Friday, October 31, 2008

Barack Obama's Southsider and President

Last week I was at the world's greatest bookstore, Chicago's Seminary Co-op chatting with Jack Cella the General Manager. Jack is one of those great people that make Chicago the best place in my estimation to live in America.

Jack runs what is for many of us the best place in Chicago the fabulous Seminary Cooperative Bookstore which in an age of Amazon and Digital books still has the warm glory of a great bookstore with the whole of humanity within its walls.

Jack said something to me that is profound. The sem coop is a membership bookstore. We as members all own the co-op and one thing that I share with our (hopefully) next president is membership the Co-op. I think that this says allot about Barack Obama that he is intellectually curious enough to be a member of such a place. Then I began to think about the other places on the South side that are part of Obama's life.

The great sadness for us who are Chicagoans is the the next president will leave us for Washington. But if you want to experience a little of Barack's world here are some places that he loves; Apart from Seminary Co-op which for me is the best place to visit in the city here are some other places;

Medici Pizzeria in Hyde Park which is right next to 57th Street Books (Part of Seminary Co-op) has tee shirts that say Obama Eats here. I once say Obama eating there and I wish I had had the guts to ask for an autograph!

US Cellular Field Every White Sox fan is proud that Barack is one of us. He does not belong to the Cubs and he has chosen to proclaim that he is one of us... when you come to Chicago go to the Southside for what Obama said is 'Real Baseball' White Sox baseball.

Frontera Grill Obama loves Rick Bayless's restaurants and so do I come and eat Tacos and think about Barack.

Negro League Cafe near Barack's (Or President Obama's) house is this memorial to the great Negro Leagues.

Barack is a Southsider and a Chicagoan and hopefully this son of Chicago my hometown will bring to Washington what is good about our town. Chicago is a place we produced Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren, Nat King Cole, Buddy Guy, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Richard J Daley, Harold Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Enrico Fermi and Milton Friedman. We are not the stereotype we are a great city and great hometown for our next President.

Barack we are so proud of you....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Barack Obama and Wealth

Much has been written and screamed about lately about Barack Obama and 'socialism'. The fact that Mr Obama wants to spread around the wealth of our society is viewed as a Marxist evil while greed and the concentration of wealth are viewed as "American" and "free". Keeping ones money is a mantra for the Republican candidate. Most of the self professed Republicans are "christians". What that means we do not really know? But we know what Jesus had to say about what he demands from his followers on this score. Does what Jesus demanded jive with what McCain is proposing?

Matthew 25, 31-46 New Jerusalem Bible

31 'When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory.
32 All nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
36 lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me."
37 Then the upright will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?"
40 And the King will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."
41 Then he will say to those on his left hand, "Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me."
44 Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?"
45 Then he will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me."
46 And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.'

Does it sound like Jesus would vote for John McCain and the monied class? Or Barack Obama? What would Jesus do? It seems to me that this answer is clear. The world Christian is used by scoundrels throughout history. But in fact the "christians" who have run the Republican party are truly Goats to use Matthew's words.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Experience Brazilian Poetry in Chicago Audio

Everyone please access the on line audio from the Experience Brazilian Literature in Chicago event held last month here in Chicago

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ignorance and this Week's History

I got some great feedback about my Ignorance post of a few days ago from Guillermo Parra, Johannes Gorensson and Patrick Durgin. All three of these poet/editors are part of the global choir they are leaders. They are all examples of the exception to the rule poets who are well read and global in their mindsets.
It would have been great to get feedback from members of the "Poetic Class" who continue to live in their cheerleaderlike micro world. But those poets are too busy telling each other how great they are.... But those poets will continue the great poetic roundtable of self strokes.
MarkNowak's XCP
Mark Nowak Facebooked me today. I have always been a huge Mark Nowak fan his poetry is great- in the way Nelson Algren or Walt Whitman are great he is an innovator and a person of the people. I wish there were more Mark Nowak's and less "Poetic Class" Cheerleaders around.
His magazine XCP is great it is one that I would love to get some poetry in someday. Here is another poet who does not spend allot of his time looking at his own navel.
We are in a week of history. It looks good for the election maybe, just maybe Barack Obama can pull this one out? I will add this to my prayers and good thoughts.
Peter Cole's Book
I just finished Peter Cole's Things on Which I've Stumbled. It is interesting because this book has all the pretentions of a New Directions Poetry book. His book of translations of Poetry from Islamic Spain came out to great acclaim although I found some of the translations lacking that wa a great book. His poetry is Medieval and Experimental at the same time but not pretentious like some poets of this ilk.
Camus Notebooks
I am glad I bought the book it goes well with Camus' Notebooks 1951-1959 that I just finishes that was just satiating in its richness. Is there anything better than Camus? I can't think of anything better.
Stanford Literature Podcasts
I downloaded from itunes the Stanford University podcasts. What a pleasure. I worked out the other day to Marjorie Perloff talking about Ezra Pound is there anything more relaxing? Everyone should go get these podcasts they are free and great.
So lets see how the week completes itself. Maybe this Severian moment in America's decline will be ended? Or do we continue to decline? Is Obama our Vespasian or our Diocletian? Time will tell?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Those Who are Not Ignorant

