Well, I am so happy to be here with three friends, and this book, Tonya M. Foster's Swarm of Bees in High Court, marvelous book. Look at this, Tonya is here herself. Tonya, thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. This is exciting. Erica Kaufman. I am. Hi, Tracie Morris. [inaudible] So Tonya, we're going to consider three pairs of short poems, haiku, from the book. Would you mind reading them, and then we'll talk about them? Sure. This is from in some [inaudible] , the book is marked in sections, although those sections are more rests rather than breaks. It's a long poem for the book, but, "Late night commercials with talk like urgent auctions in crowded rooms. Late night commercials make her turn the TV down so as not to wake him, and Harlem, she can't get the bedroom dark enough to lose sight of things, and Harlem, she can't get tour buses of eyes to stop trailing through her thoughts. Blackety black girl sitting in a dark lit by TV and street light. Blackety black girl at play on the core of our skin, eminent domain. Tracy, where do we start with this remarkable condensation of thoughts and stories repeated each time twice. Variational. Where do you start with this? Well, I started, Tonya, with the sonic qualities of the poem. I'm interested in the use of vowels and consonants in the collection, and especially in the first lines of each stanza. So in the first two that Tonya read, the first lines are dominated by long vowels, a, e, and i, and clipped by ts, and the second line by short up vowels. Then the second to the first lines are dominated by extended vowels and softer consonants like a and ah, and then the last two in this section that we've heard, the lines have soft vowels, but it sonically crowded out by the density of the consonants that they actually clack. So for me, these choices give us a subtextual reinforcement of space regarding the speaker, and that's space may be open to interpretation and might be personal. But ultimately, at least when we get to the last two, it's the framing of blackness, both the group notion and the ethnic notion, as well as the queue that takes over everything. So it's like if I know that Tonya knows that Bob Kaufman, and yes, this book called Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness. So it's like the solitude and the loneliness, but the crowding in of the black person in display, on display, on constant display, and the notion of being boxed in is what were led to what those first lines in each stanza. Wow, we have the privilege of being able to ask you about any influence Bob Kaufman has had on you. In New Orleanian or Louisianian. Who lived in the Bay Area, which is where you are now. Which is where I am now. So Bob Kaufman, I think of New Orleans is a place where you live among the dead, or you live with ghosts in a way. So Bob Kaufman is one of those ghosts. Also, extraordinarily capable of, at a time when his colleagues were writing, his beat colleagues, among others, were writing long, long lines, they weren't thinking about vowels and consonants, and he was doing this radical consonant condensation as well. Erica, is there another Kaufman not related that I know of, are there stories being told in these double haikus, and where would we start with those? Well, the poems in this book read to me very much as a tribute to Harlem or a song to Harlem. Like it feels like a book that's very concerned with the multiple stories that a place can tell, and I love the way having these hearings on the page gives you two windows into a common setting or a common space. That's how I was reading it. Let's take the Harlem set. There's a woman and she's in a bedroom in the first haiku. What's the story? Is there a story, Tracy? What do we know about her? What do we think? Well, I don't know if she is a woman because it's a she/he in the first and then personified without that slash. But because the slash was established, I think it disrupts the idea that she's personified. So let's say person. But yeah. Why does he/she, why is this person want to get the room dark enough, sleep time and can't sleep? It could be. I mean, there's a lot of ways to look at it, but because it's paired, it's also about what doesn't have to be on display, what doesn't have to be revealed. Why if you have the second piece, Tonya, in this one, the second one, you begin to think, one of the reason you want to close all the shades in Harlem is because there are tourists going through, pointing out, look, these people live in this Harlem, yeah? There is that way that Harlem is spectacle for some people when it's home for other people. That's something ultimately disturbing. I mean, I'm laughing, but the laughter is actually a kind of awkwardness, but it struck me. Living in Harlem, the way the tour buses would come down various streets when people are just trying to live their lives. I mean, my dream is to have a tour bus going through the suburbs, like what would it look. Look at the lawns. Awkward. Yes. Now that's in Harlem. Another interest of Bob Kaufman was the tourists going through, not Haight-Ashbury, but the beat sections. He's always interested in those who were living there, indigenous as it were, to the space, and then people who are coming to gawk at the poets. What is it to be seen in that way? I mean, at some point in the book, they talk back, there's a line, look back at them, see if they are looking back at you and so that sense of being on display when you're just living your life. Erica, in terms of the story of the second pair, the Harlem one. As Tracy pointed out, we really need the second to open, Tonya as well, because one is inside, the other is outside in the sense. We need both and yet we have Haiku that are rewritten, which, is a new thing that you did with this book. So do you want to say something? It might seem to you obvious, but worth saying about the idea of writing a haiku and then revising it and keeping both, what's to be gained from that? The nature of the form of the haiku is that it is so condensed. It should need a second version. It can both not need a second version, but also invite multiple versions because you can read like for both of these, I imagine