Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jack Myers 1941-2009

This week Jack Myers, Poet and Educator died in Dallas, Texas. For the many poets who choose to dwell in smaller or more provincial places Jack offered another way of being a poet. Many times these poets get passed over but Jack showed how to be a poetic force in Dallas and at Southern Methodist University where he taught.

He was the founder with his wife Thea Temple of the Writers Garrett of Dallas which is the most humane writing institution in the US in my estimation. Jack's humanity filled that institution and he nurtured a whole community of poets in Dallas, myself included, to be better to and ask better questions. His presence will be missed by many.

To Thea and the entire Dallas poetry community which is so dear to me know that Jack and all of you are in our prayers and thoughts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


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

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?

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 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.