Monday, September 29, 2008

Wilfred Owen, from Voices in Wartime

On Wilfred Owen, poetry, shell shock (P.T.S.D.), and the implications of war. This is for you, pops, in your new research to help the soldiers coming home.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

A rather stinging rebuke of how this election race is being framed. It gets a little personal toward the end, and mixes some apples with oranges, but it's trying to make visible the invisible privilege involved in the election campaign--how Obama is held up to a standard that Palin is not....


September 13, 2008, 2:01 pm

By Tim Wise

For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s--while if you're black and believe in reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), you're a dangerous and mushy liberal who isn't fit to safeguard American institutions.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you. White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives near Russia, you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36-minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and Harvard Business School (George W. Bush), and still be seen as an "average guy," while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then Harvard Law, makes you "uppity" and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.), and that's OK, and you're still cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you then go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly 20 years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is when you can develop a pain-killer addiction, having obtained your drug of choice illegally like Cindy McCain, go on to beat that addiction, and everyone praises you for being so strong, while being a black guy who smoked pot a few times in college and never became an addict means people will wonder if perhaps you still get high, and even ask whether or not you may have sold drugs at some point.

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you dangerously naive and immature.

White privilege is being able to say that you hate "gooks" and "will always hate them," and yet, you aren't a racist because, ya know, you were a POW, so you're entitled to your hatred, while being black and noting that black anger about racism is understandable, given the history of your country, makes you a dangerous bigot.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Winston's Atomic Bird" by Boston Spaceships

I was in at least three worlds last night: "The Winter's Tale" production at John Carroll, the post-debate ruminations, and then the Boston Spaceships show at the Grog Shop. Boston Spaceships wins. "The Winter's Tale" did provide a stark juxtaposition between tyrant-as-unmaker and artist-as-maker, and I hear that Obama showed his mettle in what many consider a draw, but Robert Pollard remains what might be termed "awful bliss." My head is reeling today, and my voice is gone, but I still feel buoyed by song--however shipwrecked my head and legs.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941, reviewed by Edward Brunner

Thanks to Edward Brunner, author of Cold War Poetry, for this incisive review...

Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941 - by Philip Metres, reviewed by Edward Brunner 1
Copyright © 2008 Peace History Society and Peace and Justice Studies Association

Article Text
Philip Metres. Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941: University of Iowa Press, 2007 .

After a national catastrophe, Americans sometimes look to poetry for relief. Poetry is rediscovered and valued for the power of its rhetoric, as if the poet can function as a kind of speechwriter for the ages, lending an era the words it needs to understand itself. But in this view, the poem's value is not to instruct or guide but to comfort and assuage—to situate the present in all its disruption within a larger time frame, to make our current pain seem like a passing woe. Or as poet-critic Stephen Burt writes in a 2003 essay considering the post-9/11 popularity of W.H. Auden's "September 1, 1939": "We turn to poems most urgently, perhaps, just when we feel that our choice among courses of action (in public matters or elsewhere) is no choice at all, and that nothing we do in a world wholly outside ourselves can resolve the genuine conflict we face." This well-entrenched opinion that, when it comes to public matters, poetry can best function as consolatory, gently reminding us of our inability to solve immense dilemmas, is what Philip Metres sets out to oppose in his tightly focused case studies.

To further such an oppositional project, Metres explains, poetry must be regarded "as both cultural product and cultural process," as he writes in a 2006 issue of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. But the innovative turn that powers his research is his readiness to examine not just antiwar poetry but antiwar poetry of resistance. This is a poetry that speaks "from within a cultural matrix, while articulating some differential stance to that culture." And if it is sharply delineated, it nevertheless asks a large question: "how does the poet who resists war address both the nation at large (of which she is a part) and the resistance movement in particular (of which she is a part)?"

