Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan and the Future of Freedom

Mrs Bhutto is dead. Killed by some sort of extremist. I am sure that this event- so horrific will be used by our home extremists to take away freedoms. Rudy Giuliani the other day said "If people want to kill us or take away our freedoms we should kill them".
Liberal Constitutional Democracy needs to in my opinion do two things one of which is "right wing" and one of which is 'left wing. We need to stop apologizing for our culture. (this is the right wing part). We should not be ashamed of everything that has happened to form the west- yes even the bad things are essential to the formation of our worldview. We also should stop giving a pass to other countries that do not want to live as democracies and respect human rights.
Frankly I do not care what Islam or Confucianism have to say about liberty because these cultures do not respect liberty and except for Japan, Korea and Turkey freedom is in short supply-- Mrs Bhutto is dead because someone thinks they know God's will I am much more interested in the will of the people.
What we need to do is say that we in the west demand that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta and the human rights that come from Judeo Christian tradition be respected and that all people have a right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

South America and Poetry

I was fortunate to discover that I will spend part of the month of January in Brazil for work. South America is seminal to me as a poet and person. I lived for three years in Bolivia and two years in Brazil and after that time I worked in South America for various companies until 2003.

I do not know anyone who has lived in South America who did not have their lives transformed by that continent. I do not know what it is about being below the equator in this hemisphere that makes the world seem new again.

There are so many poets who have filled the world with their verse. I recently put on Facebook a question about which modernist book was the most important. I put Trilce by vallejo and Canto General by Neruda on the list they got few votes but really these books are much more important than anything by Stein or Pound.

Canto General is the first response by Americans (We are all Americans from Alaska to Argentina) to the Spanish-Portuguese-English conquest of our world. This work that is viewed by some as a polemic- is in reality the song of the continent. Many American poets refuse to realize that we all live on this continent, that the Andes and Rockies are our spine, that the Amazon is our lungs and that the icefields of Greenland are our heads. That is what Canto General tells us that we are one and this makes the Nativism of so many "americans' so silly. As was said by the great Poet Vallejo "only the Quechua have a right to be against immigrants because they are native we are not"

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Light Shines in the Darkness

1 in principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
2 hoc erat in principio apud Deum
3 omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est
4 in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
5 et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why The Rhode Island Notebook by Gabriel Gudding Matters.

Most poetry books do not matter. The work is all too often a voyage into the rather uninteresting soul of the socially awkward or the terminally narcissistic. More often than not it is hard to even get through many poetry books and when a book comes along that draws you in and keeps you interested all for the better.
There are however some poets whose work matters; Peter Gizzi's poetry matters, Jennifer Moxley's poetry matters, Lisa Jarnot's poetry matters these poets have something that others do not their work has the perfect mix of history, art and style to make one want to read and know more and spend time with the work.
Before reading Rhode Island Notebook by Gabriel Gudding I did not think his work mattered. All too often I was embarrassed or grossed out by some of the work. I found it too shocking or too vulgaresque for my liking and this is from a poet whose new book has sadomasochism and Leni Reifenstahl as a focus.
I bought Rhode Island Notebook mostly for the cool cover and I began to spend time with it. The book is a kind of journey book about GG's trips from Normal, IL to Rhode Island to see his daughter. There are so many things going on in this book that I want to take them in pieces.
The Journey
First off there is the ancient journey myth tradition. Like his antecedents, Abraham, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and Lewis and Clark Gudding makes the road come alive and revives a genre of poetry and writing that has been mostly dead since Kerouac. In a time when journey books like the Motorcycle Diaries are back in vogue Gudding gives us a post modern journey that is constantly bending and turning and letting us see what he is thinking and what he has learned over time while he journeys from the middle to the edge of America. This part of the book alone makes it worth reading but there is so much more.
It is not fashionable to talk about what it means to be male. Women's studies is an acceptable course of study- men's studies is a case for pointing out everything that men have done wrong for 60,000 years. But there is a tradition of Maleness in writing that has been ignored by today's poets. A character like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick or Aeneas in The Aeneid is not possible today but Gudding has created for us a new Male paradigm in this book he has opened up the fact of being a man- while leaving the unfortunate stereotypes and stupidness behind. The Rhode Island Notebook is the first Post-Feminist poem that men can embrace as well as women because it addresses the insecurity of the new gender environment head on and well.
Rhode Island Notebook's best lines are the ones about ordinary things. Stopping to pee or to buy a sandwich or coffee. So many contemporary poets would rather write about things they know nothing about rather than deal with the simple and banal- Gudding saves us from this
making the simple exciting in ways we cannot comprehend.
In the end The Rhode Island Notebook matters because it has redefined the journey, maleness and detail in a way that other great works of this type have. Gudding has taken eternal archetype's and overlayed them with fine language and innovative transitions to bring us a great book and one that needs to be read for the important work that it is.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christian Wiman's Dialogue Again.

So I continue with Christian Wiman's Lannan Award winning book and while the poetry is sparse there are somethings about the book worth commenting on.

According to the work Wiman is very ill and he has returned to his Religion as part of the that process. I have always viewed the way religion is dealt with by poets with an eye towards the sceptical.

There are poets like Peter O'Leary who write fabulous books with religious themes but tart it up the work with some Byzantine monk story or Buddhist Koan from the 12th century as if to inoculate themselves from the reality that he just might believe in transubstantiation or the trinity. There are other poets like Denise Levertov who wait until their reputations are secure to reveal their nature. I have always chosen to be honest about what kind of poet I am- experimental yes, Pound fan yes, Catholic yes. It has cost me publications but I like to be honest.

Wiman in his book however reveals his faith- not a reflection on the faith of Paul of Gaza or St Francis but faith and belief in the face of mortality and this makes for an interesting potential conversation that i would like very much to have with Mr Wiman. If Wiman is a Christian then how does this effect his poetics? Or is this a personal thing?

The world of poets as spiritual seekers seems to have vanished. There was a time when poets and other seekers were ok with the idea that a poet would also have a deep spiritual life. You look at poets as diverse as Levertov, Merton, Everson, Duncan & Eliot and you see a spiritual
sense that is lacking is much of the poetry written today. The question that I have for Wiman is his new spirituality a reaction to mortality? Or does he really believe in the Incarnation?

That is the point is it not?

The power behind great poets who have spiritual depth is that they really believe it. There needs to be something there to make the poems work or they become vapid Joel Olsteen platitudes rather than great poetry. What is it about the a Psalm sung in a Synagogue or the Magnificat or Amazing Grace sung by believers that makes it so moving and when it is sung for secular performance it is so dry?

In the end the greatest poetry every written was religious poetry, the Psalms, Johns Gospel, Dante, St Francis, John of the Cross, Rumi, the Gita, the Koran. All these works have a power behind them that other work can get close to but is not the same as the real thing. So I as I continue through Wiman's book I keep looking for the power. I don't find HISTORY in the work as I do with my poetic antecedents- Pound-Olson-Williams-Creeley-Bernstein. I don't find music either so where is the power?

It is where the rubber hits the road.

You either believe or you don't.

Mozart once said that he remained a Catholic because he could not bear the idea that he would never be able to receive communion in the great Cathedrals or that the Mass would never be said for him if he left. I would say that I remain a Catholic because of the connection that I have with my ancestors and their God.

