Tuesday, April 30, 2013
West Shore Film Series: "My Neighborhood"
Saturday, May 11 at 7 pm
Join us to view and discuss the film "My Neighborhood," Saturday, May 11th, 2013, 7 pm, at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, 20401 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, Ohio 44116. (Free Parking) The film series is free and open to the public (donations gratefully accepted). DOWNLOAD FLYER Hosted by West Shore Social Action Committee. Please plan on staying after the film for refreshments and conversation!
My Neighbourhood tells the story of Mohammed El Kurd, a Palestinian teenager growing up in the heart of East Jerusalem. When Mohammed's family is forced to give up a part of their home to Israeli settlers, local residents begin peaceful protests, and in a surprising turn, are quickly joined by scores of Israeli supporters. Mohammed comes of age in the face of unrelenting tension with his neighbours and unexpected co-operation with Israeli allies in his backyard.
My Neighbourhood is latest short film by Just Vision, an organization that uses film and media to increase the power and legitimacy of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and resolve the conflict nonviolently.
The Imagine Peace Task Force of West Shore U.U. Church is also pleased to welcome CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), Cleveland Peace Action, and Interfaith Peace Builders Ohio to comment on the film and answer questions from the audience. (Film length: 50 minutes)
Friday, April 26, 2013
"Death, Sex, and Resurrection in the Violent Midwest: Bruce Snider’s Paradise, Indiana" by Danny Caine
Death, Sex, and Resurrection in the Violent Midwest: Bruce Snider’s Paradise, Indiana
by Danny Caine
In “Civilization and its Discontents,” Sigmund Freud writes, “there are two essentially different classes of instincts: the sexual instincts…and the aggressive instincts, whose aim is destruction.” Both instincts pulse throughout Bruce Snider’s elegiac Paradise, Indiana: Bloated animals drift ashore in myriad bodies of water. A bikini top falls to a bedroom floor. Every secluded location is an opportunity for a tryst, whether a fishing shanty or a pickup truck cab. Snider underscores the violence and eroticism of the Midwestern landscape with a profound sense of grief and loss, resulting in a strikingly cohesive collection that is haunting, evocative, and at times subversive.
Haunting the collection is the suicide of a precocious teenage boy named Nick, the speaker’s cousin and lover. In the first part of Paradise, Indiana, Nick rises from the grave thanks to Snider’s reverse chronology in arranging the poems. The first mention of Nick by name occurs in “Epitaph,” second in the collection: “my cousin Nick buried in ground so hard/they had to heat the dirt with lamps/before they could dig.” The next poem finds Nick killing himself in the closed garage, his new car running. Two poems later, in “Romance,” Nick is alive and well, wrestling with the speaker in grandma’s living room. The relationship only becomes more erotic, more charged as the book progresses, so the second portrayal of Nick’s suicide, “The Ambiguity of Stone,” feels even more raw than the first.
Between the two depictions of his death, Nick charms, rebels, and laughs his way through an Indiana landscape suffused with Snider’s sense of place. Beginning the collection with Nick’s burial, though, casts a haunting air over every wrestling match and secret tryst. Every sexual instinct has a backdrop of death.
Glimpses of life in rural Indiana permeate the collection, enlivening and highlighting the grief and sexual longing/confusion of its characters. In “Romance,” the cousins’ grandpa slaps the flank of a post-coital bull, saying simply “Bullseye.” In “Chemistry,” Nick and the speaker vandalize the house of the town’s gay mortician, sprinkling the garden with tampons and writing on a window, in lipstick, “up the ass.” Homophobic vandalism returns in “Closing the Gay Bar Outside Gas City,” “where FAG and AIDS/ are sprayed in flaking paint,” Here the speaker muses on nature overtaking the former club where “two condoms/coil like sleepy salamanders/in the back.” Ultimately, this cocktail of sex, grief, death, and violent nature convince him that “In Indiana nothing lasts/for long.” The line is especially haunting from the speaker standing outside the crumbling, vandalized gay club; the scene can’t help but reflect on Nick.
Snider assembles his pieces of sex, death, and longing with technical aplomb. Secret rhymes and rhythm pulse throughout the collection. The first poem, “Map,” is a Ghazal, each couplet closing with the word “Indiana.” Throughout the collection, Snider’s enjambed lines create tension and spool into alternate meanings. In “Late Harvest,” the first poem that indicates the sexual nature of the Nick/speaker relationship, Snider writes, “the bruised ones that come/apart so quickly when/you put them in your mouth.” The lines grow more erotic and evocative under the service of Snider’s line breaks.
