Thursday, December 31, 2009

Satyagraha Forum, Dennis Brutus, and the Gaza Freedom March

Check out this Satyagraha Forum: The Poetry of Peace and Politics. Thanks to Kazim Ali for directing me to this video.

South African activist and poet Dennis Brutus died recently, but this video suggests what and how poetry intervenes on the brutal and divisive political issues of our age--climate change, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, etc.

Last, but not least, is the ongoing Gaza Freedom March, in which activists are attempting to end the blockade of Gaza...
From Codepink
The Gaza Freedom March continues in Cairo, we hope in Gaza, and around the world. Because of all your emails and the determination of the almost 1,400 people who came to Cairo to be a part of the March, including 300 French nationals who have been camped out in front of their embassy for three nights, we secured a meeting with Madame Mubarak, the president´s wife. Madame Mubarak arranged for 100 marchers to enter Gaza to deliver the humanitarian aid we had brought with us, under the umbrella of her organization The Red Crescent. This was considered a success until we began the difficult task of figuring out which 100 of the 1,400 would go.

To make matters more complicated, the Foreign Minister, who had not wanted ANY of us to be allowed in and was angry he had been overruled by Mrs. Mubarak, decided to fan the flames by saying in a press conference that the 100 seats were for the "good people"; and the rest of us were bad "hooligans" who were being left behind. Some of the country representatives declined their seats, and some delegations decided they would prefer not to send anyone if the whole group was not allowed to go. Those who boarded the buses towards Rafah included journalists who had come to report on the conditions in Gaza, Palestinians who would be reunited with family they had not seen in years, and some members of the team who were committed to delivering the aid that had been collected.

One of the desired results of the march was to focus world attention on the continuing and devastating effects of the blockade on Gaza. The outpouring of support from around the world for the Palestinians in Gaza has been amazing. Twenty-two marchers began a hunger strike in Cairo, including 85-year-old Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, who has been interviewed by journalists from around the world. This morning´s New York Times piece on the march and the hunger strike was a huge success in getting the story of Gaza to a wider audience, and reflected the passion of those who had traveled so far to be a part of this historic movement.

The hunger strikers ask that sometime during the period marking the Operation Cast Lead invasion anniversary--December 27-January 18--you join them in remembrance by skipping a meal, or fasting for a day or a week. Sign up here.

And please be a part of the international solidarity movement for the Palestinians of Gaza by doing what you can to spread the story, tweet or Facebook the NY Times story and keep up with the ever changing tides of the march on the PINKtank.

I wish all of you a joyous New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hugging and Wrestling : Contemporary Israeli Photography and Video

Hugging and Wrestling : Contemporary Israeli Photography and Video
On view September 12th, 2009 through January 10th, 2010
MOCA Cleveland

Marjorie Talalay, Peter B. Lewis, and Video Galleries

Curated by Margo A. Crutchfield, Senior Curator

ARTISTS ON VIEW>> Yael Bartana, Rina Castelnuovo, Natan Dvir, Barry Frydlender, Ori Gersht, Dana Levy, Adi Nes, Michal Rovner, Rona Yefman

In recent years, Tel Aviv has emerged as a vibrant artistic center that has increasingly gained recognition on the global art stage. Hugging and Wrestling presents outstanding photographic and video works by some of the most talented Israeli artists working today, most of whom live in or are from Tel Aviv.

The phrase "hugging and wrestling with Israel" was coined by MAKOM Israel Engagement Network, and is explored on their site, and in this article.

In Hugging and Wrestling, a vivid portrait of Israel emerges through the perspectives of nine artists who respond to the complex shifting realities of the country today. The images are both beautiful and powerful, some deeply personal, others more philosophical, some political. With distinct points of view, the artists portray a land rich in history, and the convergence of multiple cultures, beliefs, and ways of life. But while the artists embrace Israel, they wrestle with political discord, religious divisions, and social inequities. They search for personal and collective identity in a vibrant, evolving, contemporary culture, while wrestling with the vulnerabilities of a country with contested territories where conflict is imminent and ever present.

