Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Poems of every day life: Geoff Goodfellow

Great poem by Geoff Goodfellow on the lessons learned from everyday events

Reversing
Geoff Goodfellow

I was reversing out of my driveway
     & signalled to a bloke
to move his car which was in my way

he was a young man twenty-
maybe twenty-two   lots of bottle
blond hair       tousled and spiky
7 his care was about as old
as he was

he was parked in a No Parking zone
& it pissed me off
 as I turned out I drew alongside him-
rolled down my window & growled
   can't you read you idiot         it says
no parking

he looked at me momentarily & said
chill out dude

I set the car into drive
took a left turn       slowly-
and drove down the road laughing

he was right
                      of course.

Geoff Goodfellow is an Australian poet who lives in Adelaide. He has been writing poetry for over 30 years and published 10 books of poetry.  His most recent collection Waltzing with Jack Dancer: a slow dance with cancer  is a record of his survival from throat cancer.

His poems detail the lives of ordinary everyday people whose lives are overlooked and forgotten, including those who occupy the margins of Australian society. These are the voices of people often not found in contemporary Australian poetry and literature.

He has also written and read poems for trade unions.

An article on Geoff Goodfellow from the Age is here.
His website is here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Learning from the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)

 
Three years after her death in 2012 the work of  Elinor Ostrom remains more relevant than ever for those of us campaigning for alternatives to the contemporary orthodoxy of market fundamentalism and neoliberalism.
 
 Ostrom who was a Professor at Indiana University was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2009.

Ostrom's work challenged and rebutted fundamental economic beliefs, particularly free market and neo-classical economic paradigms. Ostrom was particularly concerned with  relational aspects of economic activity — the ways in which people interact and negotiate with each other to forge rules and informal social understandings.

Ostrom's early work focused on what she called
co-production.
 
Ostrom argued that many public services depend heavily on the contribution of time and effort by the persons who consume these services, i.e. the clients and citizens.
 
Ostrom believed that services rely as much upon the unacknowledged knowledge, assets and efforts of service ‘users’ as the expertise of professional providers. It was the informal understanding of local communities and the on the ground relationships that make services more effective.

Co-production describes the relationship that exist between ‘regular producers’, like health workers, police, and schoolteachers and their ‘clients’ who may be transformed by the services into safer, better educated and/or healthier persons.

Ostrom defined
co-production as

 “…the mix of activities that both public service agents and citizens contribute to the provision of public services. The former are involved as professionals, or ‘regular producers’, while ‘citizen production’ is based on voluntary efforts by individuals and groups to enhance the quality and/or quantity of the services they use”

One implication is that privatization of public services and the turning over of services to the market fundamentally transforms the relationship between provider and service user, hampering the development of co-production and democratic governance.

Her later work examined how people and communities collaborate and organize themselves to manage collective shared resources like forests, fisheries and natural and social resources. The research overturned the conventional wisdom about government regulation  and challenged the idea that private ownership of public resources is better and more effective than the public and collective sphere.

Ostrom's work provides clear evidence  that the commons-based traditions of cooperation and communal management of resources is not a violation of basic economic common sense.

Her work undermines political conservatives and mainstream economists who denigrate collectively managed property and government and who argue that only private property and the "free market" can responsibly manage resources.  Her work also directly challenges current ideas that privatization and private ownership and expert management of resources is a more effective strategy than collective and public management

Ostrom advocated a “polycentric” approach to managing shared or common resources involving oversight “at multiple levels with autonomy at each level. She argued that shared management of resources helps to establish rules that “tend to encourage the growth of trust and reciprocity” among people who use and care for a particular commons.

Ostrim argued that key management decisions should be made as close to the scene of events and the people and groups involved as possible. Her work showed that the people most affected by or with a stake in shared or common resources are the ones best able to collaborate to use and manage those shared resources effectively and sustainably.

Her work demonstrates that ordinary people are able to create rules, institutions and systems that ensure the equitable and sustainable management of shared and common resources, what is often called our 'common wealth'.

She demonstrated the importance of shared (collective) rather than expert or private management of resources and knowledge and emphasises the importance of active citizen participation. She cited a comprehensive study of 100 forests in 14 countries that detailed how the involvement of local people in decision making is more important to successfully sustaining healthy forests than who is actually in charge of the forests.

