Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I get angry.
In fact all e Readers make me angry.
Unlike an Ipod which does not fundamentally change
the ways we consume music and films as primarily
aural experiences e Readers are an attack on something fundamental- the Book.
The thing that has been lost by the growth of the internet is serendipity. If you think about it because of the internet there are many pleasures that younger people will never experience.
The finding of an article in the newspaper that you did not expect to read and acting on that seredipity. Finding an album in a record store that you never thought you would buy and now with e Readers they are trying to destroy the last bit of anonymous chance the bookstore.
I know, I know, we all buy books on line but is there anything better or more important than a good bookstore? I for one came of age among some great ones, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Seminary Co-op in Chicago and the lost but not Forgotten Gotham Bookmart in New York.
There is nothing better than spending a couple of hours here in Chicago at Seminary Co-op. Chatting with Jack Cella its' great General Manager then finding an obscure book that you thought you would never read. Opening a new book with its pages and its artwork is something tactile and real that I have never felt from something electronic. It seems that our goal as a nation is to destroy everything that is actual in favor of the virtual.
I don't want to eat artificial food- I want real food.
I want to spend warm June afternoons at the ball park watching my White Sox and not have so much stimuli that I cannot concentrate on the game.
I certainly do not want all bookstores to go away in favor some electronic paper whatever the hell that is? Imagine not being able to browse a bookstore and find that right book?
Someone please tell me what we are to do?
I don't want to read books- even bad ones on a computer screen. I want to sit with a book and coffee and read books that are objects not just pixels. It is bad enough that Google is stealing every book ever published but tell me why are they trying to kill the bookstore? Frankly I have had enough please go away Kindle and the rest of your satanic brethern....
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Three of the events that I have participated in are the Mark Nowak reading organized by the Poetry Center of Chicago, The Italian Poet's Reading organized by Litmus Press and Jennifer Scappettone co-sponsored by the Poetry Center of Chicago and a reading at the Sullivan Gallery where the Poetry Center asked poets from many genres of poetry, from Slam to Experimental to Regional Writers to reflect on a piece of art in a new opening.
All of these readings have been first rate. Mark Nowak who I introduced is a great poet who brings to so much to our current economic situation. The Italian event was spectacular. It was a much needed infusion of Global Poetics to our all too provincial reading list and was well produced and the Sullivan Gallery event brought together genres and poets to do something great.
The fact is that Francesco Levato is diversifying the Poetry Center amidst budget cuts, loss of donors and a general contraction and keeping it in the forefront. Francesco along with the Danny's Series, Chicago Poetry Project, Dancing Girl Press, Series A, and other groups are trying to give our poetry scene much needed oxygen that our small pond is lacking.
Of course there are critics and one of them has decided that there is an evil Kabal I guess organized by Francesco Levato and Myself to ruin Chicago's poetry scene which is ridiculous. One of the things that Francesco organized are poetry workshops at the Poetry Center. Now I realize that this is a radical idea but in most cities there are literary centers that do workshops. Some of these are really sought after and in some cities Literary Centers actually work to create literary community. Sometimes they actually charge for these workshops because the product has value.
Literary Centers cost money. In New York, St Marks, Poets House, Bowery Poetry Club and many others are actual physical places with endowments and staffs. They are not just websites with one crazy mediocre poet spouting hate and division. If only more energy was expended to build a literary center rather than defaming good people.
Francesco Levato of the Poetry Center has seen fit to devote himself to a vision where the Poetry Center actually engages the whole poetic landscape and tries to create something new in a tough time. I write this post because I salute Francesco's work on behalf of our community.
I also dare to ask the question will Chicago ever have a literary center? The fact is that it is the very lack of poetic oxygen that the critics revel in that stands in the way. My feeling is is whatever kind of poetry you want to do- do it well. But do not use your own personal vitriol to attack others because their vision is different.
Chicago was not always a great theatre town. But in the 1960's small theatre companies decided that they were going to do serious theatre here in Chicago. Innovative things that could sell tickets and fill theatres. Today we are a great theatre town it took vision to do that not harping and defaming people's character. It seems that within our poetry community that will never be possible.