But Wiman does not paint in bright colors like I do and like a faded fresco I keep trying to make out what he really believes? What is he saying? Why of all the books of essays this one was chosen for a Lannan did he have to obscure things to get it published? What transcendent am I to find here? Either things are true or they are not. I choose to believe in the Incarnation because I believe in God with us. I still don't know what Wiman believes but I hope it brings him peace?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Santa Lucia, Asceticism, and Virgin Martyrs

The stories of the Martyrs of the Church during the Roman persecutions of the early Christians are manifest throughout our history. Much of this imagery continues to this day in the images of people like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Maximillian Kolbe. We love these examples outwardly while hating their prophetic nature internally because they are profoundly unsettling to our comfort.
I have always been attracted to the Martyrs and to their successors the ascetics of the Church. The truth is that I am too weak a person to ever live that way and if I was faced with death I do not know what my reaction would be? I have always been attracted to artists and poets who give it all up for their art because I have never had the guts or gumption to do the same.
In my family there are two martyr saints that play large in our lives. St Lorenzo who is memorialized in my mother's region of Italy (Brescia) with Sausages and Polenta on a gridiron and shooting starts in August- we commemorate his being grilled alive for not turning over the Book of Scripture to Roman Authorities and Santa Lucia the virgin martyr of Siracusa.
Santa Lucia devotion is known by allot of Americans because of Sweden and Swedish Americans but actually Lucia was Sicilian and died in the great Diocetian persecution of the 290's. She refused to give herself sexually to a man who was to be her husband and who was a pagan- he denounced her as a Christian and she was blinded and miraculously her eyes were restored.
There is a strong devotion of Lucia in Brescia, Trento, Cremona, Verona, Bergamo and Mantova because it was believed that during the Middle Ages her intercession relieved a huge famine that was causing people to be blinded. Our celebration is simple we put out food for Lucia and her Donkey- we make Polenta and Spiedo- wait for her to bring simple gifts to the Children which when my mother was young was chocolates or oranges and we celebrate a Virgin Martyr.
Older people in our region are often named Lucia (My mother and Great grandmother have this name) or the male version Luciano. I think that the power of virgin martyrdom is forgotten today in an over sexed age. The fact is that there is something powerful about saying that you won't do something that is natural- that you will be ascetic and deny yourself food or sex or money to attain something better or higher. Whether you believe in God or not this is an ideal that so few people even bother to think about in today's hyper-consumer economy.
To deny yourself is viewed as weird or unnatural when in reality it has been the ascetics who have been some of the greatest people. Be it the artist or scholar who focuses on one thing forsaking all others or the Saint who wont give in, or the political activist who focuses on her goals and forsakes all others this is a motivation that most of us run from as quickly as possible but perhaps that is why we have the problems that now exist? Perhaps this is the locus of our dissatisfaction and alienation? Perhaps a little asceticism would make the world heal? A little denial and pain so that the world can be healed? A little refusal to go along with the crowd? Not waiting on line for four hours for the Nintento Wii? But putting value in something else. Making life full with real things rather than transient ones?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Its a Wonderful Life & Barack Obama

Like many people I spend allot of time watching what is going on in Iowa. I worked an Iowa Caucus when I was 20 in 1988 and believe it or not I was campus chair for George H.W. Bush. That was a lifetime ago and I am today supporting my senator Barack Obama for president.
Obama is the first candidate that I have ever given substantial money to and the first candidate in my 40 years whose message I believe in fully. I am not naive I realize that the Senator is a politician- but I also realize that what he is saying and what he represents matters to me and to my generation. Those of us who grew up under Reagan and Bush I, the Gen Xers are a small group but if there is something that all of us share- right or left is that we are tired of hearing about the 1960's from our parents and their friends.
The Entire 60's experience was great for them but for us we remember only the remains of the "glory" and the constant acrimonious debates over every issue- while the Baby Boomers spend us into bankruptcy. The issues today are not the 1960's issues and that is what Hillary Clinton and George W Bush epitomize- old debates and old ways. We are ready to move beyond all of this and address real issues clearly and to realize that we live in a complex world- one where the old ways don't work. We do not want to run away from the mix that is our world.
Barack Obama says it straight. He wants to have today's conversation about issues that matter. I think Barack Obama's appeal is kind of like that scene in Its a Wonderful Life where after seeing what his world would be like without him- George Bailey is crying in the snow and he says " I want to Live Again" that is where America is today. We have had enough of debating whether Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater were right it is time to live again and to believe again in something other than the 1960's. I am looking forward to waking from this dream to the fresh snow of Bedford Falls and leave this Pottersville behind.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Dialogue with Christian Wiman

Christian Wiman and I are neighbors even though we have never met in person. I have been frustrated with Mr Wiman for a long time especially when during a radio show here in Chicago when asked who are his favorite poets he lauded Phillip Larkin and Donald Justice and dismissed Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and others by not mentioning their names as important.

Wiman is part of a larger reaction to the poetic that starts with Pound and Stein and flows down to poets today like Cole Swensen and Peter Gizzi. This poetic of collage, parataxis, experimentation and juxtposition is not appreciated by Wiman and his poetic brethern like Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan, Dana Gioia and the rest because it challenges what poetry has been and will be and creates a poetic of challenge that in the end is disturbing.

But having said all this I cannot dismiss Wiman. There are few serious poets writing in the American idiom today who take religion and the spiritual seriously. Apart from Peter O'Leary (another Chicago Neighbor) most After-Postmodern poets are more likely to write about Johannes Kepler or Beehives then religious themes and Wiman does justice to this concern and does it well. Wiman is a committed Christian- and I am a committed Catholic which while not considered Christians by Fundamentalists; we are often concerned with the same questions.

I was book shopping last week at Seminary Coop- I picked up some Christmas reading and one of the books I picked up was Wiman's Ambition and Survival: Becoming A Poet. The structure of this book is puzzling. It is made up of essays on different topics that are laced with uncomfortably personal revelations and the poetic politic of the Neo-Formalists/Quietude. I could not help but think that this book was informed by the great Mid-Twentieth Century Catholic conversion/journey narratives of Thomas Merton (Seven Storey Mountain), Dorothy Day (From Union Square to Rome) Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and the poetry of William Everson. Unlike so many books written today on poetry or poetics there is a destination in this book and while I may not like or agree with it- we are going somewhere.

I am still working through the book but one essay that I keep going back to is one on Wiman's sojourn in Guatemala. I think Wiman and I are about the same age- late 30's early 40's and I also spent more time than Wiman, living in Latin America but it seems to be an important part of his life as is it of mine. The essay; Reading Milton is interesting . Wiman is in Guatemala one of the great fonts of poetry in the Americas reading Milton during Holy Week in Antigua.

If one does not know in Antigua during Holy Week the people make Alfombras (Carpets) of flowers and other organic matter that are kind of like Catholic Mandalas that are walked over by the procession it is one of the great specticals of this Hemisphere. So back to the melancoly. In this essay he talks about the generousity of the family he stayed with, the way they put themselves out for him- a broke poet- and it ends, sadly that he has forgotten their names.

