Friday, October 31, 2008

My Sister's (Unnamed) In the Wall Street Journal

My sister's play (and her role as an unnamed Arab woman) gets the Wall Street Journal treatment!

Built to Spill's "Car" Mashed Up with 1950s Public Service Announcements (Duck and Cover)

"Smearing Rashid Khalidi"/i.e. "They're all the SAME (terrorist)"

Smearing Rashid Khalidi

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads, headin' south

-- Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind." (1974).

Sarah Palin has done it again. On the advice of the McCain-Palin team, she's trying to tie Obama to another professor, this time to Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi. Here she is at Bowling Green University, "It seems that there is yet another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama going back several years. This is important because his associate, Rashid Khalidi, he in addition to being a political ally of Barack Obama, he's a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization."

The Bill Ayers move didn't really work. He's the first professor that Palin refers to. The neighborhood is Hyde Park, which surrounds the University of Chicago, where Khalidi and Barack Obama used to work, where Ayers lives, and where Michelle Obama works (she's currently on leave from the University of Chicago hospital). Few bought the Ayers story. It was far-fetched. It's true that Ayers was a Weatherman (one of its cofounders in 1969). Also true that he went underground not long after ("we lived like hippies," he later said). It is also the case that the FBI dropped its case against him, but pursued his partner, Bernardine Dohrn. They surrendered in 1980, and when a judge lectured her about social change and tactics, Dohrn held fast, telling him that they had "differing views on America." So it goes.

Obama was born in 1961. He was only eight when the Weathermen formed. And he was in Indonesia. There he got his own lessons in power from his step-father Lolo, "Better to be strong. If you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always." Lolo is one of the richest characters in Obama's Dreams from my father, and it is through Lolo's reticence that we come to learn how the 1965 mass genocide of Indonesian communists affected Obama (which he calls "one of the more brutal and swift campaigns of suppression in modern times," and then lyrically bemoans the amnesia, how the events can disappear "the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets"). Lolo sleeps with a gun under his pillow. But Lolo is no terrorist.

Nor was Ayers. Ayers' political development would come as part of the history that paralyzed people like Lolo, and silenced the other millions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It was for them, and the state of paralysis in the Democratic Party, as well as the lack of confidence in the New Left, that Ayers and others decided to do something bolder, something more dangerous. In Prairie Fire (1974), Ayers and his comrades straddled the divide that has been within Marxist theory since its origin: the problem of reform and revolution. "Engage the enemy" to move toward power, said the document, but this seemed almost wishful thinking. The more inspired passage is for those elements of reform, and then for this to move, qualitatively, toward something more: act "to encourage the people, to provoke leaps of confidence and consciousness, to stir the imagination, to popularize power, to agitate, to organize, to join in every possible way the people's day to day struggles." These are the "community organizers" that Palin denounced. If they are able to move out of the everyday and trigger a new horizon, they are dangerous indeed. More so than if they engaged the enemy with guns.

But none of the McCain-Palin baiting worked. It might have if the College of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, had taken the bait. This is where Ayers' teaches. If they did to him what the University of Colorado had done to Ward Churchill, then the McCain-Palin ticket might have had a cause célèbre to sneer at as it unfolded on the streets that surround Jane Addams' Hull House. But it is to the credit of the University officials that they didn't enter the fray.

Obama's always been comfortable with the radical fringe. When at Occidental (1982-1983), Barack threw himself into the anti-apartheid movement. "To avoid being mistaken for a sellout," he writes freely, "I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-roc performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy." All this sounds familiar to me, an undergrad like him at the other end of Los Angeles.

No surprise then that Obama would be comfortable around Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi, both radicals in their different ways. Khalidi is one of the best-regarded scholars of the Middle East teaching in the United States. Until recently, Khalidi taught at the University of Chicago. When I was in graduate school during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Khalidi played a significant role as the interpreter of events in the Middle East. These were complex times, with nationalism exhausted and imperialism emboldened, as well as with insurgent Islamism on the horizon. Khalidi's soberness was a tonic. During the first Gulf War, he was essential. He also brought Edward Said to the campus, whose lecture in an overcrowded lecture hall guided us toward an adequate anti-imperialist position, between the heinousness of the Ba'ath and the awful consistency of imperialism. When Edward Said died in 2003, Columbia University honored his decades of distinguished service with the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies. The first recipient of that chair was Rashid Khalidi, who is a member of the History Department and of the Middle East Institute (a part of the School of International and Public Affairs, whose other faculty include such dangerous characters as David Dinkins, Jeffery Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz). Khalidi is a consistent critic of U. S. policy in the Middle East (Resurrecting Empire, 2004) and of Israeli politics vis-à-vis the Palestinians (The Iron Cage, 2006). He's an inter-faith kind of guy; not someone with the temperament to touch a document like Prairie Fire with his pen.

