Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Further Thoughts on Guided by Voices' "Echoes Myron"

I wanted to revisit Guided by Voices' song "Echoes Myron," in particular the lines about old songs. Here is the full "stanza"/verse:

Most of us are quite pleased
With the same old songs
Then all of a sudden I'm relatively sane
With everything to lose and nothing to gain
Or something like that

Robert Pollard's lyric, in my previous post on "GBV," suggested the way in which he seems to embrace the love of the old, the "same old"--but this song, as with so many others on Bee Thousand, intimates a kind of disaffection, the disaffection of bourgeois prosperity and adult "sanity." Pollard articulates how sometimes, like Ivan Ilych in Tolstoy's famous short story, someone wakes up to the reality of their life and it terrifies them. This realization is not mere midlife crisis--it is a psychic battle against the kind of complacency that habituates us to everything around us. Pollard's speaker/voice comes to inhabit the worrisome place that worldly success brings us to.

Monday, October 29, 2007

K.Silem Mohammad's "Chicks Don't Actually Dig War"/Flarf's Teen Years

Kasey Mohammad's response/homage to Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War." Two flarfists trying to outdo each other in flarfosity.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Guided by Voices' "I Am A Scientist"/Why I'm Not Avant-Garde

This video, from Guided by Voices, features footage of the old band along with the ringleader, Robert Pollard--Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Jim Pollard, etc.--a bunch of Dayton garage rockers who found their way to pop genius. On another song from Bee Thousand, Pollard sings, "most of us are quite pleased/with the same old songs." What GBV has always done so beautifully is to trash-compact the same old songs into these little cubes of something new. I get tired of hearing how our avant-poets can't stand the "same old songs," and feel the need to destroy them, and every bit of themselves that loves that stuff. The revolution is dead. Modernism killed it. I much prefer the poetics of recycling--another kind of resurrection.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vahan Tekeyan's "Forgetting"/Remembering the Armenian Genocide

This poem is for Raz, which I found in Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forche. Apparently, Tekeyan avoided the genocide because he happened to be in Jerusalem on a business trip. Yet the memory of what did not happen to him becomes the memory of what his people suffered--mass displacement and death. To forget means, at least in the span of this poem, to lose a sense of the future.

"Forgetting" by Vahan Tekeyan, translated by Diana Der Hovanessian and Marzbed Margossian

Forgetting. Yes, I will forget it all.
One after the other. The roads I crossed.
The roads I did not. Everything that happened.
And everything that did not.

I am not going to transport anymore,
nor drag the silent past, or that "me"
who was more beautiful and bigger
that I could ever be.

I will shake off the weights
thickening my mind and sight,
and let my heart see the sun as it dies.

Let a new morning's light open my closed eyes.
Death, is that you here? Good Morning.
Or should I say Good Dark?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Utopian Poetic Statement from the 1960s That Will "Blow Your Mind"

This was an interesting piece from New Poetry, a contribution by Tad Richards. It provides a window into the revolutionary and utopian rhetorics of the late 1960s. Was this the voice and style of Robert Duncan? It shares certainly traces of a Ginsbergian ethos and style (notice the occasional absence of indefinite articles). What to say? It's impossible to imagine such a statement written today; part of the reason is that the rhetoric of the peace movement itself has shifted, has toughened into a kind of thinktank pragmatism. Are we better off for this shift? What do you think? As for me, time to get back to my robot pedagogy...

Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2007
From the Hot Whiskey Blog

I was just searching around in The New York Review of Books' archives and found this collaborative letter from 1968:

To the Editors:

We assembled poets respectable enough to travel across the planet to Stony Brook hereby announce to the public that we are all victims of closed vision, crippled mechanical consciousness, and bad poetry mouthed by all governments and propagandized thru controlled mass media.

That police state military tyranny, sexual repression and laws against expansion of consciousness by joyful music naked dance and high natural herbs threaten further evolution of the race. Joy to all poets' wives and lovers in every country (Herbert).

That no government except the invisible commune of poetry has become conscious that man's usurpation over all nature is an egotism that will destroy human as well as whale kingdoms thru ecological disruption of the planet surface.

That revolutions of consciousness manifested in human society by younger generations present should be protected from armed dinosaur repression and black magic violence perpetrated by the state; that everywhere Stony Brook to Vietnam the state is the cause and source of violence, state violence is preventing peaceful change. Student violence exacerbates some people (Cooperman). Poets fighting on suburban lawns drunk is also real. (Ginsberg).

That Black Power is the active American conscience, the African soul rising within our nation to force the European soul to love and the marriage of races in a new humanity. We must all work for the wedding of Asia and our continent. For Asia sulks in rejection and pride and only begins to roar in pain (Duncan)�that Black Power is an ideal vision of African Divinity resurrected to save the white rational races from suffocating the entire planet in dung colored gas�We ask return to true tribal structure in which men use society rather than be used. (Oppenheimer)�

That the U.S. utopian* war against attempted state* utopias in China and Cuba as well as Vietnam is a bring down for the entire human race�that good old Dr. Spock and friends have made pure poetic statement aiding and abetting younger bodies to avoid War Theater, that the assembled poets commit the same holy deed.�

That the new consciousness articulated by longhair revolutionary student generations Prague New York Paris Madrid Santiago everywhere on earth begins the fulfillment of human anarchy (withering away of state [Guellivic]) and communal utopia prophesized by poets for millenia�Academies should return to wisdom study in tree groves rather than robot study in plastic cells�Bless the Universe!

