Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 is Over Thank God


2009 is over- thank God. If ever I was happy to see the end
of a year 2009 is it. Early in 2009 I lost my job with Advanstar
Communications. The combination of the economy and corporate change seems to have effected so many people I care about. The
fact is that while the economy has seemed a little better many people
are still seeing their lives melt away.
In 2008 President Obama was elected and we all had so much hope. In 2009 President Obama did some good things- frankly without the
unemployment extensions and the COBRA subsidy I would have used
up my savings a long time ago.
But I think many of us were hoping for FDR or LBJ. We were hoping for a president who like Ronald Reagan would change the conversation. Many of us wanted the stupid red necks and their corporate enablers to be turned back that dream has been dashed.
As Americans we can hope that 2010 will be a better year for all of us including our dear President. I think President Obama would do better if he came home to Chicago more. Maybe getting out of Washington and talking to real people would help?
In the end I am glad 2009 is over. I am also glad that the decade of the zeros is over. Lets see what the future holds? and hope for better.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar Christmas

Normally during the Christmas season I write an uncomfortable reflection about Jesus as God with us.
I then get some nasty responses from people who think that Jesus is bunk and we all return to life as before. What makes Christianity different than other monotheistic faiths is that that God entered into history, lived with us died for us and knows what it means to be us he chose to make all creation sacred.
The Christian idea of God With Us- Immanuel makes allot of things sacred. God chose to be one of us and bless his creation. Destroying His creation and his creatures wantonly is a sin. The sin is Gluttony. This is the best argument I find with right wingers who argue against protecting the natural world. If you are in favor of unjust wars, environmental degradation, and violence then it seems that you are in fact contrary to what God ordained and you are among other things a glutton.
Christians throughout history have chosen to ignore what God ordained by his Incarnation and embrace gluttony and sin. They have justified all manner of evil. A few have chosen to make gentleness and reverence for Creation important and reject gluttony- St Francis, Charles de Foucoult, Bartolome de Las Casas, Menno Simons and today the New Monastics come to mind. But normally we get tomes about "sexual purity" or "morals" and nothing about the sin of Gluttony that kills millions of people, animals and plants every minute of every day.
Yesterday, I went to see the new movie Avatar. Normally movies are experienced and then I move on but I cannot get the images and ideas of this film out of my mind. The film is a conviction of our world as it is today a world of Gluttons.
Forgetting about the fabulous images and special effects Avatar is an advocacy film of the first order. It challenges gluttony against the natural world and makes it very clear what is wrong with our current Capitalist/Industrial model. The mining scene in the movie evokes the copper mines of Chile and the Tin Mines of Bolivia. The attitudes of the humans in story are very close to many business executives I have known in my life- get the money, walk over anything, rape, pillage and forget about the consequences Gluttony of the first order rather than the kind of husbandry and care.
The difference between someone who cares for and cherishes people and land and water and air and makes the world a better place and those who will consume everything and then dump their garbage in the sea. It is not evil to make money but in the service of money much evil has been done and it is not wrong to point that out and ask is it necessary?
Avatar argues that the created world is sacred and should be cherished and respected rather than used until destroyed. This is an incarnational way of seeing the world and fits well into this season of Christmas. Avatar exposes the lie that we can do whatever we want with the created world.
It also makes real what happens everyday in our world vis a vis our environment. The fact is that our current Capitalist/Industrial is not only destroying our world but it is in fact sinful is lay ed out on the screen and it disturbing in the way Holocaust films are disturbing.
Avatar makes its world view very clear. It also evokes what happened in the past when those who were more powerful got what they wanted. You feel that you are seeing the destruction of the Incas and the carnage of Potosi again. You feel like you watching the African Slave trade and the destruction of the millions of Hispanola again and you want to cry out. It is not a naive evocation of a "nature people" as some have said. So many times we patronize native peoples for example as more in touch with nature and that is really false. The Capitalists are not always evil but since gluttony is rewarded capitalism makes these evils possible.
Avatar says everything should not be exploited and we should not be gluttons. This message will probably be shouted down by those who think that gluttony is all necessary to make our lives more efficient and more profitable you know the "Greed is Good" Crowd. They have been in Washington opposing Health Reform, Environmental Reform and more. I am surprised we have not had entire Glenn Beck programs about the evils of Avatar but that must be coming soon.
I for one was moved. I could see my heroes people like Dorothy Day, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, John Muir and others saying to the screen yes, yes that is what God wants. I hope the message penetrated better because of the 3D and the digital images but it is still the same message .... Immanuel God With Us

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I Hate the Amazon Kindle

Every time I see this ad for the Amazon Kindle
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

Poetry in Chicago is a Small Pond Lacking Oxygen

I have not been very active in the Chicago Poetry Scene this year. Being unemployed and trying to get on with life my energy has been sapped and I am trying to just keep things together.

