Monday, March 31, 2008

"the thrill of the grass"

There is something about opening day. I came to baseball like most young people via my dad. He was a Yankee fan- but my mother was a Dodger fan and so growing up in Chicago being a Cubs fan was out of the question and so I fell in love with the White Sox.

For me it was the 1977 White Sox, the South Side Hitmen, Harry Caray, Wayne Nordhagen, Oscar Gamble and Bill Veeck that I fell in love with and that love has remained a constant for 30 years.

I always took opening day for granted.

In 1994 I was living in Bolivia and 1994 looked like OUR year. We had a great team and I was sure this was it. I would go to a bar in Cochabamba with only other White Sox fan in South America- a U of C Professor I met who was studying the Guarani people of the Chaco and watch an occasional ESPN game. Then they went on strike. 1994 gone, 1995 gone.

I remained in South America until 1998 and my interest waned. Then in the spring of 1998 I moved back to the USA and I remembered 'the thrill of the grass' . This quote from WP Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe which is better known as Field of Dreams from the mouth of Shoeless Joe Jackson was deep in me and it remains so.

Spring, Easter and Opening day. The sense that all is possible. The rhythm of the day with a game on everynight and the history. Like Catholicism if you are a Baseball fan you are part of a huge communion of saints. These saints belong to us- Ruth, Appling, Musial, Banks, Robinson they are all ours.

It is only because of the thrill of the grass that a person who I respect and admire like Mark Tardi could be infected with that most despicable of diseases, Cubfandom. Yet you have to admire Cubs fans- they are such dorks yet they love their team and their dump of a ballpark.

It was 12 months of sheer pleasure when I could say, I am watching the "world champions" and while it would be the worst year of my life I hope someday they get to say that about the baby bears, or maybe I don't. Maybe I enjoy their pain... The fact that they finally have dedicated a statue to Ernie Banks is a testament to where their priorities lay...

Some of the people I admire most in the world understand the Thrill of Grass. Most educated people understand Baseball. I can understand a distain for other sports but when someone tells me that they find Baseball boring or long I immediately get turned off like seeing a pretty woman with rotten teeth. There is something about the pace. The pure joy of Game five of the 2005 World Series, a 1-0 Shutout where the winning run was scored by Willie Harris off a chopper over the head of the second baseman.. pure joy.

So we begin opening day, against the Damn Indians. I look forward to my first trip to 35th and Shields to the first time this year- the first double play and the first hot dog- and the hope that this is the year again.

For my Cub fan friends... happy 1ooth anniversary of your last World Series Title.... as I smile..

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitna: Freedom and Expression

There is much controversy about the film that is linked above. It is easy to demagogue an entire culture but I think that it is important to ask some questions. I write this post as a practicing Catholic. Someone who has to accept all the evil that my particular branch of Christianity imposed on people in slavery and colonialism.

There is no moral superiority for the Bible or Christianity over the Koran. There are verses in both the Tanakh and New Testaments as vile as the verses in the Koran in the film above. The difference is that in the Christian world we do not on the whole try to impose our religious beliefs on others.

We have in fact made a decision that religious practice and law are separate. This was not an easy transition. My Church opposed this, the Mormons and Christian Fundamentalists tried to form theocracies. In the end Freedom of Choice won these arguments and authoritarian religion lost.

Having said that many liberals and progressives are uncomfortable standing up for what our Western tradition believes there is this false sense that all expressions are the same they are not. There is a difference between the ideal of a good society in the Christian West and the Muslim world. Until we admit and understand this we will continue to not understand the challenge before us.

That challenge is not going to be met with bombs or wars. In many ways it is a challenge that needs to be fought with ideas. For 200 years Catholics and Protestants fought wars of religion. Then the French and American Revolutions happened we then fought between Traditional notions of the state and the current enlightenment model, then we fought between Liberals, Fascists and Communists.

