Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From the Pixies to the Avant-Garde

Robert Archambeau recently wrote in his Samizdat blog about how a young Frank Zappa discovered the avant-garde via a cut-out bin record, The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume I, at his local Sam Goody's. By 22, he was playing a bicycle as a musical instrument on a national network comedy show. As I wrote (in part) to Archambeau, when I was in high school, all I could muster were pen twirls and pale imitations of "The Waste Land." It took the Pixies to point me to Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou," though I was as enthralled with the eyeball slicing as I was by the "B-side" film, "Land Without Bread," a documentary about poverty in Spain that filled out the VHS version. Thank God for bundling.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Ian Mungall's Poetry Project: "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen

"Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, set to music and read by my student, Ian Mungall. Though Owen's poem is from World War I, the photos range from all recent modern wars.

"We [Don't] Torture": Can I Interest You in a Waterboarding?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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"Waterboarding" will go down in the history of doublespeak, alongside "ethnic cleansing," "defense department," and "stress position." Sounds like something to do on the beach in Cali. How about drowning?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Francesco Levato's "War Rug"

Check out Francesco Levato's new film-poem, War Rug. I read a version of it in XCP (Cross Cultural Poetics) No. 20, and was intrigued by its documentary aspect. It is a haunting palimpsestic work, where the images of Arab village life melt into x-ray images of eye sockets, to name one juxtaposition; the ghostliness of the film juxtaposes strongly against the direct, factual, documentary-style language--as if to give us the brute force of fact against its elegaic aftereffects.

You can find more of his poems, and film/poetry work, at his website.

Thinking of Drinking (Water)?

I've often wondered why my kids don't guzzle water; they seem not to like its taste, even after filtering. Is there more basic or fundamental human need than a safe water supply? Thanks to drug and chemical companies, (not to mention, agricultural and industrial production), our water is a toxic cocktail.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water -- contamination the federal government has consistently overlooked, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking: For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder; nitroglycerin is a heart drug and also used in explosives; copper shows up in everything from pipes to contraceptives.

Federal and industry officials say they don't know the extent to which pharmaceuticals are released by U.S. manufacturers because no one tracks them -- as drugs. But a close analysis of 20 years of federal records found that, in fact, the government unintentionally keeps data on a few, allowing a glimpse of the pharmaceuticals coming from factories.

As part of its ongoing PharmaWater investigation about trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, AP identified 22 compounds that show up on two lists: the EPA monitors them as industrial chemicals that are released into rivers, lakes and other bodies of water under federal pollution laws, while the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as active pharmaceutical ingredients.

The data don't show precisely how much of the 271 million pounds comes from drugmakers versus other manufacturers; also, the figure is a massive undercount because of the limited federal government tracking.

To date, drugmakers have dismissed the suggestion that their manufacturing contributes significantly to what's being found in water. Federal drug and water regulators agree.

But some researchers say the lack of required testing amounts to a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy about whether drugmakers are contributing to water pollution.

"It doesn't pass the straight-face test to say pharmaceutical manufacturers are not emitting any of the compounds they're creating," said Kyla Bennett, who spent 10 years as an EPA enforcement officer before becoming an ecologist and environmental attorney.

Pilot studies in the U.S. and abroad are now confirming those doubts.

Last year, the AP reported that trace amounts of a wide range of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in American drinking water supplies. Including recent findings in Dallas, Cleveland and Maryland's Prince George's and Montgomery counties, pharmaceuticals have been detected in the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans.

Most cities and water providers still do not test. Some scientists say that wherever researchers look, they will find pharma-tainted water.

Consumers are considered the biggest contributors to the contamination. We consume drugs, then excrete what our bodies don't absorb. Other times, we flush unused drugs down toilets. The AP also found that an estimated 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging are thrown away each year by hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Researchers have found that even extremely diluted concentrations of drugs harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs. Some scientists say they are increasingly concerned that the consumption of combinations of many drugs, even in small amounts, could harm humans over decades.

Utilities say the water is safe. Scientists, doctors and the EPA say there are no confirmed human risks associated with consuming minute concentrations of drugs. But those experts also agree that dangers cannot be ruled out, especially given the emerging research.


Two common industrial chemicals that are also pharmaceuticals -- the antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide -- account for 92 percent of the 271 million pounds identified as coming from drugmakers and other manufacturers. Both can be toxic and both are considered to be ubiquitous in the environment.