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

In this Season of Hope the Church Continues to Ignore Evil

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/opinion/07mon2.html?ref=opinion

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 is Convicted Gets 25 Years



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?



http://www.theatlanticwire.com/opinions/view/opinion/4-Problems-With-the-Amanda-Knox-Trial-1800

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

The Swiss Ban Minarets.... God Bless The First Amendment

The nation of Switzerland known for
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

Jack Myers 1941-2009

http://writersgarret.org/jackmyers.shtml

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

Thanksgiving

For all the pain of the last year there is much to be thankful for....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

University of California System Protests, What it Says About America

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/18/california.tuition.protest/

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

Mancession. Feminism and New Voices

I recently complained about the fact that so many poets are ignoring the current situation and that they continue on their self absorbed way to irrelevance and separation from reality.

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?

http://www.girl-drive.com/

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

1989 Fall of Berlin Wall as Metaphor for Today









On November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. I was a senior in college and one of my friends in Iowa City was an East German Pharmacy Student- she had never been to West Germany and
wondered what would happen? My friend today is a mom of three in Hamburg- and Berlin is a united city. We all thought that we were entering a new world of harmony. That world lasted for 10 years. We all thought that the world was a new place and that freedom would reign.
The Berlin Wall existed because of choices made by Germans during the Great Depression of the 1930's. During those times nations made choices that defined their national characters. They destroyed old relationships the Italians ceded their freedom for the security of Fascism, the Spanish had a destructive Civil War and then chose Fascism, the Russians purged their society in what was called Communism but was Totalitarianism all the same and the Germans chose Nazism as their panacea. They blamed the Jews and Communists for their fears.

It said allot about the American character that during the same time when the Germans were choosing Hitler we chose Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. But as we look back on the fall of the Berlin Wall which was created as a result of Europe being divided by the end of World War 2 and fear of the Germans I am now wondering about this moment and how it will play out over time.

It can be argued that the Great Recession that we are experiencing is the most unsettling challenge to the established order since the 1930's. All of the assumptions that people in the West have are now under assault. As with the 1930's old powers are being beaten down and new powers are emerging.
The big question that needs to be asked is how America will respond to this change? President Obama's response was to reach out to the world and realize that we need to invest in our people. The Republicans have decided that the response is jingoism and myopia. In many ways American politics is beginning to look like German politics in the 1930's with more extremism and more propaganda.
This lack of consensus was created during the 1980's. Conservatives in the 1980's decided that the American consensus was wrong. They decided that more freedom meant economic anarchy rather than individual freedom. They decided that Labor Unions and Intellectuals were the problem and so Conservatives decided that if Wall Street wanted to go wild, or companies wanted to fire all their workers and move production overseas that was Okay.
One group of people think that it is sensible that everyone gets basic health care another group thinks that ANY health care reform is an attack on their freedom, even if that freedom will result in the suffering of others. One group of people believe that it is okay to profile and vilify 6 million loyal Muslim Americans because 4 Muslim Americans, three soldiers in Kuwait in 2003 who threw a grenade into a tent and one Muslim man at Ft Hood last week committed acts of terror and horror. One group believes that whatever big corporations do is okay even if they steal, cheat and lie as long as there are free markets while another group believes that these corporations have obligations to society. These two world views are becoming more pronounced in this Great Recession.
17.5% of the American electorate is Unemployed or Underemployed that means 51 Million people. Those 51 million people is roughly the same population as France. Eventually these 51 million people are going to get angry wanting to know why their lives have been destroyed? In the 1930's the Germans faced a similar situation they chose Hitler. The US also faced a situation like this and we chose FDR. The Germans in the 1930's chose to blame the Jews and Communists for their pain when it was the other powers who caused the pain. They created scapegoats and marched and protested- much like the Tea Party Protestors today.
Now that we face a similiar situation and what will be the result and reaction? What will 51 million people do? How will they vote? Will we get FDR or Hitler? It seems to me that this choice is clearly before us and both paths are available. One leads to the Berlin Wall and one does not.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Poet's Great Recession





