Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ahmed M. Rehab on Our Terrorist Sympathizer, Rachael Ray

This more or less treads the same ground as my post yesterday, but I was pleased to see it in the Chicago Tribune, where I first learned of Rachael Ray and "Keffiyehgate." Thank you, Ahmed, for pointing out what is painfully obvious: apparently, demonizing whole peoples (Palestinians, Arabs, in particular) is still being done, and without much controversy.
The blogger, the chef and the terrorist
By Ahmed M. Rehab

3:27 PM CDT, May 30, 2008

How could a chirpy TV host with such edible title credits as "30 Minute Meals" and "Tasty Travels" one day awaken to find herself in the middle of a terrorism-related media blitz -- all because of a Dunkin' Donuts ad, no less?

It's a tough recipe to cook up, but here are the ingredients:

One paisley scarf that somewhat resembles the checkered pattern of a Palestinian national garment called the "keffiyeh," --a scarf that could be bought at Macy's
One right-wing blogger who lacks any sense of cultural nuance
A public opinion climate ripe with paranoia
A slow news day for the media
Directions: Briefly expose the scarf to the blogger, scatter over the climate, let simmer on a slow news day, and voila!

Can you hear the world's laughter?

The blogger is Michelle Malkin, author of the universally ridiculed book, "In Defense of Internment."

One of many to find fame and fortune in the post 9/11 hullabaloo, Malkin has a strange but simple job: to whip up controversy. If she succeeds, she gets attention. If she gets attention, she gets paid. She is her own brand, and like any brand, hers must deliver on expectations to remain competitive in an increasingly saturated market.

Malkin continuously scours the world's hot button issues hoping to raise the heat. On Thursday, she hit the jackpot with the most unlikely of subjects.

Enter Rachael Ray, who also has a straightforward job: to whip up meals. She shows TV audiences how to find bliss through the art of food. Sound controversial yet? Patience.

Ray happens to do an iced coffee ad for Dunkin' Donuts. She dons a paisley scarf selected by the stylist for the spot.

OK, that's the end of the buildup.

No, really, that's it.

Presented with that ad, most people may wonder if the iced coffee is any good. None is likely to wonder whether Dunkin' Donuts and Rachael Ray were promoting terrorism.

Malkin is a notable exception. She has a hungry career to feed.

And so, Malkin's pattern-recognition sensors kick in: Palestinians!

According to her, if Ray's scarf looks like a keffiyeh, the traditional scarf worn by Palestinians, then it must be a keffiyeh.

So what if it were?

Well, she further argues that, unbeknownst to the world, keffiyehs are actually a symbol of terrorism, hence her insinuation that the ad promotes terrorism.

Malkin then proceeds to educate the world about Palestinian keffiyehs, when they are worn, by whom, and why.

Not surprisingly, she gets it all wrong: In reality, the average Palestinian is much more likely to wear a keffiyeh than a terrorist.

Think about it: would the keffiyeh really be your preferred disguise if you were a terrorist and wished to walk incognito into a Tel Aviv bus or pizza parlor?

Probably not.

It is, however, your likely choice if you are an average Palestinian going to the mall, farming your land, walking to school, or -- yes -- hurling stones at an Israeli tank in the streets of your occupied hometown: hardly acts of terrorism.

So how does Malkin manage to discombobulate the facts? How does she find no shame in writing off a people's national dress as "a symbol of terrorism"?

There can only be one explanation: For Malkin, every Palestinian is a terrorist. To sell that point, she resorts to sensationalism, minimalism and obscene sweeping statements.

Sadly, this reductive approach is an old and tired trick when it comes to public discourse on the Middle-East, or Muslims.

But let's not kid ourselves. Malkin's anti-Palestinian message, by itself, is not newsworthy. It is only effective when coupled with a climate that is highly receptive to fear-mongering. Only then can it wreak havoc. After all, it is only because of the perception of a public backlash that Dunkin' Donuts, with curiously weak knees, felt pressure to yank the ad off the Internet.

Luckily most Americans know better than to drink Malkin's Kool-Aid. They will likely remember this tale only as one of 2008's silliest. Nonetheless, I am certain Malkin is gloating over the few prized conformists her antics were able to mobilize.

Come to think of it, I think I will wear a keffiyeh on my way to work tomorrow -- as I sip my iced Caribou coffee.

Ahmed M. Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Friday, May 30, 2008

Jon Stewart on Bush Administration Hypocrisy Regarding Its "Support" for the Troops

Rachael Ray headscarf and Dunkin' Donuts/The Case of the Keffiyeh

This whole "controversy" is a stunning reminder that the simplest cultural artifacts--the "ready to wear" (not ready to war) keffiyeh--is suddenly politicized as a symbol of "murderous jihadis." This sort of thing would be funny if it weren't so incredibly illuminating. For those not in the know, a keffiyeh is a (head)scarf. They're good for shielding one from the weather--whether hot or cold, dusty or rainy. They are not necessarily symbols of anything, any more than a cap is a symbol of something for the head.

It is true, however, that the keffiyeh has played an iconic role in Palestinian nationalism, most likely in solidarity with its peasant roots. Arafat was known to wear his in the shape of historic Palestine. Yes, activists like to wear them. And? In all likelihood, the "symbol"--if it ever were a symbol--has been commodified, set free of its particular political meanings. Hell, if Ms. Ray is donning it, chances are it is set free of its political meanings.

It pains me to no end that anything--ANYTHING--that has anything to do with Arab culture (minus the hookah, celebrated by college boys everywhere) becomes political, becomes pro-terrorist, because it is "alien" to us Americans. Bullshit.

CANTON, Mass., May 28 (UPI) -- Dunkin' Donuts, based in Canton, Mass., has pulled an advertisement after a scarf worn by pitch woman Rachael Ray was compared to a Muslim headscarf.

Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator for Fox News, said in her syndicated column that the paisley scarf worn by Ray in the ad resembles a traditional keffiyeh headscarf worn by Muslim men, WCVB-TV, Boston, reported Wednesday.

"The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad," Malkin wrote. "Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Dunkin' Donuts said the resemblance between Ray's scarf and a keffiyeh was unintentional.

"Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial," the company said in a statement.

© 2008 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Moe Green Poetry Hour to Feature Poetry from Inclined to Speak

The World Wide Word Radio Network
Is proud to present the following show

This Wednsday
May 28 on
9:30 am Pacific time, 12:30 pm Eastern
Join Rafael F. J. Alvarado
as he listens to the poetry from

Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry
Hayan Charara
Mohja Kahf

To listen to any of our shows click below
Listen live or later
Feel free to download any of our archived shows
Call in number (718) 508-9717

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Obituary for Utah Phillips: Folksinger, IWW Radical, Friend of Ammon Hennacy

The intertwining of art and politics finds another embodiment in Utah Phillips, a folksinger who was mentored by Ammon Hennacy, a pacifist and the only American to have refused to serve in World War I and World War II. It's not really my kind of music, but he does it winningly. (Thanks to the Bureau of Public Secrets for passing this along).

