Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"29 Men" by Heather Davis (Split This Rock poem)

"29 Men" by Heather Davis

“If any of you have been asked by your group president, supervisors, engineers, or anyone else to do anything other than run coal, you need to ignore them and run coal.”
--Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine

The lights in your home channel 29 men, their
soot stained clothes, last breaths, crystalline sweat
let loose on black rock.

The lamps in your den cast 29 men
from West Virginia to your retinas, making night
like day, closing the circle.

Did the bulbs in their kitchens pop and spark, the floors
revolt when the methane blew, stopping the hearts
of family members for what seemed like hours?

When he left that morning he said, “Love you too, buddy.
mmmmmmmmNow I’m gonna
mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmCut me some coal.”

Along with the brilliance in your bedroom you get 29 men
so cheaply it’s like nothing, an easy find
at the second hand store, a keeper.

I heard about Don Blankenship, King of Coal, Massey CEO.
How he made it his crusade to crush the union
so the men could start working 12-hour shifts.

I heard about Don Blankenship, Pied Piper, 1,000 violations
studding his golden belt, how it wasn’t enough, how he
wooed those boys to the precipice like hard used toys.

Your porch light out front floods the yard and sings
29 men, electric lives exuberant, giving everything. Don’t
turn away. This is what we pay for.

They’re not down in the mine anymore.

-Heather Davis
Used by permission.

Heather Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Poet Lore, and Puerto del Sol, among others. She is the founder of the Winding River Writers and a member of DC Poets Against the War. With her husband, the poet Jose Padua, she writes the blog Shenandoah Breakdown about post-city life in conservative small-town America at;

Davis appeared on the panel The Care and Feeding of the Rural/Small Town Poet-Activist at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Split This Rock;

Derek Mahon's "Everything is Going to Be All Right"

I can't tell if this poem is blissful or ominous.  Is it the words of a mystic, or a denier?  Thoughts? 

"Everything Is Going to Be All Right"

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

~ Derek Mahon ~

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Arts as Activism in Sheikh Jarrah

One of the unique aspects of this movement—particularly in Sheikh Jarrah—is the crucial role that visual and literary culture play in it. There exists within the movement a live, engaged practice of bridging the arts and activism, culture and politics. On both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides there is a recognition of art as a powerful and nonviolent political tool that can be used to practice freedom of expression as well as to enhance socio-political consciousness among the people. The arts have come to provide a central role in digesting and exposing the fragmentation that marks the region, and act as a tool of resistance against the violence spurred by the Israeli occupation.
Read more:


The poetry event that Guerilla Culture staged in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood drew over two hundred people. A group of twenty Israeli and Palestinian poets from various religious and ethnic backgrounds traveled from all over the country to read at this event. They performed poems in Hebrew and Arabic that were simultaneously translated into both languages by on-site translators, and then the microphone was opened up to the general public and members of the neighborhood stood up to speak to the audience. Protestors are generally barred from congregating in the neighborhood, but because of the cultural nature of the event, the police allowed the readings to be staged in the heart of the neighborhood, right in front of the settlement and the houses of the evicted.

Read more:

Attention Span 2010: 10 "Books" That Caught My Eye This Year

Critic Steve Evans has been doing his "Attention Span" series for a number of years now; in it, he asks poets and critics to name 10 books that caught their attention in the past year.  I did one a year ago, and two years agoHere's this year's.  There were, of course, many other books of poems that also stayed with me, but I had to limit it to ten.