In “Parts,” Snider writes “In the back of that car, all elbows/and mouths, we knew nothing/corrupted like happiness,” with a pleasing stanza break between “nothing” and “corrupted;” the duality of the words come alive in the white space between them. Entire poems vibrate against each other like Snider’s lines, too, as when “At the Midwest Taxidermy Convention” finds a mirror in a stuffed pet squirrel in the adjacent “Romance.” “At These Speeds,” during which “the glove box filled with the manual’s/sweet talk” becomes Nick’s suicide weapon, is followed by the first of six poems titled “Afterlife,” whose first lines read: “The cold day grinds like a starter/that won’t turn over, key gripped.” Nowhere is Snider’s sequencing more heartbreaking than when he follows “Ambiguity of Stone,” the clearest chronicle’s of Nick’s suicide, with “Crusing the Rest Stop on Route 9,” describing a failed attempt at picking up a truck driver in a rest stop. Such meaning-making through line breaks and poem sequencing demands that Paradise, Indiana be read in full and in order.
The sequence as a whole bucks poetic tradition as it grieves and longs. The final poem, “Gutting the White-Tail,” is a graphic description of the gleeful aftermath of a deer kill: “Nick cuts breastbone to tail […] Gathering the ropy mass/he rolls the stomach out onto the frozen ground./The rest comes quickly.” This is Hemingway stuff. There are echoes of James Wright, too, in poems like “To Interstate 70:” “Cornfields interrupt/the hard beauty of the gas pumps, the gleaming Conocos of the heart-/land rising.” Snider’s Midwest of empty interstates, cornfields, and animal viscera has historically been straight-guy territory; these are manly poems that are also about falling in love with another man. In this way, Snider breathes life into James Wright’s Midwest, claiming it for a different type of manhood.
Through this subversion, Snider creates a clear, consistent, and haunting view of Indiana, best seen in “Credo,” near the end of the collection:
I believe in his foot hitting the accelerator.
I believe in the traffic light, its green fuse over every street.
I believe in cows hemmed in by rain and milk.
The secret places we go: old Yoder Road, lots behind the gutted saw mill.
Heaven, Nick jokes, is the back of his car.
Bruce Snider’s Indiana is all these things at once: cars, nature contained, sex, death and resurrection. Paradise, Indiana, is an essential chronicle of a grieving, horny Midwest.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
April 20, 2013
In Praise of Emotion
IT WAS a moving experience. Moments that spoke not only to the mind, but also – and foremost – to the heart.
Last Sunday, on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for the fallen in our wars, I was invited to an event organized by the activist group Combatants for Peace and the Forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Parents.
The first surprise was that it took place at all. In the general atmosphere of discouragement of the Israeli peace camp after the recent elections, when almost no one dared even to mention the word peace, such an event was heartening.
The second surprise was its size. It took place in one of the biggest halls in the country, Hangar 10 in Tel-Aviv’s fair grounds. It holds more than 2000 seats. A quarter of an hour before the starting time, attendance was depressingly sparse. Half an hour later, it was choke full. (Whatever the many virtues of the peace camp, punctuality is not among them.)
The third surprise was the composition of the audience. There were quite a lot of white-haired old-timers, including myself, but the great majority was composed of young people, at least half of them young women. Energetic, matter-of-fact youngsters, very Israeli.
I felt as if I was in a relay race. My generation passing the baton on to the next. The race continues.
BUT THE outstanding feature of the event was, of course, its content. Israelis and Palestinians were mourning together for their dead sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, victims of the conflict and wars, occupation and resistance (a.k.a. terror.)
An Arab villager spoke quietly of his daughter, killed by a soldier on her way to school. A Jewish mother spoke of her soldier son, killed in one of the wars. All in a subdued voice. Without pathos. Some spoke Hebrew, some Arabic.
They spoke of their first reaction after their loss, the feelings of hatred, the thirst for revenge. And then the slow change of heart. The understanding that the parents on the other side, the Enemy, felt exactly like them, that their loss, their mourning, their bereavement was exactly as their own.
For years now, bereaved parents of both sides have been meeting regularly to find solace in each other's company. Among all the peace groups acting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are, perhaps, the most heart-lifting.