* * *

"Folksinger, Storyteller, Railroad Tramp Utah Phillips Dead at 73"
Nevada City, California:

Utah Phillips, a seminal figure in American folk music who performed extensively and tirelessly for audiences on two continents for 38 years, died Friday of congestive heart failure in Nevada City, California, a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains where he lived for the last 21 years with his wife, Joanna Robinson, a freelance editor.

Born Bruce Duncan Phillips on May 15, 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio, he was the son of labor organizers. Whether through this early influence or an early life that was not always tranquil or easy, by his twenties Phillips demonstrated a lifelong concern with the living conditions of working people. He was a proud member of the Industrial Workers of the World,popularly known as "the Wobblies," an organizational artifact of early twentieth-century labor struggles that has seen renewed interest and growth in membership in the last decade, not in small part due to his efforts to
popularize it.

Phillips served as an Army private during the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. Deeply affected by the devastation and human misery he had witnessed, upon his return to the United States he began drifting, riding freight trains around the country.

His struggle would be familiar today, when the difficulties of returning combat veterans are more widely understood, but in the late fifties Phillips was left to work them out for himself. Destitute and drinking, Phillips got off a freight train in Salt Lake City and wound up at the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter operated by the anarchist Ammon Hennacy, a member of the Catholic Worker movement and associate of Dorothy Day.

Phillips credited Hennacy and other social reformers he referred to as his "elders" with having provided a philosophical framework around which he later constructed songs and stories he intended as a template his audiences could employ to understand their own political and working lives. They were often hilarious, sometimes sad, but never shallow.

"He made me understand that music must be more than cotton candy for the ears," said John McCutcheon, a nationally-known folksinger and close friend.

In the creation of his performing persona and work, Phillips drew from influences as diverse as Borscht Belt comedian Myron Cohen, folksingers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and Country stars Hank Williams and T. Texas Tyler.

A stint as an archivist for the State of Utah in the 1960s taught Phillips the discipline of historical research; beneath the simplest and most folksy of his songs was a rigorous attention to detail and a strong and carefully-crafted narrative structure. He was a voracious reader in a surprising variety of fields.

Meanwhile, Phillips was working at Hennacy's Joe Hill house. In 1968 he ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. The race was won by a Republican candidate, and Phillips was seen by some Democrats as having split the vote. He subsequently lost his job with the State of Utah, a process he described as "blacklisting."

Phillips left Utah for Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was welcomed into a lively community of folk performers centered at the Caffé Lena, operated by Lena Spencer.

"It was the coffeehouse, the place to perform. Everybody went there. She fed everybody," said John "Che" Greenwood, a fellow performer and friend.

Over the span of the nearly four decades that followed, Phillips worked in what he referred to as "the Trade," developing an audience of hundreds of thousands and performing in large and small cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. His performing partners included Rosalie Sorrels, Kate Wolf, John McCutcheon and Ani DiFranco.

"He was like an alchemist," said Sorrels, "He took the stories of working people and railroad bums and he built them into work that was influenced by writers like Thomas Wolfe, but then he gave it back, he put it in language so the people whom the songs and stories were about still had them, still owned them. He didn't believe in stealing culture from the people it was about."

A single from Phillips's first record, "Moose Turd Pie," a rollicking story about working on a railroad track gang, saw extensive airplay in 1973. From then on, Phillips had work on the road. His extensive writing and recording career included two albums with Ani DiFranco which earned a Grammy nomination. Phillips's songs were performed and recorded by Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Tom Waits, Joe Ely and others. He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Folk Alliance in 1997.

Phillips, something of a perfectionist, claimed that he never lost his stage fright before performances. He didn't want to lose it, he said; it kept him improving.

Phillips began suffering from the effects of chronic heart disease in 2004, and as his illness kept him off the road at times, he started a nationally syndicated folk-music radio show, "Loafer's Glory," produced at KVMR-FM, and started a homeless shelter in his rural home county, where down-on-their-luck men and women were sleeping under the manzanita brush at the edge of town. Hospitality House opened in 2005 and continues to house 25 to 30 guests a night. In this way, Phillips returned to the work of his mentor Hennacy in the last four years of his life.

Phillips died at home, in bed, in his sleep, next to his wife. He is survived by his son Duncan and daughter-in-law Bobette of Salt Lake City; son Brendan of Olympia, Washington; daughter Morrigan Belle of Washington, D.C.; stepson Nicholas Tomb of Monterrey, California; stepson and daughter-in-law Ian Durfee and Mary Creasey of Davis, California; brothers David Phillips of Fairfield, California, Ed Phillips of Cleveland, Ohio and Stuart Cohen of Los Angeles; sister Deborah Cohen of Lisbon, Portugal; and a grandchild, Brendan. He was preceded in death by his father Edwin Phillips and mother Kathleen, and his stepfather, Syd Cohen.

The family requests memorial donations to Hospitality House, P.O. Box 3223, Grass Valley, California 95945 (530) 271-7144

Monday, May 26, 2008

Chris Hedges' :War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"/The Addiction of War

In what must be seen as unusual act of courage, WCPN (90.3 FM in Cleveland) had a hour-long presentation this morning of Chris Hedges' lecture on the addictions of war. If only our media--whether public or private--could have been as direct and courageous as our radio station this morning, since before the beginning of this misguided adventure in Iraq. Thank you, WCPN, for showing the mettle it takes on the homefront to speak truths about war that go beyond the cliches.

Memorial Day/A Tour (Through) Behind the Lines

For today, Memorial Day, I went through the archives of previous posts on "Behind the Lines" blog that deal with veterans and the costs of war. From March 22nd's post:

My father just returned from a trip to Vietnam, some forty years after his initial service to our country, as a Naval Advisor on a South Vietnamese patrol gunboat. The day after his return, he was rushed to the hospital because of edema in his legs, which had swelled frighteningly during the trip. Unknown causes. Almost no one in contemporary Vietnam wanted to talk about the war, and he was both relieved and saddened by this. Where did it go? What wounds were--and are--just below the surface of languages, of faces, of skin?

Who knows how we will remember and memorialize this current war? It's difficult to imagine a memorial as moving and provocative as Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C.--that black scar of mirroring granite half-sunk in the earth. If there's a limit to its representativity, it's that there are no Vietnamese names, names of the 2.5 million dead. Yet, despite this framing, it's still a testament to how art can act both as elegy and as outcry.

Here are a selection of the past posts:

Abu Ghraib Torture, American Veteran Suicides (April 28, 2008)

Winter Soldier 2008 post (April 8, 2008)

Poems on/about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial (March 22, 2008)

Operation First Casualty/Iraq Veterans Against the War (November 11, 2007)

Poems of Peace and Change (including veterans Brian Turner and Yusef Komyunyakaa and survivor Dunya Mikhail) reading (July 7, 2007)


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan

Jeff Newberry sent along birthday greetings to the Weird Bard, Robert Zimmerman (a.k.a. Bob Dylan). And so why not? From his second album, when Bob was doing the folk protest better than anybody (before he did the transition to electric, better than anybody), he wrote as vituperative a critique of the military-industrial complex that's ever been written: "Masters of War."

