Hold It All

Category: Reviews

Dr. Sheth, How Many Poems Do You Prescribe Each Day?

Sometimes the world is too much with me—
The Trump world
The I-Me-Mine world
The seemingly gleaming samsara world—

But then I remember I need a dose of poems
Like the following from Ko Un’s book This Side of Time
Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg…

The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I’ll dance my way out too
when it’s time to leave this world. 26

Do I have a love
to wash away people’s hate?
I opened an umbrella
then closed it, and
let the rain fall down on me. 27

I love August.
I love the August sun.
I remember ten billion years ago.

Ah, my body is smeared with primeval light. 52 Read the rest of this entry »

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“Scribbled Secret Notebooks, and Wild Typewritten Pages, for Yr Own Joy”

Inspired by Diana Raab, Writers and Their Notebooks

I read Raab’s book right about the end of my time at SLU. Moving on to Maryville University, I found a way to assign Natalie Goldberg’s Bones book in my Humanities classes—mandatory composition 9wide-ruled) notebooks. I also started teaching my own classes off-campus, typically with a writing (hence, notebook) theme.

1.
How can we imagine a notebook?

Some possibilities—
Warehouse (not a museum)
Treasure chest of thoughts and anecdotes
Place to collect ideas
Place to practice writing
Place to overcome writer’s block
Laboratory
Mirror
Icebreaker
Wailing wall
Junk drawer
Confessional
Postcard to oneself
Playground for mind
Jump-start cable
Memory aid
Archive
Anthology
Snooping device
Role-playing arena
Observation-sharpener
Survival kit
Meditation practice
Witness Stand
Therapist
Spiritual Advisor
Sound-board
Friend Read the rest of this entry »

Remembrance, Responsibility, Reparations

Ariel S. Garfinkel, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam

With the recent passing of Senator John McCain, it’s clear how hard it is for many Americans see what we’ve done in the world. It’s much easier to see what others have done to us, in this case, the Vietnamese  who held McCain captive and tortured him.  Despite Trump’s demurrer that McCain was no “hero,”  the week-long mourning and focus on his death and life speaks otherwise.

Ariel Garfinkel can help us better see who we are and who we’ve been.  In her timely, informative, and piercing  book, Scofflaw: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam, she brings attention to the damage the U.S. did to the Vietnamese people both during the war and since, with its unexploded ordnance (UXO), and the lethal defoliant, Agent Orange.  Because of these, people continue to suffer and die in excruciating ways.

Regarding UXO, Garfinkel writes, “Children are still being maimed by cluster bombs, their parents are still dying from grenades and mines, and the full removal of remaining live ordnance at the rate of success over the past two decades will reportedly take hundreds of years more.”  As for Agent Orange, it is true that the U.S. government has acknowledged the significance of Agent Orange when it comes to care for our veterans, yet  the government is unable and unwilling to  acknowledge its responsibility for the death and devastation its has caused the Vietnamese people.  According to the author, “an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese died as a result of exposure to the chemical sprays.” Read the rest of this entry »

That Glow, That Yes!

Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft
30 September 2000

It’s clear to me today, anyway, that my Holy Contour of Life book will be a structure like Natalie’s: short, compressed, easy to read and reread, straightforward. I can continue to play with this. Because having “finished” the new version (how many versions have I had???) in which I fractured chronology, now it seems too disjointed and contrived, so I want to break it up further, maybe chronologically, but just keep it to two pages max.

Commentaries, yes, but creatively done, maybe with lists, found shit, short portions of letters (like mine to Peter Pfersick), journals, and articles. Weave them together. Like on riches and poverty: Set it up, find one quotation from GG interview, then one from Sobrino interview, then add a further comment, then use the photos.

Here in Thunder and Lightning, Natalie is still giving her Zen advice on writing as a spiritual practice … Writing Down the Bones, III (After Wild Mind being Bones II). She’s found what works for her, she’s just giving good advice coming out of her own vulnerable, wise experiences as a writer, a meditator, a slow walker, a Jew, a neurotic. “What if Natalie Goldberg were one of us? Just a shmo like one of us?”

And I read this, quelle surprise, only for insight on how to keep going with Book of Mev, Holy Contour of Life, My Fucking Memoir, whatever it’s to be entitled. And this book moves beyond writing practice to structure, craft, finishing a project. So what I note below may be useful in this process:
Read the rest of this entry »

God Is Hidden. Poetry Is Obvious.

On Adam Zagajewski, Another Beauty

We find comfort only in
Another beauty, in others’
Music, in the poetry of others.
Salvation lies with others,
Though solitude may taste like
Opium. Other people aren’t hell
If you glimpse them at dawn, when
Their brows are clean, rinsed by dreams…

These are the memoirs of a young poet who studied in Krakow. Mostly it is the short aperçus that captured my attention & interest, plus the method of writing a narrative, broken up time-wise here and there, and then he comes in with more short epigrams. He offers extended portraits of women whom he rented from, his teachers (“Professor Leszczynski never removed his green overcoat”) other students and poets, acquaintances (“He was a bachelor, a gallant gentleman, a troubadour ready to serve any lady in the most disinterested and noble fashion”) whereas my portraits [in what became The Book of Mev] are all too brief – I need to flesh these out much more fully. He reviews his time in Paris and the US as well as his love for classical music, such as Mahler’s 9th and the glorious first movement, or Schumann’s third piano concerto. He regrets becoming a poetic ideologue and propagandist. I ordered this book on impulse, thinking his structure would be convergent with my own, but it’s not: mine is bolder! (Or, some would say, more chaotic.)