What drives my list this year is a tug between poetic durability and the need for a picture of the contemporary moment; in rare occasions, these two aspects dovetail beautifully.
Pablo Neruda | The Poetry of Pablo Neruda | FSG | 2003
What is there to say, except that I was a little embarrassed to have taken so long to read one of the modern masters, and much relieved to find his voluminous work worth the long haul.
Robert Hass | The Apple Trees at Olema: Selected Poems | Ecco | 2010
Hass remains one of my favorite contemporary poets, partly because his poems are at once approachable and resistant to singular readings. His concerns frequently overlap with the tough thinking of avant-gardists, but his poems have a luxuriousness to them that suggest an epicure with a slightly-guilty conscience. I re-read “Museum,” a prose poem that describes a couple with a sleeping baby sitting in a museum café, surrounded by pictures of suffering by Kathe Kollwitz, in which a kind of symphony of everyday bourgeois life comes into being. Many years ago, the poem inflamed my imagination. Then, years later, when I returned to it, I didn’t feel that it earned its ending. This time, a parent now, I found the poem open itself again to me. His poems have that kind of strange irreducible endurance about them.
VA | Split This Rock Festival | Washington, DC | 2010
Props to Sarah Browning and her Split This Rock crew (of which there are numerous others!) for hosting this conference, which brought together poets involved in social change. Their mission is “to celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today, and to call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.”  I felt very much at home among these poets, who included: Chris Abani, Lillian Allen, Sinan Antoon, Francisco Aragón, Jan Beatty, Martha Collins, Cornelius Eady, Martín Espada, Andrea Gibson, Allison Hedge Coke, Natalie Illum, Fady Joudah, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Richard McCann, Jeffrey McDaniel, Lenelle Moïse, Nancy Morejón, Mark Nowak, Wang Ping, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Quincy Troupe, and the Busboys and Poets Poets-in-Residence: Holly Bass, Beny Blaq, and Derrick Weston Brown. A pretty big tent.
The Book of Isaiah | Isaiah | various translations | various publication dates
He shall strike the ruthless
With the rod of his mouth
And with the breath of his lips
He shall slay the wicked.
I keep finding myself going back to the Bible as a resource; there’s something about the authority and vision of the prophets, Isaiah in particular, that I miss in contemporary poetry and modern life.
Rachel Zolf | Neighbour Procedure | Coach House | 2010
This intriguingly rendered, philosophically challenging book brings investigative poetics to bear on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I first learned of Rachel Zolf from her XCP essay, “A Tenuous We: Writing As Not Knowing,” about learning Arabic and Hebrew—in order to look for convergences in the languages and to speak the Arabic names that comprise one of the pieces of this book. The first section is about the occupation, enacting a grieving over the other, and attacking Zionist privilege and blindness. The title poem is stunning, bringing to bear different voices who play roles in a “neighbour procedure”—that name for the IDF’s use of a neighbor as a human shield or their house to enter another. Later sections show points of contact between Arabic and Hebrew, employ variant translations of Quranic verses, collage various news sources around a target X.
VA | RAWI Conference | University of Michigan | 2010
The Radius of Arab American Writers conference brought together people from around the country and world to Ann Arbor to present and read and dance over the texts that we write and read and write about; my conference began when I carpooled from Ohio with Kazim Ali, the first of a long series of conversations that reminded me how many good writers face the same dilemmas that I face, but each in their own way.
Mark Doty | Fire to Fire: Selected Poems | HarperPerennial | 2008
“What did you think, that joy / was some slight thing?”
Khaled Mattawa | Tocqueville | New Issues | 2009
A brilliant book that situates itself on the fault lines of empire, the most experimental of this lyrical poet’s oeuvre; the title poem is a tour de force of collage and testimony.
Tony Barnstone | Tongue of War | BkMk Press | 2009
A strange but compelling book, which attempts to answer in the affirmative: can one write a series of sonnets that illuminates various voices—from p.o.w’s to Hiroshima survivors—in the unspeakable Pacific part of the Second World War?
Elena Fanailova | The Russian Version | Ugly Duckling | 2009
What Sergey Gandlevsky did for Russian poetry in the late 1970s and 1980s, Fanailova does for the 1990s and 2000s; a vigorous, richly allusive, and often raw exploration of Russian life.
More Philip Metres here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008. Back to directory.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"A People's Historian" by Kenneth Carroll, for Howard Zinn.

This poem makes me miss Howard Zinn all over again; thanks, Kenneth Carroll.

"A People's Historian" by Kenneth Carroll

for Howard Zinn

who will come to tell us what we know
that the king's clothes are soiled with
the history of our blood and sweat

who memorializes us when we have been vanquished
who recounts our moments of resistance, explicates
our struggles, sings of our sacrifices to those

unable to hear our song
who speaks of our triumphs, of how we
altered the course of a raging river of oppression

how we turned our love for each other into a
garrison of righteous rebellion
who shows us even in failure, when we

have been less than large, when our own
prejudices have been turned against us like
stolen weapons

who walks among us, willing to tell the truth
about the monster of lies, an eclipse that casts
a shadow dark enough to cover centuries

what manner of man, of woman, of truth teller
roots around the muck of history, the word covered
in the mud of denial, the mythology of the conquerors

let them be Zinn, let them sing to the people of history
let their song come slowly, on the periphery of canon
of history departments owned by corporate prevaricators

let their song be sung in small circles, furtive meetings
lonely readers, underground and under siege
their song, the seed crushed to earth, and growing

now a tree, with fruit, multiplying truth.