 David
Bollier writes of the significance of Ostrom's work:

In the 1970s, economics was quickly veering into a kind of religious fundamentalism. It was a discipline obsessed with “rational individualism,” private property rights and markets even though the universe of meaningful human activity is much broader and complex. Lin Ostrom pioneered a different, more humanistic way of thinking about “the economy” and resource management. She originally focused on property rights and “common-pool resources,” collective resources over which no one has private property rights or exclusive control, such as fishers, grazing lands and groundwater. This work later evolved into a broader study of the commons as a rich, cross-cultural socio-ecological paradigm. Working within the social sciences, Ostrom proceeded to build a new school of thought within the standard economic narrative while extending it in vital ways.

 Ostrom's work also has direct relevance to the current economic and environment crises. She wrote:

"We cannot rely on singular global policies to solve the problem of managing our common resources: the oceans, atmosphere, forests, waterways, and rich diversity of life that combine to create the right conditions for life, including seven billion humans, to thrive.....Success will hinge on developing many overlapping policies to achieve the goals,.......We have a decade to act before the economic cost of current viable solutions becomes too high. Without action, we risk catastrophic and perhaps irreversible changes to our life-support system.”

Articles written in memory of her work are
here, here, here and here.

A reading list of her work is
here.

The last article she wrote before she died is
here

Her last book, published just before her death was titled Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice, and describes the advantages of using several different research methods to study a problem.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Who are the teachers and educators who inspired us?

This photo from 1953 shows four-year-old Ross Munro and his neighbour Phillip Noble playing in an asbestos sandpit in a residential backyard in Wittenoom in WA's northwest. Residents purchased the deadly tailings which were commonly used as sandpits in backyards for the purposes of children's play and also to reduce dust around houses.

When I read Chris Hedges latest piece about inspiring teachers and educators I thought of Ross Munro.

Chris Hedges, the American journalist, writer, war correspondent and political activist and campaigner has written a moving eulogy to one of his educational mentors and inspirations- the Reverend Coleman Brown who taught Hedges at Colgate University. Hedges writes that Coleman:

had the most profound impact of all my teachers on my education. I took seven courses as an undergraduate in religion. He taught six of them. But his teaching extended far beyond the classroom. The classroom was where he lit the spark.

Hedges describes how Coleman Brown used poetry to highlight the powerful sacred forces that writers and poets struggle to express:

"Coleman would read poems and cherished prose passages out loud as I met with him in his office. It was about the musicality of language. His sonorous voice rose and dipped with intonations and emphasis. To this day I still hear his recitation in pieces of writing and poems......... Poetry, he taught me, is alive. It must be felt. It has a hypnotic power that, as Shakespeare understood, is a kind of witchcraft. And poetry, along with all other writing, is just a spent, dead force if you do not surrender to its spell."

In thinking about the influence of his educational mentor, Hedges has written a beautiful summation of the significance and value of education:

"Education is not only about knowledge. It is about inspiration. It is about passion. It is about the belief that what we do in life matters. It is about moral choice. It is about taking nothing for granted. It is about challenging assumptions and suppositions. It is about truth and justice. It is about learning how to think. It is about, as James Baldwin wrote, the ability to drive “to the heart of every matter and expose the question the answer hides.” And, as Baldwin further noted, it is about making the world “a more human dwelling place.”

Many of us have had or known teachers and educators who paved the way for such inspiration and passion, either in ourselves or in others.

At both secondary school and university I had teachers- sadly too few- who managed to create and light a spark like that which Hedges describes. One was  John Croft, a secondary school teacher of history who bought to life the study of history and triggered my lifelong passion for the power and relevance of historical understanding and analysis as the basis for social thinking and action.

As  a young secondary school teacher I worked with an English teacher named Ross Munro, who brought alive the power of the written and spoken (and sung)  word to his students. Each day outside his classroom would be a quote, extract or lyrics from a text- a book, a play, a song, a poem- which was designed to engage, to provoke, to encourage thinking. 

Ross was  a man much loved by his students. Even now, some of those students still speak about his influence and legacy.  

Ross died young, aged just 38, a victim of the horrors and indiscriminate cruelty of asbestos and the neglect of mining corporations and government agencies. Ross was a victim of perhaps the greatest industrial and corporate crime in Australian history.

