April’s National Poetry Month — Banning Pugilistic Prose, err, Verse? No. Nyet!
Since the invasion of Iraq, a symphony of voices has reasserted the American poet’s role in the public sphere.
“It’s impossible for poetry not to be political,” Li-Young Lee said to a St. Petersburg Times reporter.
Galway Kinnell told the New York Times, “It’s poetry’s duty and part of its role to speak out.”
And Sam Hamill says in an open letter dated June 29, 2004, “Being a citizen of the world is political.” – See more at:
What does it mean to be a poet in today’s world? Is it through the lens of creative writing PhD programs? Working for a state or private school, living the life inside cracking hallways of community colleges or the hallowed halls of ivy-choked brickwork of those private schools? Or celebrity stuff, you know, Jewel or Suzanne Somers? They are the poets of our times?
This is not a lament, or a flailing of words toward some mythical, magical or Utopian vision of a world that respects the arts, or that goes for a consumer culture based on “consuming art and literature,” though I profess this through the works of Lyle K. Grant, in his work here at DV – and it’s worth bearing repeating since this piece is about what value we put on poetry. And, as an educator, journalist, poet and fiction writer, who advocates advocacy planning, teaching, writing and arts, well, I see we are in some odd times with the collision of forces whittling away education at the PK12 level as well as in higher education, and community education. You’ve read about the attack on thinking and dissent and dissidence here at DV for over a decade. My little part is around higher education, mostly, and the attack on the last bastions of sanity – schooling, a place where rich ideas and concepts and sticking-out-our-necks thinking and work that in no other realm you will find.
No kick-ass freedoms to express, dissent, discuss, and express at Starbucks Community College. Or McDonalds U, you think they don’t have gags, disparagement rules and prior restraint. Or Walmart On-line School — lots of great thinking going on there. Big ideas for the masses at Google’s Campus? Big Box USA or Amazon dot monopoly, all those great tax-dodging and worker-exploiting ventures that make that Forbes List, they are the places where humanity moves forward sustainably, with a clear force of dissent? The Gates Foundation a think tank, and GE’s green team a free-wheeling incubator of expression . . . or Boeing’s classrooms the best place to carry on debates? This business as usual is all about money-money-jobs-at-any-cost — any cost to nature, nurturing and pre-and-post-natal love.
Yep, the Press is gutted. So let’s count that again, what’s missing from Democracy. The Judicial Branch is hollowed out and crassly pro-business and anti-citizen. The Legislative Branch is histrionics and grandstanding 101 at the expense of the 70 Percent. The Executive Branch is all about money-power-hegemony and business for the Transnationals as usual.
So, School Yard Fights is about looking at the attack on students, parents, communities, thinkers, teachers, and, yes, artists, including writers.
Where else can these ideas about a new arts education and underconsumption training be fronted? Prison Industrial Complex College? Right.
Beyond simply using education to establish greater awareness of sustainability issues is an imperative to shift the maintenance of behavior from overconsumed to underconsumed reinforcers by teaching consumption skills. The consumption skills implicit in Mill’s art of living, in Walden Two’s Golden Age, and in Scitovsky’s prescription for cultural invigoration are all acquired tastes established as reinforcers only through informal or formal educational experiences. The recognition that the arts are a potential means of furthering sustainability dramatically reframes educational and other public-policy priorities. As Scitovsky (1989b) points out:
… the argument just presented favours subsidies, not to the arts or access to the arts, but to the process of learning to enjoy them. Such subsidies therefore should be immune to the criticism often leveled at public support for the arts on the ground that it represents a regressive redistribution of income from taxpayers to the elite that forms the bulk of theatre, opera and concert audiences. For the purpose of art education is to increase and keep increasing membership in that elite until it ceases to be an elite. (p. 157)
To further arts education, Scitovsky (1992) advocated a broad education throughout the curriculum that encompasses arts instruction. His promotion of arts education is based in part on avoiding the harmful effects (i.e., negative externalities) of alternative reward-seeking behaviors, which include crime, violence and drug use, in addition to squandering natural resources (Scitovsky, 1977; 1992). He cited the teaching of arts in kindergarten and the elementary grades as an exemplary practice because only there students are given freedom to pursue aesthetic challenges and pleasures independently of vocational considerations. He further suggested that existing practices in promoting athletics in schools are “a fine example that cultural education easily could and ideally ought to follow” (p. 301). Scitovsky (1992) envisioned formal arts education as an important supplement to domestic life, pointing out that children acquire an enjoyment of literature and music relatively effortlessly when grow up in literary and musical families. Under no illusions of the difficulties in making a transition to an arts-centered society, Scitovsky (1989b) anticipated that the process would “be a matter of generations rather than of years” (p. 158).
This arts consumption model speaks to a new vision for societies supposedly progressed through the enlightenment, Darwin, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, global grassroots activism, civil society, and the shrinking of knowledge channels through the web. Arts consumption means we all become visual artists, we all write poems, we all become novelists. In some shape and form.
Maybe I am coursing through the bones of earlier sprints, when I was 18 in Tucson, cutting my teeth on Chicanoism, Mexican midnight dives in the Sea of Cortez, eco-raiding in the desert burning down real estate signs on fragile desert ‘scapes, and my introduction to poetry and fiction at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona.
Just realized that Peter Wild, my teacher, kicked the bucket. Damn. He was 69 years old. I’m square on 56. Mortality.
