Black Automaton Poetics

POETICS: The Black Automaton Series
(Installment 1)

The Black Automaton poems started as an exercise in my journal.

Every now and then, when I’m feeling a bit stuck, I think up 30 titles for poems I may not write. “The Black Automaton” kept popping up. I logged it in the back of my mind somewhere.

Later on, I began to think of certain processes I was growing obsessed with; I was locked into a kind of repetition, an idea that if one repeats a phrase enough, the reader (and as writer, I’m the first reader) will stop thinking of the individual words in the phrase. They will become a unit. A sort of plastic complex of words. At some other point, I’ll talk about how this relates to my “theory” of sampling, but it’s 1:00 a.m. now, so this is all I can do. Through repetition, I wanted the reader to pay attention to the fact that on the page, repetition is as much visual as it is cognitive. The visuality of it gets at my desire for a “performative page.”

In the summer of 2005, I was staring at blank pages in my journal. I had just finished teaching clustering exercises to high school kids and I remembered how these processes lookedâit was like a word exploded/flowered into new words, some clearly, others more idiosyncratically, associated with each other. I decided to try the exercise, but to somehow represent the process of the exercise in the poem’s final form.

The first draft (or, perhaps, “sketch”) looked a great deal like what you’ll find in the developed “Black Automaton” poems. These poems give me the opportunity to toy with visual poetics, a loose family of ideas I’ve been nursing about how to, say, represent rhyme visually–even when the words used don’t rhyme. Is there a “spatial” rhyme? How can one create simultaneity in a written document? That is to say, can I accompany myself in a poem, as a pianist might play and sing at the same time.

For me, the most exciting element of the Black Automaton poems is that I compose them directly in a design program, so the typographic procedures are not imposed on a “regular” poem, but elements such as layering, kerning, alignment, etc. play as important a role to the meaning of the poem as the dictionâeven as the poem is in its first draft. It’s a whole new kind of “poetic attention” (how I refer to the particular relationship between poets and languageânot narrative or information) to experience.

So, the design becomes a kind of procedure. The “Black Automaton” or the poems’ elastic “it” (in small capitals) becomes at once a joke on the “black folks as monolithic” misperception and me as a poet following a particular set of constraints.

These poems are also my way of trying to synthesize hip hop production styles (sampling, chopping, layering) into a composition process and aesthetic. The approach to language is drawn from De La Soul’s Dave and Harryette Mullen. The overall texture of the texts seems to hover around Prince Paul covered by Madlib. Visually, the poems are like flowcharts or wildstyles (although to truly tap into the power of a wildstyle, they need to cover something up).

When she first saw one of the poems, my wife said they were like maps of a hip hop mind. Works for me.

The Black Automaton In De Despair Ub Existence #1

mw intro

Right now, youâre probably asking, âWhat is MuckWorks?â

Answer: Poets Yona Harvey and Douglas Kearney with a trunk full of lab coats.

We believe that writers should get the opportunity to muck around a bit. To try new things, but with the alibi: “MuckWorks made me do it!” And “it,” here, denotes one of a variety of secret poetic experiments.

MuckWorks will produce a series of chapbooks, pamphlets and more in which some of our favorite writers will be invited to experiment with different projects and constraints. The results will then be made available as free pdfs or mp3s downloadable from this site.

MuckWorks One features eight poets writing covers of Inaugural Poet Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, “Ladders,â from her first collection, The Venus Hottentot. Check out new work from: LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Brian Gilmore, Yona Harvey, Terrance Hayes, Amaud Jamaul Johnson, Douglas Kearney, Bao Phi and Crystal Williams!

Click below to download:

Curriculum Vitae


For full CV, please download the PDF on the previous page

California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
MFA Writing 2004, School of Critical Studies
MFA Thesis in Writing, School of Critical Studies: Jungaeyé, an opera libretto written in a language invented from a fusion of African-diaspora-based vernaculars, dialects, pidgins and syntactic constructions.

Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Major: B.A. English 1996, College of Arts and Sciences, Summa Cum Laude

âCoat Hanger Award, poem: âSwimchant of Nigger Mer-folk,â awarded by (2007)
âMapfund Grant, lyrics âSucktionâ with Anne LeBaron, composer (2007)
âNew American Poet, awarded by Poetry Society of America (2007)
âPhi Beta Kappa (inducted 1995)
âGolden Key Honors Society (inducted 1994)
âDeanâs List, Howard University (1992â1996)

âFirst returning fellow for Idyllwild Summer Arts Poetry Fellowship (2007)

âIdyllwild Summer Arts Poetry Fellowship (2006) a week-long writing conference/workshop. Fellowships are offered through nomination.
âBread Loaf Writerâs Conference Waiterâs Scholarship: âawarded to applicants whose writing shows exceptional promise.â (middlebury college, vt 2004)
âCallaloo Creative Writerâs Workshop Fellowship: a two-week workshop sponsored by Callaloo, an internationally-distributed literary journal. (texas a&m university, tx 2004 & 2005)
âDonn Tatum Scholarship (2003)
âCave Canem Fellow: Cave Canem hosts a week-long workshop/retreat for emerging African American poets. A fellowship lasts for three workshop/retreats, after which, you graduate. (cranbrook institute, mi 2000â2002)
âNational Merit Scholarship (1992)

Faculty, California Institute of the Arts, valencia, ca Current
Teaching three courses per semester in African American Studies, through the Critical Studies department.
Current courses (syllabi available upon request):

ââEating Uncle Ben: Using âBlacknessâ For Fun And Profitâ

ââWet Black Ink: Contemporary African American Poetsâ

ââThe Crazy Negro(es): An Investigation of the Stagolee Traditionâ

ââBoom Bap Boom: The Sociocultural Impact of Hip Hopâ

ââMutating Blues: An Interdisciplinary Laboratoryâ

ââRemixing Jemima: Aesthetics and Contemporary Mythmakingâ

Adjunct Faculty, California Institute of the Arts, valencia, ca Fall 2004­âSpring 2006
Taught two courses to upper-level bfa students. âBones, Meat & Skinâ a poetry writing workshop and âRemixing Jemimaâ an investigation of poetics and contemporary mythmaking. For Fall 2005, âRemixing Jemimaâ was a âFoundation-levelâ course (one of a few courses bfa-1s can choose to satisfy a Humanities requirement). Teaching a Foundation-level course in contemporary Black poetry and a course on poetic recitation for the Theater School for Spring 2006.

Faculty, Community Arts Partnership Summer Academy, eagle rock, ca 2005
Taught high-school students poetry, fiction and non fiction at a two-week program. The class met for six hours a day.

Teaching Assistant, California Institute of the Arts, valencia, ca 2002â2004
Assisted in âPoetry Today,â a survey course focused on American poetry from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Workshop Leader, Eastside Saint Paul Boys and Girls Club, saint paul, mn 2000
Led poetry workshop for children, ages 5â16.

âFear, Some Red Hen Press, Granada Hills, CA

ââBig Thicket: Pastoralâ âThe Ringing Ear, University of Georgia Press, 2007
ââSprung Flungâ (collaboration with Harryette Mullen)âSaints of Hysteria, Soft Skull Press, 2007
ââAnansi Meets Peter Parker at the Taco Bell on LexingtonââDark Matter: Reading the Bones, Aspect Books, 2003 â(This anthology won the 2005 World Fantasy Award for anthologies.)
ââHalfaman Considers What He BorrowedââCave Canem VII, Cave Canem, 2002
ââBabalooââCity Works 2002, San Diego City College, 2002
âârep/resentââBum Rush the Page, Three Rivers Press, 2001
ââPasadena City Hall, April 29, 1992ââRole Call, Third World Press, 2001
ââSkin&bones Seeks a New RiverââCave Canem VI, Cave Canem, 2001