Metres's book-length study brings depth to those questions. An effective poetry of war resistance should examine the nation's wars from within a framework of national interest. Resistance poetry is also marked by an exacting and critical intelligence that adapts to the changing face of warfare over the last half-century. The conscientious objection appropriate for a World War II is inappropriate for the mass protest of the Vietnam War, which is in turn inappropriate to the media-dominated postmodern Gulf War marketed as a World War II-like "good war" (with an "evildoer" as opponent) that serves to correct for the "failed" example of the Vietnam War (22). Generally speaking, Metres finds World War II to have been resisted through the content in its poetry, the Vietnam War by the activity of its poems, and the Persian Gulf War with the interpretation elicited by poems.

Metres selects examples wisely, choosing writings that open themselves to judgment on practical grounds. As a result, his analysis discloses traits in these works that might go unnoticed even by readers attentive to cultural traces in poetry. Robert Lowell's confessional verse of the 1950s recalling his incarceration as a pacifist during World War II takes on new associations when placed against the records left by deeply political conscientious objectors such as Lowell Naeve, even as it reveals how Lowell's tendency to overidentify with power "may actually produce a model for exposing power's illegitimacy" (40). The actual status of the World War II conscientious objector, a role legitimated by the state but wildly misunderstood by the public, is made evident in obscure work by William Stafford and William Everson that Metres retrieves to close gaps in the historical record.

If private acts by individual citizens constituted war resistance in the 1940s, the Vietnam War was marked by public acts and mass demonstrations. Metres's longest chapter surveys this poetry in its widely different venues, arguing that "multicultural work" best served to counter "the abstract and official language of official sources" by offering "counternarratives, images, and linguistic play that created afterimages as powerful as the photographs that would begin to alter public opinion about the justness of the war" (126). A snapshot effect characterizes the vernacular poetry that appeared on broadsides or was read aloud at public gatherings that also served as opportunities "to dissent publicly, to connect with local activists and connect them to national movements" (103). John Balaban's After the War (1994) successfully reflects his conscientious objector service in Vietnam, where he learned Vietnamese and worked to "repudiate an image of Vietnam as simplistic cipher of Communist savagery or American imperialism" (122). Balaban's success is contrasted with Denise Levertov's arduous personal struggle to resolve the ethics of writing as a witness.

Because the Persian Gulf War was so elaborately manipulated, with its battle plans virtually factored for convenient consumption over TV, it poses exceptional challenges for a poetics of war resistance. Metres praises African American poet June Jordan, whose identity can summon a "multicultural, multiracial audience" to undermine the Orientalist framework invoked by the war's handlers. She is in a solid position to expose the war's unreality and represent it as a "repetition compulsion of the clearing of the West and the genocide of Native Americans" (192). What Metres claims, perhaps excessively, for Jordan's brand of writing—that it "challenges the peace movement to abandon simplistic notions of peace" and replace these with a "keen vision of how structural and actual violence can permeate nearly all spaces of human life" (195)—is perhaps better realized in Barrett Watten's "counter-epic of the Gulf War,"Bad History, that "counters the televisual representation of the Gulf War as a heroic epic" by providing an "interfered image," dramatizing a "vexed compliant/resistant subjectivity," and deploying a mix of formal elements, from prose-poetry to footnote, to refuse to comply with the "formal and ideological limits of mainstream lyric poetry" (213, 198).

Metres's Coda looks into post-9/11 militancy and proposes that "poetry thrives most particularly in the local" (232). By defining "local" to include "the broadest possible range of voicings" (234), Metres glances toward a future when all approaches will need to be in play if an impossible-to-imagine next war (an Iran War driven by global multinational corporations?) needs to be opposed. Meanwhile, Metres's groundbreaking work, merging cultural criticism with historical research and practical action, powerfully reminds us that the violence that has surrounded us for the last 60 years has always summoned a counterresponse in which fine and sharp sensibilities have not only taken stands but devised precise ways of acting that provide hope and direction for the future.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another Reason to Vote for Barack Obama: He's Arab-American!

