Monday, December 31, 2007

Chicago Poetry Marathon: A Review

(pic from Robert Archambeau's "Samizdat Blog")

This year's version of the unofficial MLA offsite poetry reading, entitled "The Chicago Poetry Marathon," brought together over fifty poets and somewhere between 200 and 300 poetry lovers, to the ballroom at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Organized by Robert Archambeau, Patrick Durgin, and Jennifer Karmin, the event was 2.5 hours of poetry, in two minute slices, as is the custom of these massive wordslingings.

Durgin provided the opening salvo, introducing the event as one that "coincides with the MLA, but is not in or of it,"--which took the Jesuitical slogan "in the world, but not of it," one step closer to the margins. Durgin, one of the dandiest poets around (in all senses of that term, though his poetry, to my ear, hews closer to straight edge), ceded to the readers, beginning alphabetically with Joe Amato.

What follows is a somewhat documentary, mostly impressionistic take on the proceedings, as I scribbled down what I could of what I was hearing and seeing. Some of the lines quoted are no doubt mishearings, but isn't that part of the fun of consuming poetry?

Joe Amato: "this next one/is all I can say....all I can say is this next one." A perfect opening salvo, a metapoem of the stutterings of poetry reading introductions. This is the "A Salty Salute" (vague GBV reference) of the reading-- i.e. "the club is open."

Robert Archambeau, from his "Sheena is a Punk Rocker": "a big screen six foot pinup queen." A poem about how a song got written. Anyone who writes about the Ramones is okay in my book. Plus, he somehow got the speed and pop sheen of the Ramones into the poem.

Ray Bianchi, Chicago poet, editor of the new Chicago poetry anthology, and general propangandist and mafioso for the scene: "the composition delayed the season." Yes. Snow stopped just in time for the reading.

Tisa Bryant: "witnessing a type of entrapment." Wow. "Suddenly overwrought with sensations of going to the dentist." About a mythic figure whose name rhymes with Omeros...

Dodie Bellamy: appearing out of the silence of her earlier absence, reading "Snow Globe": "John, why didn't you get cigarettes before we dropped acid." And "we can't see out the windshield,"--homage, perhaps, to "no one to drive the car" and "look out where yr going"?

Charles Cantaloupo had us call-and-responding "light the lights," first instance of audience participation (willing, I might add, which is nice given the tough crowd that we poets can be about such things).

Stephen Cope: "Thirteen Ways of Killing the President": "the wrong finger fired." "I might as well kill the President." (After the reading, a distraught woman wandered the ballroom, asking if she might find this poet who offered to kill the President. He was never found.)

Josh Corey: "Lecture on Modernism": "they are, how do you say, apropos to zero." Very Jamesian indeed. And: "look I found a decorum" and "memory is rarely progressive" and "a banner is completed by a wind."

Joel Craig's "Ry Cooder": "he has recovered from what he has achieved." Amen. So few of us actually do.

Elizabeth Cross: "The Most Desirable Romance in the World": funny, bawdy dialogue between God and Eve, in which Eve tires of God's hangups about Adam, despite his sexual power. "I have chosen and made a chamber in thee." One of a number of women poets reading powerfully about sex. The men, however, somewhat absent on the theme (except for Kevin Killian and Bob Perelman's detachable penis). Are men poets afraid to look skeezy?

Garin Cycholl: "nothing in writing is easier to raise than the dead." And a funny, looped, "what's more American/than screwing/the ladylady/of the rent." Added and subtracted. Well done.

Michael Davidson, from "Bad Modernism": told from the point of view of an indigenous person displayed at the World's Fair, if I'm not completely mistaken: "the eyes go there while the will stands still."

Patrick Durgin, from "relay": "what's nearest is inhaled." And "luminaries suck and also-rans wheeze." If Pavement ever needs another lyricist, you're hired! P.S. Let's form a band.

Joel Felix: "with horror, I opened the toolbox." A real laugh-line.

Kass Fleischer: in a poem voicing a poet's disdain of what language poetry hath wrought (and the all form/no content dogma that it unfortunately has spawned): "hours and hours and not a drop of urgency." There was a palpable audience response--Archambeau heard both cheers and jeers--from my perch, it seemed like mostly positive. Courageous rant, given the crowd.

G.S. Giscombe: "a sexual image about the prairie might be a good idea." "Can't forget, Effingham." Also, referenced "content" as something that poetry does, rhyming with Fleischer.

Renee Gladman: "the solitary confinement of this part of our century." Yes, the century's already old. Let's blow this 21st century.

Chris Glomski: "Infinity", a recurring line: "to become a vague forest blooming where there is room." Line I wish I wrote. Vague keeps it real.

Steven Halle: "don't fight to stay ahead of weather." Very Emersonian.

Duriel Harris: what a word slinger, what a performer. She changed voices so fast I was afraid for her! "Jacket habit...slingshot pragmatic...."

Bill Howe: I'm still in debt to Bill for his multivocal piece last year (it generated at least a few poems, and led to what I did this year). I love his "concordant disorder," a poem about fauna.

Pierre Joris: regarding the Titanic, and perhaps our own imperial fates: "no, upgrading to first class won't save your ass." THE Pierre Joris.

Jennifer Karmin, she of the "walking tours" projects, did a dialogue poem from Ted Berrigan's words, with Chuck Stebleton: "an ongoing middle/made of words/larger than words." The more I do poetry, the more I'm interested in these sorts of multivocal arrangements.

Kevin Killian, who, by the way, inspires this post from his previously lush recollections and instamemoirs posted to the Buffalo list, about Orono conferences in the past. Just to prove that he is absolute gold--he actually went around at Orono and asked those who published in the Best American Poetry series to sign his book. "Norwegian Wood," a poem about K.O. sex (which involves something like four downers, if memory serves): "when people say they are having sex, what is it that they are having?" I think I got that wrong, but it seems to match the spirit.

David Lloyd: "the act split from the work." "The pleasure of a ghost." Yes, I'm a fan of spiritual visitation.

Nicole Markotic: "Joey avoids dark liquids to make his body see-through." This, I gather, a poem about Mormon scripture. Mitt Romney, cower in fear of Markotic! She will caffeinate you!

Cate Marvin: "Flowers Always." She of the LEGITIMATE DANGERS. "I have never seen an always." A line worthy of Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt.

Philip Metres: I did a Lev Rubinstein performance of "Unnamed Events," soundtracked by Pavement's "Zurich is Stained" and with shouting of the Russian--which, apparently, some couldn't hear and others couldn't see. Next time, I was instructed to stand on chair and yell louder. Here's a digital version of the text, for those of you shut out from view by the Bill Howes. I mean, Bill, how tall are you, 6' 10"?

Laura Moriarty: "nothing is left to bark the dream...everyone was suspicious and resistant." Telling moment.

Simone Muench, whose name, it was revealed, is pronounced like "mensch," a poem about Leatherface: "misunderstanding seduction, you urge your chainsaw forward." Sounds like a dream date.

Aldon Nielson, whose name, it was revealed by Susan Schultz next to me, is actually pronounced al as in alchohol, not al as it "all." "The Virginia Monologues": "knocking the table of contents." "What was new about making it new?" Whose performance was shouted short by Joe Amato, to make way for

Mark Nowak, a poem about mine disasters. Kudos to you, Mark Nowak, for docupoeting us a little bit. Words is good, and yet coal is real.

Kristy Odelius: "a listing agent negotiates closing." "Rising out of history like a scandal." Awesome. Are poets getting more beautiful, or am I just susceptible to people with beautiful words? Or I am just getting uglier?

Bob Perelman's "Current Poetics": reminding me why you're still my favorite language poet (all homage to the Hejinians and Wattens), bringing politics into painful pleasure with language: "porn the only commodity still behaving itself." Not to mention the detachable penis.

Kristen Prevallet read "The Day Lady Died" backward, for "Benazir Bhutto," and I was reminded again of Andrew Ross' controversial reading of that poem by O'Hara, in which he Marxisted O'Hara's consumerism. When Prevallet got to "ugly hamburger" and then the "poets in Ghana" line, I gasped.

Jen Scappetone, reading from something generated from (was it?) the Goat Island Performance Collective: "tunes Casanovas motorize." Williams's poem as machine crossed with the Boss?

