Friday, June 24, 2011

Northern Ireland, Part 2: Tweets from the Journey to Peace

Northern Ireland, Part 2: Tweets from the Journey to Peace

There was a time when Palestinian and Israeli flags were ubiquitous in Belfast, with Catholic Republicans flying the Palestinian, and Protestant Unionists the Israeli. When an Israeli filmmaker knocked on the doors of a Unionist and asked why he was flying the Israeli flag, he shrugged and said, "I have that flag because it bothers them (Catholics) over there."

Wherever there are trees, the blackbird's song.

I am ashamed to say I barely knew the existence of John Hume before I arrived in Northern Ireland.  Was he the least known figure in the Northern Ireland Peace Process?  Despite racism and violence, Hume held to nonviolence: "Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity."

"The night can sweat with terror as before/We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,/And planned to bring the world under a rule,/Who are but weasels fighting in a hole."  W.B. Yeats
A wee something going on in my neck of the woods; one hundred "loyalists" in balaclavas hurling stones over the wall against their mirrors.  I won't be going anywhere near the interfaces on East Belfast tonight.
Later, our driver to Derry recounts that he lives in the Short Strand, the Catholic enclave in East Belfast, and was hit by something thrown over the wall, ended up with seven staples in his head.  "I woke up in an ambulance."
The legendary Baroness May Blood, on Northern Ireland: "I liken it to cosmetic surgery. We have changed the appearance of the place, but we haven't dealt with the underlying problem."

First smell, upon arrival into Belfast, was manure, from nearby fields somewhere we couldn't see.

I never thought I would say this, but the riot police in Northern Ireland use Gandhian methods of nonviolence to keep sectarian mobs from assaulting each other. Peace-keeping, indeed.

A former IRA killer: "every day I pass the pass I shot the British soldier, it's just up the street there, I cross myself and pray for his family."

A former UDA killer, after talking with the other side, gets questioned about it by his own.  His reply: "What's the craic?  His blood is red, just like yours."

A girl from Donegal, in a Derry mall, recommends a sight to see.  It has nothing to do with any bloody history.

The curator of the Museum of Free Derry, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, and who once said that he'll "never forgive the bloody British bastards," was oddly at peace, after the Saville Commission report vindicated his brother's innocence.

I heard a gunshot from my behind, and I felt a pain in my temple and my eyes started to fill up with blood, and I thought, if I can only keep my eyes open, I'll live.

"I am content to live it all again,/And yet again."

I am content to live it all again,/And yet again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

First Week in Belfast on Peacebuilding Tour

I'm leading a John Carroll University course trip, with Rich Clark, on peacebuilding in Northern Ireland.  While I intended to write extensively on the blog, I've been juggling logistical planning, reading Heaney and Yeats, and gathering private impressions--far too much, even to cohere into something like a blog post.

I've been reduced to twitter-sized facebook updates, the first week of which I'll repost here, with some images from the trip as soon as I can upload them.

On the first day in Belfast, we walked around town, ending up in a great glass-domed mall, replete with KFCs, i-Pad stores, and the same historically-barren capitalist spaces of my youth. On day two, having seen the 50 foot Peace Walls and sectarian neighborhoods, I thought, at least the mall is a space where kids can go and not see murals praising men with guns.

On day three, it was simply wondrous to watch former IRA gunmen sit across the assembly from Protestant Ulster "enemies" in Stormont Assembly, talking in civil tones, conducting the business of governing.  That said, the Sinn Fein reps can't help but begin each statement with a little Gaelic Irish....

A day after we talked about Franz Fanon in our Northern Ireland discussion group and "The Wretched of the Earth," our former-IRA tour guide name-dropped Fanon and "Wretched" twice as a text they'd read in prison. Turns out that most postcolonial reading lists have an intriguing similarity to the IRA prison reading list....

Along the way, we've been meeting with peacemakers and peacebuilders, from Ed Peterson (Clonard Monastery) to Rory O'Neil (Peace Players International) to Bill Shaw (174 Trust).  Rory O'Neil, a graduate of John Carroll and alum of the first version of this trip in 2004, now uses basketball to bring together children whose parents are "enemies", helping the next generation to see the other as a friend, not a target.

A fella named Pat at the bar downtown Belfast had a tattoo of Che Guevara on his forearm, said "I could tell you stories [about the Troubles] that would make your skin crawl" but that he was so happy they were over, so his kids could have a future that he could not.

"Did you want to kill him, Buck?"