The legacy of Peter Wild, Professor of English at The University of Arizona for 40 years, can be found in his work as a teacher and also in his works of poetry and nonfiction. Wild published more than 2,000 poems in his lifetime, according to colleague and friend Professor Carl Berkhout, who is preparing Wild’s bibliography. Wild was the author or editor of well over 80 books of poetry, criticism, and nonfiction, with special emphasis on the American West.
Really, though, this piece is predicated on April, poetry month, and the value and devaluing of literary arts, the hard life of a Bukowski, the life of poets who see the sun and rain and green grasses and raging rivers as the filtering of all human life as political. Even the solitary. Or the emblematic or pastoral.
Shit, Pablo Neruda’s bones are being exhumed now –
A team of forensic specialists will remove bones from the casket where he lies near his seaside home on Monday morning.
Neruda, who died suddenly 12 days after the 11 September 1973 military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, had suspected prostate cancer and for decades it was assumed that he had succumbed to the disease.
But two years ago when Neruda’s bodyguard and driver, Manuel Araya, began describing his recollections of the poet’s last days, a new narrative was born: the Pinochet regime eliminated Neruda to avoid the possibility that he would become a renowned voice of dissidence.
Neruda was known for his erotic, passionate, romantic poetry, particularly Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. He was also a leftwing politician, diplomat and close friend of President Salvador Allende, who killed himself rather than surrender to Pinochet in the 1973 coup.
Araya said that while Neruda was making final preparations for exile in Mexico, doctors injected the poet with a substance, after which his health rapidly deteriorated.
The investigating judge, Mario Carroza, originally doubted the conspiracy theory but his inquiry over the past two years has uncovered sufficient evidence to order the exhumation.
Among the more damning pieces of evidence are reports from the pro-Pinochet El Mercurio newspaper the day after Neruda’s death, referring to an injection immediately beforehand. The official death certificate said an advanced and incurable cancer led to malnutrition and wasting away.
“There were three main voices who could have continued the Allende legacy,” said Eduardo Contreras, a Chilean lawyer who has been pushing for a thorough investigation of Neruda’s death.
“There was Allende, Víctor Jara [the folk singer] and Pablo Neruda. Allende died on the day of the coup, Jara soon after, the only one left was Neruda. Why not eliminate the third symbol? I can’t assure that he was killed or who might have done it, but there are too many suspicious acts [not to investigate].”
Even here at DV we’ve been going back and forth on whether a blog on the bastards of deception, despotism, decay should have poems inserted in the daily blog roll. We have that little tag at the bottom here, DV Poetry Page, and, well, this concept of the power of words and creative non-fiction essays, all these op-eds, even the stream of consciousness, the diatribes, the polemics, the hard news, the advocacy and creative voices here at DV, some raw, some rubies chiseled and gleaming, and all things in between, we are still grappling with whether poetry as it stands alone is powerful or worthy enough to be up on the daily run of political and social justice commentary.
I think it should – poetry published anywhere — and not just overtly experimental and dredged in the jambalaya coating of politics.
I’m not saying all poets and every poem has to slap us in the face because of its politicalness. No. I’m saying that we need poetry as a public blood sport, that is, words should matter, should cull hubris, and should bring the spirit of humanness and our animalness back, by slaying the forces of neoliberalism, religious shock, disaster capitalism and intellectual despotism.
Hell, before I tag on some of the debate about how political poems can be or poets should be outside the purview of their writings; before I do a riff from Martin Espada, a poem and a statement on censorship and returning CocaCola’s money for a sponsored reading of his . . . and his own books banned in Tucson . . . here’s his homepage — check it out!
Called“the Latino poet of his generation,” Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His latest collection of poems, The Trouble Ball(Norton, 2011), is the recipient of the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award and an International Latino Book Award. The Republic of Poetry,a collection published by Norton in 2006, received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A previous book of poems, Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996), won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Other books of poems include A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen(Norton, 2000), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (Norton, 1993), andRebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990). He has received other recognition such as the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His work has been widely translated; collections of poems have been published in Spain, Puerto Rico and Chile. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Hell, what is my role as a poet, activist, dissenter and pretty much outlier among what the mainstream have called outliers themselves??? Poetry is an outlier avocation and art, as is fiction, maybe drama, certainly visual arts and performance art. Sure, we have 9 to 5 jobs, but can’t we be anarchists there, quietly, scamming the systems, the Establishment, by working to work against? I’d venture to say that experiment does put us in the cross-hairs of those looking for little Eichmanns.
So, why not revolutionary poetry, Sandino y Sandinistas? Zapatistas? Neruda, offed, why? Words. The power of poetry. Power of Witness, Power OF HUMAN FAILURE TO TRANSCEND HELL.
I asked Martin permission to use some of his work here, at DV. I hope he is happy with the coverage. I wonder what his stand is on the PEN fiasco covered here April 1, 2103 at DV:
U.S. Cooption of the Human Rights Movement Continues
An Appeal to PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go
by John V. Walsh and Coleen Rowley / April 1st, 2013
” When political people have finished with repression and violence PEN can indeed be forgotten. Until then, with all its flounderings and failings and mistaken acts, it is still, I think, a fellowship moved by the hope that one day the work it tries and often manages to do will no longer be necessary.”