The fact is that whatever poetry community you are a part of in Chicago, Experimental, Latino, African American, Spoken Word there are poets who stand out for their excellence be they Kevin Coval, Simone Muench, Ed Roberson, Francisco Aragon, William Allegrezza, Garin Cycholl or Peter O'Leary and all of them would benefit from a literary organization. Francesco Levato has been struggling to build that and I applaud him for it.
Monday, December 7, 2009
As a practicing Roman Catholic the recent priest sexual abuse scandal is a great evil and pain to all of us. Retired New York Cardinal Egan was forced to publish his personal notes from the many priest abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Hartford. The fact that almost every Bishop in the world covered up for serial abusers over decades shows a Church that acted more like Carlos Escobar's Medellin cartel than the City of God.
I worked within the Church as both a lay volunteer after college and I also considered entering religious life. Many of my dear friends are sisters and priests but the weird sexual vibe found in many religious houses makes for an odd mix of misogny and homoeroticism that I chose not to enter into as a younger man.
Today rather than facing the unhealthy sexual vibe of the Church the Bishops are instead moving to the Right. Rather than addressing the evil that their mindset created they are assuring everyone that the real problem is feminist Sisters, women priest advocates and those who believe that the poor are a priority.
In the end you reap what you sew but in this time of rebirth and incarnation it is time that the Roman Catholic Church realizes that its sexual mentality caused the sexual abuse of minors but that would mean questioning the closed system that is more about power than about God.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Amanda Knox, an American Exchange Student from Seattle was convicted
today of the brutal murder of her roomate in Perugia, Italy. The case has been a salacious feast for the Italian press but the question that I have is how do you convict someone of a brutal murder when there is no DNA or other physical evidence?
But apart from the critique of the Italian justice system that are well founded what I find most disturbing is the fact that the Italian prosecutor would be allowed to to call this woman "a dirty minded she devil". It is hard to imagine an American jury buying this hyperbole. It is also amazing that they have another person who had DNA on the dead woman's body and has already been convicted. I think that this type of Sexism makes the verdict suspect and in the US beyond a reasonable doubt.
Another bit of rottenness is that Knox's parents are being sued for 'defamation' for simply expressing an opinion about the fact that Knox was questioned without a lawyer present.
This is a terrible story only made worse by this verdict.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
watches, Banking, and Tasty Chocolate is now
infamous for something else, banning religious architecture.
I remember the first time as a visitor to my mother's hometown in Italy the jarring presence of Muslim women in full chador on the piazza of the place of my ancestors. The fact that in our little Alpine town, amid the Churches and polenta there were Muslims was new a jarring.
I can understand the dismay of traditional Europeans with
this change. For those of us who are close to our roots Europe
conjures up certain images and minarets are not part of that narrative.
Europe is reaping what they have sewn over for the better part of 40 years Europeans have become both secular and addicted to immigrant labor to the jobs they no longer want to do. They have treated immigrants not as new neighbors but almost always as "Strangers".
Unlike the US, Brazil, Argentina and many nations with long immigrant traditions Europeans
have done a lousy job of integrating their immigrant populations into their societies.
How is it possible that I, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Chicago feel more connected to the valley in Italy where my mother comes than the Muslim immigrants living in that valley now? Why are they are still referred to as "Stranieri" or Strangers when their Grandchildren are now being born there?
It is possible that racism is to blame but I think the real issue is intolerance and a lack of honesty. For all of America's faults one of the things that we do very well is process immigrants and lay our cards on the table. There are other countries that do this well also, Brazil comes to mind.
Unlike Europe with its long history and traditions we in America based our nation on the following premise; as long as you are not hurting anyone else and you participate in the economic life of the nation you are welcome. This is not a nicety, there is much wrong with America but we have done a good job of making Italians, Arabs, Africans, Jews, Poles, Germans and Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews into Americans.