Robyn Schiff: "it's March, there is fatness in the air." And, heartening to those of us mayflies who can't seem to write shit right on the first draft (damn you, Josh Corey!): "it's not true they last a day....they were larvae first...that takes many years..."

Susan Schultz showed us some signs that have appeared on fences in her Hawaiian town, part of the Sidewalk Blogger's freeing speech: "would Jesus waterboard?" and "Cheney=Straightshooter." More signs!

Don Share, a poem echoing the Bishopian "House that Jack Built" structure, found his way to "the hurt of older houses" and "the pudge of Prozac." Yeah, my body too.

Ed Skoog: "I count on this poem to investigate wrongdoing...reading this poem is like belonging to a group." Metapoetastic.

Chuck Stebleton: "hemorraging talent" ("so much style and it's wasted") and "You put Ohio in my impromptu." And a hilarious line echoing Shakespeare: "if pubes be wool..."

Mark Tardi, who confessed to be obsessed with nuclear waste disposal post-Chernobyl (aren't we all?): "roadsides favor promiscuity."

Catherine Taylor: "the lyric's past seduction." That works in so many ways.

Tony Trigilio: "They sound bells for us." And, about Rumsfeld's house: "the cameras in the Secretary's birdfeeders can see (?) them."

Nick Twemlow: a Howl-esque tribute to his hometown of Topeka: "the black keys being Topeka...Topeka, the sickness will go unnoticed." Topeka is a song, isn't it?

Quraysh Ali Lansana spun a tale of a slave named Jacob who finally escaped, because he loved the dogs more than the master: "the dogs never moved."

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, from a poem called "Erection: A Single Entendre." Somehow, the title was poetry enough. Thinking of the Spinanes's "Rummy": "the power of erection/the tallest building in Chicago."

Barrett Watten, sampling Williams: "democracy is impossible and must be preserved." I could see the computer screen echoes in his eyeglasses. Somehow, that's a detail that seems right for the poet of exteriority.

Tyrone Williams, taking a collage of SUN TIMES lines: "can you see me now/caption only." Caption only, as refrain.

Tim Yu, bringing us home with an abecedarian: "the turning world gravitates on its absent stem....yowling unspeakable names to the zero of hearing."

Thanks to all the readers and ears out there. Jennifer Moxley, among other poetry luminaries, was spotted...but not on the readers' list?! I should have ceded my time.

Here's Bob Archambeau's piece from

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jenny Holzer's Powerpoint Paintings/New Technologies of War/Art

Jenny Holzer's art has, for quite some time, been making language actions into public spaces--one of the persistent motifs of this blog--and though she has been criticized by art critics and poets alike for her sometimes stentorian approaches, she is an undeniably thought-provoking artist. This is a review of her recent exhibition at the Mass MOCA.

One of her recent projects has been to use classified or recently declassified documents as works of art--particularly regarding the War On Terror. In these art interventions, she participates in the tradition of documentary art and documentary poetry. From the review:
In contrast to the richly metaphorical projections, the paintings are as efficient as hammers. Each of 15 same-size, medium-large canvases, stained purple or brown, bears an all-black, silk-screened reproduction of a PowerPoint diagram used in 2002 to brief President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and others on the United States Central Command’s plan for invading Iraq. Ms. Holzer found these documents at the Web site of the independent, nongovernmental National Security Archive (, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act.

Each has a map of Iraq and blocks of text describing exactly how the invasion and conquest would proceed. They itemize goals like “Kill, apprehend, marginalize Iraqi leadership”; “Destroy remaining pockets of resistance”; and “Secure known W.M.D. sites.” (In an upstairs gallery two large silk-screened works reproduce an eye-opening e-mail debate over the treatment of detainees.)

The PowerPoint paintings give the impression of a cool, rational, step-by-step logic born of technocratic hubris. Ms. Holzer is practicing a form of political action with these paintings. She’s also producing art: a canny blend of Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism. The paintings call to mind Mark Lombardi’s penciled diagrams of global, power-elite conspiracies. They’re not as elegantly refined visually, but they feel equally necessary.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Boffo Poetry Reading Tonight at School of the Art Institute of Chicago


an off-site event coinciding with
the 2007 Modern Language Association convention

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28th from 7-9:30pm
at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Avenue, in the Ballroom

FREE and ADA accessible to the public
Co-sponsored by the the Writing Program at the School
of the Art Institute and the Poetry Foundation

OVER 50 POETS: Quraysh Ali Lansana, Joe Amato, Robert
Archambeau, Dodie Bellamy, Ray Bianchi, Tisa Bryant,
Charles Cantolupo, Stephen Cope, Josh Corey, Joel
Craig, Elizabeth Cross, Garin Cycholl, Michael
Davidson, Patrick Durgin, Joel Felix, Kass Fleisher,
C. S. Giscombe, Renee Gladman, Chris Glomski, Steve
Halle, Duriel Harris, Carla Harryman, William R. Howe,
Pierre Joris, Jennifer Karmin, Kevin Killian, Petra
Kuppers, David Lloyd, Nicole Markotic, Cate Marvin,
Philip Metres, Laura Moriarty, Simone Muench, Aldon
Nielsen, Mark Nowak, Kristy Odelius, Bob Perelman,
Kristen Prevallet, Jen Scappettone, Robyn Schiff,
Susan Schultz, Don Share, Ed Skoog, Kerri Sonnenberg,
Chuck Stebelton, Mark Tardi, Catherine Taylor, Tony
Trigilio, Nick Twemlow, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas,
Barrett Watten, Tyrone Williams, Tim Yu

*The Canary,
*Columiba Poetry Review,
*Court Green,
*Cracked Slab Books,
*Dancing Girl Press,
*Flood Editions,
*Hotel Amerika,
*House Press,
*Journal of Artists' Books,
*Kenning Editions,
*Make Magazine,
*March Abrazo Press,
*Sara Ranchouse,
*Switchback Books,
*Third World Press,

AND MUCH MUCH MORE: Refreshments! Select books by
the readers for sale from Small Press Distribution.

The MLA Off-Site Marathon Reading is a satellite
tradition coinciding but unaffiliated with the Modern
Language Association's annual convention. This event
is curated by Robert Archambeau and Patrick Durgin.
The Chicago publications display is curated by
Jennifer Karmin.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cluster Bombs Are Not Your Friend or Your UN Food Ration

Cluster Bombs: It’s Still Not OK
Seattle PI Editorial

Surprise, surprise: After a year investigating itself, the Israeli military (OK, its prosecutors) concluded that it was justified in using cluster bomblets — millions of them — in its war with Lebanon last year. The reports tell us that, “the matter is now closed.” Well, that depends on whom you ask. Entities such as human rights groups and the United Nations beg to differ with the Israeli military.

The United Nations called the use of the devastating bombs in the final three days of the fight, when the end of the conflict was clearly in sight, “shocking and immoral.” The bombs, which were dropped in populated areas, farms, etc., have a 30 percent failure rate, meaning that they explode later, and many have been doing so over the past year.

Just last week, a 35-year-old man collecting firewood died instantly when one of the Israeli bombs went off. In fact, more than 30 people have died in a similar fashion since the end of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The Daily Star of Lebanon reports that an additional 200 have been wounded by the bombs, most of which were dropped in the final 72 hours of the war. For these victims, the matter is far from closed.

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a ban on cluster bombs at a conference in Vienna, Austria (which the U.S. declined to attend), where 130 nations gathered to consider a ban.

This isn’t a morally ambiguous issue. The use of these bombs, which in effect linger on as landmines and continue killing long after wars are over, is wrong, and Israel was wrong to use them when the end of the war was imminent. Its military might not be able to see that, but the rest of the world can.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Paul Hoover's Responses to Shakespeare's "Sonnet 56"

Because sometimes the proper response to a poem is another poem--or fifty-six more poems, for that matter. Here, poet Paul Hoover effects the mis-en-abyme of poetic influence. Thanks to the new video poetry webzine, *The Continental Review*, for making it happen. Though the *Continental Review* is still in its early phases, and has yet to work out some of the typical bugs that come with videoizing anything (transmission quality a little sketchy, etc.), I can imagine that this will be a site that is worth returning to.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lakota Sioux Secession

My wife Amy worked at Red Cloud Indian School on Pine Ridge Reservation for a couple years back in the 1990s, and when I showed her this story, she confirmed that the Lakota's case for the Black Hills is pretty much clear-cut--except in the eyes of Congress. That would be a nice Christmas "gift" from the original "Indian Givers."