that each word could generate its own haiku within the poem itself. So it seems imperative that there are these pairings because you're getting multiple views into the same scene, perhaps, but also multiple views into the same stanza or the same poem or the same poetic form. Tracy, your thought on this? Well, that particular question, I mean, the origin of haiku are linked verses, is the renga, so this is not stepping outside of the influence, but in terms of the repositioning, I thought, think a lot about pound and a lot of those guys who thought about, who were influenced by Asian forms weren't seeking to replicate them traditionally. There's also, of course, radical haiku poets in Japan, as well as the reinterpretation through English always makes it a different experience anyway, because it's not based on the same language system. So I think there's certainly plenty of room out there for that. I was also thinking about [inaudible]. I think it's Harlem, a Letter Home or something. I'm trying to get the exact title. It was in his first recording, blue wetness of dreams, in which he's talking to Harlem, a personified Harlem and this is before gentrification, when he was experiencing too, it's like some of his toughest moments. But also framing Harlem as a person. I thought about that. Many reviews were written, congratulations, and almost all of them said, "Great, a new radicalization of the haiku. She returned to the haiku and made it relevant, et cetera, et cetera." Now we've got you here. What we're trying, why return to the Haiku? I have a really simple, much bass or a response. I was writing haiku to a guy I liked, and I was asked to, somehow this happened over a long period. Someone asked me to write something about New York in 911 and I thought that was the most ludicrous thing I'd ever heard. No I can't. But what I could do was, I kept thinking about Harlem and how quiet it was on 911 and that juxtaposition of this kind of silence, the silence of grief, and the way that certainly my block and Harlem usually sounds. That it was so full of noise and so I thought, I just want to pay attention to this space because there's noise all the time. So between, you know, the erotic interests of writing haiku to someone I liked and what the tiny form allowed, like it rained in my narrative impulses. It allowed me to focus really concisely and I think that I also thought about the changing saying. What is it? What is that moment where a word goes or line goes in one direction or another direction and so what's possible in this by saying, "Okay, I'm going to play with that and here's the music and in the first one I'll go this way, and then the second one I'll go in this other direction." So in a way you have both things that are great. One is the charge, the self charge of condensation and precision. But you also give yourself the out of creating an alternative. So you get to, it's intensive and extensive at the same time somehow. Yeah. It's really a great experiment. It really is. Can we, the four of us do a close reading quickly of the third pairing. It begins blackitty black girl, and it ends with the phrase 'eminent domain', which for residents of Harlem in the mid to late 20th century, when Columbia University was using eminent domain to do whatever it wanted in Harlem, I don't know if that's the reference, but given what we've just been talking about, it seems like a really relevant phrase here and it's also a pun on all kinds of things. But anyway, so who wants to start, Erica start us off with anything about that pair. So another seems to be another, a woman or a girl inside. Well, what's striking to me about this pair is what happens between the two. So in the first stanza you got sitting in a dark lit by TV and streetlight and then the second is at play on the court of your our skin eminent domain. Maybe that's outside. Yeah. I was struck when Tonya read it out loud saying both pronouns, your and our, which does something really interesting to both of the stanzas, I think because there's a way in which it's including the audience in the setting, but also doing a pushing away. There's something happening with the games, I guess you get what I'm saying. Yeah, similarly to the last pair. Tracy, your thoughts on this one? I think it has to do with bringing and pushing away, as Erica said, and also how that happens is through light. So I stand by my comments about the crowding, but looking at the second lines more than the first lines of these and particularly these last 2 second pairs, Second light, it's dark lit, then followed by TV and streetlight. So it goes from a play on the skin to eminent domain; I think in both sections like the outside space and inside space. But this play on the court of your skin, again, makes me think about the display and people like basketball courts or whatever, how things are illuminated in order for people to be seen. I feel that the presentation of black woman, this is always on display at eminent domain for everybody to look at, to play with, to live off of, to reconstruct, and then disappeared to people or the women in this case, who construct that thing that everybody riffs off, so riff off of and rips off of. So, and that happens that comes through light to what's seen and unseen. So going back to the other two also, yeah, with tourists. There's lot of ways that people are tourists on buses without literally being on bus. Yeah. You're making me think there's an idiomatic pun or double meaning of the middle line of the second tercet, at play on the court is one thing. Go out and play play on the court, basketball court or otherwise. But what court? The court of your skin, right. Play on the court of your skin. So there's a way in which court is the place to play in and court is also the place where judgments are made. All right? Yes. Tonya, when you wrote this, what's going on, what did you want to say? It is those things. It's really, it's amazing sitting here listening to brilliant people give that attention to this work. I mean for me, certainly court in its various reverberations that there's both a court ship that happens in the book, but there's the basketball court and there's also the