At least now we know that Edward Said is still right; the hatred of Arabs and Muslims is the last acceptable hatred in the United States. It's not that Obama is African-American, but that he is Arab-American (which is code for Muslim, which is code for terrorist). Did you know that the number one Google search these days is: "Barack Obama" and "Muslim"?
“She keeps John on his toes,” said Wayne Jackson, a Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair, who was wearing a Navy baseball cap with a John McCain button pinned to the front. “When she was over with Mother Teresa, she brought a baby home from India!” Jackson had heard McCain speak six or seven times and said that he feared Barack Obama. “He’s not African-American—-he’s Arab-American.”
From "The Lonesome Trail: Cindy McCain’s nontraditional campaign.
by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker, September 15, 2008

So vote for Obama, not only because he's a good choice, but because he's Arab-American!
Yours in Arab-American, Philip Metres

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Summer Literary Seminar in St. Petersburg

Ten years ago, Mikhail Iossel founded a summer writing program in St. Petersburg, Russia, and it's still going strong, despite the downturn in the dollar, the uptick in prices in Mother Russia, and the general mayhem of summer writing program offerings. Having participated in the program, I can affirm that it's an exciting and often life-altering experience, because it takes everyone out of their static comfort zone. If you're a writer, and have the ability to do a summer seminar, I highly recommend this one, which is to my mind far more generative, far more globalist in its outlook, and far less hierarchical than some of the other, bigger brand name programs (you know who you are, Big Workshop of the Exclusionary Cocktail Parties).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Utah Phillips on EVERYTHING

Last night, our John Carroll faculty group, "Poverty and Solidarity," were talking about solidarity in various Catholic, Christian, and Muslim definitions, and we struggled with the paternalism and elitism of the "men and women for others" formulation that has been dogma in the Jesuit educational system. More recent attempts to articulate that relationship have emphasized "standing in solidarity with others," or "walking with others," though these also emphasize that the education is for the elite.

Somewhere along the way I brought up Antonio Gramsci's "organic intellectual" as another possible model, which would involve that most difficult contradiction, an oscillation between immersion in the experience of others and coming to speak on behalf of them, in a productive praxis. Langston Hughes, according to some literary critics, worked precisely this difficult balance. Utah Phillips talks that talk here:

War as a serious male problem:

On chronicling the war resistance movements, beginning with the IWW:

On the media:

Thanks to Tim Musser for sharing this legend with me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Howard Zinn, the Walt Whitman of Historians

I've been away, doing a reading with Mark Nowak in Madison, Wisconsin, and back again, trying to complete the introductory essay for the forthcoming anthology of peace poetry, Come Together: Imagine Peace, so I have not been keeping up with blogging. In the process of trying to locate radical historian Howard Zinn's contact information (anyone?), I discovered this piece dated five years ago, from a book that captures some of the voices from Zinn's great A People's History of the United States. Howard Zinn has been one of my models for how to remain a politically engaged academic. This is from Third World Traveler dot com:

Howard Zinn on:
A People's History of Antiwar Protest
Socialist Worker Online, March 7, 2003

With Bush's new Gulf War slaughter looming, America's rulers are cranking up a patriotic frenzy common to any war drive. Their goal is simple: To disguise the lies they tell and to stampede ordinary people into believing they have a stake in this war.

But that's only one side of it. There is a long and rich history, hidden from us most of the time, of people in the U.S. standing up against war--exposing the lies and rejecting the appeals to patriotism.

Many of these struggles are chronicled in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. This year, A People's History sold its 1 millionth copy--an incredible achievement for a book that tells a story the ruling establishment would prefer to conceal.

To celebrate this milestone and to pay tribute to Zinn, hundreds of people gathered in New York City at the 92nd Street Y February 23 for an evening of readings--featuring James Earl Jones, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Danny Glover and others--from Zinn's new book project.

The new book, co-edited by Zinn with Anthony Arnove, will collect speeches, articles and essays, poetry and more from people who were part of the struggles chronicled in A People's History. The new book will be called Voices of People's History, and it is due to be published in 2004 by Seven Stories Press. Here, Socialist Worker reprints some of the excerpts read at the 92nd St. Y--with brief introductions written by Zinn.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, once a slave, became the brilliant and powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July:
Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

Mark Twain
The orthodox texts in American history pay much attention to what was called "a splendid little war," the victory of the United States in the three-month long Spanish-American War of 1898. But they slide quickly over the bloody conquest of the Philippines that went on for years, which President McKinley said was necessary to "civilize and Christianize" the Filipinos, and which Theodore Roosevelt hailed as the newest outpost of the American Empire.

