Monday, June 13, 2016

Anna Swir: A Polish poetry giant

"You will not tame this sea
either by humility or rapture.
But you can laugh
in its face."

Anna Swir

I Carried Bedpans
by Anna Swir

I worked as an orderly at the hospital
without medicine and water.
I carried bedpans
filled with pus, blood and feces.

I loved pus, blood and feces-
they were alive like life,
and there was less and less
life around.

When the world was dying
I was only two hands, handing
the wounded a bedpan.

He Was Lucky
by Anna Swir

An old man
leaves the house, carrying books.
A German soldier snatches the books
and throws them in the mud.

The old man picks up the books,
the soldier hits him in the face.
The old man falls,
the soldier kicks him and walks away.

The old man
lies in mud and blood.
Underneath he feels
the books.

I Talk to My Body
by Anna Swir

My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behavior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi

Well trained
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself
A plump line to the centre of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body you are an animal
from whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.

Anna Swir (1909-1984) was a Polish poet whose works deal with experiences during Word War II, motherhood, the female body, and sensuality. 

Swir  was born in Warsaw  to an artistic, though impoverished family and studied medieval Polish literature at University. During the 1930's worked for a teachers association, as an editor and published poetry.

Swir joined the Polish resistance during WW2 and worked as a military nurse. She was arrested and faced a Nazi firing squad during the war, waiting 60 minutes to be executed. As well as writing poetry for Polish resistance underground publications, Swir cared for the wounded during the Warsaw Uprising and many of her poems are based on her experience.

Swir's poetry is sophisticated and powerful without the rhetorical embellishment that characterizes so much of what passes as poetry. Her poetry is purposeful, direct, simple and with a profound reverence for life.

Many of her poems record the experiences and ravages of war, although it was 30 years after the war before Swir would write and publish the poems about her wartime experience. As one reviewer notes those wartime experiences changed her poetry profoundly, bringing a concern for the value of the simplicity and immediacy of life.

Swir wrote candidly and passionately about the female body, sensuality and erotic love. Her poetry views the body with both intimacy and detachment.

After the war Swir lived in Krakow and wrote poetry, plays and stories for children and directed a children's theatre. Anna Swir died of cancer in 1984.

Other blog pieces featuring Anna Swir's poetry are here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday's poem: Stanley Kunitiz and 'Living in the layers'

"That pack of scoundrels
stumbling through the gate
as the order of the state"
Stanley Kunitz

"Evil has become a product of manufacture, it is built into our whole industrial and political system, it is being manufactured every day, it is rolling off the assembly lines, it is being sold in the stores, it pollutes the air. And it's not a person!"
Stanley Kunitz

"A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. It takes on a life and a will of its own" 
Stanley Kunitz

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) is  one of my favorite poets and is considered among the US's most acclaimed poets, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry.

Kunitz wrote poetry for over 80 years and until his death, aged 100, he was active as a poet, writer, activist and mentor to young poets. He was 95 when his Collected Poems was published.

Kunitz was largely unknown as a poet until well into his sixties. He was appointed official poet of the US Government and the State of New York, but saw his role in clear terms:

"The poet is not in the service of the state. On the contrary he defends the solitary conscience as opposed to the great power structure of the superstate."

Kunitz was a lifelong political progressive and pacifist. He was a conscientious objector during WW2 and opposed both the Vietnam and the US-led invasion of Iraq. He declined to write a poem in honor of the inauguration of George Bush.  He reminded people:

"A poet is also a citizen, and I try not to forget that"

Kunitz wrote poetry slowly, often at night, on an old manual typewriter. The secret of a long life, he claimed, was curiosity (he lived to over 100).

An interview with Stanley Kunitz is here and a long evocative article about Stanley Kunitz from the New Yorker magazine is here.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The political genesis of the work of Arvo Pärt

“One line is like freedom, and the triad line is like discipline. It must work together" Arvo Pärt

"I apologize but I cannot help you with words. I am a composer and express myself with sounds'. Arvo Pärt

The Estonian born composer Arvo Pärt is one of the most influential contemporary classical composers in the world. His simplified compositional technique, known as tintinnabuli, has defined his musical style since the late 1970's and appears in compositions such as Fur Alina, Fratres, Spiegel im SpiegelCantus  in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa.

