Hold It All

Category: Reviews

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 »

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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 »

A Response to Barghouti’s “I Saw Ramallah” by Liz Burkemper

Liz Burkemper shared this with me, and I am happy to share it here.  Liz is a sophomore at George Washington University.

“The Occupation has created generations of us that have to adore an unknown beloved: distant, difficult, surrounded by guards, by walls, by nuclear missiles, by sheer terror.”  Themes of land, identity, and displacement color I Saw Ramallah, a lyrical memoir of lament by Mourid Barghouti. A Palestinian poet and intellectual, Barghouti was born in the agrarian village of Deir Ghassanah outside of Ramallah four years before the birth of the State of Israel.  The memoir explores Barghouti’s identity as one of the naziheen, or “displaced ones” — during his undergraduate study at Cairo University, Barghouti witnesses the fall of Ramallah to Israeli forces as part of the Six-Day War in 1967, leading to thirty years of exile from his homeland.  When Mourid finally returns to Palestine in 1996, the complexities of his relationship with the land become discernible.  Though he spends “a lifetime…trying to get here,” Mourid discovers that “it is enough for a person to go through the first experience of uprooting, to become uprooted forever.”

Barghouti’s story is told as much through his identity as a Palestinian exiled from the homeland for thirty years as it is through his naturally poetic soul.  Even when writing in prose, Barghouti offers a unique lyricism that is made manifest in the text.  At the beginning of the book, Mourid describes his first experience back in Palestine: “This then is the ‘Occupied Territory’?…When the eye sees it, it has all the clarity of earth and pebbles and hills and rocks…It stretches before me, as touchable as a scorpion, a bird, a well; visible as a field of chalk, as the prints of shoes.”  This passage brings to the story’s center the disconnect between the land of Palestine and its people created through decades of Israeli occupation.  While Palestine is called many words — the West Bank and Gaza, occupied Palestine, Israel, Judea and Samaria, the Areas — the land itself remains at once the Palestinian homeland and a concept talked about by actors who think that they know, a reality never to be known by Palestinians themselves.  Mourid continues to poetically narrate his return to Palestine: Read the rest of this entry »

“I’ll Never Know, in the Silence You Don’t Know, You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”

Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors.  At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a  five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by  Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.

I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile:  Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.

The following  passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.

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People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.”  Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language.  The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit.  The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »

For the Love of a Few Golden Sentences

What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us? … The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources…. Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.

Goethe

 

In the last couple of years, I have found myself asking two simple questions, Why do we read? Why do we write?  One context for this curiosity is my facilitating classes of writing and reading, in homes and on-line.  If you, too, want or need to engage in such self-examination, I recommend biographer Robert D. Richardson’s  First We Read, Then We Write:  Emerson on the Creative Process. You may find your own riches, as I have in what follows…

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RDR:  He glanced at thousands of books. He read carefully many hundreds that caught his attention. He returned over and over to a favorite few, including Montaigne, Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Goethe, de Stael, and Wordsworth.

RWE: It seemed to me as if I had written [Montaigne’s Essays] myself in some former life. … No book before or since was ever so much to me as that.

RWE: Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me. Read the rest of this entry »