All of these fights were ones of ideas primarily. It was liberal ideas that defeated Hitler and Communism and the Counter Reformation and Calvin's theocracy and Slavery in the USA and the British in India. Ideas that All people are Created Equal and that they have a right to decide for themselves what they want to believe.
This is why I post this film on my Blog. Not because I agree with it- but because I disagree with threats and murder for people expressing ideas. People have a right to criticize whatever they want including the Bible the Koran, Jesus or Muhammad and that is what makes us free.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Intertia of the Poetry Scene making Decisions

I have had many conversations about the prominance of poet scenesters- poets whose primary claim to fame is that they are good at managing the poetry scene rather than creating great work. There have been many scenesters in literature whose work was well crafted d'Annunzio and Oscar Wilde come to mind.

There are current poets who are fine at the craft and also good at managing the scene and promoting themselves. Simone Muench, Tracy Grinnell, Jen Hofer, Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover come to mind. They are all fine poets and you cannot fault them for leveraging who they are and their fine writing. They are playing the game but they are doing the work and this is a fine balance. They are our rock stars but they do the work and so who can fault them for doing the politics?

In contrast to this there is an entire world of Scenester poets. Poet's whose work is mediocre or worse but who are lauded because they are good at the scene. The other night at Danny's Reading Series in Chicago we heard from one of those who benefits from a scene pass- Matthea Harvey.

I kept thinking who published this stuff?

Then I realized Ms Harvey is tied into the whole Iowa scene and she has the right breeding and support- and then it all became clear why the work was published. There are others here in Chicago whose work is dreadful but who fit into a scene and have good breeding but whose poetry in unreadable- but they are part of the scene and so they get play and we all scratch our head's in disbelief.

The phenomenon of the poetry community supporting a scenester whose work is weak is rife in American poetry. There are many poets who are on their third or fourth book and no one has said-" why is this work good?" Where are our critics?

Poetry Communities are essential to our artform and their are poets in our community in Chicago whose work I hate -but the work has merit- it is like preferring De Kooning to Pollock. Both are good but different.

But a community is not a critical structure and that is what we are lacking. The problem is that so many poets work gets by- without critique --. If you went to the right school (Iowa, Brown, Bard, you get the picture) you can plan on getting your work published and not being critiqued even if the work is weak.

Critics who are also poets are afraid to be critical of other poets because we don't want to lose a future opportunity- and the artform does not grow because of the lack of competition. I have been to hundreds of readings- where all the listeners roll their eyes, like on Wednesday at Danny's when Ms Harvey finished at the weakness of the poetry-- but no one says anything because of fear of it coming back to haunt them in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I have always loved Holy Week. When I was a small child we would spend it with the Commie Priests of D'Andreas in Lemont, IL. The magesty of the Three Days. The wholeness of the washing of the feet, the horror of the Passion and the relief of the first Alleluja.

I have written about this before but the most moving Holy Thursday for me was in 1995
when I was a volunteer in the Men's Prison of San Sebastian in Cochabamba, Bolivia. On that day Fr Benoit the pastor of the jail invited the inmates, many of whom hated each other to wash each other's feet- it was a moment of grace.
Last year Traudi and I were in Istanbul and we went to Mass in a mostly Muslim city with Mass in Italian. There is something that grounds me in Holy Week. I can do without Christmas but Easter is something again. Easter means rebirth and spring and the fact that God who became human chose to banish fear. So often religious people forget that Jesus banished fear. We wollow in fear and this is many times our greatest sin. Fear has lead to so many evils.
"But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they and some others came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared.
24:2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead?
24:6 He isn't here, but is risen.
Gospel of Luke

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why China's Oppression Matters.

I worked for many years with China in previous jobs. I became friends with a man who was a porter in our Hong Kong office I will call him mister Shen. Mr Shen was a lovely man who introduced me to the joys of noodle soup and Chinese tailors- I liked him very much.

We became friends because of the fact that we are both Catholics. He invited me to a Rosary in the city of Shenzen where he lived with his wife and daughter.