Robert Duncan G. E. Kimball III Stanley Cooperman Holly Stevens Donald Hall Jerome Rothenberg Ed Sanders Joel Oppenheimer Eduardo de Olivera John Logan Mackson MacLow T. Weiss Anthony Hecht Denise Levertov J.D. Reed Donald Justice Allen Ginsberg Louis Simpson Nicanor Parra George Hitchcock Robert Vas
Dias Tim Reynolds *Zbigniew Herbert *Czeslaw Milosz Anselm Hollo Clayton Eshleman George Quasha George A. Williams Tom Gatten Milton Kessler Jim Harrison,Dan Rowe Allen Planz Ann London A. J. M. Smith Ron Loweinsohn

Is this possible? Would Don Justice have signed a letter like this? Would Ted Weiss? Anthony Hecht? It seems out of character. Anyway, it's quite a list (even if you include Mackson MacLow). -- Tad Richards

Thursday, October 25, 2007

David-Baptiste Chirot's "Dead See Scrawls"

" A perilous drive/welcomes visitors." Where are we going, and who's driving the car? "No one to drive the car." Who's putting their shoulder to the wheel, and will they awaken out of this nightmare?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"One Voice"/Why Peace is Possible in the Middle East

I came across this event only after it happened, which makes me wonder how well publicized it was; yet seeing the parade of faces, both Israeli and Palestinian, committing themselves to being part of the peace solution, doubtlessly rose my spirits. Every year, I teach a course on Israeli and Palestinian literatures, and I've found that the literature from both nations offers some dramatic and imaginative attempts to leap into imagining the "other." Though literature has also clearly played a role in nationalist exercises in demonizing the other and focusing on one's own pain, there are so many examples of that ethical leaping required to begin reconciliation and coexistence.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Corpse Watching by Sarith Peou

During its five year reign of terror in Cambodia (1975-1979), the Khmer Rouge killed between 20 and 25% of the nation's population; estimates range between 850,000 and 1.5 million citizens were killed, in an auto-genocide of surreal proportions. Some historians have argued that the destabilization wreaked by U.S. bombing in the Vietnam War is partly to blame; others demur.

What is doubtless is that many haunted survivors and refugees came to the United States in the wake of this genocidal regime, including the poet Sarith Peou, who now serves two life sentences in a Minnesota prison. In Corpse Watching, a chapbook of selected poems from Tinfish Press, Peou offers a window onto the killing fields--one that will leave the reader shaken by the ghosts that continue to visit Peou.

Beautifully handcrafted, the chapbook has an appealing 5"x8.5" wide format, in which two bullet-sized fasteners hold together the poems on the broad side, and photographs on the smaller spine side. One flips through the photographs in a flip-book style--an invariably pleasing act--only to realize (as the end of the book tells us) that this gallery of photos is of Cambodians shortly before their execution.

Peou's poems are the linguistic equivalent of those numbered and unnamed faces, caught before the moment of their deaths.

Amazingly, despite the numbing experiences survived by Peou, the poems deliver a remarkable range of tones--from the elegaic to the comic absurd, as in "A Bad Shooter":

...In the dark and drizzling rain,
I must inspect the ropes.
Before me, a flash of light:
BANG! My right arm swings backward.
Is someone urinating into the river?
No, my arm is pissing blood around
its shattered bone.
Who says a bullet doesn't hurt!
I ask my friend,
"Why did you shoot my arm?"
"Sorry," he says,
"I aimed at your chest."

In "Scars," Peou's description of the brutal labor conditions employs the language of war, in which the starved and scarred body becomes a bombed landscape:

While working, our wounds open and bleed.
Flies swarm at us like dead bodies.
One hand works the hammer;
One hand swats at flies in our wounds.
The flies suck blood and pus.
The flies lay eggs in our open sores.
Our wounds are infested with maggots.

When our wounds widen,
We call them craters:
T-28, F-111, or B-52
Based on size and depth.
My B-52 didn't heal until the Khmer Rouge fell,
When we had enough to eat.

The sense of grim humor here--to call one's festering wounds the names of bombing planes, whose "payloads" offer different sized craters--may suggest how Peou came to survive. Other poems in the collection are poems of witness, functioning as much as exercises in memory as exertions of poetry. Yet they are the first steps, for Peou, in reconstructing a life which he lost in those lost years of the 1970s. According to the introduction by Ed Bok Lee, this chapbook "represent[s] only a fraction of the author's writings," which includes an autobiography in progress. This won't be the last we hear from Peou, which is a good thing. Some thirty years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, we're only now--through Peou--beginning to make sense of what happened.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Soldiers of Conscience"

Check out this link to a new movie, "Soldiers of Conscience."

Here's information from the website:

Their country asked them to kill.
Their hearts asked them to stop.

From West Point grads to drill sergeants, from Abu Ghraib interrogators to low ranking reservist-mechanics; soldiers in the US Army today reveal their deepest moral concerns about what they are asked to do in war.
Their message: every soldier wrestles with his conscience over killing. Although most decide to kill, some refuse. Soldiers of Conscience reveals that far more soldiers refuse to kill than we might expect.
Made with official permission from the US Army, filmed in state-of-the-art High Definition video, Soldiers of Conscience includes never before seen footage of basic training and the war in Iraq, with an original soundtrack from an Academy Award winner and composer.
Soldiers of Conscience is a realistic yet optimistic look at war, peace, and the power of the human conscience.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Knowing Thy Enemy: The Iraqi Insurgency

Check out this video op-ed from the New York Times, which dispels some of the myths about the Iraqi insurgency--that it is driven by al Queda, by "foreign fighters" from Iran--and about the Iraqi feeling about U.S. presence in Iraq. It basically proposes that they want us out. Yesterday. And they don't believe that the U.S. departure will lead to civil war.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leonard Schwartz's Language as Responsibility

