Monday, November 28, 2011

Steve Fellner reviews "Seven Studies for a Self Portrait"

Steve Fellner recommends my book to readers and critics. Hear him, you all!
One of the most ambitious and overlooked book of this year is Jee Leong Koh’s Seven Studies for a Self Portrait.  Even though presumably autobiographical, don’t expect any mushy confessions here.   As good as anything I’ve read this year, Koh’s poems are curiously distant... but in an enticing and exciting way.... [more]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Returned, Filled

We stayed with D & T near Woodstock from Wednesday to Saturday. For Thanksgiving, T cooked and fed a company of nine people. I met Jan Harrison, a painter and sculptor, and her architect husband Allan. Carol-Ann, a feminist performance artist, came with her new boyfriend, an Australian documentary filmmaker called George, who covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is now covering Occupy Wall Street. Burroughs also made documentaries, but of jazz musicians. GH was the other architect, and I was the representative poet. As for our hosts, D worked with videos and T had worked for MoMA. So much art present at the table, but reality, in the form of George's wars, dominated the talk.

The day after, we drove two hours to the town of North Adams to visit MASS MoCA. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in former factory buildings with beautiful hand-cut stone, covered bridges and exposed brick walls. The buildings were put up in the late 1800's, by Arnold Print Works, a textile company. When it moved out in 1942, it was replaced by Sprague Electric, which moved out, in its turn, in 1985. Walking in the factory yard, along the canal that ran between the buildings, I could smell the nose-wrinkling smell of paint, a pungent mixture of old and new. The white on the peeling birches seemed painted on.

I did not care much for the art on display. In the main gallery, the size of a football field, Katharina Grosse's installation of spray-painted gravel, sand and styrofoam, One Floor Up More Highly, looked arbitrary, inert and cheap. The retrospective on Sol LeWitt's wall drawings was mind-numbing in its iterations. I liked the wall drawings very much more at Dia Beacon where they formed a chapel-like space. Here, the walls stood in rows on their own in the middle of the galleries. The geometrical exhibition walls were much less interesting than the exposed brick of the building, interrupted at precise yet human intervals of windows.

The most intriguing work on display was Nari Ward's Sub Mirage Lignum. The last word refers to Lignum Vitae (the wood of life), a tree whose bloom is the national flower of Jamaica, where Ward was born and left as a teenager to live in the USA. The monumental centerpiece of this multi-room installation borrowed its form from a small conical basket-woven fish trap used by Jamaican fishermen. In Ward's Nu Colossus, broken bits of weathered furniture seemed both caught in the trap and woven in as part of the trap. Facing this gigantic basket of memories was a 30-foot long wooden boat held up by three large sheets of glass. The boat seemed to float in the air. It also reminded me of tourist souvenirs, of which ships in a bottle are only one variation. Ward's boat, however, leaned alarmingly on one side, creating a palpable sense of distress. The other parts of the work were less compelling. The sound and sculptural installation called Stall was too easy. Mango Tourists was as quickly exhausted as a double entendre. The two films Sweater and Jaunt were unoriginal.

We were all tired after the drive back home. T had the great idea of watching the film of Andy Goldworthy, the British land art sculptor. He practices, to my mind, an art of recuperation. Subtitled "Working with Time," the film showed the artist doing just that, creating temporary forms that appear and disappear with time. Having seen the spider-web made of twigs and thorns at the Hesse Collection, and the Storm King Wall, I was happy to follow their making in the film. Most astonishing was the urn-shaped structure made from balancing stones. It was built as an offering to the sea, which the sea accepted by washing over it, and when the tide receded, the sea returned the urn offering, only this time filled, not empty.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Encounter like a Flash

TLS November 18 2011

from Patrick McCaughey's review of the De Kooning retrospective at the MoMA:

The most telling example of de Kooning's progress through renunciation comes in the breakthrough years of critical acclaim 1948-53. He held his first one-man show in 1948 at the Charles Egan Gallery, a small and relatively obscure venue in New York, where he showed black-and-white paintings of the past two years. Most of them were just above easel scale, but they radiated an intensity of feeling, lightening white movements rent the unsteady black grounds. They rivalled the masterly, contemporaneous drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Although they are abstract paintings with only the most fleeting reference to identifiable images--a roof, the letters spelling Orestes--they are burdened with an ominous foreboding. De Kooning prowled Manhattan by night and the black-and-white paintings hint at a city illuminated by erratic flashes of light, felt rather than observed. A famous remark made by him years later that "content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash" applies perfectly to these early masterpieces of Abstract Expressionism....