"Masters of War"
Bob Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

And, as a special treat, from D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

"Forty Years After Catonsville"

Published on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 by The Nation
"Daniel Berrigan: Forty Years After Catonsville"
by Chris Hedges
Forty years ago this month, Father Daniel Berrigan walked into a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, with eight other activists, including his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. The group carted the files outside and burned them in two garbage cans with homemade napalm. Father Berrigan was tried, found guilty, spent four months as a fugitive from the FBI, was apprehended and sent to prison for eighteen months.

Father Berrigan, unbowed at 87, sat primly in a straight-backed wooden chair as the afternoon light slanted in from the windows, illuminating the collection of watercolors and religious icons on the walls of his small apartment in upper Manhattan. Time and age have not blunted this Jesuit priest’s fierce critique of the American empire or his radical interpretation of the Gospels. There would be many more “actions” and jail time after his release from prison, including a sentence for his illegal entry into a General Electric nuclear missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1980, with seven other activists, where they poured blood and hammered on Mark 12A warheads.

“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said with a sigh. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”

The trial of the Catonsville Nine altered resistance to the Vietnam War, moving activists from street protests to repeated acts of civil disobedience, including the burning of draft cards. It also signaled a seismic shift within the Catholic Church, propelling radical priests and nuns led by the Berrigans, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day to the center of a religiously inspired social movement that challenged not only church and state authority but the myths Americans used to define themselves.

“Dorothy Day taught me more than all the theologians,” he says of the founder of the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement. “She awakened me to connections I had not thought of or been instructed in, the equation of human misery and poverty and warmaking. She had a basic hope that God created the world with enough for everyone, but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking.”

Berrigan’s relationship with Day led to a close friendship with the writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Merton’s “great contribution to the religious left,” he says, “was to gather us for days of prayer and discussion of the sacramental life. He told us, ‘Stay with these, stay with these, these are your tools and discipline and these are your strengths.’”

“He could be very tough,” Berrigan says of Merton. “He said you are not going to survive America unless you are faithful to your discipline and tradition.”

Merton’s death at 53 a few weeks after the trial left Berrigan “deaf and dumb.” “I could not talk or write about him for ten years,” he says. “He was with me when I was shipped out of the country, and he was with me in jail. He was with his friend.”

The distractions of the world are for him just that — distractions. The current election campaign does not preoccupy him, and he quotes his brother, Philip, who said that “if voting made any difference it would be illegal.” He is critical off the Catholic Church, saying that Pope John Paul II, who marginalized and silenced radical priests and nuns like the Berrigans, “introduced Soviet methods into the Catholic Church,” including “anonymous delations, removals, scrutiny and secrecy and the placing of company men into positions of great power.” He estimates that “it is going to take at least a generation to undo appointments of John Paul II.” He despairs of universities, especially Boston College’s decision last year to give an honorary degree to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this year to invite the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, to address the law school. “It is a portrayal of shabby lives as exemplary and to be honored,” he says. And he has little time for secular radicals who stood with him forty years ago but who have now “disappeared into the matrix of money and regular jobs or gave up on their initial discipline.”

“The short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life,” he says. “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.”

All empires, Berrigan cautions, rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand fealty. The current decline of American power is part of the cycle of human existence, although he says ruefully, “the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this.”

“The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual,” he adds. “We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.

A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.

“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

Chris Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times and a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author, most recently, of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bill Berkson and Philip Metres at Myopic Books: Our Celestial Respiratory Function(s)

Thanks to poet Jennifer Karmin (who led me to Larry) and Larry Sawyer (poet, editor of Milk Magazine, and curator of the Myopic Poetry reading series), I found myself reading with Bill Berkson, whose works were introduced to me by Mike Magee some years ago. (If you've never heard Bill read before, you can hear a number of his readings archived at PennSound here.)

Bill has the blessed curse of having befriended such New York School dazzlers as Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch, whose literary immortality has been in inverse proportion to their time on earth, and a number of his recent poems reflect on this dilemma, including the aptly titled "The Pantheon is Flooded." One of a series of epigram poems, "Friends," begins: "my friends are ascending...destiny does things like that." Among my favorites of his reading were "Salad Spinner," with its derangement of Picabia ("you must grab time by the hair...tickle the impossible,)" the political found poem, "Public Service Announcement," "Without Penalty," among others. Though it's fairly safe to say that the New York School poets eschewed very explicit political poems, it's also true that they themselves at various moments, and critics like Mike Magee, have made compelling arguments for their engagement in the progressive political traditions of pragmatism. In his recent work, Berkson demonstrates his engagement in both the explicit and implicit political work of poetry.

All of our poems were read to the accompaniment of caterwaulers strumming on guitars and banjos on the street below, much to our sonic confusion. If only they'd been in the same room, we might have been able to syncopate. Afterwards, we went out for gelato and other Italian delights at Francesca's, where I had the chance to talk with Connie, Berkson's wife, curator at UCal Berkeley, about recent political art.

Thanks again to Larry Sawyer, Jennifer Karmin, Patrick Durgin, Alan and Diane Levin (for the photos!) and my folks, all of whom participated, even just by being there. And to Hugh, for videotaping the event.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lisa Jarnot and the Poetics of Outrage(ousness)

Reading through Legitimate Dangers for an independent study this past semester, I came across Lisa Jarnot. While her blasts of language and steely irony clearly place her within the presiding aesthetic of Legitimate Dangers, her political outrage and outrageousness--blended with a relish for absurdism--made her stand out, at the edge, as it were, of "legitimacy."

The ability to be outrageous and yet also dramatize outrage is no easy balancing act, but somehow Jarnot expertly handles it. For one thing, very few people I know (and in particular, Arab Americans) would never, never, NEVER, joke about terrorism or being a terrorist. It's not good for one's health, what with all the phones being tapped. There are too many idiot literalists out there.

But seriously, as an poetic intervention on the chilling of public speech, Jarnot's "My Terrorist Notebook" and "The United States of America," published in the O Books anthology enough, feel something like Allen Ginsberg's "America" must have felt like for those at the famous reading in Berkeley in 1956, in which we can hear the laughter of recognition and of liberation.

"My Terrorist Notebook"

This is the beginning of my terrorist notebook all terrorism
all the time. I would have had to blow up the World Trade Center
to get anyone's attention when I was a kid. I'm tired of being nice.
Nice is out. I want to live in a cave with Osama and sleep on the floor
of the cave by myself. I want to poke people's eyes out with their
cell phone antennas. Maybe I would feel better if I exercised more.
Pretty soon I will run out of money and that will be the end of my
terrorist activities. We have a situation here, we terrorists, in our caves,
blowing up the rest of the many muddy mouses, swinging by their
mousie tails over the heads of the mousie moms under the muddy
mousie moon, don't move, and watch the mousie moon, you mom of
mouse, now watch the mousie moon.

"The United States of America"

I’m going to ask you to transition into a new theme about
the war. The thing that comes to mind now is the war:
the big war, the little war, the war that’s in my head,
the war around the edges of my ears, the war to kill
the troops, the war to kill the cows, the transitional war,
the bloody war, the not-bloody war, the semi-bloody war,
the figure of the neighborhood with war, running toward
the herds of cattle in the war, not good at war, awash in war,
the war-to-mores, the more and more to war.