Palin's staff seem to be sloppy readers. Obama, we are told, did toast Khalidi at his going-away party in 2003. So far so good. Having seen the name Khalidi and Edward Said in the same sentence, the Palin team assumed they were the same person. But, it was Said, and not Khalidi, who played an active organizational role in the Palestinian struggle. Between 1977 and 1991, Said was a member of the Palestinian National Council, but not of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the slippage is made all too often). The PNC was a general, all-party council of a people in the middle of a struggle, not like the PLO, which was an umbrella of various political parties headed by al-Fatah (whose leader in those years was Yasser Arafat, later a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace). Said broke with the PNC in 1991, just about when he was in Chicago for his talk. He would point out that the PLO, which had usurped the reins of the Palestinian struggle, lost ground during the Oslo discussions because of which it "lacked credibility and moral authority" (his voluminous writings that detail this break are collected in The Politics of Dispossession, 1994, Peace and Its Discontents, 1996, and The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After, 2000). Said also received his diagnosis about leukemia in 1991. It was a fateful year.

Khalidi, whose name Palin could not pronounce, was born in New York. He is an intellectual with a moral commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East. His main organizational commitments don't include the PLO, which, in the period of Khalidi's ascent into the higher altitudes of the academy, was already in impervious decline. Nothing the New Yorker could say or do would help the festering Palestinian Authority, and neither would Khalidi give his voice to being the puppet of al-Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas or Farouk Kaddoumi (if anything, the politics of Khalidi might line up with those of Marwan Barghouti of al-Mustaqbal, but Khalidi's intellectualism might not be the disposition for the jailed leader).

Smart Khalidi. He decided to keep mum while Palin rattles. And he had the good sense to quote Dylan. "I am not speaking to the media at this time, and certainly not until this idiot wind passes." Or really, you'll never know the hurt I suffered nor the Palin I rise above….We're idiots babe. It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His new book is The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007. He can be reached at:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Clips from Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire

Here are some clips from Kazan's film of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, which I'm teaching in Major American Writers. I try to show clips from this version after we read and talk about the play, because if they are seen beforehand, they tend to blot out possible alternate readings. Witness the atrocity of the Hollywoodized ending. In the meantime, enjoy!
The opening:


Them Colored Lights Goin'

Tiger, Tiger, Drop the Bottle-Top

The Kindness of Strangers

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Poet's Tour 2008

This article was sent to me by poet Sarah Gridley, about the place of poetry in society and the World Poet's Tour.

Importing a passion for poetry
If we could read the poets that move huge audiences elsewhere in the world, would it wake up our own?
Sarah Maguire

Imagine living in a society where poetry was considered to be the most important art form. Where a poet could easily fill a football stadium. Where a poet's death was the top news story for days. Where dictators would ply poets with gifts and flattery in invariably futile attempts to get them on side. Where scientists and economists and government ministers would find it unthinkable not to read poetry every day. Where everyone could recite the national poets by heart.

And yet, odd as it may seem to many British people, these societies exist. In fact, your next-door neighbours may hail from just such a place.

I defy you to find a Palestinian who can't recite one of Mahmoud Darwish's poems. In August, when this incomparable poet died, the whole of Palestine, and much of the Arabic-speaking world, came to a halt. Stricken with grief, no one could talk about anything else for days.

In 1989 when the dictator Omar El-Bashir, seized power in a coup in Sudan, the young Sudanese poet, Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, decided to fight back with the only weapon at his disposal: his poetry. In the face of a complete news blackout, Saddiq and his friends gave impromptu poetry readings - in the streets, in schools, in cinemas - drawing crowds of thousands of people simply by word of mouth.

Despots have never taken kindly to poets. The great Somali poet, Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac "Gaarriye" was threatened with a death sentence by the Somali ruler, Siad Barre. Barre was rattled by a chain of poems inaugurated by Gaarriye that protested against the kind of divisive, tribal-based society on which Barre's rule depended. Barre was so threatened by the power of Gaarriye's words that he insisted anyone caught selling a cassette of the poems should be executed.

Both Al-Raddi and Gaarriye were part of the first World Poet's Tour arranged by the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) in 2005. Travelling with them, I was astonished to see the fervour with which they were greeted. Countless Sudanese and Somalis just wanted to be seen with them, to shake their hand. It felt a bit like being on tour with Bob Dylan in 1965.

Now they're back the UK for this year's tour, alongside four other leading international poets, Corsino Fortes (from Cape Verde), Kajal Ahmad (from Kurdistan), Noshi Gillani (from Pakistan) and Farzaneh Khojandi (from Tajikistan).

We're bringing them here not only for the obvious pleasure they give, but also because I hope that translating their poetry into English will go some way to injecting something of their energy into British verse. Poetry in this country is our favourite minority artform, largely greeted with bafflement, often with dismay. And yet we live alongside people for whom poetry is a central, essential passion. My hope is that by attempting to make their poems at home in our language, we can also translate a little of their enthusiasm.

Poetry thrives through translation. Where would we be if Chaucer hadn't turned The Romance of the Rose into English? Or if Wyatt and Sydney hadn't translated Petrarch, thus introducing that quintessential English verse-form, the sonnet, into our language? If Ezra Pound hadn't become fascinated by Chinese poetry - leading to his masterwork, Cathay, in 1915 - modernism would have taken a very different turn.