Tintinnabuli (the latin word for bell) is a particular style of composition that weaves together melodic lines in which one voice or instrument outlines a chord, while the other circulates around it. The music moves slowly in patterns and waves, creating austere, hypnotic and achingly beautiful musical patterns. The sparse and repetitive arrangements give the listener space to experience and interpret the music.

While Arvo Pärt is one of the most performed classical composers in the world, the political significance and genesis of his work is generally overlooked. Pärt's work is usually discussed primarily in terms of his faith and religiosity, not surprising given his Eastern orthodox Christianity.

Pärt makes no claim to be a political composer and dismisses any political interpretation of his work claiming that:
"I have never participated in political art. My compositions have never been political, even the ‘Khodorkovsky’ Symphony has really nothing to do with politics".

However, Pärt's work has powerful political resonances and emerged out of a matrix of political forces- his courage in refusing to compose music to satisfy Soviet authorities; his banning by the Russian authorities and subsequent internal exile' within Estonia; his subsequent external exile from Estonia to the west; the cultural tradition in Estonia whereby music and song are a means to give voice to political motivations and aspirations, and his willingness to speak out and take a stand against injustice and suffering.

Pärt was born born in 1935 in Paide in Estonia, then part of the communist Soviet Union. After completing military service he attended and graduated from the Tallinan Conservatory in 1963. From 1958-1967 he worked as a recording engineer with Estonian Radio. 

Pärt never produced the strictly political music expected of Soviet composers and his early music was censored by the Soviet authorities in the 1960s as its religious message was considered an act of political dissidence. He fell quiet for half a decade and emerged in 1976 with "Fur Alina", the first of his distinctive tintinnabuli style compositions.

His work was promptly banned in the USSR and Pärt was permitted to emigrate in January 1980, first to Vienna and then to Berlin, where he settled. He now divides his time between Berlin and Tallinn. 

When he left the Soviet Union with his wife and 2 sons, Pärt was stopped by border police for a luggage search. He told the New York Times:
“We had only seven suitcases, full of my scores, records and tapes. They said, ‘Let’s listen.’ It was a big station. No one else was there. We took my record player and played ‘Cantus.’ It was like liturgy. Then they played another record, ‘Missa Syllabica.’ They were so friendly to us. I think it is the first time in the history of the Soviet Union that the police are friendly.”

Commenting on that incident Pärt's wife noted“I saw the power of music to transform people.”

Pärt was influenced by the Estonian cultural milieu where music has always been a key political force. In the 1980's music and song was the mechanism used to drive the movement for Estonian independence from the Soviet Union. 

Estonia made its revolution by song. During what is referred to as 'the Singing Revolution', Estonians gathered to organise for independence under the guise of singing. In June 1988, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for five successive nights to sing protest songs. Within 3 years Estonia had achieved independence from Soviet rule.

Arvo Pärt also uses his work to express solidarity with those who suffer and resist injustice.

He created a musical piece Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fatima in response to a painting based on photography taken at Auschwitz. His prayer of peace Da pacem Domine was a personal tribute to the victims of the Madrid Terrorist attack. He also composed Fur Lennart in memorian for the funeral service of Lennart Meri, the second elected President of the Estonian Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Pärt dedicated every performance of his works in 2006 and 2007 to the memory of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was murdered in Moscow in 2006. Pärt wrote:

"Anna Politkovskaya staked her entire talent, energy and—in the end—even her life on saving people who had become victims of the abuses prevailing in Russia."

Arvo Pärt's own life has political significance - his courage in refusing to bow to state authoritarianism, his fortitude in the face of attacks and criticism from powerful interests, his unflinching persistence and perseverance and his belief in the power of artistic expression to break down the walls of prejudice, force and political power.

In a profile of  Arvo Pärt in the Guardian, Gunter Atteln describes Pärt as a man of courage, humility and authenticity who sees the injustices of the world and takes a political stand against them. Atteln describes Pärt's work as as deeply human, rather than political, although the distinction is somewhat semantic.

Pärt has spoken out politically about events in Russia and criticized Vladimir Putin. He said Putin has:

'.... spread around him massive amounts of hostility and aggression, which has its own dynamics and can only grow. You cannot take it back anymore. There is no control over it today. It cannot be called anything else but a crime. It is more than a crime".

Pärt's work also has political resonance in the way it evokes and resonates an ethos of deep simplicity and peacefulness- silence, stillness, contemplation, humility, a lack of rhetorical grandiosity- that acts as a counterbalance to the consumerism of capitalist societies.