However, the list of 22 includes other troubling releases of chemicals that can be used to make drugs and other products: 8 million pounds of the skin bleaching cream hydroquinone, 3 million pounds of nicotine compounds that can be used in quit-smoking patches, 10,000 pounds of the antibiotic tetracycline hydrochloride. Others include treatments for head lice and worms.

Residues are often released into the environment when manufacturing equipment is cleaned.

A small fraction of pharmaceuticals also leach out of landfills where they are dumped. Pharmaceuticals released onto land include the chemo agent fluorouracil, the epilepsy medicine phenytoin and the sedative pentobarbital sodium. The overall amount may be considerable, given the volume of what has been buried -- 572 million pounds of the 22 monitored drugs since 1988.

In one case, government data shows that in Columbus, Ohio, pharmaceutical maker Boehringer Ingelheim Roxane Inc. discharged an estimated 2,285 pounds of lithium carbonate -- which is considered slightly toxic to aquatic invertebrates and freshwater fish -- to a local wastewater treatment plant between 1995 and 2006. Company spokeswoman Marybeth C. McGuire said the pharmaceutical plant, which uses lithium to make drugs for bipolar disorder, has violated no laws or regulations. McGuire said all the lithium discharged, an annual average of 190 pounds, was lost when residues stuck to mixing equipment were washed down the drain.


Pharmaceutical company officials point out that active ingredients represent profits, so there's a huge incentive not to let any escape. They also say extremely strict manufacturing regulations -- albeit aimed at other chemicals -- help prevent leakage, and that whatever traces may get away are handled by onsite wastewater treatment.

"Manufacturers have to be in compliance with all relevant environmental laws," said Alan Goldhammer, a scientist and vice president at the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Goldhammer conceded some drug residues could be released in wastewater, but stressed "it would not cause any environmental issues because it was not a toxic substance at the level that it was being released at."

Several big drugmakers were asked this simple question: Have you tested wastewater from your plants to find out whether any active pharmaceuticals are escaping, and if so what have you found?

No drugmaker answered directly.

"Based on research that we have reviewed from the past 20 years, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are not a significant source of pharmaceuticals that contribute to environmental risk," GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement.

AstraZeneca spokeswoman Kate Klemas said the company's manufacturing processes "are designed to avoid, or otherwise minimize the loss of product to the environment" and thus "ensure that any residual losses of pharmaceuticals to the environment that do occur are at levels that would be unlikely to pose a threat to human health or the environment."

One major manufacturer, Pfizer Inc., acknowledged that it tested some of its wastewater -- but outside the United States.

The company's director of hazard communication and environmental toxicology, Frank Mastrocco, said Pfizer has sampled effluent from some of its foreign drug factories. Without disclosing details, he said the results left Pfizer "confident that the current controls and processes in place at these facilities are adequately protective of human health and the environment."

It's not just the industry that isn't testing.

FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly noted that his agency is not responsible for what comes out on the waste end of drug factories. At the EPA, acting assistant administrator for water Mike Shapiro -- whose agency's Web site says pharmaceutical releases from manufacturing are "well defined and controlled" -- did not mention factories as a source of pharmaceutical pollution when asked by the AP how drugs get into drinking water.

"Pharmaceuticals get into water in many ways," he said in a written statement. "It's commonly believed the majority come from human and animal excretion. A portion also comes from flushing unused drugs down the toilet or drain; a practice EPA generally discourages."

His position echoes that of a line of federal drug and water regulators as well as drugmakers, who concluded in the 1990s -- before highly sensitive tests now used had been developed -- that manufacturing is not a meaningful source of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Pharmaceutical makers typically are excused from having to submit an environmental review for new products, and the FDA has never rejected a drug application based on potential environmental impact. Also at play are pressures not to delay potentially lifesaving drugs. What's more, because the EPA hasn't concluded at what level, if any, pharmaceuticals are bad for the environment or harmful to people, drugmakers almost never have to report the release of pharmaceuticals they produce.

"The government could get a national snapshot of the water if they chose to," said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, "and it seems logical that we would want to find out what's coming out of these plants."

Ajit Ghorpade, an environmental engineer who worked for several major pharmaceutical companies before his current job helping run a wastewater treatment plant, said drugmakers have no impetus to take measurements that the government doesn't require.

"Obviously nobody wants to spend the time or their dime to prove this," he said. "It's like asking me why I don't drive a hybrid car? Why should I? It's not required."


After contacting the nation's leading drugmakers and filing public records requests, the AP found two federal agencies that have tested.

Both the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have studies under way comparing sewage at treatment plants that receive wastewater from drugmaking factories against sewage at treatment plants that do not.

