Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cook County: Barack Obama's America

It has been 100 days since Barack Obama was inaugurated and I have watched over the past few days ad nauseam reflections on what the Obama Presidency Means. I have not heard the obvious- America is becoming more like Cook County.

While to many in the South and West the idea of Chicago Politics seems alien and filled with strange names and ideas the basics of Chicago politics now define America. In Chicagoland as 0ur region is called there are Democrats and Republicans but they seem to agree on most issues.

  • Government exists to provide services.
  • Politics is a place where government, business elites and Labor cut up a pie.
  • The job of public servants is to make sure that the garbage is picked up and the streets are clean and things run well.
  • Graft is tolerated as long as these things get done.
Quality of life is central to what drives Chicago politics. Anyone who comes here in the summer will be dazzled by the parks, flowers and beaches. Chicago is about quality of life and this means higher taxes and graft and city workers- but also the fact that the parks, libraries, and alleys run well makes a difference for average Chicagoans.

In the end what matters in Chicago are public spaces and this seems to matter to Barack Obama.

Since Ronald Reagan was elected public spaces have been derided as wasteful. The Conservative movement has been about the private. Government should leaves me alone. I should be able to make as much money as possible. My neighborhood is gated and the parks and pools are private and public spaces are neglected. Our ideal has been Scottsdale or Plano Texas not Chicago or New York.

I will never forget when I lived in Dallas and I went to the main library. It was filled with homeless men and was shabby and dirty. Compare that to the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago- which is a palace- and you can see the difference between a Cook County vision and the Conservative vision of America. Sure the Cook County vision is not always graft free but there are great services. In Conservative America you get no services in fact you get what you pay for.

This sense of the public being important is why President Obama is supporting Green Energy, High Speed Rail and national health care. He cares more about public spaces. Many on the right especially in the South will find these ideas very alien. I will never forget again when I lived in Dallas all my colleagues who would go to Chicago for vacations in the summer. They would laud the parks and the culture but they did not want to pay for them in Dallas. In the end will America want to pay for what President Obama is proposing? It will mean less gated communities and less granite countertops but more public wealth.

It is true that entrepenurial America has given us Microsoft, Apple, Wall Street Titans and alike but has that really bettered the lives of the average American? In Chicago- my hometown- a Middle Class person can live, buy a house, go to a nice library, go to great parks and museums all for a moderate price. It is true our taxes are higher and our corruption and graft more evident but would I trade my lifestyle in Chicago for a much cheaper but more culturally meagre life in Texas?

I made a choice to return here.

So as President Obama brings some good Cook County to America. We can hope he can teach Washington DC to do better. If D.C.'s streets are clear of snow two hours after a storm we will know that Chicago style has come to America.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Giuliana's 39th Birthday

Today is my sister Giuliana's 39th Birthday.

I come from a family of magisterial women of which she is the latest.

My Great- Great Grandmother, Matilde has been dead since 1933 but her personality and things about her are still part of our lives. She was a titled woman and her strength is still with us.

My Great Grandmother Lucia, who I knew was the kind of person that everyone respected and who did for everyone and was held in esteem. She ran a business and took care of everyone but never in a soft way.

My Grandmother Matilde is a strong 95 year old who survived and thrived through World War, Depression and immigration. She gave us a template of what a strong woman is supposed to be. My Nonna Matilde and her sisters Gina and Dolores are the strongest people I have ever known.

My mother Lucetta comes from this same line. She is strong and forceful and in a take no prisoners style is able to manage everything in way that most are not.

In the end all of these women have always been the iron center of our lives and my sister, who turns 39 today carries this mantle.

Giuliana my sister is the mother of two great kids, Chiara and Luca. She is not only a great mom, wife and professional. She is also the kind of woman who is able to juggle and manage everything while remaining what is important the iron center of her family.

Softness has never been revered in my family. I wrote once that the women of my family are beautiful the way a sheer cliff in the Alps in beautiful and my sister comes from that genre of women.

So- on her 39th Birthday the last Birthday of her youth Giuliana- we celebrate.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Immortal Cupboard: Lorine Niedecker Film Review

On Friday night at Loyola University here in Chicago the new film project Immortal Cupboard by filmmaker Cathy Cook was screened. I must give the proviso that I have never had much affection for Niedecker but she is an important poet especially for a whole generation of Gen X poets who are my contemporaries. There are many midwestern poets who have been profoundly influenced by LN and Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee's great bookstore did a seminal conference a few years ago so she is in vogue at the moment.