"Well, I bet I did."
"What did he do to you?"
"Him? He never done nothing to me."
"Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?"
"Why, nothing -- only it's on account of the feud."
"What's a feud?"
"Why, where was you raised? Don't you know what a feud is?"
"Never heard of it before -- tell me about it."
"Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills HIM; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the COUSINS chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."  From *Huckleberry Finn*, shout out to Rory O'Neil

The legendary Tommy Sands, on Northern Ireland: "it was said that for every solution, we had a problem. Perhaps now we have some of the solutions to some of the problems."

Despite all the hilarity at Benedict's Bar in Belfast--the drinking and dancing and strobe lights coloring everything, the parade of hen (bachelorette) parties with their angel wings and leopardskin dresses and inflateable penises--the wait staff still makes the rounds, eyeing the tables and floors for what may be suspect devices.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Robin Coste Lewis' "Verga"

It just so happens to be Torture Awareness Month; I know, it's not in your calendar.  Look under: "enhanced interrogation month," and it might show up.


"...women don't want the men to go into the
bush because the women will only be raped but
the men will be killed...I have seen a woman
who was caught in the bush by several men.
They tied her legs to two trees while she was
standing. They raped her many times and before
leaving her they put stones in her vagina..."

Abshiro Aden Mohammed, Kenya, 2000
Dagahaley Somali Refugee Camp
from A Camel for the Son,
by Fazal Sheik

Before leaving her they put stones in her vagina
The men will only be raped but the stones will be killed
The bush caught many men to go into the stones
The stones will be killed by several trees before leaving
The bush tied the men to the trees in their vaginas
Before bush go to trees they kill many stones
Many men will be caught by the trees in the bush
Several trees will be raped by the bush and killed
Only the caught men will be stoned and bushed by the .....trees
Several men were caught by the trees before leaving
The men will be killed but the stones will only be treed
The stones put many trees into the men's killed vaginas
By the bush, the trees were raped only several times
Before leaving, the vaginas were seen standing in the .....stones

-Robin Coste Lewis
Used by permission.

Robin Coste Lewis' work has appeared in various journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, GCN, The Pocket Myth Series, and anthologized in Black Silk and The Encyclopedia Project, F-K. She was a finalist for both the War Poetry Prize in 2010, and the National Rita Dove Prize iin 2004. A graduate of Harvard's Divinity School, where she received a Master's of Theological Studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature, Lewis was the Samuel Valentine Cole Professor of Creative Writing at Wheaton College and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships by the Caldera Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Can Serrat International Art Centre in Barcelona and the Summer Literary Seminars in Kenya. Recently, she was awarded a Goldwater Fellowship by NYU's Creative Writing Program in Poetry. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

Lewis was on the panel The Poet as Historian in the 21st Century: A Rare Opportunity in Difficult Times at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & 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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Kriyayoga Seminar on Truth and Nonviolence (Cleveland Area)

From Scott Lynch: you are warmly invited along with your family, co-workers, and friends to the 2011 Kriyayoga Seminar, June 15-22 in nearby Euclid, Ohio. All classes are free of charge. Pre-registration is requested but not required. Please contact us for registration requests or to answer any questions...

Because we are a local non-profit, our program is spread almost exclusively by word of mouth, so please pass this on to other friends and organizations...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Our new translations of Arseny Tarkovsky in Poetry Magazine

Thanks to the great poet Arseny Tarkovsky, and my co-translator Dimitri Psurtsev, for making these poems happen.  

Here's the opening of the essay on the translation:

Perhaps all translations are Frankenstein’s monsters. The main question then becomes: is the creature alive? We know that translations, like the monster, are a grab bag of other organs and skin, stolen from the graveyards of other traditions whose sensibilities are not always our own, grafted together into something that approximates a whole. But has the translator provided the lightning rod, gathered the electricity? In the end, does it breathe?


Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Laundry" by Alicia Ostriker: another installment of SPLIT THIS ROCK


Just finished folding laundry. There's the news. A slender prisoner, ankles shackled, nude back and legs striped by a brown substance you might take for blood but which probably is feces, hair long, arms extended at shoulder level like a dancer or like Jesus, walks toward a soldier with rolled-up pants and a gun, posed legs akimbo in the tiled corridor. I cannot say from the image if the soldier is smiling, too few pixels to tell. Barely do the prisoner's elegant feet touch the floor. In another nude photograph a prisoner with shorter hair cowers against a wall while two dogs whose leashes are held by soldiers examine him. I cannot say from the photograph if the dogs are snarling or drooling. And in this one a girl soldier holds the leash, which leads to the neck of a prisoner lying on concrete.

Oil oozes a mile or two underground. Like sand, it was once alive.