Lakota Sioux Secede From US, Declare Independence
by Bill Harlan

Political activist Russell Means, a founder of the American Indian Movement, says he and other members of Lakota tribes have renounced treaties and are withdrawing from the United States.

“We are now a free country and independent of the United States of America,” Means said in a telephone interview. “This is all completely legal.”

Means said a Lakota delegation on Monday delivered a statement of “unilateral withdrawal” from the United States to the U.S. State Department in Washington.
The State Department did not respond. “That’ll take some time,” Means said.
Meanwhile, the delegation has delivered copies of the letter to the embassies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and South Africa. “We’re asking for recognition,” Means said, adding that Ireland and East Timor are “very interested” in the declaration.
Other countries will get copies of the same declaration, which Means said also would be delivered to the United Nations and to state and county governments covered by treaties, including treaties signed in 1851 and 1868. “We’re willing to negotiate with any American political entity,” Means said.

The United States could face international pressure if it doesn’t agree to negotiate, Means said. “The United State of America is an outlaw nation, we now know. We’ve understood that as a people for 155 years.”

Means also said his group would file liens on property in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming that were illegally homesteaded.
The Web site for the declaration, “Lakota Freedom,” briefly crashed Thursday as wire services picked up the story and the server was overwhelmed, Means said.
Delegation member Phyllis Young said in an online statement: “We are not trying to embarrass the United States. We are here to continue the struggle for our children and grandchildren.” Young was an organizer of Women of All Red Nations.

Other members of the delegation include Rapid City-area activist Duane Martin Sr. and Gary Rowland, a leader of the Chief Big Foot Riders.

Means said anyone could live in the Lakota Nation, tax free, as long as they renounced their U.S. citizenship. The nation would issue drivers licenses and passports, but each community would be independent. “It will be the epitome of individual liberty, with community control,” Means said.

To make his case, Means cited several articles of the U.S. Constitution, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and a recent nonbinding U.N. resolution on the rights of indigenous people.

He thinks there will be international pressure. “If the U.S. violates the law, the whole world will know it,” Means said.

Means’ group is based in Porcupine on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

It is not an agency or branch of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Means ran unsuccessfully for president of the tribe in 2006.

Lakota tribes have long claimed that the U.S. government stole land guaranteed by treaties — especially in western South Dakota. “The Missouri River is ours, and so are the Black Hills,” Means said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 awarded the tribes $122 million as compensation, but the court did not award land. The Lakota have refused the settlement. (As interest accrues, the unclaimed award is approaching $1 billion.)
In the late 1980s, then-Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey introduced legislation to return federal land to the tribes, and California millionaire Phil Stevens also tried to win support for a proposal to return the Black Hills to the Lakota.
Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or

© 2007 The Rapid City Journal

"The Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot/Pilgrimaging

Eliot has been out of favor in academic poetry circles for the past thirty-plus years, ever since his heyday during the height of New Criticism, but something tells me he'll come back again. Yes, there is the asceticism, the repugnance of certain human desires, but there is a kind of compensatory magic in his language that suggests the sensual world, as if in spite of his spiritual longings. Thus, amid "Christmas" and all its material excesses, spiritual yearnings....

"The Journey of the Magi " by T.S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Sidewalk Blogger/Are We Turning a Blind Eye to Torture?

The latest from the Sidewalk Blogger. The Sidewalk Blogger's "Torture=Frat Pranks" on the fence of a campus next to a sign about what is prohibited brings to mind a host of questions, one of which is: In a country crisscrossed with legal prohibitions, lawsuits, and potential lawsuits, such as those articulated on this public sign (all these activities are prohibited), isn't it strange that physical and mental terrorizing of a person can still be justified?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Small World, Harvey Pekar

I was getting the car's oil changed at Alternative Solution this morning, doing some preparation for a talk and an article, and looked up to see Harvey Pekar, legendary comics writer and Cleveland denizen, reading a history of the Middle East. "Are you Harvey Pekar?" his seat neighbor inquired. "I can't escape that," he replied. Apparently, he's working on a comic book history of the Middle East. I asked him if he'd read Joe Sacco. Yes, and Sacco has illustrated for him in the past. "I hope you do the Tower of Babel," his seatmate urged. And then regaled him on what she would do if she were a comic book writer/artist. He was mercifully allowed to leave, when his car repairs were completed, so that he could return to the stability of narratives of the Middle East.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slavoj Zizek on American Resistance

Slavoj Zizek, my favorite Slovenian Lacanian theorist (yes, there are more than one), is up to his old Hegelian reversals in this piece about resistance. Somehow, I can't help but resist his notion of resistance, which feels more than a little smugly self-satisfied:
The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’

And further:
The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse.

I.e., "The key is not to ask for too much, but just for something very specific." I don't know, Slavoj, really? I'm not sure there is any key to making resistance more pragmatic and goal-specific. Just because we have progressive and peace-related think tanks doesn't mean we've gotten any closer to ending this war. As usual, resistance needs to be both more quixotic and absolutist AND more specific and pragmatic. For the sake of resistance--to spur on dissent, to hearten the disheartened, to speak for those with no voice--as much as for any notion of political address.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joe Sacco, cartoonist of Palestine, on Weekend America

Joe Sacco appeared on "Weekend America" recently, talking about his comic book, Palestine, as well as his new work on Gaza. I first learned about his work from Purnima Bose, who talked about it during our "Resistance Literature" class in the mid-1990s. It's a fascinating journalistic investigation of the question of Palestine, unwavering in its realism; it's as if the cartoon form enables a sort of clarity and emotion that would have been impossible under the strictures of "journalistic objectivity." Here's what Sacco has to say about those strictures:
I think with journalists, too much attention is paid to this notion of presenting a so-called objective picture, which generally often can mean, you go, you talk to some people, and then you go to the spokesperson on the other side and get a quote to balance it out. But I find sometimes this balancing it out, what that involves is washing it out so that what the journalist actually knows is going on or what they really feel is an important point is being sort of lost. And a journalist often thinks he or she is done when they've presented both sides of the story. What I want from a journalist is what they would tell me if they were sitting across from me at dinner. What is going on over there? You tell me. That's what I want. But I want an honest appraisal of what's going on. And that's what I meant by that.

This pretty much captures why literary and documentary modes of narration are as necessary as ever, and why "the news" does not always lead to a more informed, more responsible citizenry. We're objectivized to confusion, apathy, and resignation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chicago Poetry Marathon Reading

In Chi-town for the Holidays? Come on down to the...

an off-site event coinciding with
the 2007 Modern Language Association convention

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28th from 7-9:30pm
at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Avenue, in the Ballroom

FREE and ADA accessible to the public
Co-sponsored by the the Writing Program at the School
of the Art Institute and the Poetry Foundation

OVER 50 POETS: Quraysh Ali Lansana, Joe Amato, Robert
Archambeau, Dodie Bellamy, Ray Bianchi, Tisa Bryant,
Charles Cantolupo, Stephen Cope, Josh Corey, Joel
Craig, Elizabeth Cross, Garin Cycholl, Michael
Davidson, Patrick Durgin, Joel Felix, Kass Fleisher,
C. S. Giscombe, Renee Gladman, Chris Glomski, Steve
Halle, Duriel Harris, Carla Harryman, William R. Howe,
Pierre Joris, Jennifer Karmin, Kevin Killian, Petra
Kuppers, David Lloyd, Nicole Markotic, Cate Marvin,
Philip Metres, Laura Moriarty, Simone Muench, Aldon
Nielsen, Mark Nowak, Kristy Odelius, Bob Perelman,
Kristen Prevallet, Jen Scappettone, Robyn Schiff,
Susan Schultz, Don Share, Ed Skoog, Kerri Sonnenberg,
Chuck Stebelton, Mark Tardi, Catherine Taylor, Tony
Trigilio, Nick Twemlow, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas,
Barrett Watten, Tyrone Williams, Tim Yu

*The Canary,
*Columiba Poetry Review,
*Court Green,
*Cracked Slab Books,
*Dancing Girl Press,
*Flood Editions,
*Hotel Amerika,
*House Press,
*Journal of Artists' Books,
*Kenning Editions,
*Make Magazine,
*March Abrazo Press,
*Sara Ranchouse,
*Switchback Books,
*Third World Press,

AND MUCH MUCH MORE: Refreshments! Select books by
the readers for sale from Small Press Distribution.