Roosevelt loved war and militarism, and when the U.S. army massacred 600 Moros on a southern Island in the Philippines in 1906, Roosevelt congratulated the commanding general. Here is novelist and essayist Mark Twain's response:

This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of our forces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows: A tribe of Moros, dark-skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace.

Our commander, Gen. Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance. It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain 2,200 feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery. Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out.

Gen. Wood's order was, "Kill or capture the six hundred." There, with 600 engaged on each side, we lost 15 men killed outright, and we had 32 wounded--counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered 600--including women and children--and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion--that was the President of the United States. All day Friday, he was as studiously silent as the rest. But on Saturday, he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty. This is what he said:
Washington, March 10. Wood, Manila: I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag. (Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeemIt should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller is presented to American school children as an extraordinary person who overcame blindness and deafness and became internationally famous. What our schools do not say about Helen Keller is that she was a socialist, a radical, that she opposed war and militarism, that she walked on picket lines.

But she had to deal with charges that she was incompetent to judge such issues because of her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, who had once praised her lavishly, changed his mind when she declared herself a socialist. She wrote a letter to the newspaper in response, addressing it: "Poor blind Eagle."
Here she speaks in Carnegie Hall, on the eve of American's entrance into the First World War.

We are facing a grave crisis in our national life. The few who profit from the labor of the masses want to organize the workers into an army which will protect the interests of the capitalists. You are urged to add to the heavy burdens you already bear the burden of a larger army and many additional warships. It is in your power to refuse

We are not preparing to defend our country--we have no enemies foolhardy enough to attempt to invade the United States. Yet, everywhere, we hear fear advanced as argument for armament. Congress is not preparing to defend the people of the United States. It is planning to protect the capital of American speculators and investors in Mexico, South America, China, and the Philippine Islands.

Every modern war has had its root in exploitation. The preparedness propagandists have still another object, and a very important one. They want to give the people something to think about besides their own unhappy condition. Every few days, we are given a new war scare to lend realism to their propaganda.

They are taught that brave men die for their country's honor. What a price to pay for an abstraction--the lives of millions of young men; other millions crippled and blinded for life; existence made hideous for still more millions of human beings; the achievement and inheritance of generations swept away in a moment--and nobody better off for all the misery!

Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction

Eugene Debs
Eugene Debs led a national strike of railroad workers in 1894, and spent six months in jail for doing that. He went into prison a labor leader and came out a socialist. As leader of the Socialist Party, he ran for president four times.

When the United States entered the First World War, President Wilson signed the Espionage Act, which provided long jail terms for anyone who said anything that might discourage recruitment in the armed forces. Debs spoke against the war and was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, and his conviction was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, which pointed to his statement that "the master class has always made the wars, the working class has always fought them."

Here, at his trial in the fall of 1918, he is speaking to the court:
Your Honor, years ago, I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Your Honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in a fundamental change--but if possible by peaceable and orderly means.

Standing here this morning, I recall my boyhood. At fourteen, I went to work in a railroad shop; at sixteen, I was firing a freight engine on a railroad. I remember all the hardships and privations of that earlier day, and from that time until now my heart has been with the working class. I could have been in Congress long ago. I have preferred to go to prison.

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and the factories; of the men in the mines and on the railroads. I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and in their tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the monster machines while they themselves are being starved and stunted, body and soul. I see them dwarfed and diseased and their little lives broken and blasted because in this high noon of Christian civilization, money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. In very truth, gold is god today and rules with pitiless sway in the affairs of men.