The essay is both sad and a little disturbing. Does he mean to critique himself for his insentivity? or is he being ironic- which is not something that most Neo-Formalists are comfortable with? I keep trying to find the redemption in the essay and I read on in the book to look for that in the work.

I am going to blog more about Wiman's book because it is so different than what you get from other poetic essayists. I enjoy spending time with work and poets that I do not agree with There is a great word in all Latin languages Amplia, it means Ample in the English sense but it also means open and full and that is what reading someone you disagree with allows one to do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving in Bolivia

Being back in the USA for 10 years next year the significance of Thanksgiving has receded to what most Americans think of- eating, football and family.

But in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 & 1997 I lived in Bolivia and Brazil and the holiday had a different meaning and I still think about those times today.

A few months ago I met a lovely young woman who is a student of my friend Poet Kristy Odelius, it turns out that she is the children of missionaries in Cochabamba and that when she was a child I met her at our annual American Thanksgiving.

Cochabamba, where I lived for 93,94, and 95 has allot of missionaries. Most of the Americans were Evangelicals there to steal Catholics from the Church. But in my work in the jail I became close to some Evangelicals and they included me a 'pagan' in their Thanksgiving meal. They were all so uncomplicated. Most Catholics in Cochabamba were leftists and they were working for justice for the poor- the evangelicals were working toward Metanoia a change of heart and moral change it was a strange juxtopostion.

There was also a woman who was an inmate who was American- in for a drug offense and I remember going to the comandant to ask for a day pass so she could eat with us. I explained Thanksgiving to him- and he explained it to me. I said this was our national festival of thanks and he said "this is a holiday where you Americans give thanks for the land you stole from us the indiginous people of the Americas" ok I am put in my place. But she was able to eat with us and
I was thankful for that.

But having said that it was nice to spend a day with Americans eating American foods and thinking about cold autumn in the hot summer of Bolivia. I was thankful to these Evangelicals with whom I shared nothing except for a Passport for including me in their meal. It remains a sweet memory.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Van Gogh Effect

On Saturday night I went to a reading that Patrick Durgin's wonderful Kenning Editions put on as a tribute for the poet Hannah Weiner. The reading was very well done with some very interesting reflections on Weiner and her work. One of the things about Weiner that has bothered me for a long time is what I like to call the "Van Gogh Effect". Weiner had obvious issues with drugs and mental illness. How do we address these issues as human beings?

When I was an undergrad I had a girlfriend who eventually became the noted psychologist Dr. J Krones and she and I had a running argument/disagreement about he Van Gogh effect. JK argued that it was inhumane and cruel to facilitate the art no matter how creative of mentally ill people. I argued that it is the mental illness that makes them great artists and that to medicate them would destroy their personalities. I am not so sure that I believe this anymore but I think about it allot.

Many creative people are mentally ill and many creative people use illegal drugs as ways to salve their mental illness. The moral question is do we ignore destructive behaviour because the art is so fabulous? Are we being cruel and inhumane by facilitating mental illness?

This argument could be expanded to include others who use mental illness for fabulous ends. It has been argued that St Francis for example suffered from Mental Illness and this is where so much of his power came from. In fact the Stigmata and the Poetry were borne from Mental Illness and that prayer and privation caused his Ecstasy. On the other hand Jackson Pollock was more productive when he was sober and not very productive when he was drunk. Picasso and Matisse it appears did not suffer from mental illness; but many other artists did.

So getting back the Van Gogh effect is it morally correct to facilitate destructive behaviours? Would Hannah Weiner's work have been so important if she had been under a doctor's care for her mental illness? Would the work have been so clear and clean? Would Van Gogh have created his paintings if he had been on Prozac? Was his mental illness the price for greatness?
Or is mental illness, anguish and stress needed to create great art? I simply do not know the answer to this question but I ask it all the time. It is obvious that many creative people have some sort of mental illness. Where is the line between creative/innovative mindset and destruction? Where does this lay?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sacco Vanzetti Grinders and Journalists

I was in the Atlanta Airport and to my delight I found a copy of a book published by Dalkey Archive Press.
Dalkey is pretty close to my favorite press- there is such a range of great writers and poets.
Mark Binelli's Sacco and Vanzetti must die is a fiction book about two friends who just happen to have the same names as two notorious Italians, Sacco and Vanzetti.
Binelli's book is really great.
I personally share in common with Binelli the fact that both of our grandparents come from Pinzolo a fabulous town on the road between Brescia and Innsbruck. There is a section where he describes a Danze Macabre on the Parish in Pinzolo that is very moving. Binelli's book is profound and interesting and after reading it I was compelled to think about one of the things that Binelli's work brought forth- injustice and humor at the same time.
Binelli says is that this book is not the story of the original Sacco and Vanzetti.
Whiteness and Americanness are acquired traits.
Sacco and Vanzetti who were killed because in the words of the Onion "for profound swarthyness" were not White in 1920. These inferiors- Italians, Jews, Slavs became White through a forced assimilation. The reason that so many of the hystericals are worried about immigration is because they have lost control of assimilation. Today there is a way from other cultures to be fed in the USA. TV, Internet and Airtravel all make assimilation less important.
The dream of today's immigrants is not to become White and this challenges the Hystericals notion of what America is. I think one of the things Binelli brings out in his book is that the world is complex and that irony is ok. It also brings forth that we are no longer a people separated by a dream of whiteness.
It is also true that Political Correctness and the need to create victims and victimizers have made classes of people who are not victimizers- suspect. One of the favorite whipping boys of the Left in the USA is the White Working Class. When factories close or Unions are destroyed as happened here in the Midwest many on the left just shrugged their shoulders. they say the factory was polluting- they are not comfortable around people who might go to Church or go to taverns and who might not care about Organic Groceries or rights for Lesbians.
The Working class in America- they can be of European, African or Latin American origin and their marginalization are the reason that our society is in such turmoil and lifestyles are so uncertain. Many of these people live in places or neighborhoods where intellectuals like Mark Binelli or I might not feel comfortable- but at least Binelli talks about them- but the reason that the Left and Leftist ideas are never enacted here in the US is because we have forgotten solidarity and only want to support our local parochial causes.
Are we are brother's keeper? Would there be protests today for Sacco and Vanzetti? Or would we be too concerned with our own parochial causes to care?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Professor's Questions?

Did you ever notice that when question time comes at a University reading the questions are more like little speeches?

Last night I went to the reading of a paper by Susan Howe, who is in my estimation- apart from Gertrude Stein and Gabriella Mistral the most imp0rtant female poet of the 20th Century and one of the top ten most influential poets in the American idiom.

I went to the reading to hear from Professor Howe. I went to hear her unique take on Stevens, who I have never liked much and Jonathan Edwards who I have not liked as well because of his Anti-Catholicism.

Professor Howe's speech was enlightening- and interesting and made me rethink these two New Englanders and what more could you want from a talk?

One of the annoyances of attending readings at prestigious Universities is that the room is filled with other smart people who like to ask long winded questions that seem always to be more about their erudition than what the poet or speaker has just presented. That was the case last night. I chose not to ask a question since I was a guest at the party- and I did not want the Professorate to know that a non member of the club was in their midst (I am sure that my 350 pound frame just blended in among the neck beards and tweed).

