29 September 2008

How will your representative vote?

Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers

By Charles Bernstein

Chairman (David) Lehman, Secretary (Robert) Polito, distinguished poets and readers—I regret having to interrupt the celebrations tonight with an important announcement. As you know, the glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry.

Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era. We believe the plan is a comprehensive approach to relieving the stresses on our literary institutions and markets.

Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance.

Illiquid poetry assets are choking off the flow of imagination that is so vital to our literature. When the literary system works as it should, poetry and poetry assets flow to and from readers and writers to create a productive part of the cultural field. As toxic poetry assets block the system, the poisoning of literary markets has the potential to damage our cultural institutions irreparably.

As we know, lax composition practices since the advent of modernism led to irresponsible poets and irresponsible readers. Simply put, too many poets composed works they could not justify. We are seeing the impact on poetry, with a massive loss of confidence on the part of readers. What began as a subprime poetry problem on essentially unregulated poetry websites has spread to other, more stable, literary magazines and presses and contributed to excess poetry inventories that have pushed down the value of responsible poems.

The risks poets have taken have been too great; the aesthetic negligence has been profound. The age of decadence must come to an end with the imposition of oversight and regulation on poetry composition and publishing practices.

We are convinced that once we have removed these troubled and distressed poems from circulation, our cultural sector will stabilize and readers will regain confidence in American literature. We estimate that for the buyout to be successful, we will need to remove from circulation all poems written after 1904.

This will be a fresh start, a new dawn of a new day. Without these illiquid poems threatening to overwhelm readers, we will be able to create a literary culture with a solid aesthetic foundation.

I’m Charles Bernstein, and I approved this message.

28 September 2008

Poems Against War: Ars Poetica

Hot off the Presses:

It also seems to me that those of us on this side of the political spectrum have to do more than just be against something. Here in Baltimore we’ve seen a former mayor’s administration plaster posters and bumper stickers all around the city asking us to “Believe.” Fine – Believe in what? So too with those of us against the war: we are anti-war, but what do we believe in? What are we for? What does the alternative to war look like, smell like, taste like?

Poetry helps to answer these questions by giving both writers and readers visions of the possible. While giving comfort and pleasure to readers and listeners and speaking to what’s happening now, poets also help to create the future. Not that we versifiers know more than anyone else about what tomorrow will look like, but rather, through our work, we insist that there must BE a future, that there’s something out there worth living for. Something worth bringing the troops back home to.

The rest of my Ars Poetica: Roses in a Time of War, and work by Antler, Tony Hoagland, and others (with paintings MinĂ¡s Konsolas) debuts in Poems Against War #7 at the Baltimore Book Festival Sunday (9/28/08).

25 September 2008

The "S" Word

There's been a good deal of talk about Socialism lately, thanks to the recent collapse on Wall Street. However, as someone who has fancied himself leaning heavily toward being a Social Democrat or Democratic Socialist (yes there is a difference), I'm decidedly less enthusiastic about our government's move to bail out troubled financial institutions than one would think a 'pinko-Leftist' would be.

I'm pleased that Congress appears to have put the breaks on Henry "PowerPlay" Paulsen and his original plan -- give him $750 billion, he'll give it away and save us all, just don't ask him any questions. However, even with the modified plan, I still wonder, perhaps selfishly: What's in it for me? As a taxpayer, I'm going to be part owner of some of the troubled institutions 'non-liquid assets'. Does that mean the Other Half and I and rest of the family can move into one of these 'Non-liquid assets' since our place it getting kinda small? What guarantees do we have that $750 billion is 'enough'? Other than a (temporary -- everyone knows we're only putting a band aid on the problem right now) end to 'the current crisis' what do we get for our tax dollars -- and will we get some of the money back?

Sweden appeared to have had the right idea when it went through a similar problem a few years ago:

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

IMHO THAT'S the way to do it! The government doesn't just take over an institution, there are safeguards, guarantees, a reward for our national shared risk. But is something this on the table in Washington? Somehow I don't think so. Too "Socialistic" for our tastes in this country I'm afraid.

(Sigh) Oh well, I guess the [Class] Struggle continues: Back to the barricades!

18 September 2008

Your Bill Sir, Ma'am.....

(Graphic from Reuters, by way of the Chrisitan Science Monitor)

I understand the need for (some) of these bailouts, but still, one day the bill will come due. Expect to feel the pinch on April 15th, and beyond.

