Friday, February 26, 2010

Poem: Delirious Sweat

Here is one of the best poems I ever wrote. It originally appeared in Rose & Thorn Journal; in fact, you can go view it there, if you prefer:


http://www.roseandthornjournal.com/Winter2010_Poet3.html


Thanks for reading!

OWL

--------------------------------------------------------



Delirious Sweat

you cry tears from your chest,
the juice of your skin.
it sinks in a soil of doubt,
until parched sticks lurch up
like an old man’s fingers.
too long he’s been dead,
will do anything to earn
the vigor of a tarantula
or the languor of creosote.

but sands are tugging
on the aches in his wrinkles
as if ants had amassed
on the last twitches of a vole;
and the mountains
are so far off, never to be suckled,
those pure white teats,
where valkyries laugh
at the dunes below,
dropping snow-laced brassieres.

what isn’t illusion kills,
and what kills isn’t safe for a tongue to say.
the desert, more than anywhere,
salts the mouth with this sad reverie,
cuts it into victims’ eyes
with the butcher wings
of hawks and vultures.
you see your friends rise up,
gnashing and spewing their useless poison,
caught under those fateful knives;
and then like furious wisps
of primitive smoke
they’re gone.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Homeless Story of J, Part I

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This is a fictional testimony of a hypothetical homeless person named J, who could be you or me.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Note: See also Homeless Story of J, Part II on March 5)


I’ve learned some things sleeping in the bushes, but even more by being an outcast from society. A new perspective has hit me in the face, or should I say many fragments of new perspectives. What was normal is now strange. What was unthinkable is a muddy stream of disparate thoughts babbling in my confused head.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching ants. They have their own dramas and difficulties, toils and strifes. Like us, their lives are full of changes and hurdles. No matter how great their achievement--carrying a boulder on their back, or overcoming a wasp--they pass unheard and unrecorded. Always unrecorded.

You can do great things, and complete an amazing odyssey, whether in deed or through the force of an intrepid mind; but if no one cares, it all vanishes the moment it is over. I am certain this has happened to billions of ants,, and many many people too.

The Indians: Chumash, Apache, Hopi, Cherokee (I can’t recall the others but they are legion). They lived where I now sit for thirty thousand years. What sagas and adventures they must have had. What triumphs over obstacles. Personal strengths that overcame manifold difficulties. All gone. Like the ants carrying boulders on their backs and fighting wasps. Even our Western ghost stories are about dead crackers. Apparently ghosts don’t haunt an area for more than a few hundred years.

You can say there exists a god who listens and soothes the righteous, even in the desert. Yes, it is good to say this. It can make all the difference. But what I’ve learned since becoming an exile, who couldn’t find a job and then slipped farther and farther, is that there are always gods to listen, but they may be no bigger than your head.

The most amazing thing is that I have a chance to be like an angel. I remember a film about angels. How lonely and strong they seemed, moving among people, sharing love and compassion, praying for the broken, wrapping their wings around the tormented; and yet they were totally unheard and unfelt. It was sad, the ineffectiveness of these ethereal and beautiful beings.

How many homeless, I wonder, have become like them? You see, when you’re on the streets, you have a choice. If you fill yourself with compassion, and pray for everyone who walks by, you become like an angel.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Millions Go Homeless. Business, Media Don't Care

The most emailed news story today at the New York Times was: “Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/business/economy/21unemployed.html?em

The gist of the article is that people who were middle class all their days are now plummeting toward life on the sidewalk and there is no safety net to help them. Not only that, get this: the business culture in the U.S. doesn’t give a damn, and doesn’t even want them back:

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

Let that sink in. How can any nation survive as a decent place for its citizens with that kind of dominant attitude?

Workers--that is, real human beings with families, dreams, and passions--are thought of as undesirable and disposable spokes in an upgradable profit machine.

Folks, this is one F$%#ed up world.

Here’s another unbelievable point. Hold onto your hat:

“If, as Mr. Sinai expects, the economy again expands without adding many jobs, millions of people ... will be dependent on an unemployment insurance already being severely tested.”