The film Immortal Cupboard is at the same time innovative and conservative. It has lots of rich images and has a kind of post-modern Voices and Visions feel. If you have ever seen that PBS series there are lots of boots crunching snow and poems superimposed over lovely images of place. We are lead to understand the importance of her home and her ambient to her writing and this is important.
This film takes the genre a little further and also brings into play a sense of place for Ft Atkinson the Wisconsin town that Niedecker called home. The years she spent in Ft Atkinson are strongly described. The area where this film is weakest is in her intimate poetic relations. There are lots of images of her letters and poetry but there is little controversial here. Niedecker's real victimization by Louis Zukofsky is all but ignored. The fact that Zukofsky forced Niedecker to have an Abortion is not mentioned and I cannot but imagine that this caused pain to Niedecker?
The rejection of her poems as too personal for Zukofsky also must have stung but this is not mentioned?
I was also disappointed by the coverage of her relationship with Cid Corman and Objectivist poets. Her time in New York is described but not developed. I think that this weakness ignores her real community which was poets and letters. I also think that the coverage of her marriages is given short shrift
On the whole the film comes across as a meditation. It reminds me a little bit of the film A Great Silence about the Carthusian Monks. It is a homage to a fine poet and a great voice of the Midwest. But the omissions are glaring and I don't know if that will effect the validity of the film as scholarship?
When I asked the filmmaker about these omissions she was clear that she chose to ignore these realities. How is it possible that a 30 year correspondence- and an intense romance that resulted in much pain and abuse for Niedecker is not explored fully? This is the Achilles heel of this film. It would be like ignoring Pound's Fascist period as unimportant.

As a work of art this film is beautiful but the omission of the Zukofsky effect makes it flawed and makes one wish someone would do a film on Niedecker's most important relationship. I would urge the Filmmaker- who said that work is still being created to rethink her omission of these painful realities and add them to her fine film and give us a picture of Niedecker which is three dimensional rather than two dimensional.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Four Essential Books for the Jobless Poet

It is obvious to those of us currently unemployed and suffering through the rot of our current decline that we are entering a new world.

The world that produced the American hubris of the past 40 years has ended Also much of the triumphalism of American poetry and letters of the past years has become passe or anachronistic and it seems we need something new.

I wrote a few months ago that it is impossible now to be ironic in the age of Obama. The spate of 'ironic' movements from Language Poetry to Flarf that have been energized by irony and a sort of intellectual snarkiness have become dated .
Being both a poet and an unemployed business professional has given me time to think about what that world might look like. I find that the ironic does not work in the bones anymore. I find myself looking for new and old ways. I want insights that feed the current situation.
Four books that I have recently read have given me some insight into what might be possible in a new world-view. America as a nation has become more serious and frankly more scared --we need to ask more questions.

I am not interested anymore in the commentary from the sidelines. I am however interested in commentary on where we are going and what we need to understand. I have found these books helpful.

MARCOM-The Mirror in the Well

Micheline Aharonian
Dalkey Archive Press
isbn: 978-1-56478-511-4

Micheline Aharonian begins her novella Marcom with quotes from the likes of Ovid, Buber, Anne Carson, Clarisse Lispector, Octavio Paz. It is this global literature sense that informs this book. I think that Marcom in many ways is the first book of our new literary world and I hope that poets and writers read it with interest because this book bears the future.
This book which is based on a love triangle and a zombie marriage and is the best estimation of our current American situation I have read. Marcom could be called a 'sex book' or a 'dirty book' but I think in many ways it has its antecedents in Tropic of Cancer. It uses great prose, almost poetic language, to define an era. I think that when the history of this period is written Aharonian's book will be listed as seminal- forgive the pun.
The lack of moorings for the characters in this book give us a sense of the world in which we live. It just loosens everything and we understand that the old world has passed away and we are now naked in the sun with no modesty and no covering.

The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

Fanny Howe
Greywolf Press
isbn: 978-1555-975203

In contrast to the future that is displayed by Aharonian, Fanny Howe's Winter Sun tells us where we have been. Howe's collection of essays is a description of writing and poetry as a vocation which is something that is not really a truism for most poets and writers today.

In the past many writers lived the kind of lives that allowed them to live in a vocation the way that St Augustine was able to live a lifestyle rather than a job.

