La Guerre (3) ee cummings

August 25, 2012

 

La Guerre

III

the bigness of cannon
is skilful,

but i have seen
death’s clever enormous voice
which hides in a fragility
of poppies…

i say that sometimes
on these long talkative animals
are laid fists of huger silence.

I have seen all the silence
filled with vivid noiseless boys

at Roupy
i have seen
between barrages,

the night utter ripe for unspeaking girls.

 

Reflecting on the absence of work within the frame of U.S. environmentalism, Richard White explains, “Environmentalists so often seem self-righteous, privileged, and arrogant because they so readily consent to identifying nature with play and making it by definition a place where leisured humans come only to visit and not to work, stay, or live” (173). In White’s view, American environmentalism has been foolishly ignoring work as a useful context for progressive change. Seeing work as something that we stop doing to enjoy the leisurely experience of nature has not been enough to advance environmentalists’ causes; it merely supports the notion that “the original human relation with nature was one of leisure and that the first white men in North America glimpsed and briefly shared that relation” (White 175). In shifting our attention to the ecological frame I set forth in the introduction, I am inspired by White’s assertion that a focus on work can better inform discourse about the natural world.’ One benefit of thinking in this direction may be a clearer appreciation of human beings as part of a larger natural workforce that includes nonhuman nature. In her book The Work of Nature: How the Diversity of Life Sustains Us, Yvonne Baskin points out that “ethical and moral pleas for saving species still predominate” in American environmental efforts and that “human societies have a sad history of setting moral burdens aside while acquiring more comfortable or prosperous lifestyles.” She concludes that “stewardship” and “moral commitment ha[ve] proven a slippery foundation for conservation” (13-14). Baskin suggests that appealing to human interests in self-preservation may encourage greater advocacy for the “life-support services” of nonhuman nature, such as oxygen and food supply. She writes, “Self-preservation is no substitute for ethics, but it’s a strong companion, less easily brushed aside in the hubbub of business as usual” (223). Indeed, identifying ourselves as natural workers can move us toward greater compatibility with the work that nonhuman nature is doing. In other words, seeing ourselves as one type of natural worker may encourage us to better appreciate the ecological consequences of all our actions, whether they are related to our jobs or our recreation.

An ecocritical focus on work also has the benefit of more accurately representing the lives of Americans in the past. This could give us a better sense of the daily lived ecological experiences of African Americans during enslavement and other working Americans. As Al Young writes, “Most Americans [in the nineteenth century] … who knew anything about nature, knew it through work. They hunted and trapped or fished for food; they farmed and preserved” (Deming and Savoy 117). What does it mean when work, rather than leisure, is your central ecological experience? What does it mean when work is compounded by the inconvenient history of enslavement? What happens when work and enslavement influence our discussions about ecology in contemporary America?

 

Kimberly N. Ruffin. Black on Earth: African American Ecoliterary Traditions (pp. 26-28). Kindle Edition.

 

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought about writing a review of this book but when I finished it, I read the back cover text and saw this quote by Edwidge Danticat. It says what I feel about it so aptly, there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.

“A beautiful meditation on love, fraility, and old age…as much a page-turner as it is a heart tugger. It is a novel that stays with you.” Edwidge Danticat

View all my reviews

 

Amiri Baraka addressing the Malcom X Festival ...

Amiri Baraka addressing the Malcom X Festival in San Antonio Park, Oakland, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The quote below is excerpted from an interview Kalamu ya Salaam did with Amiri Baraka.

ya Salaam: It’s one thing to have that sense, and it’s another thing to have the technical facility to put that sensibility on the page.

Baraka: Practice. Practice. Practice. I think that’s the only thing you can do. Like my grandmother said, practice makes perfect. To do anything you have to practice. You have to do it. If you don’t do it, you won’t do it. You can’t be a writer in your head, just like you can’t play the piano in your head. I’m the meanest piano player I know–in my head. I can play some piano in my head, it’s just when I get to the piano it gets difficult. You have to work at it.

And then I think, young writers, you have to get to the point where you start grading your work. At first when you start doing it, everything is great. Everything you write is valuable and you must (mimics holding stuff to his chest), this is my work, this a poem I wrote in nineteen-whatever. That’s normal but you have to work through that and get over that. I’m not saying get to the point where you think your work is expendable, but get to the point where you can grade it.

You know the worse thing you can do is write a “you-poem.” Nobody can imitate you like you. I can write a hundred poems that I write, but those are “you poems.” Those are poems using the things that you know are you. Once you become practiced in writing then you have certain skills that you can put a poem together, but the point is that it won’t have any substance to it. There won’t be any moving, there won’t be any life in it, any heart in it, cause you can imitate yourself.

