Monthly Archives: May 2015

New Poem on New Verse News Re Egypt’s Systematic Rape Policy

Today, this poem of mine, “Don’t Call It a Coup, Just Sing Tralala,” is up on New Verse News, a wonderful site that publishes poetry which responds to news or current events.

image

A link from an article in the Telegraph reporting on the systematic use of rape by Egyptian security forces under president Al-Sisi appears over the poem.

I’ve been reading about the horrific abuses perpetrated by the Egyptian police and other “security forces” in Arabic-language news programs for some time, so it’s about time that the human rights organization’s report detailed and documented some of these atrocities, in which women and also men of all ages are routinely subjected to rape and sexual humiliation, often in front of others, including their husbands or other relatives, as a means of suppressing protest. (More articles, if interested.)

The gay community is also targeted for this sexual abuse and humiliation. Men, women, and children are also frequently tortured in other ways as well.

The courts are no longer involved in a “system of justice,” but rather take a list of completely invented and often absurd charges, a common one being terrorism and attacks on security forces, and give these charges to the judge who routinely either prolongs their stay in jail, prevents access to a lawyer, arrests the lawyer and subjects him to the same abuse, or simply gives a “guilty” verdict on the charges with no evidence, legitimate hearing or other due process. Death sentences are issued regularly on these baseless charges and then carried out within a day or two of the judgment. A young student, for example, was executed for a crime alleged to have occurred in the street at a time in which he was incarcerated.

Sisi and his government ordered these abuses to occur, evidenced by the fact that he continually praises the security forces who are never held accountable for anything, and that such widespread and almost inevitable routine abuse cannot occur on that scale without government complicity.

Although I normally post poetry and articles about poetry, this unbearable situation is beyond politics. The U.S. does not call the military takeover a coup, not even after the subsequent installation of Sisi with dictatorial powers that might make even Mubarak squirm just a little. By not calling it a coup, the US is able to continue funding Egypt’s military and security forces. Hence the title of the poem, “Don’t Call It a Coup, Just Sing Tralala.” And look the other way. So much for democracy, support for democracy movements or human rights, so much for women’s rights or gay rights or the right of students to have an education without being summarily pulled out of classes or examinations to be shot in the head, raped, or humiliated.

The repetend, “Pull down your pants!” Is taken from a report (in Arabic, on a “talk show” type program) in which several young (teenaged) men discussed their arrest and the abuse they endured, which left them psychologically traumatized as one could easily see. They reported that upon entering the police station, the first words they were greeted with were “Pull down your pants!” After which they were sexually humiliated and abused in front of others. These were young men going about heir own business. Those words were reported to be the usual “greeting” all arrested people heard at the police station.

If it happened once, it’s horrific. If it happens systematically, the entire government is guilty of crimes against their own people. In fact, my opinion is that the Sisi government, being a police state and military government, needs a war, and has started a war——against the Egyptian people, especially young people, women and gays, and people of the Islamic faith. Does he think he will please the West or the Christian world by this? As long as we look the other way and sing Tralala…

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Human Rights, Poetry, Publications, Siham Karami poetry

Joy Harjo: Soul Mate to the Human World

image

Reading Joy Harjo’s poetry is like discovering there is a paradise after all. It’s like discovering a soul mate. To select only one poem must necessarily be a random act because it’s all good. A link to her website will lead you to her books, and you do the rest.

So here goes, since of late I’ve been writing about maps…

A Map to the Next World

BY JOY HARJO
for Desiray Kierra Chee

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our
children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to
disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to
them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us, leav-
ing a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s
small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a
spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song
she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they
entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the
destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning our
tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was
once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

“A Map to the Next World” from How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems:1975-2001 by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2002 by Joy Harjo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature, Poetry, Poetry Books, Poets, women poets

Tomas Tranströmer: Unforgettable Poetry

One of the most lauded and popular poets of our time was Swedish and wrote in Swedish, the great Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer. He was also an accomplished pianist and by profession, a psychologist, who helped many people, disabled or traumatized patients among them, during his career. His poetry was known for its unique quality of “deep image,” a term that is applied to a diverse group of poetry. Reading it is better than reading the commentary. But his work has been translated into some 70 languages. So don’t ever tell me you haven’t heard of him…

Then check out this video.

It is sad indeed that some of the greatest poets are unknown to the masses, whereas frivolous and rather clueless narcissists have achieved worldwide fame. Tranströmer’s unforgettable poetry, however, is a legacy that will be remembered long after the “vapor” of fame (I forgot who said that “fame is vapor”) evaporates. Two poems to whet your appetite (there are MANY of his poetry books now in English):

Kyrie

By Tomas Tranströmer

At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.

from The Half-Finished Heaven, Swedish translation by Robert Bly, 2001
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota

Another poem I could not pass up for its haunting vision is this one also translates by Robert Bly, who was also a longtime friend of Tranströmer.