Ori Gersht's evocative photographs of ancient olive trees portray the Israeli landscape as a sacred space, a land of indisputable beauty and strength that is nonetheless scarred and fragile. More universal are Michal Rovner's ambiguous, almost abstract works of projected video imagery that probe such issues as loss, survival, change, and humanity's place in the universe.

Bartana's video installation, Trembling Time, 2001, explores Israeli social mores and rituals, examining the relationship between the individual and society. The large-scale panoramic photographs by Barry Frydlender depict daily life in Israel, ranging from a cosmopolitan Tel Aviv street scene, to a beach rock concert, to the aftermath of a suicide bombing at a popular café.

From a Christian baptism to a Purim celebration, Natan Dvir portrays the depth and rich diversity of religious faith in Israel. Adi Nes draws on his religious heritage in portraits that are based on biblical stories. But Nes does so in contemporary terms, using the homeless as his subjects in striking works that become social critiques that metaphorically fuse the past and present.

Both Rina Castelnuovo and Natan Dvir's images of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict portray the human cost of that tragedy, from both sides. Artist Dana Levy 's poignant video installation Dreamers, 2007, presents individuals from various walks of life - Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian - as they relay their dreams, their hopes, and wishes for a better world. In their video installation, Rona Yefman and Tanja Schlander recreate the persona of Pippi Longstocking, who, performed by Tanja Schlander, engages in a preposterous yet humorous attempt to pull apart the Abu-Dis wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. Representing a cultural shift among some from a younger generation of Israelis who are more open to political change and transformation, this work of art holds the promise of hope and resolution.

Thoughtful, at times re-evaluating long held beliefs, and often poignant, the art in this exhibition embraces Israel while wrestling with its internal and external challenges. In the end, the exhibition presents a celebration of artistic excellence through the work of a selection of Israel's most talented and celebrated contemporary artists.

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Rosalie and Mort Cohen

Artists' websites:

Yael Bartana:

Rina Castelnuovo:

Natan Dvir:

Barry Frydlender:

Ori Gersht:

Dana Levy:

Adi Nes:

Michal Rovner:

Rona Yefman:

Tanja Schlander:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Carl Kabat's Crime Against Nuclear Missiles

Kabat, in the tradition of conscientious objection, of resisting unjust laws, calls to mind the legacy of rabble-rousers and gadflies like Thoreau and Gandhi; like them, his acts of resistance are often met with annoyance and worse. The act of the resister is not one that invites or exhorts the law-abider, as any comment stream will tell you. It risks arrogance, self-righteousness, and the madness of isolation. But that doesn't automatically make it wrong--or, perhaps, even necessary. Thanks to Tim Musser for keeping me in the loop on this one.

Protesting priest guilty, free, defiant

by Sharon Dunn (courtesy of the Greeley Tribune)

In the end, a jury had no choice but to convict.

The Rev. Carl Kabat, 76, was photographed at the N-8 missile silo in northeast Weld County. Two-foot bolt cutters were found on the ground. There was a hole in the fence surrounding the facility, and he was waiting inside for his eventual arrest.

Kabat had breached nuclear missile facilities like these for the past two decades, and had 17 convictions behind him in his quest to do his small part to rid the earth of nuclear weapons, which the Catholic Church has deemed a crime against humanity.

But the members of the jury had to look beyond the message. After one hour of deliberations, they convicted him of the two misdemeanor criminal mischief and trespassing charges.

“We understand what he was standing for,” said jury member Ben Salgado, 56, of Windsor, after the verdict. “We just wish he would have chosen a different forum.”

As the jury was dismissed, Kabat applauded them, some walking out with tears in their eyes. One said as she left the courthouse: “It was very emotional.”

The St. Louis priest was immediately sentenced to the time he'd already served behind bars — 137 days — though deputy district attorney David Skarka asked for the maximum of one year for each of the misdemeanors to be served back to back. The county already had shelled out roughly $7,950 to keep him in jail for almost five months, based on a cost of about $58 per day per inmate. Had he been sentenced to Skarka's request, the county would have paid $26,000 more to keep him for a remaining 456 days.

“It's unfortunate that they didn't have any significant stance,” Kabat said as he left the courthouse. “I understand because these people are ordinary people, and they don't realize the power they have ... or the insanity (of those weapons) in the ground.”