Translation: the rich get richer while the poor lick gutter piss. Come On! The top 1% have already hogged 90% of the total wealth. Don’t they have enough already?

Wake up, United States, GREED has infected your infrastructure like a bone cancer.

Please, someone, tell me this: how could we possibly be living in a legitimate democracy? Did the people vote to be F$$$ed over this way? Again, I futilely repeat: Something is seriously sick in the very flesh of our country.

How long can this go on?

No freedom exists in our "land of the free." Why? True freedom cannot co-exist with a straitjacket of economic inequality. Multi-millionaires living it up in the shadow of incipient Hoovervilles.

God, please wake up, folks!!!

Please!!

Okay. Let me take a deep breath and try to shake the sense that I’m in some kind of surreal horror flick. But the sad truth is stubbornly dismal: people are disappearing off the middle class radar and falling into an eerie “netherworld”:

“Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression ... ‘You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,’ said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. ‘They are landing in this netherworld.’ “

Scary Scary Scary! What the hell is going on?

And what is the media doing about it? Let me turn on the TV and see.

(Click)

This is sad. Just tragic. While millions are disappearing into a netherworld, the airwaves vomit shallow escapism and, you guessed it, commercials--and we all know how empathic and spiritually soothing commercials are.

What could make a person without money feel even more isolated and unheard? Maybe a bought-off actor smiling fatuously from a screen, and explaining why Advair is wonderful for your asthma.

What? No health insurance? Sorry, this smiling idiot is not talking to you. You are irrelevant.

Next commercial: pimple medicine.

What? you’re middle-aged and unemployed? Sorry, this is an ad for teenagers whose parents have wallets. You know, kids with a future. You’re irrelevant again.

Next commercial: polish your chrome with our suped-up cleaner!

What? You’re about to be evicted? Get the F*&$ out of here. We can’t sell our snake oil to you. You’re a zero in our calculation.

Lonely it must be to feel down on your luck while watching TV in the good ol’ USA.

It’s as sociologically fascinating as it is ethically disturbing.

TV Land: fun, youth, love, money, excitement, luxury, thrills, fashion, cool people, victory--and you too can be a part of it, if you buy our sponsor’s stuff.

Real World: disposable, unheard, fired, broken, failing and nobody cares. Not the business set. Not the charimatic characters in the pat shows. Not the beautiful young sexy actors wiggling their hips for soap, drugs and beer.

Nobody.

Welcome to the underbelly of a greed-crippled Uncle Sam crawling on his knees.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Fantabulous Scrumptious Marvelicious Poetry and Art Spectaculariuml!!

centrifugaleye.com


The February 2010 issue of The Centrifugal Eye is out (volume 5 number 1), and it is truly absolutely consummately amazing. Editor Eve Hanninen, skilled and experienced as a professional in both the literary and art worlds, has masterfully conjured (with the help of her loyal team) one of the greatest shows in poetry.

My slight insinuation of a circus is wholly appropriate; for this marvelous issue is themed, and it runs like this: Troblems & Prubbles: All Mixed Up.

Hanninen’s email invitation to this splendiferous issue starts out as follows:

“I’m excited to unveil the first issue in The Centrifugal Eye’s 2010 annual redesign — our Troblems & Prubbles: All Mixed-Up theme. You’ll find out for yourselves exactly what I mean by that. Hold onto your toques, hoods, ball caps, headbands, and scarves, because our delightful and breezy airs might overturn all expectations as they spin into creative zephyrs!”

Keep in mind, this is not just poetry, not just art, but poetry and art combined into a razzle-dazzling aesthetically rich journey into the chimerical. There is NOTHING like this anywhere else in the world of online expression. This is indeed:

The Greatest Poetry and Art Show on Earth!!!

I exhort, plead, wheedle, importune and blandish you, go check out this issue. You’ll find a couple of my poems there, but so much more and so much better.

Hanninen has clearly plunged into the redesign of TCE, and you too will immerse in another world, one seamless in its bounty of painted abracadabras and supple-tongued legerdemains.