The list goes on. Every significant innovation in English poetry occurs as a result of poets engaging with translation, either by translating themselves, like Dryden, or by falling under its influence - most famously like Keats first gazing into Chapman's Homer.

I've been translating poems since I went to Palestine in 1996, and realised I could put my skills as a poet at the disposal of other poets. Working closely with Palestinian poets and translators, I revised and rewrote until something emerged that remained true to the original poem and sounded to me like a poem in English. The PTC, which I founded in 2004 has been using the same method ever since. The poets on this year's tour have been translated by collaborations between experts in language and culture, and leading poets in the UK, including Sean O'Brien, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw, Mimi Khalvati and WN Herbert.

We'll be travelling to events in 11 cities across the country. Maybe, for a short time, we can see what it feels like to live in a society that truly values poetry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov/Re-living the Debate

Check out this link to Poetry Off the Shelf's discussion of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov's argument over "Life at War" In Behind the Lines, I discuss this debate as one crystallization of an ongoing discussion about poetry as political action, of poetry as war resistance, and the like. Today, many critics and writers of the New American Poetry line (and the avant-garde) tend to side with Duncan, but I would argue, they do so too quickly and without regard for Levertov's political activism.

Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Shell Shock (and the commodification of war)

My Dad and I were looking up images of shell shock from World War I, in preparation for a series of lectures that he is doing on giving psychological assistance to recent war veterans, and came across some scary videos of those broken by war. Their shaking makes me wonder whether some of the effects was due to neurological damage from mustard gas, but my wife reminded me that sedative medications may simply remove such effects from our contemporary eyes. One of my great uncles was committed after the war, and never heard from again.

Meanwhile, our culture continues to produce simulated versions of war, and uses terms like "shell shock" with little apparent irony (replete with Metallica soundtrack, from their famous lifting of Dalton Trumbo's story, Johnny Got His Gun).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Can Men be Ordained? an article by Rosemary Ruether

Can men be ordained?
Catholic New Times, Jan 29, 2006 by Rosemary Ruether

A synod of bishops from the four corners of the earth and a full panoply of Mother Superiors recently converged on Holy City of Rome to consider the vexed question of the ordination of men. Holy See had received many tearful appeals from the cruder sex claiming to have a call to the priesthood directly from God Herself.

But Her Holiness had firmly replied to these appeals that the call must have been a wrong number. Our Holy Mother in heaven would never call to the ministry those so obviously disqualified by reason of gender. But the men had refused to take no for an answer.

Throwing down their picks and shovels, they had declared they would do no more maintenance work for the church until there was equality of rites.

They sent petitions to the Holy See filled with arguments for the ordination of men, both theological and practical. Although, of course, they could cite no example from Jesus Himself, the incarnation of Holy Wisdom, since he had most evidently ordained no men to the priesthood (or women either)

Finally Her Holiness decided to gather the Holy Mothers of the church together, with a number of the best qualified peritae, who had spent a lifetime studying the odd characteristics of the male gender, from a safe distance, of course. They hoped to come up with a definitive answer, once and for all, to the vexed question of the ordination of men.

After long and careful study, in which the Holy Mothers had enjoyed many a good laugh on the subject of men and their foibles, a final decree was drawn up defining the reasons why men could not be ordained. The decree was proclaimed by her Holiness and the Holy others departed for their respective seats of Wisdom, feeling very pleased with themselves. The decree Ad Hominem stated to their satisfaction, and hopefully for all time, the weighty reasons for their gut prejudice.

The first part of the decree deduced a good many reasons from men's biological and psychological natures that disqualified them from the priesthood. It was said, first of all, that men were too violent and emotional to be priests. Anyone who has watched groups of men at football matches, ice hockey or cricket games, not to mention political conventions, has seen their volatile tendencies and penchant for solving conflicts with fisticuffs. To ordain such creatures would be to risk disgraceful brawls at the altar. The male proneness to violence surely disqualifies them from representing the One who incarnates graciousness and peace.

The cruder and heavier physical frame of the male clearly marks him out for the physical tasks of society: digging ditches, mending roofs and the like. The finer, more spiritual tasks of society are intended by our Mother in Heaven for those more refined spirits and bodies: women.

This separation of roles is clearly evident in scripture where the males are said to have been created from dirt, while women were created from human flesh. Moreover, women were created last, clearly marking them out as the crown of creation. It was even suggested by one Mother Superior that Adam was a rough draft, Eve being the more refined and complete version of human nature. The Mothers had a good many laughs on that one and some decided to make it into a bumper sticker.

It was also felt that men were needed for military defense. A man's place is in the army, declared one of the peritae and all the Holy Mothers nodded in agreement. Besides, men would look silly in red dresses and lace.

The sacred garb is clearly intended for women.
Profound matters of a theological nature were also discussed. One perita has prepared a long paper proving from the symbolic order that men could not be ordained. The division of humanity into male and female is a profound mystery that symbolizes the relationship of the transcendent and the immanent, the spiritual and the material. Women represent the spiritual realm, men the material. The material must be ruled by the spiritual, just as Holy Wisdom presides over the physical cosmos as her household.