In Europe the 'native people' and the immigrants live very separate lives. In the US last week
I bet you that my Gujarati neighbors ate Thanksgiving like the rest of us and we both have Obama signs in our windows.
In Paris three and four generations of Muslims continue to live in Banlieues separated from society, in Chicago the owner of my local Dunkin Donuts, Mr Singh works at the counter with his Sikh turban on his head and he wears a Stanford or Williams sweatshirt sporting the school colors of his two children who are studying at those prestigious schools. We do a better of job
of integrating immigrants and maybe the Europeans could learn something?
I think it is because of the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Americans, and that is what any immigrant is when they decide to come here are guaranteed the right to be left alone.
No matter what was said about Catholics when they first arrived the Protestant majority could not ban their churches or close their schools and they became Americans. When Jews arrived the majority had no right to ban their worship and they thrived. Today Muslims and Hindus are vibrant members of our society and achieve so much here because we have the First Amendment.
Maybe the Swiss should realize that diversity is a good thing and that the Chocolate is not that good served with a helping of bigotry.
God Bless the Bill of Rights
Sunday, November 29, 2009
This week Jack Myers, Poet and Educator died in Dallas, Texas. For the many poets who choose to dwell in smaller or more provincial places Jack offered another way of being a poet. Many times these poets get passed over but Jack showed how to be a poetic force in Dallas and at Southern Methodist University where he taught.
He was the founder with his wife Thea Temple of the Writers Garrett of Dallas which is the most humane writing institution in the US in my estimation. Jack's humanity filled that institution and he nurtured a whole community of poets in Dallas, myself included, to be better to and ask better questions. His presence will be missed by many.
To Thea and the entire Dallas poetry community which is so dear to me know that Jack and all of you are in our prayers and thoughts.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The University of California System is bankrupt.
What was once the greatest state university system in the world has been forced to raise tuition and fees 32% to well over $10,000.00 to remain solvent. I have been reading the many posts and Facebooks about the protests from professors that I know in that system and I have to say that this reality was a long time coming and there is plenty of blame to go around.
Academics, Students and the State caused this catastrophe and while occupying buildings and protesting feels good we as a nation need to realize that we need systematic funding and education reform to retain our edge as a nation in the face of China which is by the way America's real competition for global development. Al Queda is not the adversary China is and as we destroy our universities it is in Beijing that they notice and laugh.
First off lets be honest if you are tenure track professor at a major university your lifestyle is protected and maintained by a system that in short is unsustainable in today's climate. At many large state universities Teaching Assistants who are paid next to nothing teach most of the classes.
Many tenure tracked professors are given such perks as full year sabbaticals away from the classroom to "write". Because of the tenure system older professors never retire and so now we have a glut of younger PH D's who cannot find work and who cannot compete because of the system that now exists.
It is very difficult for the average American taxpayer to understand this system. Most average taxpayers have to produce daily to keep their jobs and do not get two or three months a year off.
Most average taxpayers do not get full year sabbaticals with pay and most average taxpayers do not have the many perks of tenure track professors and so it becomes very hard to convince average taxpayers to pay more taxes for a system that seems inordinately cushy for those at the top while many other deserving PH D's are left out to work as adjuncts or worse.
Students and parents at major state universities are also to blame. In the past student life was determined by sacrifice an saving but with the advent of easy student loans many students today can use credit to live upper middle class lifestyles while at school. When I was a student 20 years ago almost no one had a car, a computer or yearly vacations but today because of the student loan and credit culture these things are normal. Also tuition has risen so much that only one class of student can really afford college.
If students and their parents had been more demanding of universities in the past perhaps the tuition would not have have increased? Perhaps we need to think differently about undergraduate education which most Americans care about deeply and most academics at large state universities don't care much about?
Finally we as citizens are to blame for this mess. We want low taxes, fast food and easy money and we do not want any sacrifice. In 1964 the California System was free to all its students asw a public good. The average California resident paid a higher percentage of their income in income taxes to the state, and students did not have any debt this was an investment is the future. Since that time we have decided that education is not an investment worth making in the future and so we have made our children debtors and our universities hostage to tax policies that are destroying them.