âexcerpts from Jungaeyé: A LibrettoâPerformance Research (forthcoming 2007)
ââThe Black Automaton in Coalition-Building A Better Mousetrap,â âThe American Troubadorâ and âBeing An (A)Merican(Merkin) Chapter 2: ess you veeââAskew #4 Fall/Winter 2007
ââCity of Searchlights and Dead Catsâ and âFloodsong #6: Bullfrogâs Liturgy of the EucharistââGulf Coast, 2007
ââReport on the Transformationâ¦â, âWhen the Rain is Piss #4â, âWhen the Rain is Piss #5â, âBreaking Tallboys Open #1ââTrepan 5 October 2006
ââThe Poet As Settingâ and âDiscount Ritual in 4 Parts: Bag of Afroââjubilat Eleven, 2006
ââThicket. 02: Book of the Dead: ImmortalityââCallaloo Vol. 28, Number 4, 2006
ââPoem with Some Sand and All at OnceâShaitan!ââMangroveâNumber 14, 2005
ââHimâ, âThe Blue Songs of Whalesâ and âThe Chitlin Circuitâânocturnes, 3, 2004
ââFakir Floats Above Street LevelââCallaloo ,Vol. 26, Number 2, 2003
ââJimiattabucket(O Blood)ââSunk, Vol. I. i, 2003
ââThe Crossroads of Convenience StoresââAche, Winter 02, Vol. 002, 2002
ââBlack Market JamââThe Ethiopâs Ear, Winter/Spring, Vol. 1, 1999
ââSceneâ and â5 and 1 Coffee Sugar GirlââThe Publication, Vol. IV: v,1999
ââmoney: the pick-up gameââThe Amistad Vol. 1, 1996

ââTallahatchie LullaBye, Baby,â âSwimchant for Nigger Mer-folkâ and âThe Cruel, Cruel CityâââFebruary 2007
ââAuto,â âThe Orange Alert,â âAt the Pink Teacupâ and âShadowboxer on the LookoutââââFebruary 2006
ââBeautiful/Useful,â âThicket. 05: Book of the Dead: The Bleeding Placeâ and âThicket. 04: Scene From a River of DustâââJanuary 2005
ââ[see line 19]â and âMessiah Dies For Their SinsâââFall 2004

ââBring the Noiseâ: A review and interview with Public Enemyâs Chuck DâEntertainment Today, Vol. 37, No. 27
ââWhat Doomed Enterprise?: A Digital Interview with Willie PerdomoââView From the Loft, April/May, 2004
ââUnder the Influence of Breath: Exploring the Roots of the Spoken Word ResurgenceââSpeakeasy, Vol. II: i, 2003
âAn Interview with Toi DerricotteâView From the Loft, January/February 2001
ââLoni Berry: Through the Briar PatchââThe Publication Vol. IV: vi, 1999
ââBecky Cohen: Evolution and the Art of StaringââThe Publication, Vol. IV: iv, 1999
ââErika Torri: The Athenaeum Stands at the Threshold of its 100th YearââThe Publication, Vol. IV: iii, 1999
ââHarry Sternberg: Words and PicturesââThe Publication, Vol. III: vii, 1998
ââDouble Vision: Wu Han and David Finckelâs Plans for San DiegoââThe Publication, Vol. III vi, 1998
ââWilliam Glen Crooks: Talking in PicturesââThe Publication, Vol. III: iii, 1998

