Dancing with Genius, Dancing with Madness (in Honor of Jalaluddin Rumi)

                                                           (Rumi Visions II CD cover art by  Marvin Mattelson)

I think of Genius and Madness as being very much like a twin brother and sister.  And it doesn’t really matter which one we call the brother, or which we describe as the sister, for one simple reason.  Within the universe of the extraordinary, those qualities we designate to human concepts of gender are often shared, exchanged, or even completely obliterated. Because of this mixture of traits, these twins called Genius and Madness often appear to be the same thing.

They both have a tendency to blur the lines of what we call norms, or established reality.  They both, when we study that grand tapestry known as history and modern-day society, tend to stand out in much bolder relief than other figures. Neither Genius nor Madness ever look upon the world as a finished product. Both tend to view it as a kind of work in progress subject to their peculiarly mesmerizing influence.

Nevertheless: despite their similarities we are talking about twins with pronounced and distinct characteristics. If they at moments appear identical, in the end there’s rarely any difficulty telling them apart. For we recognize True Genius and True Madness most accurately by their legacies. Madness has a fondness for leaving the world filled with confusion and atrocity: such as the assassination of humanitarian leaders; the systematic rape and oppression of women and children; or the deliberate destruction of social and individual harmony. Genius, on the other hand, prefers to reserve its passions for clarity and the joys of intellectual possibility. It bestows upon the world such gifts as the angelic compositions of a Mozart; the enabling spiritual vision of a Martin Luther King, Jr.; the creative brilliance of a Leonardo da Vinci; or the Nobel-winning literary excellence of a Toni Morrison.

To check out the full post by Aberjhani please click the link:
Dancing with Genius, Dancing with Madness in Honor of Rumi article by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen.


Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives (essay with poem)

“The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence…”~Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture in Literature

(This segment of Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives is published in partnership with Voices Compassion Education.)

Like many authors I dive headlong almost every day into a torrential flow of words sparkling with possibilities. I then work to extract from that linguistic flow a collective of sounds, imagery, ideas, and entire compositions capable of offering relevant reflections of the world experienced both inside and outside my own head. Such a mindful exercise in disciplined creative passion tends to focus my thoughts more on striking a balance between the unyielding clarity of prose and the seductive allusiveness of poetry than on the demands of managing a public image.

Because I give myself so wholly to the furious embrace of language on a regular basis, I rarely classify myself as a specific kind of writer. It is usually editors or readers who decide on my behalf whether I am more welcome in their world as an essayist, fiction-writer, historian, poet, or another breed of fever-driven scribbler. They provide the context in which a meeting of our minds may occur and share notes on specific facets of what it means to be in this world.

The differences between the various literary forms are obvious enough but it is not unusual for one genre, during a heated word-session, to flow at will into another. It happens much the way a dancing couple or individual might boogy-bounce nonstop from one song to the next––the rhythm calls and the soul answers.

Please continue reading the essay with poem by Aberjhani by clicking this link:
Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives (essay with poem) (article) by Aberjhani on AuthorsDen

A Digital Facelift for PEN American Center – Bright Skylark Literary Productions

(PEN International World Association of Writers logo)

The PEN American Center turned all of 90 years old in 2012 and recently decided to give itself a very useful digital facelift. With such cases like that of the Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega still rocking international headlines, the PEN American Center’s mission in conjunction with PEN international ––to defend the right to freedom of expression and promote the values of literature and literacy––has never been more valuable than right now.

As much as I’m enjoying its swagging new style, the upgrade came with a price to which I, and other authors who maintained blogs on the site, now have to adapt. My primary reason for joining PEN American Center last year was to participate in and contribute to the legacy of literary camaraderie first established by C A. Dawson Scott and John Galsworthy––and then later sustained by such luminous literati as H.G. Wells, Willa Cather, Richard Wright, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and many others.

But I also joined to provide an online home for two important series launched last year: Paradigm Dancing and Guerilla Decontextualization. Housing the series at PEN American Center is no longer possible. Most of the articles from the series are still available as part of my Examiner column but I will have to decide on a new home custom-designed for them outside that location.  To those who have been visiting the page on PEN to check them out: please accept my apologies for the unexpected interruption.