Preliminary USGS results, slated for publication later this year, show that treated wastewater from sewage plants serving drug factories had significantly more medicine residues. Data from the EPA study show a disproportionate concentration in wastewater of an antibiotic that a major Michigan factory was producing at the time the samples were taken.

Meanwhile, other researchers recorded concentrations of codeine in the southern reaches of the Delaware River that were at least 10 times higher than the rest of the river.

The scientists from the Delaware River Basin Commission won't have to look far when they try to track down potential sources later this year. One mile from the sampling site, just off shore of Pennsville, N.J., there's a pipe that spits out treated wastewater from a municipal plant. The plant accepts sewage from a pharmaceutical factory owned by Siegfried Ltd. The factory makes codeine.

"We have implemented programs to not only reduce the volume of waste materials generated but to minimize the amount of pharmaceutical ingredients in the water," said Siegfried spokeswoman Rita van Eck.

Another codeine plant, run by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Noramco Inc., is about seven miles away. A Noramco spokesman acknowledged that the Wilmington, Del., factory had voluntarily tested its wastewater and found codeine in trace concentrations thousands of times greater than what was found in the Delaware River. "The amounts of codeine we measured in the wastewater, prior to releasing it to the City of Wilmington, are not considered to be hazardous to the environment," said a company spokesman.

In another instance, equipment-cleaning water sent down the drain of an Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc. factory in Denver consistently contains traces of warfarin, a blood thinner, according to results obtained under a public records act request. Officials at the company and the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District said they believe the concentrations are safe.

Warfarin, which also is a common rat poison and pesticide, is so effective at inhibiting growth of aquatic plants and animals it's actually deliberately introduced to clean plants and tiny aquatic animals from ballast water of ships.

"With regard to wastewater management we are subject to a variety of federal, state and local regulation and oversight," said Joel Green, Upsher-Smith's vice president and general counsel. "And we work hard to maintain systems to promote compliance."

Baylor University professor Bryan Brooks, who has published more than a dozen studies related to pharmaceuticals in the environment, said assurances that drugmakers run clean shops are not enough.

"I have no reason to believe them or not believe them," he said. "We don't have peer-reviewed studies to support or not support their claims."


Associated Press Writer Don Mitchell in Denver contributed to this report.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Louie Vitale on Democracy Now! and coming to Cleveland

This was sent to me by Tim Musser!
Longtime peace activist Louis Vitale will be speaking in Cleveland [Love Your Enemies: Transforming Us vs. Them Thinking] as part of a nationwide tour on:
Wednesday evening May 6th at 7:30 pm at St. Paul's Community Church [4427 Franklin Blvd. - corner of West 45th and Franklin Blvd]. Here is a link above to an interview of Louie by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman from last week in San Francisco; in this clip, he's speaking of protests against the use of Predator drones in the War on Terror--which is killing many civilians abroad, and also leading to PTSD for the U.S. drone pilots in Nevada.

In addition - the Los Angeles Times featured a very positive article on Louie last week - please click on:

PLEASE help us get the word out! This event is sponsored by the Cleveland Network of Spiritual Peace Activists along with many co-sponsors.

Thank you very much. Bring your friends - enemies too - we'll make 'em friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009

John Dear on Democracy Now!

I just read Kate Sopko's book, Stewards of the Lost Lands, which weaves poetry and essays about her experiences and thoughts about working for peace and social justice, particularly in Cleveland. Her essays on nuclear arms and nuclear energy rhymes with what John Dear is talking about in this interview; the notion that nuclear energy is a viable energy strategy seems fatally short-sighted.

Hold the Torturers Accountable

Can you sign our petition to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the torture program? If we can reach 200,000 signatures, we'll deliver the petition to Holder by the end of the week. Clicking here will sign your name:

The petition says: "No one is above the law. It's time to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the architects of the Bush-era torture program."

Reading the memos is sickening. Forced nudity. Simulated drowning. Insects in coffin-like spaces. Gruesome torture techniques given the Bush administration's stamp of approval.1

Calls for action, from the United Nations, the ACLU, Amnesty International,2 Senators Leahy and Feingold, The New York Times,3 and others, are gathering steam.

This isn't about retribution or politics. It's about showing these abuses have real consequences—the only way we make sure this never happens again.

Attorney General Holder hasn't opened an investigation yet—and most likely won't, unless he hears from hundreds of thousands of Americans demanding accountability for these heinous acts.