-Kenneth Carroll

Used by permission.

Kenneth Carroll is a native Washingtonian. His poetry, short stories, essays, and plays have appeared in Black Literature Forum, In Search Of Color Everywhere, Bum Rush The Page, and American Poetry: The Next Generation. His book of poetry, So What: For The White Dude Who Said This Ain't Poetry, was published in 1997 by Bunny & The Crocodile Press. He is executive director of DC WritersCorps and past president of the African American Writers Guild. He received a 2005 Literary Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, was nominated for a 2004 Pushcart Prize for Poetry, and received the Mayor's Arts Award for Service to the Arts. He was named one of WETA's Hometown Heroes in 2004.

Carroll was a featured poet at the inaugural Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March, 2008.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Imagination as Social Practice

"The image, the imagined, the imaginary - these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice.  No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is somewhere else), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility. This unleashing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors. The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order."  Arjun Appardurai.

What role will poets play in the new global cultural orders?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Poems for Peace" on International Peace Day

In honor of this, the 2010 International Day of Peace, check out my recent piece on "Poems for Peace".

Here's the opening:
In May 2009, in a backyard in Portland, Oregon, a few poets and artists found themselves possessed by what appeared to be a simple question: if we were to suggest that bookstores have a “peace shelf” of books, what should it carry? We were in Portland for “Another World Instead: William Stafford Peace Symposium,” and Kim Stafford, the poet’s son, posed the question.

I began scribbling furiously as Kim and Jeff Gundy, Fred Marchant, Paul Merchant, Haydn Reiss, and I widened the imagined shelf until it was a whole bookcase, and then it seemed that we’d need a whole store; as dusk fell, and later on e-mail (when Sarah Gridley joined the conversation for our panel at Split This Rock 2010), we probed a concept that teeters between immensely practical and dangerously amorphous: how to canonize a list of books and other resources that would envision a more just and peaceful world—for bookstores, for teachers, for interested readers—without turning it into Jorge Luis Borges’s famous “Library of Babel,” which contains every book ever written?

And how to overcome—in ourselves, in the poetry world, and in all the wider communities in which we situate ourselves—our own resistances to an engaged poetry that stakes specific claims about the world, a poetry that could be partisan and provocative and even utopian? After all, many of us feel as John Keats did, despite his friendship with the partisan poet Leigh Hunt: “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.”
more after the jump...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alison Roh Park's "Build You Up": The Latest Installment of Split this Rock poems

"Build You Up"

If it were not so scarred from your accidental
rages-uptown, upstate-I would have rested
on the cinder block of your chest.

If your laugh were not perforated by the asbestos
lace of your lungs, I might have believed it.
If my hands were strong enough to catch the swivel

of your hips-if the rhythm made sense
-I would have fallen into them. And though it might have
killed me

I would have lived in the building of you,
climbed ten flights and from the roof of your eyes
watched your sons run to you, the tar

sticking to my feet. Back in the day when
antennae jutted out from the skyline like hungry ribs,
kids like you and me would

put our palms out to feel the heat
escape from the black lava, thick
and slow like thirsty mouths.

-Alison Roh Park

Used by permission.

Alison Roh Park is a writer and cultural worker from Queens, New York. She is a Kundiman fellow and former artist-in-residence at the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia, PA where she performed a one-woman show, "A Magpie Sang on the 7-Train." Her work has appeared in several publications including Mythium Literary Magazine, The NuyorAsian Anthology, The Asian Pacific American Journal among others. She has performed, competed and educated across the U.S. and will receive her MFA from New York University in 2011.

Park appeared on the panel Writing from the Margins: Life, Survival, and Healing for Women of Color and was featured at the 7&7: 7 Poets Celebrate Kundiman's 7th Year reading at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ghanaian "Prayer for the Journey"

I've been reading and thinking and writing prayers lately, for what may become a chapbook or even a section of Sand Opera, and this poem came across my eyes today.  What amazes me about the rhetoric of prayer--at least written prayer--is that it must be relatively transparent and general in its language, yet also specific in its construction of the God it invokes and the world it invites. 

I've always struggled with the prayers I've received in my own faith tradition, because they seem to invoke or invite in ways that don't quite encapsulate the faith or my own struggles, and so I've wanted to write my own prayers as poems, poems as prayers.  But it's terribly difficult to avoid the cliche, on the one hand, and the elliptical, on the other.

