Notes on the Women’s March by Leslie McGrath

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Notes on the Women’s March

 

By Leslie McGrath

 

It’s the day after Trump has taken office and I’ve just marched for the first time. I didn’t make it to Washington D.C. or New York City. I just drove ten minutes from my well-heeled, overwhelmingly white town on the Connecticut River to another small town, where I met my friend, the poet Marilyn Nelson. Together we walked—she wearing her “Make Racists Ashamed Again” cap and me my “Make Racists Afraid Again” t-shirt—to the Old Saybrook town hall.

Marilyn and I were counted as protesters #610 and #611 of what would eventually become a protest march of nearly 1100 people. It’s a drip compared to the hundreds of thousands of marchers in cities across the U.S. and the globe, but 1100 people marching up and down the sidewalks of a small town feels like a lot. Marilyn’s was the only Black face.

I’ve never marched before. Not for the environment, not for the Equal Rights Amendment, not for Planned Parenthood. I’ve wanted to. I’ve come close. But I live with chronic PTSD and depression from childhood sexual abuse that often make it difficult for me to leave the house, much less join a chanting crowd of protesters. I just haven’t been able to muster whatever it is that people need in order to not feel overwhelmed and panicked.

When Marilyn mentioned that there’d be a “sister march” close by, I wondered if I were chickening out by not driving to the larger events in Hartford or New Haven. There, the crowds would be larger and more racially and economically diverse. Then I thought “Why not? This is where I live. It’s my community.”  So we joined the group of women old and young, some pushing strollers, others holding signs calling for impeachment,  supporting Planned Parenthood, the NEA, environmental protection, and more. And there were men, yes. A young man wearing a wool cap and a bushy beard told me my shirt was awesome and asked for a hug. It was at that moment that I realized that I, a gray haired woman about to turn sixty, was an elder in his eyes. It had taken me this long to make it to a march.

I drove home a couple of hours later and posted the few photos on Facebook I’d taken that I hadn’t ruined with close-ups of my thumb. I was flush with a small flame of accomplishment at this ordinary act of civic mindedness. As the likes and supportive comments began to appear, I scrolled through my feed reading posts from friends. Many were marching in D.C., Chicago, New York City and elsewhere. Others watching live news feeds from around the world expressed enthusiasm and wonder. But here and there I came across posts by younger feminists calling out white women who, like me, were marching for the first time. Where were we all these years when Black men and women were protesting and risking physical harm on the streets? Our white privilege had allowed us to ignore their pain. Our white fragility was now the reason for our whining, er, protesting.

I’ve heard these criticisms before. They’re legitimate questions and legitimate issues for thorough, thoughtful discourse. But to toss them into the global protests on the very day they’re occurring is like tossing a concussion grenade into a crowd—it’s a painful distraction. No one owes an explanation for the nature of their activism.

 

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: “LET THEM NOT SAY” BY JANE HIRSHFIELD – A POEM OF SOLIDARITY & PROTEST

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from LET THEM NOT SAY
By Jane Hirschfield:

Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.



READ THE FULL POEM HERE and LISTEN HERE:


Today’s poem originally appeared via The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series.


Poet’s Note: “This poem was written well before [the 2017] Presidential Inauguration and without this event in mind. But it seems a day worth remembering the fate of our shared planet and all its beings, human and beyond.” —Jane Hirshfield, via The Academy of American Poets

Editor’s Note: Today I defer to Jane Hirshfield and The Academy of American Poets. Listen to the poet read this important work of protest. Read the poem in its entirety.

Today’s poem is dedicated to those who are marching with the Million Woman March and those who stand with us in solidarity.

Think. Feel. Rise up. Resist.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALEX BEN-ARI

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I ASK FORGIVENESS
By Alex Ben-Ari
Translated by Vivan Eden


I ask forgiveness of all the poems
Born misshapen because of my desire to write them
I ask forgiveness of all the people
Whose lives were disrupted by my desire to influence
And of the world
For the superfluous things added to it
And those unnecessarily severed
Because of my lust for symmetry
And happy endings.

