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Friday, June 13, 2008

Funk You Right on Up


My copy of the Indiana Review "Funk" Issue just came in the mail. The former editor Abdel Shakur has been writing about funk in general and this issue in particular over on his blog Misstra Knowitall.

The special section on funk, features poetry and fiction with a funk aesthetic and also funk inspired artwork and photography. The above picture, "Sir Noze Hisself," a portrait of the great villain Sir Nose D'voidoffunk by artist Overton Loyd is on the cover and I think it looks real sharp. Loyd and other artists featured in the issue, such as Diem Jones, Pedro Bell and Ronald Edwards all contributed artwork to Parliament/Funkadelic's work in the 1970s and 80s. It's a real interesting concept and the issue has a lot of great elements, like the Terrence Hayes poem, "Light Head's Guide to Addiction" which features the line: "If you hear the last black man alive will be burned at sunset, find an underground railroad" and later in the poem: "If you are addicted to weapons, please find the people who plan to burn the last black man alive at sunset for me."

I gotta admit that I really wanted to be a part of this issue. Funk is a major element of my aesthetic as I've been a fan of George Clinton and all things funky since I was a kid. I'm from D.C., our particular brand of funk is a way of life around here (And we don't give a fuck what bamas from out of town got to say about it). Not to say I use funk like Ralph Ellison or Langston Hughes used jazz, but the Parliament/Funkadelic cosmology and the playfulness of the music is something I'm always mindful of. I submitted my story "Rolling in my six-fo'--Daa Daa Daa--With all my Niggas Saying Swing Down Sweet Chariot Stop and let me Riiide. Hell Yeah" (yeah, it's a long title) for the issue. I got possibly the coolest rejection I've ever received. It featured a picture of Rick James and the following:

Dear Writer,

We have considered your Funk carefully and regret that we do not have a place for it in the magazine at this time. Please do not take this note as a negative assessment of your Funk. Indiana Review does not consider itself the arbiter of Funk. We received scores of submissions for this section and had to make some tough decisions. One issue can contain so much Funk. The large volume of submissions makes a more personal reply nearly impossible, but we do appreciate your Funk and hope you Funk with us again in the future.

They included a note telling me they liked the work, despite not having room for it.
A couple months later, I had a chance to meet Shakur and another editor in New York.
The editors were real excited to meet me, which was cool. I thought they were bullshitting until they started asking me specific questions about my story. I could tell they really read it thought about it. They told me that it started a lot of discussion amongst the staff and there were strong feelings both positive and negative about it. I'm sort of glad they rejected it as it needs a lot of work and I'm probably going to raze every word of it and start from the ground up. Hey, if you're interested in it, go check it out from the library.

Funk as established by James Brown and put on acid by Parliament/Funkadelic has such a lasting influence both obvious (Dr. Dre, Redman) and not so obvious (Backyard Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy). It's really time someone explored it this way.

My only issue with the Indiana Review's special Funk section (I haven't read the rest of the journal yet) is that there isn't enough prose. There is one story and a great introductory essay by Shakur and that's it. I would have liked to see an essay exploring Funk or another fictional exploration of Funk. That's not to say the poems aren't funky, because they are. The story, "Mad Dog 20/20" by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers leaves the reader on edge for most of the piece, which is always good. Shakur, in his essay, goes into the etymology of the word "Funk." It's origins are African, just like the music. Surprise, surprise. There are cool little cartoons on the corner of the pages that do things when you flip through the journal. My cat likes it, because as I type she is licking the pages.

Anyway, it's worth picking up. You can order it here. Indiana Review blogs over here.

1 comment:

Abdel Shakur said...

Thanks for the shout, R.