Ross was one of the 'Wittenoom kids' who spent their childhoods exposed to asbestos in the town of Wittenoom  in north-west of Western Australia who have gone on to develop a range of cancers and are dying at a rate well above the average population of mesothelioma.

Ross became the first non-mine worker to win a mesothelioma claim against CSR in January 1989, just before his death. His appalling treatment is documented in Ben Hills book Blue Murder.

More on Ross and events and the human cost of asbestos are  here and here

(1) Mining of the deadly blue asbestos at Wittenoom, 1106km north of Perth, commenced in the 1940's and ceased in 1966 and the town was later closed after airborne fibres in dust from mining operations were found to cause malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious diseases

Remembering Ken Sprague (1927-204) and his powerful images


image by Ken Sprague

"In essence, the leitmotif of his work is about power and the abuse of power as well as the resilience of ordinary working people to this abuse... It is an art of engagement – engagement for change."
(John Green, from the Introduction to Ken Sprague – People’s Artist.)

People continue to ask about this powerful image that appears on this site. (It it also continues to appear in its original or modified form elsewhere).

The image is a drawing by Ken Sprague. I have written before here and here about Ken Sprague who I had the privilege to know during the 1980's. You can read more about Ken's life, his work and legacy here

Ken Sprague's remarkable image captures the recent zeitgeist of uprisings and revolts happening around the world, in which ordinary people are standing up and fighting against state and corporate power and political and financial plundering.

Ken's image was created decades ago but reflects his profound and lifelong commitment to  human rights, justice, peace and socialism.


Ken was a renowned artist, cartoonist, illustrator, poster designer , print maker, educator and filmmaker  who believed profoundly that art should  always serve social justice, peace, human rights and political struggle.

 The
obituary for Ken was written by John Green and appeared in the Guardian newspaper. John wrote a book on Ken's life titled Ken Sprague: People's Artist.
 Ken Sprague: Radical artist in pursuit of Socialism
By John Green ( from The Guardian 6th August 2004)


 The aim of Ken Sprague, who has died of a stroke aged 77  was, he said, “to build a picture road to socialism, to the Golden City, or as Blake called it, Jerusalem”. A painter, sculptor, muralist, banner-maker and sometime television presenter, Ken was, for half a century a regular, but dissenting cartoonist for the Daily Worker and its successor the Morning Star, and for papers like Tribune and Peace News.

As a posterman his work included material for Martin Luther King, and the women of Greenham Common — and against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslavakia, and Edward Heath’s Industrial Relations Bill. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was designing scenery and backdrops for Unity Theatre and was involved in the Centre 42 trade union arts project.

All round talents
His linocuts for the radical collective Cinema Action’s Kill The Bill film (1971) began an involvement in moving images. I made a film about him in 1972 which led to Jeff Perks’s 1976 BBC Omnibus documentary The Posterman. This led to a series of Channel 4 films, devised with Jeff Perks and presented by Ken, called Everyone A Special Kind Of Artist (1986). There was also a BBC South West series, The Moving Line with Joan Bakewell. In later life, he taught and practised as a  psychodrama specialist. Ken was born in Bournemouth , his father was a train driver and his mother worked in a cardboard box factory. His first work of art, in 1937, was a linocut made from linoleum, torn from the kitchen floor in response to the Spanish civil war.

Early life
He was educated at Alma Road Elementary School — until it was bombed — and Porchester Road Secondary Modern School. There the headmaster, noticing his talent, recommended that he apply to the local art college. He won a scholarship to Bournemouth Municipal  College and, from 13 and a half, studied graphics — in those days students of his background were hardly considered for fine arts courses. One morning in 1944 he volunteered, aged 17 for the Royal Marines — and that afternoon, in Southampton, he joined the Communist Party. After basic military training he was transferred to Vickers-Supermarine as a technical artist, work which took him to wartime Yugoslavia. Postwar, and after a summer stint in a circus, he completed his college diploma course in design and illustration. The CP, he told me, was his university, but after the Bournemouth Daily Echo had labelled him a college revolutionary, local job prospects dwindled. He briefly worked for a volunteer labour battalion in Yugoslavia, was employed  by the Boy Scouts and then, between 1950 to 1954 he worked in a Carlisle mining company design office — doubling as a cartoonist for the local Conservative, and Liberal newspapers. Then came a move to London as the Daily Worker’s publicity manager, which also had him working as a journalist and cartoonist. Devastated by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, in 1959 Ken left to set up, with Ray Barnard, the publicity company, Mountain & Molehill. Yet he continued producing cartoons for the Worker, and its successor the Morning Star into the 21st century.