The vigorous hues, the surreal joy and occasional tragedy, the fusion of Dali-esque and Van Gogh-style energies--throw in a pinch of Picasso and Kahlo. Whoooppeeee!!!!

I am doing avatar cartwheels and chandelles just thinking about it.


OWL

Friday, February 19, 2010

Free Market Capitalism Turns Souls Into Masks

In his latest New York Times column, conservative pundit David Brooks unintentionally pinpoints a serious flaw in free market capitalism; namely, that it destroys freedom by forcing people to alter the very essence of their personalities. Not for a higher cause or worthy ideal, but in the pursuit of a buck.

In one of his lamest moments ever, Brooks starts out by saying, “Financial crises stink”--as if we didn’t know, and somehow his terse commiseration would magically mollify us.

(“The Lean Years,” Feb. 15)
www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/opinion/16brooks.html?scp=2&sq=david%20brooks&st=cse


He then goes on to say something that I happen to agree with, but for different reasons and toward different ends: Men have to change. Not just superficially but in their souls.

Think about that. Men are approximately half the population. In the U.S., we’re talking 150,000,000 vessels of testosterone. That’s unimaginable upheaval. If it were for a good cause, such as promoting equality, eliminating sexism, or getting deadbeat fathers to make support payments, this would be absolutely wonderful. A real victory for progress.

Is this what Brooks is up to? Absolutely not. He wants to emasculate men for money.

He makes his point in two stages. First of all, he implies that men who aren’t working are basically losers:

“Men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity. Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. So in areas of high unemployment, marriage rates can crumble.”

“The Lean Years”


Secondly, Brooks points out that the money is in service jobs; and so it follows that men, especially guys in construction and manufacturing, need to be re-trained. They have to be made “nurturing” and sent out to work in touchy-feely fields.

You know, the kind of job were you smile sweetly and say, “Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order, please.”

Brooks:


"We need to redefine masculinity, creating an image that encourages teenage boys to stay in school and older men to pursue service jobs. Evangelical churches have done a lot to show how manly men can still be nurturing ..."

"The Lean Years"


At no time does Brooks offer any criticism of the system itself. For him, capitalism is the god in which we trust; and we all need to adapt without questioning to the dictates of market forces, even if it means going from jackhammer operator to perfume salesman. And being taught how to nurture by evangelical Christians no less!

In a way, men deserve to suffer. While women have worked hard to get college degrees, guys have skated along on sexist cultural norms, making good money out of high school.

But this isn’t about men, really. It’s about the dangers of a financial system that jerks us all around with frightening boom and bust cycles, and demands that we adjust by altering our very personalities to fit the moods of the stock market.

The stock market, of course, is run by greedy males. Free market capitalism harnesses us to a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of vice, upheaval, physical displacement and psyche distortion.

Next time, it might be women who have to change. The dictates of profit could demand that they lose their empathy and emotion to become cold replicas of the worse aspect of ‘objectivity.’

Our personalities are hostage. Our integrity is victim. Nothing is safe. One of my favorite quotes sums it up:


“Capitalism is profoundly anti-traditional. It’s expansion has remolded in its image families, communities, schools, and churches, subordinating all relationships to the calculus of the bottom line.”
Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, Ch.13


Brooks doesn’t get it. He insinuates that if you don’t behave like a capitalist worker, you are a failure; and that there is no better way to run the world than a crazy guzzle of profit followed by an inevitable reflex of vomiting out recession.

Yes, financial crises stink, but not just because they cripple people and places. They also stink because they weren’t necessary. If only we had a healthy way of living, one that prioritized ethics over mathematics.

Yes, ethics over mathematics!!! We have to stop telling people to trade their current essence for another one.

Very sadly, we have become a world not only of disposable products, but also disposable faces.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Political Action Through Art and Poetry, Wow!!!