âDramaturg for âEcho::system­âThe Desert,â by Grisha Coleman. Premiered September 2007 in Pittsburgh, PA
âLibrettist for Mordake: A Triptych, with score by Erling Wold. Upcoming.
âLyricist for Sucktion, with score by Anne LeBaron. Premiered May 2006.
âServed as assistant director for Wet, with libretto by Terese Svoboda and score by Anne LeBaron. The production mounted at REDCAT in Los Angeles, CAâDecember 2005.
âWrote/performed text for âTetraodontiformalismâ a dance piece selected for the 2005 Cal Arts Spring Dance Concert. Choreographed by Katiana Rush.âApril 2005.
âWrote the âbattleâ libretto for Six Minutes, a play by Eisa Davis, commissioned by the Hip Hop Theatre Festival and presented at Aaron Davis Hall in Harlem, NYâNovember 2004.
âCo-wrote the libretto for Le Point Vierge a collaborative opera with Melissa Weaver and John Duykers; performed at California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CAâApril 2004

ââ2nd Cornerâ and âBumper BlisterââGettinâ To It, Done Been, 2006
ââCalArts 35th Anniversaryâ video (text and voiceover)âCarol Anne Klonarides, producer 2005
ââCrossroads of Convenience Storesâ and âHip Hop HaikuââRefugeography, Thien-bao Thuc Phi 2005
ââPB&JââNazirahâs Playhouse, Nazirah P. Mickey, Speakeasy Records, 2002
ââMonkey on My Back,â âKasperâ and ârep/resentââTest Type Trio, Test Type Trio, 2002

âPoets in the Schools: workshop leader, Camino Nuevo Charter High School,
Los Angeles, CAâFebruaryâMarch 2007

âThe Talking Page: lecturer, Germantown Poetry Festival, Philadelphia, PAâApril 2007

âThe Talking Page: lecturer, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PAâMarch 2007
ââPoets in the Schoolsâ: workshop leader, Camino Nuevo Charter High School, Los Angeles, CAâNovemberâDecember 2005
ââApplying Poetic Termsâ: lecturer, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CAâNovember 2003
ââConcrete Poetryâ: lecturer, San Jose City College, San Jose, CAâFebruary 2003
ââDyamsay Writing Workshopâ: co-leader, Santa Monica, CAâ2002â2003
ââCollaborative Poetryâ Workshop: leader, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VAâNovember 2002
ââCollaborative Poetryâ Workshop: leader, Cave Canem 2002, Cranbrook, MIâJune 2002
ââPersona Poetry/The Dramatic Monologue:â: lecturer, Chula Vista High School, Chula Vista, CA âMay 2002
ââThe Bop Form:â: lecturer, San Diego City College, San Diego, CAâMarch 2002
ââPersona Poetry/The Dramatic Monologue:â: lecturer, Pittsburgh High School of Creative and Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PAâFebruary 2002
ââWriterzBlock Workshopâ: co-leader, San Diego, CAâ1998â1999

ââThe Other in Contemporary Art Discourse: Owning, Speaking and Being âThe Otherâ (panelist) California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CAâSeptember 2007
ââOuter Workingsâ (panelist) Cave Canem Tenth Anniversary, New York, NYâOctober 2006
ââWriters and Warâ (panelist) San Diego City College, San Diego, CAâMay 2006
ââLiterary Citizensâ (panelist) AWP, Austin, TXâMarch 2006
ââMaking Art in War Timeâ (panelist) Betalevel, Los Angeles, CAâJanuary 2006
ââLover and the Beloved in Sufi Poetryâ (moderator) California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CAâOctober 2005
ââLetters and Numbersâ (moderator) noulipo: Experimental Writers Series, Los Angeles, CAâOctober 2005
ââMore Than Little Green Men: People of Color in Speculative Fictionâ (panelist) San Diego Comic-Con International, San Diego, CAâJuly 2004