After the Death

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

It is indeed sad to lose such a poetic genius. He died on March 23, 2015 at the age of 83.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets

B B King Dies: “The Thrill is Gone” and Lyrics vs Poetry

image
The legendary Blues artist B. B. King has died, and it seems only appropriate that his most-loved and most famous song was “The Thrill Is Gone.” The lyrics form an especially moving element of this song, although there is no doubt King’s performance is why the song gained prominence and a major factor in its power.

Poetry, on the other hand, is supposed to stand on its own, words alone, against a background of silence. Matthew Zapruder, in this article in the Boston Review, says,

It seems absurd to me to contend that lyrics inherently have less literary merit than poetry, or are easier to create, or are less valuable in a cultural or human sense, and therefore somehow do not deserve the rarified title of “poetry.” But I also think the desire to consider lyrics as literature reflects some unfortunate and persistent biases that are detrimental to both poetry and song.

In fact, he believes the difference between lyrics and poetry are rather simple and obvious, and imply no valuation of one over the other.

Words in a poem take place against the context of silence (or maybe an espresso maker, depending on the reading series), whereas, as musicians like Will Oldham and David Byrne have recently pointed out, lyrics take place in the context of a lot of deliberate musical information: melody, rhythm, instrumentation, the quality of the singer’’s voice, other qualities of the recording, etc. Without all that musical information, lyrics usually do not function as well, precisely because they were intentionally designed that way. The ways the conditions of that environment affect the construction of the words (refrain, repetition, the ways information that can be communicated musically must be communicated in other ways in a poem, etc.) is where we can begin to locate the main differences between poetry and lyrics.

With that in mind, note the similarities between the two in the example of lyrics to “The Thrill Is Gone,” written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell. Like poetry, the meaning of these lyrics apply to a subject other than that intended by the author and singer: a reflection of an appreciative audience on the bluesman’s death.

Thrill is gone
The thrill is gone away
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone away

You know you done me wrong, baby
And you’ll be sorry someday
The thrill is gone
It’s gone away from me
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone away from me

Although, I’ll still live on
But so lonely I’ll be

The thrill is gone
It’s gone away for good
The thrill is gone, baby
It’s gone away for good

Someday I know I’ll be open armed, baby
Just like I know a good man should

You know I’m free, free now, baby
I’m free from your spell
Oh, I’m free, free, free now
I’m free from your spell
And now that it’s all over
All I can do is wish you well.

Except perhaps the part about being “free from your spell.” Who really wants to be free from the spell of a spellbinding performance?

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays, Lyrics and Poetry, Music, Song Lyrics

Matthew Buckley Smith: “The Dark Woods”

This haunting, wonderful poem combines everyday and modern objects into a mesmerizing litany, almost like a lullaby, that is unforgettable. Smith’s book, Dirge for an Imaginary World, won the 2011 Able Muse prize.

The Dark Woods

By Matthew Buckley Smith

They are still there, the dark woods from the dream,
While everything they symbolize is gone,
While the wireless speakers unwind their tidy theme,
And the tiki torches stutter on the lawn,
While the dishwasher rattles dishes left in the sink,
And the dog worries his tiny rubber man,
And the blinking clocks aren’t certain what to think,
And the fruit fly circles back to where it began,
And the interest keeps the credit cards awake,
Collecting in a server states apart,
And the siren cries out for a stranger’s sake,
And the smartphone mutes its obsolescent heart,
While the box fan turns a bedroomful of breath,
And the network brings the software up to date,
And the skim milk dies a timely, painless death,
And the woods, the woods you’ve dreamed about, they wait.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Poets

Timothy Murphy: Mentor

This moving poem by Timothy Murphy, a master craftsman, especially with the understated but highly emotional, shows his use of few words to get at the heart:

Mentor

By
Timothy Murphy

For Robert Francis

Had I known, only known
when I lived so near,
I’d have gone, gladly gone
foregoing my fear
of the wholly grown
and the nearly great.
But I learned alone,
so I learned too late.

from The Formalist, A Journal of Metrical Poetry, Volume 12, Issue 1, 2001
University of Evansville, Evansville, IN

Copyright 2001 by Timothy Murphy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Formal Poetry, Poetry

Review: Kate Benedict’s “Earthly Use”

image

On reading Earthly Use: New and Selected Poems by Kate Bernadette Benedict, a rich and full collection spanning years of fine writing, the first impression I get is of being in the presence of what is meant by the Arabic word “imlaaq” or “giant:” a presence that fills the space of these pages and the reader’s mind/heart. This largeness is expressed in the minuscule, the mean and lowly, the physical, the everyday, the small oddities and weird delights, banalities, or even horrors that we encounter in the normal course of living – “larger issues” feel grounded in something tangible, and the mundane feels imbued with the sacred. This is the voice, the world-conjuring voice of Kate Benedict.

