[Jacket2 incorrectly dates Bromige’s reading of “I am a brainwashed Sudanese poet” as “1990,” at a “memorial reading for Robert Duncan.” Bromige’s introduction to the poem, though difficult to hear, makes clear the reading takes place around eight years later, likely sometime soon after the 1998 attack on Sudan. My comment below that the poem is “bizarrely prescient” of that aggression was based on the misleading date. Jacket2 will want to make the correction at their site, of course.  KJ]

There has been, in the past few months, a hopeful stirring of renewed interest in the work of the magnificent poet David Bromige (1933-2009). A (partially) “Collected” volume of his work (at over 600 pages, with accompanying essays by Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman) was issued in May of this year, by New Star Books, and some appreciations have followed, including a fine review-essay in Poetry Flash, by Pat Nolan.

Jacket2, as well, has just released the tapes of two readings by the poet, one in 1989, at a series organized by Aldon Nielsen, and another in 1990, at a memorial event for Robert Duncan. In the latter tape, Bromige reads “I am a brainwashed Sudanese poet,” a work which is bizarrely prescient of the August, 1998 Clinton-ordered bombing of the Khartoum pharmaceutical plant. [You can listen to the poem HERE]

In fact, in days after the bombing, Bromige posted his eight-year-old poem on the Poetics List. The first piece below (it appeared a decade later in my book Homage to the Last Avant-Garde) was posted by me the following day at the Poetics List, as a response to Bromige’s poem. Like his, my piece polemically deploys a foreign, broken English. Today, despite the heavily ironic uses to which the brokenness is put, both poems would no doubt be categorized as “improper” by some. So it goes.

My email archives from that time are no longer extant, but my recollection is that Bromige liked the “Forwarded Message Follows” piece very much. When I visited him in Sebastopol, California, some years later, and after his heart attack, I remember we talked at his favorite tavern about our “Sudan” exchange (one of many he and I had on the List, some of which were quite fraught, indeed). It was a wonderful visit; even though he was frail at the time and required a cane, he insisted on showing me around town, and we spent a whole afternoon together.

The second piece here, from a 2015 book titled I Once Met: A Partial Memoir of the Poetry Field, concerns a later encounter Bromige and I had in Cambridge, England, where we were invited to read at the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry, in 2004.

I offer these poems in homage to Bromige, then, in modest accompaniment to the recent and deserved tributes that have appeared.

–Kent Johnson




——- Forwarded Message Follows ——-


From: “Ossama Husein” <STUDENT/OHussein> Organization: Sudan State University

To: kjohnson@student.highland.cc.il.us

Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 13:52:55 -0500

Subject: (Fwd): Khartoum Translation Conference


Dear Mr. David Bromige:

It is to our delightful attention that the poetry of Sudan is now discussed in the poetry of America with such suddenness. Thank you for being a section of this and for making a vision of a poet of Sudan. In ways I believe you do not suspect, you have entered the Arab nation’s literature. It is my principle, nevertheless, that you must be delighted by this.

Please excuse my English, but I am writing to invite you, as a poet first of Canada and now, secondarily, of America, to what I now wish to present. I am speaking concerning a conference (International) devotional to translation in all the sense of this word. We are interested, with specificness, in the doubled (tripled!) voices passed through many mediators of history and cultural ignorance. Irony, as I feel you must conceptualize, is big here. Irony, in its bigness, becomes something other. It is like, for an example, you, a Sudanese poet speaking through an English tongue of brokenness. Or it is like many, many things: For an example, if I may twice say so: It is like two boys kissing in the shadows of a pharmaceutical plant. (They are like black and deep wells. Their lives inside are very, very rich.) The sun will come up over this dusty land and an ancient hatredness shall fill them.

I do not know if I put myself well. So may I directly ask. Will you come to Khartoum? Please close your heavy eyes and dream of my branching hand opened out to you.