Dmitry Prigov Was a Crocodile in His Past Life; Where is He Now?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Which Way the Wind Blows: Kenneth Goldsmith as Weatherman in Iraq

"You don't have to be weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith, at the recent brouhaha at the Whitney Museum of Art, scoring one for conceptualism.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Narrative Magazine call for journalistic literary non-fiction

Narrative Magazine seeks dispatches of varying lengths from reporters around the world. Narrative offers a well-edited, well-published, and widely popular online outlet for the best reportage not to be found in the broadsheets.

Narrative Witness will complement the efforts of Global Post and other organizations to reimagine comprehensive news coverage in the digital era and to preserve the integrity of reporting in the American press.
Narrative seeks to support the cultural exchange and global citizenship made possible by a literate representation of lives and circumstance that goes beyond daily headlines.

In particular, Narrative seeks to reinvigorate fact-based reportage as essential testimony that will mark our times. The magazine welcomes long-form work and work with a literary sensibility that surpasses the requirements of news journalism and that is sometimes absent from contemporary nonfiction. We’re looking for human stories and thoughtful commentary not ordinarily embodied in news outlets or in strictly personal essays.

Pieces for this regular, prominent Witness feature may run as short as 500 words or as long as 10,000.

Narrative is a registered nonprofit independent press committed to paying writers for their work.

Previously unpublished pieces of varying lengths, from short dispatches to longer profiles, essays, and other forms of reportage should be submitted directly to:

We look forward to reading your work and to seeing the world more clearly through your eyes.

Please share this message with any of your colleagues or friends to whom Narrative Witness would be of interest. Thank you.


Lacy Crawford, Carol Edgarian, and Tom Jenks

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Struggle over Jerusalem

A Palestinian Critique of the Economic Peace Initiative

A student came by to discuss his paper examining microfinance as part of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I thought his argument was quite thoughtful. This morning, I came across this piece, which articulates the dangers of limiting the peace process to an economic one; without the necessary political concessions, which would aim at creating a situation of restorative justice, economic peace is bound to founder.

Published on Thursday, April 16, 2009 by Electronic Intifada
The Rhetoric of 'Peace'
by Ziyaad Lunat

The Israelis have offered the Palestinians many types of "peace." Their first attempt to reach out to the Palestinians was in 1948 with an offer of a "racist peace." Ethnic cleansing was the basis of a "racist peace" where Zionist terrorists drove out two thirds of the Palestinian population from their homes. Its logic was that expulsion would end strife between Zionists and Palestinians (by eliminating one side) enabling the Zionists to enjoy peace in an ethnic Jewish haven. The Palestinians, stubborn as they were, refused a racist Zionist state as the basis for "peace."

Israel relentlessly extended its hand to the Palestinians offering them a "military peace" instead. Deterrence was the basis of a "military peace" where a Zionist state armed to the teeth would instill fear in the hearts of the Palestinians. Its logic was that through military deterrence the Palestinians would accept their condition of displacement. Soon after their expulsion in 1948, Palestinian refugees continuously attempted to return to their properties. The Zionists initiated a campaign of reprisals to deny their right to return. Hundreds were killed in this way, massacres included Qibya in 1953, Lebanon in 1982, Jenin in 2002 and Gaza in 2009. Palestinians however rejected Zionist military domination as the basis for "peace."

While the above two peace offers were crude, Israel devised an "apartheid peace" as a more elaborate proposal to the Palestinians, hoping they would finally reciprocate. Physical separation between Jews and Arab Palestinians was the basis for an "apartheid peace." Its logic was that the Palestinians would be given limited autonomy to manage their internal affairs and build their own institutions but their demands would have to eventually fall short of full sovereignty. Some Palestinians were co-opted in signing the Oslo accords in 1993, accepting apartheid as the basis for "peace."

During the following years, Israel consolidated its vision for an "apartheid peace," generously referred to as a "two-state solution." More land was taken from the Palestinians for building of Jewish-only colonies and Jewish-only roads, fragmenting the territories. House demolitions cleared unwanted Palestinians from certain areas and a wall was built to encircle the ghettos. Israel's "peace" offensive divided the Palestinians into those who accepted Israel's apartheid, namely the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority in Ramallah, and those who refuse to subordinate their most basic rights to Israel's racism.

In the latest peace overture, the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Palestinians "economic peace," this time literally. Previous Israeli governments have used the economy to pacify the Palestinians and allure them with short-term individualist and materialist gains. Netanyahu however is astute and understands that the circumstances today are different than in the 1970s or 1990s. He has even more enthusiastic support from the Palestinian side and the international community.

