Hold It All

Category: Reading Groups

“Nobody’s Going To Do It for You”

Anne Waldman and Laura Wright, editors, Beats at Naropa: An Anthology
Coffee House Press, 2009

I read Beats at Naropa exactly nine years ago, 2009. In my notes on the dialogues, essays, and interviews are the seeds of what became projects like Arab Writers in Translation Reading Group, People’s History of the United States Monthly Discussion, St. Louis Mindfulness Sangha, Share the Wealth, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, Writing to Wake Up courses on Demun Avenue and Spring Avenue, Brothers Karamazov Sessions at Sasha’s, Monthly Via Creativa Colloquium with Cami Kasmerchak for a Year, Chinese Poets in Translation Reading Group, approximately 700 cafe rendezvous, and 450-page draft of Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris, to name several.

It pleases me to recognize my deep indebtedness to the writers, poets, and artists in this volume who nurtured my vision. Accordingly, I savor provocations like the following—

Diane di Prima: There’s also: once you finish writing something it doesn’t belong to you. It has its own life and needs to go where it wants to go.

Anne Waldman: The scope and influence of the New American Poetry and its attendant offshoots and cross-fertilizations with other writers of the expansive poetry world is an Indra’s Net of inter-relatedness and is thus difficult to codify. Suffice it to say, however, that some of the writers most associated with the Beat movement were already very cognizant of and extremely well-read in Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

Diane di Prima: A lot of this is hit-and-run. It doesn’t have to be a life work. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aha!

This morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I want my next writing/reading class to be on the work and life of Diane di Prima: poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist. We could read her two poetry collections, “Revolutionary Letters” and “The Poetry Deal,” as well as her memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman —The New York Years.

“Early in November, just a week after Freddie died I began writing a book to him in the form of a long letter/journal. It was the one thing I could think of doing. Most of the time the pain was too much to hold still for, and I went around in a haze from one thing to another. But I knew from doing Zen meditation: one can hold still, hold the mind still, if it is a task. Even better if it is a finite task, has a foreseeable end. So when the loss got to be too much, I would go into my study, light a stick of incense and tell myself I’d type (write) till it had burned away. That particular incense took about forty minutes, and that seemed a possible time span, though not easy. I could always look up and see how much incense was left. It made more sense than a clock. I wrote the book for a year, though not every day, and ended on the anniversary of his death.” –Diane di Prima

“What Am I Living My Life for?” Ivan Ilyich and Ikigai- A Summer 2018 Reading/Writing Class

“I see that all of my work amounts to nothing, that my ten volumes aren’t worth anything!”
—Guy de Maupassant, after reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich

David Barsamian: You had something in mind in a lecture when you mentioned Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich .… What was that?

Historian Howard Zinn: I think what I had in mind was that young people, especially when thinking about their whole future lying ahead of them, should try to imagine what Ivan Ilyich went through when at the end of his life, Tolstoy is giving young people an opportunity to see forty or fifty years ahead and ask, How will I think back upon my life forty or fifty years from now. For them to see that Ivan Ilyich, this successful man, this man who did everything right, looks back on his life and says, This is not the kind life I wanted to lead, is something very instructive for young people, who are being captivated, being pressured on all sides, to get money, to get success, to do the right things, all of them superficial, evanescent, the kinds of things that at the end of one’s life will evaporate immediately. I very often talk about The Death of Ivan Ilyich because I want young people to think about the question of, What am I living my life for? What can I be proud of when I go? What will my grandchildren be proud of when they think of my life?

For the last weeks of summer, I invite you to join a reading and writing class to discuss this jarring work by Tolstoy. But I think this will be relevant not only for undergraduates but people of any age.

Each class session will have activities of discussing a few chapters of Tolstoy, writing and sharing with each other. We will write on themes from Tolstoy’s novella about our own lives, particularly in light of the Japanese concept of Ikigai, or one’s “reason for being.” A class blog will allow further sharing and reflection.

An online class version of the class will be available for people who wish to engage with Tolstoy and other readers and writers. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Essentials:
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.”