On February 13, an incredible event illuminated the state of Maine. It was a sweet light of peace-seekers and sanity-bringers. It was a beacon of possibility in a world of impossible impediments. It was artists and poets coming together to show what our tax money could do if it wasn’t going to hellish missiles and the soul-less airborne drones that fire them; and the tanks and helicopters that prowl like giant metal coffins, creating their own piles of corpses on which to feed; and the boot camps that turn young recruits into obedient holders for weapons that suck away at their souls every time they pull the trigger.

Yes, it was an audacious salubrious edifying event. It was the Visionary Draw-A-Thon and Poetry Reading: Bring Our War Dollars Home! and it happened at the United Church of Christ in Bath, Maine.

It was unforgettable and uplifting to see so many ardent wielders of paintbrushes and poetic pencils. Happy people. Enthused . Where else could one go to find such healing camaraderie? The only negative part about the event was that it was rare and it had to end. We all drove back to places where most people just don’t seem to get it.

Photographs of the Visionary Draw-A-Thon can be found here:

shannawheelock.blogspot.com

And here:

space4peace.blogspot.com


Go to those links. You’ll find samples of the art that was created and combined into four booklets that will be taken to the Capital Building and distributed among congressional leaders. The Draw-A-Thon lives on and spreads! Art and poetry continue to challenge the behemoth of militarism.

It was a rousing honor that I was sent up to the microphone last and so culminated the evening. I read two poems that represented two possible futures. One was extremely beautiful and sensuous, titled “Apple.” And the other, “Monk With Gasoline,” was horribly dark and agonized.

I told everyone about the aching thought on my mind: that we must choose between beauty and peace, on one hand, and ugly destruction and ultimate failure. It was that simple. This is our choice.


Others reading included Betsy Sholl, Maine’s Poet Laureate; Henry Braun, one of the “Bangor Seven,” an engaging energetic troubadour; and an ex-navy officer, Becky Farley, who has gone around 180 degrees since the Iraq War. She was clearly traumatized and heart-breakingly contrite over her role. PTSD is a cruel cruel thing and we all saw that firsthand. No denial possible.


Farley was by far the most powerful poet of the night. Her poem was stark in its doom. She was suffering and constantly on the verge of tears. I wish her well on the difficult yet courageous journey before her.

She's the best sort of hero, the kind who would never get a medal from our imperial generals. She has seen beyond the brute loyalty of the phalanx. She is a spiritual warrior now, and has rejected the corrupt initiation rite of the bloodstorm.

The night was organized by Bruce Gagnon of Global Network, Lisa Savage of Code Pink, and three very well-known artists: Natasha Mayers, Robert Shetterly and Kenny Cole.

They are all fantastic human beings, and I’ll end this piece with some plaudits for them:

Bruce Gagnon is a legendary leader. I can’t even begin to do him justice here. He’s been organizing protests and building connections for decades. He knows Helen Caldicott and was appointed by her as a Senior Fellow at her Nuclear Policy Research Institute. Check out his bio. You’ll be blown away:

http://www.space4peace.org/contact.htm

Lisa Savage is a Local Coordinator of Code Pink and a co-founder of Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice. She recently traveled to Afghanistan and gives speeches here and there and everywhere.

Natasha Mayers, in addition to many other accomplishments, was the resident artist for Common Dreams.org. for quite a while. Her artwork is succinct yet endlessly passionate and honest, combining German Expressionism and her own color-rich portrayals. She has shown at universities and galleries throughout Maine and beyond.

Robert Shetterly’s book, Americans Who Tell The Truth, is nationally known. It is replete with evocative portraits, done by Shetterly, of some of the great progressives: Elizabeth Stanton, Howard Zinn, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain and many more. Sequels to this classic book have followed, and Shetterly is simply an astounding gift to Maine and, yes, the planet Earth too!

Kenny Cole’s artworks are in their own intense category of satire, symbolism and hybrid creativity. He combines word, sketch and cartoon into powerful statements delivered through consummate craft. His recent Hellfire Missile series is damningly good.