Pärt's music is described by one commentator as evoking 'the radical disruptiveness of the profoundly peaceful'.

James Soemijantoro Wilson refers to  Pärt's music as part of the 'rebel yell of classic music' and cites Alex Ross from his book the Rest is Noise:

"It is not hard to guess why Pärt and several like-minded composers—notably Henryk Górecki and John Tavener—achieved a degree of mass appeal during the global economic booms of the eighties and nineties; they provided oases of repose in a technologically oversaturated culture. For some, Pärt’s strange spiritual purity filled a more desperate need; a nurse in a hospital ward in New York regularly played Tabula Rasa for young men who were dying of AIDS, and in their last days they asked to hear it again and again.”
This piece by Frederic Kiernan in The Conversation provides detailed background on Pärt's history and compositions.

A detailed biography of Pärt is hereA link to a documentary about Arvo Pärt titled The Lost Paradise by Robert Wilson is here. A link to another documentary about Pärt, Even if I Lose Everything  by Dorian Supin is here.

More stories about Arvo Pärt are here, here and here.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The continuing silence about links between extreme weather events and climate change

Many parts of Australia are recovering from the devastating effects of extreme weather events over recent days, including storms that produced unprecedented levels of rainfall, massive ocean waves and king tide surges that caused coastal erosion, and extensive destruction and devastation from massive localized flooding, however, it is interesting to see climate scientists and commentators being cautious and circumspect about linking the severity of the storms to climate change (see articles here, here and here).

A valuable article by social scientists Paul Hoggett and Rosemary Randall, based on interviews with leading UK climate scientists, provides insight into the dynamics of the social and political silencing that makes many climate change scientists unwilling to speak out publicly about the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change.
Hoggett and Randall argue that a 'socially constructed silence' between climate scientists and policy makers is one reason why policy making about climate change has become a form of 'symbolic policy making’—a set of practices designed to make it look as though political elites are doing something about climate change while actually doing nothing.
Hoggett and Randall quote one scientist who said that although many scientists believe that the world is heading for a rise in temperatures of 6 degrees, rather than the two degrees claimed, they still remain silent.
A number of reasons for this silence are identified by Hoggett and Randall. They found many scientists identify with an idealized picture of scientific rationality and are uncomfortable with the political controversy surrounding climate change.  Scientists prefer to get on with their research quietly and dispassionately, burying themselves in the excitement and rewards of research, but denying they have any responsibility beyond developing models or crunching the numbers.
Hoggett and Randall quote one researcher:

"so many scientists just want to do their research and as soon as it has some relevance, or policy implications, or a journalist is interested in their research, they are uncomfortable.
Fear of being seen as a whistle blower and damaging their career are also reasons why scientists are unwilling to speak out.

Some scientists are unwilling to challenge political analysis of the scientific evidence. One scientist quoted by Hoggett and Randall was critical of scientists:
“... repeatedly I’ve heard from researchers, academics, senior policy makers, government chief scientists, [that] they can’t say these things publicly, I’m sort of deafened, deafened by the silence of most people who work in the area that we work in, in that they will not criticise when there are often evidently very political assumptions that underpin some of the analysis that comes out."

Hoggett and Randall urge the scientific community to abandon their social and political silence and speak out as a whole, rather than leaving the task to a beleaguered and much-criticized minority.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday's poem: Wendell Berry and 'the tyranny of things we do not need"

"The term “radical” has the same meaning in politics as it does in mathematics or in the word “radish.” It simply means “root.” So a radical would be a person who wants to address the root causes of a particular problem. In the proper sense of the term, I think I’ve probably become more radical."
Wendell Berry

“To live and work attentively in a diverse landscape such as this one—made up of native woodlands, pastures, croplands, ponds, and streams—is to live from one revelation to another, things unexpected, always of interest, often wonderful. After a while, you understand that there can be no end to this. The place is essentially interesting, inexhaustibly beautiful and wonderful. To know this is a defense against the incessant sales talk that is always telling you that what you have is not good enough; your life is not good enough. There aren’t many right answers to that. One of them, one of the best, comes from living watchfully and carefully the life uniquely granted to you by your place"
Wendell Berry

We who prayed and wept
Wendell Berry

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept beneath the yoke of greed

those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed thy Grace. 
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry


If we have become a people incapable
of thought, then the brute- thought
of mere power and greed
will think for us

If we have become incapable
of denying ourselves anything,
then all we have
will be taken from us.