I ask forgiveness of my mother
For not knowing how to love her in her misery
Of my children
For the moments when I don’t want them
Of my wife for every time I was too small
To contain her love.

I am lighter than a falling leaf
I am softer than grass
Now a small bird could
Build its nest in me.



Today’s poem originally appeared in Haaretz and appears here today with permission from both the poet and translator.


Alex Ben-Ari is 43 years old. His debut volume of poetry, Concealed Seas (Yamim Samuiim), was awarded honorable mention at the 2008 Metulla Poetry Festival and the 2015 Helicon/Ramy Ditzanny Poetry Prize. His second book, The Gatepost (Korat Hasha’ar), published in 2015, is composed of his original Hebrew haiku. His third book, planned to be published during 2017, is a volume of conceptual poetry.
Alex is one of the six members of the “Waning Moon” blog and publishing house dedicated to Haiku in Hebrew. He is also co-editor (with poets Gilad Meiri and Noa Shkargy) of Nanopoetica, a literary journal of short form literature.

Editor’s Note: Part personal, part pastoral, part ars poetica, today’s poem is emotive, honest, and raw. The poem’s I approaches the reader — and the page — seeking forgiveness. Free from false modesty, free from pride, the poem’s I is humble, admitting failings as poet and father, husband and son. The confessional, narrative nature of the poem is carefully constructed within the framework of the lyric, while the elegant, gentle translation midwives the essence of the poem as it crosses the borders of language. As the reader, we cannot help but be moved — to compassion, to transcendence, to forgiveness and beyond.

Want more from Alex Ben-Ari?
“Ripe Peach,” a poem from Concealed Seas (bi-lingual version)
Haiku poems from The Gatepost (bi-lingual)
Alex Ben-Ari’s official blog (Hebrew)
Ben-Ari lectures (in Hebrew) on music covers
Alex Ben-Ari on Twitter

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Kristy Bowen & Cynthia Manick: A Conversation

CM: So what does the word “Salvage” mean to you and how did it become the title of the collection?

KB: I had been thinking terribly literal (as I always maddeningly do…lol) about “salvage” as the things that get taken from a wreck, the leftovers of a disaster. I guess I didn’t even think about the second meaning — that it also means “to save” until I read the blurb that Laura Madeline Wiseman wrote for me that mentioned it. Since mermaids featured prominently, “salvage” was obviously a sound choice, but other sections of the book, that are definitely more landlocked, sort of resonate with both definitions, whether it’s the “wreck” of illness or bad relationships or just situations that don’t work out in an ideal way.

CM: Both of our books have a strong connection to “body” whether it’s a mermaid in fo0bowenamy lingerie, a woman growing birds in her chest, or the realization that body can be armor or a pathway. How does “body” inform your work and what impression of “body” should readers leave with?

KB: I feel like this whole book is about the body that is endangered, whether it’s the illness-guided poems in the first section or the mermaid guide poems in the last section. There’s endangerment, but also transformation, sometimes through that very same endangerment, particularly in the “ghost landscape” series. I feel like the body in these poems is always at odds with everything, the mind, the language, the environment, probably more so than anything else I’ve ever written.

KB: When I’m reading, I keep thinking your concept of “body” is almost inseparable from language and history, more maybe more of a deep entanglement..I’d also be interested to know how would you describe the “body” in your work as well.

CM: For me body is the first thing people see when they look at you; its color, shape, height, and from there they judge you. Now sometimes the judgment is innocuous – oh she’s a woman, oh she’s brown, oh she reminds me of xyz but at the other times it can be harsh – oh she’s too brown, she’s not that attractive, she has nothing of importance to say, etc. Then the body becomes how you judge yourself, – you walk taller, you slump, you know your best outfit, you model behavior based on levels of safety, and you’re uniquely aware of every exit in a room. In my book, the body is endangered but is aware of its endangerment. So in the poems, the body questions, posits, celebrates, and it mourns.

