Sunday, September 29, 2013

Four Brief Conclusions About the Tea Party

As the Republicans--leashed to the Tea Party--are about the shut down the US government over the ACA (aka Obamacare), here are four tenative conclusions, more of a sketch than anything. I'm extremely busy, but I just had to say something!

1. A majority-elected Congress and President brought us the ACA. Also, a conservative-controlled Supreme Court said the ACA was legal. Conclusion: the Tea Party minority challenging the ACA has gone rogue from democracy.

2. Without funding from oil moguls (the Koch brothers) the Tea Party would not exist as the powerful entity is it. Conclusion: Plutocracy is subverting our democracy.

3. National healthcare is accepted as a business-functional norm in capitalist countries such as Singapore and Canada. No country that is democratic and capitalistic functions without national healthcare (except the dyfunctional US). Conclusion: The Tea Party’s repulsion for national healthcare is dogmatic not rational.

4. A great deal of racism infects the Tea Party. Conclusion: the Tea Party’s attack on the ACA is psychologically based and in large part stems from subconscious or conscious hatred/fear of blacks.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Acceptance: Poetry Coop

Lissa Kiernan, who competently helms the Poetry Coop, has accepted my request to run a workshop in March! This is a tremendous honor. The Coop offers online poetry workshops from top-end poets, profs, and editors, with the goal of rivaling the quality of a professional Masters program. That goal, in my opinion, has been more than realized. And guess what? While some of the workshops cost hundreds of dollars--a fair price given the celeb artists you get to work with--other workshops are still... Free! That's right. Kiernan, and this is incredibly generous and idealistic, is maintaining an absolute openness for anyone to participate, despite the huge cost of running an online project tantamount to graduate study.

Who is leading and teaching the free workshops? I'm not sure about this year. But in the past, I know that Brenda Hammock, Susan Yount and Kiernan herself have offered them. Brenda Hammock is a professor at the graduate school level, and is widely published. Susan Yount runs the prominent long-standing journal Arsenic Lobster, and is a major leader in the poetry scene around Chicago. Kiernan has been Poetry Editor for Arsenic Lobster in the past, and is a phenomenal and well-published poet. (All these folks have various advanced degrees, too).

I will say that the workshop I am teaching for the Coop in March will be ...FREE! More on this later, as we draw closer to the date.

I absolutely and utterly recommend the Poetry Coop. Visit and see what all the squawking and lowing and cockadoodling is about! You can sign up to be a member of The Coop without joining a workshop. The membership is gratis and informative.

I feel very luck and privileged to be a Teaching Artist with this organization. It's one of the greatest joys of my literary career. Much wild gratitude to Lissa Kiernan for her tireless efforts, which have resulted in a passionate, brilliant norm-busting place for writers to learn, share and grow together. Deep friendships have been formed here. And unforgettably experiences forged.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Poem: Basin

This poem recently appeared in Danse Macabre #72 (Oubliette).

The basin is an allegory for ... questioning stuff.





where sand pulls shawls over shoes,
and the moon brags louder than the blued sun.
you can kick up anything, brute sorrow or hate.

logic scrabbles
in the weird oblong of the rocks.
where birds are gourmands scrounging for glazed eyes.

it all looks like water because there is none.
heat plays oracle in armored shine.
where scorpions are courtiers

and the falchion of red dawn
parches the cuts in cracked lips.
the oldest omega where

blue-green salts pulse varicose,
thwart the strain of losing knees.

to struggle is to become the desert,
corrupted as a horny toad.

where you can’t go back because
the beginning is in front. to turn
is to elude your origin

and forget.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Acceptance: Ink, Sweat and Tears

Ink, Sweat and Tears has been offering well-wrought poetry since 2006, and is clearly an important and even crucial presence on the UK literary scene. The name of the journal implies intense struggle to achieve rare excellence, and this theme is deeply embedded in its fabric, perhaps in ways unintended.

I was struck by the Publisher’s bio:

Kate Birch took over the management of Ink Sweat & Tears in April 2011. She has never had any claims to be a poet. Indeed in response to her attempt to get on a poetry course at the University of Toronto in the 1980s, its tutor referred to her submissions as “doggerel” and “a complete waste of my time.” She survived this, at the time, rather traumatic setback and has spent the intervening decades researching and writing about subjects as varied as 18th Century politics, machine tools and tap dancing.