The MLA Off-Site Marathon Reading is a satellite
tradition coinciding but unaffiliated with the Modern
Language Association's annual convention. This event
is curated by Robert Archambeau and Patrick Durgin.
The Chicago publications display is curated by
Jennifer Karmin.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"The Agenda with Steve Paikin": Other Views on Israel/Palestine

The Agenda with Steve Paikin provides three views on the conflict and its possible resolutions: Ali Abunimah, Sari Nusseibeh, and Yossi Klein Halevi all provides critical perspectives that re-open the questions of Palestine and Israel, and the inevitably shared future that these inextricable nations must face together.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Martial: One Lewd Dude Who Occasionally Surprises Himself With Longing

I've been reading the Latin poet Martial, whose epigrams are often hilarious, often lewd, occasionally nasty, sometimes lovely. Here's one, translated by Rolfe Humphries, that caught my attention as I was completing grading for the semester, thinking of the bittersweet passage of another year:

Book V. xx.

If you and I, dear Martial,
Enjoying carefree days,
Were free to enjoy our leisure
And walk in gracious ways,
We should avoid the mansions
Where men of power dwell,
The lawsuits of the forum
And all that bustling hell.
The malls, the parks, the lounges,
The gardens, an arcade
Where one might find a bookshop
Would be our promenade.
Cold baths from Aqua Virgo
Or warmer ones in town,
These are the places, always,
To lay our burdens down.
Neither of us is living
The way things are today;
We see the good suns going,
The brightness fall away.
We waste our time's allowance,
And Time does not forgive.
Why waste one precious moment
If we know how to live?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review of The Butterfly's Burden by Mahmoud Darwish

Check out this recent review of The Butterfly's Burden, a collection of three recent books by Mahmoud Darwish and translated by Fady Joudah, the recent winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Shout-out to Fady, a good man and a great writer and translator.

Among other statements in the review:
"Reality" can and must be remade; and Darwish, writing from embattlement, knows that to refuse the status quo he must refuse fixity. The existence of alternatives is not merely desirable but necessary: both philosophical and political fact. A sense of intrinsic mutability becomes not the fear of death, but an engine for survival: "On my ruins the shadow sprouts green". Keeping things in flux, refusing to let them fall into place as circumstantial givens, is the political act this poetry carries out. "Because reality is an ongoing text, lovely / white, without malady", as A State of Siege (2002), a book-length poem of the second intifada, points out.

I will be teaching this book in the spring! Darwish is an essential poet to know, and this translation of his recent work is essential. I will write a longer review at some point, but suffice to say, everyone should read A STATE OF SIEGE from this book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Sidewalk Blogger/Santa Says Hell No to War

The Sidewalk Blogger has outdone herself; having inherited some old Christmas signs, she produced some of the funniest and darkest antiwar propaganda yet. In the tradition of the I.W.W.'s Little Red Book, which provided radical lyrics to be sung to traditional songs, The Sidewalk Blogger subverts the saccharine images of Santa and doe-eyed children with the language of protest and outrage.

Suddenly, Jesus and George W. Bush are conflated, but in ways that might not please the Christian Right.

Next to a large banner publicizing a craft and gift fair (no doubt, to raise money for the public school), Frosty the Snowman invites us to pay out millions per day to an unwinnable war.

Look what Santa has brought this year, children! A report from the NIE that suggests our president wants a war with Iran, even though the evidence suggests that they are not a threat. Mr. President, you shall receive coal in thy stocking.

These images of winter holiday are all the more striking against the backdrop of a semitropical Hawaiian landscape that is both inside and outside the National Imaginary--that fantasy image that we have of ourselves. Hawaii, one of the non-contiguous states, embodies the fantasy of expansion, of American colonial longing--part Gauguin's Tahiti, part Golf Course Heaven, part Dole's Pineapple Shangri-La. (It is, of course, a place with its own multiple histories and peoples, irreducible to such postcards). To place these "traditional" holiday signs in this landscape is to disrupt the very notion of a nation where everything is unified and the same.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Eight Miles High"/Versions of Transcendence

Yesterday, I mentioned Husker Du's version of "Eight Miles High" as one of those touchstones of my formative years. I remember hearing this song on the radio (WXRT, in a fit of programming mad genius, never to be repeated) in the late 1980s, on my father's old stereo system, bought on leave from Vietnam in the late 1960s. I thought that our living room would either collapse or vault into outer space when that song came on.

Though nothing can replace the original studio version, this live version actually comes pretty close to the catharsis. It goes out to my friend Mark Gunn, happy birthday, thanks for the friendship and the art when I needed it:

Here's the Byrds' original version, more psychedelic and so much cooler than their earlier folk rock period. It is cooler, but I vastly prefer the original emo of Mould/Hart/Norton--an emo so much more real than the corporatized stuff of the 1990s.

The lyrics:

eight miles high and when you touch down
G D Dsus2 C Csus2 C Csus2
you'll find that its stranger than known
Em F#m11/G G/E D Dsus2 C C9
signs in the street that say where youre going
G D Dsus2 C Csus2 C Csus2
are somewhere just being their own


nowhere is there warmth to be found
among those afraid of losing their ground
rain gray town known for its sound
in places small faces unbound

round the squares huddled in storms
some laughing some just shapeless forms
sidewalk scenes and black limousines
some living some standing alone

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Husker Du's "In a Free Land"/Punk Against Punk

YouTube is officially dangerous; for one thing, I find myself waxing nostalgic as I watch college-aged versions of my favorite bands that I never got to see live--the Clash, the Minutemen, Husker Du, etc. Husker Du was one of those bands who made me feel as if it were okay that I, a rather typical 20-year-old, was feeling lonely and fucked up inside--and that that feeling actually could be a song. It would be hyperbole to say that Bob Mould saved my life; but I remember reveling in those feedback-drenched harmonies in ways that made even my confusion beautiful. (I dare anyone to listen to the apogee of Husker Du's catharsis, their B-side cover of "Eight Miles High," and be unmoved).

The politics of Husker Du seemed rather aptly stated in the manifesto that accompanied "Warehouse: Songs and Stories"--"revolution begins at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror," if I recall correctly. Husker Du came out of the ashes of punk and was almost immediately post-punk, insofar as its songs seemed to critique punk culture's fundamentalisms and self-righteousness. In the words of Jim Doppke, Bob Mould was expert at dodging punk's dogma:

[he wrote] several very unpunk punk songs, especially "Real World," which is practically Republican compared to Minor Threat or lesser anarchy-centric bands. Or "Gravity," whose "This impulsive world / the crimes we all commit" dismisses in two lines the dogmatism and finger-pointing that, say, NYC hardcore never managed to escape.

Or "In a Free Land" -- "Why bother spending time reading up on things / Everybody's an authority in a free land." Sarcastic where "Gravity" was mournful, he was making the same point: punks don't know things, they can't lead you out of political ignorance, all are humans and therefore broken. He really took as much from the Buzzcocks as Minor Threat did from Wire; where MT wanted to be the clear-eyed, artistically innovative foresight-punks, Mould sung melodically of confused hearts. But he also loved insane volume and whackadoo guitar, things I find rather lacking in his more recent foursquare material.

Not saying he was full-on right in his punk vision either. MT knew what they were doing, and even at 19, drunk with anger and obsessed with his scene, MacKaye had viable ideals that nobody, then or now, should dismiss out of hand. As a fan, though, I have no problem listening to/synthesizing both approaches.

Here's Husker Du playing "In a Free Land," one of those early political diatribes against diatribes:

Here are the lyrics:

Government authorize education
(Don't mean a thing)
They'll teach you what they want you to think
(Don't mean a thing)
Saturation of stars and stripes
(Don't mean a thing)
The only freedom worth fighting for is for what you think

Why bother spending time
Reading up on things
Everybody's an authority
In a free land
In a free land
In a free land

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Sidewalk Blogger/Would Jesus Bomb?

The latest from the Sidewalk Blogger:

The Kane`ohe Christmas parade was held today; it's a huge event here, with thousands of participants, including politicians, firemen, old people (the retirement home folks wore shirts that read "Peace" and bore the word on their float), hula halau (they had a peace sign on their float), church groups, and of course the cops and the Marines. My kids marched in the parade with their scout troops.