KB: When reading BH, I was struck so intensely by the lush sensuousness of the first section of poems, the writing so bodily present, but also swimming amidst history, both on a grand scale and a more familial scale. As I moved through the book, I almost got the 0kristysense of a widening lens—first the body and the individual, the sensory, out on through the family and society and history. By the end of the book, you are dealing with larger universal questions and epistemology. Was this intentional? How did you decide the order in which the sections occur? How did you decide on the overall organization of the manuscripts?

CM: When I writing Blue Hallelujahs, I didn’t know I was writing Blue Hallelujahs (lol, if that makes sense). So the poems came first and arrangement came second. I was writing poems sparked by some thing, phrase or memory and then as time went by I was thinking of the speaker’s place in the world. So the poems contain multiple geographies and lenses. And you’re right, in the beginning our world is so small, we only know what surrounds us. But then you look to your senses and that expands, then what expands, expands again to witness. I definitely learned from poets like Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon and Nikky Finney who taught me to think of the speaker and what’s outside the speaker as two parts happening simultaneously. When organizing the book, it really came down to which poems talked to each other but I knew I wanted to end on “Blue Hallelujahs from the Hands.” Surprisingly the order of the sections came easily like plot points along a curved line, but order within the sections was more difficult. I have to thank Leigh Stein and Brooklyn Poets for their helicopter view because at one point I was just too close to it. Having other poets read it in its entirety helped me decide the organization and remove poems that tripped when reading.

CM: It was difficult for me to think of my work visually when it came to my cover art. What about you? Was your cover art a journey and what was thinking behind it?

KB: Since I bounce back and forth between writing and visual art and do so many cover designs for dancing girl press, it’s usually almost second nature to me, but weirdly, I was drawing a total blank on this project. I thought about just a lot of blue, watercolor abstract seascapes, something oceany. I initially didn’t want a mermaid at all because it seemed so literal. Around the time we started thinking about the cover, also been totally jonesing to get an old-school Sailor Jerry mermaid tattoo somewhere on me (it would be my first, so I’m still procrastinating even now.). When Diane asked me what I was thinking, I sort of offered it off the cuff but was totally convinced when she sent me some options. I mean, really, what is more bodily than a tattoo? She did amazing work with the text and the banner and the whole thing turned out more beautiful than I could have imagined.

KB: Your cover design is so beautiful and so perfect. How did you decide to use that particular piece?

CM: I’ll admit it was tough. I knew I wanted a woman because the books’ identity is formed around woman, body, memory, and race. I wanted a woman looking toward or away because there’s a duality in the word Hallelujah – its praise and its lament and you can’t have one without the other, and you can’t go forward without knowing how to go back. Diane gave me the option of finding my own cover art or having Black Lawrence design something. So I was researching and I had to come to terms with the fact that Blue Hallelujahs isn’t a “light” book (lol) There is definitely levity and joy, but I knew the cover color palette couldn’t be purple, yellow or pink – it just didn’t fit 😉 Then I found the artist Ify Chiejina and she had a gorgeous piece that stopped me in my tracks and it was unavailable (gasp) but she was willing to draw me something similar. So I sent her a picture of my Mom in her 20’s and a couple of chapters from the book. She created silhouette and pattern that’s on the cover. But then Diane, Amy and had to agree on the color palette which took a couple of weeks. I know appreciate all shades of blue!
CM: Tell me about the making of house made of mothers
Sometimes, mother is a nesting doll, a doll-faced mess,
feral beneath her skin and skimping on potatoes.
Sometimes she’s a hotel fire, and I’m on the wrong side
of the door.