*

The ferocity and grotesqueness of the Women of 1950-53 brought its own criticism of the artist. The pictures were seen as a misogynistic attack on women--a complaint that has not entirely died out. The Women retained their transgressive nature. The slashing brushstrokes and the physically violent attack on the surface rendered the image of women as raw, primitive and defiant and it shocked the 1950s. "Beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It's more joyous."The shock remains even as they continue the grand line of Cezanne's "Bathers" to Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Matisse's "Dance."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

From Passion to Compassion

In last night's Passio-Compassio, the Bach rearrangements by Music Director Vladimir Ivanoff sounded unconvincing to my ears. The string quartet, saxophones, bass clarinet, Arabic nay and qanun, Turkish ney, kanun and kemence, harpsichord, organ and frame drums, playing excerpts from Bach's Passions, sounded like a garage jam session. Bach's music was too strict, too self-contained, to admit foreign influences easily. When the music turned more improvisatory, more open-ended, as in the Syrian Orthodox chants and traditional Turkish songs, the different musical traditions melded into a sparkling stream. The experience taught me the usefulness of open forms in accommodating vastly different worlds: jazz improvisations, Arabic musical ornamentation, mystical refrains.

The Lebanese contralto Fadia el-Hage sang beautifully in the first half of the program. The Syrian chants were intricately embroidered by her warm yet brilliant voice. Particularly memorable was her rendition of Kefnet kmo zavnyn ("My nature took revenge on me"). In the second half Turkish singer Mustafa Dogan Dikmen stole the stage with his expressive performance of what I think was Ya llahi ("Oh Lord") in Ottoman Turkish.

Ali Ufki, the composer of Ya llahi, had a fascinating history. The concert program: "Born in 1610 to a Protestant Polish family (probably in what is now Lviv, Ukraine), this musician and scholar, whose original name was Wojciech Bobowski, had an improbably life. He was taken prisoner at an unknown date by Crimean Tartars and sold to the Ottoman court of Sultan Murad IV on the strength of his musicianship. He later converted to Islam and served as an interpreter of some 16 languages--and as Ali Ufki, he became one of the most prominent composers within the Ottoman empire before his death around 1675."

The Mevlevi dervishes appeared in both parts of the program, in imitation of their four "welcomings" (selamlar): four times, the dervishes greeted each other and the leader (sheik) of the group and started whirling. Their whirling was slow; their union with God was not ecstatic but contemplative. Their tall hats represented the tombstone and their white skirts symbolized the burial shroud for the ego. Casting off their black cloaks represented being reborn into the truth. According to the program, the dervishes are neither dances nor monks. They are real estate agents and merchants in daily life. Some have families. "They meet weekly to practice their ritual. Their concerns are togetherness and good deeds." It was strangely beautiful to gaze on grown men twirling about in long white skirts.

Throughout the performance, verses by Rumi were dimly projected to the back of the stage. I remember best his wish for the Beloved to put his lips on him, so that the mystic could, like a flute, sound out a blast of music.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Timothy Yu's "Race and the Avant-Garde"

In this work of criticism, Tim Yu brings together two groups of poets not usually considered together, the Language poets and the Asian American poets. The first is usually thought of along aesthetics lines whereas the second is usually described as a social category. By thinking of the avant-garde as life praxis, Yu illuminates the common origins of both Language and Asian American poetries in the New Left politics of the 1970s.

Faced with the splintering of the Left into what they saw as identity politics, the Language poets, mostly straight white men, had to confront the ethnicization of their own subject positions. Their Beat precursor Allen Ginsberg in writing his auto poesy provides a clear example of how not to be mix poetry and politics in the 1970s, as Chapter One discusses. Chapter Two examines Ron Silliman's attempt, both in his correspondence with other Language poets and in his book Ketjak, to acknowledge his ethnicized position and still maintain his centrality.

