Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Face of War in Gaza

Witness, for example, the dizzied face of a 17 year old girl whose house has been destroyed. Watch how she can't find her footing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Poetry as a Healing Rite

Rodney Koeneke found an appropriate poem to end the year, "To Act I Come" by Henri Michaeux, a poem in the long tradition of poetry as a rite of healing, a spell of language to sound out and cover the wound. One of the sections of Come Together: Imagine Peace is called "Prayers and Meditations." "To Act..." is something between a prayer and a spell, and begins like this:

Opening the door inside you, I have entered
To act, I come
I am here
I support you
You are no longer abandoned
You are no longer in difficulty
Their strings untied, your difficulties fall
The nightmare that left you haggard is no more
I am shouldering you
With me you place
Your foot on the first step of the endless stairway
Which carries you
Which brings you up
Which fulfills you

I appease you
I am spreading out sheets of peace in you

The rest you'll have to read here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thinking of Gaza

My heart aches with the recent escalation of violence and the devastation wrought upon the people of Gaza (of course, all the people visited upon by violence, regardless of nationality). This video highlights some elements of the reality of daily life in Gaza, irrespective of the recent bombings. Next, we'll have the inevitable incursions, then the delayed international response, and then, perhaps, some "agonizing reappraisal." The human cost to this violence is surreal in our distance, our relative plenty and security.

When I saw the coverage on CNN, titled something like "Crisis in the Mideast"..."What it Means to Americans," I see the pundits wagging their lips, but their faces betray an unruffled calm. How is it possible, given the raw human ugliness that people are facing right now, from bombings piled on the ongoing blockade. It is a kind of living nightmare, and any simple narration about it feels grotesque, bulldozered, punctuated by shrapnel.

A Tribute to Lisa Rosen/"All the Way Up"

Larry Smith, co-editor and publisher of Come Together: Imagine Peace, passed along news that one of our poet contributors, Lisa Rosen, died after a struggle with cancer. Here is one of her poems from the anthology. Peace, Lisa.

"All the Way Up"

flowers float like pale stars
in the grass, and at the top
of the hill there’s a plank
of wood hanging from an oak.

I lift myself into its level lap,
a pendulous Sabbath where
branches curve and meet,
framing landscapes.

Blow sweet shadows,
there’s no holding back
the light, it curls
through the leaves
and snapping grasses. It pads

along Queen Anne’s lace.
Someone with faith in roots
and a weathered limb,
cut, carried, measured and

slipped sleeves of rubber
over rope, knotted it so I’m swinging
between hayfield and cloud.
Someone I will never know
is blessing me.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mark Moskovitz/Another Cleveland Gem

I recently met Cleveland-area artist Mark Moskovitz--through our wives' common interest in Community Supported Agriculture coop--and shared with me his contribution to "Five Minutes of Designed Freedom." This piece clearly echoes the Four Freedoms, as represented by Norman Rockwell, but with a decidedly postmodern edge and edginess. After all, commercial ads and war propaganda have common origins and common aims....

The very thought of bringing an ad "circular" into the framework of art is a conceptual gesture that made me think about circulars themselves as beyond mere annoyances. After all, on our tight budget, we actually use the damned things. In a few years, I can imagine that the circular itself will go the way of the 8-track, when everything gets onlined, and stores already know what we want, and when we want it.

"Surrender": the International WOW Company's war simulation drama

The play in which my sister plays an Iraqi civilian whose house is being raided will be engaging in its second run. (There's nothing like repetition compulsion for the traumatized, be they simulated or real!)