These poems were published in Black Dog Songs (Flood Editions, 2003). Jarnot has a new book out, Night Scenes (2008).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Announcing Jacket 35

The tireless John Tranter and Pam Brown produce another iteration of Jacket. Amazing journal, really thorough reviews, essays, poems. You can find my piece on The Butterfly's Burden by Mahmoud Darwish, as well as a review of To See the Earth, in this one.

Announcing Jacket 35 -- Early 2008

Editor: John Tranter - Associate Editor: Pam Brown

and don't forget to check out Jacket's new RSS feed:

Fresh news items, updated as the whim takes us

“There are only 10 kinds of computer programmers:
those who know binary and those who don’t.”

======================= Feature: Omar Pérez

Kristin Dykstra: On Omar Pérez, b. Havana, 1964

Cuban poet Omar Pérez in conversation with Kent Johnson, 2007

Kristin Dykstra: Gossiping Cuba: Omar Pérez and the Name of the Father

Omar Pérez: Eight poems from the manuscript «Lingua Franca» translated by Kristin Dykstra

Omar Pérez: Selections from «Heard about the fighting cat?» (Poems 1994–1998), translated by Kristin Dykstra

Omar Pérez and Kristin Dykstra: Germanía / Germaniadified (detranslations), a poem in English and Spanish.

Omar Pérez: Bibliography and Links to English-Language Internet Resources

======================= Feature: Sarajevo

Kent Johnson: The Fountain Where One’s Name Is Changed: Notes from the Sarajevo Poetry Days Conference, May 2007 [25 pages]

======================= Articles: 200 pages

Robert Bond: Babylon Afterburn: Adventures in Iain Sinclair’s «The Firewall» [30 pages]

On the Taipei avant-garde: Is This the End of «Poetry Now»? An essay by Steve Bradbury, with seventeen poems and an audio file [17 pages]

John Cunningham: Dance of Words: The poetry of John Newlove [4 pages]

Alan Davies: To Call Them by Their Dead Name (on Emanuel Carnevali) [21 pages]

Lawrence Giffin: Political Topology in Contemporary North American Poetry: Rod Smith’s «Deed» [20 pages]

Rod Smith: «Deed», reviewed by Matthew M. Gagnon [6 pages]

Michael Gottlieb: «Jobs of the Poets» [15 pages]

John Hennessy: Poetry’s Share: Don Share — Established Editor, Emerging Poet [9 pages]

Jason Morris: The Time Between Time: Messianism & the Promise of a “New Sincerity” [20 pages]

Nate Pritts: my memory is the history of time: Towards a Theory of Time in Olson [5 pages]

Susan M. Schultz: Dementia Blog (January 2007-December 2006) [15 pages]

Rebecca A Smith: Barry MacSweeney and the Bunting Influence: ‘A key figure in his literary universe’? [32 pages]

Jason Stumpf: Essay: Of Lyric Poetry [2 pages, but very pungent]

======================= Poems

Two Russian Poets, translated by Peter Golub: Eugenia Ritz and Andrei Sen-Senkov

Tom Clark: Seven poems

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Draft 88: X-Posting

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: Draft 89: Interrogation

Liam Ferney: Cl

Angela Gardner: Three poems: Now that I am in Madrid and can think / Fade / when I leave the clouds

Barbara Henning: Five stories

Christopher (Kit) Kelen: Four poems after the Tang poet, Meng Jiao

Amy King: Four poems: The Arm of Eden / Where Bullfinches Go to Defy / Two if by Land, I Do / A Martyrdom Should Behave Us All

John Kinsella: Four poems: Graphology 676 (December 2007) / Graphology 688 / Graphology 698 / Graphology 699: Baudelaire

Ron Koertge: Three ghazals: Around the bush; Drinks; Gizmo

Federico Garcia Lorca: Two poems, translated by Gilbert Wesley Purdy: Gacela del Amor Imprevisto, and Casida de los Ramos

Gregory O’Brien: Wet Jacket Arm

Peter Robinson: Two poems: Graffiti Service / At the Institute

Tracy Ryan: Watching Brel

Lisa Samuels: Three poems: This bus kneels on request; Art’s fire sale; True likeness

Mitch Sisskind: Like A Monkey

William Stobb: Four poems: In a Mountain Pasture; Some Purple; Release; In/and

Matthew Tierney: Two poems: Batt & Roll; Perpetual Motion Machine

Kirsten Tranter: en route

Roger Van Voorhees: The Red Rolodex

Ouyang Yu: Two poems, translated by John Kinsella

======================= Interviews: 175 pages

Paris, 1968: Structuralism and linguistics: Émile Benveniste in conversation with Pierre Daix, 1968, translated by Matt Reeck [18 pages]

‘Come to Think of It, the Imagination’:
British poet Roy Fisher in Conversation with John Kerrigan [30 pages]

US poets Robert Grenier and Charles Bernstein: A Conversation, illustrated [76 pages]

Cuban poet José Kozer in conversation with Nicolás Mansito III, 28 December 2007 [17 pages]

Inventing Bablyon: Dmitry Kuzmin in conversation with Peter Golub on contemporary movements in Russian poetry [12 pages]

British poet Peter Riley in conversation with Todd Nathan Thorpe [21 pages]

======================= Reviews

Various authors: «The Grand Piano Project : Part 4:» San Francisco, 1975–80, reviewed by James Sherry

Fictitions: reviewed by Micaela Morrissette: Jesse Ball: «Samedi the Deafness»; Jenny Erpenbeck: «The Book of Words»; Daniel Grandbois: «Unlucky Lucky Days»; Joyelle McSweeney: «Flet»; Yannick Murphy: «Signed, Mata Hari»; Cees Nooteboom: «Lost Paradise»; Alice Sebold: «The Almost Moon»; T.H. White: «The Goshawk»; all reviewed by Micaela Morrissette

Rae Armantrout: «Next Life», reviewed by Kristina Marie Darling

Michael Ayres: «Kinetic» reviewed by Alistair Noon

Rachel Tzvia Back: «On Ruins and Return» reviewed by Andrew Mossin

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: «Torques: Drafts 58—76», reviewed by Patrick F. Durgin

Stephen Burt: «Parallel Play: Poems», reviewed by Michael Aiken

Mahmoud Darwish: «The Butterfly’s Burden», reviewed by Philip Metres

Angela Gardner: «Parts of Speech», reviewed by Pam Brown

Johannes Göransson: «A New Quarantine Will Take My Place», reviewed by Sean Kilpatrick

Noah Eli Gordon: «A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow», reviewed by Andrew Grace

Arpine Konyalian Grenier: «Part, Part Euphrates», reviewed by Celia Lisset Alvarez

Anthony Hawley: »The Concerto Form», reviewed by Andrew Rippeon

Cath Kenneally: «Ci Vediamo», reviewed by Michael Aiken

Jennifer L. Knox: «Drunk By Noon», reviewed by John Findura

Ruth Lepson and Walter Crump: «Morphology», reviewed by John Mercuri Dooley

Lewis MacAdams: «The River: Books One, Two, and Three», reviewed by Patrick James Dunagan

Duncan McNaughton: «Bounce», a note by Robert Grenier

Paul Metcalf: «Collected Works», reviewed by David McCooey.