Discussed in Chapter Three, the project to create an Asian American identity was supported by a great deal of poetry writing appearing in new Asian American publications such as Gidra, Aion and Bridge. Poets such as Janice Mirikitani, Lawson Fusao Inada and Naohiko Oka were forging a poetry that would distinguish itself from being Asian and being White American. They borrowed inspiration and poetic strategies from the Black Arts movement, but were also embarrassed by their borrowings.

Chapter Four looks at the two opposite ways of reading Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's book Dictée, published in 1982, and canonized in Asian American studies by the mid-1990s. One way reads Dictée as an experimental poetry of form, a reading that has sometimes emphasized Cha's foreignness. Another way is to read the book as an "ethnic" writing of pure content. Yu argues that Dictée shows both ways of reading to be inadequate: it stages, instead, the clash between these strategies of interpretation.

John Yau is held up in Chapter Five as a poet who is both experimental and Asian American. In de-essentializing the Asian American identity through formal innovations, Yau continues the tradition of experimental Asian American writing started in the 1960s and 70s. The tradition has been obscured by the rise of introspective lyrical poetry written by poets such David Mura and Li-Young Lee in the 1980s. One of the achievements of Yu's book, then, is the restoration of the link between early and contemporary experimental Asian American poetry. Yu writes, "Like those early avant-gardists, Yau takes Asian American identity not as a given but as a product of the poem's own formal strategies--an identity that is thus provisional, shifting from poem to poem and even from line to line."

This description of Yau's project strikes a chord with me. I have said elsewhere that I don't consider myself Asian American, having neither the history nor the papers. After reading Yu's book, however, I now see that my own ontological project bears great similarity to that of Asian American poetry. If not (yet) a signed-up member of the Asian American community, I am certainly an ally. Yu's book is an absorbing read. The analysis of individual poems is deft. The prose is clear and jargon-free.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Carol Chan's Review of "Seven Studies for a Self Portrait"

I take my reviewers seriously. I take them seriously because I really like to know how my poetry impinges on an informed and acute sensibility. I take them seriously because I want to know the faults and limitations of my writing, and so learn how to write better. A negative review is more useful to me than a fulsome, ignorant one. What follows is my attempt to read a review carefully in order to understand its reservations and learn from it. It is also, of course, a piece of self-justification, but I hope it is not merely that.

Carol Chan does not like Seven Studies for a Self Portrait. For her the book "unfolds like a series of scientific experiments that don't quite take off." By "experiments" she means to indict me for being overly intellectual: "He frequently makes the wrong bet, falling in love with the idea of a poem, the idea of art." To support her contention, she quotes in full "Bulb" from the sequence "What We Call Vegetables." After criticizing the poem for its "weak" imagery and "clumsy" execution (though she acknowledges the poem's apt mimetic music), she judges that "The reason 'Bulb' exists is that it accompanies an idea, is part of an experiment...." That is true of the process of writing the sequence. I would not have written "Bulb" if I were not writing "Bud," "Leaf," "Stem," "Tuber," and "Fruit." Her description connotes, however, that the poem is merely an intellectual exercise, i.e. an experiment.

She continues, "But I'm not quite convinced that there is any substance here...." She then defines substance by referring to A.C. Bradley's 1901 lecture "Poetry for Poetry's Sake." She interprets Bradley as saying that "the poetic is that which satisfies the reader's contemplative imagination." The obvious implication is that "Bulb" does not satisfy her contemplative imagination. But why not? She does not explain of this poem. Is it because of the "weak" imagery? But what is weak about the poem's deployment of the onion image? No explanation. Is it because of the "clumsy" execution? But Chan herself commends how the poem's sound patterning "recreates aurally the acts of 'slipping', 'unbuttoning'."

A clue to her dissatisfaction may lie in the next part of her paraphrase of Bradley--"A poem convinces the reader of a particular world or moment it inhabits." A particular world or moment. I gloss that formulation by looking at the poems that do satisfy Chan's contemplative imagination. After praising the title sequence "Seven Studies for a Self Portrait" for its precision in words and imagery, Chan highlights the first three lines of "Study #3, After Vincent van Gogh":

God sank a mineshaft into me for a reason
I could not see in the coalmining district.
Coal dust ate the baby potatoes and beer.