This play takes Brechtian theatre to another level of audience engagement, though exactly what the critics and audience participants glean from the experience tends to vary by participant. The critics note the intensity of the experience:

"The hallway was hot, dark and loud. Bursts of gunfire and screams echoed through the warren of rooms. A frantic Iraqi woman in a headscarf blocked the doorway. "Only women and children here," she said. I pushed past her, and saw a man with a gun squatting in the corner. I switched my rifle to semiautomatic and fired twice....SURRENDER plunges Theatergoers into the chaos, adrenaline, dread and camaraderie of modern urban warfare...SURRENDER ups the ante by putting the audience, quite literally, in the soldier's shoes."
-Wall St. Journal

"Hallucinatory...Profound...Theatergoers are in a squad, racing through rooms and facing tense scenes in enemy territory: a pregnant mother bristles with resentment at the invasion of her home; lovers are interrupted in an embrace; a lifeless body conceals a machine-gun magazine.... direct, immediate and focused"
-NY Times

A read-through of the audience comments suggests that for some, the play functions as a kind of 3D video game, while for others, it is a powerful induction into the experiences of counterinsurgency warfare (though, not surprisingly, from the soldiers' perspectives):

Unexpectedly, the experience of Surrender has changed me…For me, participating in Surrender was a brief foray into the unimaginable. Thank you so much, again, and thanks to Josh and the whole cast for an unbelievable and stunning experience.”
“Beautiful! The epitome of thought-provoking theater. Audiences have no choice but to do something about this reality.”
“I’m numb- frightening – overwhelming- found tears in my eyes though I wasn’t aware I was crying.”
“Mesmerizing. Amazing how the participants embraced their roles. Made me realize how scary it would be to be drafted.”
“Awesome. Fucking awesome. I didn’t want act 2 to end. [In Act III], I began to understand what people in the military go through.”
“This completely changes my idea of what theater could be. I want to do it again. I am in awe.”
“Most incredible piece of theater I’ve ever seen. How are they actors?”
“I can’t think of a more effective audience interaction in a performance I was brought to tears by audience members. Amazing.”
“All f-cking amazing! I’m sorry for the few words. I’m still a bit speechless.”
“My best friend is a Sergeant in the USMC currently serving in Iraq. This entire act was very emotional but gave me hope. Thank you.”
“My heart was pounding, especially in the Humvee. My hands were shaking from holding my gun but I felt like I couldn’t put it down because it was so real, and if I took my eyes off my target, something would happen. My brother is being deployed next month for his 3rd tour of Iraq so this was very eye opening. I can never know what he has gone through while in the army but this gave me a little taste.”
“ I thought the training was pretty g-ddam realistic. I have a friend going to West
Pointe and I finally have a tiny fraction of an idea of what he is going through.
I’ve never been so g-ddam sweaty at a performance in my life. Thank you. I was
alternately terrified, exciting, appalled, turned on, etc. Brilliant.”
“I can’t describe this act [three]. I can only say it is going to inspire me for months to come. Thank you.”
“F-cking scary. Felt genuine. I felt like crying several times – wanted to comfort
civilians – did not want to kill anyone – that felt strange but necessary on account
of the circumstances. Whoa.”
“This experience was so real. I felt like a soldier. I was nervous, anxious, and felt
alive…The most amazing experience I’ve ever had in a theater. This was heartbreaking,
gut-wrenching, emotionally driven. Beautifully choreographed and staged.”

Read more about "Surrender" here, and for tickets.

Here's one review, by Philippa Wehle:
Conceived and directed by Josh Fox
Written by Josh Fox and Jason Christopher Hartley,
The International WOW Company
The Ohio Theatre
66 Wooster St. New York
Opened October 26, closes November 16
Reviewed by Philippa Wehle, November 13, 2008

Imagine a line of 60 people in front of an Off Off Broadway theater in Soho eagerly volunteering to don Army uniforms and be trained by a veteran of the Iraq war in the arts of warfare. This is what I encountered when I arrived at International WOW company’s new show Surrender, a simulated war deployment experience in three acts, playing at the Ohio Theatre through November 16th. They had come to experience not only the grueling training that recruits must go through before deploying to Iraq, but also the feelings of fear and anticipation evoked in soldiers as they enter the rooms of Iraqi homes and make split-second decisions to kill the enemy or be killed in return.