judicial space, and that all of those things are relevant to the way that to my imagining for this particular book, but also the way that skin is read, adjudicated, dealt with in this space. Yeah. Let's do final thoughts all the way around. So who's ready for a final thought? I just run that on you, but I think Tracy is ready for. Yeah, there's a certain level of rage that I have reading these poems because it just sort of brings up things that aren't pleasant in terms of people never being free, and I didn't even go into the other part of the court, but of course, just being able to take stuff, people, land, neighborhoods and reappropriates underscores a lack of agency and making something out of nothing, and it encourages people to give up. So there's a kind of innocence that I look for in the blackitty black girl, for her to effect change by not knowing what's going on, because that's a way of sort of destroying her and her community is to say, look at all these bad things like Tulsa and all that. It's like don't even bother because you don't have this kind of freedom. But I think framing it as a girl, says that there's a way in which she can maintain her innocence and opt out. So I'm going to choose to look at the domain being hers that she reclaims her domain is eminent. But that's not how I feel. I feel a great deal of rage, I'm just trying to keep it together. But I feel like that needs to be added in this wonderful setting that I'm absolutely frequently angry because all this is true. Thank you. Erica that's going to be a little hard to follow. Sorry Erica. I'm sitting here and I'm thinking about agency and how the speaker of the poem and the care with which the different poems in the book are written has a huge amount of agency to it. There's so much care going into the craft, and I personally agree with everything that Tracy is saying but I also teach a lot from this book in a real range of settings, and one of the things that I notice students get really excited about, is the idea that you can exercise power over forms of language that one might not necessarily think are theirs to be exercising power over, and I feel like that's something that I love so much about this book. Also, can I nerd out for one second? Yes, sure. The first time I ever wrote critically about poetry was a poaching introduction. I wrote for Tonya about homes in this manuscript a long, long time ago. I think it was 2001, maybe, and I was looking back through my notes because I still have that introduction, and it was striking to me how a lot of what I was thinking about in terms of the way that these homes speak to current events and current realities of what it means to be a body in certain spaces, stay the same. So you're nerding out in part because you're sitting next to a person whose work you revere? Yeah. Not to put too [inaudible]. Tonya, your final thought? You are you, so final thought is impossible, but one of your thoughts? It's interesting here you talk about the rage because I think this book is quiet and yet filled with rage and grief, and yet there are also those tender moments like when she's parting his hair into tender paragraphs. So that weird sense of carrying all those thing, I think that's also what the form is about for me. How do you carry the rage and the grief and also the tenderness? That somehow to have that formal space to hit those varied notes is what I was aiming for. You succeeded. One quick note following what you said and then I'm going to try somewhat incoherent final thought, I think of HD, although not haiku particularly but haiku-like writing at the beginning of the modernist experiment in the early 20th century, trying to stop the gloopy, sentimental, overwritten stuff of the late 19th century, trying to be powerful raging in her use of the Sea for instance; raging but also a delicate, precise, careful, exact, and regal, almost, that combination I see in here. My final thought. I don't know how this is going to come out but the six pieces or the three pairs to me suggest that commercialization is itself a form of eminent domain. There's a lot of TV here, there's a lot of TV at night, there's a lot of TV providing the only light. That's inherently a shut in and frustrating situation. In the first pair, the second of the two, she turns on the TV because the late night commercials might wake him so she's being protective of someone who's sleeping. They have lived together, maybe their partners, she's being solicitous, but the commercials are still there. The first one of those, they're urgent auctions. It's one of those late night shows where they're selling crap, just what you don't need in, on crowded rooms. Either that's where the auctions are taking place, like the stage set is ridiculous, or she's sitting alone and he's sleeping in her own room and this is what she's got, she's got commercials, and the pairs end with eminent domain. I think Tracy is right. This is not simply about what Colombia does to Harlem, but the equivalent of what Colombia does to Harlem that's coming into our own apartments through the TV, through the only light that we have, that she has, that some people have, and that just should piss us off, that this is where light comes from. We're always trying to get outside; not in the first pair but in the second of the pair. We're trying to get outside. The fact is that we're often inside and that eminent domain, which is the state or someone officially designated by the state can come and take your property, yourself, and what you have, and at the same time, all that's happening but we're still beaming to you subliminally this crap about what a modern life is and all you can do is turn the thing down so he doesn't wake up to it. I'm devastated by the power of this thing, so thank you. You don't have to respond to that. Okay, good. Tracy, thank you so much. Thanks, Ell. Erica this was fun. Tonya Foster, congratulations on this book once again; it's A Swarm of Bees in High Court, and it was published by BELLADONNA*. BELLADONNA, you've had a little something to do with BELLADONNA. This is what in the blues they call a real summit meeting, so I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.