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 Chicagopostmodernpoetry.com . 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.