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.