Leonard Schwartz's Language as Responsibility , published by TinFish press in Hawaii, is a "three part exercise in poetics, in which Israeli, Levantine, and Jewish-American texts are asked to speak to one another." It offers 1) the transcription of an insightful interview that Schwartz did on his radio show Cross-Cultural Poetics (a show that I have greedily listened to ever since discovering it online), with Israeli poet and dissident Aharon Shabtai, 2) a review of some new books offered by Ibis Editions, a progressive Israeli press publishing both Hebrew and Arabic literature, and 3) a poetic essay by Schwartz himself, which meditates through Levinas into the present-day conundrums of Jewish identity:
The very being of language
Implies an other with whom to speak.
Language is always the other spoken to.
Each hill of Jerusalem knows that,
Next year in
Cry indeed unto
Next year in

The Shabtai interview, is, as is the rule with Shabtai, inflammatory and courageous, as he persists in his high-minded criticism of his own government's treatment of the Palestinians.

(I should hasten to write, at this point, that it is with extreme discomfort and sometimes pain that I have articulated my own outrage at the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine, because I am aware of how any statement asserting the human rights of Palestinians is almost always seen as a rejection of the rights of Israel (which it is not), and may trouble my relationships with Jewish friends. I categorically reject the notion that Palestinian rights and Israeli rights are incompatible, and believe that while a two-state solution will not end all violence against Israelis nor will it solve all Palestinian problems, it is the necessary historical step toward ending one of nightmares of post-WWII history.)

Schwartz's chapbook, in its multi-genre tripartite structure, offers the best sort of global collaboration in the name of peace. Bringing Shabtai into the American conversation about the Peace Process, praising Ibis editions' peacebuilding-through-publication, and writing his way through the pain of conflict as a Jewish-American poet, Schwartz performs the kind of cultural juggle that demonstrates the vitality of poetry as a cultural intervention.

Schwartz himself is a poet of beautiful language, and his struggle to meld that beauty with the pain of the ongoing violence in the Middle East occasionally comes at the cost of his poetic beauty, yet it is in lines like
The silence of perception
is the flesh of the book
opening itself
to the wondering reader

that we feel the ethics of such beauty opening up to us, and opening us up.

Russian Metro in the Morning Hours

Russian Metro In The Morning Hours - Funny video clips are a click away

Apparently, the Russian Metro--historically, one of the most punctual marvels of public transportation, has become a nightmare in recent years. Moscow, in my year there, was almost synonymous with the idea of public transport--I could not imagine the city except as a series of concentric circles of roads and subways, a kind of Dantesque landscape where beauty and terror, opulence and pain, coexisted as prenatal twins. This video reminds me not just of the grimness of crowds, but also of the enormous inner fortitude of Russians not to go mad at the sight of such forbidding swarms of humanity; Russians are nothing if not tough. Sometimes, I find myself missing getting walloped by the bag of some strong babushka, pulling her way through the wilds of others.

This, of course, has nothing to do with Ilya Repin's famous agit-painting, "The Volga Boatmen," or "The Boat Haulers on the Volga." What is strange to me now, is that I once identified with Repin's rebellious young hauler when I was slogging through the muck of post-Soviet Russia. Now, I want to resist the camera-ready tourist's exploitation of the masses' navigation of that underground...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

As Country Music Goes, So Goes the War

"Country music is singing a different tune on the war now"
from the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Posted by Connie Schultz October 16, 2007 05:39AM

Anyone silly enough to claim that patriotism can be whittled down to who wears an American flag pin and who doesn't, or who supports the war and who doesn't, had best pay attention to what's happening in country music.

Forget all those political polls, which partisans love attacking as too partisan, anyway. When it comes to judging the mood of the American people, there's no better barometer than country music.

It appears that a lot of people who love country music have had their fill of this war.

"Country music has always reflected the country's mood, but it also challenges that mood," says David Whisnant, a professor emeritus of English at the University of North Carolina who has studied the politics of country music.

Clearly, some country music singers ate a big bowl of testosteroni right after 9/11.

Just as clearly, the menu has changed.

Consider Toby Keith, who declared himself the quintessential Angry American as he sang about the Statue of Liberty shakin' her fist, Mother Liberty ringin' her bell and U.S. bomber pilots lighting up the Afghanistan sky like the Fourth of July, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."

That was when the war was just beginning. Now he's distancing himself from a war with no end in sight.

In June, he told the Associated Press that, contrary to the impression he may have given everybody, he was actually a "lifelong Democrat."

"I supported the ousting of the Taliban [in Afghanistan] 100 percent," he told AP. "My 9/11 song was all about that. But the far left won't allow that to be. They have to plug me into every pro-war thing they can find. ... I never said I support the Iraq war, but I never said I didn't, either."

So, um, does he support the war?

"That war has been over since 48 hours after it started. Our military disarmed them in two days. The dictator has been ousted. They [Iraq] need to step up with their oil money and fund it on their own. I don't say we shouldn't be in there. I say we should be there and step back and let them have their own fight ..."

Somewhere in that rambling is an apology for linking the 9/11 attacks to Saddam Hussein, I'm sure.

Singer Darryl Worley started out gung-ho about the war, too. Annoyed with those who opposed it, Worley also tried to tie the 9/11 attacks to Iraq with his song, "Have you Forgotten?"

In that music video, he was as clean-cut as an Eagle Scout, reminding everyone about the fallen towers and the Pentagon. "Don't you tell me not to worry 'bout Bin Laden," he sang.

Four years later, he was singing a different tune, this one titled "I Just Came Back [From a War]." He wrote it after learning about a U.S. Marine who was struggling to readjust after his return from fierce battle in Fallujah.