We passion to invite another poet of America, Mr. Kent, who also is credenced in your two countries, and perhaps others, to be a racist. (In his reply to our Central Council, he spoke: “I am honestly not sure.”) Still we are opened, and we have most little, but our flowing tents which appear (to all purposes and meanings) to be sailboats in the desert, are yours. Our young are fresh and eager, and they shall press into your soft mouth goat cheese with a hurt and surprised look in their eyes. Also, dark-skinned soldiers with golden and musical watches adorn every minareted corner. Yes, you will find Khartoum strange and hospitality-filled, except, as you realize, inside certain surprising circumstances. But lightning on a human is more likely, so really not to worry.

Ethnography, of course, is also interesting to every one of us and to all peoples. Our flowing tents, if I may say it repeatedly (for I, in an addition, am a poet), appear to be sailboats in the desert. Thus, after the morning session, we will convene in Building 242 for tea, the prayers of all religions, and the making of bombs. No one is to be insulted, not even if they do not know how.

Then we will reconvene, as I have said, and talk concerning Ethnography, including the customs of Christian animists to the south, the abandonment of the people of Darfur by the West, the poignancy of American magazines like Look and Cross Cultural Poetics, and the rituals of Buffalo List of Poets.

Well, I am sorry. The situation is very complicated. But here, as the saying goes, we are. Here also, please, is a poem by a youth named Leonel Rugama whom we have invited too, except sadly he was beheaded long ago, at 20 years, by Green Beret students in the country of Nicaragua:


The Earth Is A Satellite Of The Moon

 Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1 Apollo 1 cost plenty.

Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2 Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1 Apollo 1 cost plenty.

Apollo 4 cost more than Apollo 3 Apollo 3 cost more than Apollo 2 Apollo 2 cost more than Apollo 1 Apollo 1 cost plenty.

Apollo 8 cost a whole shit-load of money, but no one minded because the astronauts were Protestant they read the Bible from the moon astounding and delighting every Christian and on their return Pope Paul VI gave them his blessing.

Apollo 9 cost more than all of these put together including Apollo 1 which cost plenty.

The great-grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry than the grandparents. The great-grandparents died of hunger. The grandparents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry than the parents. The grandparents died of hunger.

The parents of the people of Acahualinca were less hungry than the children of the people there. The parents died of hunger.

The people of Acahualinca are less hungry than the children of the people there. The children of the people of Acahualinca, because of hunger, are not born, but they hunger to be born, even just to die of hunger.

Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the moon.


Well, in realness, I do not know why I give this poem, except that I know you very much like poems. Don’t you agree it was translated, without doubtfulness, by someone most self-congratulatory, so angry at his own country, yet blind as Oedipus to the terrorisms of non-white peoples? (Forgive me. I am smoking opium from Afghanistan. It betters my English, which you can tell is getting better as this letter, like a martyr, spills.)

Of course, Mr. David, the trip (including camels) is long, like torture, apparently, in its likeness, and you shall be compelled to gift-forth your own plane-fare. In these days, that can be a dangerous incident. I understand, of course. But we sure hope you will say yes. Will you say yes? The people of Sudan and the Darfur await you. Headphones are to be distributed. You are forever one of us.

Sincerely, (although it is not my true name)


Osama Hussein


I once met the fine poet David Bromige. This was in Cambridge, England, a place I’ve mentioned; it was the second time I was there, a couple years after he and I spent an afternoon together, drinking in Sebastopol, California, an afternoon I shall never forget. Now I sat with him in Samuel Pepy’s rooms at Cambridge. He was the guest of honor at the 2004 CCCP, or maybe it was 2005. There were antiques all around us and portraits on the walls of men from the 18th century. We talked pleasantries, while the leaded glass refracted a hard ray of light into his thin, pale head. The river flowed under the rooms; the punts with their straw-hatted boys slid on the river under the rooms. There were purple and yellow flowers along the banks of the river, and small yellow birds, too. Isn’t the river sliding under the rooms lovely, said Cecilia, his wife, handing me a glass of wine, with all the flowers and the birds? Yes, I said, It certainly is, and I felt as if history were moving like a river beneath me, or through me… Would you please push me to the loo, my love, said David, beside the clock, in his chariot chair. Because I have to take the kind of piss that would scare the shit out of a Saskatchewan moose.