OWL out

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Valentine's Note, Gratefully

It looks like I will travelling on Valentine’s Day and so I want to do now what I was planning, which is:

To write about the most amazing person I have ever known. She has saved me and motivated me, loved me and endured my darkest sides. She has given me strength to become healthier and wiser than I ever would have been, and has all the while continued to grow as an artist and clay sculptor, using her talents to teach and heal the people around her, including the entire community where we live.

When we first met, there was little chance I would ever be able to connect with another human being in a close relationship. I was already well on my way to middle age, never having lived with anyone before. My horrible childhood left me burdened, introverted and impossible.

I couldn’t believe this magical person had come into my life. I felt absolutely relaxed around her, and her great sense of humor brought laughter into my life. Her spirituality was profound and matched mine. Her energy was brilliant, and her mind far-ranging and capable of handling incredible projects. Even back then, ten years ago, her art was in its own category, unique and possessing a personal voice of hypnotic depth and subtlety.

An astounding, incredible person. Our first year together must have been hell for her. There was a suicide in my immediate family, and we had relocated to the South, far away from her ancestors’ homeland up North going back many generations.

Somehow she made contacts and had work accepted in the Knoxville Museum of Art. She became associated with a gallery and had her pieces on show. She taught computer graphics. On top of that, she ran workshops, met fascinating women who, like her, drummed on djembes and doumbeks while chanting

She is really fantastic. Inspiring. All that first year I was depressed, moping and lost in my own dysfunctional world. And yet I started to heal.

And when we moved to Maine, far out into a tiny isolated town seemingly lost from the rest of the world, she remained unbelievably strong, teaching art at the school, starting to help and heal the community.

And slowly--slowly--I began to wake up. I began to live. I found my art and started writing poetry. I burned with the passion of words, bursting out of my heart and soul. My past hounded me and tortured me, but year by year I learned how to harness it. My wife was always there, with her humor, intelligence, warmth and deep appreciation of the Goddess.

None of this would have happened without my her. What a journey we’ve been on. It never seems to get easy. There is always more, some new challenge or passion to follow. We are both struggling artists, and we see creative honesty as the key to humanity’s survival.

Express with pencil, clay or paint. Not blind anger, guns or fists.

It is not easy living with someone. You interact on all levels of your being, from the most ideal to the most practical and physical. We’ve managed to do it for ten years and still we grow. My love remains intense and many-layered. This kind of love spreads out like a majestic rosebush. The longer it grows the more flowers bloom on the vines, weaving a beautiful testimony through the garden of a shared journey over decades.

Poem: Apple

After the last few posts, it is time to focus on something positive. Yes, even Owl Who Laughs gets tired of ranting now and then; and in the waning of his anger there surges deep fascination.

Below is reprinted one of my most sensuous poems, “Apple,” which was published in the journal Wild Violet.

Wild Violet has been around since 2001 and is still going strong. Editor Alyce Wilson publishes evocative and luxurious pieces, changing the mood of her craft every season. Each issue has its own customized name and design.

My poem “Apple” appears in the Spring 2008 issue,“Vernal Urge,” and can be found here, in situ, if you like:

http://www.wildviolet.net/vernal_urge/poetry.html


Wilson is one of those rare special people who not only becomes an editor, a tough demanding job, but perseveres for an amazing time. Wild Violet is nearing its ten year anniversary.

What an accomplishment! And what a gift Wilson has given to poetry lovers--to carry her journal through an entire decade (almost), building a reservoir of lovely words and literary passions.

I can only bow in awe before such a magnanimous feat. No one in the poetry world is getting paid, and editors, unlike us self-absorbed poets, immerse in the voices of others. A consummate act of giving.

Thank you, Alyce Wilson, for your tremendous accomplishments and tireless search after the best of the human heart.

Now, without further ado, my poem:


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Apple

womb of tastes
that bloom on tongues,
brushing lips like a rose;
orb of warmth; purse of vitality,
humming against mouths,
a nude sylph’s song,
as if taste buds were sun-drenched
clover.

you curve
like the breasts of robins blending.
paintbrushes perk to trace
your lust:
sloped chartreuse, buxom red.
rubies burn envious.
sunsets mimic then fade.

let me dive
into your pulpy scent,
chalice of watery honey—
kiss then release me to float,
succor me with remembrance,
the immortal mist of you,
the nurturant embers.