âLast Call, Valencia, CAâSeptember 2007

âMoonday, Pacific Palisades, CAâSeptember 2007

âThe Ugly Mugg, Orange, CAâSeptember 2007

âMetropolis Bookstore, Los Angeles, CAâAugust 2007

âSkylight Books, Los Angeles, CAâJuly 2007

âCafé Aroma, Idyllwild, CAâJuly 2007

âBowery Poetry Club, New York, NYâMay 2007

âCornelia Street Café, New York, NYâMay 2007

âLA Times Festival of Books, Los Angeles, CAâApril 2007

âGermantown Poetry Festival, Philadelphia, PAâApril 2007

âMoles (Not Molar), Philadelphia, PAâApril 2007

âNew American Poets, The New School, New York, NYâApril 2007

âShadow Lounge, Pittsburgh, PAâMarch 2007

âCarnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PAâMarch 2007

âUniversity of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PAâMarch 2007

âPoetry at the Ruskin, Los Angeles, CAâNovember 2006
âSmall Press Traffic, San Francisco, CAâNovember 2006
âSan Diego City College, San Diego, CAâMay 2006
âCalArts MFA Writing Alumni Showcase, High Energy Constructs, Los Angeles, CAâMay 2006
âUniversity of WisconsinâMadison, Madison, WIâApril 2006
ââDeep Like the Rivers: African-American Poets of Los Angeles,â The Clark Library, Los Angeles, CAâMarch 2006
âPoetry @ SMH: Frequency, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NYâFebruary 2006
ââHalf Hour from Homeâ California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles, CAâOctober 2005
âBSUâPoetry Slam, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MDâFebruary 2005
â3Wheeze beeze likes the Remix2, The Bowery Poetry Club, New York, NYâNovember 2004
âEquilibrium, The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, MNâSeptember 2004
âPomona College, Pomona, CAâApril 2004
âExhale, University of Florida, Gainesville, FLâNovember 2003
âA Taste of Art Gallery, New York, NYâNovember 2003
âThe World Stage, Los Angeles, CAâOctober 2003
âBlue/Print, California Institute of the Arts, CAâSeptember 2003
âSan Jose City College, San Jose, CAâFebruary 2003
âCollege of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA November 2002
âFluid Movements, The Public Theatre, New York, NYâAugust 2002
âSlam Nationals, Minneapolis, MNâAugust 2002
âSa-I-Gu, Locus Performance Space, San Francisco, CAâApril 2002
âDos Mil Espacios, San Diego City College, San Diego, CAâApril 2002
âSun Crumbs Poetry Series, Pittsburgh, PAâFebruary 2002
âSingers at Daybreak, First Ave., Minneapolis, MNâAugust 2001
âRhapsody In Colorâan exhibition of art from the Russian Avant Garde Movement of the Early 20th Century. I co-wrote and performed in a multi-media, performance poetry sequence. Commissioned by and mounted at the Weisman Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis, MNâFebruary, 2001

ââBeautiful Struggleâ KPFK (radio): guest, Los Angeles, CAâSeptember 2007
ââProsodyâ (podcast): guest, Pittsburgh, PAâfeed://âMay 2007
ââLA Litâ (podcast): guest, Los Angeles, CAâ<a href=ââ</a>âOctober 2005<br /> ââBrazos Writerâs Talkâ KEOS (radio): guest, Bryant, TXâMay 2005<br /> ââConversations with Al McFarlaneâ KFAI (radio): guest, Minneapolis, MNâSeptember 2004<br /> ââIllfonixâ KSDS (radio): guest, San Diego, CAâOctober 2002<br /><br /><br /><br />



“The Black Automaton in Tag” poems


“The City Vs. John Henry” #1â#4


“Tallahatchie LullaBye, Baby”
“The Cruel, Cruel City”
“Swimchant For Nigger Mer-Folk”

“Atomic Buckdance”
“Alameda Street”
“Eric Visits His Father”
“Show It!!!”
“Divination Procedure for the Modern Day Sucker MC: Answers for Four”
“Divination Procedure for the Modern Day Sucker MC: Answers for Nine”
“The City Vs. John Henry”


“The Chitlin Circuit” @ Spelman College, 2007
Selections from The Germantown Poetry Festival, 2007
“The Chitlin Circuit,” “Family Room” and “Tallahatchie Lullabye, Baby” @ Pharmaka in Downtown L.A.


Booking Packet (2.5 mb PDF)