In another photo the nude prisoners have been formed into a pyramid. They look like something in the back of a butcher shop. A stack of magnified calves' livers. Now the girl soldier leaning over a bleeding prisoner--are those dog bites--gives the thumbs' up sign and smiles her toothy wholesome Homecoming Queen smile, a smile descended from a Good Housekeeping cover, twinkle twinkle little... Oil oozes a mile or so underground. Atop it stands a palace of air conditioning. Somewhere in the green zone is a swimming pool for the officers, its water chemically purified. Stagnant waters are also good--to the flies. As is blood. A fly's life there would be prosperous. I put away the laundry. I put my nose in the laundry, it smells warm and well. My husband's underpants and undershirts I lay in his dresser drawer. In my dresser drawer go my underpants and t-shirts.

The correct word is not prisoner. The correct word is detainee.

Speaking of correctness, some other terms have lately come into play: hooding, waterboarding, rendition. The bleaching of the news. The rinsing and spinning. Some of the laundry items are not quite dry, a knit sweater of mine, a flannel of his. I hang them on plastic hangers in the bathroom. The bathroom is tiled in white, the tub is tourmaline. Above our twin sinks hangs a large flat mirror in which we are obliged to see ourselves each day, and on the opposite wall, that is to say behind us when we stand at the sink, a Rodin watercolor sketch depicts a semi-nude woman in some sort of peach diaphanous garment, seated, holding one pink knee in her hands, her shaven pubes showing, the lines at once easy, comfortable, and elegant. The correct word is detainee. The sweaters hang patiently. The mirror ponders a rebuke.

-Alicia Ostriker
Used by permission.

Alicia Ostriker is a major American poet and critic. Twice nominated for a National Book Award, she is author of twelve volumes of poetry, most recently The Book of Seventy (2009), which won the Jewish Book Award for Poetry. Ostriker's poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Antaeus, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Atlantic, MS, Tikkun, and many other journals, and have been widely anthologized. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, the San Francisco State Poetry Center, the Judah Magnes Museum, the New Jersey Arts Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ostriker lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband and is Professor Emerita of Rutgers University and a faculty member of the New England College Low-Residency Poetry MFA Program.

Ostriker was a featured poet at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witnes 2008 and on the panels Fire & Ink: A Social Action Writing Anthology, and the Rewards of Teaching Activist Writing and Birth and the Politics of Motherhood in Poetry at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & 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!

Split This Rock

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Ballad of the Poverties" by Adrienne Rich

"Ballad of the Poverties"  by Adrienne Rich

There’s the poverty of the cockroach kingdom and the rusted toilet bowl
The poverty of to steal food for the first time
The poverty of to mouth a penis for a paycheck
The poverty of sweet charity ladling
Soup for the poor who must always be there for that
There’s the poverty of theory poverty of the swollen belly shamed
Poverty of the diploma mill the ballot that goes nowhere
Princes of predation let me tell you
There are poverties and there are poverties

There’s the poverty of cheap luggage bursted open at immigration
The poverty of the turned head, the averted eyes
The poverty of bored sex of tormented sex
The poverty of the bounced check the poverty of the dumpster dive
The poverty of the pawned horn the poverty of the smashed reading glasses
The poverty pushing the sheeted gurney the poverty cleaning up the puke
The poverty of the pavement artist the poverty passed-out on pavement
Princes of finance you who have not lain there
There are poverties and there are poverties

There is the poverty of hand-to-mouth and door-to-door
And the poverty of stories patched-up to sell there
There’s the poverty of the child thumbing the Interstate
And the poverty of the bride enlisting for war
There’s the poverty of prescriptions who can afford
And the poverty of how would you ever end it
There is the poverty of stones fisted in pocket
And the poverty of the village bulldozed to rubble
Princes of weaponry who have not ever tasted war
There are poverties and there are poverties

There’s the poverty of wages wired for the funeral you
Can’t get to the poverty of the salary cut
There’s the poverty of human labor offered silently on the curb
The poverty of the no-contact prison visit
There’s the poverty of yard sale scrapings spread
And rejected the poverty of eviction, wedding bed out on street
Prince let me tell you who will never learn through words
There are poverties and there are poverties

You who travel by private jet like a housefly
Buzzing with the other flies of plundered poverties
Princes and courtiers who will never learn through words
Here’s a mirror you can look into: take it: it’s yours.


for Jim and Arlene Scully
with gratitude to Fran├žois Villon and to Galway Kinnell
first appeared in Monthly Review
from Adrienne Rich's recent book Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

purchase here