I put out five signs on the parade route last night, hoping that some of them would survive, and they all did! The theme was Jesus (the pacific Jesus, not the warring one).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mountain Goats' "Grendel's Mother"

Last day of school, and I've taken to playing a few songs on the guitar for my classes. This is one of them, "Grendel's Mother" by The Mountain Goats. I love how it's a song of revenge that is also a song of love. Every "monster" has a mother.

Walter Cronkite Speaks Out Against the Iraq War

Tuesday 04 December 2007

The American people no longer support the war in Iraq. The war is being carried on by a stubborn president who, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War, does not want to lose. But from the beginning this has been an ill-considered and poorly prosecuted war that, like the Vietnam War, has diminished respect for America. We believe Mr. Bush would like to drag the war on long enough to hand it off to another president.

The war in Iraq reminds us of the tragedy of the Vietnam War. Both wars began with false assertions by the president to the American people and the Congress. Like Vietnam, the Iraq War has introduced a new vocabulary: "shock and awe," "mission accomplished," "the surge." Like Vietnam, we have destroyed cities in order to save them. It is not a strategy for success.

The Bush administration has attempted to forestall ending the war by putting in more troops, but more troops will not solve the problem. We have lost the hearts and minds of most of the Iraqi people, and victory no longer seems to be even a remote possibility. It is time to end our occupation of Iraq, and bring our troops home.

This war has had only limited body counts. There are reports that more than one million Iraqis have died in the war. These reports cannot be corroborated because the US military does not make public the number of the Iraqi dead and injured. There are also reports that some four million Iraqis have been displaced and are refugees either abroad or within their own country. Iraqis with the resources to leave the country have left. They are frightened. They don't trust the US, its allies or its mercenaries to protect them and their interests.

We know more about the body counts of American soldiers in Iraq. Some 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in this war, about a third more than the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And some 28,000 American soldiers have suffered debilitating injuries. Many more have been affected by the trauma of war in ways that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives - ways that will have serious effects not only on their lives and the lives of their loved ones, but on society as a whole. Due to woefully inadequate resources being provided, our injured soldiers are not receiving the medical treatment and mental health care that they deserve.

The invasion of Iraq was illegal from the start. Not only was Congress lied to in order to secure its support for the invasion of Iraq, but the war lacked the support of the United Nations Security Council and thus was an aggressive war initiated on the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nor has any assertion of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda proven to be true. In the end, democracy has not come to Iraq. Its government is still being forced to bend to the will of the US administration.

What the war has accomplished is the undermining of US credibility throughout the world, the weakening of our military forces, and the erosion of our Bill of Rights. Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz calculates that the war is costing American tax payers more than $1 trillion. This amount could double if we continue the war. Each minute we are spending $500,000 in Iraq. Our losses are incalculable. It is time to remove our military forces from Iraq.

We must ask ourselves whether continuing to pursue this war is benefiting the American people or weakening us. We must ask whether continuing the war is benefiting the Iraqi people or inflicting greater suffering upon them. We believe the answer to these inquiries is that both the American and Iraqi people would benefit by ending the US military presence in Iraq.

Moving forward is not complicated, but it will require courage. Step one is to proceed with the rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and hand over the responsibility for the security of Iraq to Iraqi forces. Step two is to remove our military bases from Iraq and to turn Iraqi oil over to Iraqis. Step three is to provide resources to the Iraqis to rebuild the infrastructure that has been destroyed in the war.

Congress must act. Although Congress never declared war, as required by the Constitution, they did give the president the authority to invade Iraq. Congress must now withdraw that authority and cease its funding of the war.

It is not likely, however, that Congress will act unless the American people make their voices heard with unmistakable clarity. That is the way the Vietnam War was brought to an end. It is the way that the Iraq War will also be brought to an end. The only question is whether it will be now, or whether the war will drag on, with all the suffering that implies, to an even more tragic, costly and degrading defeat. We will be a better, stronger and more decent country to bring the troops home now.

Walter Cronkite is the former long-time anchor for CBS Evening News. David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Multiple Interpretations" exhibit in NY Public Library

Susan Schultz sent me this review from the New York Times of a new exhibit, "Multiple Interpretations," in the New York Public Library, which contains the above work, Dick Cheney in "Line Up." Like much agitprop, it sort of speaks for itself.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monica Raymond's "Sestina with Random Peace Words"/Collaborative Poetics

"Sestina with Random Peace Words " by Monica Raymond (published in Colorado Review)

The bird Noah sent second was the dove,
who watched the dwindling of the waterfall
to puddle. Doves and ravens don't agree,
not even on the definition of love,
let alone whether the wind's an angel,
if what they'd seen was carnage or was peace.

After all, each had only seen a piece
of the landscape. Somehow the version of the dove
won out. Raven, the darker angel,
lingered, jabbering godtalk with the waterfall.
So the dove got the monopoly on love.
It would be all cooing, sweet feathers, and I agree

with you, do you agree with me? I do agree.
Not a bit of a spat or a spark. A peace
that literally passeth understanding. Do you call that love?
All soothed in curves like a bar of the old Dove
soap—remember? Buckminster Fuller lathering up under the waterfall.
Whoosh—a rowboat's going over. Only an angel

can save it. But you did it! My angel,
pressing it upwards against the force of the water. And I agree
in this case with your besting the waterfall,
because death by drowning would definitely shatter the peace
of this poem, which is supposed to be dove
as in gray, not dove as in oh no, under the waters of love.

No, that's the cormorant's definition of love—
to dive so deep in it that no rescuing angel,
no Moebius wit of raven, mumbling dove,
can pull you from the dark currents of agree.
Drenched feathers sleek as fishscales, slippery peace
with the alien element, its cool weed waterfall,

trash, wrecks, wriggling fish in the beak, is the same waterfall
as the one of dazzled coins in the sun. It is the same love
guards our hungers, the same peace
holds us in its iron beak, same as when we briefly tweak angel
of the horizon, breathe sky and the counting house, then agree
to descend, live in three elements, not better-best of the dove.

If you want peace, plunge in the waterfall.
See what the dove saw, high over wreckage of love.
Bind your light to the cormorant angel. Fly to agree.

A number of months ago, I posted a poem called "In Cana," by Monica Raymond. This poem was published alongside "In Cana." It's a difficult task to throw "waterfall," "angel," "peace," and "love" as end words in a sestina, but she does some interesting things with such overdetermined blocks of language.

About the construction of this poem, Raymond wrote to me:
My friend Elizabeth Belstraz curated an exhibit of political art at the Stebbins Gallery in Cambridge in the fall of 2006, "Speaking Truth to Power." A final event of the show in November 2006 was a reading of political poetry by local poets, "Patriotism and Resistance." Elizabeth had booked a whole roster of poets, and told me there'd only be time for me to read one or two poems, so that's what I'd brought.

But it turned out several of the other poets bailed at the last minute, so there was plenty of time, too much, in fact. One of the poems I'd brought was "In Cana," so I decided to teach the audience how a sestina is constructed, and that we would all write a sestina together. I showed them the pattern of words that end the lines in a sestina, and then asked them for six end words. They offered the ones I use--dove, waterfall, agree, love, angel, peace. As a group, we wrote two verses together, but then it was time for the evening to end.

Home, I tossed the group's lines but kept their end words. I was curious about the challenge of writing a sestina with such sugary, Hallmark-y end words, as they felt to me at the time...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Remembering Abu Ghraib

I've been working on poems based on the testimonies of the Abu Ghraib prison torture victims for a year or so, and came across this conversation between Robert Hass and artist Fernando Botero.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Two States v. One State/Israel-Palestine

The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have long been structured around a two-state solution, but a recent wave of intellectuals have begun to propose again a single-state solution (an idea that has existed in other forms since the late 1960s) to trouble that paradigm.

Now, on the one hand, it seems to be an absolute non-starter from most Israeli points of view, since it would almost certainly end the notion of a Jewish-majority state (it would be a secular democratic state in which all faiths would retain their rights). Rhetorically speaking, it also frames Israel as a "racist state," which also does not exactly ingratiate itself with the "other side."