KB: The series of poems about houses is very much about houses as actual location, as place, and as a more abstract concept of “home”. So many of us have complicated relationships with our mother’s in terms of body image and eating, so this poem stems from that. The image of the nesting doll at the beginning seemed perfect, how the larger body can be reduced and made smaller and yet somehow still live inside the larger, almost as if women, especially those who have fluctuations in body weight, can have all of these smaller women existing simultaneously inside her. My own mother once stood in front of mirror and admitted that she had never in her whole life been happy in her own body and it kills me. This poems is sort of a dialogue with that.

KB:I feel like place plays such an important role in this book… Can you talk a bit about where you grew up? Where you write from? Places that inspire your work? (past or current)

CM: The poems are set in different parts of the North and South. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but my parents and relatives are all from South Carolina. So I remember traveling down South on the greyhound bus with my mother. And even though my parents are separated, when they see each other, they always end up talking about who’s alive or dead from back home. (lol) So in a lot of the poems the speaker is looking back, trying to create a tapestry or trace an origin story from overheard conversations, imagined events, recipes, and music. In other poems, the speaker is in Brooklyn or up north and the actions in those poems follows the geography. Also kitchens appear a lot in my work, you’d be surprised at how many things come together and break apart in kitchens.

CM: In the poem codex the love of language is apparent to the reader as you describe perfect words. “I write glottal but I mean goldfish . . Butterfly becoming butter knife becoming flying buttress.” What are some your personal perfect words? Are their words you avoid? One of mine was peaches . . . I used it all the time until someone pointed it out me.

KB: I have certain words I use way too much—girl, dress(es), dark, throat, water. I am conscious of them now and try to be sparing, but they’re still there in places. One of my favorite words is “dulcet” which I use as a name for my online shop, but have never used in a poem because it seems weirdly pretentious and too “poetic.” I think as I get older, I have more and more odd mental misfirings where I can’t recall the perfect word for things, which is where the boggled language in the radio ocularia section stems from.

CM: Your book is a mixture of the physical and the ethereal with lines like “my mouth spewing wildflowers” in contrast to “if only I can sleep late and break shit” (which I love by the way!). How do a balance the real with the fantastical? Is it a conscious decision?

KB: I sometimes say I’ve spent the last 20 years writing poetry that is attempting to get away from, well, poetry. My initial impulse is to fill every piece with as much image as I can layer on, and the prettier the image, the better. Since I have a tendency to do that, I try to balance it with the opposite as much as I can. If I can strike a balance between the “poetic” and the sort of normal stuff that comes out of my mouth on a daily basis, as mundane or crude as it may be, I find I’m happier with the work.

KB: There is so much music here, some of which I’m familiar with and some I went of searching for as I was reading. A publisher I worked with a couple years back (Sundress Publications) had their authors make a mix-tape of musical influences, a sort of soundtrack for our books after publication. I’d be so curious to see your list for this project, including both things already explicitly named and others behind the scenes.

CM: Music is such a big part of my writing life. I usually have it on while I’m writing and when I think of life events, it’s music that I remember first. There are a couple of artists and songs mentioned in the book: Etta James “Groove Me”, Koko Taylor “I’m a Woman”, Louis Jordan “Ain’t You My Baby,” Ella Fitzgerald “Summertime”, Cab Calloway “Minnie the Moocher,” and “Down Down Baby” is chant we used to sing in elementary school; it’s a clapping game. In passing I mention Lena Horne, Diane Ross, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker because those are the artists I’d hear on the radio when the elders got together. But there are also phrases that are sung but aren’t necessarily song like I’ll be your Clementine which is play on “Oh My Darlin Clementine”.

KB:I find the rhythm and internal music so beautifully wrought in your work. Do you compose out loud or more visually when you form your lines?

CM: I actually don’t compose out loud; it’s always via paper from one image to the next. In real life I’m a fast talker (I think I get that from my mom). So I’m careful with line breaks, so that when I’m reading the poem, I know not to read it too fast. Visually I’m also looking at line length because that can inform the breath. For me couplets equals fast past, blocks of texts means “I’m working stuff out” and tercets are usually a rolling narrative. After a poem is page ready, then I’ll start reading out loud and realize yes this part works or no this line feels uneven, or this word feels too rough for a particular line. Luckily the actions of my poet brain equals a poem with rhythm.