The F.A.Q.’s of Lehman and A.I.G.

12 September 2008


Self-Portrait in the New World Order

You're walking down the street alone, absorbed
in the anticipation of a lunchtime salad
with that crusty olive bread you like so much,
and suddenly you're marching in formation
in a crowd, it's called a regiment.
You seem to be a soldier this time, you learn
to be at war. You're never really in danger
because you know you can't die
in your dreams, but sometimes
you wonder who told you that and whether
they could be trusted. The sidewalk is split
and uneven because of the shrapnel
and the artillery shells; yesterday
you didn't know the definition of artillery,
but today you know how to use it, all kinds
of field ordnance. "Ordnance" is a word
you'd never heard before. Every time
there's so much to notice, so much
to remember and write down. Here's
a little notebook with rubbed-down corners
for your back pocket. It's the little things
that distinguish one war from another,
tonight your shoes are black standard issue
marching boots that lace half-way up
your calves, whereas the other night
you had no shoes, or the shoes you'd lost
were beige bedroom slippers whose plush
offered no protection from the slush and rain
you trudged through. The subway crash
distracted you from that, now
you're climbing over the wreckage
to the next sheltered position, air thick
with morning mist (you're shivering), smoke
and a haze of acrid dust, it burns your lungs.
You're clambering through accordioned
cars, where are those twisted rails
that won't carry any passengers taking you?

Reginald Shepherd
from Fata Morgana

11 September 2008

Orpheus from The Bronx


'I write because I would like to live forever. The fact of my future death offends me. Part of this derives from my sense of my own insignificance in the universe. My life and death are a barely momentary flicker. I would like to become more than that. That the people and things I love will die wounds me as well. I seek to immortalize the world I have found and made for myself, even knowing that I won’t be there to witness that immortality, mine or my work’s, that by definition I will never know whether my endeavor has been successful. But when has impossibility ever deterred anyone from a cherished goal? As the brilliant poet and teacher Alvin Feinman once said to me, “Poetry is always close kin to the impossible, isn’t it?”'
Reginald Shepherd, from "Why I Write (revised)"

I had a very unusual doppleganger-like relationship with poet Reginald Shepherd. Once an established poet came up to me during a break at a workshop to pass on how much the editor of a certain journal 'simply loved my work.' This confused me as that journal had in the past rejected every submission I'd sent them. I took the compliment, however, thinking that the comment was based on the poems I had recently sent them....No such luck: they were sent back as well.

Then in 2002 at Fire & Ink, someone came up to me saying, "Oh, I'm so glad you're here, I have all your books!" which was confusing because at that time I'd only appeared in anthologies. But I said okay. The gentleman then proceeded to pull out Some Are Drowning, Angel, Interrupted and Wrong. "No, no, no," I said. "I'm the OTHER Reginald. You want him," pointing out and then taking him over to introduce him to Mr. R Shepherd.

I suppose that 'doppleganger' relationship continued, because I found myself thinking about him last night at home, and discovered this morning via e-mail that he had passed away.

Reginald and I would send e-mails and letters to each other, talking about our work, poetry, and life, always starting and ending the missives with our name, "Reginald." He got a kick out of that symmetry, and also how it seems a bit like writing to yourself, while actually corresponding to someone else. I thought it was great because for most of my life the only other Reginald I knew was my father. It somehow seemed fitting that when we actually met face to face for the first time, it was in a hotel lobby where the young man behind the desk was also named "Reginald."

As a friend said today after hearing news of his passing, RS could be 'a piece of work.' There were times when he could be SO sensitive, SO dramatic, it was a bit exhausting. There were other times (AWP and other conferences seemed to bring out the best in him) when he was totally ebullient and filled with contagous joy, his never less than (almost intimidatingly) brilliant comments and questions tumbling over themselves to get out.

When we first started talking he was worried about the reception of him and his work among other African American poets (and other black gay writers in particular). Many had expressed 'problems' with what was for most our first introduction to him, his essay “On Not Being White” in Joseph Beam's seminal 1986 anthology In the Life. I think he got over that as time went on: Having that person pull out his books at Fire & Ink did wonders I'm sure, as did being part of the amazing Diversity in African American Poetry Conference at the University of Ohio in 2003 (poems and papers from that event are gathered in the wonderful Rainbow Darkness). He wanted to be part of the conversation when people were talking about American poetry and its various subsets and streams. I think he's gotten his wish.

