Monday, February 22, 2010

Ishmael Reed

Today is the birthday of writer, poet and social critic Ishmael Reed, born February 22, 1938. Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but grew up in Buffalo. He attended Buffalo public schools from elementary school until he dropped out of Buffalo State University in the early 1960's. Reed's writing career began with a jazz column he wrote for Empire State, a long defunct African American weekly paper out of Buffalo.

Reed moved to New York City in 1962 and co-founded the East Village Other, an underground newspaper that became an important organ for the burgeoning counter culture movement. He published his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, in 1967, and since then has published some 10 novels, five books of poetry, four collections of essays, six produced plays, dozens of songs, and countless reviews and critical articles. Reed's huge body of work conforms to no one style, but more often than not Reed is combative, suspicious, deeply cynical and funny as hell.

In addition to his own prolific career, Reed has been a champion for younger writers, founding and serving as editor and publisher of various small presses and journals. His current publishing imprint is Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, and his online literary magazine, Konch, features contemporary poetry, essays and fiction. Reed recently retired from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley where he taught literature and creative writing for thirty-five years.

beware : do not read this poem

tonite, thriller was
abt an ol woman, so vain she
surrounded herself w/
many mirrors

it got so bad that finally she
locked herself indoors & her
whole life became the

one day the villagers broke
into her house, but she was too
swift for them. she disappeared
into a mirror
each tenant who bought the house
after that, lost a loved one to

the ol woman in the mirror :
first a little girl
then a young woman
then the young woman/s husband

the hunger of this poem is legendary
it has taken in many victims
back off from this poem
it has drawn in yr feet
back off from this poem
it has drawn in yr legs

back off from this poem
it is a greedy mirror
you are into this poem. from
the waist down
nobody can hear you can they?
this poem has had you up to here
this poem aint got no manners
you cant call out frm this poem
relax now & go w/ this poem

move & roll on to this poem
do not resist this poem
this poem has yr eyes
this poem has his head
this poem has his arms
this poem has his fingers
this poem has his fingertips

this poem is the reader & the
reader this poem

statistic: the us bureau of missing persons re-
ports that in 1968 over 100,000 people
disappeared leaving no solid clues
nor trace only
a space in the lives of their friends

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