Monday, January 31, 2011

Fracking is evil

In advance of the reading, exhibition, and panel on fracking, here's a video from Jacques del Conte about the effects of this extraction technology on regular citizens in Pennsylvania:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 / 7-9pm
SEA Poetry Series No. 6 with Phil Metres and Michael Leong
and an artist response by Jacques del ConteThe SEA Poetry Series emphasizes diverse ways in which poets address social and environmental issues in their work. Presented in connection with specific SEA exhibitions, the series aims to investigate and expand the exhibition theme through the lens of contemporary poetry. After each reading, an artist from the exhibition or a community member working within the exhibition theme briefly responds to the poet. Past poets in the series have included Jonathan Skinner, Marcella Durand, Laura Elrick, The Canary Project, James Sherry and Julie Ezelle Patton.SEA Poetry Series conceived and organized by E.J. McAdams, poet and Associate Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy, New York City. $5. Cash bar. Q and A to follow.Michael Leong is the author of two books of poetry: e.s.p. (Silenced Press, 2009) and Cutting Time with a Knife (Black Square Editions / The Brooklyn Rail, forthcoming). He's also written a translation of the Chilean poet Estela Lamat, I, the Worst of All (BlazeVOX [books], 2009), and several chapbooks and broadsides including The Great Archivist's / Cloudy Quotient (Beard of Bees Press, 2010), Midnight's Marsupium (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2010), and The Lung of the Poet (Splitleaves Press, 2011). He lives in New York City and contributes to the literary blog Big Other.

Philip Metres is the author of To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (translation, 2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (translation, 2003). He has also published two chapbooks, Instants (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) and Primer for Non-Native Speakers (Wick Poetry Series, 2004), and has three forthcoming in 2011: abu ghraib arias, Ode to Oil, and Thirty-Five New Pages. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry and has garnered an NEA, a Watson Fellowship, two Ohio Arts Council Grants, and the Cleveland Arts Prize in 2010. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. For more information on his poetry, click here. Jacques del Conte is a regular contributor of photography and video for Vanity Fair Magazine, and He has also been published in Nylon, Useless, Movies Rock, Giant, WhiteWall, V Man, Lucky, Vice, Out, and The Bardian as well as Tim Barber’s Tiny Vices and TV Books. In June 2010, he created a documentary video and contributed a series of photographs to a Vanity Fair article called "A Colossal Fracking Mess." For more information, click here.

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a means of gas extraction that accesses gas trapped more than a mile below the earth’s surface. When a well is fracked, small earthquakes are produced by the pressurized injection of millions of gallons of fresh water combined with sand and chemicals, releasing the gas, as well as toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials that contaminate air and water.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, passed under the guidance of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and major provisions of other protective laws, virtually eliminating the gas industry’s liability and E.P.A.’s regulatory oversight. Exemption from the Community Right to Know Law also absolves the gas industry from being required to report the actual chemicals used in the drilling processes—chemicals that can severely contaminate the water supply and cause serious illnesses. A drilling moratorium is in effect in New York State until the D.E.C. issues fracking regulation, potentially paving the way for drilling to commence in New York in 2011.

Educating about gas drilling issues and seeking solutions including legal, regulatory and government reforms

The NYC sister group to Damascus Citizens

Advocate of clean water in New York State and New York City

Affiliated with Riverkeeper

A 22-year-old environmental advocacy, stream restoration and education organization that operates throughout the Delaware River Watershed

Active in NY State; focused in Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties

Centralized source tracking and visualizing data related to gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region

Active in the Upstate NY and Finger Lakes region

A national organization for the education, organization and protection of communities from the devastating impacts of oil and gas development

Active in the Catskills region

About the movie and about getting involved in the issues

ABOUT SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics)SEA is a unique endeavor that presents a diverse multimedia exhibition program and permanent archive of artworks that address social and environmental concerns. SEA assembles artists, activists, scientists and scholars to address environmental issues through presentations of visual art, performances, panels and lecture series that will communicate international activities concerning environmental and social activism. Central to SEA’s mission is to provide a vehicle through which the public can be made aware of socially- and environmentally-engaged work, and to provide a forum for collaboration between artists, scientists, activists, scholars and the public. SEA functions as an initiative where individuals can join together in dialogue about issues that affect our daily lives. SEA was conceived by Exit Art Artistic Director Papo Colo.EXHIBITION SUPPORTGeneral exhibition support provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Bloomberg LP; Jerome Foundation; Lambent Foundation; Pollock-Krasner Foundation; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn; and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts. We are grateful to Damascus Citizens for Sustainability and Delaware RiverKeeper for their help and expertise in the complex issues of fracking.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Operation Cast Lead: Some Israeli Soldiers Speak

Israeli soldiers testify about their actions--and their sorrow--over Operation Cast Lead, the invasion of Gaza of 2008-2009. The question of whether they were asked to "cleanse" the neighborhood has become a recent translation furor, but the indignities go far beyond language...