Working with Jason Christopher Hartley, an army veteran who served in Iraq in 2004 and published a memoir Just Another Soldier; A Year on the Ground in Iraq, in 2005, Josh Fox, artistic director of WOW, has created a unique interactive show that is
fascinating throughout and important in terms of our understanding of what it means to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan..

Even before the first act began, I had the good luck to listen in on what was happening behind the curtains where the volunteer audience members were exchanging their civilian clothes for standard military uniforms and receiving instructions about how to tie their shoe laces, for example, on the special boots they had been given (only square knots, no loops). The cast of professional actors playing team leaders, squad leaders, doctors and nurses as well as terrorists, prisoners, and Iraqi women, 27 in all, was there to help them through the process.barking orders and making sure that they entered the performance area as quickly as possible.

Those who chose not to be soldiers, myself among them, were observers or civilians in military parlance. Ours was not as exciting a part to play as the roles of those actively involved in the experience of a simulated war but we were nonetheless close to the action at all times, and we felt very much a part of the event.

In Act 1, the nearly 60 soldiers, women and men of old ages, entered the Ohio Theater space and were divided into squads led by actors playing NCOs who had been trained in combat techniques by Jason Christopher Hartley. Once they had been properly lined up, Sargeant Hartley proceeded to give them a crash course in how to handle a rifle, how to clear a room and how to engage the enemy. If any one was not following instructions, he or she was ordered to "Push." And down they went, doing however many push ups required of them. The earnestness of these non-professionals was fascinating to watch. There was never any giggling or smirking, only what seemed to be genuine concern for learning the techniques and rules of war and helping each other to follow them.

In Act 2, the soldiers were deployed into a multi-room installation to put their military training to the test. They learned and practiced the rules of basic room clearing, stacking up, tapping it up, and learning the language they would have to use to clear the room or identify bodies, be they friend or foe. They were also given a lesson in how to search the bodies for any useful information as well as how to carry the wounded to the hospital, a room down stairs where doctors and nurses were frantically trying to save lives. It was good to hear Hartley remind them more than once that the dead must be respected, whether they are the enemy or not.

Next, we observers were invited to walk around the space and look into a series of rooms through openings in walls that had been roughly built around the training space. There we became witnesses to a number of unsettling scenes taking place in Iraqi homes: women mourning the loss of husbands and brothers, a couple shot in the act of making love, a prisoner being tortured. Fortunately we had been warned to wear the earplugs we had been given as these scenes were accompanied by the deafening noises of warfare: helicopters overhead, grenades, and rifles popping.

After a brief intermission during which the soldiers were allowed a few heady moments of well-deserved R & R, complete with beer and Go Go dancers, it was time for the troops to go home.

In Act 3, the soldiers joined the observers in the theater’s seating area, and together we took off on a Delta airlines flight taking these weary soldiers home. In typical WOW theater fashion, we were treated to a series of seemingly unrelated scenes as we watched the TV sitcom Friends on the overhead screen. One minute the stewardesses were giving us the usual instructions, the next a terrorist was slitting the throat of one of them and a soldier in war paint was racing forward to deliver a frenetic speech; dance sequences were interspersed with a visit to a hospital where the war wounded wearing tiger, pig, and shark costumes reenacted a scene we had seen in Fox’s 2007 piece You Belong to Me, and some of the volunteer soldiers were invited to play roles in scenes about looking for a job, attending a funeral, and grappling with the difficulties of reuniting with former girlfriends (their lines provided by a karaoke scroller screen), and much more.

The show lasted about four hours (none of them the least bit boring even though some might question how exciting it is to watch recruits being trained) and many of the participants stayed on afterwards to talk about their extraordinary experience (one female soldier told me how emotional she had felt during the Iraqi house raids; they had brought tears to her eyes, she said).