Howe creates for us meditations that are almost religious in scope and show to the poet or writer what makes the vocation we share different. The poet (and she is a poet) also in the process defines a generation. She defines what motivated a group of writers from the end of the great World War 2 until today and for this I think her book will stand up as a Dénouement for generation of poets and writers that we all have loved.

The Winter Sun needs to be read along with other great books of essays or diaries. It has echoes of Shklovsky, Camus and Stein. It defines and age for us that is remote and yet near.

the five seasons of love
Joao Almino
Host Publications


One of the goals of Modernism was in Pound's phrase to "Make it New." No place in the world is more an embodiment of this mentality than Brasilia the faux city that was made to give Brazil a new capital. The city was built out of Oscar Niemeyer's vision of what a Modernist capital would look like and almost immediately the realities of the world smudged the clean rough edges.

Brazilian writer Joao Almino has been one of the most important chroniclers of this smudging. He has in his book the five season of love created a 'Romance' which is a the Brazilian word for novel. But in many ways this book is an Anti-Romance and a distopia. The love is cold and hard, the edges are rough and broken and this book deconstructs the Modernist's ideals to show us how empty we are. Ana/Diana from the five season of love embodies emptiness and questing of our time.

my vocabulary did this to me

The Collected Poetry if Jack Spicer

Edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian

Wesleyan U Press

Isbn: 978-0-8195-6887-8

Contemporary poets have created a Pantheon of poetic God's. In this Pantheon are many poets whose work is so important that it dwarfs much of what is written today. In that pantheon one poet whose entire output is small has continued to be included, Jack Spicer. The volume of his Collected poetry masterfully assembled by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian is less than 500 pages. It shows to contemporary poets and readers what a poet could be in mid 1950's America.

Ron Silliman, who has never preferred brevity to verbosity, said that this book is one of the most important books of poetry written in the past 50 years and I think he is correct. Here is a book that even an unemployed poet like myself can read and feel filled with the creativity and the sense of vocation. While Howe in her book gives us the Dénouement of this epoch here is the epoch is full flower as if we are seeing Solomon in all his splendor.

Out of destruction comes new life. When the old Roman Empire rotted away we got Hagia Sophia, Gregorian Chants, Gothic Architecture, Averroes, the Alhambra, and Rumi. These products of the rot lead to a new world. It appears that is what is happening here in our current Roman Empire. I have found meaning in these books and they have helped me to understand what is happening to our world both poetically and spiritually.

I do not think that when Augustine, Boethius or Cassiodorus were writing they realized that they were setting the stage for what was to come next. But I think that these books do something of what these late Antique/early Medieval authors did. They realize that we are entering something new and perhaps more simple. I think that this simplicity and coldness is going to be part of our future and I will return to these four books often for guidance on the way forward.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Great Recession at Three Months

It has been three months since the Great Recession began for me.

No one seems to want to say the truth that those who were running the economy failed their corporations. In many cases those who failed are still employed while millions of hard working people are jobless.

There is a divide in America between those who are incompetent (See Wall Street and Detroit) but who are taken care of with buyouts and employment contracts and the rest of us who get to see all we have worked for washed away because of their incompetence. Anyone reading this who has worked in a corporation knows what I am talking about.

I have some questions that I would like answered.
  • Why is it that we are hurt and they are not?
  • Why is it that the Union worker in Michigan or the middle manager on Wall Street is punished but the big wigs continue to have plenty of money?
  • Why is it that we are all not a lot angrier?
  • Why do we all continue to believe in a system that has failed most people?

In some ways the last three months have become monastic for me. I have tried to become as frugal as possible. I don't go out much so peripheral friends that I might see at a reading or a gallery opening are no more. Only a few good friends are left and I guess that is ok? I write alot more but it is darker and less interesting stuff I think?

I now have persistent worries. In my own family my brother in law lost his job recently. I worry about my niece and nephew and their family allot. Our situation is not good but we do not have children so survival is less complex than for my sister and her family.

I continue the daily ritual of applying for jobs- over 1200 of them since January. I have had four interviews so my batting average is obviously not that great. Employment reality is the plight of my social class- the manager class- we are falling and we don't know where the end is if ever. I returned to the USA in 1998 in the past four months all the growth in my retirement account has been eliminated. That means I essentially worked for 11 years for free even though I saved and invested.