After a few years I stopped working in China and I called a friend to see how Mr Shen was doing and I was told he had been taken into "Custody". He was arrested for having an unauthorized Rosary in his apartment and for being loyal to the Pope.

China is the fastest growing Power in the world. It is consuming resources the way the US did in the 19th century. We should applaud the new Chinese economy and we should embrace the emergence of China- but we need to reject their system of governance because that system is evil.

The Chinese government is oppressing and destroying the culture of Tibet and those people are rioting against this oppression. Thousands of Chinese are in prison for things as simple as writing poetry or attending Rosaries. Millions of Chinese are worked to death producing export products and they have no right to redress or organized labor.

To pretend that China is just another dictatorship is folly. China is the largest owner of American treasury bills. China is supporting oppressive regimes around the world. Yet the world is going to Beijing for the Olympics is this the story we want told? That the world played sports while this nation continues to oppress its own people and supporting regimes that oppress.

In the end we need to ask ourselves do our values matter? Or is it all about the money?? I say boycott the Beijing Games until Tibet is free and people are free to pray the Rosary in their living room without molestation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Nazi Literature in the Americas

Most American Poets- like most Americans are unaware of the world outside their own minds. There is little dialogue between American poets and global poets and so the project of Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature in the Americas will fall flat. But to those few who know the rich cultural milleu of our Hemisphere this book will serve as a lodestar.
Bolano takes as his central premise Right Wing literati and then he uses short story to expose their ironies. He is especially hard on poets- which is appropriate since poets are the artists he most admires. This book however serves as a critique of all of us.
Many writers and poets today are content to remain within the safe world of Academe or poetland and they do not engage with society as a whole. In Bolano's book he takes another tact- the Fascist. The fact is that there are many poets and writers who were not Leftish- Pound, Stevens, Celine, Marinetti, Ahkmatova, Llosa and many others and we tend to forget this fact. Also there are a slew of lesser writers whose work is nursed on the tit of the right.
Bolano also deconstructs our decisions in this book. He shows us how the decisions we make as poets or writers can lead to a consequence we regret. Here in is the reasonj to read this book. \
Spend the time with its short stories and listen for your own hypocracy- I certainly listened to mine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Roberto Bolano- Again

So I continue with Roberto Bolan~o's Nazi Literature in the Americas. In many ways this book is perfect for lunch. What I mean by this is that it is made up of twelve or thirteen page short stories that for a person like with with an hour lunch can be read and digested well.

There is so much texture in this book and its critique of 'fascist intellectuals' can serve well as a critique for all 'poets'.

I don't know if you all saw but Charles Bernstein is not profiled on the Poetry Foundation website- obviously Established Verse Culture no longer includes the great foundation on Clark Street. Or maybe Charles IS established verse culture? Ron Silliman started this on his blog...

But back to Bolano( I cannot do the ~ on my Blogger) he really cuts into the literary mindset the way that Gilbert Sorrentino did in an early novel talking about poet's and writer's real motivations. This book slowly disects the mentality and shows us how much we need to be chastised. I like books that expose hypocracy and this book does that well.

Read this Book.

I went to a play by Carla Harryman on Friday last- it was interesting- it helped that the actors were all very attractive. It was an interesting U of Chicago type event (where you feel like a skunk at a picnic or a black guy trying to hail a cab).

I got to Meet the real Barrett Watten- all tweedy and Homo Professorus. But in all seriousness Watten is a favorite and the fact that he lives in Detroit gives him some street cred- he and Ms Carla lived in San Francisco for a long time but there is no street cred there- unless you are Robert Duncan and he is dead.

Garin Cycholl and I are going to go with Bill Allegrezza on pilgrimage to hang out with the bard of Ypsilanti- Clayton Eshelman- and maybe we can get Barrett to go to a Tigers game with us??
But the play was something- very engaging and I was prepared to hate it and I was moved.