Friday, January 28, 2011

If You're Too Busy, It's Because You Think Your Life is Worthless

If you're too busy,
it's because you think your life is worthless.

--Thomas Merton

(Thanks to Tim Musser for the reference to Padovano's poem)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

John Carroll University Creative Writing Events Spring 2011

John Carroll University Creative Writing Events Spring 2011
All events are free and open to the public!

Hayan Charara
March 16th at 7:30 in Rodman A at John Carroll University.

Hayan Charara won the 2009 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for poetry and is the author of *The Sadness of Others*, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and *The Alchemist’s Diary*. He also edited *Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry*.

Special Guest, Lee Smith
April 6th at 7:30 in JCU’s Little Theater, located in the Student Center at John Carroll University

Lee Smith is the author of fifteen previous books of fiction— three collections of short stories and a dozen novels, including the bestsellers Fair and Tender Ladies and The Last Girls, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and “Good Morning America” Book Club Selection. Her latest collection is Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger. Among her many awards are the O’ Henry Prize, the North Carolina Award for Literature, the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, the 1999 Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010 she was honored with a Lifetime Literary Achievement Award from the state of Virginia. For more information visit:

Mark Halliday and Jill Rosser
April 13th at 7:30 in Rodman A at John Carroll University

Mark Halliday was a founding member of Rhode Island Feminist Theatre in 1973. He earned a Ph.D. in English at Brandeis University, and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, Western Michigan University, and elsewhere; since 1996 he has taught at Ohio University. He has won the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Writer's Fellowship. His books of poems are: Little Star, Tasker Street, Selfwolf, Jab, and Keep This Forever as well as a critical book on Wallace Stevens, Stevens and the Interpersonal. This year he is Interim Editor of New Ohio Review.

Jill Allyn Rosser, says Billy Collins, is a poet on whom precious little is lost. She has published three books of poetry. Her first, Bright Moves, won the Morse Poetry Prize. Her second, Misery Prefigured, won the Crab Orchard Award. Her most recent book is Foiled Again, winner of the New Criterion Poetry Prize. She has received the Lavan Award for younger poets from the Academy of American Poets, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio State Arts Council, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Pennsylvania and now teaches at Ohio University, where she is the editor of the New Ohio Review.

Dave Lucas
May 2nd at 7:30 p.m. in Dolan Auditorium at John Carroll University

Dave Lucas was born in Cleveland, Ohio and is an alumnus of John Carroll University. He is the recipient of a Henry Hoyns Fellowship from the University of Virginia and a “Discovery”/The Nation Prize, and his poems have appeared in many journals including Paris Review, Poetry, and Slate. His first book of poems is entitled Weather. He lives in Cleveland and Ann Arbor, where he is a PhD candidate in English language and literature at the University of Michigan.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Torture" by Wislawa Szymborska

"Torture" by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It's just that there are more people,
besides the old offenses new ones have appeared,
real, imaginary, temporary, and none,
but the howl with which the body responds to them,
was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence
according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Nothing has changed. Maybe just the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of the hands in protecting the head is the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs give out, it falls, the knees fly up,
it turns blue, swells, salivates and bleeds.

Nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries,
the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid these landscapes traipses the soul,
disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away,
alien to itself, elusive, at times certain, at others uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has no place of its own.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"US at War Since 1950: A New Year's Meditation" by Michael True

Thanks to truthout for publishing this New Year's Meditation by Michael True, a former teacher and dear mentor who taught me "The Nonviolent Tradition and Literature" many years ago.  His book, An Energy Field More Intense Than War, is an eye-opening exploration of how nonviolent principles and dynamics appear in American literature, from the beginnings to our present.  In this piece, True casts his eye upon the last 60 years of ongoing imperial war, and some resolutions that we might make in the new year to end the budget deficit and our morality deficit all at once--halve the military budget.