Philip Metres: «To See the Earth», reviewed by Christopher Kempf

Stephen Paul Miller: «Being with a Bullet» reviewed by Thomas Fink

Maggie Nelson: «Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions», reviewed by Andrew Epstein

«OCHO» # 14, guest ed. Nick Piombino, reviewed by Nicholas Manning

«OCHO» # 15, ed. Francisco Aragón, reviewed by Craig Santos Perez

George Oppen: «Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers» Edited and with an Introduction by Stephen Cope; reviewed by Michael Heller: “Towards the Incomplete Work: A Note on Oppen’s «Daybooks»”

Ted Pelton: «Malcolm & Jack: and other famous American criminals», reviewed by Matthew Hotham

Claudia Rankine and Lisa Sewell, Eds., «American Poets in the Twenty-first Century: The New Poetics», reviewed by Andrew Browne

Sarah Riggs: «Waterwork», and «chain of minuscule decisions in the form of a feeling», reviewed by Tim Wright

Adrienne Rich: «Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth», reviewed by Jill M. Neziri

Peter Robinson: «The Look of Goodbye: Poems 2001—2006» reviewed by Ben Hickman

Leonard Schwartz: «Ear and Ethos», reviewed by Christine Pagnoulle

Louis Zukofsky

Mark Scroggins: «The Poem of A Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofksy», reviewed by Nicholas Manning

Jeffrey Side: «Carrier of The Seed» reviewed by Pam Brown

Dale Smith: «Susquehanna», reviewed by David Hadbawnik

Jordan Stempleman: «Facings», reviewed by Adam Fieled

Keston Sutherland: «Hot White Andy», reviewed by John Wilkinson: Mandarin Ducks and Chee-chee Chokes

Eileen Tabios: «I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved», reviewed by Anny Ballardini

======================= The Dusie Kollektiv Chapbook Series

Susana Gardner: Preface: Some of the Spineless

Nicole Mauro: Introduction:

Samar Abulhassan: Farah

Jules Boykoff: from The Slow Motion Underneath

Eli Queen and Jessica Bozek: correspondence

Joseph Cooper: «Memory/Incision»,
or as it is now called, «Touch Me»

Michelle Detorie: Selection from
Dusie chap «Bellum Letters»

Susana Gardner:: «EBB PORT»

Giles Goodland:Page 32 (poem 1931) line 15: insert double line space after the word ‘soup’: delete semi-colon

Jared Hayes: CaGeD

Anne Heide: An Instant of Flight

Jen Hofer: going going

Paul Klinger: Occasion in the Mosaic Distance

Carrie Hunter: Kine(sta)sis

Alana Madison: Two poems

Marci Nelligan: From «Specimen»

Kaia Sand: «tiny arctic ice»

Kathrin U. Schaeppi: «A Frog Jumps In»

Dusie Kollektiv Contributors, 2007

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On"/Family Fractures

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" is the perfect confluence of Motown R&B/soul with the heightened political awareness of the late 1960s. It's all the more poignant that the familial address of the song is suggestive of a different notion of the American socius than was playing out in the streets of Watts, Detroit, Chicago, and other American cities. When, some years later, Gaye was murdered by his father for intervening on another abuse of his mother, this song gathered another layer--how domestic violence, economic violence and international violence are manifestations of a similar breakdown.

"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Ah, what's going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Father, father, everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on - Uh
Right on baby
Right on baby

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two Interviews: Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara

Here are links to two interviews of Fady Joudah and Hayan Charara, two Arab American poets whose work in 2008 has brought a new visibility to Arab American poetry.
Fady's interview is on the Poetry Foundation blog. Here's one snippet:
QUESTION: I heard the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott say, when asked about great American poets, something to the effect that an imperial power can't produce great art. Any response to that, and can an oppressed country or people produce great[er] poetry? And perhaps a related question, do you, as the son of Palestinian refugees, feel a responsibility to write political poetry? Do people expect you to be a Palestinian and political poet rather than just a poet who is Palestinian and political? Do you like that or mind that? Could you say something about the role of poetry in Palestinian culture/society as opposed to its role in the U.S.? In 10 words or less? (Kidding!) (You can have 20…)

FADY JOUDAH: In his Mural (2000), his book-long poem, Darwish says: “There’s no nation smaller than its poem.” And “The earth is a festival of losers, and we’re among them.” Something here echoes what Walcott said, perhaps: there is only poetry of defeat, no poetry (at least not one that’s worth it) of victory, at least in the contemporary world, beyond the archaic anthropologic heroism of Greeks and Trojans, tribes and Kings.

I don’t know what “political” poetry is, unless it is “bad” poetry, propagandist or apologist for injustice. Other than that, it is not “political,” rather it is dignified, humanizing. I don’t feel a “responsibility” to write political poems, I feel a compulsion to address that line where the universal is the personal and the personal, the universal. Being Palestinian almost becomes another’s question of me, and certainly not mine of myself. That question is in many ways one of power, of rewriting “the other.” Thus, what is called “political” poetry, for me, is to humanize the other without stripping them from the right to speak their narrative, or imposing on them my narcissistic projections as righteous poet.

Hayan's is with Iconia here. And a snippet:

MW: There is a long, deep tradition of Arab poetry, much of it religious. To what extent does the younger generation of Arab American poets see itself as heir to that longer tradition, rather than innovating something wholly new?

HC: There are some expressions of what might be termed “religious” poetry among Arab American poets, but I’m not sure how closely it resembles the religious tradition you’re referring to. Someone with a skilled ear, however, will hear some of the rhythms of Islamic poetry in the poems of Arab American poets. Or, there another person might see semblances in the ways that a poet celebrates this or that.

As far being “heirs” to a longer tradition, my guess is that most poets have a sense of both — being heirs, and being innovators. We have what came before us, as guides, as models, even as ways of thinking and creating to reject or turn our backs on; but whatever we do as poets, we always have those traditions to be influenced by. At the same time, we are always living in a “new” moment, and we can’t but help, I think, to create new ways of seeing the world, and expressing ourselves — maybe not “wholly new” but definitely not the same old, same old.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Gray Matters"/Writing Beyond What We Know

Here's a little piece from Cleveland Magazine, called "Gray Matters," which highlights some of my work on documentary poetry. Documentary poetry, as concept and practice, is something that I keep returning to, partly because I've always been interested both in narrative voicings and in multivocality. The notion that invites us to include other voices in our work, other stories, has been one that relieves me from the monologic pressures of the lyric impulse, where the self is emperor and the fiefdom is La Mancha of the mind (yes, I'm reading Don Quixote right now). Thanks to Andy Netzel for his interest in the project and the book. n.b. The poem quoted is actually called, "Stopping By Krispy Kreme."