The most dynamic part of our nation is not its factories or soft ware companies the real engine of innovation are our universities. If you take the top 150 American universities and the top 50 liberal arts colleges these places gave us; Nuclear Power, the Internet, the Hearing Aid, Heart Valves, Cell Phones, Rockets, Jet Engines, Plant Hybrids, Google, Windows and a million other innovations . All these things were not developed by corporations or Chinese industrialists but by some geek in their dorm room or lab and without Universities we as a nation will surely go into deeper decline.
So why can't Academics, States and Students realize that we all need to find a solution to this problem? Perhaps academics could revise the tenure system and the perks that are now out of step with reality?
Or is that too much to ask?
Perhaps students could get less gourmet food in the dorms, ipods and vacations and perhaps average citizens could realize that perhaps higher taxes are worth paying to preserve America's biggest advantage in the world?
Or is this too much to ask?
Is it too much to ask that instead of destroying our State University System and thus make a elite education only the province of the rich at private schools that we all sacrifice to preserve this essential American institution?
Is it too much to ask what in a cost of education caused it to rise so much? The average tuition us up 246% since 1965 at public universities what other product has risen that much in 40 years? There is a real solution to this problem and occupying buildings is not it.
And is it too much to try to stop this runaway train called America from careening off a cliff by a little sacrifice?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The reality of the Great Recession is that Men are being effected disproportionately. The reality presents a problem for the man as oppressor/woman as oppressed paradigm. It challenges assumptions that many have had for the past 40 years. Sure men in industrial jobs have been losing jobs for years by now so are the elite and this is a new thing for those who thought that they were "immune".
Most male poets are careful when it comes to gender conversations. In fact most male poets are more apt to be neutered when it comes to interactions within poetry circles. Better to not be seen as Sexist but I have have shied away from some direct talk. I have learned over time that gender is really central to everything- and I learned this from Feminist friends whom I love and respect.
My gender happens to be male and so this Recession is sitting upon us as males in a way that makes hope less of a reality. The Mancession is slowly bleeding many of us dry and we need to find a voice that we are not accustomed to using. We are not able as Men to talk about what it means to be marginalized because unfortunately we have never been marginal.
Perhaps now we can empathize with the Black man who is pulled over for no reason, or the woman who is ogled on the street or the transgender person who is humiliated and made fun of because now our gender and our group is becoming marginal.
Hetero-Sexual Men have never been comfortable looking at the world through a gender lense. We have always thought of ourselves as the bosses, professors, fathers, uncles, and leaders. Now, that our gender's best and brightest are being pushed to the margins we need a new language to talk about our reality.
I recently read the wonderful book by Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Aronowitz, Girldrive. The work was haunting and led me to think why don't we have more exposure of real people's realities like this?
In reading Girldrive I was struck by the impact of a book like this in many ways it is a companion piece to Mark Nowak's http://coalmountain.wordpress.com/ Coal Mountain exposes something that we do not normally see or experience about miners. There are few writers who use their great gifts to bring to light these types of stories.
As a person who is concerned about what is happening to my Gender in this Recession Aronowitz and Bernstein show us a way to try to understand what is happening to us and perhaps gives us a new language. For those of us new to the margins they are eye opening works of art.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
In front of me in line was a nice looking woman pretty typical of Oak Park, IL where I live.
You know Oak Park is allot like other towns of its ilk, Berkeley, California, Montclair, NJ, Bethesda, MD, lots of organic groceries, Liberals, New York Times bags on the front stoop in the morning.
My wife and I moved here as part of the Great Sort and we have liked it.
So back to the pretty woman at the grocery store- as we are waiting on line she is hiding her Credit card in her hand so that no one can see it. At the last moment she swipes it and it is revealed to be an Illinois Link Card (food stamps). With a moment of apparent embarrassment she quickly puts the card into her wallet and leaves the store quickly.
As she got into her Volvo, with the faded Obama '08 sticker on the outside I knew exactly how she felt.... at that moment
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Last night I could not sleep.