CM: I always consider every poem I’ve written a part of me, almost like a baby and you can’t have a favorite baby 😉 That being said, what’s your favorite poem in Salvage? Is there a lynchpin poem; the poem that made you nod and say “this is definitely a collection?”

KB: Oh yeah, that’s tough. I think I can look at older books and say that this or that poem is something that I like better than others, but that’s only after time. My first book, the fever almanac, which was published in 2006 has only a couple of pieces I look at now and think they are solid and the rest are annoying in some way. With SALVAGE, it’s all still pretty new, the majority of those poems having been written in the past 4 or so years, so I’m not sick of them yet.lol. I think the “care and feeding of mermaids” segments in the last section are my favorites though, and the entirety of that section holds the entire book together. I tend to work in small series that I usually publish in small edition zines alongside visual components, so the majority of my longer projects are these small projects stitched together based on similar themes and feel. Only when these smaller projects start to constellate somehow, do I start thinking about pulling them together.

CM: This is your second book with Black Lawrence Press, so I’m curious about your writing practice. I recently attended a talk with the talented Shonda Rhimes who said that you have write everyday and writing is a muscle. Do you agree?

KB: Definitely But like exercising daily I don’t manage to do that very well..lol.. Writing takes a backseat to all the other things I have to do in a day, be they the things required to make a living (I work full-time in an academic library) or other things I do out of passion but that require a big time commitment (like running dancing girl press as a one woman operation). Add in errands, bus commutes to and fro, sleep, etc, writing is the bottom priority and sometimes at the end of the day I’d just rather go to sleep. I had some good momentum going when I wrote the first book Black Lawrence (it was my MFA thesis and, at the time, the third full-length I’d completed.) The books since then have been slower going..I’ll go through spurts where I’m writing and finishing projects, and then months of writing very little. But even if I’m not writing myself, do get to spend a lot of time with the press immersed in other people’s work. I also am usually working visually (I dedicate my weekends to art-related projects, usually collage, but lately painting) so I keep the creative impulses flowing even if I’m not getting things down on paper.

KB: Can you also tell me a bit about your processes as a writer? Do you write daily? What is the spark that sets a poem in motion? How much revision tends to happen after that spark, or do things arrive more or less intact? Has your process changed over time?

CM: I know we’re supposed to have as many hours as Beyoncé but maybe poets need extra hours? I don’t write creatively daily. By day I work at a nonprofit, where I edit and do critical writing. I’m also involved with Jamii publishing and the Soul Sister Revue reading series. So when I’m not writing, I’m engaged creatively. I honestly write best when I’m in workshop or I have a deadline, without a deadline I think I’d over edit and no poems would get finished (lol). In terms of what sets a poem in motion – it’s usually a word or idea that I can’t shake. Images arrive intact but arrangement and focus can take awhile to come together. I have learned to put a poem away after its done. Many of time’s I’ve written something and thought it was great, 24 hours later I realized that it doesn’t work because of a, b or c. My process hasn’t changed that much, but I do send poems for feedback more than I used to; poems can’t live in a vacuum,

CM: As a writer, what experiences have shaped you the most? Is there advice from a writer that served as light bulb moment?

KB: In 1998, I was 23 and taking lit seminar in 20th Century British authors and got to spend a good amount of time with Eliot’s The Wasteland. I had been writing for several years at that point, but not very well, and while I was a grad student in lit and could talk to you endlessly about Bronte novels and feminist theory, outside of a bit of Plath and Sexton, I wasn’t all that acquainted with more contemporary poetry at all and it showed. I had only that spring began reading more current women writers–Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Rita Dove, Anne Carson–and those influences combined with the Eliot, sort of formed my poetics for a time and actually made me much, much better as a writer. It was still a few years before I started publishing on the regular and another 5 years until my first book was accepted, but I think of that period as setting the groundwork for whatever my “voice” became as a writer.