– Arthur Miller who once led PEN
“To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism… (which) should offer assertive leadership — diplomatic, economic, and not least, military — to advance a broad array of goals…”
– Suzanne Nossel, new Executive Director of PEN American Center in Smart Power, Foreign Affairs (Emphases added)
Suzanne Nossel is a disturbing choice as the new executive director of PEN, American Center, an American branch of the worldwide association of writers and related professions devoted to free expression and “the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world.” The stark contrast between the statements of Arthur Miller and Suzanne Nossel above is enough to sound an alarm. But Nossel’s career path, the masters she has served, the stances she has taken and the activities she has sponsored demonstrate profound differences with PEN. PEN cannot remain true to the ideals articulated by Arthur Miller with Nossel at the helm. She is an embodiment of the ongoing, and all too successful, cooption of the Human Rights movement by the U.S. government.
Damn right, poetry and the literary arts IS ALL ABOUT politics, no matter how genuine the lamented poetry is. Love poems by Mislosz? Let the politics fly –
Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of bumblebees,
From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices
And the unhurried sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to me.
Before the five senses were opened, and earlier than any beginning
They waited, ready, for all those who would call themselves mortals,
So that they might praise, as I do, life, that is, happiness.
A loss of harmony with the surrounding space, the inability to feel at home in the world, so oppressive to an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, paradoxically integrates him in contemporary society and makes him, if he is an artist, understood by all. Even more, to express the existential situation of modern man, one must live in exile of some sort.
—Czeslaw Milosz, “On Exile”
Why not, Bukowski?
“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”
― Charles Bukowski
“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
So, in essence, the discussion about the value of poetry is just another layer of what I have been doing recently: covering Get Lit!, 15 years of literary readings – a festival – in Spokane. My old stomping ground. I have to make a living so I wrote a piece for the magazine I work for. I ended up in Portland, at the Sigma Tau Delta conference, the honors society for English majors in colleges. Had a chance to hang with youth wanting master’s and doctorates in English, and ended up spending time with the conference’s speakers – Ursula K. Le Guin, Tim Egan, Anne Fadiman and some Portland writers – Carl Adamshick, Alexis Smith, Virginia Euwer Wolff.
Spokane is currently inundated with writers and readers – Christopher McDougall, Born to Run on the Tarahumara Indians in my old stomping grounds – Chihuahua; Jonathan Evision, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, the ultimate road trip novel; Kim Barnes, In the Kingdom of Men; Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule; David Shields, How Literature Saved My Life; Joyce Carol Oates, The Accursed (come on, Joyce, 50 novels and poetry, short story and memoir collections); add John Marzluff, Gifts of the Crow (heck, read my piece at DV here alluding to that amazing animal and Marzluff); and poets: Major Jackson, Holding Company, and Robert Wrigley, Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems.
Over 92 participants – writers and workshop folk – and a dozen venues and youth slams and MFA readings and workshops and on and on and on.
Makes you think that writing is coming back strong.
A question or two from me posed to Jess Walter, Zero and the book, Citizen Vince, among others:
Attention spans are fragmented, more and more time is on screen, and a new generation of writers expect more digital rhetoric and multimedia with their literary works. What’s your take?
JW –I think we tend to imagine that forms like the novel or the short story have always been the same, but don’t they always change? Didn’t movies and TV fundamentally change the way novels worked (shorter sentences, smaller scopes, more cinematic description, more present tense.) Narrative isn’t going anywhere. I very much prefer “real” books, but I don’t care if someone reads on a screen or in a digital stream straight into their brain. Reading is transformative and enriching. I remember reading a description of the changes to the ice industry (it was cut from frozen lakes and delivered to cities, then machines in the cities made ice and delivered, then people got their own freezers–the industry changed but people still wanted ice) E-readers make it easier to read. Will it change the form? Probably. Will it be better? Some of it, maybe. It’s just what happens.
A whole generation of young American readers are becoming decoupled from the whole culture of the written word. Discuss.
JW — Didn’t movies do the same thing? And TV? And radio? The culture is changing; it is an organic, dynamic thing. I don’t teach very often, but when I do, I never fail to find great eager minds in search of inspiration. I would suspect that when I was an undergrad, most of my classmates would’ve stared blankly at James, too. I don’t understand this obsession with apocalyptic thinking, especially about literature. What’s the point? It was never for everyone. It has always lived most feverishly on the fringes of the culture. It continues to thrive there today.
Okay, so, it’s clear to Ursula and Walter that reading or literacy was always a strange thing –
Harper’s, 2008, Ursula K. Le Guin: I see a high point of reading in the United States from around 1850 to about 1950—call it the century of the book—the high point from which the doomsayers see us declining. As the public school came to be considered fundamental to democracy, and as libraries went public and flourished, reading was assumed to be something we shared in common. Teaching from first grade up centered on “English,” not only because immigrants wanted their children fluent in it but because literature—fiction, scientific works, history, poetry—was a major form of social currency.
To look at schoolbooks from 1890 or 1910 can be scary; the level of literacy and general cultural knowledge expected of a ten-year-old is rather awesome. Such texts, and lists of the novels kids were expected to read in high school up to the 1960s, lead one to believe that Americans really wanted and expected their children not only to be able to read but to do it, and not to fall asleep doing it.
So, Martin Espada is part of Poets Against the War, and part of Split this Rock –
Who We Are
Split This Rock calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of socially engaged poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation’s capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.
Split This Rock is dedicated to revitalizing poetry as a living, breathing art form with profound relevance in our daily lives and struggles. Our programs integrate poetry of provocation and witness into movements for social justice and support the poets of all ages who write and perform this vital work.
The name “Split This Rock” is pulled from a line in “Big Buddy,” a poem from Langston Hughes.
Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,
Stand by my side.