I wrote a post last week about the ignorance of world-poetry by most American poets. I have often complained about presses and poets that are so myopic that they choose to publish and read only narrow poetry by their friends.

For every Ugly Duckling Presse or Circumference magazine that chooses to highlight the broad world there is a Flood Editions or Denver Quarterly that chooses to highlight a narrow parochialism.

Having said this there are poets and presses that need to be highlighted.

  • Patrick Durgin's Kenning Editions for example has done a yeoman's job of highlighting innovative and global writing and their new book by Laura Solorzano translated by Jen Hofer is a must read.
  • Aufgabe Magazine and Litmus press published by E Tracy Grinnell annually does more for global literature than most University Presses. the latest Aufgabe on Italian poetry edited by jennifer scappettone is the best anthology of contemporary Italian verse currently in print.
  • Mandorla edited by Kristen Dykstra does more for Latin American writing than most presses. Mandorla has brought some of Cuba's most important poets to American audiences for the first time.
  • Ugly Duckling Presse from New York does a great job of highlighting Eastern European and othe global writing.
  • The website Action Yes edited by Johannes Gorensson is prob. the best website for translations and global literature.
  • The Brazilian magazine Sibilia edited by Regis Bonvicino is a great vehicle for American, Brazilian and European literature.

It is important to note that all of these efforts are independent non-profits. They need donations and support. So the next time someone asks you for money for a good cause- give to poetry and support these presses.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Destruction of Books

"Our History is revealed by what we destroy as much as by what we preserve" this is how Fernando Baez's A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq.
Of late amid all the economic angst and fear I have found solace in something old and tried- serendipity.
In the age of and online shopping I still find my best books by the serendipity of shopping in a great bookstore.
In Chicago we are blessed to have what I think is the greatest bookstore in the United States, the Seminary Co-op. ( Sem Coop is one of those places where one can find books by everyone from Origen and Horace to Mark Tardi and Peter Gizzi it is in short a great place.
One of my favorite spots is the 'front table' in which Jack Cella the magnificent General Manager places the 'most important' and 'most interesting' books for his bibliographically famished customers. On that table I found two books that satisfy and challenge a poet and a reader to be more.
The first book I found was Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night from the Yale University Press. The book is organized by chapters The Library as... the chapters are really interesting and in this book one description that really held me in thrall was his description of the library in the Theresinstadt Ghetto. If their exists a more moving story than the one Manguel shares with us about Jacob Edelstein's last moments on Earth I have not read it anywhere.
Manguel's book talks about many other things including the National Library of Argentina of Jorge Luis Borges. Manguel is an Argentine and this sensibility fills the book. If you love your library this is your book it takes one away from the banal to a time when time slowed and libraries determined cultural currency. Thomas Merton once said that when he passed a Church he felt like it was a reactor of holiness pulsing and filling the world with grace. I think Manguel's book says the same thing about Libraries and how they fill our world with grace as well.
The second book I found on the table later in the month was Fernando Baez's A Universal History of the Destruction of Books. Baez is the director of Venezuela's National library and his book is chronicle of great crime. He starts with Sumer and ends with Iraq in fact going around the world to chronicle the history of the destruction of books. The book starts talking about the great literate societies that sit at the base of our world. Sumer,China, Israel, Egypt and Greece.
For any lover of Books to hear the stories of the destruction of the libraries of the Hittites, Alexandria and the Egypt makes one wince.
Once we leave the ancient world we move into the middle ages. The time of Lindisfarne, Constantinople and Baghdad. In fact the book also talks about how the children of Lindisfarne (Catholics) Constantinople (Orthodox) and Baghdad (Muslim) proceeded to go out to the world and destroy libraries of Pagans, Native Americans, and Hindus. The saving and destroying of books leads us to pain and anguish about all that has been lost.
What is truly great about Baez's book is that it has short information packed chapters that bring you back to libraries. You want to sit with Rumi or Averroes or Aidan of Lindisfarne and watch them create and save books. Yet this book is about their destruction and the slow pain of this book leads us up to our present day and to the greatest evils of Communism, Fascism and Materialism.
Every child in the West has been brought up with the cliche of books being burned by Nazis. Even Indiana Jones movies have had this image. But the real import of the destruction of books by Nazis and Communists and others is that the openness of ideas which filled the world. It has been said that the Jews and the Germans were two peoples who believed that 'good culture' was important. The death of European Jewish culture and the destruction of Jewish libraries in Poland is one of the greatest crimes of human history. It presaged the destruction of 6 million people.
Baez's book ends with the destruction of libraries in Iraq. Finally he lists the greatest book crimes The Nazi Bibliocaust of 1933-45, Savonarola's Destruction in Florence in 1498, Huang's destruction of Chinese books in 213 BC, Mongol Destruction of the Baghdad library in 1258, the destruction of the library of Alexandria in 48 BC, the destruction of the Cordoba library in 980 the destruction of the Bosnia Library in 1992, and finally the destruction of the Mayan writings in 1562 and the burning of the Library of Congress in 1814.
This book makes one wince at the loss but it also makes real what matters. Ideas and the people who create them is what matters and this book talks about that reality. "Where they have burned books they will eventually burn people" Heine's great quote is writ large in this little book that anyone who loves books should run out at buy... now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fear Factor

