Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Lori Berenson I met in Lima

In 1995 I went to Lima, Peru for a conference of Prison Ministries. I was working in Cochabamba, Bolivia as a volunteer after college and I happened to work in the San Sebastian Jail. The conference was in Lima- I was 28 and very idealistic full of Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero. I really believed in Liberation and Theology- I saw that as the right thing.

The conference was pretty standard for a "peace and justice" event held in Latin America at that time. It was full of Liberation Theology and justice talk. I presented a speech on San Sebastian and the fate of those Bolivians in Jail for drug trafficking offenses. There was lots of beards and macrame.

I travelled to Lima by bus from Cochabamba. It took a day to travel the 455 miles but it was worth it. When i arrived in Lima my friend Tammy and I went to the local Gringo bar . After a bunch of Pisco I was introduced to another American who was called Lori.

She was also idealistic like me. But unlike me she advocated violence and also she felt that "Charity" was the problem and that "revolution" was the answer. She was very different then the normal Generation Xer. She was committed to causes that most of my friends did not even know existed. We only talked for 10 minutes. But she was impressive- impressive in a way that I am not because she did not equivocate.

In 1996 when I was living in Brazil I heard about her arrest as a Terrorist in Lima. I was pained for her family and I kept thinking about what I have done for the past 14 years while she has sat in an Andean prison. I have to say that I do not and did not agree with Ms Berenson's advocation of violence. But I can understand the anger. I still feel that anger 12 years later at the fact that there is useless pain in the world and that justice is so far from reality.

Lori Berenson is my mirror opposite. We both went to Latin America in our twenties to work for justice. I did my stint and while I continue to volunteer and do things I am now an upstanding executive, published poet and author, husband and family person.

In a word I sold out.

Ms Berenson on the other hand- even though I disagree with her actions- did not sell out. Berenson is the exception among those of us born from 1965-1978.
I can still see her face in that Bar in Lima and wonder if I had gone her route and not sold out what would have happened? I can also feel my youth and the sheer joy of thinking that I could change the world...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Some Poetry Readings do Not Suck

usually after a poetry reading I spend time anguishing about how they all suck. I am tired of the self absorbed lunacy. The constant hipsterness, the shitty poets reading their inner most thoughts that I want to just vomit out of the my system but occasionally a poetry reading does what it is supposed to do.
About 1o years ago I went to a reading in Philadelphia Robert Creeley was reading, Ron Silliman and Jena Osman where there and Bob just filled up the room-- with poetry and himself. I have a deep affection for Mr Robert Creeley but his reading was so understated and so fine.
A few years ago I went to a reading where Jen Hofer, Pierre Joris and many others read at the now defunct 30/30 space. The reading was a tour de force and I left motivated to write poetry and read poetry and be a poet... not just a poseur.
On Saturday night Traudi an I went to another such reading. Jennifer Scappettone put together a chorus like piece based on her great book From Dame Quickly which should have been a prize winner. The reading with video and a chorus really brought something to the table that we don't often get in poetry today a message that is not hackneyed and language that is clean and bold and makes a point without any BS.
Now, Jen is a friend but she frustrates me at times she is so smart that sometimes for those of us who are stupider it is hard to keep up. But her book and this project does allot for all of us. It breaks language in a way that challenges the way the canyons of the southwest challenge us by making us do thinks differently to gain the same result.
I do not know what her plans are for this piece but I want more......