Weld County Court Judge Dana Nichols opted not to fine Kabat but did impose standard court costs totaling $254.50 and gave the prosecution time to file a notice of restitution to Warren Air Force Base for damages. Kabat promised more civil disobedience.

“I will not make restitution, or pay fines or make any payments. That will be supporting nuclear weapons,” Kabat vowed.

That capped a two-day trial that brought with it one big twist: After his attorneys presented to the jury a multitude of banners he had hung up at the silo facility, Kabat fired them — a move he'd planned months ago so he would have the freedom to say what he wanted to say in court.

But Kabat's testimony on his own behalf didn't go quite the way he planned, as evidenced by the prosecution's objections to him continually bringing up arguments about the destructive power of weapons of mass destruction.

“I wish you'd object to nuclear weapons,” Kabat said.

After several attempts by Nichols to get Kabat to focus on the evidence against him, Kabat decided it didn't matter what he said.

The jury members, however, immediately wrote down their questions.

One juror asked why he wouldn't rather just protest peacefully outside the perimeter of the fence.

“Why in the civil rights (era) did they march down the street when they said, ‘You can't march down the street?' Because it's wrong,” Kabat answered. “I guess I think it's up to us to try to get rid of these things.”

Skarka asked him simply, “Are you above the law?”

Kabat replied: “All wrong law, yes. God's law is above all these man-made things.”

During his closing arguments, Kabat quoted Albert Einstein and Ghandi, and he beseeched the jury to be the conscience of a nation.

“I don't know you, but you are my sisters and brothers,” Kabat said. “We're all God's children, and we have to look after one another. We have to be significant actors. How many times have you written to your senator, to your congressman? ... For some of us, (it's been) countless times.”

Salgado, of the jury, a postal worker by trade and a former military man, said the potential sentence did weigh on the jury's mind.

“That really weighed on all of our hearts,” he said. “It wasn't an aggressive (protest), and he wasn't in there to really damage things. It was just a political statement.”

He said the trial was an eye-opener, however. Some on the jury, he said, didn't even know there were silos in Colorado. But, he said, he wouldn't be surprised to see Kabat protesting again someday. Kabat had earlier said he'd be happy to die in prison for peace.

“I think he's the type of guy that stands for his faith and what he believes,” Salgado said. “I wouldn't be surprised at all, actually.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another Take on Obama's Peace Prize Speech

Published on Friday, December 18, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus
A Lesson on Nonviolence for the President
by Eric Stoner

In Oslo last week, President Barack Obama ironically used his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize to deliver a lengthy defense of the "just war" theory and dismiss the idea that nonviolence is capable of addressing the world's most pressing problems.
After quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and giving his respects to Gandhi — two figures that Obama has repeatedly called personal heroes — the new peace laureate argued that he "cannot be guided by their examples alone" in his role as a head of state.

"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," he continued. "For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Unfortunately, this key part of Obama's speech, which the media widely quoted in its coverage of the award ceremony, contains several logical inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies that tragically reveal Obama's profound ignorance of nonviolent alternatives to the use of military force.

The Power of Nonviolence
Almost immediately after acknowledging that there is "nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King," Obama equated nonviolence with doing nothing.

To live and act nonviolently, however, never involves standing "idle in the face of threats." Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dave Dellinger, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and countless other genuine peacemakers have put their lives on the line in the struggle for a more just world. Advocates of nonviolence, like Gandhi, simply believe that means and ends are inseparable – that responding in kind to an aggressor will only continue the cycle of violence.

"Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal-in-the-making and the end-in-progress," Martin Luther King explains in his book Strength to Love. "Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means."

Therefore, to put it bluntly, it's impossible to create a world that truly respects life with fists, guns, and bombs. As A.J. Muste, a longtime leader of the labor, civil rights, and antiwar movements, famously said: "There is no way to peace — peace is the way."

Using a broad array of tactics — including strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, and protests — nonviolent movements have not only gained important rights for millions of oppressed people around the world, they have confronted, and successfully brought down, some of the most ruthless regimes of the last 100 years.

