'Every Child is Born a Poet' - Piri Thomas
People keep getting born, so there must be some who haven't heard yet of Piri Thomas. Most people find out about him when they're about 14. A sensitive teacher turns them on, or another kids says, "Hey! You godda read this book!"

The book, of course, is Down These Mean Streets, which Piri started to write as a teenager when he was in prison for a botched holdup. That was before he took his mother's nickname for him as his pen name (his prison record says "John Thomas"). The book was his way of transforming himself from a confused, violent, self-disgusted kid into the poet and performer he is today. Born to a Cuban-Puerto Rican couple in Harlem in 1928, saved from total self-destruction from drugs or violence by prison, he went back to Harlem and to other communities like that to awaken pride and a sense of possibility in other young men.

Now, one of the other kids touched by his story -- Jonathan Robinson, now grown up to be a filmmaker -- has finally finished his 10-year movie-making collaboration with Piri, to show his life, his performances of some of his poems and stories (including a hilarious presentation of "La Peseta," in which Piri takes all the parts -- Mama, Poppi, and naughty little Piri), and some of Piri's work with juvenile offenders in a California prison. I caught it, and had a chance to meet the jovial, life-affirming poet, at Anthology Film Archives the other night. "Every Child is Born a Poet" is supposed to be shown on public television in April, and should appear in other venues. Watch for it.

Piri Thomas' web site. If you click on "Reviews," you'll find a quote from my book Hispanic Nation.


And unknown knowns?
This just in:
He may not know it -- or know that he knows it -- but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has won this year's "Foot in Mouth" award for the most baffling statement by a public figure.

Britain's Plain English Campaign, scourge of jargon, cliches and legalese, announced the honors Tuesday, giving runner-up to California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.

The top prize went to Rumsfeld for this logic-twister he gave at a press briefing on Iraq:

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know," Rumsfeld said.

"We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

"We think we know what he means," said Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister. "But we don't know if we really know."

What Rummy and all of us should really be worried about are the unknown knowns. For example, the likely complications of US military occupation of Iraq were very well known to experts, and pretty evident to amateur observers. But at the apex of the Pentagon, those were unknown knowns.


"INTERIOR MOTIVES" - A Panel Discussion
For anybody in New York, this should be a stimulating "literature & politics" event.

Wednesday, December 10, 7:30 PM
Wooster Arts Space, 147 Wooster Street, New York City
Concurrent to the exhibition: "Outside/In" curated by Joyce Kozloff
Artists: Elizabeth Demaray, Donna Dennis, Simonetta Moro, Abby Robinson, Nina Yankowitz

Moderator: Carey Lovelace
Panelists: Daryl Chin, Nina Felshin, George Melrod, Carter Ratcliff, Radhika Subramaniam

The panelists will discuss the ways in which artists represent movement from the external world into an enclosed space, and then back out again. With boundaries becoming increasingly porous, we can move more fluidly than ever before, either escaping to "somewhere else" or burrowing further within.

Daryl Chin is an artist and writer in New York; he is Associate Editor of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (MIT Press). He co-founded the Asian-American International Film Festival (1977) and was on the Board of Directors and the programing committee of The New Festival (New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival),1989-2000; he has been a guest curator at The Whitney Museum of American Art, and was on the staff of the Department of Film at The Museum of Modern Art.

Nina Felshin is curator of Zilkha Gallery, Wesleyan University, where she teaches in the art and art history department. She has been a curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center, and worked for the Art-in-Architecture Program of the General Services Administration in Washington, DC. Recent group exhibitions include "Good Morning, America"; "Tainted Landscapes"; "Wake-Up Call: Politically Engaged Art for the 21st Century";
"Frames of Reference: From Object to Subject"; "Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence"; and "Beyond Glory: Re-Presenting Terrorism". She is the author of But is it Art? The Spirit of Art As Activism (Bay Press, 1995) and many catalog essays. She is an activist in both her professional and "real world" lives.

Carey Lovelace has written for Art in America, Newsday, Performing Arts Journal, Millenium Film Journal, ARTnews, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, and many other publications. She is co-president of AICA-USA, the US chapter of the International Art Critics Assocation, and is also an award winning playwright whose works are frequently produced in New York and elsewhere.

George Melrod has written hundreds of articles about contemporary art. During the 1990's, he reviewed regularly for ARTnews, Art in America, Contemporanea, and Sculpture, and wrote features for such magazines as Swing, Vogue, Mirabella, and Los Angeles. From 1994-98, he was a Contributing Editor to World Art and Art & Antiques, for whom he wrote a monthly galleries column. He currently lives in LA, where in addition to writing about art, he also writes screenplays.

Carter Ratcliff is a Contributing Editor of Art in America and Art on Paper. His writings have appeared in European and American journals and museum publications (for the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Royal Academy, London). Recently, his essay on Georgia O’Keeffe was published in a catalog for the Kunsthaus, Zürich. He has taught at the New York Studio School and Hunter College, and lectured at institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His most recent books are The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art (Westview Press, 1998) and Out of the Box: The Reinvention of Art 1965-1975 (Allworth Press, 2000). Other books include studies of Andy Warhol, Gilbert and George, and John Singer Sargent.

Radhika Subramaniam is a writer and scholar whose work focuses on urban modernity in South Asia; she holds a PhD. in Performance Studies from NYU. She has worked with Arts International on a range of projects for several years - she joined its staff when it was established as an independent organization and was the Executive Editor of its interdisciplinary art and culture journal, Connect: art.politics.theory.practice. In that position, she spearheaded the effort to establish its independent voice and led its editorial, management and publishing operations.