Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Correspondence

Dear “Hermana Ann”   by Maria Vazquez-Smith

Maria is taking a class with me based on The Book of Mev.  One of the weekly themes was Direct Address, and Maria wrote the following and gave me permission to share it.

Dear “Hermana Ann”                                                                                         September 12, 2017

Hello, my name is Maria Smith and I am a 2013 graduate of Saint Louis University. It has been a true honor getting to know you through The Book of Mev (as in your friend, Mev Puleo. Her husband,  Mark Chmiel, wrote a beautiful book that you’d enjoy. It includes people like you that make me proud to be a SLU alum). This afternoon, I read an excerpt that features you being interviewed by Mev. During the time of the interview, you were both in El Salvador, perhaps sitting outside somewhere. While I read the interview, I was sitting outside my office. I had just finished eating lunch and was taking a moment to breathe and sit in the sun before returning back to work. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Dear Noam

I’m currently facilitating an on-line class, Be in Love with Yr Life, based on The Book of Mev, with 11 very special people.  The other day, I posted a short response  to a Barsamian/Chomsky book, and afterwards, going through my files, I found the following letter.

 

Wednesday 9 October 1996
Professor Noam Chomsky
M.I.T./ 20D-219
Cambridge, MA
02139

Dear Noam,

I hope you are doing well  these days.  To refresh your memory, since I know you receive hundreds of letters, I invited you to speak at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley a couple of years ago (while a student at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1990, I did a thesis on your Mideast work).  Your visit then was just before the time that my wife Mev Puleo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.   Mev died this past January  at the age of 32 after a long and excruciating deterioration here in St. Louis.  Actually, she took pictures at your talk to us on “Intellectuals and Political Responsibility” —  that was the last  shooting she did before her surgery. (One of her photos appears in the enclosed review).

Anyway, I have been slow to resume my work since it has been quite difficult to face the loss of wife, partner, and best friend, in addition to someone whose commitment to solidarity was simply exemplary.  I am hoping to finish soon  my doctoral dissertation for the GTU on Elie Wiesel; your work has been immensely helpful to me as I  examine the connections between Wiesel’s work of memory and his august status in the U.S. intellectual and political community.  (I’ve recently written Professor Shahak to see if he had translations on Wiesel’s reception in Israel, to which you’ve referred). I am hoping to trace the evolution of Wiesel from “unworthy victim” to most “worthy victim,” in your and Ed Herman’s classification.  You were the first person I’d ever read who dissented from  the strong Christian consensus that Wiesel is a prophet of our times. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Inspiration from Rereading Lindsey Trout Hughes’s Letters and Poems

 

In the last year and a half, I have benefited enormously from exchanges with Lindsey, who lives in Brooklyn.

A Letter Is… by Emily Guck-McGuigan

A letter is….

A humanly imperfect cartography of thoughts and experience
Made not for self-exploration
(Though insight often emerges from the act)
But for sending on–
Inviting,
“Imagine yourself here!”
Read the rest of this entry »

A Thousand Letters Behind

Marcel Proust, Selected Letters, volume 4: 1918-1922
Edited by Philip Kolb, translated and with an introduction for Joanna Kilmartin

Months ago, I read volume 4 of Proust’s selected letters translated into English.  As the Buddhists highlight the power of an incalculable number of seeds (both positive and negative)  that find their way into our being, I think my very recent resumption of In Search of Lost Time (Proust’s seven novels, which I first read twenty years ago)  may be the fruit of  reading those several hundred pages of correspondence in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Like Darren Crews in the novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I took refuge in Proust, who fortified me amid vexing  vicissitudes.

___________________

Some one-liners from Proust the correspondent:

“You’ve written me an adorable letter.”

“You’re a thousand times too good, but you greatly exaggerate.”

“Letters!  I must be over a thousand behind, alas.”

“I thank you, I admire you, I like you.”

“My health forbids my writing a single letter by hand.”

“Dear friend, I have a million things to say to you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Rachel’s Parenting Life

Rachel Kell is doing an on-line class with me (on Thich Nhat Hanh!). We had Social Justice class in spring 2003.  I asked her how her parenting life is going, after hearing Kate Heidemann Vandergriff describe parenting as “magical” and “exhausting.”