The courageous, everyday citizens who spoke out and took to the streets to stop the murderous reigns of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, to name only a few examples from recent decades, were anything but passive in the face of evil.

Moreover, these incredible victories for nonviolence were not flukes. After analyzing 323 resistance campaigns over the last century, one important study published last year in the journal International Security, found that "major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns."

Victories Against Hitler
Contrary to Obama's speech and the dominant narrative about World War II, nonviolent movements in several different European countries were also remarkably successful in thwarting the Nazis.

In 1943, for instance, when the order finally came to round up the nearly 8,000 Jews in Denmark, Danes spontaneously hid them in their homes, hospitals, and other public institutions over the span of one night. Then, at great personal risk to those involved, a secret network of fishing vessels successfully ferried almost their entire Jewish population to neutral Sweden. The Nazis captures only 481 Jews, and thanks to continued Danish pressure, nearly 90% of those deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp survived the war.

In Bulgaria, important leaders of the Orthodox Church, along with farmers in the northern stretches of the country, threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This popular pressure emboldened the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country's 48,000 Jews.

Even in Norway, where Obama accepted the peace prize, there was significant nonviolent resistance during the Second World War. When the Nazi-appointed Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling ordered teachers to teach fascism, an estimated 10,000 of the country's 12,000 teachers refused. A campaign of intimidation — which included sending over 1,000 male teachers to jails, concentration camps, and forced labor camps north of the Arctic Circle — failed to break the will of the teachers and sparked growing resentment throughout the country. After eight months, Quisling backed down and the teachers came home victorious.

Alternatives to the War on Terror
Obama's rejection of negotiations as a possible solution to terrorism also doesn't square with the evidence. After analyzing hundreds of terrorist groups that have operated over the last 40 years, a RAND corporation study published last year concluded that military force is almost never successful at stopping terrorism. The vast majority of terrorist groups that ended during that period "were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40%), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43%)." In other words, negotiation is clearly possible.

For his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, University of Chicago professor Robert Pape created a database on every suicide bombing from 1980 to 2004. Pape found that, rather than being driven by religion, the vast majority of suicide bombers — responsible for over 95% of all incidents on record — were primarily motivated by a desire to compel a democratic government to withdraw its military forces from land they saw as their homeland.

"Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism," Pape said in an interview with The American Conservative, "the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us."

Apart from pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East, calling off the deadly campaign of drone attacks, and ending military, economic, and diplomatic support for repressive regimes in the region, how can the threat of terrorism be best minimized? A recent article in the Independent by Johann Hari may provide an answer.

Through interviews with 17 radical Islamic ex-jihadis over the course of a year, Hari discovered that they all told strikingly similar stories about what drew them to extremism, and what eventually got them out. They all felt alienated growing up in Britain, and connected their personal experiences to the persecution of Muslims around the world. In most cases, however, coming into contact with Westerners who took the values of democracy and human rights seriously, opposed the wars against Muslim countries, and engaged in ordinary acts of kindness first made them question whether they were on the right path.

As I silently carried a cardboard coffin from the UN headquarters in New York to the military recruiting center in Times Square during a protest on the day of Obama's speech, I couldn't help but cringe to think of the president justifying the deployment of 30,000 more troops to the "graveyard of empires." Every nonviolent alternative has not been exhausted. In reality, they have yet to be tried.

Eric Stoner is a freelance writer based in New York and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. His articles have appeared in The Nation, NACLA Report on the Americas, and the Indypendent.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lev Rubinstein's "Questions of Literature"

This was one of the better Poetry in the Everyday Projects, in which students brought poems and poetry off the page and into their worlds. Thanks to Leila Hojat for having fun with Lev Rubinstein's "Questions of Literature." The photographs are mine, but David Essi put them together for the YouTube format. The text can be found in Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein, translated by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Laniece Hurd's "American Pie"/Poetry in the Everyday Project

One of my students, Laniece Hurd, composed this poem, inspired by flarf and collage, derived in part from "Strange Fruit," pie-baking instructions, and her own imagination--the YouTube clip is the "everyday" portion of her Poetry in the Everyday Project (PIE Project), an assignment that I give students to bring poetry off the page and into their worlds.