The work of writing the poems that split open the injustices in society is in some ways a solitary act, but it is also an act that requires community. Split This Rock calls all of us to split this rock, and to do it together.
What We Do
- Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness—Every two years poets, activists, and dreamers gather in our nation’s capital for four days of readings, workshops, discussions, parties, youth voices & activism.
- Campaigns for Social Change—Integrating poets and poetry into public life and pressing the literary world to represent the full diversity of American poetry.
- Readings, Workshops & Public Dialogues—Presenting Sunday Kind of Love, a monthly reading series at Busboys and Poets in DC, writing workshops, and conversations between poets and activists.
- Poem of the Week—A poem by a contemporary poet in your inbox each week. Poems for daily life—for vigils, meetings, blogs, Facebook, subway rides, lunch breaks, and more.
- Split This Rock Poetry Contest—Annual contest for poems of provocation and witness. Deadline is November 1 each year.
- Youth Programs—Supporting young voices through The DC Youth Slam Team, workshops and performances in schools, libraries, and convention centers, and a regional poetry contest
Split This Rock explores and celebrates the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.
His book, Zapata’s Disciple: Essays, was banned by the the state of Arizona, or the Tucson Unified School District. Here’s Martin’s piece on that . . .
Another Bomb Threat in Tucson
In January of this year, I read an article by Matt Rothschild on the website of The Progressive magazine called, “Banned in Tucson,” where I saw, for the first time, the reading list of the forbidden Mexican-American Studies Department.
One of my own books, Zapata’s Disciple: Essays, turned out to be on the list. Indeed, this book has been banned before—by the Texas state penal system, on the grounds that it might incite the inmates to riot. Being banned in Tucson, however, is a far greater honor. On the list of banned authors I am keeping company with the likes of César Chávez, James Baldwin, Henry David Thoreau and Howard Zinn, four great icons of resistance in this country. I am keeping company with ancestors. I am keeping company with some of the finest Latino and Latina writers alive today. May our words always trigger the sweating and babbling of bigots.
There is an essay in Zapata’s Disciple called “The New Bathroom Policy in English High School.” This is how the essay ends:
On October 12th, 1996–Columbus Day–I gave a reading at a bookstore in Tucson, Arizona. The reading was co-sponsored by Derechos Humanos, a group that monitors human rights abuses on the Arizona-México border, and was coordinated with the Latino March on Washington that same day… At 7 PM, the precise time when the reading was to begin, we received a bomb threat. The police arrived with bomb-sniffing dogs, and sealed off the building. I did the reading in the parking lot, under a streetlamp. This is one of the poems I read that night, based on an actual exchange in a Boston courtroom:
Mariano Explains Yanqui Colonialism to Judge Collings
Judge: Does the prisoner understand his rights?
Interpreter: ¿Entiende usted sus derechos?
Prisoner: ¡Pa’l carajo!
I’d like to think that this tale of Tucson had something to do with the book being banned in Tucson, but this would give the censors too much credit. They need not read the books they ban. Theirs is the logic of fear, the reasoning of racism. In fact, this book is banned because it appears on the reading list of the banned Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. All I had to do to give offense was to appear on a list. Consider the almost ritualistic significance of lists to Joseph McCarthy and the repressive apparatus of McCarthyism. In the end, this is just another bomb threat. All they have done is force us to evacuate the building. We will gather ourselves in the dark, and keep reading to each other in whatever light we can find.
Of Course, other books banned in Tucson – at the end of this long piece, the list of banned books. Sort of a long example why words matter, and not just those of historians like Zinn or Acuna. Fiction writers, Young Adult Fiction writers, and poets!
Here is Martin Espada’s poem, another example of poetry in fluid transmogrification between the purely artistic and political:
March 6, 2001
Tepoztlán, State of Morelos, México
Sing the word Tepoztlán, Place of Copper,
pueblo of cobblestone and purple blossoms
amid the cliffs, serpent god ablaze with plumage
peering from the shaven rock.
Sing the word Zapata, bandoleers crossing his chest
like railroad tracks about to explode, rebellion’s black iris
in 1910, in his eye the peasants of Morelos husking rifles
stalk by stalk from the cornfields.
Sing the word Zapatista, masked rebels riding now
in a caravan without rifles, tracking the long rosary of blood
beaded and stippled across the earth by other rebels the color of earth,
bus panting uphill saddled with ghosts dangling legs from the roof.
Sing the words Félix Serdán, age eleven when he straddled the horse
to ride with Zapata, witness to a century’s harvest of campesino skulls
abundant as melons, twined in white mustache and blanket
beside the comandantes on the platform.
Sing the word comandante, twenty-three of the faceless
masked in black so their brown skin could grow eyes and mouths,
smuggling Mayan tongues to the microphone in the plaza
where the church drowses in dreams of Latin by rote.
Sing the word durito, hard little one, scarab on a banner
draped across the face of the church where bells bang
to welcome the rebels, as the scarab-people cluster below
shouting their vow never to be crushed by the shoe.
Sing the word zapateado, tap and stamp of women dancing in the plaza
to the hummingbird rhythms of Veracruz, guitarist in fedora
watching his fingers skitter like scarabs across the wood,
shawled dancer lost in the percussion of her feet.
Sing the word Marcos, el Subcomandante, and listen
when he says above the crowd chanting his name:
Marcos does not exist. I am a window. I am a mirror.