What a harsh and ridiculous statement from the tutor! This brutal story adds considerably, I think, to the pith of the words “ink, sweat, and tears.”

The bio of the Editor, Helen Ivory, is not quite so stark, but it is obvious she works very hard and faces a tough solo task, while being humble and intimately connected to the passion of writing:

Helen Ivory started as Deputy Editor at IS&T in 2010, and is now sole editor. She was born in Luton but now lives Norwich with her husband, the poet Martin Figura where they run the live-lit organization Cafe Writers.

Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard (2013). She is co-editor, with George Szirtes of In their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry (Salt, September 2012). She is an editor for The Poetry Archive and teaches for the Arvon Foundation, the UEA and for The Poetry School. She is also an artist and makes poem boxes, which she regularly posts onto her website.

The poetry at IS&T lives up to the ambience of assiduous struggle. In fact, I just looked over the September offerings again, and they drew me right in. My heart is still beating from the work of Geoffrey Heptonstall, Daniel Williams, Miklós Radnóti, and Rafael Ayala Paez. I had to scroll down a bit to find some women -- Lisa Oliver and Zara Raab -- and they are phenomenal too.

My favorite poems from the above are the one by Oliver, for its aesthetic yet keen study of identity, and the one by Radnóti, which is sheer genius in its dithyrambic fugue.

Ink, Sweat and Tears is a fantastic, emotion-gripping journal. You don’t want to miss the eclectic and cosmopolitan selection of poems, ranging from the philosophical to the feverishly passionate. I haven't felt this moved in a while, and I study poetry constantly.

It is a tremendous honor to be accepted. My impression is that Helen Ivory is a very special leader and source of inspiration in the poetry world.


PS: The poem taken is “To Be a Fly,” a mini-allegory of child abuse, which will appear sometime in autumn.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kenny Cole, My Poems, and Parabellum

Artist Kenny Cole has started to immerse in his massive project, Parabellum, which is due to show at the University of Maine Museum of Art (UMMA) in January. He is attempting to paint four paintings a day, five days a week, through December, for a total of 246. In one of the greatest honors--if not the greatest honor--of my literary life, Kenny has decided to collaborate with me by using my poetry in the canvases. I supplied him with fifteen poems, and it is my intention to create a chapbook to accompany Parabellum.

But back to the artist. Kenny has already established himself as a ferocious and prolific voice. It is impossible not to feel the passion exude off his grotesque and subversive pieces. And you will be further stung because his theme is a continuous assault on the idiocy of war, greed and atrocity. If his work did not invoke the great specter of justice denied, it would still be indelible and momentous: but it does so invoke. Kenny overwhelms viewers' resistance and thrusts them into emotional and philosophical turmoil. His canvases teem, riot, roil and foam. The pulse of his anger and outrage shrieks. To be in a room of Cole art is to be surrounded by an ethico-psychical typhoon.

See art from his many previous shows at the link below. Be prepared to feel the utter wrongness of the Empire’s bellicose transgressions against land, flesh,and soul:

To read his journal on Parabellum, go here:

I have known Kenny for a number of years now, and in my opinion, Parabellum is his most prodigious and multifaceted work. Having said that, I confess that I have only a nebulous understanding of the conceptual armature of the project: however, two important points here: (a) I believe Kenny wants the boundaries and layers, both physical and conceptual, to be ambiguous and permeable, (b) Parabellum is an epic quest of the imagination, quite daring in scope. It pushes the art-poetry nexus into multidimensions of space-time.

The basic thread through this aesthetic maze is a fictional character, an artist named Bans Revere. Revere goes pretty much mad around the end of the 19th century, driven into volatile reveries, titantic doubts and nightmarish thoughtscapes. The culprit? The very real horrors of war itself. This madness fuels bizarre and feverish spates of creation, as Revere accuses, condemns and personally deteriorates. He paints over what he has already painted, resulting in a palimpsest-like effect. Some of these layerings are brushed on old maps and perhaps flesh (or the psychic flesh of the madman), but the camouflage of the previous work is only partial, lending a weird and uncomfortable feel which implies that linear time is gone. Revere's odd portrayals and visual rants are peppered with symbolisms, flourishes and color storms, all of which speak of utter anguish. He climbs a summit of agony that, given the hellish wrongs of war, seems shockingly justified.