Worley looked mighty battle weary himself, his long, scraggly hair framing the hard face of a man who'd had his fill of someone else's big idea. The Marine in his song had returned to "a land where our brothers are dying for others who don't even care anymore."

Soon after, none other than that Okie from Muskogee, Merle Haggard, was defending the Dixie Chicks for publicly criticizing President Bush. Then he wrote his own take on the war.

"Let's get out of Iraq," he sang, "and get back on track."

Merle. Haggard.

I'll leave you with superstar Tim McGraw, who made news around the country by singing "If You're Reading This" at the Academy of Country Music Awards this year.

The soldier in the song wants his family to know that the letter in their hands means he's "already home." With God, that is.

After McGraw finished singing, the lights rose over a group of people standing silently behind him. Overhead, a sign read, "Families of Fallen Heroes."

McGraw just stood there as the tears flowed all around him.

But one thing was missing.

I looked and I looked at his plain, dark shirt, but it just wasn't there.

The flag pin on the patriot's shirt was nowhere in sight.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End"

This weekend, A and I watched "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," a poignant portrait of the outsider artist and musician who found his way to fame...and learned again why art is sometimes all we have against the devils outside and in. My buddy Jim Doppke had sent me mix tapes with his song "Speeding Motorcycle," of which I heard Mary Lou Lord do a sweet version on her ep. But I was unprepared for how deeply vulnerable, how naifish and cunning, these songs appear, despite their rough and awkward surfaces.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Elizabeth Samet's "In the Valley of the Shadow"/Teaching Poetry at West Point

This an article from the New York Times, called "In the Valley of the Shadow," written by Elizabeth Samet, who teaches English literature at West Point. Thanks to Debby Rosenthal for sending it my way.

The issue of experience as authority to speak about war comes up for the soldiers, even though they themselves haven't yet fought. They are disappointed that Jarrell wasn't a ball turret gunner, when they read the poem "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." Experience trumps willing suspension disbelief yet again. Never mind that he could not be the ball turret gunner of the poem, since that speaker is DEAD!

Yet whenever the subject of Jarrell’s biography came up, the plebes seemed disappointed. When I asked if it mattered whether he had actually served as a ball-turret gunner, they would become passionately insistent: “Yes, ma’am, of course it matters. If he didn’t, it ruins the poem.” “But he couldn’t experience his own death and then write about it, could he?” I would venture. “No,” would come the reluctant response, “but it still matters. Somehow, it still matters.” Because it mattered so very much, many of the plebes, though not yet battle-tested, could not at first see the incongruity of demanding more of Randall Jarrell than they did of themselves. Owning war is one of the things for which plebes will fight hardest, and they guard even wars of the imagination rather jealously.

This is a thoughtful and probing article by Samet, who's clearly doing good work--work that is more than about literature. She ends, appropriately, with Tolstoy, as balm for a self-questioning soldier:

READING TOLSTOY’S “WAR AND PEACE” at around the same time I heard from Brad, I was struck by the passage in which Prince Andrey’s friend Pierre asks him what he is “going to war for.” “What for?” responds Andrey. “I don’t know. Because I have to. Besides, I’m going . . . I’m going because the life I lead here, this life is — not to my taste!” Like Brad, Andrey didn’t have a ready answer for his civilian friend. After going to war, moreover, his motivations become even more complicated, almost impossible to articulate. Andrey loves glory yet feels its emptiness. He bears a deep responsibility to the men of his regiment, a love of country and a full recognition of the waste of war. All of these causes and desires battle within him even as he fights the enemy. I told Brad the story of Prince Andrey. What I guess I wanted him to understand was that thoughtful soldiers will endure moments of ambivalence.

I have become increasingly preoccupied with Prince Andrey as the Iraq war drags on. I think of the overwhelming pride and pleasure with which, disillusioned as he has become with the pursuit of glory, he responds to General Kutuzov’s recollection of the courageous charge in which Andrey had been given up for dead. “I remember you at Austerlitz,” the old general tells him, “I remember, I remember you with the flag!” I think, too, of the fate that awaits Andrey at Borodino, where he receives the wound that eventually kills him. Even as I know that fewer wars would be fought if the Andreys of the world stopped feeling the primal urge to go to battle, I also realize with breathtaking selfishness that even more wars would be lost, and that on occasion we might be lost, if the Brads of the world decided to sit them out. Once again I have retreated — or advanced — to books. I suppose I hope that the world of imaginative literature I have grown so accustomed to inhabiting and through which my own horizons have been enlarged might provide the same rich vein for someone like Brad, who is trying to figure out nothing less than how to live his life.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Paul Lauritzen's Door/The Limits of Language, the Limits of My World?

My colleague Paul Lauritzen, a renowned ethicist and the director of Applied Ethics at John Carroll University, has never been one to hide his political views. As long as I've been at the university (I began just weeks before September 11th, 2001), Lauritzen employed his office window and door as a political palette, an alternative news wall that would extend and project itself into the spaces of the academy so frequently denuded of such viewpoints. One of my favorite extensions of language into the academic space was when he used a LCD projection screen to cast upon the white wall in the hallway just across from his office the cost of the war in dollars--a dizzying number forever spiralling that the passerby literally would have to step through as s/he walked down the hall.

(Apropos of denudations--I've almost given up flyering for poetry readings, because the clean-up crew apparently has been instructed to tear down flyers (even those who have received proper stamps for posting) unless they appear on seven sanctioned postboards, which, as far as I can tell, exist only in the corners of buildings. In an age of information bombardment, it is increasingly difficult to penetrate the defended consciousness of the average college student, who is so bedraggled by coursework, jobs, love troubles, text messages, and the like, that they are lucky to remember their own names.)