I wrote a blog-post last week about poetry and poet's responses to the Great Recession moment. One poet who commented was my friend Sina Queyras- oh if only there were more poets like her..I got some comments from poets whose work has always been a response to our current situation but going back to the essay I quoted by Eliot Weinberger one of the issues that has made the 30 year Reagan Revolution that caused this meltdown has been that intellectuals and thinkers gave up on fighting for what we believe in and retreating into Volvo laden comfort.
I have critiqued many American poets and writers and their penchant for intellectual masturbation. It is funny that this summer that Poetry Magazine chose to do issues on Flarf and Conceptual poetry. If ever there was a corporate confirmation of where the powers that be want poetry to dwell here it is this fact.

I look around at my poetic brethren and I wonder when someone is going to use their great gifts to challenge our societies values and create a challenge to the Ayn Randization of verything. In other regions poets and intellectuals have been an important challenge to these types of policies.

In Latin America Conservatives in the US forced Neo-Liberal economics on developing nations. The only country where this worked was Chile and even there poverty grew. In
other nations it resulted in disaster. But other nations most markedly Brazil under President Lula DeSilva said no. They spent money on people and they have a growing economy. Brazilian intellectuals and poets were part of these discussions.

Throughout the 1970's 80' and 90's Conservatives systematically dismantled Education, Labor Unions, Universities, and every other bulwark against the current situation we find our selves in.
Our response as writers and poets was to retreat into our own world ignoring these realities. The real poetry of those times was written in Flint. Michigan and Kannapolis, North Carolina not Iowa City and Berkeley . No one listened to the real poetry - and no one listened to the poetry written in Iowa City or Berkeley either.

I now sit here as a poet within this Great Recession.

I am dealing with the realities of this Great Recession --every morning I wake up and every night before I go to sleep. I see good honest people watching their lives melt away and I wonder is there a John Steinbeck or Cesar Vallejo out there writing?
Or are they writing about something that will get them published in small magazines and jobs in MFA programs? I wonder why our greatest minds did not say anything years ago? or why no one listened to those who did?

I for one am listening and what I hear is a deafening silence...




Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One Year of Barack Obama


Barack Obama was elected a year ago today.
The country is in Decline the waste and criminality of our past president Dick Cheney has come home to roost.
I voted for Barack because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and now a year later I am exhausted.
I am watching friends and family lose everything they own.
I am watching America unravel and yet the big money people on Wall Street seem to be doing well. Why don't you attack them the way FDR did?
President Obama are you listening?
I support you totally but where is the hope and where is the change?
President Obama stop listening to the people who caused this mess and crush them.
President Obama all of us are still out here but we are allot poorer and weaker.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Our Response to the Great Recession Moment