KB: What are your three greatest influences (writing, other arts, etc.)? What are 3 current authors or books you are loving now?
CM: In terms of a single writer, I’d have to say Lucille Clifton because she was so great a filling small spaces with infinite emotion. In terms of writing, the workshop experience has really influenced me because I’ve taken workshops with great teachers along with other poets, who were eager to learn and create communities within communities. You forget that people can be magic until you’re in a room and things click. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of clickable moments. Lastly, I want to buy a round for libraries because that’s where I discovered books. I also learned it was okay to be quiet and think because with words you can go anywhere (okay now the theme to Reading Rainbow is in my head lol). Authors I’m loving right now – Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Robin Coste-Lewis, and just started reading the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

KB: What are you working on currently?

CM: I have such a backlog of poems that I started and I need to finish. I just finished a poetry fellowship at the Poets House, so I have poems from that class that are on the editing block and an entire page of prompts given to me by Adam Fitzgerald. I have about 45 to 50 poems outside of Blue Hallelujahs, and I think I was in denial, but I’m pretty sure these poems are on the way to being book number 2. I’m still waiting for the light bulb moment. A while ago I found a 1940 census report that listed my grandmother in her early 20’s, so I’m interested in poems serving as a type of census report or found literature focusing on identity and femininity. Maybe poets are really under cover anthropologists. If people 100 years from now, found our poetry, I wonder what they would say?

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“Between Klimt and Giacometti” by Hélène Cardona

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Between Klimt and Giacometti

by

Hélène Cardona

A room inhabited by paintings
seizes my mind, fluid unpredictable
lives, their secret eliciting
attention, Klimt’s innate aesthetic,
linear statements without tonality.
Their spontaneity transmits essential wisdom.
Dark eye shapes, dominant lip lines, upturned
corner of mouth, eyelashes and iris
connected, vine charcoal ready to tumble
like a Giacometti. Soft focus and impressive
looseness enhance anatomy,
allow latitude for creativity.
Every wall is a beginning.

***

A citizen of the United States, France and Spain, Hélène Cardona is fluent in English, French, Spanish, German, Greek, and Italian. A poet, literary translator, actor, and dream analyst, Hélène is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Hemingway Grant and the USA Best Book Award. Her books include three bilingual poetry collections, most recently Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016) and Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013), and two translations, Beyond Elsewhere (by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press, 2016) and Ce que nous portons (by Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne, 2014). With Yves Lambrecht she co-tranlsated Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb.

[The above poem was originally published in The Warwick Review and appears in Life in Suspension. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.]

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“In Defense of Memory” by Michael T. Young

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In Defense of Memory

by

Michael T. Young

The Oxford Dictionary’s word for 2016 is “post-truth.” CNN commentator and Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes both claimed the absurd and grated my linguistic nerves when he said in an interview, “there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.” And, as if he sprinkles pixie dust before the cameras with every appearance, Trump himself magically gets away with denying things he’s said or done and for which there are verifiable records. I find this atmosphere more frightening than the blatant hatefulness, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia of the incoming administration. It’s not because these other things are in any way acceptable but because in a world where truth and fact are flatly rejected, there is no basis for battling those other outrages to humanity.

The burden of proof is banished from the land and we are prisoners of a world where there is no narrative thread, no memory, and the only history is what those in power conjure. The enemy of this world is anyone daring enough to pursue reality, to insist on fact, to assert that there is truth.