"For We Have Seen/We Build a World": A War Tax Resisters Chorale

This past November, I led a group of war tax resisters, meeting in Cleveland for their national conference, in a "warm-up" exercise. I read two poems from COME TOGETHER ("The Story So Far" and "Jerusalem") and invited them to do two free-writes:

1) describe an image or moment of rupture or violence that you experienced or witnessed that has always stayed with you, that you carry with you, that motivates your war resistance;

2) describe an image or moment of resistance, reconciliation, peacemaking, healing, courage that gives you hope in dark times. Then, with a chorus, we shared our poem-moments. The first chorus was "For we have seen..." and the second "We work to build a world..."

The instant reading was quite powerful, in ways that the text below cannot dramatize, as a testament to individual experience and collective labor. I'd walk around the circle, and point to those ready to read their portion, and then bring us back to the chorus.

Mindful of that gap (poetry is what's lost in translation), I share the vestige of that collective symbolic action.

For information on what war tax resistance is, please see the

"For We Have Seen/We Build a World"
A War Tax Resisters Chorale

by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee meeting
Cleveland, Ohio
November 7, 2009

(note: the italicized refrains spoken by all)

1. For we have seen

For we have seen

The Guatemalan peasant shares the horrors of the massacre that left many buried, they know not where. Life goes on. The corn is planted; then the harvest. Yet sorrow remains entangled in its roots.

For we have seen

The father weeping inside holds his children
As their mother leaves for greener and richer fields.

For we have seen

A little joke, a play on words, expectation twinkling in her eyes

For we have seen

Their heads blown apart, crying, begging, but my hand came back from my face covered in blood. And for them I could do nothing.

For we have seen

She was deceived,
Then she was raped,
And the bond with her true love
Was not broken.
Now he lifts up her light
That others may discover
The truth about themselves
And pass on the light.

For we have seen

She struggled hard to live, her eyes closed slowly against the light, and all was dark. What now?

For we have seen

Shots crack the stillness. Sirens scream, a sea of green 70s police units. It’s a hideous colon and I don’t feel safe. Shooter still at large. Time to walk to school. “You’ll be fine,” my mother says, and “don’t be late.”

For we have seen

It was the night of my seventh or eighth birthday, when he locked the front door, pushing me out of his way, to top the window to scream and call my mother a bitch.

For we have seen

Numbers pulled from a jar cleaved a room of young men—a lottery of death that is our job to rescramble.

For we have seen

The heat bore down the blood flowed out of her leg and watered the plants. She who was left there.

For we have seen
Dusty Indian village in evenings cool untouchable side of town, sari-clad woman approaches, lifts infant to me and says (in translation): take him to your county and give him a good life.”

2. We build a world…

We build a world

By what right, she the angry one
Do you impugn the sacrifice
Of our brave?
And why don’t
You go back to
The country you came from
And the answer that came
I was here before your ancestors.
And my descendants shall carry on
When I am no more.

We build a world

The police officer, tired of her constant crawling through his legs, lay fingers in her hair and clenched then into a fist, and dragged her screaming across the Pentagon floor, twinkling eyes and all.

We build a world

From the knowing fear of dogs and baseball bats on Selma bridge to the triumphal march as far as one could see, front and back.

We build a world

He makes sense. He speaks truth. What a gift to the world. So rare.

We build a world

Swimming with the outboard motor, set adrift, not wanting to drop it and let it sink. Finally heave-ho aboard. Meanwhile, swim for your dinghy, which you didn’t secure to the main ship.

We build a world

It was when she was being dragged away and I, I was being pushed back, she was on the ground being choked and I was being detained when she pulled the cop down with her, and kicked him down. We escaped.

We build a world

Awaking to pre-dawn bomb and machinegun fire. It’s thanksgiving in the U.S.A. No more hiding in Guatemalan jungles for 13 years. The call goes out to “illumine all the lamps!” and show the U.S.-issue helicopter gunships where we are: civilian farmers and human rights witnesses standing in the open clearing as targets of strength.

We build a world

A young boy caught a fish and could not get the hook out. It was dying, the spiny fins stuck his hands. An older boy, a teenager, came along and simply said, “hold the fin backwards hard, and pull out the hook,” and calmly walked away, before the miracle of success.