RAWI's Inclined to Speak reading (May 2007)

Pictured above (first row, L-R): Kevin Rashid, Lara Hamza, Marian Haddad, Fady Joudah, Nathalie Handal, Deema Shehabi, Alise Alousi, Pauline Kaldas; (second row, L-R): Philip Metres, Hayan Charara, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran.

About one year ago, RAWI (Radius of Arab American Writers) held its biannual conference in Dearborn Michigan, and a number of us who were to appear in the anthology Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry, gathered together to do a group reading. It was a coming-out party for the younger generation of Arab American poetry, with the elders in the audience like Naomi Shihab Nye, D.H. Melhem, and others, greeting us at the start of something new. It was strange, for me, to feel suddenly and immediately at home among fellow poets, who almost by definition are an evasive, solitary bunch. All my defenses against "identity poetry" and "identity politics" ceded to the feeling of solidarity and shared experience, both within and just at the margins of our words. When I heard, early this year, that Fady Joudah had won the Yale Series, I felt none of the requisite envy that usually accompanies such news. It was as if my brother had won.

Booklist, April 1, 2008

Make no assumptions. As with all double-named ethnicities, the designation "Arab American" encompasses people of dramatically diverse backgrounds with stories of family, war, exile, lost languages, cherished traditions, forbidden love, and the art of reinventing home and self. An Arab American is an immigrant or American-born; a Muslim, Christian, or Jew; a human being faced with negative stereotypes, made worse in the wake of 9/11. Poet Charara has gathered 160 clarion poems by 39 Arab American poets (each briskly profiled) to create a potent and synergistic anthology that illuminates the slippery elements of identity. Familiar voices--Naomi Shihab Nye, Jack Marshall, and Lawrence Joseph--combine with poets who though new to most readers will be quickly embraced, so direct, lithesome, and affecting are their poems about the solace of nature and the paradoxes of the human condition. Here are poems of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt, of New York, Detroit, and South Dakota. Born in a Palestinian refugee camp Suheir Hammad reaches for the essence: "you're either with life, or against it. / affirm life."--Donna Seaman

Monday, May 12, 2008

Marilyn Krysl's "Baghdad: The Disappeared Girls"

This is from McSweeney's, which, if you can imagine, is actually publishing some poetry. For a while, they decided to corner the market on sestinas (see below). Now they've moved to pantoums and senryus. Go figure. Dave Eggers, thanks for the bone.

Still, this sestina, "Baghdad: The Disappeared Girls," has a surprisingly contemporary and political edge to it; what other sestina has an epigraph from Amiri Baraka? Having just watched the film, Grbavica: Land of Dreams, a recent film about a female rape survivor of the "civil" war in the former Yugoslavia, I'm reminded how much war becomes not a battle among men, but a violence against civil society--men, women, and children alike, each with their own burdens and torments.

The Disappeared Girls.

- - - -

Luxury, then, is a way of being ignorant.
—Amiri Baraka

- - - -

A girl outside the primary-schoolyard gate
has disappeared. Another—no one sees—
doesn't come home. A black car ate a broken
girl's shrill scream. Her father: She's my jewel!
I curse the West. We didn't ask for war.
Those men who come: don't they have daughters?

War slams down. Doors swing shut. Daughters
stay in. One father drove a truck, his gate
stood open, he paid his daughter's school. The war
blasts on. His girl's smart: her teacher sees
in her another teacher. Now his gold
leaves school to sweep a floor: another broken

promise. No truck, no work: he owns his broken
heart, and hers. Other pink-blouse daughters
watch TV all day. Behind each sapphire
three thousand sweating horses. Behind each gate
a girl on hold. Scared. And bored—how seize
the day? They wilt. Lose weight. They are my war—

I who buy the Uzis, mortars. (War
is terrorism: Howard Zinn.) Our broken
treaties fan my shame: dead girls, dead seas.
We polish our luxuries. These daughters
and these sons are ours, and ours the gate
that shuts our children out. There goes an emerald

of a girl—to assemble mortars. This amethyst
works at the land-mine plant. War is war
against the spirit. Break it, smash the gate,
desecrate the altar. Something's broken?
Toss it. Buy another. Another daughter
puts on pink pants, a pink hairband, a rhinestone

ring. Then she sits down and weeps. She sees
that spill of light across the floor, pearls
the sun lays down as though she's some god's daughter.
Zinn again: War is always war
against children. We're good at making broken
things. It's easy as shopping. Our aggregate:

indifference, comfort, war. Here's a gate
made of diamonds. Open it. That broken
girl, our daughter, waits here, and she sees.

Jewish Voice for Peace on Israel's 60th Anniversary

This is from the Jewish Voice for Peace:

Remembering the Nakba during Israel's 60th anniversary

This month, Jews around the world are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. These celebrations reflect the understandable joy of Jews who view Israel as the symbol of 60 years of freedom from centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, not all Jews will be celebrating.

While Israel provided a safe haven for countless Jewish refugees who had nowhere else to go, many of them members of our own families, the terrible fact is that over 700,000 Palestinians were made into refugees to make room for the future state of Israel. Sixty years and several generations later, that number has swelled to an estimated 7 million. Many live in 58 registered refugee camps dispersed throughout the Middle East, and some 4 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories continue to endure reprehensible collective punishment to this day.

That is why the creation of the state of Israel, an occasion marking great celebrations for many Jews throughout the world, is known as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe to Palestinians.

And that is why many of us will not be celebrating, for as long as Palestinians are still fighting for their fundamental human rights, we can not rejoice.

Any peaceful future depends on recognizing both the Palestinian and the Israeli narrative. And yet, just as the names of over 400 pre-1948 Palestinian towns and cities have been deliberately erased from maps, the history of the Palestinian Nakba itself has been all but erased from consciousness.

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we cannot participate in celebrations that erase both the history and modern-day injustices experienced by Palestinians. It is precisely this rendering invisible of Palestinian experience and claims for justice that makes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians impossible. We choose instead to remember, to know, and to work towards justice and self-determination for both peoples. As Jews and Palestinians, our pasts are intertwined, and so too are our futures.

Today, because much of the world has forgotten, we remember that:

In April, 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin, Plan Dalet was put into operation. It authorized the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state.

On May 22, 1948, Jewish soldiers from the Alexandroni Brigade entered the house of Tantura residents killing between 110-230 Palestinian men.

On October 28, 1948, in the village of Dawayameh, near Hebron, Battalion 89 of the 8th Brigade occupied the village. Israeli soldiers said of the massacre that babies... skulls were cracked open, women raped or burned alive in houses, men stabbed to death. 145 men, women and children were killed. Over 450 went missing, of which 170 were women.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person "has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Israel has never accepted the legitimacy of this basic human right as a basis for peace negotiations, whether by return, compensation, or resettlement. Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-Semitism and Hitler's genocide. As the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said emphasized, "Like it or not, this is the historical reality. We must better understand them, and they must better understand us. We must make clear the link between the Shoah (the European Jewish Holocaust) and the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948). Neither experience is equal to the other, and neither should be minimized."

Many of us will not celebrate as long as Israel continues to violate international law, inflicts a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza, and continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

Bill Berkson and Philip Metres at Myopic Books, Sunday May 18, 7pm

I am delighted to be reading with Bill Berkson, a legendary New York School poet and art critic whose works include poetic collaborations with Frank O'Hara and Bernadette Mayer...