In any case, Lauritzen's door became the object of controversy when an anonymous tip was called into "Ethics Point," reporting that Lauritzen had something inflammatory on his door. It was a sign that said, IMPEACH BUSH. Human Resources stepped in, and removed the sign, then emailed him to say why it happened--they interpreted a university policy in such a way that would make such signage forbidden.

Faculty Council intervened on his behalf, and Lauritzen met with John Carroll's in-house council, Maria Alfaro-Lopez, to gain clarification about the policy, and some indication in writing that he was not violating policy and that the party who reported it would be informed of the university's support of his free speech. In Lauritzen's words,

The current situation is fairly Orwellian. I have been told that the original email [from Human Resources] was in error. I have asked to receive in writing a statement to that effect, but have been told that there is a university policy, but no agreed upon interpretation of it that would either permit or forbid me to post a sign. The upshot is that Maria would not put in writing that no university policy prevented me from posting my "Impeach Bush" sign. She agreed to put something in writing to the effect that there is no agreed upon interpretation of university policy, but she has not yet sent that to me.

There was some effort to suggest that the individual faculty member's door was theirs to use as they saw fit, but that the door of an "institution" such as Applied Ethics might be inappropriate. This seems like hair-splitting, yet the questions that arise regarding a faculty member's rights to express viewpoints that may be inflammatory--the very rights upon which academic freedom is based--are in question.

One might say that the "IMPEACH BUSH" did exactly what it was meant to do--to shake someone into doing something about it. Calling Ethics Point was not the intended action, but it compelled someone to respond, to attempt to use institutional power against this voice within the institution. So frequently, those who dissent become the object, ad hominem, of the ire of those their language disturbs. There is indeed a place for language that disturbs, that unsettles.

Lauritzen's new sign, posted above, is a poem from Miguel de Unamuno, and offers a subtler but no less defiant stance against those who attempt to bully people into silence. The message, now, extends not only to the President, but to those who wish to silence Lauritzen. It is a political language that might perplex rather than inflame, yet one which seems as necessary as ever.

If and when Lauritzen returns to more fact-based rhetorical means, we at John Carroll will be none the poorer. It is possible that our arguments benefit from a kind of oscillation between the interpellative invitation of the Martin Luther Kings, and the threatening fist-shaking of the Malcolm Xs--a kind of Hegelian dialectic of protest. We need to be unsettled and we need to be invited, in order to shake ourselves from the trance of this war, and all the arguments summoned to continue it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This War's a Corn Maze (with No Way Out)

Article published Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Fremont farmer plants dead-end message on war in Iraq
'Anti-maze' has kernel of dissent

Dave Rimelspach enjoys poking fun at corn mazes. But he is serious about Iraq, saying 'War is not good.'


FREMONT - The message hovering over Dave Rimelspach's cornfield is none too subtle.
At the end of a straightaway, 200-foot-long path cut into the field is a sign that says, "Iraqi Corn Maze: No Way Out."

The "maze" is, quite simply, a dead end.

"It's not really a corn maze. It's pretty much a spoof on corn mazes, and I guess it's a political statement too," said Mr. Rimelspach, 52, who opposes the war but said he's "not radical" about it.

"How can anybody be for the war?" he asked. "War is not good."

Business at corn mazes is good, though, and the owner of Rimelspach Farms and Produce at State Rts. 12 and 53, south of Fremont, said he enjoys poking fun at the corn maze phenomenon.

"People spend so much money using GPS systems to design corn mazes. They spend thousands of dollars building them, and we get almost as much attention by doing something simple."

In business since 1992, he said he's never built his own real corn maze.

"I kind of have more fun doing the anti-corn maze," he said.

He mounted the "Iraqi Corn Maze" sign on a forklift so that it would be easy for motorists to see from Route 53.

"Real staunch Democrats just love it," Mr. Rimelspach said. "They take it purely as a political thing, not so much a tongue-in-cheek joke. I haven't gotten anything negative yet."

Like the hundreds of bright orange pumpkins arranged around his business, he's hoping simply to attract attention.

"Different people slow down and stop," he said. "I was a little leery one day when I saw a big black SUV parked there and it kind of looked like CIA."

Tutu's Disinvitation Revoked/We Return To Our Senses

Apparently, the news today is that the President of the University of St. Thomas changed his mind, apologizes about being a coward, and then invites Desmond Tutu anew. Does it have to do with the bad publicity? The fact that the PeaceJam organizers began planning to hold the conference elsewhere? Here's his letter:

Dear members of the St. Thomas community,

One of the strengths of a university is the opportunity that it provides to speak freely and to be open to other points of view on a wide variety of issues. And, I might add, to change our minds.

Therefore, I feel both humbled and proud to extend an invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the University of St. Thomas.

I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop. Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.

PeaceJam International may well choose to keep the alternative arrangements that it has made for its April 2008 conference, but I want the organization and Archbishop Tutu to know that we would be honored to hold the conference at St. Thomas.

In any event, St. Thomas will extend an invitation to Archbishop Tutu to participate in a forum to foster constructive dialogue on the issues that have been raised. I hope he accepts my invitation. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has agreed to serve as a co-sponsor of the forum, and I expect other organizations also to join as co-sponsors.

Details about issues to be addressed will be determined later, but I would look forward to a candid discussion about how a civil and democratic society can pursue reasoned debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other emotionally charged issues.

I also want to encourage a thoughtful examination of St. Thomas’ policies regarding controversial speech and controversial speakers. In the past, we have been criticized externally and internally when we have invited controversial speakers to campus – as well as when we have not. Rather than just move from controversy to controversy, might there be a positive role that this university could play in fostering thoughtful conversation around difficult and highly charged issues? We also might explore how to more clearly express in our policies and practices our commitment to civility when discussing such issues.