She comments, "Not a word is out of place--the gravity and bleakness of much of van Gogh's work immediately translates onto the page with the apt word ("sank") and vague, ubiquitous detail ("coal dust")." Gravity and bleakness do characterize the "particular world" that the poem depicts. It is a "world" recognizably human, what with its mineshafts, coal dust, baby potatoes, beer and God.

Not so much a "world," but a particular "moment" is another extract that Chan quotes with approval, this one from "The Cave" in the sequence "Bull Eclogues" about a speaker very much like Ted Haggard, the ex-Evangelical pastor exposed for paying for gay sex.

At home it makes a smaller sound, the grief.
The click of a light switch. No mercy
in the darkness or the light the house repeats, 
but hiding for a time, however brief,
in me, as in my den, I hear the plea
of an unfired bullet in the drawer firing.

Chan reads this sensitively. She comments, "Koh's specific shade of grief is "the click of a light switch", startling, acute, blinding, immediately omnipresent," and then states flatly, "this is poetry--an experience composed of but cannot be reduced to that puree of sound, image, rhythm, substance." To my ears, "this is poetry" sounds dogmatic and absolute although it intends to praise. Sure, the lines are one form of poetry, but poetry comes in many forms. Contra Bradley, it is not limited to depicting a realistic world or a psychological moment. It may not be grounded in a recognizable lyric subjectivity. In fact, Seven Studies, as its name suggests (and not Seven Portraits, the shorthand that the review uses for the book), explores the different ways of looking at the self. The sequence "What We Call Vegetables" looks at the self as the communal "we," as still-life paintings that come to life, as a form of conceit linking human and vegetables. Here is "Onion," which Chan holds up as Exhibit A of my "inclination towards the cerebral, literary":

When we unbutton
our skin, our whole
body slips through, 
and leaves behind
more fleshy skin
for unbuttoning, 
and skinnier body
for slipping through
the shrinking hole. 
The rounded life.
An onion. A mouth.

The poem does not depict a world or a moment. That is not what it sets out to do. It enacts, instead, an idea of a form of life. Call the life self-devouring. Chan is right to call attention to the poem's ideation, but why can't such thoroughly enacted ideation provide something for a reader's "contemplative imagination"? The speaker is not van Gogh nor Ted Haggard, a lyric subjectivity; it is, instead, an onion, a mouth. The poem does not resemble Pope's "An Essay on Criticism" or protest poetry, but neither poetries would have fallen into the ambit of Bradley's definition either. When I wrote the sequence, I underestimated its challenge to a predominant, if fusty, view of poetry. Now I think that this sequence, and others to which Chan objects, gives the book whatever traction it has in questioning our sense of self.

Chan also feels the disjuncture between subject and form in the sequences "I Am My Names" and "A Lover's Recourse." "I think," she writes, "I could imagine the rationale behind his choice of the ghazal in his meditations of unrequited/lost love, and the riddle to explore responsibilities and definitions of the self--but I only understand these decisions intellectually." It is a pity that she does not expand on what she thinks is the rationale behind the choice of the forms. It is a curious feature of the review that it does not engage with any of the work's stated intellectual influences, not with the Nietzsche epigraph nor with the Roland Barthes of the ghazal sequence. Instead, Chan quotes Bradley and American critic Stephen Burt for an essentializing view of poetry--"this is poetry"--in order to find my book wanting.

When Chan comments on the riddle form, her critique puzzles me. "Visually, and read aloud, the riddle only almost works--the declarative answer at the end of each poem ... hints at pretension in the poet's claim to universality...." I don't understand how the answer to a riddle claims universality. An answer to a riddle is ... an answer to a riddle, somewhat gleeful if the answerer gets it wrong, somewhat deflated if the answerer gets it right. To give an answer like "My name is Anon. I am a father" seems more personal than universal. Personal too, the evasion of the poet's own name throughout the sequence.

Of the final ghazal sequence of the book, Chan writes, "Here, as in elsewhere, one gets the sense that Koh is writing for the sake of writing, because he has to fill up the pages...." As is typical of Chan's critical method throughout the review, she cites examples from the poetry without explaining why the quotations are "throwaway lines," "cliches," or "awkward imagery." Why is "Time is a river. That is if you are a fish./ If you are a sunflower, time is a fire" a throwaway line? Why are caves, windows, train stations necessarily cliches? She gives "door as apple's skin" as an instance of awkward imagery, but she gets the comparison wrong. I wrote "The apple wears its skin so well--I mean, so tight--/ I cannot find the catch to open the door."