I am you. You are me.
from Alabanza: New & Selected Poems
Thanks Martin – More on Neruda here –
What kind of American poetry might speak of life as it is now being lived? A poetry that is elastic enough to contain the modern experience of speed and stillness, as well as a sense of wonder. One that smells of rubber, plastic, and tar, and can contain the constellations of nanotechnology; a poetry that bears witness to the exigencies and horrors of the political moment in which the poem, and the poet, exists. This kind of poetry carries on speaking to the unimagined future. It sings of a spiritualized and a politicized vision, and it leaps into infinity.
“A poet is a poet when he does not renounce his existence in a given country, at a particular time, defined politically,” Quasimodo writes in his ‘Discourse on Poetry.’ “And poetry is the liberty and truth of that time, and not abstract modulations of sentiment.”
See more at:
“Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it,” Walter Benjamin writes. – See more at:
“The politician wants men to know how to die courageously; the poet wants men to live courageously.” —Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, Nobel lecture, 1959
– See more at:
“Democratic Vistas,” Whitman writes, “It is acknowledged that we of the States are the most materialistic and money-making people ever known. My own theory, while fully accepting this, is that we are the most emotional, spiritualistic, and poetry-loving people also.”
Poets Against the War.
I was part of the street activism, letter writing campaigns, op-ed writing, and poetry – thanks to Sam Hamill and others — when Bush and Company were leading us into illegal invasions. I have my poem up, one of 13,000, in the Poets Against the War on-line zine! See below.
Sam Hamill is the author of more than forty books, including fifteen volumes of original poetry (most recently Measured by Stone and Almost Paradise: New & Selected Poems & Translations); four collections of literary essays, including A Poet’s Work and Avocations: On Poetry & Poets; and some of the most distinguished translations of ancient Chinese and Japanese classics of the last half-century. He co-founded, and for thirty-two years was editor at, Copper Canyon Press. He taught in prisons for fourteen years and has worked extensively with battered women and children. An outspoken political pacifist, in 2003, declining an invitation to the White House, he founded Poets Against War, compiling the largest single-theme poetry anthology in history. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He presently divides his time between his studio in Port Townsend, Washington, and Buenos Aires.
Di di Mao (1) . . . Young Guy Named Hal with M-16
By Paul K. Haeder
Di di mao
Get out of here,
boy, emaciated like a
walking zither, legs
shanked by B-52 metal
chopsticks for arms
Di di mao now, boy,
so I get some madam boom-boom
Di di mao
Go on, get out of here,
leave me in my bivouac
tethered to M-16
and howling Credence Clearwater
Budweiser and Castle Rock
Di di mao
your sack of bones
weighted by bamboo shoots
eyes rimmed by leeches
you hiss when I drive by
you twist up like roots — red
exclamation point for tongue
Di di mao
each zip from my bloated cheeks
zip-zip-zip from Mattel’s
white horizon courtesy of Dupont
orange noon thanks to DOW
napalm, white phosphorus,
cauldronspercolating into my bone
Di di mao
get out of here now,
Charlie, bequest your sisters
and wives, we are
masters of the flesh
lurching for our all-American
pursuit of happiness
Di di moi
where water buffalo
undulate in their gases,
F-4 Phantoms —
with jaws of a great
shark — rattle
Di di Mao (2) – Boy with Dog in Rice Basket
my rainforest is purity
hornbills sail through mists
where my elders follow our joss
stick incense trails
vines like tendrils
the slog and muck and verdant
forest sings songs
to dead brothers and mothers
Di di mao, get out of here now
go back to your refrigerators
T-bones and French fries
find your leaders
placate your lipless gray kings
who are mean with their green wads
go, find them and ask
why you are running
into our shadows
Di di mao
recede into your choppers
smoky trails lead back to your
land of garish light
your churning chugging citizens
purge from your jet planes
like sunburned bovine —
leave me to my lotus
my empty stomach
my sister who is like
fragile, but with a bomb
Di di mao
get out of my
Hue, where my monks
self-immolate on the banks of the Perfume
flutter into memory — watch
my grandmothers throw your
C-rations into the river
your photographs of lipless
balloon pin-up girls
float in a river
Di di mao
we are pleasant in our
stone age — our
mosquitoes like black lace
lurch after barking deer
vine snakes like liquid titanium
civets watch kingfishers
who spear frogs
like my Viet Cong
sending pongee stakes
wet into your
hearts . . . .
di di mao. Spokane, 2003
Politics and Poetry, Part Five!
Michael T. Young: You are politically active or at least a politically concerned poet. We’ve exchanged e-mails on topics mostly related to hydraulic fracturing. What do you see as the poet’s role in the framework of his country? Should a poet be politically active? Should that influence what he writes and, if yes, how?
Richard Levine: This poet should be politically active. I feel strongly about it, and I think it influences my thinking and writing. But I never sit down and think I should write a poem about fracking or climate. You ask what I think a poet’s role is in their country, I’d say write as truly about what they’re experiencing, what it’s like to live where they do. Didn’t they lock Brodsky up because he was more interested in his day to day struggle than the feats of the ‘system’? He has a poem, a sonnet, I think, and the first stanza is about the nuclear arms race. In the second, he imagines that one the day nukes start flying he’ll go across the city to his lover and hopes scientists a thousand years from then will find them locked in each others’ arms. Beautiful. Is it political? Does it tell us how Brodsky acted in the world in which he lived and what it was like? Will it be read a thousand years from now?
