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.