If we have no compassion,
we will suffer alone, we will suffer
alone the destruction of ourselves.

These are merely the laws of this world
as known to Shakespeare, as known to Milton:

When we cease from human thought
a low and effective cunning
stirs in the most inhuman minds.

from Leavings by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer. He has lived and worked on the same Kentucky farm for nearly 50 years, as his ancestors did before him. His farming family have been active in the farmer cooperative movement for generations.

He is one of the US's most distinguished and prolific authors and has written novels, short stories, poems, essays and political treatises.

Berry has raged against the injustice of industrial capitalist exploitation and been a political and social activist and campaigner for 50 years. He has protested against the Vietnam war, nuclear power, American foreign policy, big coal, mining companies, mountaintop removal, corporate agriculture, the death penalty, environmental destruction and political corruption.

Berry is Kentucky's most famous author and is the first living author to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Berry's poetry display a reverence for life and moral and intellectual clarity. His poems are profound reflections on life, death, family and our connectedness to history, place and the environment. He also writes provocative political poems. Berry is a passionate critic of contemporary capitalism and a defender of the environment and local economies.

His first book of poetry was published in 1964 and consisted of a single poem titled November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three, commemorating the death of John F. Kennedy.

A recent speech by Wendell Berry is here and some essays and interviews with Wendell Berry are here, here, here and here.

Someone once wrote of Wendell Berry:

"Wendell Berry continues as a great contrary example to the compromises others take in stride. Instead of being at odds with his conscience, he is at odds with his times. Cheerful in dissent, he writes to document and defend what is being lost to the forces of modernization, and to explain how he lives and what he thinks.

He is the sum of his beliefs. And those beliefs arise from a longstanding tradition most fully expressed in the American family farm, a self-sustaining economic enterprise that reinforced familial bonds and human obligations to the natural environment."

His poetry and essays feature regularly on this blog.

Monday, May 30, 2016

"When the final line unfolds it don't always rhyme": The eloquence of Guy Clark (1941-2016)

"Songs are like Japanese painting. Less is more. One brushstroke takes the place of many if you put it in the right place. I’m trying to get whoever is listening to think, ‘Oh, man, I was there. I did that. I know what that’s about.’ Too many details take away.Guy Clark

"You know life ain't easy it takes work/it takes healing cause you're gonna get hurt/You can lose your faith, you can lose your shirt, lose your way sometimes/Ah you never really have control, sometimes you just gotta let it go/When the final line unfolds, it don't always rhyme.Guy Clark, Homeless

Very sad to hear of the death of Texan singer songwriter Guy Clark who passed away in Nashville Tennessee on the morning of Tuesday May 17th. Clark, who battled cancer and health problems, was aged 74.

I have been a huge fan of his music for over 3 decades, since I first heard LA Freeway and Desperadoes Waiting for a Train, songs that appeared on Guy Clark's first album Old No. 1 and made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker.

Guy Clark wrote songs that were vignettes of daily life that he formed into four to five minute songs. Clark was a storyteller whose songs have the feel of poetry, short stories and in his ability to create visual images, cinema put to music. 
I’d play the “Red River Valley”
And he’d sit in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through 70 years of living
And wonder, Lord, has every well I drilled gone dry?
We was friends, me and this old man
Like desperadoes waiting for a train.

In his songs Clark had a way of seeing the world in the pretext of the simple things- what he refers to in one song as 'stuff that works'- 'the kind stuff you reach for when you fall'. Like homegrown tomatoes, cooking, a guitar, a photo, memories of places and people, an object, a cap, an old pair of boots, a knife.

In Randall Knife, one of his most loved songs, Clark writes about his father's death and the significance of a family heirloom passed from father to son.

Although Clark did not write strident political or 'message' songs as such, many of his songs are told from the vantage point of those who find themselves forced to the margins of society- the homeless, drifters, hitchhikers, hustlers, losers, loners, people living precarious lives and those struggling to make a decent living.