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

This order of things cannot always endure. I have registered my protest against it. I recognize the feebleness of my effort, but, fortunately, I am not alone. I can see the dawn of the better day for humanity. The people are awakening. In due time, they will and must come to their own.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In the great national campaign against the war in Vietnam, young Black people in the Southern civil rights movement were among the first protesters, and in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr., against the advice of more conservative black leaders, spoke out powerfully against the war.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day, we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed, so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

A Gulf War resister
Early in 1991, President George Bush Sr. sent American troops into Iraq, presumably to liberate Kuwait from the control of Saddam Hussein--more likely to assure American power in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East. The government had learned from the Vietnam experience that an antiwar movement must not be allowed time to develop, that U.S. casualties must be kept low, and that information about the war must be controlled. A massive air attack quickly defeated the forces of Saddam Hussein, and the American people were kept ignorant of the large numbers of casualties among Iraqi civilians.

Nevertheless, a protest movement developed, and there were refusals among the military to participate in the war. A Navy Reserve corpsman named James Lawrence Harrington wrote to his Commander:

There comes a time in life when maintaining silence is but a betrayal of one's own spiritual core of being. Such a time has come, and I must declare from the expansion of my heart and over the limited sphere of my mind, that I am a conscientious objector opposed to any and all wars. The power and command of my faith dictates that I work diligently and completely to stop war. To this end, do I dedicate the efforts of my life.

I do not hold that the absence of participation in war is itself a peace. Through the power of the people, peace is an active force that can and must spread to all nations, including our own. Our nation suffers from a deep malady in its consciousness that leads it down the path of continual violence and strife. I seek not only to stop this impending war in the Persian Gulf, but to also treat our own profound sickness.

War is but a symptom of a greater concern. I prescribe the treatment of a radical revolution within our nation from that of a "thing"-oriented society to a "person"-oriented community. We must learn to love and respect all people for the sake of divinity and basic goodness that dwells within them.
When we deny people the rights to exist and to self-determination, we are assuring our own self-destruction. In order to save my nation and in order not to betray my own soul, I take this open stance of opposition to all wars.

Howard Zinn
This excerpt comes from the first pages of A People's History of the United States.

My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America. And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can "see" history from the standpoint of others.

My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, depletes our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run, the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.

Still, understanding the complexities, this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest. I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don't want to romanticize them.

But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: "The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Patronymic" on the Crisis Chronicles Online Library

Check it out. Thanks to John Burroughs for his interest in the poems!

Naomi Shihab Nye on Peace in the Middle East

Check out this recent interview with Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye on poetry, Palestine, and peace.

Whenever I read her words, I feel the presiding spirit of the great nonviolent thinkers and writers--Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, Stafford. It ends with this:

Melissa Tuckey: Do you believe peace is possible? What are your hopes for Israel and for Palestine? Do you support one state in Israel/ Palestine or two?

Naomi Shihab Nye: Yes, I believe peace is possible. As my father kept saying toward the end of his life, people will have to become exhausted enough with fighting to embrace peace. From what I hear, many, on both "sides" have been exhausted enough to try something better for quite a long time. My hopes are for a one-state cooperative solution (because the territory is simply so small) in which Palestinian and Israeli citizens may share their strengths and resources in mutual respect. I don't see, at this point, how a two-state solution could work as well. The wall must go down. Don't bring it to Texas, either, we have enough problems with our own stupid wall!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Felix: A Series of New Writing (featuring Mark Nowak and Philip Metres) on Thursday, September 18th


presents a reading by




Do not capitalize the following
when they stand alone: judge, justice
Capitalize President
Capitalize Vice President
Capitalize Senator, Conressman
Capitalize Speaker
Capitalize Governor, Mayor, Cardinal
That “here” was located at some imaginary point
between General Electric itself and your living room.
But unlike more recent TV pitchmen,
such as Lee Iacocca and Frank Perdue,
Reagan was never burdened
with the pretense that he was himself
part of the actual production.

--Mark Nowak, from “Capitalization”

MARK NOWAK is a documentary poet, social critic, and labor activist. He is the author of Revenants, Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka), and Coal Mountain Elementary (forthcoming), all from Coffee House Press. His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan UP), and Goth: Undead Subculture (Duke UP). In addition to facilitating “poetry dialogues” between Ford autoworkers at plants in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, South Africa, Nowak is editing a section on late-apartheid worker poets for an anthology forthcoming from Wesleyan as well as a special double issue of the journal he founded in 1996, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, on South African literature and social movements.