Of course, something large fitting into something small or slightly out-of-whack must run through a vein of humor, which Benedict threads through the serious with sleight of language. So in “A Fine Form of a Man,” we meet her father, filling his giant spirit into a less-than-perfect body:

Mention one of his manifold abnormalities—
the crooked nose wart,
the swollen ankles, streaked and raw,
the toenail humped and earthy as a truffle—
and he’d smile, his green eyes twinkling.
You’d paid him homage.
You’d noticed a fine particular
of his excellent form!

A rare endowment, is it not,
to bear your flawed flesh royally,
blubber your vesture,
fungus your rare black pearl?

And then we have another variation of fitting the grand into the not-so-grand: a sort of religious seeing, a down-to-earth visionary, as evidenced in the title poem, “Earthly Use,”:

I see God in the eyes of my poodle!
a starlet on a talk show claimed
and I laughed at her, pleased by my own scorn.
Yet what did she see in her dog’s eyes after all,
but innocence, credulity, docility,
an effortless uncritical craven love—
the typical qualities of saints
for which, thus far, I’ve found no earthly use.

This narrative is filled with both irony and honesty. The narrator turns a sharp eye on herself as well as on the starlet, laughing at both, and yet seeing the redeeming qualities of both, simultaneously validating and skeptical, in a moment of perfect and imperfect balance.

It is this almost brutal honesty mixed with grace that characterizes Benedict’s poetry. Without being religious per se, she fills her moments with that spirit of something much larger, the holiness of which is reverenced in the subtlety of a holding back, the unwillingness to compromise the inviolability of things. She takes us, in that spirit, to the whole range of human experience. To “The Polis of Sorrow:”

And for those who slog through it,
on the other side of sorrow is more sorrow.

It comes as a great wave comes, walloping,
or like a swarm of locusts, feeding,
or it infiltrates like tapeworm or eye worm.

One day you see the worm, traveling your own eye;
one day you feel the woe, gripping you in its pincers.
Cry out or pray or plead; no answers.

And so her poems more frequently brought me to tears than I’d like to admit. But not always for sorrow. There is also exaltation, as in “Expedition in Mid-Life:”

Soul and body, I set out
to climb Reach Mountain
in the August of my life,
in blue-green coastal Maine,
not knowing that the peak I rose to
would be my own peak,
my physical moment,
knowing only
what the squirrel knows
when it scratches its path up the pine,
fleet-footed and single-minded,
all instinct,
all animal radiance.

In her poems about work and the office (from her book In Company), she imparts the same cosmic sense there, too. In “Universe Management,” “a manager mistakes his customers for the cosmos.” And in “Waiting for Elevation,” a prayer:

As we do and are done to,
in the crucible of our humdrum jobs,
give us holiness.
Grant us ecstasy even in dailiness.

It is a book any reader will treasure, as I do the one in my hands, for its way of getting to the heart of things. It runs the whole gamut: childhood, prejudice, work, seeing newborn kittens drowned in a toilet, girl fights, peace and war, politics, vacations, love, adolescence, disease, old age, and death. Love, anger, terror, sorrow. “The Stinky Lady” personifies a recurring theme of the clashing of worlds and the voice of the outcast.

I pass her as I leave for work
and when I return from work.
Sometimes I watch her on closed-circuit television,
sitting or slumping, awake in the night, as am I.
Does she ever sleep?
Does she have a daughter?
A doctor, a P.O. box, a welfare check,
anything at all
besides those layered, threadbare clothes?

Somewhere, in some pocket or recess, she keeps makeup,
that rose lipstick she wears, the black eyeliner.
“Gad, I’m beautiful,” I’ve heard her say,
peering into the cracked mirror of a broken compact.

“God, she’s horrible” is the opinion
of our co-op’s board of directors.
They will add more locks
and fine any shareholder who lets her in.
Aeaea! Aeaea! Aeaea!
The feral call will echo not from this place
but from a near place,
maybe every place.
The fact is, I see her everywhere I go…

We can still hear her wailing “down the canyons of Manhattan.” She who reminds me of “She,” Benedict’s haunting ghazal about the Shekhinah, each sher reverberating to the end: “Ever since, beyond, unto, always, until, she wanders.”

Some of her pieces are practically scripture. Like “Self as a Refuge:”

Make yourself a refuge: there is no other refuge.
Intruders will crack the strongest lock. …

Divest of excess. Dearth is also treasure.
Robbers do not loot the empty coffer. …

Otherness may mark you, some will shun you.
Be undisturbed: forbearance, your asylum.