Moreover, since the church, is female, those who represent her dearly should be female as well. There should be a physical resemblance between the priest and the Church as Holy Mother. Obviously, this means that all priests should be mature women. The church is also said to be the Bride of Christ and brides are female. The priest, as representative of the church in relation to Christ, represents Christ's bride. Therefore only women can be priests.

Finally it was noted that most of the people who come to church are women. Men tend to stand outside and doors of the church, gossiping or sneak off to sports matches. To have a man at the altar might distract a woman from her prayers. It was solemnly noted that men are sexually attractive to some women. For women to have to sit listening to men preach and watch them stomping about the sanctuary might lead their thoughts to descend from the higher to the lower realms. It was hoped that with so many clear reasons, both from the theological and the practical realm, against the ordination of men, this would settle the matter. Male impertinence would be silenced and they would sink back into their proper sphere.

John Ashbery on John Ashbery

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Colin Powell on U.S. Racism Toward Muslims

"Moved by a Crescent" By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: October 21, 2008 THE NEW YORK TIMES

Colin Powell had been bugged by many things in his party’s campaign this fall: the insidious merging of rumors that Barack Obama was Muslim with intimations that he was a terrorist sympathizer; the assertion that Sarah Palin was ready to be president; the uniformed sheriff who introduced Governor Palin by sneering about Barack Hussein Obama; the scorn with which Republicans spit out the words “community organizer”; the Republicans’ argument that using taxes to “spread the wealth” was socialist when the purpose of taxes is to spread the wealth; Palin’s insidious notion that small towns in states that went for W. were “the real America.”

But what sent him over the edge and made him realize he had to speak out was when he opened his New Yorker three weeks ago and saw a picture of a mother pressing her head against the gravestone of her son, a 20-year-old soldier who had been killed in Iraq. On the headstone were engraved his name, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, his awards — the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star — and a crescent and a star to denote his Islamic faith.

“I stared at it for an hour,” he told me. “Who could debate that this kid lying in Arlington with Christian and Jewish and nondenominational buddies was not a fine American?”

Khan was an all-American kid. A 2005 graduate of Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, N.J., he loved the Dallas Cowboys and playing video games with his 12-year-old stepsister, Aliya.

His obituary in The Star-Ledger of Newark said that he had sent his family back pictures of himself playing soccer with Iraqi children and hugging a smiling young Iraqi boy.

His father said Kareem had been eager to enlist since he was 14 and was outraged by the 9/11 attacks. “His Muslim faith did not make him not want to go,” Feroze Khan, told The Gannett News Service after his son died. “He looked at it that he’s American and he has a job to do.”

In a gratifying “have you no sense of decency, Sir and Madam?” moment, Colin Powell went on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and talked about Khan, and the unseemly ways John McCain and Palin have been polarizing the country to try to get elected. It was a tonic to hear someone push back so clearly on ugly innuendo.

Even the Obama campaign has shied away from Muslims. The candidate has gone to synagogues but no mosques, and the campaign was embarrassed when it turned out that two young women in headscarves had not been allowed to stand behind Obama during a speech in Detroit because aides did not want them in the TV shot.

The former secretary of state has dealt with prejudice in his life, in and out of the Army, and he is keenly aware of how many millions of Muslims around the world are being offended by the slimy tenor of the race against Obama.

He told Tom Brokaw that he was troubled by what other Republicans, not McCain, had said: “ ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no. That’s not America. Is something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”

Powell got a note from Feroze Khan this week thanking him for telling the world that Muslim-Americans are as good as any others. But he also received more e-mails insisting that Obama is a Muslim and one calling him “unconstitutional and unbiblical” for daring to support a socialist. He got a mass e-mail from a man wanting to spread the word that Obama was reading a book about the end of America written by a fellow Muslim.

“Holy cow!” Powell thought. Upon checking, he saw that it was a reference to Fareed Zakaria, a Muslim who writes a Newsweek column and hosts a CNN foreign affairs show. His latest book is “The Post-American World.”

Powell is dismissive of those, like Rush Limbaugh, who say he made his endorsement based on race. And he’s offended by those who suggest that his appearance Sunday was an expiation for Iraq, speaking up strongly now about what he thinks the world needs because he failed to do so then.

Even though he watched W. in 2000 make the argument that his lack of foreign policy experience would be offset by the fact that he was surrounded by pros — Powell himself was one of the regents brought in to guide the bumptious Texas dauphin — Powell makes that same argument now for Obama.

“Experience is helpful,” he says, “but it is judgment that matters.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Surrender": "A Simulated War Deployment Experience in Three Acts"

My sister is in this play, and I thought it is consonant with the work of this blog; such a production invites a lot of questions about the ethics and aesthetics of simulation (in general, and in particular, about simulating military experience and war experience)...I'll try to interview her on the specifics.

A simulated war deployment experience in three acts.

October 25th Thru Nov. 16th
Wed-Sat at 7pm Sun at 4pm
additional performance on Tuesday November 11th, (Veteran's Day) at 7pm.


