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."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

David-Baptiste Chirot's "Light Remains"

David-Baptiste Chirot explains: "'Light Remains' is from a series of pieces called 'No Place to Move,' a series within a much larger one to do with Walls, which has been going on for the last 17 months now."

The title comes from a phrase he made for another series a few years ago: "'To absorb darkness until all that remains is light'--(the opposite of a Black Hole)--Light having the ancient associations which continue to this day--and 'Light Remains'--even when hope may seem gone--it remains--'One cannot hide from that which never sets,' as Heraclitus says. So though people may be Walled off, imprisoned, 'disappeared,' and turned into non-persons--yet they exist--and Light Remains--they are visible--and see through those fences and Walls--even when it says 'no place to move'--

"A lot of the pieces are inspired by the situation of the people inside Gaza--and then extended and continuing to extend to many more areas and situations all around one in the world in which Walls may be thought of as censorship, surveillance, "security"—not only physical Walls, mental and spiritual ones--and ones made by language, built with words and images--

"Light Remains" also as it is the constant in the relativity theory for example--all these Walls and words change through time--can be changed in time--so to see even through the fence and a chink in the Wall--is creating an opening--possibilities--"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Operation First Casualty/Iraq Veterans Against the War

Following the tradition of anti-war veterans, these Iraq War veterans, like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War before them, have staged demonstrations on the American homefront, dramatizing for civilians what it might look like to live under foreign military occupation. On this Veterans Day, I want to remember those who died serving our country, regardless of the political machinations that led to their service, and also those whose lives were never the same after their service.

Jonathan LaGuardia, a graduate student at John Carroll University who has been an invaluable assistant to some of my various projects, including *Behind the Lines* the book project, participated in our Stories of War and Peace project, which led to this reflection, part of a research project on narrative and violence:

I participated in a project this summer under the direction of Philip Metres, a professor of English at John Carroll University. This project, which Prof. Metres called the "War and Peace Story Project" gathered stories from people who attended the Cleveland Peace Show at the Free Stamp Park on September 3rd of this year. The show is an all-day event that provides an alternative to the Cleveland Air Show, with the idea that while we can celebrate the technological prowess and destructive might of the United States, we might also celebrate our peace-making abilities. The Free Stamp park is filled for the day with booths of political activists, organizers, food vendors, even sequin-clad performers on stilts.

Prof. Metres had the idea that we could use this event as an opportunity to collect narratives of war and peace experiences from a diverse group of people, preserving these narratives in an online archive. A slew of student volunteers worked their way through the crowd, recording the stories they heard on digital recorders.

Early in the day, I tagged along on an interview with a Vietnam Veteran, a clean-shaven man of about 60, dressed in a Vietnam-era army shirt and a pair of dull gray cotton shorts. He carried an American flag on a pole over his shoulder in which the separate little white stars—one for each country in the Union—was replaced by a peace sign.

When we started the recorder and asked him to introduce himself, he began factually—basic training at such and such a location, elevated in rank to such and such a position, eventually stationed just north of Saigon—though it quickly turned to personal loss: "Two days after [the January 31, 1968 offensive]," he said, "one of my lieutenants was killed. It was a huge shock to me, and it's still"—his voice began to break, and his eyes shifted from the tiny microphone he had been
watching to some remote, unidentifiable position in the distance—"and, ummm, it's going to be a shock to me for the rest of my life."

A little while into the interview, after more factual "I was here and then went there," the subject of death came up again, and again the speaker hesitated, staring off into the distance and letting his lip quiver before regaining control. His hesitations were so perfect that I could not help but view them as performances—staged, rehearsed performances of the same talk he had been giving for the last 40

About four or five hours later, an Iraq Vet came up to me, a black man of about my age with short, loose dreadlocks and no visible wounds. He came up to me not to give a story, but to give his name and contact information, in case we'd like to get in touch with him at some point in the future. "I'm sure you'll want to hear what I have to say," he said, "but my head just isn't straight enough to submit to an
interview yet."

So, here I have these two generations of veterans: the Vietnam Veteran whose grief seemed rehearsed, and the Iraq Veteran who, in his own words, couldn't get his head "straight enough" to submit to an interview. When the Iraq Vet left me, I turned to where we had interviewed the Vietnam Vet, and there he was still, parading up and down the grass with his American Peace Flag over his shoulder—this 60 year old man in a long sleeved army shirt in the sweltering sun had been walking back and forth for 4 solid hours for no other reason than to be there, to be seen.

With this sight, I saw new value to his performance, thinking that there was a truth to the performed grief that immediate grief could not have delivered. Perhaps it took those 40 years to put those moments into a coherent narrative, the truth of his performed grief identical to his somber but dedicated march: exhausting, but necessary.

My father, a Vietnam War veteran, once recounted to my students that the most important thing he did in Vietnam was to volunteer at a Catholic orphanage, teaching English to young Vietnamese women.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

25% of Homeless Are War Veterans

Check out this recent finding. Next time you see a homeless person, ask if they served.

WASHINGTON - Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released Thursday.

And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help with finding a job.