Poet Mark Nowak was in Chicago last week promoting his new book which chronicles the realities of coal miners in Sego, West Virginia and China. The book is haunting. An interesting work that brings voice to groups of people who ignored by poets and by the rest of society. When I encounter a poet like Nowak I think allot about Poetic/Political activism and it is not hard to compare Americans in general to other poets in other lands and see a difference.
The recent Nobel Prize winner for example (Herta Muller) made her name opposing the Communist regime of Romania. Her work was banned for years and she was a prophetic voice. It makes one wonder about our prophetic voices?
I was asked to introduce Mark Nowak and I chose to use a quote from a speech that Eliot Weinberger- Critic and Essayist- included in his new volume of essays Oranges and Peanuts for sale. I chose this quote because in many ways Nowak is the antithesis of this critique .
"We are where we are in part because of American Writers--- supposedly the most articulate members of our society-- have generally had nothing to say about the world for the past 30 years. How many of the 8000 poets in the Director of American poets have ever been to a Third World Country (except for Beach Vacations) How many think it worthwhile to translate something? How many can name a contemporary poet not living in the US, in Latin America, Asia or Africa? In Short how many know more about the world than George Bush Knows?"
I have often argued that the lack of critique in poetry in America is one of the things holding back the art form. Apart from Mr Weinberger and Marjorie Perloff poetry in America normally is not taken seriously by critics. There are few if any poets in America who have social relevancy the way an Allen Ginsberg had in the 1950's.
This is not as true outside the US in the same way. In my recent experience translating Brazilian poets I have found that while less poetry in actually bought in Brazil than in the US poets have more relevancy. Poets like Regis Bonvicino or Maria Ester Maciel are figures of cultural relevance and their ideas are more readily available in ways American poets are not. The idea of "poet" is different in those places.
In Oranges, Weinberger includes a speech he gave at the poetry project regarding poets and poetry since the late 1960's. The quote above is from that talk. He brings up a reality that I think today needs to be addressed in light of our current Great Recession and that is the poet's place within a political/economic discussion.
Weinberger argues that most American poets are myopic and self centered and that we do not even know about global writing much less spend time translating that writing. He also argues that most poets are ignorant of the greater world and that this has contributed to poets marginalization. He also forcefully argues that the MFA politics scene is part of the problem.
Weinberger brings some very valuable points. but there are some great exceptions however the following presses and poets are exceptions ; Action Yes (website), Action Books, Aufgabe, Circumference, Dalkey Archive Press, Mandorla Ugly Duckling Presse,Moria (Website)Burning Deck, Kenning Editions, Jennifer Scappettone Daniel Borzutsky, Matvei Yankelvich, Jen Hofer, Patrick Durgin, Mark Tardi, Kristin Dykstra,William Allegrezza, E Tracy Grinnell, and many others.
While there are major exceptions most American poetry presses and poets are not interested in the greater world and are not really politically engaged either. Many poets have retreated into academia or proto academia and dwell there not engaging the larger world. But that false safety is now under assault and the assault requires a response.
The University system in the US in the humanities is being assaulted by the economic realities of the Great Recession as colleges and foundations run out of money. While science and social science can generally argue for their importance in research it is hard to argue for the creative writing faculty and win a funding argument with say Sociology or even History.
The result is that while poetry and literary criticism was on the margins now are they be pushed into oblivion? This is a real possibility and so these questions become even more important.
Weinberger in his essay of 2003 argues that American poets in their myopia and careerist tracks have de fanged poetry's power to be prophetic and to challenge the social order. I would argue that in many ways poetry and poets are part of the social order and so cannot challenge it.
Unlike visual artists and novelists who can generate capital for their work and challenge the existing order poets are dependent on universities and foundations to survive. Being too prophetic might mean no money. Just look at our most prominent poetic institutions; The Poetry Foundation is a corporate entity and will never challenge in that way; Many poets of note are University professors and they are in a position where large institutions hold their futures in check. How does one challenge a social order that you benefit from? In the end it is a deadly circle. Poetry and poets do not have large paying audiences so they are dependent on institutions that are part of the establishment and so poetry and poets who are activists like Mark Nowak are few and far between.
I think in many ways Weinberger's critique in his essay and my critique here is not totally fair. The reality is that poets like Mark Nowak who are politically engaged benefit from both worlds. They are academics and activists and these two things together are kind of their schtick. If they were just activists they would not be listened to, hell Michael Moore makes multi million dollar films and no one listens to him.
A slam poet like Kevin Coval for example has the schtick of activist and performer. This means that he gets to eat and be an activist. Being able to eat is a powerful force in one's life. In the end it is all about building a great life.
Much of the poetic infrastructure today is not set up to critique society. What normal American Poet who has a family or a regular job can afford to take off a month to go to the MacDowell colony? Could a poet like Robert Creeley or Kenneth Rexroth even become part of the conversation with the structure as it now exists?
This means that only a certain sort of poetry gets read and certain vision is seen. In the end why be a political activist if it does not pay off? You are not going to be listened to. Why translate other's work? There is so little poetry translated in this country that the last two Nobel Laureates work is generally unavailable in English.
So what is to be done?
In our current global situation there are allot of people who are just surviving and whole swathes of presses and poets are hanging on by their fingernails. I know from my own experience that small presses that are normally run by the owners putting in their own money are cutting back and retrenching because of the economy.
In academia the current structure is under assault even the U. California system once the greatest in world is under draconian cuts- where will these scholars go? What presses will exist after this is over? At the top 500 Universities in America the the total amount full time professors is about 600 according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed in Creative Writing and and not all of those are poets.
According to Weinberger there are over 7000 poets in the Directory of American poets. So what are the other 6000 poets doing? Weinberger argues for the internet ,activism, translation and globalism and these things are valid and interesting but is their more to be done?
I would argue that we as poets need to ask ourselves this question?
Can the poetry written in this moment to respond to the Great Recession?
Recent poetry 'movements' in America like Conceptualism and Flarf have been essentially inside baseball that does not reach out to the greater world. Are these sufficient responses? I have argued that in the age of Obama irony is dead. But what is to replace the last 30 years or are we to move more toward more irrelevancy?
Modernism was magisterial and possessed many big projects, Post Modernism was cluttered and flustered, Language Poetry is important but I will wait for Barrett Watten to tell me its significance.
All these movements had within them responses to their moments.
What will be our response to the Great Recession moment?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Strange Moment at the Grocery Store Today

So today I went to the grocery store- our local Dominick's which used to be locally owned but is now owned by Safeway- as is everything else in Chicago.

