Hold It All

Category: Reading Groups

The World according to Chomsky: Winter Reading Group 2018

In recent years, I’ve known many people who ask themselves, “What can I do, given the state of the world?”   In the past year, this question has been especially urgent, given the toxicity of the US political scene.  It’s easy to be continually distracted by the latest outrage; yet, it’s imperative that we understand more of the big picture involving the institutions that have  long had significant impact on both U.S. citizens and the rest of the word.

I invite you to spend several weeks with me reading, thinking about, and discussing a few essays by Noam Chomsky, long-time MIT professor and prolific political writer.   In so doing, we may encounter fresh critical perspectives, analyses, and questions, which we can bring to our  own civic priorities.

Back in 1979, a New York Times reviewer said of Chomsky, “Judged  in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.”    Some important themes of Chomsky’s work include liberal criticism and the limits of thinkable thought;  the how and why of propaganda;  the responsibility of the writer and intellectual; ; the political economy of human rights;  the power of activism; and the elite fear of democratic participation.  He became known to the American public in the later 1960s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.  He has  since been involved in issues of justice and peace regarding Israel/Palestine, East Timor, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, among many others. Read the rest of this entry »


The Good News of Publishing a Novel, 4.19.2017

At Amazon.com, I see that my friend Jason Makansi’s novel, The Moment Before, will be out in November. It’s about “a woman and her beloved Syrian father, separated forty years earlier when he is swept up in a geopolitical odyssey from hell, are almost reunited by a lawyer struggling to save his Illinois hometown from financial ruin.” I read a gripping draft of it this past summer, and I am pumped to facilitate a reading group of his book this fall.


The Good  News of Public Libraries, 3.16.2017

This afternoon I walked eight blocks north to the Central West End’s Schlafly Library where I picked up three books by Bernard  B. Fall, whom Noam Chomsky once described as “the most respected analyst and commentator on the Vietnam War”—Last Reflections on a War, Street without Joy, and Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. The new trainee at the circulation desk said, “All these are very old books, look at the condition they’re in!”

Coming Up

Friday 3 March: discussion of Svetlana Alexeievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, with Lori and Helen at Handlebar Restaurant

Saturday 4 March: sharing with sangha on In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon at Madalyn’s

Sunday 5 March: Share the Wealth with Tony Albrecht—the case for impeaching Donald Trump—at Savannah and Jessie’s

Wednesday 8 March: Spring Writing Class, Good News Variations, begins at New City School for eight weeks


The good news is still that I was able to visit Italy for a four-week honeymoon in 1992

The good news is still that I was able to visit Italy for a four-week honeymoon in 1992

Invitation to Memory of Fire Global Reading Circle

Danielle Mackey and I invite you to join us in reading, reflecting, and writing on Eduardo Galeano’s trilogy, Memory of Fire: Genesis, Faces & Masks, and Century of the Wind, a total  of 911 pages.

You have to be willing to confront the histories of the Americas as told by a dissident journalist and savorer of stories.

Commit to one hour of reading and writing a week.

Read 10-20 pages a week of Galeano.

Write at least a paragraph or several lines in response: What emotions, memories, people, connections did the reading trigger for you?

Post at a blog and make comments on other people’s posts.

We propose this unusual approach: start from the end of volume three (Century of the Wind) and move backward in time. The reason for this—most people who would be interested in the subject matter are most likely familiar—because of their own experiences in Latin America—with recent history. Start from there and learn more about the past.

I can make the weekly reading selections and encourage participants to share and connect.

I propose the first posts be done on 11.16.2015, which would mean starting 11.09.2015 with the first reading assignment.

Please send me a message if you want to participate: Markjchmiel@gmail.com

Chiapas, 1983; photo by Mev

The Essential Allen Ginsberg: Cafe Ventana Reading Group

“It occurs to me that I am America”
–Allen Ginsberg, America

Beat poet, antiwar activist, gay liberationist, free speech devotee, “First Thought, Best Thought” advocate, and cheerful Buddhist, Allen Ginsberg  has been a major influence on U.S. counterculture and culture from the mid-1950s and since his death in 1997.

The recent paperback publication of  Michael Schumacher’s The Essential Ginsberg  collects the variety of Ginsberg’s literary  production including poems, journals, essays, letters, photos, and interviews.  Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher of Ginsberg’s globally influential Howl and Other Poems, describes the book as “An intellectually impeccable selection, distilling Ginsberg as visionary mystic and dark prophet foretelling what people in power didn’t want to hear.”

I first read aloud Ginsberg’s Howl with Bellarmine College friends at the White Castle on Eastern Parkway in Louisville some autumn midnight 1980.  I heard him recite antiwar poetry at  1992 huge public gathering  while I was a doctoral student in Berkeley. I went on a binge of reading  all of his books (poetry and prose) winter spring 1996. While I love many of his poems (Yiddishe Kopf, Cosmopolitan Greetings, White Shroud, Death and Fame, Ego Confession, Why I Meditate, I am a Prisoner of Allen Ginsberg, I Love Old Whitman So), I find his essays and interviews equally illuminating and energizing.