Please click to read the full post by Aberjhani:

A Digital Facelift for PEN American Center – Bright Skylark Literary Productions.

Dear James Baldwin (in lieu of) Dear Barack Obama

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

U.S. Postal Service tribute stamp featuring author James Baldwin

Dear Mr. Baldwin-

If I were not writing this letter to you as one of my favorite authors, I would probably be writing it to Barack Obama because there is a great deal about him which tends to remind me of a great deal about you. The sentence structures he employs in his memoir, Dreams from My Father , often curve in and out of passages that virtually sing with eloquence and yet, at times, shout with an unruly detachment  in defense of truths many people generally prefer not to hear. The first time I heard such courageous music pour from the pages of a book or witnessed syllables explode like miniature bombs of revelation was when I read your Notes of a Native Son, then later The Fire Next Time.

Your birthdays are very close too-his on August 4, only two days after yours. But he was born in 1961, just after you turned thirty-seven. In that same history-forging year when you published the book of essays titled Nobody Knows My Name, addressed members of CORE in Washington, D.C., met with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, traveled all the way to Israel and Istanbul, Turkey, and then, by the end of the year, completed what some still consider one of most controversial novels ever published in the North America: Another Country.

Mr. Obama reminds me of you also because he could have easily chosen for himself and his family a fairly quiet life in which he might have enjoyed the comforts of substantial earnings and the respect of his peers minus the constant public jabs he now endures while working, seemingly unceasingly, on behalf on his countrymen. By the same token, you in 1954 could have elected to enjoy a nonstop bohemian party in Paris, France-hanging out with mega-diva Josephine Baker, fellow author Chester Himes, and the disturbingly brilliant artist Beauford Delaney– instead of returning home to be spat upon while dodging rocks and bullets as you marched beside Martin Luther King Jr. and many thousands more to confirm, with spilled blood and weeping souls, our country’s commitment to the ideals of Democracy.  Through essays, plays, and novels, you wrestled as naked as naked gets with the operational dynamics of race relations, sexual identity, and social imbalances as you witnessed them. Such a quintessential artist-activist did you become that it was impossible to ignore you.

President Obama appears to me have elevated and implemented the artist-activist concept to the role of empowered servant-leader, as creative in his vision of the world’s possibilities as you were in yours, and as dedicated to the battle to help humanity liberate itself from the collective fears, prejudices, and ignorance that has yet to contribute anything of functional value to the world community. He is also impossible to ignore; so much so, in fact, that an entire new would-be political party/movement has formed to generate automatic negative criticisms of his every move or spoken word, whether instinctively brushing aside a fly or placing his well-traveled feet atop his desk. And you know what else? He said his favorite novelist is your old friend, Toni Morrison , and that he is particularly fond of The Song of Solomon, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites as well.

Speaking of Ms. Morrison, I recall your description of her (in the late 1970s I believe it was) as “This rather elegant matron with quite serious intentions.” You had already been resting in peace for six years when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, but I had no doubt that on that day you, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and a gang of others were all slurping celestial champagne and dancing to the glorious boom of Mahalia Jackson’s gospel-anointed voice.

Sorry, I kind of got off track. I wanted to say the reason I’m writing this letter to you today instead of to Barack Obama is because, for some reason, last night I was thinking about my own literary works and suddenly recalled your statement that you wanted mostly, “to be an honest man and a good writer.” And then today I received an email from the folks at Red Room suggesting members consider writing a letter to a favorite author, living or deceased. Just like that, you popped into my head and I heard myself talking with you, somewhat similar to the time I was writing my novel, Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World, and got stuck somewhere about halfway through it. I saw you in a dream when you said, “Shit baby, you slamming those keys like I used to! Don’t stop now, it’s getting better than you know.” The dream-I always remember it because you were dressed like a guru with long strings of colorful Mardi gras-like beads around your neck– dissolved my writer’s block and I pushed on to the novel’s completion.