His work can be difficult -- rewardingly so -- and I thought the direction he was headed in as expressed in Fata Morgana was very exciting. I'm glad I got the chance to tell him that. But like everyone else, I'm selfish: I want more poems, more essays, more essay-blog postings, more criticsm, more letters, more e-mails, more times to get together. More Reginald.

Reginald Shepherd, Poet:



Also check out his conversation with Christopher Hennessy in Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets, University of Michigan Press, 2005

Blog posts on Harriet, the Poetry Foundation website


Skin Trade

And then I said, That's what it means
to testify: to sit in the locked dark muttering
when you should be dead to the world. The muse
just shrugged and shaded his blue eyes. So naturally
I followed him down to his father's house
by the river, a converted factory in the old
industrial park: somewhere to sit
on threadbare cushions eating my words
and his promises, safe as milk
that dries the throat. If I had a home,
he'd be that unmade bed. He's my America
twisted in dirty sheets, my inspiration
for a sleepless night. No getting around that
white skin.
                  He throws things out the window
he should keep; he collects things
he should feed to the river. He takes me
down. While there, I pick them up.

The river always does this to me:
gulls squawking and the smell of paper mills
upstream, air crowded with effluents
like riding the bus underwater. I'm spending nights
in the polluted current, teaching sunken bodies how
to swim. My feet always stay wet. Sometimes
I leave footprints the shape of blood; sometimes glass
flows through broken veins, and I glitter.
Every other step refers to white men
and their names. The spaces in between
are mine. Back of the bus with you,
They're turning warehouses
into condos, I'm selling everything
at clearance prices: here's a bronze star
for suffering quietly like a good
                  River of salt, will I see my love again?
Cold viscous water holds its course even after
it's gone. Throw a face into it and you'll never look
again, throw a voice and you'll hear sobbing
all the way down. Narcissus, that's my flower
forced in January, black-eyed bells echoing
sluggish eddies. Who hit him first?

The muse has covered his face
with his hands. It's just a reflex
of the historical storm that sired him:
something to say, "The sun is beating down
too hard on my pith helmet, the oil slick
on the river's not my fault, when are you going
home?" What he doesn't want to see, he doesn't
see. In the sludge that drowns the river, rats
pick fights with the debris. He calls them all
by their first names, he's looking through his fingers
like a fence. They make good neighbors. His friends
make do with what they can. They drink beer
from sewer-colored bottles in the dry stream
bed, powdered milk of human kindness and evaporated
silt. They stay by the river till past
sunrise, crooning a lullaby
to help it to sleep. The words
of their drinking songs are scrawled on the ceiling,
Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin: a madrigal
for the millennium's end.
                                    I'm counting
down the days in someone else's
unmade bed, let these things break
their hold on me. The world
would like to see me dead, another gone
black man. I'm still awake.

from Angel, Interrupted, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996

01 September 2008

Juno in Juneau

My apologies to Barack, who says we should lay off, but I can't reisist......

1: I wish I could take credit for the title, but that's from the Other Half.

2: As Liberal, I know that if this story were coming from the Democratic side of the campaign, the reaction of the Right Wing would be apocolypic

3: As a Black person, I know deep in my bones, that if this story were coming from the Democratic side of the campaign, we would be inundated with a spate of "Crisis in the African American Community" stories tomorrow....just as I know there will not be any similar "Crisis in White America" stories coming out

Palin's unmarried daughter is pregnant

Besieged by blog rumors about her 17-year-old daughter, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — named Friday as running mate of John McCain — released a statement Monday saying her daughter is pregnant and plans to marry the father. The governor and her husband, Todd, said their daughter Bristol plans to keep the baby.

I can say nothing better than what has been said by others:

'How about those family values? My problem here is not that a child is pregnant. It is that Sarah Palin wants to pass laws making abortion illegal EVEN IN THE EVENT OF THE RAPE OF HER OWN DAUGHTER. Yet the words "birth control" clearly have failed to make it into her own child's education. As someone with three daughters and a son, I find the hypocrisy breathtaking.Republicans claim they are for small government yet they always want to be in our bedrooms. Is it because they can't control their own?'

Heck of a job....

WHY is CNBC using THIS MAN as an "expert" on disaster preparednes?