Mountain & Molehill
M&M — later The Working Arts — was responsible for some of the most innovative trade union campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s. Ken told union leaders they had to (TO) use publicity to win hearts and minds and to see it as an integral part of union work. And it was Sprague and Barnard who initiated the sensational 1961 visit to Britain of the first man in space Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. M&M also worked for the Indian High Commission — which led to a meeting with Jawaharlarl Nehru In the late 1960s Ken began editing the Transport and General Workers Union’s the Record, transforming it into a lively newspaper, — and illustrating it with his own cartoons. As a poster and print-maker he worked with a number of leading progressive organisations and individuals, including Pete Seeger.

New life in Devon
In 1971 he moved with his wife, Sheila, a talented potter, to Holwell, a farmhouse in Devon, and converted it into an artistic centre. Sheila died of cancer in 1973, but with his second wife, Marcia he set up the Holwell International Centre For Psychodrama and Sociodrama which continued until 1998. There Ken combined his artistic talents with pedagogic expertise, using them in this new field in which he became a leading practitioner.

It is his posters and prints that will remain his true epitaph. His innovative and prolific creativity, his recalcitrant questioning, determination and belief in others’ potential was an inspiring beacon for everyone who met him, young and old. His images remain etched in the mind, they unsettle, provoke, discomfort but also amuse. Ken was concerned about how politics impact on the ordinary person. In essence the leitmotif of his work is about power and the abuse of power as well as the resilience of ordinary people. He depicted the world as changeable. His work is imbued with unfashionable optimism, depicting a world where ethics and values still have relevance. It is the antithesis of post-modern fragmentation and its disdain of value systems. Every morning, he drew a political cartoon to assuage his anger and frustration at the state of the world. And only a few weeks before he died, he was excitedly telling me about plans for an artistic project in Cuba and a book he was determined to publish of anti-war drawings. He left the Communist Party, after the acrimonious split in 1988. He continued to call himself a communist, however, saying “The party left me, I didn’t leave the party”. He won several prestigious awards, including poster of the year award from the National Council of Industrial Design on two occasions.

He is survived by Marcia, from whom he recently separated, his five children and seven grandchildren.
John Green

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Esperance WA: Sacrifice zone for the profits of the uranium industry?

A mining industry media outlet has reported that the uranium industry in WA is keen to establish Esperance on WA's southern coast, as a port export hub for radioactive uranium material mined in Western Australia.
 
The Canadian uranium miner Cameco, whose Yeeleerie uranium project is billed as the largest in WA, is located near Wiluna in WA's Northern Goldfields,  however, Wiluna is considerable distance from Port Adelaide and Darwin, the only two ports in Australia approved for shipping uranium. Esperance is the port closest to Wiluna.
 
The other uranium miner active in WA is Toro Energy who plan to ship product from its Wiluna mine through Port Adelaide, a 2700km journey by truck.
 
The Managing Director of Cameco Brian Reilly was quoted as saying:
 
“This is a region that needs the next wave of projects and the uranium sector can deliver four, five, six projects down the track and make a significant difference to WA. The product we ship is a high-value, low-volume product and as it sits today most uranium goes to the port of Adelaide. Why wouldn't we contemplate a WA port when we get a business case and a number of other projects up and running?"
 
A weekend article in the Kalgoorlie Miner describes the community's response to the disclosure and notes that the Esperance community is exceedingly vigilant about the environmental risks from products coming through Esperance, largely as a result of the Magellan Lead Scandal of 2005-2008.
 
This vigilance and likely public opposition from the people of Esperance is a consequence of  serious harm suffered by the people and environment of Esperance as a result of that earlier lead contamination scandal at the Port of Esperance.
 
Over 2 years (2005- 2007) Magellan Metals and the Esperance Port Authority allowed lethal lead dust to escape from storage facilities at the port and contaminate the town of Esperance and surrounds. Over 9500 birds died of lead poisoning and hundreds of children suffered lead poisoning from elevated lead levels.