But Howe is so clean. I feel the same way about her that I did about Robert Creeley. She is not a faker- she is the real deal- a Poet. She may have made her money in Academia just like Stevens her great muse made his money in insurance but she remains simply a poet- nothing more and that is good company to keep.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Blurbs-Generousity and Insurgency

One of the ways we find out what our poetic peers really believe about our work is when blurb time comes.

The blurb is really a small affirmation that your work is on the right track-- but this naive reasoning of often befuddled by the reality of connections and politics.

Poetry-land is a land of contradictions.

Poets often criticize the prevailing culture as one of connections, money and bourgeois values.

I do not know how many times I have seen that 'look' from poet friends when they hear about the concerns of the great unwashed. But Poetry-Land has its own profound values.

Personal Generousity versus Self Interest

Poets in many ways are lovers of the idea of personal generosity, but it is rare among poets. When Ron Silliman reviewed our Cracked Slab Book's anthology he was amazed at our generosity including many voices most of whom are not our friends. But it seems to me that the lack of generosity is one of American poetry's main problems and this get me backs to blurbs.

I am reasonably well known poet, I have published one collection of poetry which was well received and an anthology which has been well reviewed and highlighted 45 great poets in Chicago. I have published over 100 interviews on which allowed many poets to be seen on the Internet and maintained that myself. I am in no way an unknown poet so when I went out for blurbs I thought I might do ok?

Being Irascible

I know that I can be a little prickly and that I enjoy piercing the fat soft academic poets who fill our art form with so much hot air and blown wind.
There is nothing more indicative of the problem with contemporary poetry than the poet who spends his or her time at Ragsdale or Mac Dowell, goes back to their academic job teaching two classes a semester and turnout less than one book a year. While their poetic antedents lived marginal lives these poets sit squarely in the center of the establishment.
Many great poets work full time non academic jobs or work as adjunct professors for little or no pay, run presses, turn out books, articles, translations and do it all for the love of the art form. The hunger remains in the second group and the fatness fills the first group. This has been an ax of mine to grind the fatness shows up in the poetry.

I enjoy championing the young or hungry poets who are doing the real poetic work so I did not expect universal acceptance of my request for blurbs for my new book Immediate Empire which is a collaboration with my wife Waltraud Haas who did the artwork.

The Blurb Process

I went out to 6 poets, 2 friends and 4 poets whom I admire. Three poets responded to my request for a blurb which is pretty good; Kevin Killian one of the poets I admire--sent the most generous of blurbs which I am most grateful for receiving. He and his wife Dodie Bellamy are easily the best example of generous poets and if our art form had more of them we would be blessed. My friends Simone Muench and Bob Archembeau gave me really insightful blurbs and I am thankful to them for their support. But three poets whom I admire and know turned me down...

Many poets have been very generous to me in my life; Alice Notley let me sit in one of her seminars at the Walt Whitman Center a few years' ago that helped with my first books final edits.
Robert Creeley did an interview with two weeks before he died and Peter Gizzi gave me a blurb for my first book and for The City Visible:Chicago Poetry for the New Century Cracked Slab's Anthology.
These poets are also very busy took out of their important work time to give of their time to a poet, me, who admires them and they remembered that community is important---even though I was never their student and I could really do nothing for them.

I will always be in their debt.

What was interesting was the negative responses. I am not going to embarrass the 'rejectors' by naming them because I love and respect their work --- but here are some of the responses keeping in mind I sent the email in late September over 5 weeks ago;

Poet #1
  • "I just got to your email sorry I cannot do a blurb as I am so busy" "but please send me a copy of the book" (So this poet wants a FREE copy of the book but won't do a blurb)

Poet #2

  • "I am currently in Hungary teaching (as if the Internet does not work in Hungary) and I cannot get to it now but send me a copy of the book" (So this poet also wants a free copy but cannot write because he/she is in Hungary.)

The question I have is why not just say "I don't want to write a blurb for you now" or " I won't write a blurb for you because their is nothing in it for me" or "You were not my student so too bad".

Poetry and Poets even the famous ones never make allot of money. Our art form is wonderfully entrepreneurial. Think about the great presses and magazines that today exist because of generousity of poets and passion for the form;

Aufgabe Magazine (e Tracy Grinnell) Kenning Editions (Patrick Durgin), Action Books (Joyelle Mc Sweeney, Johannes Gorensson), (Cracked Slab Books (Me and Bill Allegrezza), Dancing Girl Press, Antennae Magazine (Jesse Seldess), i.e. Press (Catherine Daly), Blaze Vox Press (Geoffrey Gatza), Ugly Ducking Presse (Matvei Yankelvich) and so many others are putting out some of the best work in poetry and this is all possible because of the generousity of these poets who with a little money make poetry better.

So keep an eye out for my book The Immediate Empire from i.e. press and the next time someone asks for a blurb just do it even if you are in Hungary- because it is an honor not a task to be avoided and as the Sisters used to say why not light one candle rather than curse the darkness?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Why We Must Oppose the Military Industrial Complex

This morning watching the propaganda on Fox News while waiting for a doctor's appointment I heard repeatedly about a "war on terror'. Fox news is such a Hitlerian enterprise- prurience and war.
It is essential for the Military Industrial Complex of which our current president is a pawn to have an enemy so that the machine that finances war can continue to be fed.
The war on terror is part of this. No one discounts the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism or the horror of September 11th. Just like no one discounted the threat of Communism or Nazism or the horror of Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor. No one doubts that Nazism and Communism needed to be confronted-- but the question is how are they confronted?
Do we oppose an vile ideology with an equally vile one?
What has made the United States and its ideal important? It is certainly not the money made by Bechtel or General Electric. No it is the ideal of justice and fairness and that fact that citizens could decide what is right and what is wrong.
It was the ideals that won the Civil War and Freed the Slaves
It was the ideals that allowed people to fight for justice-civil rights and women's rights
It was the ideals that allowed for unions and workers rights
and it was the ideals that let a citizens army to defeat Hitler.
But today we are financing a huge complex of corporations and those who want there to be war and enemies and to destroy the ideals that would question their profits.
Torture has never been an American ideal. But it is good money.
We must oppose the Military Industrial Complex and the Stooge George Bush and look to the American Ideal of Justice and Peace and to true greatness.
Will someone? Will Hillary Clinton?? Will Barack Obama?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Spanish Martyrs and Guernica

On Sunday Pope Benedict Beatified over 400 Clergy, Religious and Laity who died in 1930's Spain during the Spanish Civil War. These dead were mostly parish priests, sisters and a few bishops.

The Spanish Civil War is a seminal event for the Left and the Right during the last century. But I think the reaction to the Beatification by today's Left exposes a fault line and a hypocrisy that is very strong. It is to be assumed that everything that originates from the Right is a bad thing. If you read the many histories of the Spanish Civil War the real evils committed by the Republicans (Left in Spanish Civil War Parlance) are often diminished in comparison to evil of say Guernica- which has been painted-poet ed-and written about in a large way.

The blind spot and lack of even-handedness about people's suffering is the problem with any millennial ideology. The reality is that Right Wing Authoritarianism (Nazism, Fascism, Falangism) and Left Wing Totalitarianism (Communism, Socialism of the East European Kind) are fruit from the same tree. They both begin with the assumption that something in society needs to be cleansed to make society better. For the Fascist it might be the Jews or the artists for the Communists it is the Middle Classes or the factory owners.