I have asked Dr. Nancy Zingale, professor of political science and my former executive adviser, to oversee the planning for the forum. If you have suggestions regarding either the topic or other participants, please contact her at

I sincerely hope Archbishop Tutu will accept our invitation. I continue to have nothing but the utmost respect for his witness of faith, for his humanitarian accomplishments and especially for his leadership in helping to end apartheid in South Africa.


Father Dennis Dease


Unfortunately, in the desire to avoid hurting some people's feelings, Father Dease courted a far worse harm. In the words of Mitchell Plitnick and Cecilie Surasky,

Dease seems to have been motivated by a genuine desire to avoid hurting Minnesota's Jewish community. However, he ended up not only making a wrong and unethical decision, but also hurting Jews everywhere and harming hopes for a more-enlightened American attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Denied From Speaking at University of St. Thomas

Can someone please explain what is happening to free speech in this country? When a Noble Peace Prize winner is disinvited to speak at an American University because he said something that made some people uncomfortable, we're in trouble.

Robert Pinsky's "Poem of Disconnected Parts"

This was from Poetry Daily today, which is curated by Don Selby and Diane Boller, and has been around for some years, posting a poem a day. For that service of poetry, Selby and Boller should be thanked. Yet I have to say their editorial choices leave me consistently grumpy. Perhaps it's the typical ressentiment of one who has not been chosen. From a wider, less egocentric lens, I find Poetry Daily to be stuck in a sort of blase nature poetry ethos ("if it trees, it leads"), but occasionally I'm surprised. Even though Pinsky is by now ubiquitous (and his shine dulled by his ubiquity), I've always been thankful for his critical insights--one of which appears in this poem: that he writes for the dead and for the unborn. That sense of ancestral weight is one which, in the American context, feels like a welcome weight. This poem ranges all over (another reason I like it), and has the kind of global ranginess and troubled celebration of our attempts at a language that might be powerful enough to liberate us from our worst selves.

"Poem of Disconnected Parts" by Robert Pinsky

At Robben Island the political prisoners studied.
They coined the motto Each one Teach one.

In Argentina the torturers demanded the prisoners
Address them always as "Profesor."

Many of my friends are moved by guilt, but I
Am a creature of shame, I am ashamed to say.

Culture the lock, culture the key. Imagination
That calls the boiled sheep heads in the market "Smileys."

The first year at Guantanamo, Abdul Rahim Dost
Incised his Pashto poems into styrofoam cups.

"The Sangomo says in our Zulu culture we do not
Worship our ancestors: we consult them."

Becky is abandoned in 1902 and Rose dies giving
Birth in 1924 and Sylvia falls in 1951.

Still falling still dying still abandoned in 2006
Still nothing finished among the descendants.

I support the War, says the comic, it's just the Troops
I'm against: can't stand those Young People.

Proud of the fallen, proud of her son the bomber.
Ashamed of the government. Skeptical.

After the Klansman was found Not Guilty one juror
Said she just couldn't vote to convict a pastor.

Who do you write for? I write for dead people:
For Emily Dickinson, for my grandfather.

"The Ancestors say the problem with your Knees
Began in your Feet. It could move up your Back."

But later the Americans gave Dost not only paper
And pen but books. Hemingway, Dickens.

Old Aegyptius said, Whoever has called this Assembly,
For whatever reason—that is a good in itself.

O thirsty shades who regard the offering, O stained earth.
There are many fake Sangomos. This one is real.

Coloured prisoners got different meals and could wear
Long pants and underwear, Blacks got only shorts.

No he says he cannot regret the three years in prison:
Otherwise he would not have written those poems.

I have a small-town mind. Like the Greeks and Trojans.
Shame. Pride. Importance of looking bad or good.

Did he see anything like the prisoner on a leash? Yes,
In Afghanistan. In Guantanamo he was isolated.

Our enemies "disassemble" says the President.
Not that anyone at all couldn't mis-speak.

The profesores created nicknames for torture devices:
The Airplane. The Frog. Burping the Baby.

Not that those who behead the helpless in the name
Of God or tradition don't also write poetry.

Guilts, metaphors, traditions. Hunger strikes.
Culture the penalty. Culture the escape.

What could your children boast about you? What
Will your father say, down among the shades?

The Sangomo told Marvin, "You are crushed by some
Weight. Only your own Ancestors can help you."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Brian Turner about His War Poetry, in the New York Times

Check out Brian Turner's reflections on the origins of some of his poems from Here, Bullet, his book of poems about serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq. Many of them are quite moving, and his work hearkens back to the World War I tradition of soldier-poets writing and witnessing on the front lines. Here is his caveat, which, inevitably, is trumped by his own framing of the poems--that brute factuality which Stevens feared, but which we postmodernists love:

I believe in the saying, Poetry finishes in the reader. I can (and will) tell you about some of the things I wrote in-country, there in the sand, or what was going on in my head at the time (I use my journals from back then to help refresh my memory). But in the end, I truly believe you’ll take it with a grain of salt and decide for yourself what the poem itself is all about.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Michael Dumanis' reading: a postmortem

Thanks to everyone--students and faculty--who came to the reading a couple nights ago by Michael Dumanis. He is a virtuosic writer whose poems bloomed in the hearing of them.

Some memorable moments:

*Michael asked, toward the end, whether people wanted to hear a poem about sex or death. The audience answered, sex. Someone said, "what's the difference?" Then he proceeded to read a poem called "Cancer Is a Disease of Animals..."

*Line that got the biggest laugh:
"I had two options at the movie theater:
1) Footage of people being blown to pieces
2) Footage of people being blown"

"She was like a headless Mary,
but with a head."

