the sky would be loaded with more stars than she had

ever seen before. But in here under a filthy skylight and no electricity she had a problem

sleeping. (Page 92)…. How happy living here under stars with a perfect man made her,

how much she had learned traveling, housekeeping without modern amenities, which

she called trash-ready junk since none of it lasted, and how Rain had improved their

lives (Page 94).”

 

Things have not changed for the better for everybody.

There is though some starlight in eyes of a woman character in this book from Morrison.

This year is the 500th anniversary for the original Utopia which we might find dated and

not still hopeful 500 years later. The idea of Utopia though is really one of freedom to

dream and create a better society. Afrofuturism which is multiethnic in many ways can

help point the way to new Utopias.

 

We can still dream of traveling through space or to other times. Maybe the outsider or

unfortunate can find a place here. Maybe the generous can make the world a better

place after all. Maybe by going, rather than us all staying on this planet, we can help

move the world forward by setting an example. New social experiments could await us.

Fun and inspiring now to fly through Womack’s jazzy and hopeful language:

“Afrofuturism is a great tool for wielding the imagination for personal change and

societal growth. Empowering people to see themselves and their ideas in the future

gives rise to innovators and free thinkers, all of whom can pull from the best of the past

while navigating the sea of possibilities to create communities, culture, and a new,

balanced world. The imagination is the key to progress, and it’s the imagination that is

all too often smothered in the name of conformity and community standards.” (Page

191)

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