A
Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry found that the Esperance Port Authority and Magellan Metals (and 2 other government agencies) were guilty of "critical failings" in their handling of toxic material in allowing lead carbonate particles to escape during Port operation.
 
The Inquiry concluded that the deaths of 9500 native birds in December 2006 and March 2007 resulted from lead poisoning from Magellan Metals lead carbonate concentrate which had been handled by the Esperance Port Authority from April 2005 until March 2007. A quarter of the children under 5 years of age who were tested showed a blood lead level over 5 µg/dL.
 
The Committee concluded that the exposure of the Esperance community to lead was a result of:
  • the ongoing transport to, and inloading practices at, the Esperance Port which occurred almost every second day over some 23 months;
  • the escape of lead dust during the usual out loading practices at the Esperance Port, which occurred on 22 occasions; and
  • a number of key dust incidents occurring during ship-loading of the Magellan lead concentrate at the Esperance Port, which released significant lead pollution into the environment, and in the absence of any containment or clean up, caused on-going exposures to lead.”
The Report found that the Esperance community had been let down by the actions of the Esperance Port Authority, Magellan Metals and the WA Department of Environment (DEC).

The Esperance Port Authority was fined over half a million dollars after admitting responsibility for the lead poisoning. Magellan Metals escaped without any serious penalty after agreeing to a $9 million settlement to clean up the town. As part of the agreement the State Government agreed not to pursue any criminal or legal charges against the company.
 
A State Government report released  in 2010 claimed that three years after the crises the poisonous lead dust still present in the town  remained a major threat to bird life and animal life but claimed no "serious threat to human health". Locals were not convinced
 
Research in 2010 by the Conservation Council of WA showed that local insect eating birds have lead levels in their feathers about 8 times background lead levels. The birds are at threshold level for lead pollution in birds.
 
So why should the people of Esperance have any faith they will be protected this time around by those with responsibility to regulate mining companies and protect the community, when they failed so badly last time?
 
During the Esperance lead crises, Government agencies continually downplayed the seriousness of the problem and denied any serious risk to human health.
 
The inability of WA Government agencies to effectively regulate and monitor the operations and performance of multinational corporations whose rationale is profit maximization was confirmed in a recent WA Auditor General’s Report.
 
The Auditor General found that corporations were failing to meet their environmental and social obligations and Government agencies were unable to effectively regulate and enforce the social and environmental activities of private corporations.

A recent Corruption and Crime Commission Report identified that large government agencies  who oversee large contracts with corporations do not have the necessary skills controls and governance systems in place to manage these contractors and identified the risk of corruption.

It is patently clear that regulation and monitoring of corporations is largely ineffective and government agencies and statutory authorities responsible for monitoring them have not proved themselves up to the job
Like many other places in WA, Esperance has become  what US author Steve Lerner calls a "Sacrifice Zone"- communities forced to live with the harmful social and environmental impacts of poorly regulated mining and industrial activity.
 
Martin Bruckner's remarkable book Under Corporate Skies tells the shocking story of another Western Australian "Sacrifice Zone"- this time the struggle between the community of Wagerup and the multinational mining corporation Alcoa and its ally over three decades- the WA Government.

 
 Brueckner tells a story consigned to the dustbin of Western Australian history. His book describes the the same pattern of denial, protection of mining and industrial interests, collusion by State Government agencies and  dismissal and trivialization of community concerns that was evident in the Esperance scandal.
 
These "sacrifice zones" exist all over WA, in towns and communities where mining and industrial activity are dominant.  These are places and people sacrificed on the alter of corporate profit and economic growth. 
 
The harms caused by poorly regulated mining and industrial activity- ill health and death, scarred land, polluted, air and water, despoiled environment and human landscape and a fraying social fabric- are trivialized, and denied, and when proven, they are simply dismissed as a cost of economic prosperity or considered not serious enough to warrant attention. 