In Homeless Clark sings:
"Cardboard sign old and bent says 'friend for life 25 cents
When did this start making sense? Man it's really getting cold
Sometimes I forget things and I get confused
I could still be working, but they refuse
Now I'm living with the bums and the whores and the abused, man I hate getting old
Homeless, get away from here dont give them no money they'll just spend it
on beer
Homeless, will work for food, you'll do anything that you gotta do, when you're homeless.
Betty sings a song that no one hears, as the wind begins to freeze her tears
She says 'God it's been so many years', she's way past complainin
She sings a heartelt melody, one that begs for harmony
No it's not what she thought it would be, but hey it could be raining"

In Heroes he sings about suicide among US soldiers returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The song “Coyote” describes the toll taken by the scourge of human trafficking, using true events in which 18 immigrants trapped in a scorching trailer died at a Texas truck stop.

Clark's work is a reminder that creative expression almost always emerges from, and is intertwined with everyday lived experience. Clark has the ability to embed poignant stories, lessons and observations about the struggles, suffering and wonder of daily life into his songs. He does this with eloquence, pathos and humanity, but without sentimentality.

Guy Clark was 34 before he released his influential first album. Most of the songs on that album Old No 1 become staples in country and folk music. Two notable songs ”L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting for A Train,” were hit songs for Jerry Jeff Walker and have been recorded by many other singers. Guy Clark recorded 14 albums. His final album, My Favorite Picture of You, released in 2013 won a Grammy for best folk album.

Bob Dylan cited Guy Clark as one of his favorite songwriters. An article discussing Guy Clark's best songs is here.

Reflection and obituaries for Guy Clark are herehereherehere, here, herehere and here

A tribute CD This Ones for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark is a reminder of the powerful body of the work he produced over a 50 year career. On the CD you will find a stunning version by Patti Griffin of the Guy Clark's song The Cape:

The Cape
Guy Clark

Eight years old with a floursack cape
Tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin' what the heck
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

All grown up with a floursack cape
Tied around his dreams
He was full of spit and vinegar
He was bustin' at the seams
He licked his finger and he checked the wind
It was gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin' boys
And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a floursack cape
Tied all around his head
He's still jumpin' off the garage
Will be till he's dead
All these years the people said
He's actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Adrian C. Louis and the reservation of the mind

“I’m writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don’t have a choice—for the downtrodden.” 

"Faces skyward, we all seek
songs in the whirlwinds
that parch our slow lives."
Adrian C. Louis from Sun/Dance/Song

Sonny’s Purple Heart
By Adrian C. Louis

"But it’s too late to say you’re sorry." — The Zombies

Man, if you’re dead, why are you leading
me to drink after five sober years?
Sonny, can I get a witness?
I had a Snow White vision of the prodigal
son returning to America
that day of my final hangover.
I tried to clear the mixture
of cobwebs and shooting stars
from my brain with spit-warm
Budweiser, but the hair of the dog
just was not doing the trick.
I ended up pummeling myself
seven times that day and named each egg
white load for a Disney dwarf.
The first was Dopey.
The final was Sleepy, I think, or Droopy.


Last year you scrawled a letter to me
about your first and final visit
to the Vietnam Memorial and how your eyes
reflected off the shiny black stone
and shot back into your brain like guidons
unfurling the stench of cordite and the boy screams
of men whose souls evaporated
into morning mists over blue-green jungles.
You had to be there, you said.
That’s where you caught the cancer, you said.


Sonny. Tonight I had a dream of Mom’s death
twenty years too late and now my eyes
will not close like I imagine the lid
on her cheap casket did.
I was not there when she died.
Home on leave from Basic Training,
you stood in for me
because I was running scared
through the drugged-out alleys of America,
hiding from those Asian shadows
that would finally ace you and now, now
in the dark victory of your Agent Orange cancer,
it gives me not one ounce of ease
to say fuck Nixon and Kissinger,
fuck all the generals and all
the armies of God and fuck me,
twenty years
too late.


History is history and thank God for that.
When we were wise-ass American boys
in our fifth grade geography class,
we tittered over the prurient-sounding
waves of Lake Titticaca … Titti … ca-ca
and we never even had the slightest
clue that Che was camping out
en las montañas de Bolivia …
We never knew American chemists would
kill you slicker than slant-eyed bullets.


Damn Sonny. Five sober years done squeaked
by like a silent fart and I’m on autopilot,
sitting in a bar hoisting suds with ghosts,
yours and my slowly evolving own.
When we were seventeen with fake I.D.’s,
we got into the Bucket of Blood
in Virginia City and slurped sloe gin fizzes
while the innocent jukebox blared
“She’s Not There” by the Zombies.
Later that drunken night you puked purple
splotches onto my new, white Levis
and a short, few years into your future
this lost nation would award
you two purple hearts,
one of which your mother pressed
into my hand that bright day
we filed you under
dry desert dirt.