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die

Before it became a 1960's feel good pop song Ecclesiastes was a prophetic book in the
Hebrew Bible. It is the fundamental poem about death and life and what happens to us
during that process. During the past few months I have been thinking about the Hebrew Prophets quite allot. There is nothing better to read when you are depressed than Hosea or Job.
There is none of the Jesus Christ fluffery in the prophets. Pain happens, death happens but all is part of the justice of YHWH. Justice is what is sought and justice is what one gets. So as I move into a new phase in my life I have begun to think about justice and to leave mercy which so many prefer on the sidelines.
Recently I had a conversation with a young woman working two jobs, supporting her mother and siblings and also taking care of a friend and I thought to myself if this young woman is capable of that why do I complain about anything? Here is this tough, intelligent woman who is overcoming everything-- I think to myself "Ray you are a real wimp"
Poets are good complainers. We like to complain, write and then do nothing because it is in our nature. But if ever the old Socialist mantra Fight, Complain, Organize were true it would be now in our country but all we really do is complain and then go on Facebook. We like to spend our time arguing over dumb things.
I have begun a new job in Milwaukee and I find that while I miss my poet friends and my home, family and pets what I really miss are my volunteer activities. I was volunteering weekly at a Catholic Worker house in Chicago until a month ago teaching English to a group of immigrant women. I miss that interaction and I miss the fact that in these women's stories I learned much about what is real in our country. For all the pain that those women, homeless with children to feed had there was a joy and hope that those of us in better circumstances often forget.
What is real is something that has become preciously rare in a society where we text message our friends who are across the room. We have chosen to place an electronic wall around us and for all the good that those things do we also become desensitized. But what is actual is what matters and what is virtual does not really matter. You cannot power down an actual human being but you can do that to your iPod. In the end it goes back to a time to live and time to die and also a time to sew and a time to reap.
I also think about the fact that an email or a text message will not suffice. Imagine if Ecclesiastes has been written on an iPhone?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Men as Marginalized In Society

In 1960 85% of all African American men were married, had full time jobs and were from intact families. In 2000 that number was 18%. What happened?
What happened is that a combination of government errors and social change Black men became marginalized by job loss and slowly they became marginalized. Today this is happening to all men regardless of Race. In a recent Atlantic Article Richard Florida talked about the change where men who used to be the center of American life have become slowly marginalized. Part of this change is that women have become more prominent but another part of this change is the reality that today the government announced that 25% of all men aged 25-54 in America are out of the workforce.
What does this mean?
It means that we as a nation have got to rethink what is important to us. In societies in the past with lots of idle men, for example China in the 19th century or America's inner cities today bad things happen. Crime rises and violence as well. What is needed is an outreach to Men and a realization that men as a group need attention that they did not need before.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who can Mock the Church

Nicholas Kristof in today's New York Times sheds some disinfecting light on the Catholic Church. He talks about the very real images of God (Imago Dei) that are working around the world to make the Kingdom of God a reality.
The fact is that the Sisters working the Sudan or Bolivia or New Guinea are what Jesus had in mind when he told us to wash each other's feet. I think that if Jesus were alive today he would look at his vicar and vomit. The fact is that it is those who struggle for justice and care for those most marginalized are closest to God.
The greatest Catholics of the 20th Century were those who chose to be with the marginalized; Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Pope John XXIII, and Charles De Foucould all did this because it was the truth nothing more. But the Church becomes truly evil when it forgets the least of these to protect its power. When it preaches that an institution is more important than the Message it becomes evil and that is what has happened. How many children have been raped? How many good Catholics have had their reputations destroyed and how many people have not been helped because the Church had to pay millions in hush money or judgements? Instead of helping those images of God in Kristof's piece the money instead went to pay off the claims of victims because no one dared say the truth.

Matisse and the 20th Century

It has been said that the 20th Century began and ended in Sarajevo. Artistically the 20th Century began with Picasso's painting the Girls of Avignon which tore open the artworld's sense of itself. While Picasso was a revolutionary he was not a bridge. Henri Matisse on the other hand was such a bridge.
In the new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago Matisse 1913-1917 this key four year period in his life are examined. It was during this period when Europe was engaged in the worst of all possible wars when Matisse's style and sense became a reality. It was during this same period that the sensability that would become German art after the war was born as well.
In this exhibit we see this axial period in full flower. But it also displays something that we no longer have in the world and that is a slow growing artists dialogue. With the internet things now move very fast. This Matisse exhibit shows us that sometimes the mellowing of a few years can have a profound impact.