PHILIP METRES is poet, translator, and scholar. He is the author of a number of poetry collections and books of translation including To See the Earth (2008), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003), as well as the critical study, Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007). 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.

What to say? Love, I live for the letters
I must wait to open. They bear across

this land, where I find myself at a loss—
each word a wintering seed.

--Philip Metres, from “Ashberries: Letters”

The Felix series is dedicated to providing an audience for new writing, and to highlighting the publication of the independent press. Felix readings are FREE and open to the public.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Metres Reading at the Literary Cafe in Cleveland, 9/11

Thanks to Steve Goldberg, Nick Traenkne rand the rest of the Literary Cafe's rogue poets and barkeeps for keeping me up late with words, and for words. (FYI, the reading below is rated R for language.)

Thanks to co-headliner Amy Bracken Sparks for her poems, and to John Burroughs (aka Jesus Crisis), his wife Geri Lynne, and the percussive John Panza, for helping me with "Cell(ph)one." The Literary Cafe's reading series, the second Tuesday of every month in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland (on 1031 Literary Road) is one of the most vital sites of poetry around town, with an open mic that goes into the wee hours and, apparently, involves various debaucheries that have been documented online.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Martin Espada on the Effects of 9/11 on the Language

Thanks to Stephen Vincent for passing along information of Poet Martin Espada's appearance on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on the 7th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Espada spoke movingly and evidently disturbed the protocols of punditry:
First of all, there's the phrase 9/11 itself. It's a big abstraction. And we who remember what happened that day have to do whatever we can to make that big abstraction as concrete as possible, so that we truly remember those who were murdered that day, so this does not turn into a memorial by rote, like so many others. And, this way, the dead can truly be honored.

There is another way, however, in which I think 9/11 changed the language. In the name of 9/11, in the name of the war on terror, phrases like weapons of mass destruction and enhanced interrogation have entered our political vocabulary.

These phrases, for me, divorce language from meaning. And, thus, they divorce action from consequence. If you are engaged in enhanced interrogation, you are not engaged in torture. And, thus, we as a society come to embrace torture in the name of security.

I think we have to do whatever we can to combat this tendency in the language. The fact is that this language is used to foster a culture of fear, so that people will, in turn, act against their own interests. And that's why we're now embroiled in two wars without end.

Thanks to Martin Espada for bringing a poet's voice and perspective into the 9/11 discussion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Attention Span 2008": My List of Recommended Poetry Books

Steven Evans, one of the most avid and active digital-friendly poetry critics and advocate for the avant-garde, has a website in which one can discover whole (new) worlds of poetry worth investigating. One of his annual features is the "Attention Span" series, which invites readers, critics, and poets to list books that they'd recommend that they'd read in the past year. The 2008 iteration will be out shortly. In advance of the official release, as a taste, here's my selection.

"Attention Span 2008" (for Steve Evans at Third Factory)
Reading List (in no particular order)

Walt Whitman | Leaves of Grass | Norton Critical Edition | 2002
This summer, I read the 1892 Leaves from cover to cover, and then the 1855 version, and did not want either to end. Despite its repetitiousness, its occasionally reprehensible poems, and its many awful lines— (“limitless limpid jets of love” being one of the most hilariously bad representations of male orgasm)—I found myself completely in love with Whitman’s project—its grandiosity, its attunement to his time, its largesse.

Fady Joudah, trans. | The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish | Copper Canyon | 2007

A collection of his most recent books translated by Fady Joudah into a supple and lush English — The Stranger’s Bed (1998), A State of Siege (2002), and Don’t Apologize for What You’ve Done (2003) — aptly represents the range of Darwish’s mature style. From the courtly and ecstatic love lyrics of The Stranger’s Bed, to the diaristic and penetrating political poem of A State of Siege, to the colloquial meditations on mortality, history, and the future in Don’t Apologize, The Butterfly’s Burden bears witness to the generous breadth of Darwish’s poetic and cultural achievement.

Marisol Limon Martinez | After You, Dearest Language | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2005

I can’t shake this book, composed as an index. Little haunter, dream house, index of night.