In the end both result in Death.

The problems are the blind spots. For many years Roman Catholics have chosen to have a blind spot over our collaboration with Fascism, Nazism and Falangism. Catholics were also involved in many acts of Anti-Fascism but on the whole we did support fascism in Spain and in other places we gave right wing regimes legitimacy. The Catholic Church has in many places admitted what happened and Pope John Paul II apologized to Jews for our 2000 year role in Anti Semitism. That was important I think.

Another blind spot is on the Left. To this day Marxism remains a working ideology among elite professors and intellectuals. The fact is however that Marxism has killed many millions more than Fascism. It is estimated that over 500 million people have been killed by Marxists of one sort or the other. The oddity is that this philosophy that was rejected wholesale by millions in the Communist Bloc should remain the operative philosophy for many of our best minds?

While the same intellectuals are right to attack those on the Right who were in bed with or supported the Nazis; the left does not feel it necessary to self examine their ideological roots and the death that this has caused. So when the Pope beatifies Priests or Sisters who were killed for their religious beliefs there are those of the Left who view these deaths as less evil than Guernica, the reasoning for this is odd.

I guess deep down they think the Priests and Sisters deserved it??

I for my part have always favored simple Dem0cracy.

Many of my deep family relations are on both sides of this divide. I had relatives who were committed Marxists and committed Fascists and every other 'ist' under the sun. I have relatives who spent World War 2 hiding in caves to avoid the Nazis and others who volunteered to go to Russia or Eritrea to fight for Mussolini's army.

I love all these relatives even though I despise both of their ideologies. I have always felt that all of this was stupid and equally evil. I for one would not want my personal ideology tied to any group that ever operated deathcamps which Marxists and Nazis have done around the world.

In the end it is time for adherents of all ideologies, be they Roman Catholic, Marxist or anything else to be open to admitting the evil committed in their names and ask the question why? And not be afraid to admit that we do not have the answers.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Death Star/Rico Chet

The problem with Contemporary After Post Modern Poetry is when it chooses to move into the political realm no one takes it seriously, not even other poets.

It is like that great scene from an early Seventies Woody Allen movie where the tweedy academic verbosely expresses his opinions about Marshall Mc Cluen and even when faced with the actual person refuses to see how vapid is his analysis. Poetry has failed miserably at challenging political paradigms. Poets whose work is taken politically seriously are made to suffer consequences for their work. No American poets are in detention because they are not read by enough people.

Neruda, Akmatova, Vallejo, Avila and many other poets whose work called for political action or focused deep critique on their societies are few and far between. Readers of American poetry are often subjected to the ironic, hipster, or arrogantly intellectual and immediately the intellectual non-cognoscenti are excluded from the inside joke and the political challenge sinks under the weight of pomposity and ridiculous artifice.

When I first bought DeathStar/Rico-Chet by Judith Goldman I was ready to receive the kind of experience that I describe above. This book has all the fetishes of poetry that fills so many an MFAers existence. Beginning with the Blurbs which are so opaque and filled with poetspeak as to eliminate any chance that a non-poet will ever buy the book; to the dedication which seems to equate all sides as equally abused when this is frankly not the case. In entering this work something else happened that I was not prepared for… and it makes one wonder if the blurbs and dedication and other signposts are ways to lull the reader and get across another point?

The first ‘poem’ which is much closer to a Viktor Skhlovsky essay, uses collage and parataxis to bring together a work on a strange phrase “Office of Strategic Influence”. The last line of the section is “Is this Clever or Confused? 9” At this point I have not decided which it is but the use of collage so unabashedly refreshing and the density too is interesting as to make one want more from the book.

So much of contemporary poetry is either neo-formal crap or so long down the road to world salad that it is unreadable but here Goldman has taken collage and made it part of the work in a central way and caused the reader to want to continue to see what is the next bend or punch.

“Tragedy Unites: Scrapbooking a Tragedy That to remember the horrific events will be an intensely personal tragedy” This is clearly the most compelling line in the second poem Off White. This poem has it all Abe Lincoln, Joerg Haider (Austrian Nazi Apologist Politician) Mister Rogers and more and in this poem Goldman shows a virtuosity that I clearly did not expect. The fact that the poet seems to have read deeply is attractive and that she brings this to the work is a way that is not cheap or vapid draws in the reader.

The poem Case Sensitive is interesting but the work is filled with cross outs and font changes that make the work cluttered and dangerously close to parody. But then again when Goldman moves close to the postmodern ravine she pulls back and finishes strong. It would be easy to go down into the Post Languagey Ravine and stay there but Goldman does not do this again and again as if to say—“No. no, no, I am going somewhere else”

There are what you would expect from a poet of this style. There is the obligatory slam at Joseph Ratzinger and his few months in the German Army what this has to do with our current crop of petite Mussolinis is beyond me and there is also a large section of the Hamburg Line of ships and the Holocaust but strangely nothing about the Palestinians and their plight which gave us the fertile ground for the terrorism that now exists in the world.

There is also no mention of Lebanon and the destruction of that nation by American and Israeli foreign policy. This is odd since these issues are so central to Terrorism appeal and would fit into this critique well. There is also a complete lack of commentary on Islam that might have given this book even more texture but you cannot do everything and Goldman has clearly done allot here.

In the end DeathStar/Rico-Chet by Judith Goldman has flaws it sometimes gives into a kind of hipster Socialism that pervades much of After-Postmodern poetry in the USA. But if you spend most of your time in Berkeley or New York this is bound to happen. In spite of these weaknesses she does something that no book of poetry has done since 9/11; she indicts the Corporatist Junta that has been born out of the very real threat of reactionary terrorism. She takes the mask off the monster and makes us see the beast for what it is. She also does something that does hark back to the 1930’s she exposes the mass’s attraction to Corporatism which in another time drew people to Franco, Mussolini, Vargas, Salazar and Hitler.

I for one would put Goldman’s book right next to my copy of Eisenhower’s farewell address as being spot on about the reality of our current situation.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day

It has become very politically incorrect to celebrate Columbus Day. I lived for many years in Latin America where the day is called the Festival of the Race and commemorates the creation of the Mestizo race of the Americas.

Columbus day and how it became a holiday is often lost and in these times of xenophobia and anti-immigrant feeling it is worth remembering. Columbus Day was first popularized beginning in 1866 among the Italian immigrants in San Francisco, in fact there is a Columbus Avenue that runs right through the Italian North Beach Neighborhood.

It is worth remembering that the same things that are said today about
Latin American immigrants was said about Italian Americans well into the last half of the 20th century. There was widespread racism and hatred of Italian Americans and all you have to do is look at the many Italian Americans who were lynched in New Orleans for racial reasons, Southern Illinois for labor involvement and of course the Sacco and Vanzetti trial to see how strong the racism was.

Many Italian Americans were forced to change their names and to disavow their identity because of this racism and yet hatred for European Immigrant groups is forgotten today- it is important to remember that the Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews and Slavs were hated in this country-- we were viewed as vermin and infestors of the society in the same way that Latin Americans are today and Columbus Day along with other holidays allowed us to show something of our culture to a hostile American nation.