Since taking office, Salam Fayyad, the unelected prime minister of the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority, has worked with Quartet envoy Tony Blair to develop an economic plan to "revitalize" the Palestinian economy. The Paris conference at the end of 2007 raised $7.4 billion for the "Palestinian Reform and Development Plan." It called for the creation of "an enabling environment for private sector growth." The document says nothing about basic freedoms or human rights. Moreover, it positions Israel as an implementing partner, normalizing its status as the occupier and explicitly accepting the existing colonizing structures. The plan, for example, calls for "tourist-friendly checkpoints."

Much due to pressure from the security establishment, Israel had in the past been reluctant to facilitate these initiatives, refusing to remove the odd roadblock or allow foreign investor access. It conditioned such a steps to demonstrable willingness on the Palestinian side to police and contain resistance to Israel's colonialist actions. Collaborationist security forces passed a crucial test during Israel's 22-day-long massacre in Gaza, when hundreds of protesters were violently repressed and prevented from expressing their revulsion at the attacks and from reaching Israeli military checkpoints. The security forces acted as loyal subcontractors on behalf of Israel. Israel is now willing to reward the Ramallah clique with more "confidence-building measures" as an incentive for continued collaboration.

Netanyahu's "economic peace" proposal should not only be seen in this context but crucially too as the beginning of a new stage of colonization. Israel has been successful in dividing the Palestinians into different groups, separated politically and geographically. Israel has also been successful in creating a collaborating political class. Israel failed however to squash their desire for freedom and their right to resist aggression. In other words, Israel was successful in the physical colonization of the land, de facto controlling the whole of historic Palestine, but failed to colonize Palestinian minds, for the most part, at least. This new stage will target the latter.

A sample of what is to come can already be seen within the Palestinian Collaborationist Authority's bureaucracy. Employing roughly 300,000, it is the biggest employer in the occupied territories. These employees and their families are dependent on the bureaucracy to sustain their livelihoods, raising incentives for compliance and creating costs for dissent, namely loss of income and political reprisals. Netanyahu's "economic peace" will mean that further to the existing political stratification of the Palestinian society, a capitalist class will be co-opted to subordinate the Palestinian working class to the requirements of the market. It is expected that the Palestinians will become too comfortable with the newly bestowed economic freedoms and relegate political rights to a secondary concern. The plan strives for the creation of a homo economicus, an individualist, self-interested man, a slave to the capitalist structures of inequality. Dependence on this neo-liberal structure-in-formation is aimed at removing individual and collective agency. The resulting false consciousness -- under the framework of hegemonic capitalism -- betrays the true relation of forces between the occupier and the occupied.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom; the Palestinians have survived worst attempts on their existence. This mode of thinking -- that the Palestinians can simply be manipulated -- is too naive in its underpinnings. It is linked to an orientalist view of the lesser people, which sees them as devoid of principles, with the assumption that Palestinians with a full stomach will accept their condition of oppression. Israel has butchered the word "peace" with its many strands. Netanyahu's latest proposal of an "economic peace" will go to the history books as one of the many failed attempts to control a people with a thirst for freedom and justice.

© 2009 Electronic Intifada
Ziyaad Lunat is an activist for Palestine and co-founder of the Palestine Solidarity Initiative ( He can be reached at z.lunat A T gmail D O T com.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On "Slam" Poetry

A former student of mine, Jess Morris, is doing a research project called "Communications Spectrum on Public Speaking Engagements: Poetry Slams, Political Speeches, and Comedy Shows," and has a survey for her research.

Here are some of the questions and my small answers.

Questions for Audience Members:
1) Approximately how many poetry slams have you attended?

A handful, though it’s difficult for me to distinguish between a “slam” and an open mic reading. Obviously, if you want to do a genealogy, the name probably comes from the performance-based readings that started in the 1980s, in a place like the Green Mill, in Chicago, run by Marc Smith. (It’s still going today, and I’ve been to that one).

2) Why are you interested in poetry slams?
I’m interested in different modes of poetry and of poetry performance, and they are part of the poetic landscape, so to speak. I’ve been increasingly interested in poetry “outside the book”—poetry that returns to poetry’s oral and aural roots, its connection to physical bodies and breath, and to an intimacy with audience.

3) How does performance poetry differ from poetry written for books?
It’s sort of a Venn Diagram; there are some performance poems that don’t really “work” on the page, and there are some written poems that aren’t really possible to do as performances (particularly visual poetry). But there is a healthy area where the two modes of poetry converge.