On the other hand, the framing of the one-state solution actually feels closer to the kind of state that might act as a bulwark of true democracy in the Middle East, and a paradigm for a new pluralism beyond the endless post-Cold War ethnic fractures. So, in a sense, this proposal is written precisely for a Western audience who share a commitment to human rights. Here's one of those proposals:


The Electronic Intifada, 29 November 2007

For decades, efforts to bring about a two-state solution in historic Palestine have failed to provide justice and peace for the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish peoples, or to offer a genuine process leading towards them.

The two-state solution ignores the physical and political realities on the ground, and presumes a false parity in power and moral claims between a colonized and occupied people on the one hand and a colonizing state and military occupier on the other. It is predicated on the unjust premise that peace can be achieved by granting limited national rights to Palestinians living in the areas occupied in 1967, while denying the rights of Palestinians inside the 1948 borders and in the Diaspora. Thus, the two-state solution condemns Palestinian citizens of Israel to permanent second-class status within their homeland, in a racist state that denies their rights by enacting laws that privilege Jews constitutionally, legally, politically, socially and culturally. Moreover, the two-state solution denies Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right of return.

The two-state solution entrenches and formalizes a policy of unequal separation on a land that has become ever more integrated territorially and economically. All the international efforts to implement a two-state solution cannot conceal the fact that a Palestinian state is not viable, and that Palestinian and Israeli Jewish independence in separate states cannot resolve fundamental injustices, the acknowledgment and redress of which are at the core of any just solution.

In light of these stark realities, we affirm our commitment to a democratic solution that will offer a just, and thus enduring, peace in a single state based on the following principles:

- The historic land of Palestine belongs to all who live in it and to those who were expelled or exiled from it since 1948, regardless of religion, ethnicity, national origin or current citizenship status;

- Any system of government must be founded on the principle of equality in civil, political, social and cultural rights for all citizens. Power must be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all people in the diversity of their identities;

- There must be just redress for the devastating effects of decades of Zionist colonization in the pre- and post-state period, including the abrogation of all laws, and ending all policies, practices and systems of military and civil control that oppress and discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion or national origin;

-The recognition of the diverse character of the society, encompassing distinct religious, linguistic and cultural traditions, and national experiences;

-The creation of a non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion;

-The implementation of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194 is a fundamental requirement for justice, and a benchmark of the respect for equality.

-The creation of a transparent and nondiscriminatory immigration policy;

- The recognition of the historic connections between the diverse communities inside the new, democratic state and their respective fellow communities outside;

-In articulating the specific contours of such a solution, those who have been historically excluded from decision-making -- especially the Palestinian Diaspora and its refugees, and Palestinians inside Israel -- must play a central role;

-The establishment of legal and institutional frameworks for justice and reconciliation.

The struggle for justice and liberation must be accompanied by a clear, compelling and moral vision of the destination – a solution in which all people who share a belief in equality can see a future for themselves and others. We call for the widest possible discussion, research and action to advance a unitary, democratic
solution and bring it to fruition.

Madrid and London, 2007


Ali Abunimah
Naseer Aruri
Omar Barghouti
Oren Ben-Dor
George Bisharat
Haim Bresheeth
Jonathan Cook
Ghazi Falah
Leila Farsakh
Islah Jad
Joseph Massad
Ilan Pappe
Carlos Prieto del Campo
Nadim Rouhana
The London One State Group

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why I Miss the Daily Show

The recent meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians, and our President's weirdly ahistorical optimism about "The Peace Process" as a concept (which, apparently, requires very little in the way of American pressure), made me nostalgic again for "The Daily Show."

"The Daily Show" is suffering under the writer's strike in a way that other shows who shoot in advance are not. Since "The Daily Show" is, well, daily, it almost feels a bit like a news blackout. Okay, I don't "get" my news from "The Daily Show" (as some polls suggest), but I get my inoculation from the news from "The Daily Show." And that keeps me from all sorts of metaphysical ills.

Of course, who among us doesn't want the Peace Process to work? Yet everything this administration has done for the past seven years has been to ensure that peace is even harder to attain. Cue "The Daily Show," which never offers much in the way of positive vision, but at least keeps the darkness at bay. This piece suggests the way in which our policy seems to want to "replicate" our own history in places like Iraq and Israel/Palestine, projecting a vague vision of what these societies should look like (they should be democratic, they should love freedom, etc. etc.) without regard for the particularity of each place. This is not to say that I believe that there are no universal rights or shared values--but one can't help but notice the abyss between such demagogic points (freedom, security, etc.) and the vast complexity on the ground.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act

National Lawyers Guild and Society of American Law Teachers Strongly Oppose Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act

WASHINGTON - November 27 - On October 23, 2007, the House of Representatives passed the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 by a vote of 404-6. The bill will be referred out of committee this week and will then go to the Senate floor. The National Lawyers Guild and the Society of American Law Teachers strongly oppose this legislation because it will likely lead to the criminalization of beliefs, dissent and protest, and invite more draconian surveillance of Internet communications.

This bill would establish a Commission to study and report on "facts and causes" of "violent radicalism" and "extremist belief systems." It defines "violent radicalism" as "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change." The term "extremist belief system" is not defined; it could refer to liberalism, nationalism, socialism, anarchism, communism, etc.

"Ideologically based violence" is defined in the bill as the "use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs." Thus, "force" and "violence" are used interchangeably. If a group of people blocked the doorway of a corporation that manufactured weapons, or blocked a sidewalk during an anti-war demonstration, it might constitute the use of "force" to promote "political beliefs."

The bill charges that the Internet "has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens." This provision could be used to conduct more intrusive surveillance of our Internet communications without warrants.

This legislation does not criminalize conduct, but may well lead to criminalizing ideas or beliefs in violation of the First Amendment. By targeting the Internet, it may result in increased surveillance of Internet communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The National Lawyers Guild and the Society of American Law Teachers strongly urge the Senate to refuse to pass the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007.

Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) is a community of progressive law teachers working for justice, diversity and academic excellence. SALT is the largest membership organization of law faculty and legal education professionals in the United States.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stephen Cramer's "The Ark" on Poetry Daily/William Stafford's "Peace Walk"

Instead of kvetching about Poetry Daily, why not give them their props? They published a poem last month by Stephen Cramer, "The Ark," that was a plaintive and articulate rendering of a protest: "Let's face it: there's no inoculation,/no immunity for us/or those/we claim to help...."

William Stafford's "Peace Walk" delves into similar territory. Stafford, a conscientious objector during the Second World War, wrote a lifetime of deceptively simple poems fundamentally concerned with confronting the problem of violence and the breakdown of human community.

Yet unlike many of Stafford’s less partisan poems, “Peace Walk” actively embodies the collective “we” as a group of war resisters on an “un-march,” marked as “other” by the gaze of the social orders. The poem offers two elements typically missing in poems about anti-war protest.

First, the poem represents a specific kind of demonstration, a peace walk, one that defies the conventions of protest and collective action. Second, though the poem clearly situates its identification with the demonstrators, its overall sense of ambiguity and self-critique renders it an acutely Yeatsian “argument with ourselves,” thus working against the monological lyric. He self-effacingly points to the limits of demonstrators’ vision (both physical and metaphorical) and of the walk itself; “we held our poster up to shade our eyes” suggests both a desire to flee the protest and the judging gaze of the bystanders. Despite the fact that any ideological placard narrows a person’s perception, Stafford does not condemn the demonstration or demonstrators; in fact, the final lines contain in their lonely description of the protest’s dispersal a vision of egalitarian society.

It would be easy to read the final couplet simply as the failure of the demonstration, of Stafford’s poetic skepticism of a public protest. Yet, the fact that “no one was there to tell us where to put the signs” forces the individual demonstrators and not some authority figure to decide what to do with the “signs”—not just the physical placards, but also the things that they signify: the dangers of nuclear testing, the resistance to warfare, a vision of human community based on love.

(Extracted from my article entitled “William Stafford’s Down in My Heart: The Poetics of Pacifism and the Limits of Lyric.” Peace and Change. January 2004. 1-28)

Monday, November 26, 2007

David Clewell's Poem on Poetry Daily

Check out this poem by David Clewell, succinctly entitled "How the Visiting Poet Ended Up in the Abandoned Nike Missile Silo in Pacific, Missouri, After Surviving a Morning of Grade-School Classroom Appearances on Behalf of One of the Better Impulses in the History of Human Behavior."