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2013
Richard Levine: James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, said, ‘Most people know the right thing to do, but they don’t act on it.’ So, for me, one of the most important things about being in the world is to act for the right reasons. This sounds moralistic—well, why not. What are we here for? We’re living in a time when avarice, cruelty, and violence are out of control, worse, they’re in vogue … being a psychopath is in, man! Gordon Gekko was not our generation’s Scrooge, he’s an example of and role model for the Koch Brothers, the Donald Trumps, the Sheldon Adelsons, the IMF, World Bank and a journalism and world view that makes the global economy more important than global warming, war more meaningful than peace, information more valuable than knowledge. People who want to earn their living by doing things that make the most difference or contribute the most are looked down on by those who want to make the most money or insatiably acquire the most things. Writing can be one way of acting against this psychopathic age of raging greed. I consider myself an activist, and when social confrontation becomes an occasion for a poem that’s great.
Where is the P-ublic in P-oetry — Public Poetry?
Below this piece is one of many comments to the David Biespiel piece in Poetry – this one by Sarah Browning of Split the Rock, and she mentions Martin Espada as a poet and writer looking at politics. Frequently!
As go America’s poets, so goes American democracy.
In the squares of the city—in the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office—I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.
America’s poets have a minimal presence in American civic discourse and a minuscule public role in the life of American democracy. I find this condition perplexing and troubling—both for poetry and for democracy. Because when I look at American poetry from the perspective of a fellow traveler, I see an art invested in various complex, fascinating, historical, and sometimes shop-worn literary debates. I see a twenty-first-century enterprise that’s thriving in the off-the-beaten-track corners of the nation’s cities and college towns. But at the same time that poetry’s various coteries are consumed with art-affirming debates over poetics and styles, American poetry and America’s poets remain amazingly inconsequential to the rest of the nation’s civic, democratic, political, and public life.
I am grateful to David Biespiel for “calling poets to the center of public life,” which is exactly the mission of Split This Rock and its biennial national poetry festival, mentioned in Dan Vera’s posting above. But I have to agree with Dan that Biespiel misses an opportunity to celebrate the many poets who are participating in the public debate in a huge variety of ways. And guess what? Dan’s right – most are poets of color.
For example – E. Ethelbert Miller is the chair of the board of the Institute for Policy Studies, the country’s oldest progressive think tank. He also regularly appears on NPR and writes widely on a variety of social issues. Naomi Shihab Nye writes frequently on issues of Palestine-Israel and works tirelessly for peace in that region. She’s also poetry editor of The Texas Observer, bringing poetry to a wide audience.
Martin Espada is a frequent essayist on inequality, immigration, and racism in America and on our country’s foreign policy. Francisco X. Alarcon recently launched a Facebook page, Poets Responding to SB 1070, gathering poems of solidarity for Arizona’s Latinos and protesting that state’s draconian new racist law. He has been speaking and reading poems at rallies throughout the west.
And some white poets – Sharon Olds refused an invitation to the National Book Festival and wrote an open letter to Barbara Bush that was printed in The Nation and widely circulated. Mark Nowak regularly speaks out on the human costs of mining – his op ed, “Warning: Shopping May Prove Deadly to Miners,” recently appeared in small town newspapers around the country.
All of these poets – and many more, all citizen-poets in their communities and in our nation (and all dramatically different in poetic style) – have read at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in DC (www.splitthisrock.org). Our goals are to encourage poets to participate in civic life and to support the poets who are doing this vital work and who sometimes, as David Biespiel notes, feel isolated from poetry communities as a result. We provide poets with opportunities for civic engagement and amplify their voices. Please join us! Go to www.splitthisrock.org to sign up for the list serv. We are citizens and we are poets – we refuse to be divided.
Split This Rock
See the words of poets and Hamill around the project, Poets Against the War here —
The Attack on Poets Against the War . . . Politicalness of Poets
So, we see the Denver Post giving Malaysian writer space to rail against political poets:
By Anushka Anastasia Solomon
Our Greatest Poem
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
- Langston Hughes
National Poetry Month just ended with the war unresolved in Iraq. In 2003, when anti-war poets spoke out and many declined First Lady Laura Bush’s invitation to a symposium in quiet protest, I had the same complaint of nausea as Poets Against War founder Sam Hamill, but for profoundly different reasons.
Andrew Motion, England’s poet laureate, had weighed in with his 30-word poem, “Causa Belli,” and celebrities like the Dixie Chicks had begun to corrode the cultural and political conversation. Poetry had become a diatribe.
America’s essentially democratic purposes are laid out in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. The role of a poet in society is to chronicle not the state of the nation but its spirit. There are ideas in American poetry, policy and patriotism that bring us into conflict within and without.
National Poetry Month should remind us to re-examine the ideas in and power of American poetry. We must encourage young Americans to think afresh and critically about war, violence, guns, sex, women, the environment, poetry and culture without handing down clichés, partisan politics and prejudice. Poetry is a way to do that.
The Bush-bashing poetry that proliferated after the White House symposium was canceled will neither outlive the poets who hastily penned these works nor inspire change. Poets, like prophets, have the opportunity to become repairers of broken walls, to walk through what the psalmist calls the valley of the shadow of death and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke described as “one long terrifying damnation.”
America today is to be distinguished from America yesterday. Tomorrow rests on the curve of the larger question: Who are we as Americans? In his “Letters To A Young Poet,” Rilke advises the young poet to love the questions themselves, “as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.” Live the questions now, he admonished. In her recent poem “We Are Virginia Tech,” Nikki Giovanni asserts that the students and professors there will not be moving on. They will be embracing their grief and walking through it. They will not be consumed by it.