Kenny is creating his own mythology here, but even that is frayed. The audience is left with tattered strands piercing through other strands, all of it seen through the deranged lens of Revere. The artwork, maybe, is like a visual journal of Revere’s outpourings, yet jumbled into bayonet-torn insights. It is a metamorphosis that sacrifices patterns of regimented thought for brilliant psychosis.

But Parabellum is not done. The next aspect of the story is that Revere, perhaps ashamed, hides his work under wallpaper (or something). Revere dies and the location of his layered art suffers from dilapidation. When Revere’s trove is discovered, in our time, hidden behind banal cover in a decaying home, it is heavily disfigured. So you get disfigurement by nature on top of the initial derangement. I think the underlying theme is this: we can deny the past, but it will reappear still, despite fearful repression, in a stronger, more immediate and dangerous state. The greater the denial, the closer we edge toward irredeemable insanity.

Indeed, war has initiated this progression in our global age. It butchers, gets buried, and reappears to butcher even worse, in new and more efficient forms. War, then, is like a cancer that adapts to the body of our society, and never gives up.

Although it serves as a temporary shield, denial magnifies what it delays. Parabellum suggests that unless we face the infernal magnitude of our actions, we are doomed not only to repeat them, but also to die, as a species, from them.

My analysis above is sketchy and feeble. Kenny wants us to struggle with the depths of Parabellum. It is not meant to be easy to assimilate. I am certain this project, in its vision, is a work of genius. And I know that Kenny’s talent will serve as a formidable and capable conduit. Kenny Cole has reached that rare state where vision and expression merge, resulting in exquisite sensory prophecy.

I think the next four months for him will be more than intense, a spiritual quest. Greatness will be produced, I have no doubt. And Kenny will not be the same person once he emerges, in January, on the other side.


PS: here is a fragment of the work he has shared with me, including part of my poem, “God Explains War.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No On Syria

It is sick and wrong for the US Empire to attack Syria. The simple argument for violence is that, “We are either for allowing chemical weapons or against allowing chemical weapons.” But the Empire was fine with it when one of our allies used chemical weapons, and even assisted him while he did so. That ally was Saddam Hussein, who years later became our target.

The turnaround is but one of many cases of “blowback” that plague our foreign policy operations. Entire books have been written on the massive negative effects when end-justifies-the-means thinking initiates violence. Some of these books are Blowback by Chalmbers Johnson, Friendly Fire by Julia Sweig, and Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner.

Actual CIA documents showing US knowledge of Hussein gassing his citizens, while he was our ally and getting assistance, were recently acquired by the Bangor Daily News. Viewing these documents will send a chill through your conscience:

See also The Spider’s Web, by Alan Friedman.

So, the simple argument above (we are either for allowing chemical weapons or not) degenerates into “we are against letting anyone use chemical weapons who is not our ally.” And so the noble facade of our assault on Syria falls away, revealing an ugly, Machiavellian root.

I guess someone might argue that this degenerate version of the argument is still enough to justify attacking Syria. Apart from sounding ludicrous, such an approach is patently flawed. Given all the previous blowback from numerous poorly thought-out US operations, it is more than likely that misery will befall innocent people, on a very large scale, through unintended consequences, if we attack Syria. Escalation is always a threat. In comes Russia, or maybe China or Iran. Remember that WWI started with a small rebel group assassinating an Arch Duke in a small country. The whole middle east is a tinder bed.

Another possible blowback from helping the rebels, which has been discussed in the media to some degree, is that the rebels are as bad or worse than Assad (President of Syria). Indeed some of the rebel groups have ties to Al Qaeda:

The US claims that Al Qaeda is the great terrorist enemy; but apparently that won’t stop us from strengthening Al Qaeda as we help the rebels by bombing the Syrian Army.

Adding another layer to this blowback mess: during the Soviet-Afghanistan invasion, we aided Islamic extremists, among whose ranks was Osama bin laden. Bin laden later used his skills against us, forming Al Qaeda itself (and successfully destroying the Twin Towers and hitting the Pentagon).

Apparently we have not learned from our previous failure at helping extremists. We are about to risk the empowerment of Al Qaeda and the creation of another bin laden.

Here is another very critical blowback problem: by attacking Syria the US will only worsen its international image, which is already absolutely horrible. The typical US citizen has no idea how tarnished and degraded--and, in fact, rotten--our reputation has become on a very wide scale across the globe. The US is seen as arrogant, greedy, corrupt, and willing to commit the most horrific atrocities.

