June 12, 2012

A. L. Nielsen

A.L. Nielsen [USA]

Born in Nebraska, raised in Washington D.C., A.L. Nielsen leads a bicoastal existence, at home in California and teaching in Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Federal City College and the George Washington University, Nielsen has taught at Howard University, San Jose State University, Loyola Marymount University and UCLA. He is now the George and Barbara Kelly Professor of American Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. Deeply influenced by three of his teachers, Amiri Baraka, C.L.R. James and Gil Scott-Heron, Nielsen has written extensively about the lives and works of each.

     For several years Nielsen edited and published the newsletter and chapbook series lower limit speech / UPPER LIMIT MUSIC. During this period he also hosted a weekly FM radio program featuring readings and interviews with writers. Many of the recordings from that era are now being made available at the Penn Sound web site.  Among the awards Nielsen has received for his works are the SAMLA Studies Prize, the Kayden Award, the Josephine Miles Award, a Gustavus Myers Citation and an American Book Award, this last for his edited volume of Lorenzo Thomas’s critical works. His poetry has been included in Best American Poems and in Douglas Messerli’s Gertrude Stein Award anthologies. He has served as president of the African American Literature and Culture Society.

     Among his several books of criticism are Reading Race: White Poets and the Racial Discourse in the Twentieth Century (U of Georgia Press, Athens, 1988), Writing between the Lines: Race and Intertextuality (U of Georgia Press, Athens,  1994), C.L.R. James: A Critical Introduction (U Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1997), Black Chant: Languages of African American Postmodernism (Cambridge U P, Cambridge and New York, 1997), Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation (U of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2004).

     Nielson has also edited several collections of poetry: Reading Race in American Poetry: ‘An Area of Act’ (U of Illinois Press, Champaign-Urbana, 2000), Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans (U of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2006), Don’t Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition, by Lorenzo Thomas (U of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2008).


Heat Strings ( Washington, D.C.: SOS Books, 1985); Evacuation Routes: A User’s Manual (Berkeley: SCORE Publications, 1992); Stepping Razor (Washington, D.C.: Edge Books, 1997); VEXT (San Francisco: Sink Books, 1998); Mixage (Tenerife, Canary Islands: Zasterle Editions, 2005); Mantic Semantic (New York: Hank’s Loose Gravel Press, 2011)


 The context rose in the eastern window
The isolated thunder peered out
Through technically scattered clouds

How were the rabbis to sleep

Time started with a start
And before we knew it
Slipped sideways along the graceless perimeter
Leaving us with that much less on our hands


Our spine has one foundation –
Baptists singing Cage –
A mighty bastion of reports
Piles nearer, Lord, to me.
And had I but one tenure track
To light my way to Spain –
I’d rather row there all the night –
Dash it all in spades.


He jealously eyes the synonym
Drying its wings under the noon sun
Fiercely desiring that whose place
It had so generously taken

There is no such Oklahoma as this
That appears blasted across the nature theater
Of his screen

But deep in the basement
Where moonlight collects in filmy layers
Upon the abandoned television

 There an Oklahoma gathers

Poems ©A. L. Nielsen, 2012

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