*Paula McLain wondered whether he was throwing down hendecasyllabics. Dumanis said he thought of them as amphibrachs: as in "u/u", or " I'll love you forever."
One of those lines: "our fibromyalgia our chronic nostalgia"

*A line I find myself repeating: "The heart is a construct I cobble together from outtake to outtake"

*A line I wish I'd written: "My, what incredible gods breathe inside us."

"Haters" by Tania Cuevas-Martinez and Lubna Khalid

This documentary, "Haters," by Tania Cuevas-Martinez and Lubna Khalid, exposes the rise of racial hatred in the post-9/11 landscape, and features work by poet Suheir Hammad.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It"

If you don't want to read BEHIND THE LINES: WAR RESISTANCE POETRY ON THE AMERICAN HOMEFRONT SINCE 1941, watch THE GOOD WAR AND THOSE WHO REFUSED TO FIGHT IT, and you'll at least catch up on "a footnote to a footnote" of that war. Conscientious Objectors played a vital role in the progressive movements of this country, including in the Civil Rights struggle, the Anti-Nuclear and Anti-Vietnam War movements, the struggle for better care of the mentally ill, etc.

shown locally on WVIZ channel 25 Thursday Evening @ 10 pm Beginning on October 4 at 10 p.m., PBS again nationally broadcasts the award-winning documentary on the conscientious objectors of WWII.

THE GOOD WAR AND THOSE WHO REFUSED TO FIGHT IT is the story of 40,000Americans who refused to shoulder weapons in 'the good war' becauseconscience wouldn't allow them to kill another human being. In theface of criticism and scorn, these CO's challenged the limits ofdemocracy and applied their non-violence to pioneer social movementsthat transformed America in the years to follow.

This untold story of 'The War' by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Tejada-Flores won both major US history awards in 2003. The programis now available on DVD for the home market with two hours ofadditional material including:* James Farmer on the pacifist roots of the civil rights movement* The poetry of William Stafford* Studs Terkel on 'The Good War'* Daniel Ellsberg on Thoreau AND the DVD release includes a brand-new Conscientious Objector's DVD with:* Draft Counseling 101* A dynamic workshop featuring current military conscientious objectors* Interviews with five Iraq War CO's.

CA Conrad's Ann Coulter & Louise Gluck

This is from CA Conrad, a Philadelphia poet with a lot of panache, who somehow finds in Ann Coulter (that wingnut pundit) and Louise Gluck (former poet laureate) quite a bit in common... I read the title and wanted to protest it, but Conrad won me over somehow. The secret of this piece: Allen Ginsberg, who offered the grand permission to those who felt their bodies and their desires shameful.

Date: Tue, 2 Oct 2007 08:10:19 -0500
From: CA Conrad
Subject: Louise Gluck is the Ann Coulter of poetry, or Ann Coulter is the Louise Gluck of politics

Both of these women have annoyed me for many years, but watching the news this morning, and seeing Coulter interviewed (I seem to like to torture myself by listening to this woman who claims vegetarians should be force-fed meat, etc., etc.,) the similarity between the two suddenly came a little clearer.

Ann Coulter likes to wag a very large cleaver at women who would dare suggest that they own their own bodies and have a right to an abortion. She also likes to say she's a staunch Christian who upholds the high moral standards which created this great nation, etc., etc., blah blah bliddy blah blah blah. She'll go on a dark rampage for as much time as a reporter will allow her about women who think they're better than the great gray men who wrote the bible.

Yet Coulter, even this morning at 7 a.m., dresses like a bucket of sex! She would give the hottest Biblical prostitute a run for her hard earned cash. I'm not knocking it! She looks good! Some would say she looks great! This morning she was wearing the type of mini skirt I recall hearing as a kid my mother explain to her slutty and marvelous girlfriends that the hem needs to be closer to the pussy than the knee to be considered a bona fide mini skirt, which my mother always wore. Coulter's skirt was mini and there's no denying it. And boots right out of an S&M porno. She's spicy, she's a freaky mountain of peach and she LIKES it like that!

And frankly, hey, that's cool! Go for it Ann! However, needless to say, the costume contradicts the message of the foremothers she claims to have so much in common with.

(Gay Republicans (which there are more of than ever before!) LOVE her like no one else. But then again, of course they do, these knuckleheads are living the same kind of contradictory existence that she is!)

The VERY FACT that she is a woman who fearlessly lives her life in her body at 7 in the fricken morning on national television exactly how she wants to is awesome, but it's also entirely owed to the very trouble-making women who have challenged the very powers she claims to walk behind. She's an idiot in the end. Just like Dr. Laura tells mothers to stay at home and take care of their children, yet is on the air to do so, leaving her own children at home with a baby-sitter.

For many of the same reasons Louise Gluck has always irritated me. She's NOT a poet whose work I have found particularly interesting, but I have had friends who think she's a genius. I even got talked into hearing her read in New York where she trashed Ginsberg, saying he'll be a mere footnote to the history of poetry in a hundred years.

Getting a glimpse of Gluck in action made me very interested in her. At the time (this is some years ago) she had a poem called MOCK ORANGE which had the flavor of admitting she hates sex.

Gluck likes to use the word asshole, and appropriates other language which she feels is edgy, and cool, but does it so she can tell you how dirty you are for liking your asshole. She is in effect turning the clock back and making women in particular feel good about feeling that modesty is a form of courage, and that those who have given themselves permission to like their bodies in their entirety are dirty filthy scum.

No wonder Gluck hates Ginsberg so much. No wonder she thinks Mark Strand is Jesus Christ. Oh my god, I live for the day when I meet her and tell her how I've been watching what she does, and how I believe she's not worthy of the language she uses to abhor the body.