I continue with Robert Bolano's book- go buy it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Nazi Literature in the Americas

After a nice lunch with Robt Archembeau Friday (nothing nicer than two fat poets having lunch) where we talked about this book.
I have just begun this book- but the inspiration of the first short story makes it worth going on. Right Wing Intellectuals get short shrift in the USA. The fact is that this is an area that needs more study.
In Latin America being a Right wing intellectual is not unknown- and Bolano- does something in this book that I think needs to be said- "Why are you Writing?" "what is your literary life about?"
I will continue to talk about this book as I enter it fully- but I must say Bolano is correct and he challenges every weak- milquetoast poet's work to mean something....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Catholics in Chicago

It is not normal for poets- especially those who consider themselves "experimental" to be Roman Catholic. The fact is however that I am both a Roman Catholic and an Experimental Poet. I frankly agree with Mozart- I could never leave the Church and not be able to recieve the Eucharist in Chartre Cathedral.

Having said that my Church has done in recent years everything in its power to hurt our Catholic community. The Church's position on Women and Gays I totally reject- the Churches complicity in Child Sexual Abuse is vile and frankly it is an insult to all the Catholics in America.

With the recent death of William F Buckley- late conservative guru and Catholic- I have been thinking about my Church. Catholicism has always been a broad faith. Both St Francis (of the Flowers) and St Dominic (of the Inquisition) were active in the Church at the same time. Catholics today range from William F Buckley and Pat Buchanan to EJ Dionne and Garry Wills- a Church that can have given birth to Opus Dei and Liberation Theology at the same time is truly where I want to be.

At the Chicago History Museum they are doing an exhibit on the Catholics of Chicago. Chicago is in many ways America's most Catholic city. Until recently Catholicism really permiated our town and over half the people in the City were Catholics. Our ancestors gave us great hospitals, Universities and schools and that history- often ignored by many in America- is worth experiencing again.

In a time when women had no rights or professions- Catholic Nuns were presidents of Universities and presidents of Hospitals- in a time when most Catholic could not enter Marshall Fields department store because we were "not the right sort" we built magnificent Churches that still today awe people in Chicago. We have a right to be proud of our heritage- as Flannery O'Conner said once "all my stories begin with Catholicism and stories I heard as a young girl about my history"

It is the connection to the past and the future that makes Catholicism my home. What I like about Catholicism is the same thing I love about baseball- tradition, ritual, miracles, and shared common experience. I attended Mass once in Hong Kong with a room full of Filipina maids- all in white, I have attended Mass in the Andes, in Rome and in Istanbul and the Eucharist bound us together. This connection cannot be found many places.

Normally when I deal with poets they are neo-Buddhists or 'non religious' or simply self absorbed but I have chosen to remain in my family and to dissent. It is Lent now and shortly it will be Easter and when I attend the Easter Vigil and they with the fire will sing the first Alleluya of the year that connection will be made clear. A connection to Mozart, Francis, Borgia Popes and Fra Angelico.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Moxley Fin

I usually do not work on airplanes- I am normally too fat to open on lap-top on the plane. On a trip Sunday night from Chicago to LA I decided to finish Moxley's Middle Room and then read it again.
I have found this memoir interesting and moving on many levels. While Moxley is of my generation our background are distinct hers a kind of post-radical upbringing while my family is squarely in the Reagan Democrat- Catholic way. But having said that her book is moving for anyone who remembers being in college when Reagan was president.
There is a section where she writes about typewriters. How GenX is the last generation to learn to write this way. I was moved by this dialogue in the book.
I am not going to give away the end of this book because frankly I want people to buy the book but I have to say that the entire journey of the book to poetry has a Augustinian sense of conversion that makes the work a must read for poets. I think that the part I like the best is the romance part between Moxley and her long time Amante. The fact that I sort of know these people made the work seem personal but I liked it.
Anyway I urge everyone to buy this book it is a great book for Lent. Or Easter if you want rebirth.