Hold It All


Category: Reading Groups

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 »

Leçon de français d’aujourd’hui

Un poème de Thich Nhat Hanh

Ne dites pas, je serai parti demain,
car je ne cesse de naître, aujourd’hui encore.
Regardez en profondeur : je nais à chaque seconde
bourgeon sur une branche printanière,
oisillon aux ailes encore fragiles,
apprenant à chanter dans mon nouveau nid,
chenille au coeur d’une fleur ;
bijou caché dans une pierre.

Je ne cesse de naître, pour rire et pour pleurer ; pour craindre et pour espérer :
Mon coeur est rythmé par la naissance et
la mort de tout ce qui est vivant.

Je suis l’éphémère se métamorphosant sur l’eau de la rivière,
et je suis l’oiseau qui, au printemps, naît juste à temps
pour manger l’éphémère.
Je suis la grenouille nageant heureuse dans la mare claire,
Et je suis l’orvet approchant en silence pour se nourrir de la grenouille.
Je suis l’enfant d’Ouganda, décharné, squelettique,
aux jambes pareilles à des bambous fragiles,
et je suis le marchand d’armes vendant des armes meurtrières à l’Ouganda.
Je suis la fillette de douze ans, réfugiée sur une frêle embarcation,
Se jetant à l’eau pour avoir été violée par un pirate,
et je suis le pirate, au coeur incapable encore de voir et d’aimer :
Je suis un membre du Politburo,
et je suis l’homme qui doit acquitter sa “dette de sang ” envers mon peuple,
mourant lentement aux travaux forcés.

Ma joie est comme le printemps, chaude,
au point d’épanouir des fleurs en tout mode de vie.
Ma peine forme une rivière de larmes, débordante,
au point d’emplir les quatre océans.

S’il vous plaît, appelez-moi par mes vrais noms,
Que j’entende ensemble mes cris et mes rires,
Que je voie ma joie mais aussi ma peine.

Appelez-moi, s’il vous plaît, par mes vrais noms,
Que je m’éveille, et ouvre pour toujours la porte de mon cœur,
la porte de la compassion.

Thay 1970s

Remembering the Salvadoran Martyrs Reading Group

Dear Friends,

We  have been turning over in our minds the following reflection from an interview with U.S. linguist and activist Noam Chomsky (1996):

Closer to the explanation is your observation that they [Eastern European dissidents] were supported by the US and the Vatican, unlike dissidents elsewhere, who were supported by no one with any power or influence. But that is a great understatement: they [Eastern European dissidents] were given massive support and attention by the entire Western world, quite unprecedented support, vastly greater than the support given to people within Western domains who were suffering far worse oppression and were defending freedom and justice with far greater courage. The disparity is so extraordinary that the very word “dissident” in Western languages refers to East Europeans; no one, except those few who have extricated themselves from the Western propaganda system, even uses the word “dissident” for people like the Central American Jesuit intellectuals who were assassinated in November 1989 by elite forces armed and trained by the US. And while every word of East European dissidents is widely publicized, hailed, and treasured, try to find even a reference to the very important and courageous writings of Fr. Ellacuría and his associates, or other Central American dissidents who had to flee from slaughter or were simply tortured and killed by US-run forces.

Accordingly, we invite you to join us in reading the “very important and courageous writings” of the  Salvadoran intellectuals and martyrs.  For starters, we suggest reading Ignacio Ellacuría’s essay, “Utopia and Prophecy in Latin America,” which is in the collection Toward a Society That Serves Its People (Georgetown University  Press).  For those interested, let’s meet to discuss it on Sunday 8 June at Café Ventana from 2:00-3:15 or so.

If you know anyone who would be would like to be a part of  this reading group devoted to  the Jesuit martyrs and Oscar Romero, please forward this information to them.  For those outside of St. Louis, perhaps we could make good use of technology like Skype.


Lindsay Noesen and Mark Chmiel