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

Schmatta- The World We Have Created

http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/schmatta/index.html

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

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I remember when I was kid and the huge manufacturing concerns around Chicago began to close, US Steel in Chicago, Westinghouse in Cicero, Brach's Candy in Chicago, the great mail order houses, Spiegel, where my Dad worked, Alden's, Montgomery Ward, and so many others. I watched as middle class people became lower class. I watched as the Working Class melted away and no one cared no one fought for those people.
We were told that the new "globalized" America would be richer and that all those people losing jobs would be better off. That we would all now work in offices and that we did not need Unions to protect us because we were all free Agents. We would make more money. While we became enamoured of Microsoft and Apple it became apparent that what was being created was an Oligarchy. Technology is fungable and movable and in the end India and China were allot cheaper so we became poorer. In 2009 5% of America owns 95% of its real wealth. The rest of us have Debt.
HBO's Documentary Schmatta talks about the growth in New York of the Garment Center.
It chronicles unionization and professionalization and how 'productivity' resulted in the destruction of the business. This could be transposed to a whole slew of industries in America, Shoes, Furniture, Newspapers, Education, Steel, Autos and more. It was the goal of the corporate titans and their allies to make as much money as possible, which they did. The costs were not important I remember everyone saying "as the market dictates" . Which really means I got mine for you... nothing.
MyDad was in the apparel business he was Director of Sourcing for Spiegel Catalog. I grew up and benefited from a professional industry that paid workers well and allowed my family to have the so called "american dream". My Dad was formed in the world of New York's Schmatta business and knew that world and the world of southern apparel manufacturing very well.
My early life was filled with interesting characters who sold socks, underwear, pajamas and suits. Most of them were Jewish some were Italian like my Dad but it was a culture that employed thousands in the US. Most of these guys worked really hard and did well.
One statistic of interest in the show was that in 1990 85% of all the apparel sold in the US was made here, by 2009 only 5% was made here. For all those people who made the 85% of apparel here what did they do when the jobs left? Whole job categories apart from the sewers have been exported off shore. Thousands of skilled pattern makers, designers, fabric designers and sales people are without work. Whole industries like trims and printing have been out sourced.
What was once the fashion capital, New York, is now just a memory as that world has moved to China to use child labor and slave labor to make a profit. It was moving to see the men and women who worked in apparel who put there kids through college who now are jobless. People who are skilled and worked hard who have been discarded.
Michael Moore's work on the Auto industry compares to what this film does. It illustrates what has happened to the solid, hardworking people that so many of us originate from and how that world has disappeared. The world that I grew up in no longer is possible.
My father started out after the military working for Sears. He learned the garment business and moved up in that world. Later he was one of the first people to take his lines "off shore" which first meant Puerto Rico and then Hong Kong. As he was 'innovating" he was also digging out the foundation of his world.
Short term gain resulted in long term devistation.
So when I refer to Martin Niemoller's quote I think about all the industries that have been taken away and no one said anything...
First they Came for the Shoe Industry and I said Nothing Because I did Not Make Shoes
Then they Came for the Apparel Industry and I said Nothing Because I did not Make Apparel
Then they Came for the Steel Industry and I said nothing because I did not make steel
Then they Came for the Car Industry and I said nothing because I did not make cars
Then They Came for the Printing Industry and I said nothing because I was not a Printer
Then they Came for the Newspaper Industry and I said nothing because I did not Write for a Paper.
Then they came for the Furniture Industry and I said nothing because I did not make furniture
Then they came for the College Professors and teachers and I said nothing because I did not teach.
And when they came for me there was no one left to speak for me....
What have we gained?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mark Nowak in Chicago October 21st

Poetry Center of Chicago 37th Annual Reading Series

Documentary Poetics: Mark Nowak Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - 6:30pm

TH!NKART Gallery: 1530 N. Paulina, Suite F, Chicago IL

http://www.bookforum.com/review/4016

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Oranges-Peanuts-Sale-Directions-Paperbook/dp/0811218341