This summer I invite you to join me in reading, discussing, and being answerable to The Essential Ginsberg:  We will spend 4 sessions meeting bi-weekly at Cafe Ventana (West Pine Boulevard)  from 7:00 to 8:30 on these Mondays:  July 20, August 3, 17, and 31.  Tuition is $60.

Message or email me (Markjchmiel@gmail.com) if you are interested!

“Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!”

–Allen Ginsberg, Footnote to Howl

The following passages are from Jane Kramer’s Allen Ginsberg in America:

He has been revered by thousands of heady, flower-wielding boys and girls as a combination guru and paterfamilias, and by a generation of students—who consider him a natural ally, if for no other reason than that he terrifies their parents with his elaborate and passionate friendliness—as a kind of ultimate faculty advisor.

“For a guy that ain’t straight at all,” the [Hell’s] Angel apparently said, “he’s the straightest sonofabitch I’ve ever seen. Man, you shoulda been there when he told Sonny he loved him…Sonny didn’t know what the hell to say.”

He enters the name, address, and phone number of anyone he meets who plays, or is apt to play, a part in what he thinks of as the new order—or has information that might be useful to it—in the address book that he always carries in his purple bag, and he goes to considerable trouble putting people he likes in touch with each other and with sympathetic and influential Establishment characters who might be helpful to them.

His friends prefer to think of [Ginsberg} as a sort of latter-day Hebrew prophet, roaming raggedy, exhortative, and penitential among the idol-worshippers.  Ginsberg himself apparently never wasted much time wondering why he enjoyed being poor.

He is a funny, eloquent teacher, and an admitted ham. As a reader, he is by rapid turns rapturous, weepy, plaintive, outraged, comical, heartbreaking and then rapturous again.

Reading Du Fu

Some friends and I are reading Du Fu in David Young’s translation. Here’s what Ye Xie (1627-1703) had to say about him– “Take any one of Du Fu’s poems, or even one line, and everywhere you will see his concern for his country and his love for his sovereign, his compassion for the times and his sadness over disorder, his refusal to compromise in adversity, his integrity in poverty, his way of expressing indignation and refining his nature by means of enjoying the landscape and drinking with friends, even though he had traveled through war-torn, bandit-infested terrain: this is Du Fu’s visage. Whenever I read him, it leaps before my eyes.”

2015 Chinese Poets in Translation Reading Group

Chris Wallach and I are starting a reading group in 2015 with the aim of reading one of the translations each month  of such poets as Wang Wei, Han-Shan, Li Ch’ing-chao, Tu Fu, Su Tung-p’o, Bo Juyi, Bei Dao, by such translators as Arthur Waley, Kenneth Rexroth, David Young, Burton Watson,  David Hinton, Eliot Weinberger, among others.

Our first book will be Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-Shan.

Please send me a message if you are interested in joining us in 2015.

I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
The streams broad and banked with thick grass.
Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;
Pines sigh, but it isn’t the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?
translated by Burton Watson

Watson's Hanshan Cover

Starting Where We Are: A Writing Course on the Mind-Training Slogans via Pema Chödrön

Join us this fall for a writing course that focuses on the 59 mind-training slogans as taught by beloved Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön in her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living.

Each session will include peaceful sitting, discussion of Pema’s commentaries, use of particular slogans  to generate our own reflections, poems and/or commentaries, and sharing with others.

We will meet  for eight sessions on Thursday evenings 6:30-8:30 at Fatima Rhodes’ home (4406 A Laclede Avenue 63108) from October 9 to  December 4 (skipping Thanksgiving).

You’ll need a copy of Pema’s book, a notebook and pen or laptop, and a willingness to practice deep listening, awareness of breathing, and cheerfulness.

Tuition is $125. Email me if you are interested: Markjchmiel@gmail.com.

Here are some passages from the book:

True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings.

Every time your stream of thoughts solidifies into a heavy story line that seems to be taking you elsewhere, label that “thinking.”  Then you will be able to see how all the passion that’s connected with these thoughts, or all the aggression or all the heartbreak, is simply passing memory. If even for a second you actually had a full experience  that it was all just thought, that would be a moment of full awakening.

To be fearless isn’t really to overcome fear, it’s to come to know its nature.

Dharma is good instruction on how to stop cheating yourself, how to stop robbing yourself, how to find out who you really are, not in the limited sense of “I need” and “I’m gonna get,” but through developing wakefulness as your habit, your way of perceiving everything.

Here are a few of the 59 slogans:
Be grateful to everyone.
Don’t expect applause.
Don’t be swayed by external circumstances.
Always maintain only a joyful mind.
Train wholeheartedly.

Hope to see you on Thursdays at Fatima’s!

Present moment, only moment,



Reading Galeano

Lindsay Weston recently wrote me
Asked if I could recommend anything to read

Instantly I thought of the trilogy
So long on my shelf

Barely perused but
Now may be the time!

I sent word back to Lindsay
“Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy” Read the rest of this entry »