"US at War Since 1950: A New Year's Meditation"
Saturday 01 January 2011
by: Michael True, t r u t h o u t

"The same war continues," Denise Levertov wrote in her poem, "Life at War." Her lament is even more appropriate for 2011 than it was when she wrote the poem forty-five years ago.

Columnists and academics, including international relations professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, are finally acknowledging facts familiar to anyone "awake" regarding failed US policies, wasted lives and wasted resources during this period. Willfully ignoring such facts, as Bacevich wrote, "is to become complicit in the destruction of what most Americans profess to hold dear."

At the beginning of the new year, consequences of "life at war" stare us in the face: the victimization of military and civilian populations and a huge national debt, including an annual military budget that is larger than all military budgets in the world combined and includes $5 billion that remains unaccounted for in Iraq, as well as aid to Pakistan that has wound up in the hands of the Taliban.

These truths haunt any citizen who has lost loved ones in prolonged wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan since 1950, or in disastrous interventions in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile, Granada, Panama, Honduras, and so on.

Any responsible citizen acknowledges this painful history in the hope of redirecting US foreign policy in the future. The purpose of reclaiming it is not to open old wounds, but to encourage legislative and direct action committed to peacemaking. It is a call to critique the policies and competence of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the national security apparatus responsible for these disasters.

Ironically, the deficit-reduction commission appointed by President Obama intimates that social security, rather than a trillion-dollar war on Iraq and uncapped military spending in Afghanistan, is to blame for the deficit. And Congress has succeeded in extending Bush's tax cuts for the super-rich, which will increase the deficit.

Once the envy of the world community, the US now lags behind many nations in education and health care while it squanders its huge resources on military misadventures - including both overt and covert intervention - with some 1,000 military bases around the world.

Americans who voted for President Obama are justifiably disappointed that he has continued the worst practices of the Bush administration, particularly in foreign policy. In domestic policy, Obama's administration can point to some achievements, particularly in education and health care.

Tea Party advocates rightfully call attention to a faltering economy but offer no functional alternatives to present policy. Meanwhile, naysaying Republicans and cautious Democrats, as well as an irresponsible Supreme Court, enable rich corporations to dominate political debate. The Pentagon, including General Petraeus, lobbied for and initiated increased military action in Afghanistan. The result: more serious casualties among US and its European allies, not to mention embarrassment and confusion in efforts to end that war.

Is it any wonder that many people remain hopeless amid predictions that the country's 9.7 percent unemployment rate will continue through the new year?

So what must be done to alter this discouraging scenario and help the US regain the confidence of its own people and the world community?

1.Cut the US military budget in half for 2011.
2.Increase taxes on the filthy rich, the 1 percent of the population that owns at least 23 percent of America's wealth.
3.Rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure that remains in a state of disrepair.
4.Encourage policies that put people to work addressing the dangers of global warming.
5.Strengthen our education system at every level, providing skills for meaningful work for all citizens.

Some people may regard these remedies as utopian, though the consequences are, in essence, practical and essential.

Although many Americans continue to enjoy the benefit from this wealthy and beautiful country, the potentialities of democratic governance remain unfulfilled for many others.

In her poem, Levertov wrote that "we have breathed the grits of war in, all our lives. Our lungs are pocked with it," she continues, "the mucous membrane of our dreams/coated with it, the imagination/filmed over with the gray filth of it."

For decades, Americans have convinced ourselves - or have been convinced - that more or less continual war is the essential task of the US, and that that enterprise is justified by our knowing what is best for the world community. During the 1940s, we built military weapons to defeat Germany and Japan; now, we initiate wars in order to experiment with, and provide profit from, more sophisticated military weapons.

When will the American public, victimized by a war economy, come to the conclusion that a permanent war policy benefits only arms manufacturers, Pentagon contractors and their Congressional allies? Nor does it lessen our fear, increase our security or promote peace among nations.

There has to be a better way. My hope is that some of the remedies provided here offer a way out - and hope for a happier 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert Cording's "On a Drop of Rain"

Walking with Ruskin: Poems (Notable Voices)
Thanks to Poetry Daily ( for featuring today a poem by Robert Cording, whose mentoring gave me the courage to continue to write. He used to go into reverie about a year in graduate school when all he did was read John Ruskin (who appears in his recent book, Walking With Ruskin). Thirty-five years later, Cording is still walking with Ruskin. In some sense, twenty years after his tutelate, I'm still walking with Cording.