In his Nobel lecture, the Polish poet Czeslaw Miłosz said, “whoever wields power is also able to control language and not only with the prohibitions of censorship, but also by changing the meaning of words.” That manipulation of meaning is precisely what we are witnessing in every action and word of Trump and those filling his cabinet. The American public is being forced to question its reality, to doubt its perception and understanding of facts. Miłosz, in that lecture, goes on to explain, “the language of a captive community acquires certain durable habits; whole zones of reality cease to exist simply because they have no name.” Our current situation suggests this by the ever-present assertion that we live in a “post-truth” world. How can “we hold these truths to be self-evident” in a “post-truth” world? Those rights outlined in our founding documents are now ungrounded; what were once rights assumed as self-evident truths, will need to be defended against denigration into mere free-floating mercies granted at the whim of those in power. I don’t mean to be alarmist; I intend only to make the most obvious connections between the language of the incoming administration and the language upon which our republic is founded. If such connections are eschewed, i.e., connections between their language and the language of our country’s principles, then there is no basis for governance. Silence regarding them would create a vacuum filled only by the wielding of power. And it isn’t a stretch to assert convincingly that the language of the incoming administration doesn’t mesh with a free republic. This is not a haphazard suggestion but is a reasonable consequence of what other writers have expressed about totalitarian states, writers such as Miłosz and Joseph Brodsky. Their writing, and that of others, their reflections on the oppressive worlds they experienced in the early and mid-20th century, stand as warnings.

Miłosz won the Nobel in 1980. In that Nobel lecture, he warned even then, that the world “with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.” That refusal to remember has been exacerbated by the internet and social media. Some have argued that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, coupled with people’s susceptibility to the confirmation bias (a tendency to select information that confirms one’s preconceptions while ignoring evidence that contradicts them), is to a large degree responsible for Trump’s victory. People spread articles based on headlines that agree with their views, even if they are not verifiable and, once disseminated to millions of readers, even if debunked, those articles infect like an incurable plague. We repost a news article without checking it against multiple sources or digging into its reliability, or reflecting on how the information is worded to influence.

What Miłosz noticed in his day was the beginning of what we call “the information age.” It’s a term intended to describe the rise of certain technology, but it’s become the zeitgeist of modern culture. I would suggest that the term is dangerously general. Opinions and facts are both information, but not the same type, which is a distinction fewer and fewer seem to make. It no longer matters that scientific data shows a trend in the global climate getting warmer. What is seized by some and disseminated as truth is that a miniscule 3% of scientists don’t believe those facts prove global warming or believe it is caused by human activity. The other 97% of scientists worldwide that believe both these things are dismissed as expressing an opinion equal to the other 3%. The data confirming the trend is no longer important, only the data interpretation. Miłosz pointed out an equivalent absurdity in 1980, “The Los Angeles Times,” he wrote, “recently stated, the number of books in various languages which deny that the Holocaust ever took place, that it was invented by Jewish propaganda, has exceeded one hundred.” He then wonders, “If such an insanity is possible, is a complete loss of memory as a permanent state of mind improbable?” We seem to be witnessing that improbable occurrence with the election of Trump. Fake news may have had a large hand in Trump’s victory. More unnerving still, Trump’s behavior proves that what was recorded yesterday can be denied today and the denial spread throughout the internet at the speed of light, transforming the record into a mere allegation that dissipates in the endless informational noise. Before such a power to deny reality, the refusal to forget is an act of rebellion. One wonders if it will soon be an act of treason.

I once wrote, “When a poet or other artist makes something up it is for another kind of honesty, a truth that sometimes is concealed by fact.” The nuance of this point is a privilege of the poet or even, I would grant, the philosopher. But it has no place in the language of politics and policy, no seat at the table of government. Now that our incoming administration is taking the privilege of the poet as its own, it will be necessary for poets to assert the importance of fact. We must be like that shrewd man of letters, Samuel Johnson, who refuted George Berkeley’s assertion regarding the non-existence of matter by kicking a stone. Facts matter and language matters. Opinion and individual expression may play into a line of poetry or even a line of journalism, but they share a commitment to reality, one to emotional reality and the other to historical reality. However, a faithfulness to reality makes them allies against any denial of it. Miłosz also pointed out, “Only if we assume that a poet constantly strives to liberate himself from borrowed styles in search for reality, is he dangerous.” The wording of that sentence is quite important. Styles, opinions, expressions of individuality, can blind us to reality. They are a method. Trump’s style of campaigning was itself a series of denials of reality. But writers entering the “post-truth” age must choose to oppose that age and its administration in a relentless search for reality. Style must serve that search or be complicit in acts of erasure.