We build a world

We exchanged war stories. Her ten years from age 12, insisting on being allowed a combatant role. Once so scared, she turned the gun with its last bullet toward herself until the danger passed. “So, how long were you there?” “Well,” I say, “the usual tour was a year. But I was wounded and spent months in the hospital” She stopped short and gave a sigh and a look of sorrow. “You were only a tourist.”

We build a world

Her eyes shining in the lungs of the world looked at us, in the Colombian rainforest, and said, I can’t believe you came all the way here to see me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poet and Psychotherapist Edward Tick on PTSD

Edward Tick, poet and psychotherapist, recently visited Kent State University, as part of the Wick Poetry Series, to talk about PTSD, to read his poems, and though I could not attend, I was terribly pleased to find this clip of him discussing his work. My father, Philip Metres Jr., and Tick have been doing similar work to address the critical conditions for returning veterans, whose woundedness is not apparent on the body, but is evident in what my father (and others) call "the thousand yard stare"--that gaze which is both inhabited and absent, a kind of modern haunting. The work of Tick, Jonathan Shay, and others couldn't be more timely.
This is a short bio:
Edward Tick, author of the groundbreaking book “War and the Soul” and founder of Soldier’s Heart, is a practicing psychotherapist specializing in veterans with PTSD. Ed received his master’s in psychology from Goddard College, Vermont and his doctorate in communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Ed has been in private psychotherapy practice since 1975 and began focusing on veteran’s issues in 1979. His pioneering work with Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or, in his words, ‘loss of the soul’, is the basis for his recent book “War and the Soul”. He continues his healing work with veterans and other trauma survivors with innovative yet time-honored methods. Ed has extensively studied both classical Greek and Native American traditions and successfully integrates their methods into modern clinical work. A widely published writer, he is also the author of “The Golden Tortoise: Journeys in Viet Nam”, “Sacred Mountain: Encounters of the Vietnam Beast”, and “The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine”.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Poems Can Stop Bulldozers." Thus Saith John Kinsella

Poet and environmentalist John Kinsella, in his "Vermin: A Notebook" (Poetry Magazine, December 2009), asserts the power of poetry as a mode of resistance in a direct way, as a direct way. Here's a bit of the essay (the link to the full article here). Let awake people be awake, as William Stafford once wrote.
A pacifist, which is what I am, can be the strongest resister, and pacifism the most defiant form of resistance. Same with language usage: I mix the old and the new to engage with a debate about protection, preservation, conservation, and respect of the “natural” world. I am aware of the problems these words carry in terms of implying complicity, because I am a poet rather than a speech writer. For me, because of this, poems can stop bulldozers. Not because they just say “stop bulldozer,” but because the intricacies of language challenge, distract, and entangle the bulldozer. I am using a semantics not of analogy, but of opposition. My words are intended to halt the damage—to see what shouldn’t be seen, to declare and challenge it.

* * *

I have not yet written the poems that go hand in hand with these actions, though I have seen them in my mind’s eye, because they happen as I interact and respond physically and emotionally to the world around me, and also they appear between the lines in my notebook, attaching themselves to broader ideas and counterpointing received systems of thought. Really, though, the activist moment that becomes a poem is often away from the incident or the moment of witnessing. It becomes a moment where the figurative merges with a politics of response, forming what we might term the “para-figurative”—not didactic, but still informed by a genuine political-ethical idea / l. Last night, for example.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Surge (of Empire?): Jon Stewart and Ralph Nader on Obama/Bush

Check out The Daily Show on the Obama Surge.
Is Obama a tool of empire?

These are complicated issues, yes, and we risk reducing the complexity of the foreign policy issues at stake--but I don't find this policy to be a "middle ground" between Bushian expansionism and our radical fantasy of a peace-making president: 30,000 not 40,000, a timetable (sometime at the end of the 2011 or something) not an endless war, etc. This is not a middle ground.

Is this the liberal revitalization of a longer-lasting policy?