There is a whole slam subculture, and many who have come through that culture lament how rapidly the rules of the slam became ossified—in particular, that every poem should be a certain length (like 3 minutes, say), that it be crystal clear in terms of its language, and that the moves one makes or even the themes be relatively similar. So, by saying “slam” and not “performance,” you risk leaving out the wider possibilities of language/body interactions.

4) Do you also attend comedy shows? How many?

Not really—occasionally watch them—and yes, there is an overlap between the comedy show and the poetry performance.
-Do you watch political speeches?
-Did you watch the presidential inaugural address?
yes. And the poetry was not Elizabeth Alexander’s, but also Obama’s speech, and Joseph Lowry’s as well.
5) What type of style do you connect with during poetry slams? Explain.
- What type of delivery do you connect with during the poetry slam?
- What type of style and delivery do you connect with during comedy shows? Explain.
- What type of style and delivery do you connect with during political speeches? Explain.
6) What type of language is useful in poetry slams that will allow the speaker to engage with the audience?

(I’m answering 5 and 6 here):
Most argue that poetry slam/performance poetry language should be clear, succinct, direct—that is, “communicative”—and although there is a place for that, I’m interested also in language that works in multiple registers, not just the “communicative” (i.e. that the language be sending a clear “message”). There are a host of poetries that are orally based that veer closer to music, to pure sound (see Jerome Rothenberg, Christian Bok, Leevi Lehto, or the Dada movement, among others).

- What type of language is useful in comedy shows?

I always tell my students that punch lines tend to follow the rules of poetry—they are compressed, direct, and often use poetic devices like alliteration to add to their power.

- What type of language is useful in political speeches?

Same as above.

7) Why do you think certain poets advance to the next round?
- What factors do you think matter for judges?

This suggests that the slam is always a competition. That seems rather unfortunate! Why does performance poetry have to have winners and losers? The Green Mill poetry slam, from what I recall, privileged performances that were original both in terms of delivery and language.

8) Who is your favorite slam poet? Why?

Not sure I have a favorite slam poet, but I was completely blown away by this guy Leevi Lehto from Finland. He will blow your mind.

Thank you for your participation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"The Expurgated Catalogue of Winces" now up

Here's the opening to a poem, inspired partly by a conversation with Mark Halliday about "wince moments"--those times in our life that we cringe when we look back upon them.

The Expurgated Catalogue of Winces

page 1

I sing you, finger of the untimely
boner standing at attention,
volunteering to answer
a problem at the chalkboard

p. 12

the spot of blood blooming
in white underwear. Something
said when the show was over
but the mic was still on—


A scission. What you said to impress
in back of Nate’s Mom’s
station wagon about what Chris said
he did with Heather in the woods.

pp. 5, 7, 14, 67

Each moment you’ve failed to hold
your bowels, eager to blurt their daily
gossip. Each snot revealing itself,
a rabbit in a magician’s hat.

...For the full text, go here, to La Fovea:

Monday, April 13, 2009

On "Committing Poetry in Times of War"/How Slam Poets During the Bush Years Were Deemed a Threat

Thanks to my buddy Thom Cincotta for passing along word of this documentary, which explores the unsettling power of poetry in a time of war, and how a few young slam poets threatened the boundaries of free speech by speaking freely against the war in Iraq.
COMMITTING POETRY is a poetic glance at events that defined the struggle of a nation at war abroad, and with its people. When the bombs began to fall on Iraq, Humanities Teacher and Youth Poetry Coach, Bill Nevins, was suspended and later, fired, from his teaching job after standing up for student freedom of expression. His outspoken Rio Rancho High School Poetry Slam Team was forcibly disbanded and silenced. Nevins was the last of seven New Mexico educators removed by fearful administrators seeking to quell the questions, thoughts, debates, and artwork of students.

Committing Poetry in Times of War, based on a story developed by stavros and Eric Sirotkin, documents many dynamic slam poetry and musical performances with select performances from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and New York City Poetic Justice concerts. On screen performances by Adan Baca, Socorro Romo, Demetria Martinez, Tony Santiago, Erin Ambrose, Jazz, The Ruffians, Carlos Contreras, Priscilla Baca y Candelaria, Manuel Gonzales, Danny Solis, Kenn Rodriguez, and student members of the disbanded Rio Rancho Ram Slam Poetry Team, offer an inspiring account of how America’s artistic community responded to threats to our civil liberties. Produced by UBUNTUWORKS, LLC, it is the first cinematic venture from DOGONE PICTURES, written, directed, and edited by digital filmmaker, stavros.

Here's the trailer:

And here's the feature:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mary Jane Helrich's "Pentagon 'XX Rated'"

This is from Tim Musser, sharing a poem by his friend, Mary Jane Helrich.