Sidewalk Blogger's New Work/Questions of War

The Sidewalk Blogger, continuing her work bringing language into the public sphere, has added a new rhetorical direction, employing the old "Got Milk" rhetorical structure for antiwar ends.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Seven New Stories about Stalin"/Homage to Dmitry Prigov

Seven New Stories about Stalin

By Dmitry Prigov (1989), translated by Philip Metres

One day, in his youth, Stalin and a friend walked by a butcher shop. Stalin grabbed a piece of meat and took off. They caught him and asked him, “did you steal it?” “No,” he answered, “he did it.” And his friend was torn to pieces.

Life had gotten completely awful for the people. Riots were breaking out. The tsar summoned Stalin and said: “line up the people on Senate Square.” Stalin brought the people there, and gendarmes were waiting. They began to fire, and killed everyone. Over a million.

One day Trotsky, Zinov’ev and Bukharin came to Stalin and said, “you’re not right. Let’s talk about it.” Stalin whipped out a pistol from his desk and killed them right on the spot. And he ordered that the corpses be buried quickly.

One day Stalin came to Lenin in Gorky. He saw that no one was around, and he cut Lenin’s throat. And he buried the corpse without being seen. He returned to Moscow and said: “Lenin is dead. He bequeathed everything to me.”

One day Stalin’s wife came to him and said, “why did you rob that poor woman of all her money? That’s no good.” Stalin whipped out his pistol and shot her on the spot. And he buried the corpse without being seen.

One day Nikita Sergeevich Krushchev came to Stalin and said, “you’re wrong. Let’s talk about it.” Stalin whipped out his pistol from his desk, but Krushchev shot first and killed Stalin. And he buried the corpse without being seen.

One day Stalin walked along the street. The people recognized him and said, “there he is, there’s Stalin.” Stalin began to run, and the people went after him. They caught him, tore him to pieces, burned him, and threw his ashes into the Moscow River.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Allen Ginsberg's "America"(s)/Reading Readings of the Poem

The above clip is a rendering of Allen Ginsberg's rather sober reading of his famous standup poem, "America," with music by Tom Waits. It is ruminative, almost depressive, and a stark contrast to the earlier, notorious readings of it in Berkeley in 1956, in which Ginsberg plays the clown dissident. It becomes a "He Do the Police in Different Voices" for the post-war set. The contrast is striking, and is suggestive of how there is not a single "America," but many "Americas." The poem continues to proliferate.

This is what I wrote for the Poetry Foundation piece on poetry as news, called "From Reznikoff to Public Enemy":
"America" is a good example of how a poem can deliver the news of an era while providing a lens into the past. In this case, Allen Ginsberg evokes both his own historical present, the mid-1950s, and the radical zeitgeist of the 1910s–30s (referencing the Wobblies, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the Scottsboro Boys). In so doing, Ginsberg’s "America" becomes a monument to its own historical moment, with the mainstream’s outsized fears of Communist Russia ("her want to take our cars out of our garages") and his own clownish Beat resistance to that culture ("It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again"). A poem of rich tonalities and voices, alternately hilarious and angry, "America" feels more liberating than
"Howl," and it’s a lot more fun to read (and hear). The famous recording of "America," available in Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs and in Poetry on Record, shows Ginsberg at his comic best, intoxicated in all the right ways, and the audience leaning into every word, ready to recognize themselves and laugh.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kimberly Rivera & "The Courage to Resist"

Check out the story of Kimberly Rivera, an American war resister now living in Canada.

Some of her reflection:
"While in Iraq losing soldiers and civilians was part of daily life. I was a gate guard. This was looked down on by infantry soldiers who go out in the streets, but gate guards are the highest security of the Forward Operation Base. We searched vehicles, civilian personnel, and military convoys that left and came back every hour. I had a huge awakening seeing the war as it truly is: people losing their lives for greed of a nation and the effects on the soldiers who come back with new problems such as nightmares, anxieties, depression, anger, alcohol abuse, missing limbs and scars from burns. Some don't come back at all."

Cotton Fite on Israel/Palestine

My mother's former boss, Cotton Fite, has been traveling to Israel/Palestine for the past few years, and thinking about what might need to happen to end the conflict. This is his op-ed that appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Needless to say, the negative replies outnumbered the positive ones three to one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Review of Behind the Lines

Blogs are already so much the egotistical sublime that it borders on the ludicrous to promote one's own work in such a form. Yet I discovered a new review of Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941 by a poet named Jeffrey C. Alfier, a member of Poets Against War. Thanks, Mr. Alfier, not only for reading the book, but also seeing it as a worthwhile project. You've allowed me to hold off panicked seizings of self-doubt for at least a week. Here's the ending:
Metres does not foster an uncritical acceptance of all war resistance poetry; for some of it “seems too often shrill and veers into a circular address.” Too much of it is bland or clich├ęd polemic, better suited to being letters to editors than inscribed as poetry. In the end, Metres goes far beyond giving us a chronology and description of America’s war resistance poetry; rather, his work proves an incisive cultural critique. This book is highly recommended not only to those interested in poetry but also to students of literary and sociological studies of war and peace.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sappho Was a Riot Grrl

My daughter Leila picked out another book on the shelf for me: Sappho: A Garland, translated by Jim Powell. Something to keep the Homer fans at bay.

Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers,
others call a fleet the most beautiful of
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what-
ever you love best.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device"/Won't Get Fooled Again (Again)

I first heard "Suspect Device" covered by Chicago punk bank Naked Raygun, and it's always stuck with me. Written in 1977 by Belfast-based Stiff Little Fingers, "Suspect Device" is redolent not just of the disaffection of youth, but also of the particular angers seething in Northern Ireland. Yet in its Manichean argument, it feels both like a retelling of the CCR's "Fortunate Son" and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again"...and a comment on the current war.

"Suspect Device"

Inflammable material is planted in my head
It's a suspect device that's left 2000 dead
Their solutions are our problems
They put up the wall
On each side time and prime us
And make sure we get fuck all
They play their games of power
They mark and cut the pack
They deal us to the bottom
But what do they put back?

Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Don't be bitten twice
You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss out
Suss suspect device

They take away our freedom
In the name of liberty
Why don't they all just clear off
Why won't they let us be
They make us feel indebted
For saving us from hell
And then they put us through it
It's time the bastards fell


Don't believe them
Don't believe them
Question everything you're told
Just take a look around you
At the bitterness and spite
Why can't we take over and try to put it right


We're a suspect device if we do what we're told
But a suspect device can score an own goal
I'm a suspect device the Army can't defuse
You're a suspect device they know they can't refuse
We're gonna blow up in their face

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lev Rubinstein/Poet as Listener

After my grandiose statement that Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is the most important book of poetry in the last fifteen years, I should at least explain myself. First of all, I think it is the most important book for me, for the reasons I mentioned: it was my first real encounter with the avant-garde (other than Stevens and Williams), and it "exploded my idea of the possibility of poetry, a post-lyric poetry that is warm and traditional and edgy all at the same time."

Ten days ago, Lev Rubinstein came to John Carroll, and we gave a bilingual reading, along with an orchestrated performance with 25 students and faculty of his text Life Everywhere.

Of that text, Catherine Wagner wrote:
"Life Everywhere," a fairly typical Rubinstein piece, is constructed mostly of cheesy pseudo-quotes based on a quotation familiar to Russian readers that begins “Life is given to us . . .” (it’s from Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel How the Steel Was Tempered). These echoes, each given its own notecard, are interrupted by announcements in capitals from, apparently, a mysterious film director, who tells the “speaker” or “speakers” of these echoes to “GO AHEAD!” or “KEEP GOING . . . GOING” or “PERFECT!” or “STOP.” These instructions seem to bear no relation to the moralistic philosophobabble that’s being “filmed.” We can’t take the observations made about life entirely straight—they’re things like “Life is given to us humans for a reason./Be good, my friend, and worthy of your life.” Despite such cheesiness, the observations build to an emotional climax, a melodramatic maximum that persuades me that at least one of the trajectories this work carries me through is an emotional one.