Over the past two weeks the world has changed. Like August 1914, September and October 2008 will be remembered as the time that the old order passed away. Before September
assumptions bourne out by 60 years of post-war thought were in place.

America & Europe and the system set up after World War 2 functioned. People who had saved and invested for the past 30 years and are now retired were secure and their were problems but they could be over come.

It appears that that world is gone.

I am 41 and for most of my life I have worked in Business Publishing and events. I look around having survived the .com boom, housing boom and various recessions and I cannot find the intestinal fortitude to know what to do?

My parent's are losing their retirement savings.
My company is constricting.
My neighborhood is full of foreclosed houses.

The fact is that America is in decline and the whole thing appears to be unraveling. Because of greed and financial mismanagement and deregulation the world that was constructed in the West is coming apart. As we look at the new powers in the world, China, India and Brazil we realize that much of the liberal openness of Europe and America is now ignored or distained.
We are in the new world and fear reigns.

I watched a You Tube of a Mc Cain rally where the people beyed at the candidates spewing hatred the way Germans did in the late 1920's . This type of world in the 1930's led Germany to Hitler and America to Franklin Roosevelt. I wonder what choice we will make now? Do we still have a Roosevelt in us?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

That Ignorance is Restraining

That Ignorance is Restraining

“Americans are too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

With this quote Horace Engdahl the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize for Literature dismissed American literature and the possibility of an American winning that prize. This quote caused much uproar and indignation among the American literati. How dare a Swede criticize America’s literary relevance and importance?

Imagine anyone suggesting that our writers are not worthy of the Nobel Prize?

I think that this quote caused such an uproar because in short it is true. I do not often interact personally with fiction writers but I do interact with Poets many of whom are ‘important’ in American literary parlance. I think that the structure of our literary culture in America leads to this Restraining Ignorance. While this I do not know if this is true for Fiction writers it is often true for American Poets.

Many American poets are trained in “creative writing” which means that their education is in how to write rather than in what to read. The result of this training is that their literary knowledge of poetry and prose in English, much less in other languages is very thin indeed.

Also, because most of the people who can afford to take two or three years to ‘study’ creative writing are from a particular social class and because graduate study is often a luxury whole parts of American society that might be more open to the world are excluded. When it comes to international writing very few American poets have any interest in global writing or poetry.

Most American poets know nothing of poetry outside of their particular small insular community and this is reflected in their work. Many American poets dwell in the poetry subculture which is concerned with poets, writing for other poets getting published by small presses run by poets, and getting reviewed by other poets. There is not much room in this subculture for the larger world.

In the United States, the world’s largest book buying market, the number of presses and magazines that give space to global writing and poetry are so small that I can list many of them here; Aufgabe Magazine and Litmus Press, Mandorla, Burning Deck, Ugly Duckling Presse, Circumference, Dalkey Archive Press, Action Books, occasionally the Chicago Review, occasionally the University of Texas Press and occasionally the University of California Press. The combination of the insular hothouse of American poetry and the lack of translations is slowly suffocating poetry in America into some sort of replay loop .

The fact is that most American poets do not have any interest in global writing or poetry as evidenced recently by a group of events that I organized here in Chicago recently. I guest edited a Brazilian section for the New York magazine Aufgabe which does a fabulous job of highlighting a global poetry scene in each issue. I was honored to translate and guest- edit an issue on Brazil in 2007.