As a quick example, look at the Iraq War: no one benefited except Dick Cheney’s Halliburton (Cheney, once CEO of Halliburton, was Vice President under George W. Bush. Note, also, that Bush’s father, a previous President, was also once head of the CIA), and also other wealthy segments of the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower warned us about the “military-industrial complex” long ago, but obviously we did not take heed.

The US Empire’s reputation of infamy and darkness has been a long time in the making. Maybe Sweig’s book, Friendly Fire, makes the best case. From the jacket cover:

In 1945, the U.S. ... presented itself as a paragon to inspire a less noble and divided world. Sixty years later, that perception had almost completely been reversed.

America had, in fact, quietly sowed the seeds of its own decline in the eyes of the world in its own backyard ... [In South America] we sponsored dictatorships, turned a blind eye to killing squads, and tolerated the subversion of democracy. Almost nobody knew, so it didn’t really matter, right?

Sweig goes on to obliterate the logic (if it can be called that) behind this facile question. We in the US need to own up to the sad fact: our empire has overturned democracies and replaced them with tyrannical monsters. The horror of this is starting to spread and grow in the world consciousness. For example, in The Brief Yet Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the National Book Award recently, author Junot Diaz shines a wicked light on the US’s chosen leader of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, an utterly despicable man.

Yet Franklin D. Roosevelt said of Trujillo, “He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard.”

What did Trujillo do:

Trujillo governed by corruption, nepotism, fear and violence - he banned all but his own political party, imprisoned opponents, bought and sold favours with American companies, and killed over 50,000 of his own people - as well as many as 30,000 Haitians massacred during an incursion into his neighbour's territory. But all through his rule, he was a favourite of America - providing Caribbean hospitality for his sponsors' richest citizens as well as a place for them to place their "offshore" investments beyond the reach and audit of any regular authorities. As revolution swept Central and South America in the 1950s, Trujillo and his family were seen as bulwarks of western interests.

Trujillo and the other monsters the US Empire put in power are not going away--not their impact on the global collective consciousness, anyway. Poets, writers and thinkers of all kinds are seeking justice for the horrors the US puppet dictators inflicted.

It does no good for the US to go into Syria. We will once again, and rightly so, be seen as arrogant, callous, cruel and willfully ignorant of the effects. No doubt huge corporations will benefit from military profits or secondary profits from the action--and that will work against our reputation. Badly.

We will also suffer other kinds of blowback, as mentioned above, such as the rebels someday becoming our enemies. Escalation could occur, resulting in massive conflict, even WWIII, which will be the end of everything we know.

There is also the matter, not of consequences, but of simple ethical principles. Honesty. Decency. Goodness. None of these are served by the US continuing its decades-long pattern of infernal deeds: the “Legacy of Ashes” as Tim Weiner puts it.

As I have written in this blog a couple times, at least, the US status as a solo superpower was very short-lived. We are already on the decline, sinking below China, after only about seventy years of supremacy. It is ultimately greed that shattered this country. It divided the people into haves and have nots, and let the haves bribe politicians. And, in the service of avarice, we embarked on foreign policy strategies that maximized the stock market and minimized virtue. In the very short term, greed allows huge plumes of power. But look at the results.

No on Syria. Enough.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Poem: Nameless Wife On the Flood

Originally published in that super-cool journal of literature & art, Viral Cat.

You can read it here, if you wish, between the pastel crayon sketches Autumn III and Autumn IV by Lorna Ritz (there are also some nifty screenplays in this issue):

Why is she nameless?

Here's hoping we don't go into Syria,



Nameless Wife On The Flood

passels come and go
like inconsolable octopi.
no hope in their flourishes,
the muck on the flails of their grasps,

just bathos of the most selfish kind.

they exuviate and expiate,
but the ears of stone
on the people in the skyscrapers dare not believe,

until the lies
in their workaday blood panic,
and their stomachs
forget the license agreement
in the bargain for bread.

rain falls as thick
as a graveyard of listing masts,
spurs apologies from bewildered
and unexpected friends.

there are no poets
to decipher the sad babbling.
no Bird Women left,
unpinioned of passion
and honest enough to jump.

slow in the deluge,
masks of soggy throngs
tear to suds and dribble away.

god looks down,
as relieved as the clouds,
and sees nothing there.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Anti-Social Poetry Disorder

"I've worked on making myself so sensitive, as a poet, that I am not sure I can be social anymore."

Livingston Quixenwilder