Author James Baldwin getting the job done. (UPI file photo)

During the four years I was stationed with the Air Force in England, you were still alive, and I was tempted every pay day to spend the rent money and car payment on a ticket to fly or float across the English Channel and see if I could track you down in the village of St. Paul de Vence. I was always proud of myself when I resisted the temptation, even while I shook like a junkie hungry for a fix in the worst way, and placed the endangered funds in my wife’s hands.  I told myself I would get there at some point, and clearly had no way of knowing that less than a year after getting out of the Air Force, I would be in Florida, collecting unemployment checks and working on a book, when the news would hit that you had died from stomach cancer. I didn’t get pissed about never having spent the rent money to visit your home in France. I simply got drunk and read random passages from your books.

Once, I came across a response from Maya Angelou to critics who compared your works in fiction unfavorably to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Angelou said there was no question that Invisible Man is a masterpiece but she held you in great esteem because you “did the work and produced the books.” At the time, Invisible Man was Ellison’s only published novel and would remain so for the rest of his life.  By the time of your death, you would have published some eight novels, at least as many volumes of nonfiction, four plays, and a collection of poetry.

Despite stones aimed at your head, guns pointed at your heart, or nooses tied with hopes of hanging you burning from one of them, it was just like Angelou said: you got the work done in a fantastically and indisputably admirable manner. And the fact that Mr. Obama is currently your homeland’s president demonstrates that none of your words or works, on or off the page, were produced in vain. This letter comes to say Thank You for the example provided, and to acknowledge that although I cannot confirm any definitive results at this point, I continue trying very hard to get the work done because you proved it is not only possible, but worth the aggravating labor required, worth the numbing anguish so often endured, and worth the miraculous joy that sometimes-just sometimes-follows in the end.

by Aberjhani
©June 2010

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Creative Conversatin’ Interview with Writer Nordette Adams (Part 3 of 3)

Cover of Dancing through the Word Labryrinth spoken word CD.

Cover of Dancing through the Word Labryrinth spoken word CD.

For the first part of this interview with Red Room member Nordette Adams please click this link. The concluding part three begins here and now:

Aberjhani: What is the last work of fiction you read that made a strong impression on you and why did it move you so deeply?

: I’m reading Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy and while it is a compelling story, I have to say for the moment I am more impressed by how Morrison is telling the story than the story itself. I’m fascinated by the high craft it takes to do what she’s done with language, syntax manipulation to create character and move through time. I recall what one of my fiction writing professors said of her once, “Oh, her. Who knows how she does what she does?” I know I’ll have to read it again.

: I had a similar reaction to A Mercy and will also have to read it again. The manner in which Morrison adopts so completely and communicates through the consciousness of characters centuries removed from her own is phenomenal, especially when you’re talking about a character who shares neither her race nor her gender. That kind of literary alchemy is profound and rare. Have you read either of President Barack Obama’s books and if so, what is your take on him as a writer?

: I have The Audacity of Hope as an audio book. He is an exceptional writer, eloquent. Wonderful cadence.

: I’ve been reading and re-reading Dreams from My Father, which I have to admit totally floored me with its analytically precise and yet poetically graceful language. It’s very much like something any of the classic African-American writhers, like Ralph Ellison or Richard Wright could have written. But getting back to the wide range of your literary expertise discussed earlier, how is it some publisher has not wooed you to produce a book (or several for that matter) that they could market and turn into a bestseller?

: Someone is talking to me. Keep your fingers crossed, and it’s a recent development. Other than that, I can only blame myself for not producing a book yet. I think, however, that’s about to change.

: Is there anything you would like to add that I have not asked you?

: I cannot think of a thing except to give you the easiest way for people to find my work. They can hit the link http://Her411.com to get to feeds of the African-American Books Examiner, the New Orleans Literature Examiner, BlogHer.com, and my blog Whose Shoes Are These Anyway? I may even have a poetry link or two. I got a short catch all URL with Twitter in mind.
Aberjhani: Thank you Nordette for taking the time to engage in some thoroughly enjoyable creative conversatin’ and letting readers learn just a little bit more about you, your very dynamic work, and your world.
Nordette: Thank you Aberjhani for selecting me as one of your interview subjects. I am honored, and it’s been a pleasure.

© by Aberjhani
and Nordette Adams
August 4, 2009

Continue the discussion on redroom.com