I find this to be a state I am in allot recently. The life of a tramp and the life of the poet tend to meld together and one realizes that trying to live two lives is not always possible.
Last night however on HBO they aired their documentary on the Schmatta (apparel)business in New York that is the Apparel and Fashion industry. As I watched it I could not help but remember the great quote by Martin Niemoller about Nazism
Monday, October 19, 2009
Documentary Poetics: Mark Nowak Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 6:30pm
In his spectacular book of Essays Oranges and Peanuts for sale Eliot Weinberger says something that many poets do not want made public- in the late 1960's many poets moved from politics to theory. Weinberger argues that this retreat by poets into academia and away from politics has removed poets from political discourse and left that field to others.
It is hard not to argue that point. Except for Sam Hamill's effort with Poets Against the War in 2001 most poets are much more comfortable in the library then on the barricades. One major exception is poet Mark Nowak who will be reading here in Chicago on Wednesday at Think Arts Gallery.
His new book Coal Mountain Elementary sits on a par with Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, Neruda's Canto General and even Walt Whitman as a chronicle of our world today in poetry and photographs. With his collaborator he bridges the gap between coal workers and places in the US and China and creates and masterpiece.
I have the honor of introducing Mark and I am sure that this reading will be worth the time to travel to Wicker Park. His work is always timely and politically engaged which makes his poems and the photographs of his collaborators essential reading for today.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
German minority and a fine poet and
writer has won the Nobel Prize.
Below is a list of the last 1o winners notice a trend?
2009 - Herta Müller-Romania/Germany
2008 - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio-France
2007 - Doris Lessing-UK
2006 - Orhan Pamuk-Turkey
2005 - Harold Pinter-UK
2004 - Elfriede Jelinek-Austria
2003 - J. M. Coetzee-South Africa
2002 - Imre Kertész-Hungary
2001 - V. S. Naipaul-Trinidad/UK
2000 - Gao Xingjian-France/China
1999 - Günter Grass-Germany
All these writers except for Orhan Pamuk and JM Coetzee are either European or based in Europe for many years. There are no North Americans, No Latin Americans, No South Asians, No East Asians, No Australians, one South African, one Turk, one Chinese person who writes in French, and a Trinidadian who has lived in the UK for many years.
It appears to me that the Nobel Prize has become a version of the New York Book Critics Circle which is normally an award for someone who lives in the five boroughs of New York. The Nobel for those who live in Europe.... what does Philip Roth, Don De Lillo, Mario Vargas Llosa or Bei Dao need to do?
Move to Europe...
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
For most of my life I have lived two parallel tracks. I returned to the US after living and working South America in 1998 and I have been both poet/critic and businessperson. The result of this dichotomy is that I could move between these two worlds picking and choosing my reality at will. It was a comfortable existence because you were never totally consumed by one or the other and this lead to innovations in my thoughts and a variety of influences. I spoke about this with Ron Silliman once that not being an academic allowed for more innovation and sense of being grounded in two worlds and he agreed. In this area I have always admired Ron and tried to emulate his efforts living my parallel lives.
The Dichotomy of parallel lives ended for me in January when I lost my job in the Tsunami that is the Great Recession. Immediately self reflection and the Nexus of change became reality and for me and I began to search for answers. I found some in books of course.....
I have always loved autobiographies, collected letters and memoirs. I find these books to be very revealing. In the way the Bible or Zen Koans give us guidence I find solace and inspiration in these types of books. I began by re-reading old favorites, St Augustine's Confessions, Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Pablo Neruda's My Life, and from these old friends I found some solace and some inspiration.
Then I moved on to other books, Nadezha Mandelstahm's Memoir, Kenneth Rexroth's Fictional Memoir which I have come to really treasure, The Duncan/Levertov Letters, William Everson's Autobiography, the Pound/Zukofsky Correspondence, the Camus Diaries and Letters and many other books.