The reality for me is that in a monastic way things are being stripped away. Things that I never needed are now gone and understanding what really matters has become central to survival. A focus on truth rather than facts is essential to survive all of this stress. I think about the Gospels allot especially the quote "look at the ravens neither do they sow or reap but the Lord God provides for them" but then I read Job and think perhaps that is what God has in mind for all of us?

What I have come to believe is that Generation X, my generation, bought into a fantasy. Our generation which has survived the .Com bubble, Housing Bubble and now we are surviving the Great Recession, were told that if we worked hard we too could be millionaires and have security. In reality our hard work gave security to our bosses while our generation is sinking. We all worked hard for nothing and our children will live more meagre lives because of our bosses gluttony. Gluttony is the problem and that is the reason all this pain has become reality.

The big lie is now obvious.

Our society chose to believe that we were all rugged individuals who owed nothing to our fellow citizens. We would take care of ourselves not depending on others, this is the biggest lie of them all.

Now the waste of the past twenty years has become obvious. The rich and powerful used the big lie to become even more rich and powerful and those of us in the middle gave away our youths for nothing.

It is time for a metanoia and that metanoia does not include Lexuses, granite counter tops, I pods or gourmet dinners.

A Metanoia is what we need.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Lord's Supper 2009

As a Catholic Holy Week and the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil) are the central holidays of our tradition. I for one love the drama of the Triduum.

I have written about this before but the most moving Holy Thursday I ever experienced was when I lived in Bolivia in 1995.
I worked in a men's prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The worker priest who I worked with Fr Benoit was doing the Holy Thursday Mass in the open courtyard of the jail. He decided that the congregants should wash the feet of the other inmates, especially focusing on those inmates that they most disliked.

I often think about Fr Benoit and that evening. Under a pouring rain thousands of desperate men washing the feet of others. Somehow it was the closest I have seen to the spirit of Jesus.
I have been to St Peter's in Rome and I have met saints and Popes but the simple act of washing feet in a prison in Cochabamba that was the true Metanoia moment.

During these tough times when many of us are watching our world melt it is important I think to remember what truly matters. I often think about sacrifice about St Francis, leaving his clothes in the Plaza and retreating to the mountains to rebuild God's temple. What quote did Francis use "look at the ravens neither do they sew or reap but the Lord God provides for them..."

So sacrifice puts our suffering in perspective. The three days of the Triduum show us that sacrifice and betrayal are part of our lives. This is not the plasticine life that we see on television but the life of service and sacrifice that was demonstrated by Fr Benoit to me in Bolivia years ago and by Francis 800 years ago.

Yet Easter is still to come and we need to remember that there is rebirth.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Reading that Mattered: Raul Zurita in Chicago

Friday night at the Instituto Cervantes the Guild Complex presented a reading by Chilean poet Raul Zurita. This important poet's work has been masterfully translated by Chicago's own Daniel Borzutzky and the books are eagerly awaited.

Raul Zurita comes out of a poetic tradition of protest that includes among others, Nicanor Parra, Regis Bonvicino, Affonso Avila, Pablo Neruda, & Ernesto Cardenal.

His masterpiece 'Anteparaiso” ranks with Neruda's Canto General and Eduardo Galleano's work as the definitive postmodern epics of the Americas. If Walt Whitman has an heir it is Zurita and his work fills the room.

The fact that Daniel Borzutsky, a prominent member of our poetry community here is Chicago chose to translate Zurita's work bodes well for more of his work reaching a thoughtful audience in English in the US. Daniel is to be commended for his good work.

The reading on Friday was a tour de force. Zurita's words flowed out like honey on metal tiles. He brought before us the sheer depth and altitude of the Andes. I imagine this is what listening to Vallejo must have been like. I could not help but give Maestro Zurita a standing ovation. I was a bit dismayed that the entire room did not stand and cheer. I imagine that is because they do not understand Spanish (even though the translations were masterpieces in their own right). I for one was moved to my core.

Having spent allot of time translating Brazilian poets in my career I find that working in the Andean-Castillian idiom (rather than the Spanish Language) as it is expressed in Chile to be a challenge. Chile is kind of the New York Yankees of poetry scenes. With less than 14 million people Chile has produced Mistral (Nobel winner) Neruda (Nobel Winner) Parra and Zurita. Chile is a place where poetry has mattered for a long time and for Zurita to be so important in that sea of excellence expresses how important he is as a poet.

