Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Challenge of Freedom and the Ignorance of Reality

I have never supported the Iraq war or our current president's policies but I also have never supported those who assert that the problem in the world is the United States or its view of freedom. So I get to be hated by both sides which is a nice place to be in life.

The reality is that many on the Left are naive and stupid believing that there is a moral equality between Islam, even moderate Islam and the West.

I know that it is not politically correct to say these things but there is so much revisionism going on and self flagillation that it is important to state simple facts.

I recently watched a show on PBS about the Inquisition where the screenwriters tried to assert that the rule of the Moors in Spain was benign and delightful. Sure their rule was more benign then the rule of the Nazis but it was not in anyway akin to liberal democracy or a free society.

Jews and Christians still had to pay the head tax, Churches and Synagogues were still siezed in many cities and converted to Mosques. Facts are facts.

In the West we decided a long time ago after much struggle that Religion is a private matter. That the Church should not have governmental authority, and that one's relationship with God is a personal matter that should help a culture but not decide what culture is to be.

So when I read a book like Marina Nemat's Prisoner of Tehran- and listen to the many criticisms of her especially on Islamic sites and magazines my blood boils. Ms Nemat is an Iranian Catholic who complained as a 16 year old student that her math and science classes were replaced by Koranic studies and propaganda.

She was thrown in prison, raped, forced to marry a man who 'saved' her from death forced to convert to Islam and then after two years of horror let go. She eventually immigrated to Canada and wrote a moving story that everyone should read. When one talks of Women's rights here is what we really should be talking about. Her story would be sad if it were simply an isolated case but this is not so.

In Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic nations her story of torture for speaking out on simple things is normal. There is a distain among Muslims in many nations for the idea that Religion and Ideas are personal and are not the business of the state. In Saudi Arabia a Philipina woman was raped, and thrown in prison for three years for simply making the sign of the cross in her room alone while praying the Rosary- she was turned in by her employer.

I am not arguing here that Islam is evil, it is not, but what I am arguing for is Thomas Jefferson's idea that religion should not have the right to compel people. Just like the Catholic Church (My Church) had no right to torture and kill in Spain in the 15th century- no state should have the right to compel people with torture, rape and death. Freedom, even if your nations has allot of oil should be universal. What George Bush's foreign policy has done is to destroy this simple argument. We as as nation are no longer able to make this argument because we tortured people. We should stand forcefully for what we are- Free People.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The City Visible-Chicago Poetry for the New Century

Chicago, my hometown, is known for allot of things.
It is perhaps the most Roman Catholic city in America. At one time everyone in the Chicago area identified themselves by their parish, even if they were not Catholic. This sense remains the case but less so but of course when Pope John Paul II died it was normal to see every Polish, Irish, Italian and Mexican tavern in the city with the Pope's picture, often over the bar, and the funeral Mass on the TV.
Chicago is also known for its tribalism, its racism and is roughness but it is also known for having the greatest symphony in the world, seven great universities, the best Hot Dogs anywhere, two great Baseball teams (One I love and one I hate) and the best architecture outside of Italy or France. Chicago is a great place and when I returned home four years ago I was instantly satiated.
Poetry has also been a great gift from Chicago. Some bad poetry has come out of Chicago for example the uninspired slam scene which is vapid and uninteresting but some really great poets as well have been formed here- Sandberg, Anania, Hoover, Monroe, Mac Low, Carroll and Chernoff are all Chicagoans and poets who have made the world better and have busted through.
Cracked Slab Books ( is the press that I own with my friend and partner in crime William Allegrezza (it is appropriate that two Italian Americans run a Poetry Press in Chicago LOL) and we have just come out with our Anthology, The City Visible, Chicago Poetry for the New Century. This anthology is the record of a poetic conversation in Chicago from 2000-2006 between many groups in this city who are writing with experimental modes. We wanted to create an anthology that focused on experimental poets and poets who use international influences in their writing but who live or work in this- the most American city.
I am very proud of this book. It brings together very diverse voices, groups, religions, races and styles and makes poetry new again- which unfortunately our friends at the Poetry Foundation have forgotten about as they promote Kay Ryan and Philip Larkin-- in our anthology however is poetry, cut from the bone like meat in our long closed stockyards. Tonight is our second reading- at Powells north on Lincoln at 7 PM- if you come and read this on the Irascible Poet I owe you a beer--- Chicago Style

Thursday, May 3, 2007

An Elemental Thing

Los Angeles, May 3, 2007
I am in LA for work and I picked up Eliot Weinberger's new book An Elemental Thing for the trip. As I write this I am a fan of Weinberger but this book is really something. What he has done is to take a whole slew of very interesting subjects and to do essays on them that are readable, intellectual and fascinating.
All to often essays and essayists are boring self absorbed
morons who would rather talk about something arcane like what kind of makeup Truman Capote wore or the quality of Fenway Park Green. Weinberger is a serious essayist and I would argue that he is a true heir of essayists like Viktor Shklovsky who fuse the avant garde with everyday to make something truly amazing.
There are many essays in the work that are gripping one is about the Nazca lines of Peru. As many know I lived in the Andes and that idea of spiritual geography is so interesting. The idea that the lines, coupled with Huacas (Sacred stones and piles) are so interesting. He also talks about the Andean writing system Quippus which were bundles of knotted cords used to record history and money. This essay alone makes the book worth reading but there is much more.
His essay on the Mandaeans is so interesting. He deconstructs this Middle Eastern sect and shows the world that irony and scholarship are possible. He also wrote a bio essay of Muhammed which is in many ways better written than most translations of the Quran.
The last words of this book are "wonder alone in the vastness of the world" that is what Weinberger has done and his work will remain seminal and we can only hope for more books and more writing to satiate our dry literary world.