--------------------------------------------------------------


OWL

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Humanity's Worst Enemy: The Software In Your Head

In our workshop (see previous posts), someone has released on our senses the most devastating poem, a horrible truthful poem written too well to deflect. It’s so good, it ought to be the epigraph of Alice Walker’s book, Warrior Marks--

Which deals with the saddest stupidest most unbelievable phenomenon: a hundred million women mutilated, most of then when they were just children, held down for the knife--

A hundred million women. This isn’t the ancient past. Today.

A hundred million, which is a third of the entire population of the United States, cut up badly in their genitals. Without being mutilated, they can’t be married. It's against the rules.

Make sense?

It’s ritual. Culture.

Yes, indeed, that's the justification. It's their C U L T U R E

(Parts of Africa and the Middle East).

Mothers defend it and support it for their daughters. The victims defend it, once they become adults. The screaming terrified 8-year-old having her clitoris cut off (and also most of her labia) gets no say.

In International debates, this horror is referred to as Female Genital Mutilation.

FGM.

To those who support the practice, it is simply a private procedure within a tribe. "Female circumcision." Anyone who says otherwise is spewing imperialist dogma.

Acacia thorns are used to sew the mutilated vagina up. The maimed flesh fuses over time, leaving only a small hole to urinate. This insures virginity. The insurance, in turn, means that the girl is sanctioned by her tribe and someday can marry.

Infections are common. Agony inevitable when the bride is cut open by her new husband, secure in the chastity of his property, and used to breed.

This is hell on Earth. Hell sneaking into society in the form of sexism.

There is a species of ants where the queen mutilates her daughters’ genitals, which in bugs are referred to as a spermatheca. Spermatheca = bug genitals.

Ants do this. Goddamn ants!

So, there it is. Certain ants and certain humans are the only ones to mutilate their daughters’ genitals.

If the girl doesn’t undergo this scarring torture and give up the pleasure of sex for the rest of her life, she becomes an outcast exile scum.

Women are usually the mutilators. Women hold the girl down while a specially ordained priestess-type cuts her, bleeds her, destroys her special gift of joy from the universe. (see Warrior Marks).

Why do women do this to other women, and even to their daughters? Why do they stand before judges and reporters and justify this in all seriousness, adamantly fighting for their right to butcher?

(Important: Not all survivors of FGM think this way)

They were born into it. They were programmed. This kind of programming could be referred to as:

Negative Inculcation.

Negative Inculcation enslaves minds, fosters nightmares.

You and I are programmed too, but the software is different. We think we are superior but our institutions of higher learning came at the price of genocide, plunder and colonization. We swim in a unseen water of presuppositions.

It is possible to break out and think for yourself. And to teach others.

But you will always be a mouthpiece of imperialist lies to those who support FGM.

That concludes my argument. I think I have proven that cultural programming is amazingly dangerous.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Let the Heart Babble

roostermoans.org


Here is another excerpt from my thoughts in the Rooster Moans workshop (see previous post). A tangential discussion broke out, spontaneously, about whether to censor or encourage the gush of unrefined emotion when drafting a poem.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(From the workshop "Poetry, Politics & Demagogy," Week One)


I have to admit, a great deal of awkward and over-dramatic emotion seeps into my drafts. My strategy has been to write freely and copiously, often six drafts a week. In this way important emotion is validated, and hopefully gets tempered through editing into a chrysalis of sorts.

Yes, most drafts don’t get to the stage of beautiful writing; but there is a ‘freedom of voice’ and a validation of feelings and of my being and all its flaws.

I guess for me, poetry should be about validating the heart, even if the expression is clumsy at first. I think it best to work with inner emotions, even if sentimental, not censor them--let them run like children in your words.

I don't like the pedagogic style of trying to stifle gushes of emotion in the tyro, or, for that matter, the advanced practitioner. Some of my best poems came from writing like mad and paring it down and refining later.