C.D. Wright | One Big Self | Copper Canyon | 2007

Wright culls statements and stories from the poet’s interviews of Louisiana prison inmates, conducted with photographer Deborah Luster (following in the tradition of Muriel Rukeyser’s trip to Gauley Junction with photographer Nancy Naumburg). Wright juggles these voices and images in ways that create “one big self” that contains author, reader, and prisoner.

Michael Magee | My Angie Dickinson | Zasterle | 2006

What happens with Flarf finds/fights traditional form, when Emily meets Angie. Ron Silliman has already called it a classic, but this is no museum piece.

H.L. Hix | God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse | Etruscan Press | 2007

God Bless comes almost entirely from speeches made by George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which Hix transforms into create poems in various traditional Western and non-Western forms, from the sestina to the ghazal. It is a fascinating project, demonstrating an aesthetic attention that becomes a kind of ethical and political attention, a close reading of the first order. A document of close listening, God Bless aptly demonstrates the profound lack of listening at the heart of this administration's decision-making process. Documentary poetry, in Hix’s rendering, becomes a kind of history lesson for the poet and his readers, a way of reading into the archive and thus extending the archive into poetry, poetry as “extending the document.”

Kate Degentesh | The Anger Scale | Combo Books | 2005

Flarf meets the MMPI, and they have a baby. If lyric tends toward the neurotic, and flarf toward the psychotic, then this book demonstrates a healthy split-personality.

Bob Perelman | Iflife | Roof | 2006

Rangy both formally and tonally, Perelman’s latest is framed by poems that situate us in the War on Terror, this book by a langpo vet moves us through elegies, investigations, re-considerations, muddlings of all sorts. He’s still lost his avant-garde card somewhere in the wash; I hope he never finds it.

Robert Hass | Time and Materials | Ecco | 2007

I’ve always had something of a lover’s quarrel with Hass’ poetry, for the ways in which it occasionally luxuriates in its own pleasures, and veers into the prose of privilege. Yet poems like “Winged and Acid Dark”—among some others here—demonstrate the terrifying limits of poetry in the face of the dark side of human imagination. In the tradition of a narrative lyric poetry conscious of its own imperial leanings.

Hayan Charara, ed. | Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry | U of Arkansas Press | 2008

Charara gathers the new and established voices of Arab American poetry confronting the post-9/11 landscape. Poets like Lawrence Joseph and Fady Joudah shake me to the core; poets like Khaled Mattawa and Naomi Shihab Nye bring me comfort.

Philip Metres’ recent books include To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008) and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007). See

Monday, September 8, 2008

Amy Bracken Sparks and Philip Metres, reading on 9/11 at the Literary Cafe in Tremont

I'll be reading with Amy Bracken Sparks on September 11, at 9:30 at the Literary Cafe in Tremont, a regular reading series spearheaded by local mensch Steve Goldberg. Here's his advert on the occasion. They are a noctural bunch, the Literary Cafe poets, and their readings are way past my bedtime, but it's 9/11. 9/11. 9/11.

"Mirrorrim": Visual Poetry as Self-Portrait

Here's "Mirrorrim," my little foray into the visual poetic realm. Or as Nietzsche once wrote: "when you look into the abysss, the abyss looks back."

Friday, September 5, 2008

The New No Spin Zone: Why the Daily Show Is Better Than the News

The Arrests of Amy Goodman, Nicole Salazar, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous at the RNC Convention

I'm stunned by the recent arrest of Democracy Now! journalists Nicole Salazar, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, and then Amy Goodman in Minneapolis at the RNC convention. It's a gripping and terrifying examination of the stormtrooping tactics of "peace officers" outside the Republican Convention hall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Writers & Their Friends Literary Showcase this Saturday

Writers & Their Friends is the 7th biennial literary showcase honoring and celebrating the award-winning, critically-acclaimed, and newly emerging literary artists who live and work in Northeast Ohio. Ten jury-selected works are woven into one unique dramatic (and often comic) script that is performed to a sold-out audience one night only...and you can be a part of it!