Prayer for the Journey

Journeying god,
pitch your tent with mine
so that I may not become deterred
by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions,
toward a wisdom not based on books,
toward a strength not bolstered by might,
toward a god not confined to heaven.
Help me to find myself as I walk in other's shoes.

(Prayer song from Ghana, traditional, translator unknown)
Thanks to Panhala for sharing it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lix & Kix present Philip Metres, Lou Suarez & Monica Igras on Wednesday 9/15 7pm @ Bela Dubby in Lakewood

If you're wanting words, bored with Dancing with the Stars or whatever, come on out...I'll be reading all new poems.

Lix & Kix present Philip Metres, Lou Suarez & Monica Igras on Wednesday 9/15 7pm @ Bela Dubby in Lakewood.

The Lix and Kix Poetry Extravaganza is pleased to present featured readings by Monica Igras, Lou Suarez and Philip Metres -- followed by an open mic emceed by Dianne Borsenik and John "Jesus Crisis" Burroughs.

Monica Igras is a poet/performer from Erie, Pennsylvania, who Dianne and John had the pleasure of meeting and hearing for the first time during Snoetry: A Winter Wordfest at the Last Wordsmith Book Shoppe. Her work has appeared in numerous places including the Enhanced Poetry CD Live @ the Jive, available at

Lou Suarez is the author of two books of poems, Traveler (Mid-List Press,2010) and Ask (Mid-List Press, 2004), as well as three poetry chapbooks: Losses of Moment (Kent State University Press, 1995), The Grape Painter (Frost Heaves Press, 2001), and On U.S. 6 to Providence (Red Mountain Review, 2006). Lou is currently Professor Emeritus at Lorain County Community College, and his book Traveler was a finalist for one of The Lit's Lantern Awards. Find him online at

Philip Metres, Professor of English at John Carroll University, was recently awarded the 2010 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist. His books include To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (anthology of peace poems, 2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Instants (2006), Primer for Non-Native Speakers (2004), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003). His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry. Find him online at and

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"The Hawk" by Franz Wright

Franz Wright, to his fellow monsters (us).

"The Hawk" by Franz Wright

Maybe in a million years
a better form of human
being will come, happier
and more intelligent. A few already
have infiltrated this world and lived
to very much regret it,
I suppose.
I'd prefer to have come
in the form of that hawk, floating over
the mirroring fire
of Clearlake's
hill, my gold
skull filled with nothing
but God's will
the whole day through, instead
of these glinting voices incessantly
unerringly guiding me
to pursue
what makes me sick, and not to
what makes me glad. And yet
I am changing: this three-pound lump
of sentient meat electrified
by hope and terror has learned to hear
His silence like the sun,
and sought to change!
And friends
on earth at the same time
as me, listen: from the sound of those crickets
last night, Rene Char said
prenatal life
must have been sweet -
each voice perhaps also a star
in that night
from which
this time
we won't be
interrupted anymore - but
fellow monsters while we are still here, for one minute, think
about this: there is someone right now who is looking
to you, not Him, for whatever
love still exists.

~ Franz Wright ~
from God's Silence

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stephen Spender's "I Think Continually of Those"

A bit of highflown rhetoric about the "truly great" for a mundane Friday, feeling very average.

"I Think Continually of Those" by Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ancient springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass,
And by the streamers of white cloud,
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

~ Stephen Spender ~
(Collected Poems)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Race Change Operation" by Thomas Sayers Ellis

What can I say, Thomas Sayers Ellis has been inventing himself in and through the language, the language of his making, for some time now.  Anyone who sees his photos or hears his words feels themselves in the presence of a real artist, someone who is helping us to see and hear as if for the first time.  His poetry never panders--it feints, it slanders, it jukes, it strives.  It's alive.  This is from his new book, Skin, Inc.