At the same time, the quoted, mass-produced feel of the text makes me embarrassed to be moved, in the same way that the 1980s AT&T ad campaign “Reach Out and Touch Someone” made me simultaneously weepy and self-conscious about the ease with which I'd been manipulated. Of course, the AT&T ad was straightforwardly twiddling with my emotion-buttons in order to get me to make expensive long-distance telephone calls. Rubinstein’s work, on the other hand, exposes the manipulation: it drives a wedge between cultural production and the culturally produced. I’m not expected to do anything or buy anything, I’m flickering between emotion and ironic awareness; that is, I’m learning about the way I work when I encounter language. Rubinstein's work reminds me of those visual puns known as figure/ground illusions—the famous rabbit/duck picture, for instance—that instruct the viewer not to choose between one view and another, but that it's possible to train the eye to flip between both views. Rubinstein lets me acknowledge both my human emotion and its quoted, cultural ground.

Wagner's assessment is exactly right; Rubinstein simultaneously functions as sentimentalist and parodist of sentimentalism. At the end of the day, almost despite the quotational feeling of the project, there is the heady encounter with other voices...and with our inevitable end, beyond those voices.

Rubinstein is, among many other things, a poet of the ear, the ear as democratic space, who hears in the sundry voices that, as Stafford once wrote, "it is not quite prose we speak." Here is what I wrote in the libretto for the reading:

Born in 1947 and one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism, Lev Rubinstein is among Russia's most well known contemporary poets living today. He has been called a “Postmodern Chekhov.” His work is conceived as series of index cards, a poetic medium which he was inspired to create through his work as a librarian at the Lenin Library. His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the "unofficial" art scene of the sixties and seventies, and found wide publication in the late 1980s. Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media.

In 2004, Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein was published, about which, Ron Silliman writes: “The major work by a major poet, one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism, and aptly translated. There is no question that this is one of the 'must have' [poetry] books of 2004...” Andrew Wachtel writes: "In the precise translations of Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky, this witty and elegant work is available to an English-language public in its full glory for the first time."

Rubinstein—an ex-librarian whose obsession with books is apparent—might be described as a symphonic director or an archivist; he catalogues, on his library cards, the shreds of our speech in all its fragmentariness, wonder, and degradation. Rubinstein’s place in the Russian literary tradition is thus built upon a contradiction: a postmodernist in his method, he is a modernist in his results. In his heavy reliance on citation, he is a postmodernist par excellence. This whole book is one unceasing quotation or, more precisely, an arrangement of quotations, with sources ranging from the eighteenth century to the present; from actual literary works to imaginary discourses; and from belles lettres to street talk. But the fruit of Rubinstein’s efforts differs from his fellow postmodernists. Rubinstein imposes patterns on the debris, rhyming bits and pieces of waste, turning belches and grunts into units of meter, cataloguing the chaos where each object now has its assigned place. He aims at order and harmony, and in that sense he is a true disciple of the modernist tradition, in Anna Akhmatova’s “classicist” line. Her words, “If you could only see what useless waste/Gives rise to verse” would make a good epigraph to his work.

Performative rather than monumental, playful rather than dour, Rubinstein’s work is both vividly futurist and yet haunted by ghosts. We should ask nothing less from poetry.

--Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dave Lucas' Poetry Survey/Interview

Poet Dave Lucas sent me a survey/interview for his poetry class at Gilmour Academy, and here are some very tentative answers, answers of the moment. Underlying these questions, of course, is that dizzying feeling regarding what one "ought" to be teaching, in order to nurture these young writers--and, if possible, to prepare them to make the leap into the poetry scene. It's vexing, because I'm aware of how partisan and limited my own responses are to these questions; I want to prepare students to get the great range of poetries, but I also want them to become obsessed with a couple writers, to know their craft inside and out. It's very hard to achieve both.

1. Is there a prevailing “period style” in English language poetry today?
As is the rule in our postmodern age, there are period style(s): ultratalk poetry (Halliday, Goldbarth, Kirby), Iowa school post-Ashbery (see the anthology Legitimate Dangers), post-avant poetry (which includes everyone who went to Penn, UBuffalo, etc., the Flarf Collective), New York School the umpteenth generation (which has overlaps with the previous two), etc. The differences are fairly wide, even in the groupings. Institutionally, I find Poetry Foundation's website so incredibly different from Poetry Magazine that my head spins (I recently had an article on poetry as news, which quotes Reznikoff to Public Enemy).

Actually, I think critics, such as Charles Altieri, have been able to talk about period style (he has an interesting reading of period style for the 1980s) because they've excluded so much poetry and focused on their version of what they see as dominant. But it's poetry, not pop music, and the economic differences between these brands/schools are rather small (that is, if economics could be counted as demonstrating dominance).

2. Who are the major poets of our day?
Everyone wants to say Ashbery. He is a major poet, but he's overrated, simply because he's so universally beloved. As much poetry as I read, I find that I'm incapable of being anything but partisan and personal about "majors": Robert Hass, David Wojahn, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jorie Graham, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian, Harryette Mullen, H.L. Hix, etc. Do I choose them because I've studied with them? Because people tell me they're major? Probably yes, depending on the case.

What about rising poets, born after 1950? Born after 1960?
"Rising" suggests some sort of Great Chain of Being, or some resurrection, which belies the chaos on the proving grounds of poetry. There are a number of young poets whose work I find exciting and/or vexing: David Berman, Jen Bervin, Jenny Boully, Michael Magee, Kasey Mohammad, among many others. It's hard because I end up half-admiring, and half-hating them because I feel competitive with poets my age.

3. Who is overrated? Who is underrated?

Billy Collins (witty and occasionally moving, but the universe of his poems is coercively bourgeois), Ted Kooser (any poet laureate is overrated), John Ashbery (simply because everyone seems to love his work--even Ashbery once said that he wished critics could do a better job ascertaining the successful poems from the unsuccessful, rather than just picking out the lines they liked). This question will get me into trouble.

4. Who are our best critics of poetry?

Among poet-critics, I still love Robert Hass' TWENTIETH CENTURY PLEASURES. I'm deeply unhappy with the criticim in Poetry Magazine. I find critics like Adam Kirsch sound as if they were already seventy years old. He's my age, yet there's a ponderousness and conservatism that seems weird to me.

For daily criticism, it's fun to read Ron Silliman, though he's often grandiose about his post-avant opinions. Charles Bernstein is a thoughtful and thought-provoking critic/partisan for the avant-garde. But there are a host of scholars whose work is interesting and important: Cary Nelson, Charles Altieri, Marjorie Perloff, Lynn Keller, among the established generation, and Ben Friedlander, Michael Magee, and many others of my generation. Present company excluded, of course.

5. Everyone’s read “Can Poetry Matter?” Can it? And does it matter if it matters?

Yes, and it does. It does matter. If it matters to you, then that's all that matters. Fuck what anybody else thinks or says. Mr. Jello CEO is worried that poetry isn't central to the culture, or that it's gotten too wrapped up in its own conversations. In this way, it's like every other niche cultural practice. All this handwringing about poetry and the public seems much ado about nothing, secret code for "why does no one pay attention to my beauty?"

One example for how poetry can function as critical social intervention, from my book BEHIND THE LINES:
"Certainly, poetry thrives most particularly in the local. As W.D. Ehrhart mused:
What was the point of my reading antiwar poetry to the members of the Brandywine Peace Community? These are folks who chain themselves to fences and hammer on missile warheads. But what they hear in my poems confirms them in their beliefs (which are not easy to hold and maintain in this culture…and renews their spirit and commitment; it gives them a sense of connectedness, of not being entirely alone. That's worth doing, even if it is on such a small scale (there were maybe 25 people there that night)."

6. For some it’s Meatloaf, others Danielle Steel. But who is your poetry guilty pleasure?

I consider much music to be poetry. If you read my blog, I like to talk about Guided by Voices, Ted Leo, Fugazi and other rock song lyrics with the same intensity as poetry. After all, pretentious rock lyrics were in part what drew me to poetry.

7. Let me steal a question from the New York Times fiction survey: What’s the best single book of poems of the last fifteen years (no Selecteds or Collecteds allowed)?

CATALOGUE OF COMEDIC NOVELTIES by Lev Rubinstein, a book that I translated from Russian. It's been the most influential book to me personally, and one that I've spent the most time with. It's exploded my idea of the possibility of poetry, a post-lyric poetry that is warm and traditional and edgy all at the same time. If you must press me for an American book, I might say "Spring Comes to Chicago" by Campbell McGrath, only because of the "Bob Hope Poem."