MYOPIC POETRY SERIES, curated by Larry Sawyer -- a weekly series of readings and occasional poets' talks

Myopic Books in Chicago -- Sundays at 7:00 / 1564 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Floor


Sunday, May 18 - at MYOPIC BOOKS

Bill Berkson & Philip Metres

Philip METRES is the author of To See the Earth (2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Instants (chap, 2006), Primer for Non-Native Speakers (chap, 2004), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003). His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Were it not for Ellis Island, his last name would be Abourjaili. See and for more information. He can be reached at

Born in New York in 1939, Bill BERKSON is a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early twenties. Director of Letters and Science at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1993 to 1998, he taught art history, critical writing and poetry and directed the public lectures program there 1984-2007. Berkson studied at Trinity School (1945-55), The Lawrenceville School, Brown University, Columbia, the New School and New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. During the 1960s he was an editorial associate at Art News, a regular contributor to Arts, guest editor at the Museum of Modern Art, an associate producer of a program on art for public television, and taught literature and writing workshops at the New School and Yale University. After moving to Northern California in 1970, he began editing and publishing a series of poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky imprint. He was awarded a creative writing fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980 and has also received awards and fellowships from Yaddo, Artspace, the Poets Foundation, The Fund for Poetry, and Briarcombe Foundation. Before coming to the Art Institute, he taught regularly in the California Poets in the Schools program. In the mid-1980s he resumed writing art criticism on a regular basis, contributing monthly reviews and articles to Artforum from 1985 to 1991; he became a corresponding editor for Art in America in 1988 and also writes frequently for such magazines as Aperture, Modern Painters, Art on Paper, and others. He is the author of sixteen books and pamphlets of poetry—including, most recently, Gloria, a portfolio of poems with etchings by Alex Katz (Arion Press, 2005) and Our Friends Will Pass Among You Silently (The Owl Press, 2007). Berkson's poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. Other recent books are What’s Your Idea of a Good Time: Letters & Interviews 1977-1985 with Bernadette Mayer (Tuumba Press, 2006); BILL with drawings by Colter Jacobsen; and Ted Berrigan with George Schneeman. A collection of his criticism, The Sweet Singer of Modernism & Other Art Writings, appeared from Qua Books in 2004, and Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006 from Cuneiform Press in 2007. Portrait and Dream: Selected Poems 1959-2007 will appear from Coffee House Press in Spring 2009.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Let the People Speak/Reader Feedback


I've been doing this blog for just about a year (11 months).
Should I continue?
If you're a regular reader, or a part-timer, let me know what's working for you. Anything that I could be blogging about that I haven't yet?
Comment all of you, if you can, so that I can get my bearings for the future.


Philip Metres

Saturday, May 10, 2008

New "Cost of the War" Placards from the Sidewalk Blogger

I love how the Sidewalk Blogger continues her solitary insistence of language into landscape, making visible the war, even in pastoral backdrops. There is no place where the war is not...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Steve Earle's "Jerusalem"

(Steve Earle)

I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
And death machines were rumblin' 'cross the ground where Jesus stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way
And there was nothin' anyone could do or say

And I almost listened to him
Yeah, I almost lost my mind
Then I regained my senses again
And looked into my heart to find

That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool
But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school
But somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back again
But I still find some comfort now and then

Then the storm comes rumblin' in
And I can't lay me down
And the drums are drummin' again
And I can't stand the sound

But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem

And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls

And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On Israel's 60th Birthday/Amichai's "Jerusalem"

On the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, I think about the incredible founding of the state against all odds, and also the terrible losses that it meant for Palestinians. I also go back to the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, indisputably one of Israel's most important poets. As the celebrations ensue, the fireworks and flags, I think of the complex portrait that Amichai paints in this little poem, "Jerusalem," about what fireworks and flags distract us from.


On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight,
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City,
a kite.
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can't see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they're happy.
To make them think that we're happy.

(by Yehuda Amichai, from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Celebrating Independence, Mourning Nakba: The 60th Anniversary of the Founding of Israel and the Nakba

Invitation to a conference taking place which will involve oral testimony by survivors of the "nakba," or catastrophe, of Palestinian dispossession and exile.

—a campaign that remembers the nakba or ‘catastrophe’ experienced by Palestinians who were forced from their homes in Palestine when the state of Israel was formed 60 years ago.

A panel of Nakba survivors will describe what happened to them and their families.

The Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East will hold a press conference and panel discussion concerning the continued and illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the denial of rights for Palestinians, including the right of return for hundreds of thousands of Christians and Muslims to their homeland. A panel of Nakba survivors will describe what happened to them and their families.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
1:00-2:30 PM
at River’s Edge, 3430 Rocky River Drive, Cleveland, Ohio

This conference is free and open to the public.

Council President Martha Katz of Youngstown is a founding member of The Coalition for Peace in the Middle East and the Youngstown chapter of Women in Black. Among panelists are Marlene Mourad of Brunswick and Mohammed Ramahi of Youngstown.

“NO TIME TO CELEBRATE: Jews Remember the Nakba is a campaign organized by anti-Zionist Jews from around the U.S. and Canada to coordinate Jewish protests of Israeli Independence Day celebrations and Jewish participation in commemoration of the Nakba”.

Beat Happening's "Indian Summer" and "Foggy Eyes"

Beat Happening was one of those indie revelations that tore the cover off the production layers and wankery of 1980s rock and pop musics, hearkened back to the punk rock D.I.Y. sensibility, and had this absolutely bracing early summer/late fall longing--was it the open chords, the slapdash drums, the childlike vocals? Listening to "Indian Summer," arguably one of the best nuggets of indie pop ever, I am reminded why I continue to indulge my childish ways in poetry and music.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jesus May Love the Children, But They Need Permits to Visit Jerusalem

While I do not know all the background to this event, the press release suggests that recent (and new) restrictions on Palestinian movement continue to create obstacles to peaceful people visiting the holy sites. It looks a little bad to restrict the "Jesus Loves the Children" program, doesn't it?

"Israel Blocks Children's Peace March;
Palestinian Christian Children Barred from Jerusalem"

The Israeli Government has imposed a new travel restriction which has prevented Palestinian Christian children from traveling to Jerusalem for this year's annual Children's Journey to Jerusalem, according to Bethlehem office of the event's sponsoring organization, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF). As a result of the new restriction, the event has been postponed.

This year, for the first time, the Israeli Government surprised the organizers of the event by announcing that the children, ages 13 and under, would require permits to enter the Holy City. With great effort, HCEF managed to submit applications for the permits three weeks before the scheduled date of the event on May 2, but on April 30 Israeli authorities told HCEF that there was not enough time to consider the applications.

In each of the last three Easter seasons, the Foundation has sponsored trips to Jerusalem for close to one thousand Christian school children from around 35 cities and towns in the Holy Land. This program, part of HCEF's "Jesus Loves the Children" program, has allowed children ages 13 and under to see, and worship, at the most important Christian shrines in Jerusalem, including the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This year about 850 children had registered for the event.