"Race Change Operation" by Thomas Sayers Ellis

When I awake I will be white, the color of law.
I will be new, clean, good; and as pure as snow.
I will remember "being black" the way one
experiences deja vu, as shadow-memory-feeling.
Race will return to its original association with running
and winning, though I will never have to do either
(ever again) to prove myself Olympic, human or equal.
My English, by fault of gaze (theirs), will upgrade.
I will call my Mama, Mother and my Bruh, Brother
and, as cultural-life-insurance, the gatekeepers will
amputate my verbal nouns and double-descriptives.
When I grow my hair long I will favor Walt Whitman
more than Wole Soyinka. My pale, red neck will scare me,
a frightening irony of freedom. The Literary Party in power
will adopt me, saying "TSE is proof of our commitment
to (verse) diversity...." I am. Narrative poets will use me
as long as they can trust me, and Elliptical women
will want me in their anthologies but not as a colleague.
What will I do with myself other than prove myself,
my whiteness, and that blackness is behind me?
The poetry in my walk will become prose.
I will be a white fiction full of black-ish progression,
the first human bestseller, a Jigga Book Spook.
It will be like having tenure, my value will be done.
This is crazy, this lose-a-world way to whiteness.
What happened to "smiling," to "playing the game,"
to being one of their favorites, to interracial marriage?
As a black, I won a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writer's Award,
so imagine what I will win when I become one of them.
I can see it now, my MacArthur. Jungle eyes, a .....Guggenheim.
This might be the most racist decision I've ever made
but these lines, unlike the color line, were written to break.
I am tired of lines, of waiting, of lies, my bio full of prizes.
I want my own whiteness, to own then free (someone like)
even if it means reintegrating another sinking ship.
I'll be that Shine, defiant and drowned, dream alive.

-Thomas Sayers Ellis

From Skin Inc. (Graywolf Press 2010). Used by permission.

Thomas Sayers Ellis, co-founded The Dark Room Collective (in Cambridge, Massachusetts); and received his M.F.A. from Brown University. He is the author of The Maverick Room (2005), which won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award, and a recipient of a Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers' Award. His poems and photographs have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Callaloo, Best American Poetry (1997, 2001 and 2010), Grand Street, The Baffler, Jubilat, Tin House, Poetry, and The Nation. He is also an Assistant Professor of Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, a faculty member of the Lesley University low-residency M.F.A Program and a Caven Canem faculty member. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and is currently working on The Go-Go Book: People in the Pocket in Washington, D.C. His new collection of poems and photographs, Skin, Inc., hit the stores, streets, classrooms and web-rumor-sites yesterday.

Ellis appeared on the panel Reclamation, Celebration, Renewal, and Resistance: Black Poets Writing on the Natural World at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!

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"Contribution to Statistics" by Wislawa Szymborska

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska always works the line between cliche and wisdom, between banality and prophecy, which is part of her contribution to poetry.  There is something deeply human in that poetic stance, since we humans always seem to be tottering between mindless foolishness and keen insight, between drudgery and jouissance.  Maybe that's just me.

"Contribution to Statistics" by Wislawa Szymborska

Out of a hundred people
those who always know better
-- fifty-two
doubting every step
-- nearly all the rest,
glad to lend a hand
if it doesn't take too long
-- as high as forty-nine,
always good
because they can't be otherwise
-- four, well maybe five,
able to admire without envy
-- eighteen,
suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
-- sixty, give or take a few,
not to be taken lightly
-- forty and four,
living in constant fear
of someone or something
-- seventy-seven,
capable of happiness
-- twenty-something tops,
harmless singly, savage in crowds
-- half at least,
when forced by circumstances
-- better not to know
even ballpark figures,
wise after the fact
-- just a couple more
than wise before it,
taking only things from life
-- thirty
(I wish I were wrong),
hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
-- eighty-three
sooner or later,
-- thirty-five, which is a lot,
and understanding
-- three,
worthy of compassion
-- ninety-nine,
-- a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~
(Poems: New and Selected, trans. by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The War's Over. Long Live the War!

Now that the President has declared combat operations in Iraq over, it's not a bad time to assess whether the war was worth it, and whether it's really over.  I'm not terribly sanguine about either.  Tim Musser sent me a piece by Ammon Hennacy, a Thoreauvian sort of anarchopacifist, who lived out an alternative. 
How Do I Get By With It?

by Ammon Hennacy,1970 --from THE BOOK OF AMMON

I don't know for sure. I have picketed thirteen days in the last three years here in Phoenix against war, the draft, and paying taxes for all this. I have been detained by the police and released four times, and been called to the tax office often.

I was a conscientious objector in both World Wars. In 1942 I refused to register for the draft and resigned from a civil service job in Milwaukee where I had been a social worker for eleven years. As I do not believe in shooting I have since then worked on farms where no withholding tax is taken from my pay, so I do not buy a gun for others to shoot. The tax man has tried to garnishee my wages; now I work by the day for different farmers and if necessary am paid in advance in order that no garnishee is effective.