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Coal-Mountain-Elementary-Mark-Nowak/dp/1566892287/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255986611&sr=1-1

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

A Football Saturday in Mid October


Everything today is hyper. Cokes are huge, burgers enormous, ever game is over hyped to the point that simple pleasures are ignored. Having said that there are simple things that are so pleasurable and so clean that it is hard to make them better with hype.
A fine meal made by someone you love is always better than a $200.00 meal. A 3-1 Ballgame in mid summer with lots are great base running is still relaxing and stimulating. An afternoon spent in a great bookstore- like Seminary Co-op or Prairie Lights or Harvard Bookstore -is so pleasant. But one of the most pleasant and satisfying things is a Football Saturday in October.
Tomorrow we are going to the Iowa Wisconsin game in Madison.
Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, smash mouth football played in the Midwest- what could be better? A football game in the Big Ten is a sacramental moment. 70 or 80 people who for a few fleeting hours get to feel that they are young again and go back in time. I look forward to tomorrow and simple pleasure of a football Saturday in Mid October,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

2009 Nobel Prize for Literature- Another European Surprise, Surprise

Herta Muller, a member of the Romania's
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

Reading at a Nexus



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

Chicago's Loss as a Metaphor for America











The moment that Chicago was eliminated today unceremoniously in the first round
of voting right wing bloggers like Michelle Malkin and Matt Drudge began their
laughter and laughing about Chicago's loss as if it was not America's loss as well. They are delighting in America's failure.
Completely separate from the efficacy of Chicago having the Olympic Games in 2016 the way that the games were lost and the reactions of so many of President Obama's opponents to
the failure is symptomatic of what America has become. In the past nations like Brazil which incidentally won the games, and they were united and excited about the honor for their nation.
I kept thinking as the Right wing screed against Obama's going to Copenhagen went on can you imagine this happening in FDR's America? or JFK's or even Ronald Reagan's? Ever since Bill Clinton was elected both the Right and the Left in America have decided that the other side has no legitimacy. Clinton was impeached for a blow job. Yet wouldn't we all love Clinton's economy now. President Bush won his election under a cloud and then used the tragedy of 9/11 to politicize American's love of country. The reaction by the left was to demonize Bush and the cycle of hate continued. Now President Obama is being treated by the Right wing media machine the same way.
America is divided one group clings to their Religion, Guns and Nascar and the other group clings to Volvos, Whole Foods and NPR. We have even moved into a "Great Sort" so we do not even live near our political adversaries.
As part of the delight from the Right on Chicago's loss is the delight of southern Congressmen that a big northern America city has been bloodied by this vote. It seems that this is the same reaction to the economy. Michigan, bad because they have Unions, California, Bad because they are liberals, Illinois Bad, because Obama is from here.
I keep thinking that when I am an old man I will remember what it was like to be middle-class living in a visionary country which no longer exists because of petty political games.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What I am Reading- Kharms and Nowak


What am I reading? Allot of Slavic literature....
I spent August reading through all of Mandelstahm whom I have loved since college and now I am reading Matvei Yankelevich's masterpiece of translations and Daniil Kharms.
Here is another poet/author whose work is all but ignored in the United States. But along with Witold Gombrowitz and Viktor Shklovsky this Kharms is a real treat and Yankelevich's translations are masterpieces of poetry in their own right.
The first part of the book are short prose poems that could also be stories or even flash fiction, Then there are fine formal poems and the book opens and expands until one is totally enthralled with its depth and verve. Along with Mandelstahm Kharms was murdered by Stalin. This is something that needs to be proclaimed loudly when people dare to say they are Marxists. I for one am now a Kharmsist as I am a Gombrowitzist and a Shklovskyist before him. Go out and buy this book it is all the poetry you need to get through our raw times....
I am also reading Mark Nowak's Coal Mountain Elementary. I have the honor of introducing Mark later this month at a reading of the Poetry Center of Chicago http://www.poetrycenter.org/?q=node/917 Of all the poets writing in the American idiom today Nowak is one of the few who can hold a candle to great Latin American poet activists. This book is a tour de force. It is about Coal Miners in China and the US and great photos by Malaysian photographer Ian Teh. The book illustrates the weakness in so much of today's poetry. It lacks both a global focus and a political conscience. This is a book to bend the genre and to show to a world what really matters before the world....

A Reflection on Thomas Merton and College Football

When I was a freshman at the
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.