Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Reviews

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 »

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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 »

A Witness to Power’s Mendacity

A while back I reread David Barsamian’s first collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky, entitled Chronicles of Dissent.  Actually, I first heard the material starting in the mid-1980s, listening to Barsamian’s cassette tapes of interviews as I drove around Louisville and back and forth to Cincinnati and Chicago in  the often grim days of the second Reagan Administration. Since then, Chomsky’s readership has expanded considerably; even in his late eighties, the linguist still produces two or three books a year. I’ve lost count of the number of collaborative works he’s done with Barsamian.

Something I’ve found refreshing about Chomsky’s lectures and interviews is he speaks pretty much in plain English. There’s no academic jargon. And there’s no cheerleading for American Exceptionalism.  Here’s one terse example: “When the guys we don’t like do it, it’s terrorism. When the guys we do like do it, it’s retaliation.”  When ISIS beheads people, it’s barbarism. When Israel uses white phosphorus on people in Gaza, it’s self-defense.

The media play a key role in focusing attention in how we as US citizens and those of our allies suffer or are harmed. Here’s Chomsky commenting on an issue form the mid-80s : “There’s a big fuss and there should be, about American veterans who have suffered under Agent Orange. However, there’s a slight observation that might be made, and that is that the people of Vietnam suffered a thousand times as much, and we’re certainly not trying to help them, in fact we want to increase their suffering.” U.S. veterans finally came to be seen as “worthy” of care and consideration; what the U.S. did to Vietnam and its people is “unworthy” of U.S.  compassion, much less reparations. Read the rest of this entry »

Lobbyist for Tenderness

I first read Allen Ginsberg’s City Lights paperback Howl and Other Poems late one autumn night 1980 with friends at the White Castle at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.  A few months after Mev Puleo died, I read most of Ginsberg’s work over a couple of months. And here it is, 2017, and I recently finished with appreciation the latest publication  from the American bard (who died in 1997), interviews selected by Ginsberg biographer Michael Schumacher.  This volume, First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg, is not as large and jewel-saturated as David Carter’s Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996, but I  still found helpful reminders, avuncular advice, and serene encouragement.

Here are a few of the ways  interviewers and others saw Allen Ginsberg:  “poet, prophet, teacher”; “surrealist folk-hero”; “lobbyist for tenderness”; a man with a “friendly intermingling of smile and solemnity”; a lifelong learner with “a curiosity without boundaries”;  a person “seemingness fearless of the consequences of exposing his mind.”  What follows are a few samples of Ginsberg’s candor to his various interviewers over nearly four decades… Read the rest of this entry »

The Endless Net

Ten years ago, I read Eliot Weinberger’s anthology, World Beat: International Poetry Now (New Directions, 2006). Looking back, I’m grateful, because that volume (re)introduced me to Israeli Aharon Shabtai, Iraqi Dunya Mikhail, and Chilean Nicanor Parra, all of whom I have read over and over since then. I encourage anyone to read Mikhail’s “The War Works Hard,” Shabtai’s “As We Were Marching,” and Parra’s “Seven Voluntary Labors and One Seditious Act.” In his introduction, Weinberger offers a sobering yet hopeful case for us engaging poets outside the U.S.: “All translation sends the essential message that one’s own culture is not enough, and that the way to avoid intellectual stagnation is to learn from other ways of thinking about, perceiving, luxuriating and despairing in the world. This book appears at a moment when the United States is particularly self-absorbed. Less than a fifth of its citizens have passports; a third of its high school students can find the Pacific Ocean on a world map; its rulers dream without embarrassment of a global empire. Poetry, though not the salvation of the world, presents a small alternate model: an endless net of individual dialogues between writers, and between writers and readers, regardless of governments, nations, and communal identities. Its books are a way out of one’s world and a way into the world at large.” Twenty years ago, I received a doctorate from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I rarely read theologians these days, and I eagerly take joy and refuge in the poets. Weinberger’s books helped facilitate this shift for me.