Murial Rukeyser said that we corrupt our consciousness when we replace what we do feel with what we are told to feel or what we think we should feel. This happens on a national scale as we replace what we know with what we are told to think about what we know. In a free republic, it is the responsibility of citizens to take information, interpret it and articulate their desires for governance to those in authority. In a tyranny, that order is reversed: a readymade interpretation of information is handed down to justify the decided methods of governance. Joseph Brodsky said as much in his essay on the subject, “A tyranny does just that: structures your life for you.” Wittingly or unwittingly, the more removed we are from interpreting the facts for ourselves, the closer we are to a totalitarian state. The redefining of our world as “post-truth” is a drive to restructure our national consciousness. It redefines the language of the public so it loses the capacity to articulate an opposition. Through manipulation of language, the potential to name and, therefore, perceive shared realties is curtailed. And I emphasize the point of “shared realities.” Isolating us through manipulation of language and the meaning of words, it is easier for authority to insinuate doubt regarding perceived realities. Because of our species susceptibility to the confirmation bias, the internet has only intensified this tendency. We cluster into virtual cliques according to pre-existing prejudices. This only makes us easier to herd. We need to counter this with a calculated, patient evaluation of all information that comes to us, especially that information we agree with. In the concluding words of Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel lecture, we need “unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies.”

George Oppen said, “Actualness is prosody, it is the purpose of prosody and its achievement, the instant of meaning, the achievement of meaning and of presence, the sequence of disclosure which comes from everywhere; life-style, angers, rebellions.” That actualness, its sequence of disclosure, its achievement of meaning, is being dismantled by Trump and his followers. It is what will make something as simple as narrative poetry or a poetry of witness, an accusation and criticism of the incoming administration because it denies the right of that administration to create its own reality. A sequence of disclosure implies a past, implies cause and effect, implies memory, which is the mother of the Muses. This responsibility to remember, to hold fast to perceived facts and then connect them to others will not be easy. It runs counter to our age’s culture, counter to its desultory, headline-skimming, virtual mentality. It will require being meticulous. We may be entering the days when it’s dangerous to be a poet that pursues meaningful cohesion, that records the world around him, that insists on remembering and bearing witness, that insists there are facts and there is a truth, that there is history and a consequence of actions and words. But if we shirk this responsibility, if we betray memory, we betray the mother of all poets, and, larger still, the primary weapon in defense of a free republic.

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Michael T. Young’s fourth poetry collection, The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost, was published by Poets Wear Prada.  He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award, and the Chaffin Poetry Award.  His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in or are forthcoming numerous journals including The Ashville Review, Cimarron Review, The Cortland Review, Main Street Rag, Prick of the Spindle, and The Potomac Review.

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“Unveiling Jean Cocteau” by Hélène Cardona

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Unveiling Jean Cocteau

by

Hélène Cardona

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I emerge from painted panels
astride a panther, rapacious illusionist
rippling through mist, a sensual robe.

The cardamom storm weaves stampeding
unicorns, perfumes clouds in cinnamon
quickening the skin,

unsettles the moon at the edge of the mind,
flings hail and sleet in great spears,
reminds me it’s a wild place we inhabit.

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A citizen of the United States, France and Spain, Hélène Cardona is fluent in English, French, Spanish, German, Greek, and Italian. A poet, literary translator, actor, and dream analyst, Hélène is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Hemingway Grant and the USA Best Book Award. Her books include three bilingual poetry collections, most recently Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016) and Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013), and two translations, Beyond Elsewhere (by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press, 2016) and Ce que nous portons (by Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne, 2014). With Yves Lambrecht she co-tranlsated Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb.

[The above poem appears in Life in Suspension and is reprinted here with permission of the author.]

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