Surrender is a masterful achievement on all fronts. Not only have Fox and his company succeeded in producing an important piece about the war in Iraq, but the interactive nature of the show allows both soldiers and observers to get a much closer look at what it means to volunteer for duty, to train, kill and be killed, than we ever get from televised reports of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.. How they manage to harness the energies, dedication and enthusiasm of a new group of amateur players each time the show is performed is equally remarkable. Unfortunately this memorable show only runs for three weeks. I can only hope that it will find other sponsors and another space so that many more people can observe war close up.

Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture: On Art, Language, and Politics

If you're distressed by the mediocre quality, go to the Nobel website here and watch.

a selection from Pinter's speech:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.


What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

"A Long Way from Order": On the Death of Harold Pinter and Protest Poetry

Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate and one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, died this week. Although he was not known principally for his poetry, his 2003 collection, War, brought him widespread attention for its excoriation of the imperial motives and operations of the United States in Iraq. It's by no means great poetry--in any sense of the term--except, perhaps for the publicity it engendered by its doggereled outspokenness, its blistering outrage.

Here are some of the poems, both prior to and after that collection, including this one:

Order (12 September, 1996)

Are you ready to order?
No there is nothing to order
No I'm unable to order
No I'm a long way from order
And while there is everything,
And nothing, to order,
Order remains a tall order
And disorder feeds on the belly of order
And order requires the blood of disorder
And 'freedom' and ordure and other disordures
Need the odour of order to sweeten their murders
Disorder a beggar in a darkened room
Order a banker in a castiron womb
Disorder an infant in a frozen home
Order a soldier in a poisoned tomb

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Anti- Issue #3

Just in time for Christmas, Anti- presents Issue 3!

26 poems by Donald Zirilli, Ellen Wehle, Erin Elizabeth Smith, Nic Sebastian, Karen Rigby, Kristen Orser, Jeff Newberry, Juan J. Morales, Philip Metres, Mark McKee, Nathan McClain, Mira Martin-Parker, Patrick Lawler, Jenn Koiter, Donald Illich, Brandi Homan, Christopher Hennessy, Chet Gresham, Emily Kendal Frey / Zachary Schomburg, Noah Falck, Adam Deutsch, and Julia Cohen / Brandon Shimoda.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On the Shministim: Israel's Conscientious Objectors

This Omer Goldman. Here's her story:
I first went to prison on September 23 and served 35 days. I am lucky, after 2 times in jail, I got a medical discharge, but I'm the only one. By the time you read this, many of my friends will be in prison too: in for three weeks, out for one, and then back in, over and over, until they are 21. The reason? We refuse to do military service for the Israeli army because of the occupation.

I grew up with the army. My father was deputy head of Mossad and I saw my sister, who is eight years older than me, do her military service. As a young girl, I wanted to be a soldier. The military was such a part of my life that I never even questioned it.

Earlier this year, I went to a peace demonstration in Palestine. I had always been told that the Israeli army was there to defend me, but during that demonstration Israeli soldiers opened fire on me and my friends with rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades. I was shocked and scared. I saw the truth. I saw the reality. I saw for the first time that the most dangerous thing in Palestine is the Israeli soldiers, the very people who are supposed to be on my side.

When I came back to Israel, I knew I had changed. And so, I have joined with a number of other young people who are refusing to serve - they call us the Shministim. On December 18th, we are holding a Day of Action in Israel, and we are determined to show Israelis and the world that there is wide support for stopping a culture of war. Will you join us? Please, just sign a letter. That's all it takes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of the Work Ahead: Thomas Merton on...Peacemaking? Poetry? Prayer?

“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything….All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.” (Thomas Merton, To Jim Forest, Feb. 21, 1966)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Answering Hix's "Twenty Questions"

H.L. Hix did a guest blog at Best American Poetry Blog last week, and asked poets to respond to "Twenty Questions." Here are my answers, such as they are. YOu can find other poets' responses (Ron Silliman, among others) here.

Philip Metres' Answers [by H. L. Hix]
Philip Metres is the author of To See the Earth (2008), and recently co-edited Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008).