In the very depths of the American soul resides the poet. American poetry is not esoteric. The American poet is one who believes in the power of the individual to rise up. In the face of tragedy, the American poet births the strategy for rebirth.
The American spirit is unashamed, unapologetic, informed and definitive. This spirit also cries out with Emily Dickinson: “I am finite, I can’t see.” Dickinson measured every grief she met with analytic eyes. She likened loss of faith to the loss of an estate and acknowledged the beggary of our being. In so doing, Dickinson – like Whitman and Hughes – gave us not just great poetry but what Hughes describes in “Freedom’s Plow” as the community dream that belongs not to you and me alone but to all hands that build the world.
Let National Poetry Month inspire us, like Whitman, to boldly celebrate these United States as the greatest poem. Let our spoken words and our poems infuse the world with the American spirit, saying with Langston Hughes, “yes” to poetry and “no” to the enemies of freedom, brotherhood and democracy. Let American poetry be an envoy beyond her shores, and let poets everywhere, like Hughes, declare:
Out of war it came,
bloody and terrible
but it came!
Anushka Anastasia Solomon, (www.atthewindow.us) is a Malaysian poet and writer in exile. She was a Colorado Voices writer in 2002. Her chapbook, “Please, God, Don’t Let Me Write Like A Woman,” is scheduled for publication by Finishing Line Press.
Read more: Our greatest poem – The Denver
The title essay from Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture. The book was first published by Graywolf in 1992, and was a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. The 10th anniversary edition includes a new introduction by Dana Gioia
THE NEED FOR POETRY
But why should anyone but a poet care about the problems of American poetry? What possible relevance does this archaic art form have to contemporary society? In a better world, poetry would need no justification beyond the sheer splendor of its own existence. As Wallace Stevens once observed, “The purpose of poetry is to contribute to man’s happiness.” Children know this essential truth when they ask to hear their favorite nursery rhymes again and again. Aesthetic pleasure needs no justification, because a life without such pleasure is one not worth living.
But the rest of society has mostly forgotten the value of poetry. To the general reader, discussions about the state of poetry sound like the debating of foreign politics by émigrés in a seedy cafe. Or, as Cyril Connolly more bitterly described it, “Poets arguing about modern poetry: jackals snarling over a dried-up well.” Anyone who hopes to broaden poetry’s audience—critic, teacher, librarian, poet, or lonely literary amateur—faces a daunting challenge. How does one persuade justly skeptical readers, in terms they can understand and appreciate, that poetry still matters?
A passage in William Carlos Williams’s “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” provides a possible starting point. Written toward the end of the author’s life, after he had been partly paralyzed by a stroke, the lines sum up the hard lessons about poetry and audience that Williams had learned over years of dedication to both poetry and medicine. He wrote,
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
Williams understood poetry’s human value but had no illusions about the difficulties his contemporaries faced in trying to engage the audience that needed the art most desperately. To regain poetry’s readership one must begin by meeting Williams’s challenge to find what “concerns many men,” not simply what concerns poets.
There are at least two reasons why the situation of poetry matters to the entire intellectual community. The first involves the role of language in a free society. Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning. A society whose intellectual leaders lose the skill to shape, appreciate, and understand the power of language will become the slaves of those who retain it—be they politicians, preachers, copywriters, or newscasters. The public responsibility of poetry has been pointed out repeatedly by modern writers. Even the archsymbolist Stephane Mallarme praised the poet’s central mission to “purify the words of the tribe.” And Ezra Pound warned that
Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clean. It doesn’t matter whether a good writer wants to be useful, or whether the bad writer wants to do harm. . . .
If a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays.
Or, as George Orwell wrote after the Second World War, “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language. . . .” Poetry is not the entire solution to keeping the nation’s language clear and honest, but one is hard pressed to imagine a country’s citizens improving the health of its language while abandoning poetry.
From Conversing with the World: The Poet in Society by Rachel Galvin –
See more at:
What kind of American poetry might speak of life as it is now being lived? A poetry that is elastic enough to contain the modern experience of speed and stillness, as well as a sense of wonder. One that smells of rubber, plastic, and tar, and can contain the constellations of nanotechnology; a poetry that bears witness to the exigencies and horrors of the political moment in which the poem, and the poet, exists. This kind of poetry carries on speaking to the unimagined future. It sings of a spiritualized and a politicized vision, and it leaps into infinity. “A poet is a poet when he does not renounce his existence in a given country, at a particular time, defined politically,” Quasimodo writes in his “Discourse on Poetry.” “And poetry is the liberty and truth of that time, and not abstract modulations of sentiment.” –
See more at:
Perhaps the best way for poets to regain a place in the public sphere today is to extract poetry from the sanctified realm that has been designated for it by thinkers dating back to Romanticism—and to bring the poetic utterance into the public sphere in the form of ideas, criticism, analysis, and new poems. The responsibility of the writer and reader in a self-aware culture is to engender engaged participation, as Said says. Allow poetry into unexpected places. Advocate the widening of its purveyance in the media and in the spheres of daily travel. This is not an effort to create univocality; on the contrary, it will increase the visibility and audibility of all manner of dissenting ideas about poetry as well as about politics.
“Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it,” Walter Benjamin writes. – See more at:
“The politician wants men to know how to die courageously; the poet wants men to live courageously.”
—Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, Nobel lecture, 1959
Ban-Ban-Ban — The Political Incorrectness of Not Going to the Mat as Poets
High School Course Texts and Reading Lists Table 20: American Government/Social Justice Education Project 1, 2 – Texts and Reading Lists
- Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
- The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader (1998) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
- Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) by P. Freire
- United States Government: Democracy in Action (2007) by R. C. Remy
- Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
- Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990) by H. Zinn
Table 21: American History/Mexican American Perspectives, 1, 2 – Texts and Reading Lists
- Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004) by R. Acuña
- The Anaya Reader (1995) by R. Anaya
- The American Vision (2008) by J. Appleby et el.
- Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
- Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A. Burciaga
- Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings (1997) by R. Gonzales
- De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views Multi-Colored Century (1998) by E. S. Martínez
- 500 Años Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1990) by E. S. Martínez
- Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human (1998) by R. Rodríguez
- The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
- Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
- A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003) by H. Zinn
Course: English/Latino Literature 7, 8
- Ten Little Indians (2004) by S. Alexie
- The Fire Next Time (1990) by J. Baldwin
- Loverboys (2008) by A. Castillo
- Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
- Mexican White Boy (2008) by M. de la Pena
- Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
- Woodcuts of Women (2000) by D. Gilb
- At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria (1965) by E. Guevara
- Color Lines: “Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?” (2003) by E. Martínez
- Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998) by R. Montoya et al.
- Let Their Spirits Dance (2003) by S. Pope Duarte
- Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997) by M. Ruiz
- The Tempest (1994) by W. Shakespeare
- A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993) by R. Takaki
- The Devil’s Highway (2004) by L. A. Urrea
- Puro Teatro: A Latino Anthology (1999) by A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach
- Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories (1997) by J. Yolen
- Voices of a People’s History of the United States (2004) by H. Zinn
Course: English/Latino Literature 5, 6
- Live from Death Row (1996) by J. Abu-Jamal
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994) by S. Alexie
- Zorro (2005) by I. Allende
- Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999) by G. Anzaldua
- A Place to Stand (2002), by J. S. Baca
- C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans (2002), by J. S. Baca
- Healing Earthquakes: Poems (2001) by J. S. Baca
- Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems (1990) by J. S. Baca
- Black Mesa Poems (1989) by J. S. Baca
- Martin & Mediations on the South Valley (1987) by J. S. Baca
- The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools(1995) by D.
- C. Berliner and B. J. Biddle
- Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A Burciaga
- Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (2005) by L.
- Carlson & O. Hijuielos
- Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States (1995) by L. Carlson &
- O. Hijuelos
- So Far From God (1993) by A. Castillo
- Address to the Commonwealth Club of California (1985) by C. E. Chávez
- Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
- House on Mango Street (1991), by S. Cisneros
- Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
- Suffer Smoke (2001) by E. Diaz Bjorkquist
- Zapata’s Discipline: Essays (1998) by M. Espada
- Like Water for Chocolate (1995) by L. Esquievel
- When Living was a Labor Camp (2000) by D. García
- La Llorona: Our Lady of Deformities (2000), by R. Garcia
- Cantos Al Sexto Sol: An Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing (2003) by C. García-Camariloet al.
- The Magic of Blood (1994) by D. Gilb
- Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (2001) by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales
- Saving Our Schools: The Case for Public Education, Saying No to “No Child Left Behind”(2004)
- by Goodman et al.
- Feminism is for Everybody (2000) by b hooks
- The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1999) by F. Jiménez
- Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (1991) by J. Kozol
- Zigzagger (2003) by M. Muñoz
- Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature (1993) by T. D. Rebolledo & E. S. Rivero
- …y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1995) by T. Rivera
- Always Running – La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. (2005) by L. Rodriguez
- Justice: A Question of Race (1997) by R. Rodríguez
- The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
- Crisis in American Institutions (2006) by S. H. Skolnick & E. Currie
- Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (1986) by T. Sheridan
- Curandera (1993) by Carmen Tafolla
- Mexican American Literature (1990) by C. M. Tatum
- New Chicana/Chicano Writing (1993) by C. M. Tatum
- Civil Disobedience (1993) by H. D. Thoreau
- By the Lake of Sleeping Children (1996) by L. A. Urrea
- Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life (2002) by L. A. Urrea
- Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992) by L. Valdez
- Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) by O. Zepeda
UPDATE, Monday, January 16, 2012
- Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
- Yo Soy Joaquin/I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales
- Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
- The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
Finally, back to Zinn and banning him from ALL High Schools —
It seems pretty clear to me that the attacks on Zinn’s “People’s History” are politically motivated even though the critics ostensibly frame their arguments in terms of methodology and historical practice (and in Wineburg’s case, dubious psychological profiling). We can put aside the right-wing critics who, par for the course, attack Zinn’s left-wing politics and the focus on workers and the oppressed. But the attacks on Zinn from Kazin, Radosh, Wineberg et.al. all use contentious political issues that clearly divide radical and liberal historians and political
Thus in the HNN article from 2010 ( Kazin makes much of Zinn’s supposedly one-sided view of American elites, the ruling class and, most important for Kazin et. al,, the Democratic Party. He even slips in a snide critique of Zinn’s support of Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections. What is important for Kazin is the fact that Zinn maintains a radical perspective, criticizing the ruling class and the Democratic Party when what Kazin et. al. want is for the left to make alliances with elites and the Democratic Party. No problem, but it would better to own up.
Ditto for Wineburg: the examples he uses in the AFT magazine article are all instructive. He criticizes Zinn’s demolition of WWII as a “People’s War,” the continuing racism against African Americans in the period, the Allied Bombing of Germany and the launching of the Atomic Bomb. Basically Wineburg’s critique is centered on Zinn’s political interpretation of these issues.