The whole point of developing the skill is so that the words fly on the rhythm. You feel the rhythm before you know what you’re talking about. If you trust the rhythm and you’ve worked so that you don’t have a lot of dumb stuff in your mind all the time. (Laugher.) No, it’s true, because you might want to write about McDonald’s boxes, I don’t know. That’s why Mao says–and this is very important–when we look at your work we can tell what you love and what you hate, what you celebrate and what you put down, and we can also tell what work you’re doing and what study you’re doing. We can tell what you’re concerned with, we can tell by your writing, what you know and what you don’t know.

Now, the lyric poet is, of course, the great hidden personality of our time. They can write about “I”–I feel, I want, I do, I am–and really be hiding the world because all they’re talking about is this great vacuum in my heart that must be filled by, I don’t know, ice cream cones, a walk down the street, another person. You know what I mean, it could be anything? That’s the lyric “I”–I want, I need. But actually to begin to talk about who is I and where is I in the world among all the other I’s, and how that relates to a real objectively existing world that exists independent of us. The world exists independently of us–if you can get that in your mind. The world does not depend on you to exist, it exists independent of you. That’s hard sometimes, because we’re so subjective, especially we great artists, we think the whole world is in our heads. It’s not. The world exists independent of your will. Things will happen you don’t want to happen. How did we get here?

That point of writing past the preservation of everything, being able to grade your work–you know what I mean, being able to tell the fake from the true–and of getting past imitating yourself, those are important things.

Also, going back to Mao Tse-Tung. You ever read the Yenan Forum written in 1941? Mao was trying to build the communist party and one of the things he was talking about was intellectuals. What is the role of the intellectual? What is the role of artist in making social transformation? Now, if anybody needs to know that it’s us. That is what Yenan is about. The first question he asks: for whom does one write? Who are you writing for? Why are you interested in writing? Is it to titillate your own compulsive personality? What is it for? That’s a good point. Think about it sometimes. Once you begin to isolate “for whom” then you also know “what it is.” How do I explain what has gone down in this world for us?

So, when people be going up to me and saying Baraka you always political, I say why do you want me to be different from. You want me to be different from Baldwin, you want me to be different from Lorraine Hansberry, you want me to be different from Langston Hughes, or DuBois? Who should I get away from? Our tradition is intensely political. And for this recent group–and I’m not trying to categorize you in age terms–but for this recent little group of buppies that they’re publishing who think that somehow writing is not a political act, that always has been around but it’s something that Black people and indeed the people of the world have flogged.

Anyway, that’s a very important question–for whom?–because for whom answers why. You want to know for whom, look at your work. Who does it celebrate, who does it put down, who does it think is beautiful, who does it think is ugly, what work are you doing, what study? We can see it in there. We don’t have to ask you nothing, you give me your poetry or literature, I read it and I know a lot about you just from reading that. You could be writing about something you think is totally disguised, don’t have nothing to do with your life, you could be writing about Johnny Jojo way over there in Nobo land, you know, but it bees about you. That’s what it bees about. Why? Because that’s all you know about. It bees about us.

That’s another thing, a lot of people get frightened at; once they know that people know that when you write something, it’s about you, Jim, it ain’t about that one, it’s about you, then people get constipated. They don’t want to expose themselves. People be saying, I don’t know how he could write that book, Baraka you… hey, what I care. You be dead in a minute, people will read it–I always thought that if you felt strongly about a thing then you would face it.

For me, I had come out of a lil petite-bourgeois family, my mother was a social worker, my father was a postman, they always told me: y’all, are the smartest colored kids on the planet. They gave me piano lessons, trumpet lessons, drum lessons, piano lessons, painting lessons. I used to sing Ave Maria with my sister. I used to recite the Gettysburg Address every Lincoln’s birthday in a Boy Scout suit for about six years–this was my mama. The point is that for them two Negroes right there, they knew what they were going to do, they were going to give us all the information in the world, and they was going to equip us to go out and fight the White people. That’s where my people were coming from. Why? Because they wanted that. You were fighting for them. I never knew that, I never understood what they had planned for me until one night when the White people came–I had this play, Dutchman, and all of these papers, they were calling me names and all kinds of things, stupid, crazy, evil, but I could see that they were going to make me famous.

The minute that came to my mind that they were going to make me famous, I said, now, I’m going to pay your ass back. (Laughter.) Naw, it was very clear. It was like, bump. I could see how my mama had put the shell in there. Click. Right. Oh, you gon make him famous, I got some shit for you. That’s what it was, it was like you had been doctored on by masters. You understand? Every night at dinner, they’d be running it. You’re sitting there eating biscuits and what not, and they would be running it. They would be telling you the history of the south, the history of Black people, the history of Black music and you would be sitting there. They were actually teaching you. But I didn’t know that then. My grandmother would tell me all the time about this Black boy they accused of raping this woman and they cut off his genitals and stuffed them in his mouth and then made all the Black women come there and watch. My grandmother told me that story when I was a little boy. Why would your grandmother tell you that story? Because she wanted you to remember that shit forever. You understand? Sweet little old lady from Alabama would sit you down, give you something to eat, and tell you this horrible story, and then you trying to figure out: why would she tell me that story? Why would she tell you that story? Oh, you still know the story, you still got it in your mind, sixty years later, you still remember that story?–“yeah, I remember it”–in detail?–“absolutely”–well that’s why she told it to you.

