Monday, December 31, 2007

Chicago Poetry Marathon: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's Bob Archambeau's piece from

Sunday, December 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cluster Bombs Are Not Your Friend or Your UN Food Ration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lakota Sioux Secession

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

Lakota Sioux Secede From US, Declare Independence
by Bill Harlan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2007 The Rapid City Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Small World, Harvey Pekar

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Slavoj Zizek on American Resistance

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joe Sacco, cartoonist of Palestine, on Weekend America

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chicago Poetry Marathon Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Martial: One Lewd Dude Who Occasionally Surprises Himself With Longing

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

Book V. xx.

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review of The Butterfly's Burden by Mahmoud Darwish

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Eight Miles High"/Versions of Transcendence

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

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

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

The lyrics:

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


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

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the lyrics:

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

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

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Sidewalk Blogger/Would Jesus Bomb?

The latest from the Sidewalk Blogger:

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mountain Goats' "Grendel's Mother"

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

Walter Cronkite Speaks Out Against the Iraq War

Tuesday 04 December 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Multiple Interpretations" exhibit in NY Public Library

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Remembering Abu Ghraib

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