So as an Italian American, who is married to a Latin American I celebrate the 12 of October not for who died or who were murdered by the Spanish but as a day to celebrate being an American, North, South or Central. The mixing of races and cultures that makes America from Alaska to the Tierra Del Fuego unique. I also celebrate the history of my people who left Italy poor and hungry and filled the US, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and many other nations with their best.

Whenever I hear the racists talking about the Latin American immigration to the US in a negative way I always have to remember that these immigrants are ME 40 years ago. That my 'whiteness' is fake and acquired and that there is no difference between us and to remember that we are one people.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Orhan Pamuk-Robert Creeley and the Nobel Prize

Before he died Robert Creeley- greatest American poet of the last half of the 20th century-- did an interview with my website . I asked him what he thought of the comment by Brazilian poet Regis Bonvicino that Creeley of all American poets deserved the Nobel Prize.

Creeley in his humble New England way refused to speculate. The fact that Creeley died before he could win the Nobel Prize is one of the great tragedies of Literary History. Recently Charles Simic savaged Creeley in a New York Review of Books article which I have not yet read but Simic is not fit to hold Creeley's jock- nuff said.

So yesterday I am driving (actually sitting in traffic) on the way to work and listening to an interview with Nobel Prize winner Turkish Novelist Orhan Pamuk. I have always had a fascination with Anatolia and Istanbul and I have always loved Pamuk's books. Pamuk in many ways is the quintiessential Post Modern Writer. His work fuses old and ancient with new and contemporary in the same way that Phillip Johnson's architecture did when he was alive. Pamuk is the kind of writer that can assume other voices and make them his own.

During the Interview Pamuk spoke about going to his room and sitting writing for 8-10 hours a day. As a person who has to steal an hour to write from 330-430 AM each day I listened with amazement. Most poet's lives are filled with busyness because they cannot make a living at their artform. Most poets I know work full time jobs or teach in academia and so the 8-10 hour writing session is not possible.

This makes the output of many poets small. William Carlos Williams' entire poetic output is three 200 page volumes. Creeley's entire lifework is 1200 pages. It makes you wonder if poets had more time or our artform was marketable how much more poetry would be created? Many poets move into novels, Joyelle Mc Sweeney just came out with a novel as did Sherman Alexie.
If these poets have success as novelists will they return to the original artform or remain where the grass is greener??

I have always said that the difference between Fiction Writers and Poets is that Fiction writers are like cabinet makers they make something useful while Poets are like painters or sculptors the want to make you think and often they are dismissed because our society does not wish to think deeply.

In the end I enjoy Pamuk's work- and I am glad he won the Nobel Prize but the fact that Robert Creeley did not win the Nobel is one of the great injustices among many that befalls poets.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The San Francisco-Chicago Local

California has always been a strange idea for me. I have lived in the tropics and the snowbelt but I have never been able to understand the allure of the Golden State.

It always seemed so fascile to me. Be it the Beats or the pace of life which is so slow or the lack of a hard edge California always seemed alien to me.

Some of the Poets I most admire, Robert Duncan for example are essentially California writers and I wish that Chicago- my hometown had the kind of literary infrastructure that San Francisco does. San Francisco has two of the greatest Chicago poets Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff as well as Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy...

I have been to San Francisco many times but over the past weekend I was able to steal a free Saturday afternoon and so I made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore and then to Caffe Trieste. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's father is from the same valley as my mother, the Valle Sabbia north of Brescia and I also love Ferlinghetti because he nurtured Kerouac and Thomas Merton two writers that were important to me in my youth. I felt it a priority to spend some money there.

To be able for the first time to enter City Lights was a kind of pilgrimage to a great font of our poetic lives. I have to say that while it was a great thrill to go there and to buy Judith Goldman's new book of poetry DeathStar Rico-chet which I am enjoying and will review here shortly-- I could not get away from the feeling that all of this was artiface.

I have always been attracted to places with grit and edge; Rome, Sao Paulo, Chicago, New York, Istanbul and Hanoi. I have never been attracted to places like San Francisco which I put in the category with Florence, Rio, Hong Kong, St Petersburg and Sydney. All the cities in the second category are great cities as is San Francisco but they are places where polish is always over substance and where the hard and the broken are not seen.

I realize what I am writing is unfair. But it is just a sense of a place. San Francisco is a city of a sense. It would be impossible to write a book like Bellow's Augie March or any of Faulkner's books there but we did get cannery row out of San Francisco.... So I digress-- I guess I missed the red brick buildings and bungalows of Chicago when I was there and like an alien I was soothed to know that winter is coming and that my face will freeze soon and that is part of not living in San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Concentration Camp in My Past

As a child growing up in the USA I was never far from the history of my mother's family. They are what can best be described as an interesting lot. They owned a hotel in the Italian town of Vestone called Locanda Italia.

The hotel and its fabulous restaurant was in our family for a very long time from 1580 until 1975. It endured allot of things- my great great great grandfather fleeing to fight with Garibaldi's Cacciatori delle Alpe, the Burning of our town by Napoleone, and the shelling by the Austrians in World War I. I grew up on their great dishes that older people in Vestone still talk about, Polenta and Rabbit, Stracciatella soup, Grostoli, and Risotto alla Funghi.
Our family during that great World War 2 was divided. Some Fascists some Socialists, some just not interested but the war was everywhere. My Zio Luigi was a Red Cross worker, after the Italian surrender in 1943 he fled to the mountains and lived in a cave for two years to avoid being deported as a forced laborer in Germany, my Zio Fausto who was an Italian soldier in Albania was interned by the Germans- and almost died of repeated beatings and starvation. Over 400 men from our town were murdered in Russia after the surrender and their memory is remembered in the name of our Piazza Nikolwjewka.
Right in the midst of this little town that I still to this day call my place of origin was a Concentration camp.
Vestone is 25 miles north of Brescia in a V shaped valley. It is a beautiful place but it was not so for the 5500 Slovenians, Jews and Croatians who were interned in our town. My grandmother told me that during the war the SS requisitioned our hotel- and they ran the camp after the Italians who had opened it were arrested-like all Italians because the king deposed Mussolini. We did not have guests we had Germans. She also told me that the mountains were filled with my male relatives hiding from the Nazis and the Brigate Nere-- my grandmother was the only person to talk about the camp to me my other relatives did not.

She is a formidable woman who did what she could but each day. She said they would march the people down through the Piazza in front of the church to trucks parked where today the condo
we still own sits.

Where did they go?? My Nonna did not know?

I dont know anything more about this camp. What I know about are my relatives who hid at a terrible time and the fact that on the Simon Weisenthal List VESTONE our town is listed as a camp site- from a time and a war that seems so far away... I often wonder when I walk the same route what people thought?? on both sides and why there is nothing written about it...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Passion of Santa Teresa d'Avila and Joshua Corey

"I want to pursue an intuition about the baroque as a mode of American poetry—a mode of early modernity particularly well adapted to a postmodern era which has seen an acceleration of the modern tendency to break down experience into fragments. It is peculiarly well-suited to a poetics of resistance—not in a nostalgic re-creation of some lost lifeworld, but through a radical materialism that paradoxically creates a new aperture for subjective, even spiritual, experience."