The Brazilian consulate general and Litmus Press which publishes Aufgabe magazine invited four very well known Brazilian poets to read in Chicago. The four poets who read, Paulo Henriques Britto, Virna Teixeira Sergio Medeiros and Maria Esther Maciel are well known globally and inside Brazil. We organized three events in this city over four days. We advertised and publicized the events widely in Time Out, on all the poetry list sites, Facebook and via email lists. I figured with over 50 poets who have published books in the past five years here in Chicago they would jump at the chance of seeing four well known poets from one the world’s most important poetry communities.

The first event was organized at Northwestern. Professor Reginald Gibbons did a great job on that campus and we had a great turnout of people interested in global poetry. The event itself was a success The fact is however that no one from the local Chicago poetry community chose to attend that event in Evanston. The students at Northwestern were great and Dr Gibbons was great and the poets were honored to spend time with them.

The Second Event was at the University of Illinois at Chicago and it was also well attended by non poets. Some local Chicago poets of note did attend, Garin Cycholl organized the reading and Christina Pugh who is with the Poetry Foundation and poets brought her class, Francesco Levato and Chris Glomski also attended the event. This reading had a good crowd and I was very thankful to UIC for hosting it.

The final event we produced at the Harold Washington Library Center was on a Saturday Afternoon. It was also well attended with many people from the local Brazilian community but the number of Chicago poets who attended was small, Patrick Durgin William Allegrezza, Melissa Severin, Kerri Sonnenberg and a few others attended.

By my count about 10 Chicago poets of note chose to attend the readings over the four Brazilian poetry events. In fact of the approximately 100 people who attended these three readings only 10 were local poets of note. I think the local reaction attests well to the insularity of so many. This level of interest is indicative of the state of poetry and poets- to say nothing of literature in a major city in the United States.

Many American poets exist within a poetic hothouse. They live insular lives in which they get published by friends they knew at grad school. Their work is often reviewed by ‘critics’ with whom they are friends. The result of this is a poetic culture of insularity that approaches a clique. There are very few American poets who choose to dialogue globally.

You can count on two hands the number of poets in the United States who care about global literature and translation. Poets/Writers like Charles Bernstein, Jennifer Scappettone. Tracy Grinnell, Sawako Nakayasu, Jen Hofer, Patrick Durgin, Douglas Messerli, Pierre Joris, Kristen Dykstra and others are rare exceptions to a hard rule of ignorance of the wider world. Most poets in the United States would rather exist within their poetic hothouse. If you want to see this culture in action come to Chicago in February for AWP where itwill be in full flower.

To expect insularity from Americans is understandable we are an insular people. Iff you wonder however why an American poet will not be the winner of the Nobel Prize this year don’t blame the poor Swedish bureaucrat who spoke the truth- blame the poetic culture in the USA which is often insular and ignorant of the outside world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baseball-Poetry & Brazilians

October is normally for me a calm month. But with all the anguish of the economy and being forced to listen to Sarah Palin's screeching voice this October will be different.


Last week we hosted four Brazilian poets, Paulo Henriques Britto, Maria Esther Maciel, Sergio Medieros and Virna Teixiera.

These events were sheer pleasure. Northwestern hosted them for a reading and Professor Reginald Gibbons was a real gentle man in doing so. The poets then read at the UIC Humanities Institute and were hosted by Garin Cycholl and finally there was a great Saturday Reading at the Harold Washington Library.

The best thing about these readings was the attendance by a more general public. Unlike most poetry events in Chicago the local 'community' of poets did not dominate the attendance. Often, Chicago Poetry events are dominated by the same faces but at these events most of them were not in attendance but other people came and listened to poetry from another world and I hope that their efforts lead to more dialogue.


Barack Obama (SOX FAN) is going to win the presidency and Joe Biden is going to clean the floor with Sarah Palin and the economy will be ok so lets worry about what really matters; for the first time since 1906 both Chicago teams are in the playoffs. There is a chance for an L World Series here which would end up crazy but also great... imagine beating those Cubs-- in the World Series it would be something....


I am putting my Cubs hatred on hold for this month since I need to give the good energy to them in place of my friend Mark Tardi who is rooting from Lodz. I hope they win so that we can replay 1906 this year and beat them hard. But the entire city of Chicago is thinking about baseball and just maybe we can get the Chicago trifecta- Sox-Cubs World Series- Obama as president,



The White Sox won the Central Division last night in a great game. Did you see that throw from Ken Griffey? That put out? The fact that we beat the Twins. This will not be a calm October.
Maybe this will be a good one?

Go Sox, Go Barack--- lets win!