This is what Rachel shared with me…

Parenting life…I have thought about grabbing some moments several times throughout the day to respond to your request. Each time I would have had a different answer. Each time I was stopped by a more pressing “need”. Now the house is quiet because the children (5, 3, and 1) are sleeping. All their needs are being met by their own subconscious, and I am free to make a pizza from abandoned crust and remnants of toppings unfit for their own dinner. I have wine, which is more of a ritual than a beverage, a signal that my day is done and time is my own again. And I have a clearer mind that can see the day for what it was – another ordinary day filled with extraordinary moments. I watched Maeve’s dance moves and wiped Lucy’s nose. I counted steps taken, each one a new record. I swept up broken flower pots and remembered to water thirsty basil. I finally folded the laundry that sat stale in the dryer for a week while wondering why we hold onto things we can live without for 7 days. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best Minds of My Generation: For Rob Trousdale and Lindsey Trout Hughes

Re: Allen Ginsberg, The Best Minds of My Generation:A Literary History  of the Beats, edited by Bill Morgan

Dear Rob and Lindsey,

I’m grateful to you both for sharing your writing  with me and through me, to others—may these poems and pieces continue to animate  “Mayahana bodhisattvic compassionate empathy” (A. Ginsberg) in the years to come, ever reverberating through world wide web.

I recently finished Allen’s personal history of  his generation of writing comrades put together from his lectures at Naropa and Brooklyn College. I particularly enjoyed the many chapters on jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso, and want to share with you some passages that may offer you stimulation/encouragement/anamnesis for your own writing practice.

As prof, his method was “to read from the texts, read my favorite fragments or things that were important to us as a group at the time. Big sentences that knocked everybody out, that turned everybody on…. [the] gists [that were] historical epiphanies for us.” [11] Lindsey, as actor, think of the tens of thousands of lines you learned for your roles—you could regale us with  so many that would knock us out.

In commenting on Kerouac’s first novel, Ginsberg observed, “I think Kerouac was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and so divided himself up somewhat similarly into Dostoevsky’s characters.”  I’m currently editing 400+ pages of manuscript material and find myself doing something similar.  [93]

Maybe you both have your versions of Kerouac’s scribbling away in notebooks: “These little notebooks provided raw materials of two kinds: diaristic details, like a reporter’s notes, about events at hand and an endless retracing in memory of all the events in his life, reaching back to his earliest childhood memories in Lowell.” [266]  I never tire of mentioning the exuberant text along these lines, Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News, 6.4.2017: This Leads to That and That Leads to This

A couple years ago, Andrew Long suggested to one of his Barat Academy  students that she read The Book of Mev.   So she did.  And through social media we got in touch.  She just finished her first year at George Washington University, and it has been a delight to have visits and exchange correspondence with Liz Burkemper.

 

When We Were Young

The old days of Enneagram exchanges
The old days of “noisy contemplation”
The old days of Wendell Ford
The old days of the FSLN
The old days of Buzz Parsons
The old days of home-made spring rolls in Middletown
The old days of 319 Idlewylde Drive
The old nights of carpet burns
The old days of Corinto
The old days of Xela
The old days with you
When we were young

Learning by Heart, the Joy of Music, and the Power of the Prophetic

Dear Lauren,

I received your letter today about the online Good News class and your hand-written adaptation of Kipling’s famous poem. The fact that you have had “If” as a companion in your work and life at Casa Maria Catholic Worker reminds me of a short book I recently read. It’s titled, A Long Saturday, and it’s a translation of a series of interviews from French between  journalist Laure Adler and literary critic George Steiner.

Steiner was born in 1929. His father had the prescience to move his family out of Europe by 1940, thus escaping the Nazi juggernaut. He went to New York where his teachers included the noted Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson (whom Dorothy Day probably read at some point!). He later studied at the University of Chicago, was a Rhodes Scholar, worked for The Economist awhile, then joined Princeton’s Center for Advanced Studies. He’s been at various elite universities for decades and published many books (on topics like Antigone, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, translation, Homer). His contemporaries include Elie Wiesel and Noam Chomsky, and I’ve learned a lot from all three. Read the rest of this entry »