 

Eliot Weinberger

The Good News, 3.8.2017

I once asked Mayuko and Minami (both in my fall 8 a.m. MWF Humanities class) if they had heard of Sei Shōnagon (清少納言). Of course they had!  They had read her years ago in school.  I only recently made acquaintance with SS through Meredith  McKinney’s translation for Penguin.

Reading her renowned Pillow Book, I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s maxim, “If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything”:  

At times I am beside myself with exasperation at everything, and temporarily inclined to feel I’d simply be better off dead, or am longing to just go away somewhere, anywhere, then if I happen to come by some lovely white paper for everyday use and a good writing brush, or white decorated paper or Michinoku paper, I’m immensely cheered, and find myself thinking I might perhaps be able to go on living for a while longer after all.  212 Read the rest of this entry »

Practicing the Works of Mercy in a Time of War

“What an awful thing war is! Mother, it seems not men
but a lot of devils and butchers butchering each other.”

 

On Roy Morris, Jr., The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War

This book tells the story of Walt’s insertion, his practice of the 4th Tiep Hien precept, not to look away from suffering. Actually, here’s the original precept: “Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering.  Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world.  Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds.  By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.”

Morris begins with Walt in NYC, where he lost his job as editor of Brooklyn Eagle, had a mixed reception of his last book, endured family shit, dealt with his publishers going bankrupt, and faced the end of unhappy love affair. Oy vey iz Walt! But it was the reality of suffering that got him out of his rut of “bohemian posturing, late-night roistering, and homosexual cruising.” [6]  Onto Washington!

There, Walt did not avoid contact with the suffering; he roamed the hospitals that held the wounded and maimed from the Civil War. In this sense, then, he had to complement the Via Positiva he had walked—the buoyant, cheerful, exuberant self that gave birth to the first edition of Leaves of Grass—with the Via Negativa, the path into that dark night of the nation’s soul, manifested in the misery, ache, and loss of  war.

And I say this to students about accompaniment:  Tt’s not all about you giving, it’s both/and—you give, and you receive.  So, Whitman said, “People used to say to me, Walt you are doing miracles for those fellows in the hospitals. I wasn’t. I was doing  miracles for myself.” [100] Yeah, how compelling can cruising be when you’ve seen suffering like that: “Nothing in his far from sheltered life had prepared him for the sights, sounds, and the smells of the army hospitals—they were literally a world unto themselves.” [88] Read the rest of this entry »

Because We Say So

Dear Kelley,

I’m delighted that you inquired about where to start with reading Noam Chomsky. I look forward to discussing Hegemony or Survival with you in a  couple  of weeks.

Back in 1986—those horrid years of the Reagan Administration—I would sometimes take refuge in my rusty, white 1976 BMW 2002 and drive around Old Louisville or out River Road, and listen to audio cassettes of David Barsamian interviewing Noam Chomsky.  Several years later, those interviews were collected in a book entitled, Chronicles of Dissent, with an introduction by muckraker par excellence Alexander Cockburn.  Cockburn  spoke for me and many others when he noted that “people will go to a talk by Chomsky partly just to reassure themselves that they haven’t gone mad; that they are right when they disbelieve what they read in the papers or watch on TV.” Since you’re a history teacher, well-versed in Howard Zinn’s writings, I think you will appreciate Chomsky’s relentlessly critical perspectives.

City Lights recently  published Because We Say So, a third  collection of Chomsky’s articles over the last several years from the New York Times Syndicate. These commentaries on current events and reminders of recent history easily find a home in publications abroad (like Eliot Weinberger’s essays), but not so much in the “United States of Amnesia” (Daniel Berrigan).  These articles are succinct, incisive, and unsettling.

I’ve frequently called people’s attention to Ernesto Cardinal’s poem, Cell Phone; Chomsky, too, notes that, in the  Congo,  “millions have been killed in recent years to ensure an ample supply of minerals for cellphones and other uses, and of course ample profits.” Cardenal begins his poem, “You talk on your cell phone/And talk and talk/And laugh into your cell phone/Never knowing how it was made…” Read the rest of this entry »