Out of this melange of reflections I realized that I was standing at a nexus in my life. That I was being broken down and watching all that I knew being destroyed in front of me. All that was to be decided was whether this destruction would be creative or just plain destructive. The verdict is still out on that front. But one thing that has become clear to me is that for many of my literary heroes the key to their creativity and growth has been a lack of fear of what would happen if they dispensed with convention.
Rexroth's fictional memoir offers us a vision of poet on a quest that is inspiring because he did not lose his self worth as poet even in the fact of national depression. He continued to quest and search as a poet and that made his memoir interesting and inspiring. Merton, and Kerouac owe something to Rexroth. He is going through the same type of questing that they would go through in the 40's and 50's ten years earlier. These three writers for me encapsulate this type of Augustinian literature that in many ways in lacking in our society. For an unemployed executive/poet they offer much solace in times of despair.
Mark Tardi, recommended the works of Nicholas Mosley to me. I am reading Inventing God, Children of Darkness and Light and Hopeful Monsters. Normally Mark's recommendations are spot on. Mosley is a real brain fuck. Mosley is not light Sunday afternoon reading. But the one thing that comes out of this work is a sense of loss and a sense of piecing together what was once the established assumptions into a kind of Antonio Gaudi crockery work that makes some sort of crazy sense.
Mosley's books do not give solace but I am challenged and this too is good for someone reading at a Nexus in their lives. Robert Frost in his hackneyed poem Yellow Wood talked about two paths- but there are really hundreds and in our current environment these are full of minefields where one's legs can also be blown off without sentiment. I think that is what comes out in Mosley's books.
In the end what I have left is my writing and my literary life for what that is worth. As the rest of what I have known and assumed would always exist continues to melt slowly into the sea like a soft glacier the books are still there holding me and letting me know that something else has meaning and value.
It is in books that we will receive our answers- not by watching CNBC or reading Tarot Cards....
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
University of Iowa in the fall of 1985
I developed two interests
that would stay with me through
the next 24 years; College Football
and Thomas Merton.
I developed a love of College
Football because in 1985 Iowa
was #1 for 8 weeks and I attended some
of the greatest games ever played including
the 10-9 win over Michigan and so I was
hooked and to this day I look forward to
an Iowa football Saturday.
The other thing I gained a love for
was the writings of Thomas Merton. In 1985 all of the thoughtful and liberal
Catholics had not been driven out of the Church.
The Newman Center at Iowa was quite a place. It was where I met my first Worker Priest, my first Lesbian friend, and where I became aware of what a Catholic Worker really was. I also was introduced to Thomas Merton.
Merton is today still well read but not by many Catholics. Most Catholics today who are church goers prefer the revanchist EWTN version of the Church. The great Catholic traditions of
intellectualism and progressivism in the US are easily ignored as inconvenient. So Al Smith, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, John Courtney Murray are pushed to the side in favor of
I don't know what?
Having said that there is so much in Merton that is life affirming and during this time when I am in the midst of unemployment and financial stress his words still speak to me. When the first cold breeze comes in the fall- like now- I think about that part in the Seven Storey Mountain where he talks about the fever of October and how everything looks so good and how our blood is rushing faster and what it is like to be on a college campus in the fall- and I am soothed and reinvigorated.
When things seem so down and out I re-read New Seeds of Contemplation and let the small deep insights fill me with wonder and peace. Finally when it appears that all is lost I let Merton tell me that it is in suffering like our Lord suffered that we are truly human and close to His pain.
Merton does not believe in the Santa Claus Jesus that so many conservatives believe in . His Jesus is bigger and more complex. His Jesus lets us have all of the Human experience and Merton's writing lets us read Buddhism, Rumi/Sufism, Eastern Christianity and more as ways deepening our lives and really understanding our interior life.
Merton has gotten me through much. When I was living in Bolivia working the prison his works were with me. When I went through family problems his books soothed me. And now in this Great Recession his works remain a constant for me- like watching Iowa Football it is something that I acquired in Iowa City, over 20 years ago now, and it remains for me a constant amid stress and pain. His works are a constant contemplation.