Howard Stein and the use of poetry as a clinical tool in the caring professions

'
Poetry can capture the ambiguities and pain of clinical practice as well as its passion and delight. Poetry is perhaps the cleverest acknowledgement that the world is an instrument of healing'
Howard F Stein

'Being a trans disciplinary scholar is both a blessing and a curse. I find that I and my ideas often do not belong where I seek to articulate them'
Howard F Stein

Appointment at the Doctor’s
Howard F. Stein


She tries to hold her life together
With baling wire and duct tape.
Sometimes it stays, other times
It unravels and breaks apart.
She and her mother—a grocery store
Cashier and a housekeeper—
Are the sole providers.
They can’t afford a car,
And get around town by asking
Relatives for rides and taking the city bus.
It is a blustery winter day;
Her youngest of three kids
Is sick with high fever, cough,
Aches, kept her up all night.
She called the doctor’s office
In early morning and was worked in
Their schedule today. Her mom
Stayed home and watched
The two other kids. She bundled
Up her little son and walked
To the first bus stop. They waited.
The bus was late—like it was sometimes
Early, you could never count
On the schedule. Then there was
The transfer, and waiting for
The second bus. At last they walked
From the bus stop to the doctor’s
Office, more than an hour late
For their appointment. The receptionist
Scolded her for being late; so did
The nurse after her. They called her
Difficult, unreliable, inconsiderate.
Didn’t she understand what a schedule is for?
Someone in the back of the clinic
—a doctor, a nurse?—
Overheard the clamor, and said,
“Let them stay. We’ll work them in.
You never know what some people
Have to go through to get here.”

Howard  F.  Stein describes himself as a medical, applied, psycho-analytical and organisational anthropologist and consultant. He is the Emeritus Professor in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Services Center.

He is also a poet who has written 8 books of poetry and another 27 books on academic and clinical practice and social and cultural issues.

In 2006 he was nominated for Oklahoma Poet Laureate and is the Poet of the High Plains Society for Applied Anthropology.

Stein uses poetry to teach family medicine interns and residents and clinical practioners in the belief that poetry can humanise technologically oriented and productivity driven medical practioners and offer empathy and insight into their relationship with patients.

A collection of his books available through Amazon is here.

Some of his poetry is here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Spanish poet Miguel Hernandez (1910-1942): A victim of the Spanish Holocaust


"Here I have a voice impassioned,
here I have a life
embattled and angered,
here I have a rumor,
but here I have a life"

Miguel Fernandez
Gather This Voice/Take up this Cry


"Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends. Let me take my leave of the sun and fields"
The last words of Miguel Hernandez scribbled on the prison hospital walls just before he died in 1942.
 
I am currently reading (very slowly) Paul Preston's book The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain which documents in gruesome detail the genocidal actions taken against Spanish civilians in the lead up to and during and after the Spanish Civil War (a review of the book is here).

Preston lays out the repression and genocidal crimes committed by all sides including the radical right and left.

Preston has argued that the 'Francoists'- the radical rightists led by General Franco and his military, political, class, religious and civilian conspirators  killed more Spanish civilians than the Nazis killed Germans.

One civilian who died in Spain's genocide was the poet Miguel Hernandez.

Miguel Hernandez (1910-1942) was a 20th Century Spanish poet, playwright and political activist. Hernandez is one of the finest poets of the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)and is now recognized as one of the great Spanish poets.
 
During the Spanish Civil War Hernandez  campaigned against the fascist forces led by General Franco. He enrolled in the Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Franco and the Nationalists and joined the First Calvary Company as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He traveled extensively organizing cultural events and reading his poetry at rallies and on the front lines to Republican forces  fighting the fascists. 
 
After the victory of Franco's fascists Hernandez and his family suffered terribly. He was arrested and imprisoned many times and eventually sentenced to death for his anti-fascist political activities and his poetry. The death sentence was commuted to 30 years imprisonment. The years of struggle and hardship and the harshness of his incarceration took its toll and he died in 1942 of tuberculosis.
 
Much of Hernandez's poetry was written during the destruction and terror of the Spanish Civil War.

His poetry is a direct result of the brutality of the conflict and subsequent savage reprisals and executions. He produced an immense amount of poetry during his imprisonment.
 
Hernandez's poetry and his example of committed political struggle against the forces of tyranny and injustice had immense influence on other poets, particularly the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who was in Spain at the time and was a friend and colleague of Hernandez.
 