Be tabernacle, ark to timeless patience.
Be sanctuary, chaste and ample space.

These lines (and the lovely unquoted ones), “variations on a teaching of Theravada Buddhism,” have even greater meaning and impact in the context of the other poems in this book, which range from free verse to formal.

Many of her poems exhibit the craft of form – in top form. But what you will take away is so much more. One example shows us also, again, how something vast – too vast to be contained or described in words – is nonetheless contained in this small thing, a poem, “Into His Hand:”

…cupped in sleep, you’d slip a nickel. Such
gentle stealth: not wrist or finger stirred.
His O-mouth gaped, his snoring chuffed and whirred.
That sly transaction: all you knew of touch.

Double shifts of duty on the subways
conducting a shrill orchestra of doors.
Then tanking up with Clancy’s dull-eyes boors.

Back home he’d drop right off; you’d foray
into father’s room, bearing your small coin.
You loved imagining him, wealthy-waking—-
but did he like the joke? It wasn’t spoken.

Today that quiet man lies dead. I join
you, husband, in a rite of our own making:
tucking in his cupped, cosmetic hand this subway token.

This is why I love poetry. To read a book and come away enriched – by the elusive enormity hidden, real, and dynamically participating in Benedict’s poetry. And so a woman who has seen wealth and poverty, love and contempt (the poem about that will blow you away), exaltation and inexpressible loss, comes after such fullness with this observation:

It is nothing I return to now.
A bare plank floor, a pall of dust.

And in each ball of dust, a galaxy of mites.
And in the essence of each mite: alpha, omega.

A book deserving of “vast contentment” for its author, and a takeaway for the reader of equal size.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Poetry, Poets, women poets

Mina Loy: Woman as Visionary

The discovery of this poem on Poetry Daily, and knowing the timeframe of its author, was transformative. Her language is so direct, honest, to the bone, of the experience of being a woman, that it creates a visceral response, the sense of being there in it with her. And to think she wrote like this “over a hundred years ago” (oh find me the date!), according to Tiffany Atkinson’s commentary. Note that although the formatting looks correct on this page prior to publication, it appears what will be published loses the actual formatting, for which you will have to go here and read it on Poetry Daily. Enjoy.

Parturition

by Mina Loy (1882-1966)

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction

The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape
On infinitely prolonged nerve-vibrations
Or in contraction
To the pinpoint nucleus of being

Locate an irritation without
It is within
Within
It is without
The sensitized area
Is identical with the extensity
Of intension

I am the false quantity
In the harmony of physiological potentiality
To which
Gaining self-control
I should be consonant
In time

Pain is no stronger than the resisting force
Pain calls up in me
The struggle is equal

The open window is full of a voice
A fashionable portrait painter
Running upstairs to a woman’s apartment
Sings
“All the girls are tid’ly did’ly
All the girls are nice
Whether they wear their hair in curls
Or —”
At the back of the thoughts to which I permit crystallization
The conception Brute
Why?
The irresponsibility of the male
Leaves woman her superior Inferiority.
He is running up-stairs

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Something in the delirium of night-hours
Confuses while intensifying sensibility
Blurring spatial contours
So aiding elusion of the circumscribed
That the gurgling of a crucified wild beast
Comes from so far away
And the foam on the stretched muscles of a mouth
Is no part of myself
There is a climax in sensibility
When pain surpassing itself
Becomes Exotic
And the ego succeeds in unifying the positive and negative poles of sensation
Uniting the opposing and resisting forces
In lascivious revelation

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life
For consciousness in crises races
Through the subliminal deposits of evolutionary processesHave I not
Somewhere
Scrutinized
A dead white feathered moth
Laying eggs?
A moment
Being realization
Can
Vitalized by cosmic initiation
Furnish an adequate apology
For the objective
Agglomeration of activities
Of a life.
LIFE
A leap with nature
Into the essence
Of unpredicted Maternity
Against my thigh
Tough of infinitesimal motion
Scarcely perceptible
Undulation
Warmth moisture
Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me
The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
Indivisible
Acutely
I am absorbed
Into
The was—is—ever—shall—be
Of cosmic reproductivity

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of a cat
With blind kittens
Among her legs
Same undulating life-stir
I am that cat

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue bottles
—Epicurean—
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
Death
Life
I am knowing
All about
Unfolding

The next morning
Each woman-of-the-people
Tip-tœing the red pile of the carpet
Doing hushed service
Each woman-of-the-people
Wearing a halo
A ludicrous little halo
Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church
—Man and woman God made them—
Thank God.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets, women poets