"On a Drop of Rain"

Late in the day, the rain abating,
I force myself outside for my daily walk.
I do not go far. Everything is doused
and diamonded with water. Even the stones
seem polished. At each bud of every scrub
roadside tree, and even on the thorns
of wild roses, hangs a drop of rain—
as if someone had hoisted chandeliers
to light the road from end to end.

I think of Marvell, how he found a story
one morning shining with meaning
in a drop of dew. A figure for the soul,
Marvell's dewdrop contained the whole
sky and, mindful of its native home,
came and went, scarcely touching
the earthly flower on which it floated,
its one aspiration the sunny exhalation
of water into air. It never seemed to feel

death's shiver. Here, it's nearly evening,
the air still rheumy enough to silver
the weedy edge of the road where beer cans
find their rest. My raindrops—tense, trembling—
really do seem to cling for dear life,
a story, I'm sad to say, of my all too earthly
wish to hang around forever in my body.
No chance, the wind says, extinguishing
with every breeze, one drop after another.

Robert Cording

Walking with Ruskin CavanKerry Press

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Colman McCarthy, on Teaching Peace

Shout out to Tim Musser for sending this lecture by Colman McCarthy, whom I heard over twenty years ago at a conference on homelessness.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New York Reading: Poems against Fracking. Yes, Fracking. No, I Haven't Mispelled Anything.

Tuesday, February 1st
(in conjunction with the SEA Exhibit entitled FRACKING)
$5 suggested donation. Cash Bar.
EXIT ART, 475 10th Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets), NYC

Michael Leong and Phil Metres will be reading their poems from the FRACKING exhibit along with other pieces, followed by a response from, and panel with, artist Jacques del Conte. There will be time for the audience to ask questions and get involved in the discussion. Please plan to hang out in the bar following the formal presentation.

Michael Leong is the author of two books of poetry: e.s.p. (Silenced Press, 2009) and Cutting Time with a Knife (Black Square Editions / The Brooklyn Rail, forthcoming). He's also written a translation of the Chilean poet Estela Lamat, I, the Worst of All(BlazeVOX [books], 2009), and several chapbooks and broadsides including The Great Archivist's / Cloudy Quotient (Beard of Bees Press, 2010), Midnight's Marsupium (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2010), and The Lung of the Poet (Splitleaves Press, 2011). He lives in New York City and contributes to the literary blog Big Other.

Philip Metres is the author of To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (translation, 2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (translation, 2003). He has also published two chapbooks, Instants (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) and Primer for Non-Native Speakers (Wick Poetry Series, 2004), and has three forthcoming in 2011: abu ghraib arias, Ode to Oil, and Thirty-Five New Pages. His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry and has garnered an NEA, a Watson Fellowship, two Ohio Arts Council Grants, and the Cleveland Arts Prize in 2010. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. For more information on his poetry, click here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ugly Duckling Presse no ugly duckling...

Folks, Ugly Duckling Presse offers a couple great subscriptions for their beautiful line of books every year. Having worked with them as an author, and having purchased the subscription, I can only say that they have changed the game of poetry publishing, making it more artistic and democracy, hip-experimental and yet somehow more traditional. In sum, I love them!

- The Membership is a new deal, it's a sampling of titles plus 6x6 magazine, and a discount on our site for the calendar year.
It's only $50.

- The "Full Presse" Subscription is for someone with shelf-space for the more than 25 titles we'll be doing this year.
It's priced at cost: $150.

Monday, January 17, 2011

For Rosa Parks and the Nameless Many Who Fight For Human Rights on MLK Day

Here's a poem by Yael Flusberg, for Rosa Parks, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I'm reminded each King holiday that King was both himself a man of great courage and intelligence and moral energy AND a kind of figure for all the people who fought (and still fight) tirelessly for human rights and without regard for the consequences to their person. We always risk the erasure of others when we lionize our leaders; I want to remember the nameless many, from our "civil rights era" to now, the quiet and dignified people, the angry but motivated, the visionary orators and the foot soldiers, who stand up against oppression and injustice, wherever it is--Israel/Palestine, Tibet, or Cleveland.


The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
-Rosa Parks

after the first three hours
the temperature dropped to visible breath.
my fall coat no longer protected and my toes
went numb so i tried to transcend time
by thumbing a rose quartz bracelet
each bead proof of my will to persist,
my mother always said standing appels*
for hours was a sentence of death
for the weak.

in the muddy field where thousands of souls made solitary
by the cold snaked around a makeshift fence,
i found a handful of warmth, a single ruby glove.

i practiced standing meditation following the ringing
in my ears to keep my mind from wondering why
i was on this line, not in my down-covered bed
when i'd see the coffin just as well in the newspaper
in the morning. each time i lifted my sole i knew
i was one step closer to the dome with 108 windows
like a rosary i could pray with my eyes.

it was dawn when i finally circulated once around
the ceremonial space then down to the crypt below
where i begged that her being where she was
would bless where she was laying - and all of us
who'll never have moments like hers on the bus
will still find something worth standing up for.