Using the language of Ginsberg to be cool, then turning a gun on him on stage to say he's going to vanish if she has anything to do with it.

She needs to lighten up of course. She needs to have Mark Strand recite Ginsberg's PLEASE MASTER poem while she beats him and reaches for the strap-on.

My mother and her slutty friends were actually pretty fucking cool in a lot of ways. They learned the value of their own judgments, they learned the taste of their own appetites, they lived and lived and LIVED passionate, full young lives. There are a LOT of women from my mother's generation I meet who have lifted themselves, mind, body, and all of it, over the heads of the oppressive ideals of the nagging, crabby old men who fear ever second of their lives for the world they were promised was their own to have, and to have alone.

The danger of Ann Coulter and Louise Gluck is that they both want to be empowered by the ass kicking women who made their style, and gave them the freedom of their language, but at the same time want those women to be ashamed of themselves, and any other woman who would want to be so bold today.

Just a little instant bitchy essay for the morning,

The Car Wreck of War

Another language salvo in the war against this war, brought to you by the Sidewalk Blogger in Hawaii. Every dollar that is spent on this war, inescapably, takes away money that could have been spent on children, infrastructure, our futures. It's more than tragic, but, as David Ray once wrote, "our leaders were born in the wrong country to be war criminals."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Michael Dumanis' "The Cease-Fire"

Michael Dumanis, editor of Legitimate Dangers and author of My Soviet Union, has descended upon us in Cleveland, where he is now the Director of the Poetry Center at Cleveland State University. Tonight he will be chatting with students at 5pm and giving a reading at John Carroll University at 8pm, where he will read his vaudevillian breakneck poetry; like the great Buster Keaton, who once literally broke his neck while filming a stunt, Dumanis may at least sprain his tongue. At the very least, with word-torrents like "The Woods Are Burning," he is sure to exercise his mouth and our ears most fervidly. I can't wait. Yet even the most dervishy poems, the tears of a clown are readily apparent....

from "The Woods are Burning" by Michael Dumanis

1. The Cease-Fire

I thought there was a war on. I was wrong. To think the war
was over me! The war was over. No: the war was over
there, the other side of the barbed wire enclosure
from our side, warless, where we fidgeted and held
each other's hand as though they were the last
we'd ever think to hold, all the while keeping
strict tabs on the body count covering the soft
field of lamb's ear, beside the nasturtiums,
it's just a field, merely an empty space
between the hydrangea bushes. The war was not over
the bushes, who, like the lamb's ear, the boy-gardener,
and the flowers, became the war's first casualties.
Because there was no cause for war and none of us
were sure there was a war for us to win, the newspapers
named it The Casual War, The War That's Not Really
a War, The Don't Mention It War, The What War,
The There Isn't a War War, The War Over Nothing,
and (on the day the papers were shut down) The War
The Authorities Ban Us From Covering. I,
as I have told the Truth Commission, didn't think
there was a war, nor spread the vicious rumor,
until the ground shook and I saw you fall, until I took
the survivor's cracked mouth into my open mouth,
tried ot give the survivor my last breath, and in the smoke
and cannonfire confusion of the war, mistook
his breath for mine, and pulled (I didn't mean to) his
last breath into my healthy mouth and watched him not
but this is not about me. I have testified.
Lay prostrate on the courtroom floor. Went down
before the Justice of the Peace on my trick knee.
Reached for the lavender-scented sleeve of her black robe
in her secluded chamber. Swore I knew nothing of
the Schlieffen Plan, the Bay of Pigs, the secret pact
we struck to fan the cease-fire's flames until it burned
itself out of existence, as she turned to me and ran
her satin hands over my eyelids, toward my lips.
Knowing the war would never end, we kissed.

Am I the one who suffered? Was I there?

This is not about me, Trojan Horse

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ted Leo's "Sons of Cain"/For Those We've Left to Fight this War

The Cain and Abel story in the Hebrew Scriptures is a fascinating study in role reversal, as God chooses the younger brother's sacrifice over the (rightful) elder brother, Cain. Cain, like any good sibling, gets so pissed that he kills his brother. God hears Abel's blood crying from the ground--one of my favorite images in the Bible. Is it a projection of Cain's conscience in the mode of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"? We never know. When God asks him what happened to Abel, Cain retorts, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Then, Cain is marked by God and exiled from that place.

The descendants of Cain, according to the subsequent stories and interpretations, come to be seen as cursed, sometimes even with black skin (which gave birth to a theological justification for racism). In this song, Ted Leo says that this is a song for those "left behind"--does he mean the U.S. soldiers who have to continue to patrol streets where they are no longer wanted, or the Iraqi civilians doomed to endure a future of civil strife? Given the numbers of African-Americans in the armed forces, the song takes on yet another valence--those whom the government has cursed to fight for us.

"Sons of Cain" by Ted Leo

Old, lonely, and endless light.
Cold morning rises from the night.
No smile smiles back through the glare.
No voice calls back from the stairs.
Oh, those wounds on your blistered feet?
That march you on along that dusted street
Oh, that dust gathers 'round your head
as, clean, I rise from my lonely bed
All the talking - this and that
none taking me to where you're at
Oh, as fine as the day is long
Oh, my fineness, where have you gone?
And I know I'm not to sing of fights I've missed
But, alone, I've got to sing just to exist
And to resist
So you're gone now, and who's to blame?
Left down here among the songs of Cain
Have you gone on to their heavenly fame
Leaving me here among the sons of Cain
So, you're gone now, and who's to blame?
Left down here among the sons of Cain
Oh, you're gone now, and who's left to blame?
All alone among the sons of Cain