IT WAS not easy for the Arab partners to get to this meeting. At first, they were denied permission by the army to enter Israel. Gabi Lasky, the indomitable advocate of many peace groups (including Gush Shalom), had to threaten with an application to the Supreme Court, just to obtain a limited concession: 45 Palestinians from the West Bank were allowed to attend.
(It is a routine measure of the occupation: before every Jewish holiday the West Bank is completely cut off from Israel – except for the settlers, of course. This is how most Palestinians become acquainted with Jewish holidays.)
What was so special about the event was that the Israeli-Arab fraternization took place on a purely human level, without political speeches, without the slogans which have become, frankly, a bit stale.
For two hours, we were all engulfed by human emotions, by a profound feeling for each other. And it felt good.
I AM writing this to make a point that I feel very strongly about: the importance of emotions in the struggle for peace.
I am not a very emotional person myself. But I am acutely conscious of the place of emotions in the political struggle. I am proud of having coined the phrase “In politics, it is irrational to ignore the irrational.” Or, if you prefer, “in politics, it is rational to accept the irrational.”
This is a major weakness of the Israeli peace movement. It is exceedingly rational – indeed, perhaps too rational. We can easily prove that Israel needs peace, that without peace we are doomed to become an apartheid state, if not worse.
All over the world, leftists are more sober than rightists. When the leftists are propounding a logical argument for peace, reconciliation with former enemies, social equality and help for the disadvantaged, the rightists answer with a volley of emotional and irrational slogans.
But masses of people are not moved by logic. They are moved by their feelings.
One expression of feelings – and a generator of feelings – is the language of songs. One can gauge the intensity of a movement by its melodies. Who can imagine the marches of Martin Luther King without “We shall overcome”? Who can think about the Irish struggle without its many beautiful songs? Or the October revolution without its host of rousing melodies?
The Israeli peace movement has produced one single song: a sad appeal of the dead to the living. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated within minutes of singing it, its blood-stained text found on his body. But all the many writers and composers of the peace movement have not produced one single rousing anthem – while the hate-mongers can draw on a wealth of religious and nationalist hymns.
IT IS said that one does not have to like one's adversary in order to make peace with them. One makes peace with the enemy, as we all have declaimed hundreds of times. The enemy is the person you hate.
I have never quite believed in that, and the older I get, the less I do.
True, one cannot expect millions of people on both sides to love each other. But the core of peace-makers, the pioneers, cannot fulfill their tasks if there is not an element of mutual sympathy between them.
A certain type of Israeli peace activist does not accept this truism. Sometimes one has the feeling that they truly want peace – but not really with the Arabs. They love peace, because they love themselves. They stand before a mirror and tell themselves: Look how wonderful I am! How humane! How moral!
I remember how much animosity I aroused in certain progressive circles when I created our peace symbol: the crossed flags of Israel and Palestine. When one of us raised this emblem at a Peace Now demonstration in the late eighties, it caused a scandal. He was rudely asked to leave, and the movement publicly apologized.
To give an impetus to a real peace movement, you have to imbue it with the spirit of empathy for the other side. You must have a feeling for their humanity, their culture, their narrative, their aspirations, their fears, their hopes. And that applies, of course, to both sides.
Nothing can be more damaging to the chances of peace than the activity of fanatical pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians abroad, who think that they are helping their preferred side by demonizing the other. You don’t make peace with demons.
FRATERNIZATION BETWEEN Palestinians and Israelis is a must. No peace movement can succeed without it.
And here we came to a painful paradox: the more this fraternization is needed, the less there is.
During the last few years, there has been a growing estrangement between the two sides. Yasser Arafat was very conscious of the need for contact, and did much to further it. (I constantly urged him to do more.) Since his death, this effort has receded.
On the Israeli side, peace efforts have become less and less popular. Fraternization takes place every week in Bil’in and on many other battlefields, but the major peace organizations are not too eager to meet.
On the Palestinian side there is a lot of resentment, a (justified) feeling that the Israeli peace movement has not delivered. Worse, that joint public meetings could be considered by the Palestinian masses as a form of “normalization” with Israel, something like collaboration with the enemy.
This must be changed. Only large-scale, public and heart-felt cooperation between the peace movements of the two sides can convince the public – on both sides – that peace is possible.
THESE THOUGHTS were running through my head as I listened to the simple words of Palestinians and Israelis in that big remembrance meeting.
It was all there: the spirit, the emotion, the empathy, the cooperation.
It was a human moment. That's how it all starts.