-Yael Flusberg
From The Last of My Village. Used by permission.

* In the Nazi concentration camps, inmates had to stand appels - a protracted roll call - twice a day regardless of weather or exhaustion. Some gave birth to babies buried on the spot. Many others dropped dead during the hours-long appels or were killed if they couldn't maintain an erect posture.

Yael Flusberg's nineteen-poem collection The Last of My Village reveals how a legacy of familial and cultural sorrow can be shaped-much like a poem-into the capacity to begin again. The Last of My Village won Poetica Magazine's 2010 Chapbook Contest, and is available at When not writing, Yael integrates creative, somatic and reflective practices into her work with social change organizations and leaders. Visit her blog at

Flusberg serves on the Board of Split This Rock. She co-ran the workshop "Yoga and Poetry in Changing Times" at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

Split This Rock

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Budrus - Cleveland premiere January 21st and 23rd at CMA

Budrus - Cleveland premiere January 21st and 23rd at CMA
Film and discussion - a Palestinian community organizer's story

Join us for the Cleveland Premiere of BUDRUS at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, Friday, 7:00 PM, January 21 and Sunday, 1:30 PM, January 23. Admission: $9, Seniors and students: $7

Just Vision announces the Cleveland premiere of its new film, BUDRUS. Hailed in the New York Times as "this year's must-see documentary" and featured in major international news outlets, BUDRUS tells the story of a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites members of all factions along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction. Success looks improbable until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women's contingent that quickly moves to the front lines.

Discussion of this important film will follow showing. Discussion facilitated by Cleveland Peace Action on January 21 - download flyer - and J-Street, Cleveland Chapter on January 23 - download flyer

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hop on the Peace Train January 15: Benefit for the Cleveland Peace Show

The Peace Show is one of the beacons of the peace movement in Cleveland; begun as a non-violent alternative to the annual Air Show, it showcases the talents and labors of people interested in a world beyond war. Please come and support this people's institution!

Hop on the Peace Train January 15
Benefit for Cleveland Peace Show at St. Paul's Community Church

Families & Friends, Hop on the Peace Train. Join us to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr's Birthday. Participate in a program on nonviolence and show your support of Martin Luther King's dream and the Cleveland Peace Show.

Bring the kids! Join us on Saturday, January 15, 2011 · 4:30 - 7:00 pm at St. Paul's Community Church for songs and fun - 4427 Franklin Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 (street parking).

Featuring Bob Kloos "In a world of video games and excess visual and audio stimulation, Bob Kloos gives children the opportunity to listen, laugh, become involved, and love hearing stories from a live, likeable human being." Also Sheila Svoboda, VBS, Saint Paul Episcopal, Akron And Brian Stefan and Carol Becker. Sing along with them-labor, civil rights, peace and just plain fun.

Free will donations (this is a fundraiser as well as a commemoration after all). Pizza and Mac & Cheese, plus other refreshments. For more info, call 216-932-8546. Flyer available at

Monday, January 10, 2011

"What Kinds of Times Are These" by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich, one of the courage teachers.

What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

“What Kind of Times Are These”. © 2002, 1995 by Adrienne Rich, from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the author and W.W. Norton, Inc.

Source: Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1995)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Bullet of Information & the Lag of the Soul

The compression of space/time that is the essence of modern life both excites and threatens our slow souls. New technologies of information and mobility enable our lives to be sutured closer together, but in ways that are more voyeuristic than "proved upon the pulses," to echo Keats.

Every day I get an email alert from various progressive activist engines, asking me to sign on to avert the latest apocalypse--the worldwide collapse of bee populations due to pesticides, the latest death of a nonviolent Palestinian activist Jawaher Abu Ramah from American-made tear gas, the "corrective rapes" of South African lesbian women, the ongoing tragedies in coal mines, the politically-motivated arrest of Julian Assange for sexual assault and the ongoing revelations of WikiLeaks, the shooting yesterday of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona--and I sign on, do my little clicks, another ant in the digitized colony ticking through the day, hoisting my little weight.