99.5% of all Americans will not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The divide between soldier and civilian has never been greater in American history.
This is your invitation to get some first-hand experience. Don't pass it up.

Conceived and directed by
with decorated Iraq War veteran and critically acclaimed author of Just Another Soldier
and created by
Tickets at

Here's what happens :

When you arrive at the theater we issue you a standard military uniform:

ACT 1: You train in basic combat techniques with Jason Christopher Hartley:
a crash course in rifle handling, room clearing and engaging the enemy.

ACT 2: You are deployed:
you enter a multi-room installation to put your military training to the test.

ACT 3: You fly home to experience a soldier's reintegration into society.
International WOW Company's whirlwind hallucination of homecoming directed by Josh Fox.

October 25th to November 16th, Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7pm & Sundays at 4pm.
Additional performance on Tuesday November 11th (Veteran's Day) at 7pm.

The Ohio Theater
66 Wooster St.

$20 (Oct. 25th - Nov. 1st) $25 (Nov. 2nd - 16th)
We also offer a limited number of observer seats for $5 more each night.*
*Due to the physical nature of the show, participants will be required to fill out a standard waiver holding harmless the Ohio Theater and International WOW Company owners, producers, and cast members.
Tickets at 212-868-4444

"Show, Don't Tell": A Poetry Lesson for Political Deconstruction (Plus an Ode to Sean Hannity!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saturday Night Live on McCain and the Abyss Between McCain and Representative Men (i.e. "Joe the Plumber")

James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword": Coming to Cleveland

James Carroll will appear in person here in Cleveland on Saturday October 25 for a workshop/discussion of the book and film from 9 am till 3 pm @ St. Paul's Episcopal Chirch [The Cleveland Ecumenical Institute] 2747 Fairmount Blvd Cleveland Hts., Ohio. Registration fee is $40; [$20 for students] - add $10 for boxed lunch. There are 'half scholarships' available by calling Bernadette LaGuardia @ 216.283.1507. Mr. Carroll will speak @ 11 am and 1:00 pm. The workshop will conclude @ 3:00 pm. To register send check payable to: CEIRS to the above address. Please come and bring friends - foes too - we'll make'em friends.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Poetry as a Medium to Making: Mark Nowak's Reading at Felix, and His New Project

Last month, I had the chance to meet and read with Mark Nowak as part of the Felix Reading Series in Madison, Wisconsin (thanks to Hai-Dang Phan and Steel). Nowak's reading was a tripartite exploration in the possibilities of a multivocal and transnational poetry--1) a choral reading of "Capitalization" (with two students from the audience), 2) a video of a Ford worker named Denny who'd recently lost his job after many years with the company, another video of a South African worker (and group of workers) who labor at a Ford plant there (and whose poetry responded to Denny), and 3) a reading from his new book, along with photos, from Coal Mountain Elementary, which is shortly forthcoming.

Nowak's work not only elegizes the loss of industrial unionism in America, but also increasingly concerns itself with transnational unionism, the collective subjectivity of labor and laborers; in short, in his poetry's intense social concern and social construction, we sense at once the profound limits of the lyric as it continues to be written today, and also models for how to engage poetry (and people) in an act of collective labor and making. I find his work terribly exciting, and tonic after reading so much navel-gazing and hermeticism. In Mark Nowak, I see a poetic comrade of the first order, drawing back to the history of 1930s engagement poetry, but with the broad palette suggested by the likes of Muriel Rukeyser and hip hop.

His latest project, The Rufaidah Poetry Dialogues is described below:
Initiated as a collaborative project by labor poet Mark Nowak and RNs Rahma Warsame and Nimo Abdi, the Rufaidah Poetry Dialogues seek to engage Muslim nurses and entry-level health care practitioners in a dialogue about health care, race, and working conditions through the reading, writing, and performance of poetry. The group is named after Rufaidah bint Sa’ad, the first professional nurse in Islamic history. It meets regularly at the College of St. Catherine-Minneapolis, adjacent to Fairview-University Hospital.

Thus, Nowak's project sees poetry as a medium between people, as a medium to making, to forging connections within and between people, to bridge the abysses between the lives of those who rarely become the subject of poetry, much less its authors. Nowak thus pushes documentary poetry to its necessary limit--where the poet becomes the midwife of other poets as much as others' voices.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

9/11 Reading, "The Idle Childless," and the Cleveland Poetry Scene

Thanks to John Burroughs (aka Jesus Crisis) for his review of the 9/11 reading at the Literary Cafe last month, and for the great pics of all the participants--I meant it when I said to Steve Goldberg that the Literary Cafe felt like the most vital poetry scene in Cleveland. Thanks to him and Nick and Amy Bracken Sparks, and all the Lit Cafe folks who come out to listen and read at the open mike.

Thank as well for JB/JC's recent posting of "The Idle Childless," one of the few poems that I've written that emerged out of animus...

"The Daily Show" on the monster McCain has unleashed (on Obama, Arabs, etc.)

Thanks to Susan Schultz for passing along this nugget.