Another metaphor, not sure if it’s good: Sentiment is raw earthy form, a blend of anguish, love and all the others -- something needs to be mined out of the ore, cut into a jewel.

To get to the jewel, you must delve into the raw material.

That might be my tactic.

What I’ve learned is that I’m not really the author of my poems--the mind is more complex than just an “I.” To write a good poem requires that the dream-making part of the mind get involved, which is beyond the self.

By sharing the act of writing with unruly emotions and whatever forces unleash them, I can sometimes get to powerful phrases like this, from your poem, so heartwrenching:


“tape stretches like wings over his mouth”


Wow.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hot Debate On Poetry, Ethics, and Aesthetics

roostermoans.org


There is a fascinating discussion going on in the current Rooster Moans workshop on “Poetry, Politics & Anti-demagogy,” of which I am a participant. At stake is the nature of a good poem in relation to politics, which to me means mixing standards of aesthetics and ethics.

One of the lynchpins driving the workshop is Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Dedication,” including this crucial passage:

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.



Below is part of one of my rambling comments on this topic, which has proved to be polemical.

Thanks goes out to the great folks in this workshop, a small group yet highly intelligent every one!


OWL

---------------------------------------------------

(excerpt from my workshop entry)

It looks like I am going to be using this workshop, which includes the social aspect of poems as relates to Milosz’s idea of influencing nations, to begin to work out my philosophy of poetry and its relation to ethics.

Poems can have different purposes and audiences, and be used for activism and therapy. Different aesthetics attach to the different roles of poems, and I am not ready to relinquish my own.

I think a great poem in many ways is just this :


We could have a nuclear war
TOMORROW
and destroy all humanity
and most of nature.


How many people in our busy world think about this? They don’t have time. Or time to worry about the environment. This workshop has only five participants so far. The problem isn’t the workshop but that in our society people are too hassled, harried and chore-yoked to pursue their art. There should be fifty people in this workshop. But our society cares little for supporting art, much for supporting bombs.

Meanwhile, the art of poetry, driven by the Poetry Foundation, seems to be moving away from social engagement into a rarefied realm of denial. Highlighted voices attack the notion of accessibility just when, more than ever, poetry is needed as a means to evoke deepest emotion in the public--

a public that rushes blindly along trying to make money while the Earth, in terms of wild gorgeous abundance, withers and tilts precariously into an unknown future led by greed and guns.

Poetry is needed that addresses these issues, directly, now. This doesn’t mean that it is mandatory for everyone to read such poetry, or accept its aesthetic; but it should be available broadly, not effectively squelched by cultural norms and leaders who reflect those norms; and it should be allowed to have a place in influencing social movements, just like say the poems of Neruda, or the paintings of Diego Rivera.

I think it telling and sad that Pablo Neruda was forbidden to come to the United States, because he was considered a dangerous subversive.

Poetry should not strive to be an ethereal pulchritude of words and sounds without relation to helping our society avoid calamity. I think that is the core of my philosophy, and I think Milosz would agree.

Yes, it’s true, having an ethics professor in a workshop on political poetry is akin to taking a paddle to a hornet’s nest.


[Owl Who Laughs]

A Wonderful Visit From An Editor And A Novelist

The editor of Shalla Magazine, Shalla DeGuzman just left a very kind comment on my post about her, as did Patrica Maxwell, the legendary romance novelist:

http://owlwholaughs.blogspot.com/2009/12/acceptance-in-shalla-magazine.html



I feel like I've fleetingly brushed lives with some very impressive people. Shalla DeGuzman interviews successful literary agents and novelists, and Patricia Maxwell is a force in and of herself.

I recommend both their websites for the dedicated aficionado or would-be professional:

http://www.shallamagazine.com/

http://www.jenniferblake.com/journal/index.cfm


What a thrill and pleasure! The feedback I get from editors and poetry fans is a great reward for writing this blog ... though not the only one.