I believe in the idea of voluntary poverty somewhat after the pattern of St. Francis of Assisi, Thoreau, Tolstoy and Gandhi. I have no car or anything the tax man can get. I make a true report of my income but openly refuse to pay a cent of tax.

I am a non-church Christian. I believe in the Sermon the Mount, especially because it is more revolutionary than opportunistic Communist tactics. I do not put my trust in money or bombs, but in God.

I am an anarchist who believes that all government exists, not to help people, but to continue in power, exploiters, bureaucrats and politicians who keep us on the run with their continual depressions and wars.

If you believe in capitalism and war and think you get your money's worth in paying taxes, that is your business. My message is to those who are beginning to question the idea that preparing for war brings peace. It is also to those who believe somewhat as I do but who are afraid to stand up and say so.

If you begin to see through the assertion of the warmongers that wars are for defense---while we invade foreign countries---then you should read my tax statement in full as printed in the Feb. 1951 CATHOLIC WORKER, 223 Christie St., New York City, obtainable from me free of charge on the picket line or by request to my address below.

If you are ready for my message here is a starter:

REFUSE to become a soldier
REFUSE to make munitions
REFUSE to buy war bonds
REFUSE to pay income taxes

STUDY the Sermon on the Mount
STUDY Gandhi's non-violent methods
STUDY Jefferson's idea of life on the land
"STUDY war no more"

Building Peace With Fair Trade

Traditional Palestinian life has always revolved around agriculture, and the cultivation of olive tree has become a national symbol as well as a modest economic engine.  Since the military occupation of Palestine in 1967, all aspects of life have been affected.  One way to build peace, as Nasser Abufarah and many others around the world have argued, is to support local industries globally.  Peace is, of course, the presence of conditions where people can create a life, to envision a future.



Thursday, September 16, 2010
LSC Conference Room
Lombardo Student Center
John Carroll University
7:00 PM

Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) founder Nasser Abufarha is bringing Palestinian olive oil and other traditional delicacies to mainstream American and European markets, while also improving economic conditions for farmers in the West Bank.

While studying at the University of Wisconsin, Abufarha learned about fair trade practices being used in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Determined to bring fair trade to Palestine, he encountered a major stumbling block - there was no international fair trade standard for olive oil. In 2004, Abufarha developed the standard himself based upon recognized international fair trade principles. After working diligently with the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), an international standard for fair trade olive oil has now been developed making PFTA the first producer of fair trade certified olive oil worldwide.

Also in 2004, Abufarha established Canaan Fair Trade, which today is the largest exporter of certified fair trade and organic Palestinian olive oil to America and Europe. The oil is produced by more than 1,700 Palestinian farmers. "Palestine may not be in the atlas," Abufarha says, "But we have put it on the shelves." Canaan Fair Trade supplies 95 percent of the olive oil used by Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, the largest natural soap producer in the U.S., and supplies major organic coop chains in Europe.

"At first the farmers were skeptical," Abufarha says, "They couldn't imagine why anyone would pay them above the market price. But they were willing to give it a try." Since the establishment of Canaan Fair Trade, the average price of Palestinian olive oil has more than doubled.

"Fair trade isn't just about the price," Abufarha says, though he acknowledges that the increase in income has been vital to many farmers in Palestine. "We have given farmers hope. An economic exchange that recognizes Palestinian farmers' rights and respects the value of their connection to their land, after years of marginalization under Israeli occupation, is a major accomplishment," he explains.

In 2008, Canaan Fair Trade broke ground on a new state-of-the-art olive processing facility nestled on five acres of olive country north of the West Bank city of Jenin. The facility will employ 50 Palestinians and will commercialize the products of 3000-5000 Palestinian farmers.

Abufarha was born in 1964 in Al Jalama, a farming village near Jenin. After high school, he came to the United States and earned his Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from Wayne State University in 1989. He worked for several years in high technology, before gradually finding himself drawn to the food industry, a new career path that would eventually lead him to settle in Madison, Wisconsin, where he opened a restaurant in 1996.

Abufarha went on to earn his PhD in Cultural Anthropology and International Development from the University of Wisconsin in 2006. His first book, which focuses on landscapes, the environment and violence, will be published by Duke University Press in 2009.

The lecture is sponsored by Campus Ministry and the Program in Applied Ethics

For more information contact Chris Kerr at or 216-397-4777.