For most of the children, these trips are the first that they have been able to make to Jerusalem, even though most of them live not far from that city. The children have been kept away from the Christian sites by Israeli military roadblocks and military checkpoints, as well as by the inability of their parents and teachers to obtain travel documents from the Israeli authorities.

Protesting the refusal of the Israeli Government to permit this year's long- planned Children's Journey to Jerusalem, HCEF President Rateb Rabie stressed the peaceable, spiritual nature of the event. "These trips teach a message of love and peace, and they have taken place three times without any kind of incident," he said. "The visits of the children to the holy places have never presented any kind of threat to the security of Israel or to public order."

"These trips are important and exciting experiences for all of the children, who are otherwise virtual prisoners in their own towns," Mr. Rabie said. "It is unconscionable that the Israeli authorities are now preventing even young Palestinian Christian children from traveling a few kilometers within their own country to visit religious sites of paramount importance to them."

For additional information, please contact:

Karen Gainor
Executive Assistant
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation ; 301 951-9400 ext 219

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Vincent on O'Keefe's Whitman, and Thinking of O'Hara

As part of my course called "Self and Society in Modern American Poetry" this coming fall, I'll be teaching, among others, Whitman's "Song of Myself" and Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems. In a recent email post, Stephen Vincent reflected on a performance of Whitman's "Song," and wondered if and how O'Hara might be seen as a descendant of Whitman:

In association with making a recent "haptic" drawing, I listened to John O'Keefe's wonderful recent performance adaptation of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. It was a presentation last summer here at the Marsh in San Francisco, filmed by William Farley, and just released on as DVD, (Go to for an exerpt and ordering details). O'Keefe's voices achieves a robust, sensual and ecstatic relationship with the original text and brings, at least, his sense of the man, quite to life. A real delight

I am naive to much critical work on Whitman. However, listening to the poet's spirited sense of intimacy of eye and ear for the streets of his Manhattan (folks et al), it's impossible not to make connections with Frank O'Hara's work on that island approximately a hundred years later. I cannot imaging that O'Hara was not imbued by this work.

O'Keefe's Whitman, as demonstrated in the excerpt, is robust, but perhaps a bit more unhinged than I imagined our bard. Yet I've always found section 15 fascinating in its catalogue, because the sheer excess of images almost always induces a sense of blockage, boredom, and confusion. What O'Keefe does is blow through that textual flow, like a mad plow through an anarchic snow...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry Anthology

Here's a recent review of Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry, the recent anthology edited by Hayan Charara which brings together some of the elders with the up-and-comers of Arab American background. As an aperitif to grading, I'm taking little swigs of this anthology. More on this later, but in the meantime, go ahead and get yourself a little copy, eh?
Book review: Arab Americans write with wit and sorrow

Web Posted: 04/24/2008 05:55 PM CDT

Robert Bonazzi
Special to the Express-News

Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry
Hayan Charara, editor

University of Arkansas Press, Hardcover $59.95, Paper $24.95

Voices are inclined to speak, and these powerful poets of Arab descent speak eloquently in this major anthology just published. They do not sing as one monolithic chorus but as 39 diverse soloists, and their sophisticated texts do not merely establish the latest ethnic minority literature or the next phase of multiculturalism. Rather, these gifted poets, including San Antonio resident-poets Naomi Shihab Nye, Marian Haddad and Assef Al-Jundi, are creating some of our nation's strongest and most passionate contemporary poetry.

These Arab Americans are esteemed professors, lawyers, translators, editors; people doing business and community work; parents raising families and corresponding with relatives from their countries of origin. They are not having an identity crisis or mapping an Arab diaspora or replaying the Arabian Nights. They are thoughtful and humane, just like most of us.

Yes, there are political poems here from fresh perspectives, but none are screeds that promote propaganda. In fact, they argue against lies convincingly, often with satirical wit. Where there is anger there is also compassion; where there is social criticism, there is never didacticism. They remind us that stereotypes and prejudice, war and genocide are overcome only by bridges of dialogue and not by walls of separation. Yet like all poets, they write also of nature and love, of languages and ideas, of spirituality and attitude.

The first line of "Inclined to Speak" (in Elmaz Abinader's "Living with Opposition") brings us to the edge of openings: "Someone has told you, It's an attitude problem. /I hear this, say something like, I wonder whose." Indeed, since attitudes are first formed by culture rather than experience. This powerful poem — about her father, a gentle man who "is tired of being foreign, of trying /so hard just to breathe, to get a little light /of his own." — is one of many beautiful odes and elegies for family elders who emigrated here or remained home. What could be more American — or universal — than that?

Haddad observes her father in a hospital as "he smacks his lips, rolls /his tongue inside, Agua, /He says, though he is /not Mexican, Agua, /a language he has learned /in America, and he, Arabic. /Three languages roll deftly /on this dry tongue."

Al-Jundi mentions his father (a Syrian poet) taking him to Amman and Beirut — by taxi! — in quest of a student visa when the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was closed after the Six-Day War.

Nye writes of breaking off the hands of "mother's praying statue /when I was four — /how she tearfully repaired them, /but the hairline cracks /in the wrists /were all she said /she could see — /the unannounced blur /of something passing /out of a life."

Just as 9-11 was a defining moment for all, it was particularly painful for Arab Americans, whom many called the enemy within. As U.S.-born Saladin Ahmad writes: "In a word, brother, it is dangerous," especially after Bush's "war on terror" was concocted. Samuel Hazo writes about it directly: "Nightmares of impact crushed us. /We slept like the doomed or drowned, /then woke to oratory, vigils, /valor, journalists declaring war /and, snapping from aerials or poles, the furious clamor of flags." History reminds us that every civilization has blood on its hands and no government has been innocent of murder.

Yet the lyric impulse emerges, even in tragedy. Kazim Ali, in a musical turn, hears: "The violin's empty stomach resonates /Music is a scar unraveling itself in strings." Sinan Antoon of Baghdad says "the Tigris and Euphrates /are two strings /in death's lute /and we are songs /or fingers strumming." D.H. Melhem listens to the "Broadway Music" of a homeless trio who are not Arabs, with her fine-tuned ear of empathy.

Presented in alphabetical order with impressive work by each poet, there are 160 texts in more than 300 pages. There are powerful narratives by Sharif S. Elmusa, Hedy Habra, Sam Hamod, Lawrence Joseph, Mohja Kahf, Pauline Kaldas, Jack Marshall, Khaled Mattawa and Philip Metres and lovely lyrics from Alise Alousi, Nuar Alsadir, Lisa Suhair Majaj and Gregory Orfalea.

Hayan Charara has made shrewd editorial choices and also contributes a masterful language excursion in his long poem ("Usage"). His thoughtful introduction discusses the poetic, political and social dimensions, as well as the thematic and personal issues that Arab American poets confront in their lives and work.

The University of Arkansas Press deserves kudos for publishing this groundbreaking anthology at a time when deeper understanding of our diversity is most crucial. This marvelous gathering of sensibilities will challenge and excite open-minded readers with significant new poetry.