OWL

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Latest Issue of Lucid Rhythms

Time is not my ally these days, but I wanted to leave a short message here for anyone interested in good poetry: Go read the latest issue of Lucid Rhythms


http://www.lucidrhythms.com/


This is a beautiful magazine in both word and image.

You'll find one of my poems there, if you're interested. I was most honored to be included.


OWL

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coal Company Kidnaps the Lorax

Coal Company Kidnaps the Lorax


A coal company has decided to call itself Lorax, the name of a beloved Dr. Seuss character who stood against industrialization and exploitation of pristine environments. In fact, the Lorax didn’t want a single tree cut down. Each was sacred and precious. As were all the animals. And too the great harmony of the environment. The Lorax was special, a defender of a beautiful world unsullIed by ax, shovel, and oil. The Lorax stood for a worldview that the tree cutters and factory-makers and product producers couldn’t understand--because they were focused on profit, fat cars, and energy-guzzling homes.

Basically the Lorax is the antithesis of coal mining and everything that coal mining says about our sick society. The Lorax is the genius loci of the forest.

From the article:

[The company, calling itself LoraxAG, is a startup based in Marlborough, Mass., seeking to develop a “shovel-ready coal gasification and chemical production facility to make fertilizer for America’s farms,” according to the company’s Web site.

“There’s no reason for them to use the term,” said Karl ZoBell, the longtime lawyer for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, “except to purloin the good will attached to the book and use it for a company that appears to be the opposite of everything the book is about.”]

http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/of-dr-seuss-and-coal-gasification/?scp=1&sq=loraxag&st=cse



This is a classic technique used by money-hungry men: take a magical concept, associated with beauty, spirituality and harmony, and use it as a mask for amoral grubbing. It’s as if they want to destroy the ideal, which seems beyond their grasp, by assimilating it into their worldview in the way that a monster of iron and fuming oil devours an angel.

They don’t do this consciously, I suspect, though you can imagine a particularly malign CEO who is sick of “hippies and granola” and who wants to stick it to them good by taking the symbols they adore and dragging them through the corporate muck.

Recently I did a blog entry on a car reporter who described an Audi muscle car (13 mpg) as the “Avatar of automobiles” and referred to its color as “Na’vi blue.” In case you don’t know, in the movie Avatar, the Na’vi are the people of the planet Pandora, who live as hunter gatherers in a primordial forest with NO machines whatsoever, let alone gasoline hogs for narcissists. Their way of life is a sacred union with nature. Attaching them to cars is inherently contradictory and ethically repugnant.

The Na’vi are anti-car, yet their image has been stolen by a flashy sophist and used to promote a car. The Lorax is quintessentially anti-coal, and yet the coal company in Marlborough doesn’t get it. Or maybe they do, and they want to attract attention. Either way, it’s a prostitution and perversion of what I like to call "planet respect."

The Marlborough Men’s sin is right out of the Bible, the sort of warning given against the Devil:

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.”

If there is a Satan (which I doubt, incidentally, until we create him) he would proceed in just the way these corporates do. He would take the Cross as his symbol, using it to cloak a false religion that preaches materialism, selfishness and rape of the Earth.

Satan grabs the Cross and wields it as a shiny logo. The Marlborough Men expropriate the Lorax.

Honestly, on an ethico-conceptual level, I can’t think of anything sadder or more perverse. It shows what we’re up against if we as a society want to heal.

How do you reach those who think that all the Lorax stands for is a “cleaner” way to exploit the land? Of course, “clean” is being misused, too. There’s nothing clean about coal mining, no matter how you shovel it.

And hence the Orwellian and ridiculous idea of “clean coal.”

Games within games. Lies within Lies. Labyrinths of falsehoods wrapped around each other until they form a sickening likeness of a face. The Lorax painted in lies.

How do you fight this? This level of subterfuge? This level of sneaky tactic? This level of disregard for nature? They just want to manipulate mind and matter to make a buck.

These coal guys are as bad as the worst of cheating spouses, who will tell their wives anything to avoid facing not only the truth, but their hidden emotional wounds. Men like this should not be allowed to rule the world.