On the 50th Anniversary of Pieces Of A Man, a personal reflection of what Gil Scott Heron and the record meant to the smartest black music expert I ever knew: my grandmother.

My grandmother, Rosa Mae Johnson, obtained half a century’s worth of knowledge about black music from her years of running a pool hall. As a retired elder, she would subscribe to Blues and Soul to keep tabs on what “the babies” were doing(something she would do until Ice T’s popularity became too much for her). When I was 9, she hired me to be her “Lil Drink and…

There are sublime moments in Robert Lowell’s most famous book. There is also more than enough manipulative dreck.

Like the poetry and the genre he created, Robert Lowell’s Life Studies is torn by its polarities. Published in 1959, the book is considered to be the birth of confessional poetry, shocking readers with dishy personal observations and a language that could be traditional yet deliciously nervy. Today, Life Studies reads like a great writer struggling for his soul, an artist adept in language and rhetoric veering between impulses of humanism and self-destruction. Gradually, Lowell would lose this struggle (doing so in…

An excerpt from my novel “If I Never Went Home Again.”

Photo by Taylor Beach on Unsplash

The downtown Tacoma Skyline doesn’t seem real anymore. From the train window, the casino lights are an unrecognizable neon, and the hotels in Fife that used to be flea-bitten have a shiny surface lacquer. The new highway offramps rise ponderously off the ground, and the streetlamps up and down the hill color and tint the new high-rises where dark streets used to be our haunt. Off the train and from the highway, downtown is a pastiche of history upon history. New apartment complexes are doing a poor imitation of…

DMX 1970–2021

The reason I have a short fuse about writers and rappers lying about “the trap” was that my father was in a lot of them. A ghetto celebrity in Tacoma and a successful businessman before he became a basehead, he used the connections he developed, to scam money, get a come back job at UPS, smoke that up, and then spend a few years playing a victim of the system. In that time she got away with a lot of shit and around trap house, the most egregious things being roughing up runners, people were always 11–15-year-old kids…

The Brilliance of Saul Bellow’s novella outlives the later rages of its creator.

Seize The Day, Saul Bellow’s novella about a failure desperate to find humanity separate from financial success is a masterpiece that outlives the demons of its creator. Published in 1956, it remains a stylistic tour de force, brimming with Joycean riffs, brilliant intensity, and an exquisite structure that was wildly experimental yet still fully contained. …

The Whole Harmonium and the Yale Lecture series do as much damage to the reputations of Wallace Stevens and William B. Years as the people who want them canceled.

I dislike the garden variety college activist who demands Wallace Stevens shouldn’t be read because of his racism. I detest the biographer who treats him as if he’s a god. Both are fringes of cultural movements, nether edges that do nothing but troll each other and contribute no good towards art or critical discussion. However, the activist will be shamed, ignored, and disposed of on account of the cynical factory dynamics…


Helene Johnson’s career, choices, and sacrifices she had to make to express herself as an artist make the term “edgy poet” seem like a cheap cliche. When critical demand dictated that black poets wrote in form, she wrote sharp, terse, and physical free verse. When Johnson did decide to write in form, her work critiqued and deconstructed the goddess archetypes popular in the work of the Harlem Renaissance. She wasn’t before her time. Her time hasn’t come yet.

By the time Magalu, her greatest poem, was published, the biggest cultural quandary in the minds of black critics wasn’t jim…

On the complex call for freedom in Langston Hughes’ most seminal essay

The nature of art will always conflict with critical demand; simply because the mere aesthetic of creation itself is given to so many variables and variants, that it is inevitable that it will somehow conflict with the norms of whatever society in which the art is created. And the Harlem Renaissance had more than its fair share of demands put upon it. …

I want to start the debut of a column, which goes into the complex, muddy, and often beautiful intersections in American literature and culture.

In the last 4 years, believing in the gorgeous mosaic of American literature became less like trying to find a median in the culture wars and more like burning cosmic sage outside my window. The attack at the capital and the paranoia, depravity, and Thackeryan class conceit of the right has been drastic to form a circle in my thinking. I am against the toxic identity politics of so many twitter warriors, not because I think…

A caustic, alternative appraisal of one of the greatest poets in the history of the English Language, and his “prime years”

​1: Another Life: The First Sunset

If-as John Updike once said-“Fame is the mask that eats the face,” then one can make the argument that Derek Walcott’s casing began at his boyhood house. In book 2 of Another Life, his autobiographical epic poem, he arrives at his old door an acclaimed yet struggling poet. At the sight of its remnants, the memories overwhelm him

” Old house, old woman, old room
old planes, old buckling membranes of the womb

Robert Lashley

Writer. Author. Former Jack Straw and Artist Trust Fellow. The baddest ghetto nerd on the planet.

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