All of this is happening almost too quickly to digest fully. More and more, dealing with this speed of information is among the greatest challenges facing artists and intellectuals today. We hardly have time to think or feel when "the story" has changed.

I once related to a former teacher, the poet Catherine Bowman, that I had only just begun to write about something, and it was already seven years ago. Half-joking, half-serious, she said that a New Age guru once told her that our souls lag seven years behind the present moment.

That always seemed about right to me, poetically speaking, but that doesn't help us cope with the terrible news of the present. An activist fighting a battle, or a poet writing about a particular event, that's seven years old, comes to resemble an old guy still angry about being jilted by Sue Daley in high school. (Cue eye-roll.)

This dilemma is partly why I've been so intrigued by the employment of documentary methods in poetry and the arts, and of the use of Google to take the temperature of the people's Internet (cf. Flarf).

In the face of such bruising trauma and grinding daily tragedy, perhaps the challenge of the artist--not just the literal artists, but the creators and curators of the soul that we are--is not simply to chronicle and attend to the present, but to achieve a stillness. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, "One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on."

We cannot outrun these bullets. We can name the manufacturers of hate, their trigger-men, but then we are only part way. We haven't quite stayed in the lag, and stayed the confusion (cf. Frost, "momentary stay against confusion").

Achieving a stillness is no small task, and one at odds with the rush in us (we are both rush and lag). Yet if we can, we might find our way to something like joy--that state of serenity in times of tumult, and in moments of beauty, delight.

Philip Metres, 2011.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Spring Drawing 2" by Robert Hass, darting between beauty and suffering

Robert Hass, one of the contemporary poets who rewires my brain every five years or so (when he parts with enough poems to make a collection), darts like a bird from the problem of suffering (one flower) to the gift of beauty (a different flower), and back again here.

Suppose, he writes, "before they said silver or moonlight or wet grass, each poet had to agree to be responsible for the innocence of all the suffering on earth"--a noble idea, and one that might silence some of our navel-gazing warblers. But he undercuts this ethical injunction by comparing such a proposition to grammar-school arithmetic. We know, we feel it, it's proved upon our pulses that there is so much beauty, and so much suffering in the world--we can barely find our way to the end of a sentence.

It's a danger to make suffering into poetry--"You hear pain singing in the nerves of things; it is not a song"--because so much suffering isn't ours to use. What to do with our suffering, what to do with the beauty that arrests us, that makes it possible to go on?

"Spring Drawing 2" by Robert Hass

A man says lilacs against white houses, two sparrows, one streaked, in a
thinning birch
, and can't find his way to a sentence.

In order to be respectable, Thorstein Veblen said, desperate in Palo
Alto, a thing must be wasteful, i.e., "a selective adaptation of forms to
the end of conspicuous waste."

So we try to throw nothing away, as Keith, making dinner for us as his
grandmother had done in Jamaica, left nothing; the kitchen was as clean
at the end as when he started; even the shrimp shells and carrot fronds
were part of the process,

and he said, when we tried to admire him, "Listen, I should send you
into the chickenyard to look for a rusty nail to add to the soup for iron."

The first temptation of Sakyamuni was desire, but he saw that it led to
fulfillment and then to desire, so that one was easy.

Because I have pruned it badly in successive years, the climbing rose
has sent out, among the pale pink floribunda, a few wild white roses
from the rootstalk.

Suppose, before they said silver or moonlight or wet grass, each poet
had to agree to be responsible for the innocence of all the suffering on

because they learned in arithmetic, during the long school days, that if
there was anything left over,

you had to carry it. The wild rose looks weightless, the floribunda are
heavy with the richness and sadness of Europe

as they imitate the dying, petal by petal, of the people who bred them.

You hear pain singing in the nerves of things; it is not a song.

The gazelle's head turned; three jackals are eating his entrails and he
is watching.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Congratulations, Nick Demske, on Nick Demske

Nick Demske, you are everything right with the world. Congratulations on his new book, published by Fence in 2010, the eponymous Nick Demske. I first met Nick online, when he emailed me out of the blue to talk about poems, insisted on signing all his emails "nicky poo," and then blew me away with sonnets that would make John Berryman eat his own beard, and the Flarfists wonder why he wasn't invited. There's hope for poetry when Nick Demske does the demske.

One of the featured debut poets in Poets & Writers this month, I was moved by his description of how his mother's dying had everything to do with the fracture of his forms. The body, he said, was bad form for our souls. Amen to that, brother Nick.