Some passages of note—

I lost two homelands, but I sought a third: a space for the imagination, a domain that held room for artistic needs that were still not entirely clear to me. 15 Read the rest of this entry »

Like Staying up All Night with Your Best Friend

Allen Ginsberg, Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness, edited by Gordon Ball

There are many influences that went into my creating Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, and Allen Ginsberg was a major one. Here are quotations from reading Allen Verbatim in 2006, with my comments relating to subsequent Dear Layla project in brackets…

So what I do is try to forget entirely about the whole world of art and just get directly to the most economical—that is, the fastest, not most economical—the fastest and most direct expression of want it is I got in heart-mind. 107 [The chapters in novel are certainly economical!]

Start with what you desire, heart, instead of what you think you are supposed to do. 124 [E. once told me after she received my correspondence, “That’s the best love letter I’ve ever received.” That became the end of the novel many years later.]

… in which the prose sentence is completely personal, comes from the writer’s own person—his person defined as his body, his breathing rhythm, his actual talk. 153 [This is why this book of correspondences worked best for me.] Read the rest of this entry »

Unpronounceable Words

George McGovern and William R. Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now

March 2007

Dear Andrew,

I have finished McGovern and Polk’s primer on the catastrophe in Iraq and how to get out of it. It does remind me in form of Carter’s book on Palestine: short, succinct, easy to read, intended for a huge audience. Certainly, a huge audience in America could and should be enlightened by this book. Early on, the authors ask, “How can a person distinguish between propaganda and fact?” And they respond in a way that is a challenge to us, CTSA, and our students: “The short answer is diligence and time, plus a healthy dose of skepticism.” [14] “The challenge is to devote the time. On the Iraq war the American public and Congress clearly did not.” [15]

The early chapter on what is Iraq and who are the Iraqis would be welcome, I think, for so many of our students, given their (our?) poor sense of history and geography. I am reminded of a remark a young Palestinian woman made to me in Ramallah, “We know everything about America, and Americans know nothing about us.” Her remarks generalize beyond Palestine, of course. The authors show how embedded journalism does us no real service: “Few reporters went to Iraq knowing the local language, and so they could not hope to get the opinions and observations of most Iraqis. We tend to accept this fact as a given, because Arabic is a difficult language known to few Americans, but we should ask ourselves how we would rate reports on American political affairs written by a Chinese journalist who could not speak or read English.” [10] Read the rest of this entry »

More of a Buddhist Jewish Pantheist

Everybody needs a guru, I’ve got Nima Sheth among the living, she’s just back from India. But it’s good to have lotsa gurus, including those bodily deceased but still lodged in heart/mind, as Allen Ginsberg is for me. Here’s why, in these selections from Jane Kramer’s portrait, Allen Ginsberg in America:

Guru as emanating trust and comfort: [AG] made a comfortable, avuncular presence—a rumpled, friendly-looking man with a nice toothy face, big brown owl eyes behind the horn-rimmed classes, and a weary, rather affecting slouch. 5

Guru as book fiend: What books do I carry around with me, like AG did the Prajnaparamita Sutra? … Go ahead, savor books.

Guru as Beloved Teacher: 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. 9

Guru as faithful, indefatigable correspondent: Ginsberg answers all his letters. 16 Read the rest of this entry »

The Struggle Is One

In the 1970s Orbis Books was the U.S. cutting-edge publisher of books coming out of Latin America that heralded the phenomenon of liberation theology.   Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, and Jon Sobrino were among the authors boldly questioning the Church’s historical alignment with the rich and advocating the preferential option for the poor.  A representative title was Jose Comblin’s The Church and the National Security State.

Perhaps it was the post-60s zeitgeist that accounts for a highly unusual book published  in 1978:  Raymond Whitehead’s Love and Struggle in Mao’s Thought.  That is no typo—that’s Mao, as in Mao Zedong, Chinese revolutionary, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and Evil Incarnate to the West (along with Stalin and Hitler).  Just as Latin American liberation theologians and pastoral agents employed  Marxist social analysis as part of their struggle against oppression, Whitehead retrieved from Mao’s thought challenges that the mainstream churches needed to confront head on. Here are some representative passages:

“Each person, whether proletarian or bourgeois, revolutionary or reactionary, can progress by struggling against selfishness, arrogance, laziness, fear, and timidity. If constant, vigilant struggle is not maintained, then one will regress.” [48] Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Expect Applause

Tom Hayden was a major player in the antiwar movement of the 1960s as well as a familiar liberal and progressive  activist, commentator, and researcher since.  His last book is entitled,  Hell No:  The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement.  Here’s his basic point: “What we should honor and strive for today is an inclusive demonstration of the power of the peace movement.”    Hayden wanted the mainstream to acknowledge all that the peace movement had done.   (He highlights the leading role in resistance to U.S. power  by the Vietnamese themselves, U.S. communities of color, and veterans.) Even at this late date, Hayden yearned for recognition and validation from the powerful as to the history the movement “made.” Read the rest of this entry »