(Adrian C. Louis, "Sonny’s Purple Heart" from Vortex of Indian Fevers. Copyright © 1995 by Adrian C. Louis)

The Sacred Circle
by Adrian C. Louis

Numanah, Grandfather, grant me the grace
of a new song far from this lament
of lame words and fossils of a losing game.
No more flat pebbles skimmed between the wetness
of tongue and thigh and eye again!
I never asked to be the son of a stained mattress
who contemplated venison stew and knew
the shame hidden in grease clouds stuck to the wall
behind the woodstove where Grandmother cooked.
I only wanted to run far, so far from Indian land.
And, God damn it, when I was old enough I did.
I loitered in some great halls of ivy
and allowed the inquisition of education:
electric cattle prods placed lovingly
to the lobes of my earth memories.
I carried the false spirit force of sadness
wrapped in a brown sack in the pocket
of a worn, tweed coat.
In junkie alleyways I whispered of forgotten arrows
in the narrow passages of my own discarded history.
Then, when I was old enough
I ran back to Indian land.
Now I’m thinking of running from here.
Pine Ridge, South Dakota
February 1988
(Adrian C. Louis, "The Sacred Circle" from Fire Water World. Copyright © 1989 by Adrian C. Louis.)

Adrian C. Louis is a member of the Lovelock Paiute tribe from Nevada who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He has written ten books of poetry, two novels and a book of short stories.His most recent book of poetry is Random Exorcisms.

He has been a journalist, editor of tribal newspapers and magazines and has taught at Lakota College and in the Minnesota public university system. He is editor for Lakota Times and Indian Country Today and co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association.

On his writing Adrian Louis said:
"Early on in my writing, I did a lot of speaking from behind masks. The older I got, the more honest and direct I became. I think that’s simply human nature. As we grow older, we learn that in the end, a lie will always return to bite you on the ass. But, I am no hero, no shaman/warrior. I am simply a common man. Even though I’ve gotten an education and have written books, I am still a person who grew up using an outhouse. I think people react strongly to my writings for varied reasons. Life can beat you down and I’ve survived my share of trauma, a lot of it self-inflicted. People can relate to that and to the fact that in a lot of my poems I don’t take any prisoners. I think many readers like to find a poem that in some way reflects their own complicated lives."

An online collection of poems is hereHis website is here & interviews are here and here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ken Loach, the Palme D'Or award and a film on the horrors of neoliberal austerity

"The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe. It has led to billions of people in serious hardship and many millions struggling from Greece in the east to Spain in the west while this has brought a tiny few immense wealth..... When there is despair, the people from the far right take advantage. We must say that another world is possible and necessary.”
Ken Loach in his acceptance speech to the Cannes Film Festival

Great to hear that British left wing filmmaker Ken Loach has won his second Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his new film I Daniel Blake about the impact of Britain's barbaric welfare system.

In his acceptance speech Ken Loach slammed neoliberal austerity policies and welfare cuts across Europe and in Britain:

"There is a conscious cruelty in the way that we are organising our lives now, where the most vulnerable people are told that their poverty is their own fault... If you have no work it's your fault you haven't got a job"

I Daniel Blake shows what happens to people trapped in a punitive neoliberal welfare bureaucracy designed to give expression to the political rhetoric of 'lifters and leaners' in contemporary Britain.

The film documents the shame and horror of poverty and 'workfare' in UK and shows what happens when an older man living in Newcastle has a heart attack and can no longer work. He is declared fit for work, meaning his benefits are stopped, and he goes hungry.

A review of the film from the UK Independent is here:

Ken Loach’s latest feature (unveiled in competition in Cannes) is a story of an eminently decent man being ground down by an uncaring British welfare state. Scripted by Loach’s regular collaborator Paul Laverty, it is a melodramatic and sometimes very didactic film but also an intensely moving one.

This is the second time that Loach has won the Palme D'Or, the Cannes Festival's highest award. Loach won the award in 2006 for his film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about two brothers who join the IRA in the early 1920s. He is the ninth Director to win the award twice. 

Loach, who has directed 50 features for screen and TV, has been a left wing socialist activist and political campaigner for most of his career.