Ralph Nader thinks so. Though his piece occasionally dips into the harangue (the first sentence, for example), the arguments are well worth further consideration:
Published on Thursday, December 3, 2009 by
The Afghan Quagmire
by Ralph Nader

Misusing professional cadets at West Point as a political prop, President Barack Obama delivered his speech on the Afghanistan war forcefully but with fearful undertones. He chose to escalate this undeclared war with at least 30,000 more soldiers plus an even larger number of corporate contractors.

He chose the path the military-industrial complex wanted. The “military” planners, whatever their earlier doubts about the quagmire, once in, want to prevail. The “industrial” barons because their sales and profits rise with larger military budgets.

A majority of Americans are opposed or skeptical about getting deeper into a bloody, costly fight in the mountains of central Asia while facing recession, unemployment, foreclosures, debt and deficits at home. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), after hearing Mr. Obama’s speech said, “Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?”

Let’s say needs like waking up to do something about 60,000 fatalities a year in our country related to workplace diseases and trauma. Or 250 fatalities a day due to hospital induced infections, or 100,000 fatalities a year due to hospital malpractice, or 45,000 fatalities a year due to the absence of health insurance to pay for treatment, or, or, or, even before we get into the economic poverty and deprivation. Any Obama national speeches on these casualties?

Back to the West Point teleprompter speech. If this is the product of a robust internal Administration debate, the result was the same cookie-cutter, Vietnam approach of throwing more soldiers at a poorly analyzed situation. In September, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American Legion Convention, “I’ve seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don’t support the effort at all. I say, good. Let’s have the debate, let’s have that discussion.”

Where? Not in Congress. There were only rubberstamps and grumbles; certainly nothing like the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam War.

Where else? Not in the influential commercial media. Forget jingoistic television and radio other than the satire of Jon Stewart plus an occasional non-commercial Bill Moyers show or rare public radio commentary. Not in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post.

A FAIR study published in the organization’s monthly newsletter EXTRA reports that of all opinion columns in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the first 10 months of 2009, thirty-six out of forty-three columns on the Afghanistan War in the Times supported the war while sixty-one of the sixty-seven Post columns supported a continued war.

So what would a rigorous public and internal administration debate have highlighted? First, the more occupation forces there are, the more they fuel the insurgency against the occupation, especially since so many more civilians than fighters lose their lives. Witness the wedding parties, villagers, and innocent bystanders blown up by the U.S. military’s superior weaponry.

Second, there was a remarkable absence in Obama’s speech about the tribal conflicts and the diversity of motivations of those he lumped under the name of “Taliban.” Some are protecting their valleys, others are in the drug trade, others want to drive out the occupiers, others are struggling for supremacy between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks on the other (roughly the south against the north). The latter has been the substance of a continuing civil war for many years.

Third, how can Obama’s plan begin to work, requiring a stable, functioning Afghan government—which now is largely a collection of illicit businesses milking the graft, which grows larger in proportion to what the American taxpayers have to spend there—and the disorganized, untrained Afghan army—mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks loathed by the Pashtuns.

Fourth, destroying or capturing al Qaeda attackers in Afghanistan ignores Obama’s own intelligence estimates. Many observers believe al Qaeda has gone to Pakistan or elsewhere. The New York Times reports that “quietly, Mr. Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well—if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.”

Hello! Congress did not authorize a war in Pakistan, so does Obama, like Bush, just decree what the Constitution requires to be authorized by the legislative branch? Can we expect another speech at the Air Force Academy on the Pakistan war?

Fifth, as is known, al Qaeda is a transnational movement. Highly mobile, when it is squeezed. As Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer operating in Pakistan, said: “There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan.” He argues that safe havens can be moved to different countries, as has indeed happened since 9/11.

Sixth, the audacity of hope in Obama’s speech was illustrated by his unconvincing date of mid-2011 for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. The tendered exit strategy, tied to unspecified conditions, was a bone he tossed to his shaky liberal base.

The White House recently said it costs $1 million a year to keep each single soldier in Afghanistan. Take one fifth of that sum and connect with the tribal chiefs to build public facilities in transportation, agriculture, schools, clinics, public health, and safe drinking water.