Hi Philip...

This poem is by an old friend of mine [Mary Jane Helrich - now deceased - from The Baltimore area]. She was a member of Pax Christi and a host of other p and j organizations...and she could often be found at the Pentagon looking for General Havoc or Major Disaster to hand over a copy her poem. If she couldn't find someone to hand it to, she would just read it to a tree on the grounds, asking it permission to tape it to the tree. Perhaps you or someone else could read this Friday evening on behalf of all those travelling this weekend to the Pentagon. I gave a copy of it to Mike Ludwig of the Cleveland Chapter of Vets for Peace [who will be on the bus Fri eve.] and he will read it on behalf of the millions of refugees and grieving folks that war produces - and tape it to a tree on the grounds too.

Have a great event!

Tim [Musser]

Pentagon 'XX Rated'

Repent! Begone! O Pentagon
Two-faced and five-sided
Double-dealing, Satan guided
Structure of destruction!
Purports to be for you and me
Defense against the enemy
(Though "Pogo" says we've met them
and they're we)

Behind its bluff the Pentagon
Conceals whet its intent upon.
No merit in its claims
That is deters and it protects
We know despite it's "aims"
That that edifice wrecks!

And General Havoc and Major Disaster
Are hid in that bunker of stone and of plaster
(We trust that since God's not
the One Who has willed it
In vain do they labor,
those builders who build it)

And they plot and they plan
More like devil than man
Bilking civilians of hundreds of billions
And more, ever more, if they can!

And O the woe is to know
The ugliest of facts is
They've built the Biggest Little Warhouse
With our taxes!

Mary Jane Helrich [Baltimore]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

(I've Got) "Bulldog Skin"/

For about 2 seconds, it looked like GBV were going to become Top 40 breakthrough indie-to-mindy icons. They settled for being fult caves, pop dogs, gure peniuses. Bob, I miss us.

Earth Day and Poetry in NYC

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue, between 35th and 36th Street, NYC

Kicking off our SEA Poetry Series, poet Jonathan Skinner will read a selection of his poems and present a talk on “third landscapes,” entropoetics, and the coming planetary Pangaea-garden of invasive futures. Q & A and reception to follow. Conceived and organized by E.J. McAdams, poet and Associate Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy, New York City. FREE. Cash bar.

Jonathan Skinner’s poetry collections include With Naked Foot (Little Scratchpad, 2008) and Political Cactus Poems (Palm Press, 2005). Recent poetry has appeared in onedit #12 <>. Skinner edits the journal ecopoetics <>, which features creative-critical intersections between writing and ecology. His essays on the poets Ronald Johnson and Lorine Niedecker appeared recently in volumes published by the National Poetry Foundation and by University of Iowa Press, respectively. His essay on “Boundary Work in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's Pollen” can be read in the online journal How2 <> and his essay on Bernadette Mayer's Studying Hunger can be read on ThoughtMesh . The piece “Ethno Plunderphonics: On Some Mockingbird Transcriptions” was included in the journal Intervalles . Skinner teaches in the Environmental Studies Program, at Bates College in Central Maine, where he makes his home.

For more on Exit Art, visit:

The SEA Poetry Series is part of a bigger Exit Art initiative called Social Environmental Aestetics (SEA). For more on SEA, visit:

For more on the current SEA show is Vertical Gardens, visit:


Friday, April 10, 2009

"The Poetic Optometrist": A Review of To See the Earth

Thanks to Michael Leong for this review of To See the Earth, appearing in the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review: Here's the first paragraph:



Like an optometrist using a phoropter (that mechanism
which allows multiple lenses to be clicked in and out
of place), Metres optimizes our vision as we see the world
refracted now through this poem, now through that one.

Poetry is an optic, a technology that affords us a better visioning and understanding of the world. William Wordsworth knew this when he famously proclaimed in “Tintern Abbey,” “We see into the life of things.” Louis Zukofsky knew this as he laid down the principles of Objectivism in his influential essay “An Objective”: “(Optics) - The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus... inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars.” And this is Philip Metres’ crucial wager in To See the Earth, an impressive debut collection which helps us see our teeming, globalized world with the clarity of a keen poetic intelligence. Indeed, Metres’ finely crafted poems act as necessary correctives to the tunnel vision of provincialism and the myopia of presentism by bringing into view a range of shifting spaces, perspectives, and temporalities: we see Amsterdam from the point of view of an Iraqi refugee; we see a post-Soviet and McDonalized Moscow interspersed with meditations on Vietnam (the poet’s father served there as a Naval advisor during the Tet Offensive); we see ancient Japanese scrolls in dialectical tension with a panoramic photograph of Hiroshima after the bomb. ...