Nice to see Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi, the "Senior Brown Correspondent," representin'--basically saying what I said the other day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!/"Creation Story on Magnolia Drive"

Check out "Creation Story on Magnolia Drive" at the CrisisChronicles Online Library--I'm rubbing elbows with Dostoevsky. One of the secret base texts for this poem is the Iroquois Creation Story. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day, everybody!

State of the Union and Poetry Politic Blog: A Blog in 50 Days (Half Way Through)

Check out PoetryPolitic Blog, a blog in support of the recent Wave Books anthology State of the Union, in particular Susan Schultz's recent poem featured there.

I look forward to reading this anthology, even though I have to say that the broadness of the blog's title brings up poetic issues that the more stately--State of the Union--does not. Which is to say, once one begins to engage in a discussion of "political poetry," one makes a choice to suggest that some poetry is "political" and some is not--a point that, in the broader public sphere, almost always favors the non-political (as non-divisive, non-partisan, non-didactic, non-arm-twisting). In the poetry world, "political poetry" so frequently comes to mean poetry that is partisan by way of its thematics or content--and probably 95% of poets see this sort of gesture as self-congratulatory, delimited, or boring. I have made my own arguments regarding "war resistance poetry," peace poetry (stay tuned for that essay), and resistance poetries more generally, partly because I see the employment of the term "political" in such a broad sense feels counter-productive.

Still, reading CA Conrad's poem (and, to an extent, Joseph Lease's "America"), I find myself again enchanted by the idea of a poetry addressed to political leaders and to America more broadly--hearkening back not only to Allen Ginsberg's hilarious parody of a rant, "America," but all the poems that Ginsberg was echoing--not only Whitman and Hughes and McKay and countless others, but also the poems of regular Americans, writing poems and submitting them as poetic editorials to the newspapers of the day, that functioned as letters to the nation.

The cast of poets included suggests that they have chosen many poets and movements who would have been making the above argument over the past few decades, which makes it all the more intriguing:

John Ashbery, Anselm Berrigan, Lucille Clifton, CAConrad, Peter Gizzi, Albert Goldbarth, Terrance Hayes, Fanny Howe, Tao Lin, Eileen Myles, Michael Palmer, Wang Ping, Richard Siken, Juliana Spahr, James Tate, Catherine Wagner, Joe Wenderoth, Dara Wier, Rebecca Wolff, John Yau and many more.

While some of the above, such as Lucille Clifton, CA Conrad, and Juliana Spahr, could be seen as poets directly engaging "the political," others, such as John Ashbery, Peter Gizzi, and Michael Palmer have a more oblique relationship at least to the idea of a "political" (content) poetry; the avant, the language, and the post-avant rubbing elbows with what might be termed the vulgar politicoes (of which I occasionally find membership)--now that's an interesting project.

To Wave Books' credit, proceeds, as they state on their website, "for State of the Union will be donated to Swords to Plowshares, a not-for-profit organization devoted to reducing homelessness and poverty among veterans through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities." That's good people.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Creation" by Kenneth Patchen


Wherever the dead are there they are and
Nothing more. But you and I can expect
To see angels in the meadowgrass that look
Like cows -
And wherever we are in paradise
in furnished room without bath and
six flights up
Is all God! We read
To one another, loving the sound of the s’s
Slipping up on the f’s and much is good
Enough to raise the hair on our heads, like Rilke and Wilfred Owen

Any person who loves another person,
Wherever in the world, is with us in this room -
Even though there are battlefields.

Kenneth Patchen

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New from the Sidewalk Blogger

There are many costly bridges to nowhere. This one, set in the other recent addition to the United States (Hawaii, courtesy of the Sidewalk Blogger SMS), is suggestive of the uneven development of our great Union, and how a governor of Alaska could say "please," "thanks" and "thanks but I'll use the money on other things," when the inner cities crumble and infrastructure rots in the provinces.

"Arabs Are Not Decent": More on Obama=Arab

Just in case you missed it, Arab is the new Black. Barack Obama is not feared by white America because he is black, but because he is "Arab." (See previous post, Another Reason to Vote for Obama: He's Arab American!). Notice John McCain's response--not to undermine the notion that Arab means untrustworthy, or un-American--but to say that Obama's not a bad guy.

This from the Chicago Tribune today:

On Friday, McCain rejected the bait.

"I don't trust Obama," a woman said. "I have read about him. He's an Arab."

McCain shook his head in disagreement, and said:

"No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with (him) on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."

He had drawn boos with his comment: "I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."

The anti-Obama taunts and jeers are noticeably louder when McCain appears with Palin, a big draw for GOP social conservatives. She accused Obama this week of "palling around with terrorists" because of his past, loose association with a 1960s radical. If less directly, McCain, too, has sought to exploit Obama's Chicago neighborhood ties to William Ayers, while trying simultaneously to steer voters' attention to his plans for the financial crisis.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Oceana Four (2008): Thoughts on the Symbolic Action as Mode of (Poetic) Address

The first picture above is one of my favorites from any symbolic action--the juxtaposition between the protestors on the airplane with the line of military below demonstrates both the vital and courageous actions of the Oceana 4, as well as the potential limits of such an act, insofar as it effects an abyssal rupture between the servicemen watching below and themselves. The servicemen, with their backs to us, seem a faceless mass against the particular faces of the war resisters; such an act may risk going "over their heads" (literally and figuratively), rather than being addressed to them particularly.