The Veterans Affairs Department has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 of them have participated in its programs specifically targeting homelessness.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Harvey Hix's New Work/Documentary Poetry (from Reznikoff to Public Enemy)

Yesterday, I had the chance to meet up with Harvey (H.L.) Hix and interview him about his recent work, God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse, published by Phil Brady's Etruscan Press. Hix employs the language of speeches made by George Bush and Osama Bin Laden in various traditional Western and non-Western forms (from the sestina to the ghazal). It is a fascinating project, demonstrating an aesthetic attention that becomes a kind of ethical and political attention, a close listening of the first order. A document of listening, GOD BLESS aptly demonstrates the profound lack of listening at the heart of this administration's decision-making process. I'll do a full review of the book later, but wanted to let people know that it is eminently worth reading.

Check out this recent piece I did for the Poetry Foundation, on documentary poetry as a kind of tradition.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jennifer Karmin, Thinking of Malachi Ritscher

Jennifer Karmin's recent response to the war:

Date: Sat, 3 Nov 2007 17:16:20 -0700
From: Jennifer Karmin
Subject: Malachi Ritscher: anti-war protester

SELF-IMMOLATION: A voluntary sacrifice or denial of oneself, as for an ideal or another person.

Most famously demonstrated by Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc on June 11, 1963 in Vietnam.

Most recently demonstrated by musician Malachi Ritscher in Chicago on November 3, 2006 as a protest against the Iraq war. One year ago, Malachi set himself on fire next to the Kennedy Expressway during morning rush hour. He left a statement and obituary on his website.

As the Iraq War moves towards year 5, I am taking some time to think about Malachi. I am wondering how we find new ways to express our sadness, rage, and
disgust. When does the turning point come? When is it enough?

Jennifer Karmin

Robert Hass and the Political

When I was a college student, poet Cyrus Cassells recommended that I read Robert Hass's Praise, and Hass became one of those poets who fundamentally influenced the way I saw poetry. Over the course of thinking through the issues of a poetry of war resistance, I found my former adoration cede to a skeptical enjoyment. In a talk in which I confronted Hass' dichotomizing of the political and the pleasureable, I phrased it this way:
In the essay, “Textured Information: Politics, Pleasure, and the Poetry of the Eighties,” Rogert Gilbert describes the dominant poetic period style of the eighties as one in which pleasure and politics are polarities: “the rival claims of pleasure and politics, the aesthetic and the social, private experience and public responsibility” (243). Gilbert’s assertion is based upon two limited notions: that poetry is the lyric version of a Pez dispenser, and that politics is unpleasureable, by definition, in poetry.

Comprehending both the meaning and the efficacy of explicitly political poetry requires a new critical vocabulary, one which accounts for what might be termed “political desire”—that is, the subjective longing, even pleasure, produced by literary texts that reach beyond the bounds of the privatized, commodified self.

Hass' poetry, to my mind, sustains this dichotomy in ways that limit poetry's possibilities and reduce politics to a sphere of obligation or subjective pain. Yet this recent review of Robert Hass' new book, Time and Materials, suggests Hass continues to revisit the conundrums of a political poetry:
So it's surprising that Hass' new collection, his first since stepping down as laureate, makes poetry and politics bedfellows. Time and Materials has the look of a catchall, mixing occasional pieces, imitations, translations, and the long narrative poems that are Hass' tours de force. And while the book is, overall, unmistakably Hassian—aging Berkeleyites come to life in rocky West Coast landscapes and an erotic imagination of impressive stamina—its author is also readjusting his approach to language and poetic responsibility. Not only are there explicit anti-war poems of the sort he's disavowed; Hass seems to stray, at times, from his commitment to immediacy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Reading levy in Cleveland"

Check out my recent review essay that appears in Jacket Magazine #34, on a book (d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution) about the life and work of d.a.levy, a Cleveland poet from the 1960s. This is the opening paragraph:
Ever since I moved to Cleveland six years ago, I’ve been followed by d.a.levy. His poster-sized image — with all the gravitas of those iconic Warhol images of Che Guevara — looks at me every time I walk into Macs Backs Paperbacks, one of the last remaining independent bookstores in town. His voice is uttered in low adoring tones at local poetry readings. Recently, the 60th anniversary of his birth was recognized, and in 2005, Levyfest was held. Was this levy just another iteration of the Famous Local Poet, whose fan base spanned the geography of a postage stamp but whose devotion was outsized, mystical and unquestioning? I worried that he was a third-class Allen Ginsberg, whose poems — unlike Ginsberg’s best works — now emit only the moldering whiff of the Sixties.

I recently received a kind email from Bree, another Cleveland poet and founder of Green Panda Press, who wrote to suggest that 1) levy's spirituality was not as shallow as Allen Ginsberg's statement quoted in the essay suggested it was, and 2) his influence on poetry, especially concrete poetry, should not be underestimated.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thomas Hardy's "Christmas: 1924"/Everything is Getting Better, Better All the Time

Thomas Hardy, “Christmas: 1924"

'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Suheir Hammad's "We Lay in Bed on the Fourth of July"/We Got Work to Do

We got work to do. There are many reasons why I've slowed in my comments on such pieces as these, but everything that dies...someday comes back.