His family continue to fight for justice and to clear his name. In 2010 they filed a law suit in the Spanish Supreme Cort seeking annulment of the guilty verdicts against him. 

You can read more about Fernandez here, here, here.
 
English translations of his poems are here, here and here. 
From Lullabies of the Onion (written from inside prison to his infant son)  
Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.
Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Costas Panayotakis on the Greek people's rejection of austerity demands

On matters Greek, one commentator whose views I always turn to is Costas Panayotakis, a professor of sociology at the New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York and author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy.
 
Panayotakis has recently returned from Greece and was interviewed by Amy Goodman on the program "Democracy Now!" this morning where he said: 
 
"The result of the Greek referendum has been a resounding rejection of the devastating austerity policies that European institutions and the IMF have been imposing on Greek people for the last five years. The fact that more than 60 percent of Greeks voted ‘no’ to the European proposals for further austerity is a small miracle given the intense psychological pressure that Europe’s strangulation of the Greek economy has placed on Greek citizens. This result is also a victory for democracy. The European institutions’ choice to take actions that precipitated capital controls and a bank holiday in Greece was an attempt to repeat the scenario of 2011, when a Greek referendum on a previous bailout agreement was aborted  as a result of pressure from Chancellor Merkel and then French president Sarkozy. At the time, the democratically elected Prime Minister George Papandreou who called the referendum was toppled and replaced by an unelected banker who enjoyed the trust of European political and business elites

 This time around not only did Greek citizens get the chance to have a say on their future, but they were also brave enough to resist the campaign of ideological terrorism unleashed on them by the media controlled by Greek oligarchs, as well as by business owners threatening them that they would lose their jobs if ‘no’ prevailed, and by European officials threatening that Greece would be ejected from the eurozone if ‘yes’ did not win. The referendum result may not end austerity in Greece, but it does create a better environment for Greek anti-austerity forces to keep fighting. As for European governments and institutions, they are faced with a choice of either reaching a compromise with the Greek government that takes into account the referendum result or continuing strangulating the Greek economy and increasing the risks of a eurozone rupture."
 

Monday, July 6, 2015

The poetry of Carol Tarlen (1943-2004)

Thanks to Lyle Daggett's excellent blog A Burning Patience I discovered the poetry of Carol Tarlen.   Lyle Dagett's piece about Carol's poetry is here.

Of her poetry Lyle Daggett writes:
I found it a deeply powerful collection, tough uncompromising poems of the daily struggle of working-class life, the frequent hardship and bitterness, and the unforced lyricism and beauty that can also be part of such a life. Many of the poems in this book moved me in an immediate and personal way, speaking to my own daily experience in a way I haven't often encountered.
Tarlen is a wonderful poet whose poems are both political and human. She brings together the political and human realities of everyday life in a way that is unique, profound and deeply affecting.

Carol Tarlen's only published book of poetry is titled Every day is an Act of Resistance.

A blog exploring her life and work is here.

The lines below are from her poem "White Trash: An Autobiography":
We didn't have lawns, instead we shared the gravel,
the wash tubs, the showers, the toilets.
My little brother and I played in the fields
behind the trailer court.
We found an irrigation ditch to wade in.
I pushed my brother, he fell down,
stuck his hands in to the slimy water,
lifted his fingers to his mouth, licked.

That night he awoke with a belly ache and diarrhea.
It lasted a week. I watched from my bunk bed
as he sat on a pot in the middle of the room,
his shit turning to blood,
blood turning to a thin clear liquid.
His ribs protruded from his white skin.
His red hair shone luminous in the dark.
Sores grew on his lips.
He was all the time thirsty.

He went to the hospital.
After two weeks the doctors told my mother
to take him home to die.
Instead she took him to a university medical center.
He was given antibiotics and lived. [...]

[...] Summer came. The lettuce shriveled in the fields.
Daddy got laid off and we moved to Redding.
The trailer park we lived in had grass and oak trees.
In the evening, when the air cooled,
we sat with the neighbors under the oaks.
The women talked. The men played dominoes.
The children ran, pushed, shouted.
Lizards climbed our legs. Giggling, we shook them off.
Daddy lost his job. We moved to Folsom.
Hospital bills followed us up and down California.
We never paid.