This is a quote from an essay on Actionyes (See link) by Joshua Corey who among many things is a neighbor here in Chicago and his essay-- caused me to want to blog on a Sunday morning when I should have been at Mass. The essay caused a flood of reactions and thoughts and since I am not a rational academic I just vomited my ideas on the page hoping for a discussion with my poetic betters........

The essay he wrote is provocative and needs to be addresses as the seminal work that it is in the debate on whether poetry can transform. To look towards it as a way to reconstruct the Passionate (in the Medieval Sense of the Passion Play) is worth spending volumes on. Joshua Corey has ripped open a wound in poetry here that needs to be filled with salt. Also- since Josh and I are neighbors I expect a call so we can argue and discuss in person.....

One of the problems with After-Postmodern poetry (Which I define as anything after Language Poetry) is that Passion is removed from the work and irony is the center of the work. A piece of art like the Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila which I think is the Baroque's crowd symbol extraordinaire-- is impossible today because we have moved into a world of irony where art is to criticize but never to construct. The kind of sublime spiritual has appeared only in a few places in our times and mostly on the margins.

The Catholic Baroque was in fact a response to the rationalism of the Protestant Reformation. This debate between Passion and Reason is the key debate from Luther until Freud discovered the subconscious. Catholics do not have the luxury of deconstruction we dwell in a world of accumulation and layering. To remove one piece destroys the whole. Our age is more like the Radicals of Menno Simons who want to remove until we get to the bone....

When we look at a Neo-baroque project as a possible way out of the irony filled modes we live in today questions becomes vexing.

How do we avoid the Romantic Fascism that filled so much of 19th Century German Thought? (FICHTE for Example)

How do we reintroduce passion into an artform that has been cleansed of this sense for so long?
(and not be made fun of alla Charles Bernstein)

Much of the Modern and Post Modern world has been based in revolution versus a kind of reaction. So you have for Marxism which wants to base everything in the material and
Reaction which wished to hark back to an idealized past.... the results of all these ideas has been death... almost every tragedy in the 20th century was part of this debate,

Armenian Genocide, Spanish Civil War, Holocaust, Russian Revolution/Stalinism, WWI & II, Rwanda, Bosnia, Latin American Dirty Wars, and on and on are all based in Revanchist, Reaction, and Revolution.

How do we create poetry?? That matters that is political that is both open to real history and tradition and revolutionary at the same time?? Read this essay above and think about this does it work for us?? can we use this??? I am spending the day thinking about this.... so provoked...

"The work of these poets hints at a continuing role for both major modes of the baroque in our poetry—a dialectic of destruction and construction that keeps us in touch with the body of the word, and reminds us of the possibilities of spirit."

Friday, September 21, 2007

What Makes Me Want to Vomit

Someone on a Blog recently commented on my comment that allot of what Fence Magazine and Editor Rebecca Wolfe does makes me want to Vomit.

Of course in poetryland expressing a strong opinion is always suspect. For an opinionated person like me to express what I really feel about a poet or editor breaks the social contract of friends helping friends to write poetry that no one reads and has been written primarily for other poets. It destroys the great vanity exercise that so much of poetry has become and makes me into a jerk or worse yet gets me excluded from the social scene.

So I thought I would list ten things that make me Vomit just so I am clear with my so small blog audience- and I am clear while I am being commented on;

Vomit # 1 : I want to vomit when I have to endure poetry written about nothing but with technical skill that has been created simply for artifice.

Vomit #2: I want to vomit when poets who are independently wealthy pretend to be Marxists if there was revolution they would be the first to be executed.

Vomit #3: I want to vomit when Poets tell me how hard they work and they have an academic job at some cushy university. The real hard workers in academia are the adjuncts and lecturers.

Vomit #4: I want to vomit when presses that are vanity exercises continue to publish their friends and exclude new voices.

Vomit # 5 Once in my life I want to see a poet who does not have the pedigree getting published in a sexy journal? Where are the Jack Kerouac's, William Carlos Williams or James Baldwin's?

Vomit # 6 The complete lack of diversity of experience in poetry- where are the workers, mothers, doctors, and other poets who live life outside poetryland?

Vomit # 7 The refusal of poets to engage in politics and critique our system but the openness to remain parochial and stay within poetryland only.

Vomit # 8 The complete ignorance of the global poetry scene.

Vomit # 9 The fact that many poets read nothing but their own work or their friends where is the intellectual curiosity?

Vomit # 10 That poets do not create something new but rather want to copy others to get published by their friends.

These things make me want to vomit

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Veronese Dinner I Will Always Remember

September 11th 2001 will always be a day I remember. From 1999-2003 I worked for a publisher and one of my territories was Italy. Since my parents are Italian this was a pleasure and I was able to spend most weekends when I was in Italy with my family which was great because I was able to spend time with my Aunts and Uncles (Zii) who were quite old and quite dear.

On September 11th 2001 I had just finished a wonderful weekend with relative in Padenghe a fabulous town overlooking Lake Garda where my cousins live. It was a great day and I was in Milan making a presentation to a group of Italian leathergoods manufacturers. When we walked outside in front of the Duomo we saw on the video screens the burning towers. All I could think about was Traudi, my wife who worked in New York at that time and I could not get a hold of her. It took days to know what happened and it was very upsetting to think that she might be dead. As we were driving in the Car with my friend and agent Claudio Cottone I kept hearing the same Italian word Crollatto.
Collapse. It was a day that no one will forget.

That evening we had to go to Verona to make another presentation and we decided to go out to dinner. We had a great dinner --yet all was melancholy-- but if you have to eat anyway why not something good.

At the end of a fabulous dinner (Risotto with Funghi Porcini, Veal Chop with Radicchio and Funghi,Val Policella, Grappa, and Cafe) the owner came out of the kitchen and he looked at me and said "you may speak Italian with a Bresciano accent" which is my mother's region, "but you stand like an American" " then he said we are all Americans today-- I hope you enjoyed my food, don't worry about the bill, and then he said we will see each other again" And in the subtle Northern Italian way he affirmed me in a time of pain. A simple gesture that I will not forget.

I think that is was fitting that I would experience September 11th in the land of my Mother's family- a place so dear to me. So many people go to Italia and love the colored Italy of Tuscany or Naples but I like the working Italy of Brescia, Verona, Milan and Vicenza, the Italy of the hard nosed hardworking people of the North-- where kindnesses are genuine.

In the end that feeling from that dinner in Verona are from a time as remote as the Borgia Popes from today. George Bush decided that having the world respect and care for Americans would hurt his political chances and so he threw that all away. The America of the Marshall Plan, Berlin Airlift, Peace Corp and all the rest has been murdered by George Bush and his friends- we are now like every other empire but with a lost soul. When I go to Italia now I have to feel ashamed of our ignorance and stupidity and I pray that someday I will again have a feeling like the one I had from a genuinely kind man in Verona on September 11th 2001.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Two Books that Changed my Life

In the fall of 1985 I was a freshman at the University of Iowa and I read two books that changed my life. In many ways these books were tandem in history and they have always been in tandem for me as a poet and a person. It is the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road by Jack Kerouac and next year will be 6o years since the Publication of The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.