And yet she can read the ghazal form sensitively. Of the bell ghazal, she writes, "In each couplet, the bell is variously a metaphor for the poet's ego, conscience, sexual desire, poetic voice and critic. The bell is presented via a different voice--a command, a musing, an irritation, an action, an effect. These voices and situations work with the central image to develop the complex tensions in desire, thought and action, rendering the abstract "bell" in the final couplet all the more meaningful and powerful in the light of the lines before...."

So alert to tones, Chan puzzles me when she fails to consider that apparently throwaway lines are intended to sound casual or flat. "I see I am the last man drinking in the bar" works only because of its starkness. Or that what Chan cites as "clumsy lines" have good reason to be awkward. In a road accident, the result is not always smooth-flowing but is often grotesque, as Frida Kahlo discovers: "a bus handrail is sticking in my uterus like a huge thumbtack." The sound must seem an echo to the sense, as Pope says. The sound of a line cannot be judged apart from its sense.

Chan has in mind a particular sound, just as she has in mind a particular conception of poetry. We all do, but it's worth asking ourselves whether our conception limits what we read and write or opens us to different senses and sounds. At one point in the review, Chan accuses me of intellectual "hubris." It is a severe charge, of impiety to the poetry gods. What then should I make of her conclusion on my book that "In his risk and search for the 'bigger picture' (meta-narrative and intellectual coherence of the collection), it seems that Koh has not quite come to terms with the value of poetry ... --what poetry is for, why we write." I am a proud man, but I don't assume that I know what poetry is for, and certainly don't think that everyone should agree on the same reason for writing. The presumption in "we" quite takes my breath away.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Contra Eliot

After hearing Stephen Dillane read "The Four Quartets" at the Clark Studio Theater last Friday, my longstanding love affair with the poem may be over. The still small voice of the poem that I had always heard in my head was suddenly and merely expressive in the mouth of the actor, expressive of a conservative religion, a contempt for other people and an authoritarian disposition that I knew were there, but had ignored as in the flush of love. I still admire the questing spirit in the poem--"Old men should be explorers"--and still respect the scrupulous scrutiny with which Eliot examines his life. Like Wagner's return to Christian symbolism in Parsifal, which caused Nietzsche to break with him, Eliot enters in "The Four Quartets" a dead end that no one else can follow, except his co-religionists.

The contrast with Beethoven's late String Quartet in A minor, which supposedly inspired Eliot, could not have been vaster. Played feelingly by the Miro Quartet, the music was achingly human. Even in its most divine aspect, the slow middle movement of the five, the divine is the expansion and elevation of the human spirit, and not a denial of it. The music makes me proud to be human, to belong to the same species as the man who composed it. The music is, ultimately, life-affirming.

Yesterday afternoon, GH and I listened to the Vienna Symphony Orchestra play at Avery Fisher, under the baton of Fabio Luisi. The program was completely Romantic: Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto in C minor and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major. Lise de la Salle, the twenty-three-year-old wunderkind from France, was mesmerizing at the keyboard. I did not think she reached the depths in the first movement of the concerto, but she was delicate in the second movement, and dazzling in the third. She disappeared under the orchestral sound at some point in the first movement, but was strong and commanding otherwise. I was surprised by how slow the work was played.

The same slow pace governed the Beethoven symphony, and destroyed it for me. Masterful precision in tempo and volume civilized the carnivalesque spirit of the work. The painful inarticulacy of the second movement sounded to my fanciful ears like operatic declamations. I would like to hear the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under a different baton, for the strings sounded wonderful, blended and warm. This performance of Beethoven, however, was Bacchus in coat-tails.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Correction


Correction


until a name/ and all its connotation are the same.

Elizabeth Bishop, “Conversation”



When he asks me for my name, I give him Jee.

No, your real name, he insists. Don’t patronize me because I am American.

I tell him my name is Jee Leong, but in America I go by Jee.

Jee Leong, he elongates, now that is a beautiful name.