1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?

Walt Whitman, Department of Homeland Security: “unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”
Emily Dickinson, Central Intelligence Agency
Gary Snyder, Environmental Protection Agency
William Stafford, Department of Peace (to be created under the new Obama Administration)
Adrienne Rich, Justice Department

2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?

I’d give him William Stafford, Every War Has Two Losers.

3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?

Other than Silliman’s Blog, just to keep you in Philadelphia, I’ll say Al Filreis’ blog at

4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?

I tend to think that you’ve read everyone already! Among many others, I’m fond of Mark Nowak.

5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?

I laugh with and love David Berman’s “Community College in the Rain.”
Poems tend to bring tears only when I read them aloud, in front of others; excepting a couple of my own, Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Jerusalem” chokes me up. “It’s late but everything happens next.”

6. William or Dorothy? Robert or Elizabeth Barrett? Moore or Bishop? Dunbar or Cullen? “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” or “No ideas but in things”? Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Tender Buttons?

I’m a sometimes Hegelian. Both/and, plus the synthesis of their beautiful unions.

7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?

My daughter’s dream breathing. Seriously, I’m more at risk of being intimidated by a book of poetry (and thus, looking at its cover repeatedly and never opening it—thank you, Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems) than being narcotized by it.

8. Even for poetry books, the contract has a provision for movie rights. What poetry book should they make into a movie? Who should direct it, and why? Who should star in it?

“The Book of the Dead” by Muriel Rukeyser would be a safe, progressive, “Harlan County U.S.A.” type of social action documentary. I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been a movie about Frank O’Hara, starring Frank O’Hara—that guy seemed to think of his whole life as a movie.

9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?

“O tree standing in the ear! O pure transcendency!” Rilke’s first “Sonnet to Orpheus”

10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?

I wish I could say that there was such a poem for me. Better a poem than a person.

11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?

Poetry is a Ponzi Scheme! Fiction is a Bunch of Lies! See inside for pictures of pantoums wearing no panties out between parties! Ron Silliman seen lunching with Christian Wiman at Lolita’s!

12. If you were making a scandal rag for poetry in the grocery store checkout stands, what fictitious poetry love triangle would you make up to outsell that tired Hollywood story of Angelina and Brad and Jen?

I think the AWP is doing quite fine, thank you very much.

13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?

The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish, in particular, the latter two books within the collection, “State of Siege” and “Don’t Apologize for What You Haven’t Done.”

14. We read poems in journals and books, we hear them in readings and on audio files. Sometimes we get them in unusual ways: on buses or in subway cars. How would you like to encounter your next poem?

As a message on my answering machine. (216) 397-4528.

15. What poem would you like to hear the main character bust out singing in a Bollywood film? What would be the name of the movie? What would be the scene in which it was sung?

Don’t they all work that way? Actually, any Tom Eliot would be tremendously improved in a musical setting.

16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?

There are no clean jokes about poetry. And poetry isn’t funny. But once, in college, after a long night of hosting a blow-out party, after everyone had left and my housemates and I repaired to the kitchen for toast at four a.m., a guy wandered in. Someone said, “hey, it’s Ramon Fernandez.”
If you laugh at that, then friend me on Facebook. I owe you an idea of order and a margarita.

17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?

I used to have the Norton Anthology in the john, the one from high school with my crazy high school notes. In the margins of the first stanza of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “body mind a numb sedate/evening wasteland meaningless relationship fertility “no meat” emptiness what is the meaning of life? No inquisitiveness.” etc.

18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?

Sister Somebody Who Terrified One of My Classmates So Much She Peed in Her Seat
Miss Neubauer Who Left Midway Through the Semester Thus Breaking My Heart
Miss Steinberg Who Taught Me How to Sing
Nobody made me memorize any poems, to my recollection, but I did get to sing in our version of “The Mikado.” One teacher also took us out on “nature walks”—oh look everyone, a BUTTERFLY! Everyone in class thought this lady was crazy. Now I believe she was a mad genius, secretly teaching us Whitman and Dickinson.