Thus strengthened, these tribal leaders know how to establish order. This is partly what Ashraf Ghani, the former respected Afghan finance minister and former American anthropology professor, called concrete “justice” as the way to undermine insurgency.

Withdraw the occupation, which now is pouring gasoline on the fire. Bring back the saved four-fifths of that million dollars per soldier to America and provide these and other soldiers with tuition for their education and training.

The principal authority in Afghanistan is tribal. Provide the assistance, based on stage-by-stage performance, and the tribal leaders obtain a stake in stability. Blown apart by so many foreign invaders—British, Soviet, American—and internally riven, the people in the countryside look to tribal security as the best hope for a nation that has not known unity for decades.

Lifting the fog of war allows other wiser policies urged by experienced people to be considered for peace and security.

Rather than expanding a boomeranging war, this alternative has some probability of modest success unlike the sure, mounting loss of American and Afghani lives and resources.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TO SEE THE EARTH in its second printing

My first full-length collection of poems, To See the Earth, just went into its second printing. My great gratitude to Cleveland State Poetry Center for their support, editing, and guidance--Michael Dumanis & crew, thanks for making this dream happen. If you haven't read it yet, or want to spread the love, check it out, pass it on.

Here's a poem from the collection, about my time living in Russia, about getting lost in language, in distance, in distant towns, in one's self.

"Ashberries: Letters"


Outside, in a country with no word
for outside, they cluster on trees,

red bunches. I looked up
ryabina, found mountain ash. No

mountains here, just these berries
cradled in yellow leaves.

When I rise, you fall asleep. We
barely know each other
, you said

on the phone last night. Today, sun brushes
the wall like an empty canvas, voices

from outside drift into this room. I can't
translate—my words, frostbitten

fingers. I tell no one, how your hands
ghost over my back, letters I hold.


Reading children's stories by Tolstoy,
Alyosha traces his index

over the alphabet his mouth so easily
unlocks. Every happy word resembles

every other, every unhappy word's
unhappy in its own way. Like apartments

at dusk. Having taken a different street
from the station, I was lost in minutes.

How to say, where's the street like this,
not this? Keys I'd cut for years coaxed open

no pursed lips. How to say, blind terror?
Sprint, lungburn, useless tongue? How say

thank you, muscular Soviet worker, fading
on billboard, for pointing me the way?


Alyosha and I climbed trees to pick berries, leaves
almost as red. On ladders, we scattered

half on the ground, playing who could get them
down the other's shirt without their knowing.

Morning, the family gone, I ground the berries
to skin, sugared sour juices twice.

Even in tea they burned. In the yard,
leafpiles of fire. Cigarettes between teeth,

the old dvorniks rake, scratch the earth,
try to rid it of some persistent itch.

I turn the dial, it drags my finger back.
When the phone at last connects to you, I hear

only my own voice, crackle of the line.
The rakes scratch, flames hiss and tower.


This morning, the trees bare. Ashberries
on long black branches. Winter. My teacher

says they sweeten with frost, each snow
a sugar. Each day's dark grows darker,

and streets go still, widen, like ice over lakes,
and words come slow to every chapped mouth,

not just my own, having downed a little vodka
and then some tea. Tomorrow I'll bend down

branches, brittle with cold, pluck what I can't
yet name, then jar the pulp and save the stones.

What to say? Love, I live for the letters
I must wait to open. They bear across

this land, where I find myself at a loss—
each word a wintering seed.

The Use of Poetry Readings (1)

The use of poetry readings, beyond the selling of books...
Poetry reading helps show solidarity with Palestinians

Daily Star staff
Tuesday, December 01, 2009

BEIRUT: The Gathering for Dialogue at the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared held a poetry reading evening on Monday to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. The event was held at the new section of the camp and was attended by representatives of Palestinian factions, cultural and social figures as well as Nahr al-Bared residents. The head of the gathering Mohammad Qasqous confirmed that solidarity with Palestine should be put into action by treating refugees in a more humane way. He also called on reconstructing Nahr al-Bared after it was destroyed during the armed conflict between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Al-Qaeda-inspired group Fath al-Islam in 2007. The Popular Organizations for Palestinian Democracy also met in the Beddawi refugee camp to show their solidarity. – The Daily Star