He is right I didn’t think he could remember Jee Leong

but he is wrong to think I made Jee up for him.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mascara Call for Asian American Poetry


Mascara Literary Review will publish a special issue of Asian American poetry in July 2012. I am guest-editing it. The issue aims to present the vitality of poetry written by Asian American poets now. Essays and reviews are also welcomed, but please query me first with a writing proposal.

A bi-annual literary journal founded in 2007, Mascara is particularly interested in the work of contemporary Asian, Australian and Indigenous writers. The journal is supported by the Australian Council for the Arts and the National Library of Australia. It now receives 5000-7000 visits per month from 70 countries.

Submissions to Mascara Literary Review are by e-mail. Only previously unpublished work will be considered. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable as long as you notify the journal immediately of an acceptance elsewhere.
Send 3-5 poems and a short bio in a single Microsoft Word doc as an attachment, labeled with your name. Write “Asian American poetry” in the subject title of your e-mail. The response time is 3-6 months. Please do not query before 3 months. Send your work to submissions[at]mascarareview[dot]com. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2012.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Poem: "Tearjerker"


Tearjerker

My mum would insist on watching
the latest release with Dad and me, some action flick
like Iron Man or The Fast and the Furious.
Clanks and clashes notwithstanding, she would fall slack, snoring.

The plot, said Dad, is too complicated for your mum.

But she could tell you everything you want to know
about some 100-episode Cantonese tearjerker,
who is sleeping with whom and not his wife,
why he sells out his partner, how she takes her revenge,

what is the relationship between real life and TV.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Poem: "Tracing Death"


Tracing Death

We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb

                        Phillis Wheatley, “To a Lady on the Death of Three Relations”


The life that sailed from sight, the life to come,
the life that scribbles softly in between—
we trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.

A woman fell backwards, stunned in her womb.
Extracted from her dry eyes by the men
the life that sailed from sight, the life to come.

Elsewhere a bride is waiting for her groom,
around her mouth sweat gathers to a sheen.
We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.

Studying Virgil in the children’s room,
the slave hears from the Carthaginian queen
the life that sailed from sight, the life to come.

The writing starts, and stops, and then resumes.
In graceful elegies out of her pen,
we trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.

Pray for us, Lady of our certain doom,
that we may bring home safe by line nineteen
the life that sailed from sight, the life to come.
We trace the pow’r of Death from tomb to tomb.

Monday, November 07, 2011

"Eve's Fault" has been published in tongues of the ocean, a journal of Bahamian, Caribbean and related poetry, edited by Nicolette Bethel.

I wrote the poem during one of PFFA's 7/7s, and then workshopped it on the poetry board. Nico liked it so much that I had to give it to her.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop"

As a friend commented, Angela Bassett tore up the play at Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre last night. She was phenomenal, the heat and the heart of the action. She played the hotel maid who turned out to be an angel who had come to tell Martin Luther King Jr. (Samuel Jackson) that it was time for him to die. I was somewhat dismayed at first by the revelation that she was angelic because she was so full-blooded and interesting an earthly being, but the turn of events led to some well-judged comedy, in particular, a funny phone conversation that King had with Grandmother God, which ultimately underlined the pathos of a man coming to terms with his untimely end.

The 90-minute play, directed by Kenny Leon, humanized the monument that is the civil rights leader. It opened with King shouting to his friend to buy him Pall Mall. The smoke, which generated high sexual tension between a flirtatious King and Bassett's comely Camae, was also a sign of their shared humanity. King entered his motel room, coughing badly, and when he relieved himself in the bathroom we heard the icon passing water. His shoes were a particularly potent symbol. In their stink, they reminded the audience obliquely of the civil rights marches--the blacks' sacrifice and the whites' violence. Later, Camae put on King's coat to tell him what she would say if she were him, but she refused to wear his stinking shoes. In that refusal, Hall the playwright was also subtly pointing out that no one else could have walked in the man's shoes.

Instead of trying to be King, his successors should "carry on the baton" dropped by his death. That quotation became a rousing refrain when Camae the angel showed King the future before he died. Accompanied by original music by Branford Marsalis, the motel room gave way to a slide projection that highlighted the major events, as seen from an African American perspective, from King's assassination to Obama's inauguration. The last speech made by Samuel Jackson as King was very moving. He was no longer a reverberating voice, as heard at the start, but a man pleading quietly with other men and women.