7pm - Pre-performance Reception
Hors d'oeuvres and Cash Bar
Browsing Book Sale

8pm - Live Performance in the Ohio Theatre

10pm - Post-performance Reception
Dessert and Cash Bar
Meet the Featured Writers and Cast
Browsing Book Sale

Tickets are $25 each
Click here to purchase or
call The Lit at 216-694-0000 to reserve yours!

With support from:

Honored Writers Featured at the 2008 Writers & Friends

Cinda Williams Chima
Shurice Gross
Paula McLain

Kazim Ali
Michael Dumanis
Ted Lardner
Phil Metres

David Giffels
James Renner
Frank Vazzano

Katie Daley

Christopher Johnston

The LIT(formerly The Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland) is Northeast Ohio's only organization dedicated to improving literacy in the region by creating, growing, and sustaining a thriving community of creative writers. For more information on The Lit and Writers & Their Friends, visit

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Poets for Palestine now out

Poets for Palestine (2008), edited by Remi Kanazi, an anthology of poetry and art featuring poems by poets such as Hayan Charara, Mahmoud Darwish, Marilyn Hacker, Pierre Joris, Fady Joudah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Deema Shehabi, and many others, is now available online for purchase.

Kanazi gathers poets of multiple generations and backgrounds (many of whom are Palestinian or Arab American) hailing from multiple poetic traditions (from the page-based to the more performance-oriented), and sets these voices alongside the visions of Palestinian artists, attempting to the stories of Palestine from the inside-out. While I may quibble with a poem here or there (for reasons of rhetoric or presentation), there are a number of arresting works that deserve (and hold up to) multiple re-readings--and is a good addition to other recent anthologies, such as We Begin Here and Inclined to Speak.

In the title to this blog review, I wrote "Poets for Palestine now out" for its dual meaning--that is, all of the poets are "out" in the sense of their advocacy for Palestine and Palestinians--an advocacy that marks them (and here, I'll come out to say "us") as supporters of human rights and national self-determination of the Palestinian people. Why, in this day and age, this should still be controversial would involve a much longer essay--and yet, it gets to the heart of why the conflict in the Middle East continues.

Thomas Friedman--no radical himself--once noted that the very existence of Palestinians as such is taken as an existential threat to Israelis and Israel. That there even exists a co-claimant to the land--people whose ownership and relationship to the land predates many of its current inhabitants--opens the question of Israel as much as it does the question of Palestine.

In one of the poems in the anthology, "Installation/Occupation," I've retold the anecdote of an artist, Vera Tamari, about the cultural siege under which Palestinians have lived since 1948 and 1967, and the ways in which the simplest acts of patriotic feeling (painting the colors of the flag in a work of art) were forbidden by Israeli officials. What this poem--and Tamari herself--come to embrace is a new identity which admits fracture, which embraces a certain co-creation.

In this way, perhaps (and here I don't want to be misunderstood as understating the tragic and terrifying de-creation that this poem relates), it offers a tentative model not only of cultural survival, but of identity-formation that is open to encounter with and alteration by otherness, even when that encounter is violent.
Installation/Occupation by Philip Metres

after Vera Tamari


there was a time you couldn’t paint red white
green or black could be a flag imagine

you couldn’t paint poppies or watermelon
now you can paint all you want & yet this state

of uncertainty will the doors hold out
can you leave your house can you walk around

this occupation when the tanks come
crack down drive the sidewalks for fun for weeks

all these smashed cars lining the city streets
my friend’s red Beetle flipped over its legs in the air

so in a field we paved a road to nowhere & placed
the crushed in a column as if in a rush hour

line of traffic we had an opening at our piece
a huge party on our road & then walked home


before dawn a column of Merkavas
came back my house was opposite the field

& I could see the tanks pull up & yield
two heads emerged from turrets trying to read

the scene then went back inside the hatch
& ran over the exhibit over & over

again backwards & forwards then shelled it
& for good measure christened it with piss

I caught it all on video this metamorphosis
of the piece there’s the story of Duchamp

once the workmen installing his exhibit
dropped a crate of paintings the floor

shattering the glass Duchamp ran over
thrilled now he said now it is complete