19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?

The other night at The Lit in Cleveland, I saw Naomi Shihab Nye give an absolutely engaging, energetic, funny, and welcoming reading, and as I was sitting there, it suddenly struck me—she should be the next poet laureate. Why? If the Library of Congress were to choose a mid-career, civically-engaged, and approachable poet for whom such duties are not perceived as a devil's bargain, a dollar-woven laurel, they might find a laureate who has the energy and vision to create a program that would bring poetry into the public conversation again. When I think back on the highest-profile tenures of Poets Laureate, the following come to my mind: Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass—all mid-career, civic-minded poets, who had a vision for bringing poetry to the people, and the people to the poetry. Others have gratefully received their laurels and did their duty and rode off into the sunset.

20. Insert your own question here.

Dear Fugees, what does this mean: “how many mics do we rip on the daily?” Solitary, off-white boy wants to know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The President's Reflexes Are in Good Order

Homage to Guy Picciotto

Guy reminds me of the fugitive nature of art, against the ritual forms embedded in various art modalities (pop song, sonnet, etc.)--and that to stay connected to the living impulses in us, we must keep moving.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On the 60th Anniversary of International Human Rights Day

Mike Marcellino, poet in the band Split Pea/ce, reads "Human rights" and "America rediscover" at the 60th Anniversary of International Human Rights Day at the Old Stone Church in Cleveland, Ohio on Dec. 10, 2008. Photo published in The Plain Dealer today.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ted Leo Was an English Major/"Bleeding Powers"

I've been trying to see Ted Leo live for about a thousand years, and last night, by pure chance, I walked in to the B Side, and there he was, playing solo, in the dark, and ending with "Dancing in the Dark." Happy Birthday, Jimmy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poet Remi Kanazi on You Tube/Thinking about Self-Censorship

Remi Kanazi, poet and editor of the recent Poets for Palestine anthology, here performs two poems, the second of which begins with a lament that the issue of Palestine is often taken off the agenda of anti-war rallies, for fear of disintegrating the peace movement.

In my investigations of peace movement files for Peace Action at Swarthmore College, I found direct evidence of this. A letter sent from the Arab-American Institute, dated May 1991, requested Peace Action (SANE) to “review and endorse the enclosed working paper, ‘New Thinking for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.’” The letter itself simply states what would become a fairly standard “strategic tradeoff in which Israeli would obtain diplomatic recognition, economic cooperation, and security guarantees in return for withdrawing from the Occupied Territories.” Handwritten in the upper left hand corner is the following: “The main problem is the sponsor/author. It is a good proposal but will not be accepted by the Jewish community unless it is on another letterhead.” How disturbing, that a progressive peace group would refuse to sign onto something from an Arab American progressive group (AAI) because it might not “be accepted by the Jewish community” SIMPLY BECAUSE OF THE SPONSOR! It fails to give "the Jewish community" (as if it were a monolith) the possibility of responding differently. I would hope that peace groups would not engage so swiftly in acts of self-censorship.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

On Stanley Moss' "Peace"

I didn't get a chance to comment on the poem that I posted on Friday. Stanley Moss' poem is an intriguing fantasy of a time that has not yet existed--or at least, one which is lost between or beneath the tank treads of the History of Wars. Just for fun, I'll take it sentence by sentence, though it's a single stanza.
"Peace" by Stanley Moss

The trade of war is over, there are no more battles,
but simple murder is still in.

This epoch which Moss describes is one in which war is done but murder still can occur. It's a funny line--as if to say, at least organized mass violence is out, but some little nastinesses still may occur. In other words, this isn't complete pie in the sky nonsense.
The No God, Time, creeps his way,
universe after universe, like a great snapping turtle
opening its mouth wagging its tongue
to look like a worm or leech
so deceived hungry fish, every living thing
swims in to feed. Quarks long for dark holes,
atoms butter up molecules, protons do unto neutrons
what they would have neutrons do unto them.