I am not sure if the attendees at the reading realized how important this reading was. I for one will not easily forget Raul Zurita's evening in Chicago.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

2009 Poet's Baseball Preview

The country is in depression,

I am unemployed and scrambling for work and yet there is hope on this second day of April because we are close to opening day.

This will be my 41th opening day being born in May I missed my first in 1967. It is a appropriate that I was born in that year because in 1967 the White Sox were in first place all summer only to lose at the end of the year setting a tone for my beloved Sox that would continue until 2005.

In Chicago where I live- we have two baseball teams. The Cubs whose fans are beautiful and whose most famous fan is Rod Blagojevich.

The Sox whose fans are a little mutilated but whose most famous fan is our dear president Barack Obama. As President Obama said last year on the south side there is real baseball.

Who am I to argue with the President?

I always get angry at the various baseball previews so I thought why not I will write my own so here we go. I will add the poetic to each;

National League East

The teams of the NL East are varied. They include the New York Mets, who are now rather poetically playing in a replica of Ebbets Field and just for the gesture of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda should be lauded, the Philadelphia Phillies whose new ball park is great, the Washington Nationals who are so bad they are channeling the 1962 Mets, the Atlanta Braves who play in a great ballpark in a city where no one cares and the Florida Marlins who have won two world series and whose fan base would rather not sit outside in the summer pea soup to see them win.

Here are my Picks

New York

National League Central

The NL Central is what I like to call the pathetic division because it contains the Cubs and the Pirates. It is made up with the Chicago Cubs whose fanbase and go Cubs go song is so annoying that I want to rip the skin off my face every time I hear it, to the magisterial St Louis Cardinals whose whole franchise oozes Stan Musial and class, to the Milwaukee Brewers whose stadium is a delight and everyone in America should see the Klement’s Sausage race once. The Houston Astros who we (White Sox) crushed in the World Series but hell you have access to great barbecue and strip clubs in Houston to finally poor pathetic Pittsburgh which makes one want to clone Roberto Clemente so that Pittsburghers can remember what greatness is. H

Here are my Picks

St Louis

National League West

In contrast to the NL Central the NL West is the Happy Division. Who would not be happy to play your games in Baseball’s prettiest stadium, (Dodger Stadium), Baseballs best positioned park (ATT Park in SF), its best Dome, Chase Field in Houston, its highest park, Coors Field or its nicest city San Diego with its enormous Petco Park? Where the NL Central is filled with Angst the NL West is just happy and why not?

Here are my Picks

San Francisco
Los Angeles
San Diego

American League East

Now we move to the Major Leagues. The American League East is made up of the two teams that ESPN spends all its airtime on, the Yankees and Red Sox and three other teams that they ignore. The fact is however that this is a great division but that the Yankees recent spending spree will end up for nothing and in the end Joe Girardi will spend the off season in Evanston with his sick father looking for a job. By the way they built a new Yankee Stadium where the priciest seat is $3400 dollars I bet allot of those have been sold.

Here are my Picks

Tampa Bay
New York

American League Central

Our division could best be called the recession division. With Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland all bearing the brunt of the Great Recession I wonder how many tickets get sold? I am unemployed but I am going next Saturday (Cannot keep me away from a Sox/Twins game. But for those of us in the division it is a comfortable place. No need for the drama or $200 a plate steakhouses of the AL East and no pathos of the NL Central we just grind it out and oh how I HATE the Twins and the Indians….

Here are my Picks

Chicago (Of course)
Kansas City

American League West

I like to call this my nobody cares division. The fact is that no one cares. This division is made up of teams that are second in each of their markets with little history. The LA Angels play in Orange County with the plasticine people, the Oakland A’s play in an empty stadium, Seattle Mariners have Ichiro and a great park and the Texas Rangers used to be owned by George Bush I think that says enough.

Here are My Picks

Los Angeles


NL Round 1

Chicago v. New York
San Francisco v. St Louis


Chicago v. St Louis

NL Champion
St Louis


AL Round 1

Boston v. Chicago
Tampa v. Oakland


Boston v. Tampa

AL Champion

So now go out there and enjoy the season even if you are unemployed the Radio is still free and hot dogs are cheap and the thrill of the grass makes it all feel a little better.

Or as Luke Appling said even when we were 20 games out and the nation had 20% unemployment you could enjoy a line drive just the same.

I say amen to that….