Four people got atop the B-52 on display at the Oceana air show this weekend. They were detained as were 8 observers. 11 people received letters banning them from all Naval installations from Virginia to Maine. Steve Baggarly of the Norfolk Catholic Worker violated a previously received letter and will go to US District Court in Norfolk on November 3rd on a trespass charge which carries up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Kim Williams
Norfolk CW House
1321 W 38th St
Norfolk VA 23508

Air Shows and Resistance

by Steve Baggarly

Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Virginia, hosted its fiftieth annual air show this weekend. Oceana is home to F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets which are deployed on aircraft carriers stationed at Norfolk Naval Base. This year's show, dubbed "A Legacy of Excellence," is one of over 200 air shows taking place across the country this year from March to November.

Air shows are the US Military's hottest community relations and recruiting tool. Many take place on military bases that are opened to the public for the occasion, others at local airports or fair grounds.

At Oceana, attendees were dazzled by active duty fighters, bombers, transports, and spy planes, as well as historical and stunt aircraft, displayed both on the ground and in speed-filled, eardrum-shattering air demonstrations. Booths sponsored by defense contractors lauding the next generations of military aircraft under development offered pencils, stickers, and glossy photos of sleek futuristic war planes.

With local radio stations playing rock and country music, lines of concession stands, and picnicking areas, the show was an intentionally family affair as the endless stream of strollers attested. Also on hand were small Naval river craft crowded with kids behind the machine guns, a rack of M-4 and M-16 rifles and Army issue shotguns for visitors to handle, an opportunity for small children to lay in the grass with a sniper's rifle and peer through its sights, and a virtual Army experience in which groups of people embark on their own company-sized Army mission. But the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team and the other military aircraft were the stars of the show.

Unmentioned anywhere was the sole purpose for the existence of all the assembled high-tech weaponry on display. Nowhere was their killing vocation acknowledged. Nowhere was the reality of the people under the bombs even whispered; the deafening explosions, the quaking earth, the fear, the chaos, the smoke and fire, the loss of homes, jobs, utilities, and resources, the burning of flesh, the spurting of blood,
the pain and shock, the blinding, maiming, and crippling, the loss of limbs, the deep psychological trauma, the soul-rending howls of new orphans and widows. Nowhere was mentioned the inherently indiscriminate nature of airstrikes; that every time a bomb bay door opens or a wing launcher is fired that civilians, innocents, and children are as likely as anything to be blown to shreds. Nowhere were the photos of decapitated or blood-drenched Iraqi and Afghan children.

Nowhere was posted the definition of war crimes.

Such realities would have upset what was essentially a religious event. Faith in the weapons was palpable. The aircraft were heralded as the source of freedom and security, peace and prosperity. These attributes of a deity were readily assigned to the warplanes, the airborne idols of our national religion, militarism. In the end it is our B-52's and F-18's and our stealth fighters and bombers that we believe will save us. We entrust our children to their protection, swell with pride when they join the ranks in their service, and freely give our money to create ever more lethal versions. This is the message of the air shows; life as we know it is made possible by these planes and we owe them our absolute and undying allegiance.

There are two air shows each year in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, and several hundred thousand people attend the three-day events. This weekend at Oceana four people disturbed the good order of the show by climbing atop the B-52 bomber on display with banners reading "We Shalt Not Kill" and "Weapons of Mass Destruction are Nothing to Celebrate." Each one of the Air Force's 66 nuclear capable B-52's can
carry the equivalent of 320 Hiroshima bombs. They can also carry 70,000 pounds of conventional weapons (including cluster bombs, cruise missiles and gravity bombs) and in their 45 year history have carpet bombed Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The four banner bearers were detained along with eight observers. Eleven people were given letters banning them from Naval installations from Virginia to Maine. One member of the Norfolk Catholic Worker violated a previous banning order and will face a trespassing charge in Federal Court in Norfolk on November 3rd that carries up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.

Air shows are public liturgies venerating our gods of metal. They glorify our wars and they indoctrinate our children. Go to and find the air show nearest you. Then grab some friends, some signs, literature, puppets or a bullhorn, and, as Dan Berrigan said, "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Also go to for more info:

A Veteran Speaks Out

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hilary Bok on the Impossibility of Bringing Democracy Through Violence

Check out this piece by Hilzoy (i.e. Hilary Bok, professor of bioethics at Johns Hopkins). Thanks to Brian Gunn for passing it along!

A slice:

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.

And another was this: liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?

Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Soldiers of Conscience" Showing on PBS October 16th, 9pm (check local listings)

Trailer for "Soldiers of Conscience" (not for the faint of heart)

Interview with Ian Slattery, associate producer of "Soldiers of Conscience." He tells some amazing stories that bring human faces to the statistics...for example, that show 75% of soldiers (3/4) did NOT fire their weapons during live fire combat in World War II. It explores the making of the film, etc.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poetry and Investment

From the hallowed pages of The Onion. This one performs the typical great work of comedy and of metaphor--that of yoking two very different things together: here, poetry and pork barrel politics. If only the problems of poetry could be solved by money (then, what?). If only the money problems could be solved by poetry (then, what?). Poetry is indeed a kind of infrastructure, but thank God no one has to drive over it everyday, hanging over abysses.

WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric poem-—its largest investment in the nation's aesthetic-industrial complex since the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.

"America's metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation's verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart," said the project's head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. "We need to make sure America's poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the world."

Gioia confirmed that the public-works composition will be assembled letter-by-letter atop a solid base of the relationship between man and nature. The poem's structure, laid out extensively on lined-paper blueprints, involves a traditional three- quatrain-and-a-couplet framework, which will be tethered to an iambic meter for increased stability and symmetry. If the planners can secure an additional $6.2 million in funding, they may affix a long dash to the end of line three, though Gioia said that is a purely optimistic projection at this stage.

The poem is expected not only to revitalize the community, Gioia said, but also create jobs for the nation's hundreds of out-of-work poets. According to the proposed budget, the poem's 224 authors have allocated $4 million for the final rhyming couplet, $52 million to insert hyphens into the word "tomorrow" so it reads "to-morrow," $7.45 for a used copy of John Keats' Selected Poems for ideas and inspiration, and $450 million for a simile likening human fate to the wind.

Some experts, however, say the poem is already at risk of going over budget, citing the soaring $5,000-per-square-inch cost of vellum, and an ambitious but perhaps ill-conceived $135 million undertaking to make the word "owl" rhyme with "soul."

"We've already put 200 hours of manpower into the semicolon at the end of the first stanza," said Charles Simic, poet laureate of the United States and head author of the still- untitled piece. "And I've got my best guys working around the clock to convert all the 'overs' in the piece into one-syllable 'o'ers.' I got [Nobel Prize winner Seamus] Heaney and [Margaret] Atwood stripping all the V's and tacking apostrophes in their place. It's grunt work, but somebody's got to do it if this poem's going to get done."

Gioia denied allegations that the poem is being mismanaged, claiming that he has implemented several measures to keep the project on schedule, including giving no more than two words to each poet, limiting alliteration and assonance to a maximum of three words per line, cutting out all extraneous allusions to Eliot and Yeats, and restricting any unwieldy metaphors hinting at the vast alienation of modernity.

Although the poem is still in the early stages of construction, it has already come under fire for serious structural issues, including a shaky foundation and a half-dozen partial synecdoches.

"This poem is an eyesore," said literary critic Stanley Fish. "The whole right side of the verse is barely being held up by a load-bearing enjambment, and it seems as if they just sloppily patched up all the holes in the piece with plagiarized Rod McKuen passages."

In addition, the tenuous line that was being drawn between the narrator's mortality and winter unexpectedly collapsed on itself Monday. Two poets were killed in the incident.

"Sure, some of the imagery might be beautiful, but is this poem actually going to be useful?" Fish said. "Or are people just going to look at it and go, 'Huh. Interesting.' Why not put this money toward something everybody can enjoy, like a TV pilot or a New Yorker cartoon caption?"

"The government needs to stop throwing billions of dollars at the arts," he added.

Fish cautioned that previous attempts to funnel money into poetry had been cut short before they were fully completed, resulting in the large number of unfinished, million-dollar poems that are still lying unread across the country to this day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

CA Conrad's interview of poet Kristen Gallagher at the RNC protests

This is from CA Conrad's interview with poet and artist Kristen Gallagher, on her experience at the "Unconvention," part of the protests of the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis a couple months ago.

The basic idea of CAFF [Cheap Art for Freedom] is to

1) defy, ridicule, undermine, and make obsolete the sanctity of affluent-society art
2) create cultural spaces that will be managed by the people who use them
3) explode the myth of scarcity by making beautiful art out of trash and/or super-cheap surplus materials
4) never exchange money with the people who we exchange art with
5) redistribute creativity to the masses
6) function as a collective, never as a hierarchy or out of forced unity
7) collectively share all our personal resources according to the differences in our abilities and incomes, so that we can all take part in CAFF with equal expense/burden

Every year, we get together in a different city for one week and attempt two types of action:

1) to give away cheap art we have made (sometimes together, sometimes separately) or taught others to make (in street education workshops in screen printing, spray paint art, sewing, cardboard sculpture, etc.) over the previous year (and we try to do this either in poor neighborhoods, shelters, or in solidarity with other events like community protests or political street theatre events, etc.)

2) to make a large-scale cardboard-based interactive sculpture in some kind of park or public place. (For example, last year we made a large sculpture in Washington Square in honor of Iraqis who dies from the war—we get the names and photos of as many as we could and built a monument which invited passersby and people from the community to take part in writing the names. After about 12 hours of manning the site, we left it, only to return hours later to find the whole thing still going strong WITHOUT our presence. The people took it over—as we always wanted!)