Now, what still strikes fear in the hearts of men is what always has, the "great snapping turtle" of Time that waits until we are deceived and in her mouth, seeking succor. In fact, all things, from the smallest particles on up, desire to be taken up into larger constellations of being (atoms to molecules, protons to neutrons, etc.), and all things act as they would like to be acted upon (something akin to a first principle of ethics.)
The trade of war has been over so long,
the meaning of war in the O.E.D. is now “nonsense.”
In the Russian Efron Encyclopedia,
war, voina, means “dog shit”;
in the Littré, guerre is “a verse form, obsolete”;
in Germany, Krieg has become “a whipped-cream pastry”;
Sea of Words, the Chinese dictionary,
has war, zhan zheng, as “making love in public,”
while war in Arabic and Hebrew, with the same
Semitic throat, harb and milchamah, is defined
as “anything our distant grandfathers ate
we no longer find tempting—-like the eyes of sheep.”

Moss then goes into language itself, the way the old words for war now have come to mean anything but war--nonsense, dog shit, obsolete verse form, whipped cream pastry, making love in public, or what the ancestors ate but no longer tastes good, "like the eyes of sheep."
The final line,
And lions eat grass.

necessarily comes as a kind of shock, the icy water of reality after the flights of fancy. The poem's logic seems to suggest, then, that though we might imagine human words could change meaning when reality changes, it is ludicrous to imagine a lion ever eating grass, and thus, despite our best efforts, there is something in us, in the world, in nature ("red in tooth and claw") that will never be tamed into peace.

Peace is a mere fantasy in the face of lions. It echoes, of course, the apocalyptic vision of Isaiah, which is popularly misquoted as "the lion lies down with the lamb" (it's a wolf)--an imagination of a time when all the natural orders are reversed, and the impossible becomes possible again. Interestingly, this is a passage read during Advent, as it is seen as a precursor vision of the birth of Jesus:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
--Isaiah 11:6

There is a whole tradition of Christian poetry that unites the vision of peace with the birth of Jesus, including Milton's "Nativity Ode."

What annoys me about the Moss poem is that it employs the rhetoric of nature's essential violence to suggest why war may be inevitable. Does it necessarily follow?

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Peace" by Stanley Moss

"Peace" by Stanley Moss

The trade of war is over, there are no more battles,
but simple murder is still in.
The No God, Time, creeps his way,
universe after universe, like a great snapping turtle
opening its mouth wagging its tongue
to look like a worm or leech
so deceived hungry fish, every living thing
swims in to feed. Quarks long for dark holes,
atoms butter up molecules, protons do unto neutrons
what they would have neutrons do unto them.
The trade of war has been over so long,
the meaning of war in the O.E.D. is now “nonsense.”
In the Russian Efron Encyclopedia,
war, voina, means “dog shit”;
in the Littré, guerre is “a verse form, obsolete”;
in Germany, Krieg has become “a whipped-cream pastry”;
Sea of Words, the Chinese dictionary,
has war, zhan zheng, as “making love in public,”
while war in Arabic and Hebrew, with the same
Semitic throat, harb and milchamah, is defined
as “anything our distant grandfathers ate
we no longer find tempting—-like the eyes of sheep.”
And lions eat grass.

published in The New Yorker, December 1, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reading for the Sudanese Lost Boys in Cleveland.

Check out John Burroughs' review of the Lost Boys benefit reading at The Lit last weekend. It was an inspired event, a packed house, and many of the men who have borne the mantle of "lost boys" came out, standing in the back in sport coats and ties, as the poets read. We scrambled for chairs, which seemed the right thing to do, but I really wish that we invited the Lost Boys to speak for themselves as well. I'm not sure we anticipated that so many of the Lost Boys would be there in person; their full silences and their eyes spoke their own sorts of poems. I hope it won't be the last time we come together.