To keep reading, click here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Emily Dickinson Marathon Reading

This is the kind of stunt that makes Buffalo great.
Karpeles Manuscript Museum (453 Porter Avenue)
April 11, 8:00 a.m. until we are finished (@ 9:00 p.m.)

On Saturday April 11, as part of National Poetry Month, the University at Buffalo Department of English is sponsoring a marathon community reading of all 1789 of Emily Dickinson’s poems beginning with the early valentine “Awake ye muses nine” and ending with an undated reflection on the “magical frontier” between beauty and death, or pleasure and sorrow, which begins “The saddest noise, the sweetest noise” and ends with the stanza:

An ear can break a human heart
As quickly as a spear.
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.

Come join us in reading all 1789 of Dickinson's poems 1:00-1:30, Unitarian Universalist Choir will perform Leo Smit settings of selected poems!

Celebrity readings: The Community Marathon Reading will begin at 8:00 a.m. with the participation of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, actress Josephine Hogan, and John Simpson, President of the University at Buffalo.

Throughout the day, readers will include high school teachers, ministers, actors, prize-winning poets, and leaders of the Buffalo business, education, and arts communities.

This reading will be free and open to the public. Please come, bring your friends, and be ready to enjoy hearing this famous poet’s words in the voices of your friends and members of the Buffalo community.

The "Defense" Budget: Thank You, Mr. Orwell, Here is Your Copyright Fee

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Full Metal Budget
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

David Adams' "Bikini"/from Room for Darkness, Room for Light

My friend, the poet David Adams, recently published his selected poems, Room for Darkness, Room for Light: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2008, a book resonant with sounding dark and brimming with quiet light. I met David some years ago at a conference on Jarrell, Bishop, Lowell & Co., and we can hear echoes of Jarrell in Adams' empathic dramatic monologues, Bishop in his attention to the natural world, and Lowell in his worldliness and political acuity.

All three of these poetic legacies (and more) weave their way into a recent poem from the book, "Bikini," instigated by Adams' travels to the Marshall Islands on business. For those who remember, the island of Bikini was a ground zero in the nuclear age, a site of practice explosion that led to the displacement of its inhabitants and subsequent exposure to radiation.

On youtube, if you type in "Bikini Island," you also get this sort of thing:

How quickly we move from memory to forgetting, from destruction to eros. There is something about the U.S. legacy in the islands that is manifested in the relationship between these two videos. Here is David's poem, and note its own faux-postcard ending--the dream of a past that may or may not have existed, and now only does as virtual memory.

BIKINI by David Adams

It’s out there, somewhere towards evening,
with small waves lapping at the coral sand.
So a stranger comes to Majuro and watches
as the clouds conform to an ageless dream.
He whispers that they seem “the breath of God,”
which is to say they might be anything.

If you listen, you can hear the trade winds
tell the story. God gave us this place
to be our home. It became the home of death.
This, too, is our history. First we called it
Crossroads, then we called it Castle,
when the islands woke to a double sun.
Bikini, where we buried so many things:
Nagato, Saratoga, some goats, the lies
beneath the lies in the gray rehearsals
of the newsreels, the bland assurances.
And more than half the world’s supply of film.
And the hundreds of Bikini
not a fraction in the scheme of things.

You would have thought by then
the world would know that with a God
you must have something in between―
a little wave, a nautilus, a storm,
some birds slanting above the currents.
But even here there was a brother like a wolf
who built his gift of ironwood to drown.

It’s out there, somewhere towards evening,
the clouds swollen with the faces of removal:
Strauss, LeMay and Forrestal, these friends
of someone else’s reasons. They said they needed
to drop the bomb to find out what would happen.
So go to Rongerik and starve. Go to Kili and starve.
Try living with the spirits of the dead.

It’s out there, somewhere towards evening.
If you listen, you can hear the sailors
joking in the rain, the static in their bones.
Their stories beg forgiveness.
Try living with the spirits of the dead.
If you listen, you can hear the stars
in the breadfruit burning like tongues.
If you listen, you can hear the skins.
If you listen, you can hear the ticking years.

When can we all go home? When we have waited
long enough to forget everything we knew.
There is a girl walking in flowered silk,
carrying a basket of fish with one arm,
hibiscus woven in her hair. She is walking
beneath a line of palms with perfect shadows.
She is long dead now; she is still perfect,
even her shadow, even her smile.