Geoff Goodfellow and poetry of everyday life

Miles Away
by Geoff Goodfellow (from Poems for a Dead Father)


I remember my feet
on the cold kitchen lino
that morning
a teenager with
bumfluff & pimples
i was leaning over
the kitchen table
most of its red & white
marbled laminex top
covered in the morning
newspaper

as i stood above it all
i read there was a war
in the jungles of Vietnam
& they were sending Aussies

Vietnam I thought
Vietnam . . .
where the hell is Vietnam

& i found The Jacaranda Atlas
from school
Vietnam  i kept thinking -
it must be next to Queensland
but it wasn't

it took a while but i did
find it
it was on page 75 -
& it was miles away

as i stared at the map
i thought about the madness
the old man lived with
& how he served
in the Middle East

 i thought about the madness
uncle Bronte lived with
 how he served
in New Guinea

i thought about the madness
cousin Neville lived with
how he served
in Korea

Vietnam  i thought
Vietnam . . .
 & I knew then
I knew then i was going -
nowhere.


Geoff Goodfellow is an Australian poet who lives in Adelaide. He has been writing poetry for over 30 years and published 10 books of poetry.  His most recent collection Waltzing with Jack Dancer: a slow dance with cancer  is a record of his survival from throat cancer

His poems detail the lives of ordinary everyday people whose lives are overlooked and forgotten, including those who occupy the margins of Australian society. These are the voices of people often not found in contemporary Australian poetry and literature.

He has also written and read poems for trade unions.

An article on Geoff Goodfellow from the Age is here.

His website is here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eduardo Galeano: Reading for the First of July

Today's excerpt is from Eduardo Galeano's remarkable book  Children of the Days  which comprises a story from history for each day of the year.

Speaking about the book Galeano noted:

“History never really says goodbye. History says, see you later.”

Today's story is for the First of July.

1 July

One Terrorist Fewer

In the year 2008, the government of the United States decided to erase Nelson Mandela's name from its list of dangerous terrorists.

The most revered African in the world had featured on that sinister roll for sixty years

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Greece exemplifies the failure of austerity and the dystopia and suffering caused by the neoliberal elite

On Tuesday the Greek Government announced that it could not — and would not —  transfer a 1.6 billion euro debt repayment to the IMF. And with that Greece officially defaulted on the IMF.
 
The UK Guardian has a live report facility  on the Greek crisis on its website.


Jerome Roos points the finger directly at the IMF and international financial elite who he says are responsible for the Greek economic  and political crises:

"In any civilized country, those responsible for such vast suffering and loss of life would have been sentenced to prison years ago."

In Roar Magazine Roos writes that the IMF and the financial must accept their responsibility for the crises and calls on them to cancel the Greek debt

"The evidence for the IMF’s criminal complicity in the collapse of the Greek economy is simply overwhelming. Yes, the officials at the Fund bear direct responsibility for the years of untold suffering they have inflicted upon millions, including the tens of thousands who died because they could not obtain adequate medical treatment or who, driven to despair by the lack of economic prospects, took their own lives................. In its review of the 2010 bailout, the IMF itself admitted that “in retrospect, the program served as a holding operation” to allow private creditors and domestic elites to escape the crisis without having to share in the burden of adjustment. This can only lead us to one possible conclusion: Greece may have defaulted on the IMF tonight, but the IMF itself defaulted on the Greeks a long, long time ago. It is high time for the creditors to pay their dues and return the immense moral and material debt they owe to the people of Greece".

Bill Mitchell continues to be the best Australian commentator on the Greek Crisis (and economic matters).  Mitchell argues that the Greek crisis is an:

 "overt laboratory for the failures of fiscal austerity and the easy sounding but evil in practice ‘growth friendly structural reforms’ (aka hack as many public benefits from ordinary citizens and transfer as much national income to the rich)"

In an article on his excellent blog Billy Blog  he wrote:

"My header this week is in solidarity for the Greek people. I hope they vote no and then realise that leaving the dysfunctional Eurozone will promise them growth and a return to some prosperity. They can become the banner nation for other crippled Eurozone nations – a guiding light out of the madness that the neo-liberal elites have created. While Greece battens down against the most incredible attack on European democracy since who knows when – perhaps since the Anschluss that led finally to war breaking out a year later in Europe, one wonders how low the Brussels elite will go to preserve control of the agenda."