Kerouac's work gets dismissed often today because it is such a male book. We have become a feminised literary scene where expressions of maleness are treated as odd or oppressive. There is nothing female about Kerouac and this has elicited negative responses but like Merton's book and the Confessions of St Augustine Kerouac's journey is one that is taken by a man into his soul and he comes out as a new creation. In reading Kerouac I realized that I could fuse my Catholic self with my poet self with my child of immigrants self and make myself something new.

While it might seem strange Thomas Merton is doing the same thing. Merton unlike Kerouac is fancy people. Child of intellectuals- bon vivant- who chooses the most austere order in the Catholic Church. His book the Seven Storey Mountain is viewed today as naive but in many ways it encapsulates a Catholic sense that comes out in other writers as diverse as Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. The romantic allure of ruined monasteries, Rome and monasticism that makes the hokus pocus of Catholicism seem romantic and real. Merton's book is again a male book but one where instead of going on the Road like Kerouac he goes into himself and contemplates.

As a 40 year old poet and professional I often go back to these books as pure mind candy. I have moved on from much of them but they remain lodestars for me and they allowed me to remain what I am a Catholic, a Poet and a questor. When I moved to South America these were two of the books I brought along and they sit with Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara as the greatest inheritors of Augustine's Confessions as books of journey and questing for more than the ordinary.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Time more time for Poetry

Today driving to work (it takes about an hour) I was listening to Francine Prose talking about Novels and writing on the Bob Edward's Show. It was nice to hear that someone is making money from their creativity.

I usually get up very early, like 330 AM I sit and breathe then I eat breakfast, I write, and then I work out . I am at my desk at 7 AM for work.

I have always been jealous of MFAer Pro Poets because they get so much free time. It is true that because I work in Business (I am Director of Events for a Business Publisher) I make allot more money than they do but time is always missing. I talked once to Ron Silliman about this he is another poet/business person and he feels that being outside of Po-Biz gives him more freedom I am not always sure that this is true.

I am always stealing time- like I am right now blogging- on airplanes or in hotel rooms or early in the morning to work on poetry or essays to remain engaged with the poetic and to listen for the still small voice and to create good work.

Mark Tardi always says that 'in the end the work will stand up or it wont. " I am not so sure about that? So many poets have either family money or academic insider status that their work is published more readily than work of others.

There is allot of great poetry out there but having the time to do the political work of po biz helps so much. How else does anyone explain Fence? A perfect example of the poetic dilettante magazine that caters to this world of MFAers, Pro-Poets and Biz Poets who are good at playing the game. Rebecca Wolf is a great marketer and I wish my company would hire her but as a poet/publisher not so much.

So time remains a constraint. I worked for my Dad for three years and I had allot more time to do stuff but most of it was the kind of Po Biz political stuff that really has nothing to do with poetry and much more to do with Socializing- I have ended this trend in my life. In the end I look at poets with whom I am friends who are committed to the Work of poetry and wonder why they are not recognized as readily and I wonder if the work really matters?

It is funny too because now that I own a book press people are NICER than before I get readings more easily and I get called for stuff but I doubt it is because of the WORK. In the end I wonder if those of us with less time on our hands are any less productive than the MFAer Pro Poets?

The Poet it seems in Capital Letters is dying. I look at the generation before me, Duncan, Notley, Silliman, Bernstein, and the Generation before that, Creeley, Olson, Waldman, and I wonder do any of us measure up to them? Find me a poet who is as good as Alice Notley? Or are we all made up phenomenons coming from Blogs and Websites? Who has the range of great poets from America's past, not even talking about non American poets who blow away our poetry easily.

I know who I like, Peter Gizzi is a master, Liz Willis too, Lisa Jarnot makes me proud to have been born in 1967, Chris Glomski makes me proud to have gone to Iowa with him at the same time even though we were not friends then, is their any poet more real than Joe Ahearn, Joshua Clover is a Villagevoiceesque poet but you know I cannot put his books down and I have come after much vomiting to love Joyelle Mc Sweeney's verseplay. I know that I have come to enjoy Simone Muench's tight lines and Mark Tardi's darkness-

Time- Time- Time

- if I only had more of it--- maybe I could get up at 2 AM??

Thursday, August 2, 2007

il Purgatorio

purgatory that place between heaven and hell where one is purged is the place where White Sox fans now dwell. I imagine this is what Cubs fans felt like two years ago- and I don't like it.

The Cubs, the embodiment of evil is the Postmodern World to paraphrase Ronald Reagan are in First Place. They seem to know how to play ball and for someone whose heart and blood in Black this is Purgatory.

In Chicago you can tell allot about a person on which baseball team they support. Cubs fans are attractive optimists, Sox fans are unattractive pessimists. Sox fans have anger under the surface, Cub fans have hope under the surface.

It separates us.

Quietly however I hope the Cubs win (while I will be rooting for their adversaries at every chance) because I am tired of the of the HBO specials and the celebrities and that aweful GO CUBS GO Song that makes me want to vomit. The loveable loser thing is disgusting and makes this White Sox fan sick.

In the end there are a few Cubs fans I respect- Like Mark Tardi and you have to respect a Southside Cubs fan; but in the end some of my deepest sports joys have come at the Cubs expense, Bartman, 1984 against the Padres (Still have my Padres Hat) it is pure joy for me but it is less joyful because I know what a World Series Champion feels like and maybe-just maybe Mark ought to have that pleasure once in his life as well....

Go Cardinals!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


As we enter August it signals the end of the summer and the beginning of fall. When August arrives I always think of fall at College that sense of wonder and possibility that Thomas Merton called the scent of October.

I have been fortunate to know many great intellectuals, Brian Clements, Robert Creeley, Simone Muench, and Elizabeth Willis and what makes these people different from us mere mortals is that their minds are vexed and question while remaining open to what could be.

I was watching recently a show on Mark Rothko and here again do we see this openness. It is this openness that challenges and also causes revilement from the society. Our society hates thinkers we love money men and in the end we
stop listening.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

America's Violent Temper

America celebrates its birthday tomorrow. You know "We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident that all men are created equal".

The other night went to a reading at a really cool loft- lina vitkauskas read- she is so great a real poet's poet. before her some blonde woman read some syrupy-didactic poetry- it was dreadfully banal the kind of soft mushy liberal poetry that I hate with no snap and no tension just sweet mushy bread pudding. Get thee to a workshop immediately!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was thinking about what she said however about "peace" and "love" (YUK) and I kept thinking that is really not what America is about. America is about violently creative people who are self destructive and who in the end force our society to change. Violence not Peace is what has made America, America.

This is central to our national character. Think about it- Faulkner, Hemingway, Pollock, Plath, Sexton, Merton, Dean, Brando, and on and on they represent a violent self destruction that makes America- America.

Got some Brazilian relatives staying with me this month and I always like to compare Brazil with the USA. Both big countries with histories of slavery and immigration. Brazilians are huge nationalists like Americans but the difference is the creative violence. There is lots of senseless violence in both the USA and Brazil- but creative violence is really an American thing.

It is not PC today to talk this way- most of our academic types have bought into a kind of mediocre multi-culturalism that thinks about feelings and forgets about deep meaning. But would you rather go in your bed? Or in a speeding car like Jackson Pollock- 200% alive?