I don’t know if y’all still have that in your homes, I can’t speak on that, but I know that is what we as writers have to do, continue that tradition. The only way I can see that tradition being extended is through the role and function of the writer in the community.

To read the entire interview, click here

Official languages in Africa Afrikaans Arabic ...

Official languages in Africa Afrikaans Arabic English French Portuguese Spanish Swahili other African languages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the chapter The Language of African Literature:

[…] African languages refused to die. They would not simply go the way of Latin to become the fossils for linguistic archaeology to dig up, classify, and argue about the international conferences.

These languages, these national heritages of Africa, were kept alive by the peasantry. The peasantry saw no contradiction between speaking their own mother-tongues and belonging to a larger national or continental geography. They saw no necessary antagonistic contradiction between belonging to their immediate nationality, to their multinational state along the Berlin drawn boundaries, and to African as whole.  These people happily spoke Wolof, Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Arabic, Amharic, Kiswahili, Gikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Shona, Ndebele, Kimbundu, Zulu or Lingala without this fact tearing the multinational states apart. During the anti-colonial struggle they showed an unlimited capacity to unite around whatever leader or party best and most consistently articulated an anti-imperialist position. If anything it was the petty-bourgeoisie, particularly the compradors, with their French and English and Portuguese, with their petty rivalries, their ethnic chauvinism, which encouraged these vertical divisions to the point of war at times. No, the peasantry had no complexes about their languages and the cultures they carried!

In fact when the peasantry and the working class were compelled by necessity or history to adopt the language of the master, they Africanised it without any of the respect for its ancestry shown by Senghor and Achebe, so totally as to have created new African languages, like Krio in Sierra Leone or Pidgin in Nigeria that owed their identities to the syntax and rhythms of African languages. All these languages were kept alive in the daily speech, in the ceremonies, in political struggles, above all in the rich store of orature – proverbs, stories, poems and riddles.

Reading Round-up

February 15, 2012

 

The Help:

I know I’m a day late and a dollar short in discussing The Help but I recently saw an interview/discussion between Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Tavis Smiley that made me order the book. I read it relatively quickly over a weekend. During my reading of it, a quote from Alice Walker flashed into my mind:

“I used to wonder if any white child in the South who received the love of the great souls forced to tend them would ever develop enough soul of his or her own to rise in their defense.  Or even to an understanding, however limited or imperfect, of their silenced, hidden sacrifice.  Kathryn Stockett has done so.”

I think that, ultimately, is the value of this book.

 

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons:


This is a book of narratives of women both formerly, and currently, imprisoned. Every single one of the “stories” highlights the anti-human nature of prison. I’ve heard the phrase “if you do the crime then you do the time”. However the condemnation inherent in that phrase pertains more to black and/or poor  women than any other group. The women tell tales of being eight months pregnant and being shackled across their belly during visits during the prison hospital. One pregnant woman, Olivia, who was sentenced to a year in prison, nine years of probation and a $100/month post-incarceration repayment schedule for stealing $700 reports the following:

My due date was May 24, 2008, just before the Memorial Day weekend. A female doctor from the Atlanta Medical Center came to visit me on the 22nd. At that time, I wasn’t showing any signs of labor. We did an ultrasound, and the baby hadn’t moved one bit. I wasn’t dilated at all, wasn’t even close, and I wasn’t having any pains. She said I should be fine through the weekend, and that everything was normal about my pregnancy.

Then, on the evening on the 23rd-this was a Friday evening-the guards called me, and they told me to pack my stuff. But I hadn’t even had one contraction, so I asked a guard, “Where am I going?” And the guard said, “I don’t know. They just called  and said for you to pack your stuff.” I thought, Okay, maybe I’m going home!

I got over to the infirmary, and the captain said, “Well, the doctor from the prison says he’s going to send you to be induced.” When I asked why, she said, “Because your due date is May 24th, and this is a holiday weekend.” I said, “But I’m not even in pain or anything! I don’t want to be induced, I’m not even late. Nothing’s wrong with me!” And she said, “Well, these are orders.”

They put me in a room and shackled me. I was more upset than anything that the baby just wasn’t ready, and I didn’t want to be forced. They gave me Pitocin, but it wasn’t working. Later, in the middle of the night, the doctor came in to check on me. He came in and he started poking inside me with an instrument-I’m not sure exactly what it was, it looked like a little stick. He put it inside me and started poking the bag of water, where the amniotic fluid was, so he could bust it. It was a lot of pain, and I said, “You’re hurting me.” He stopped, but by then he had swollen up  my insides, and the baby couldn’t move any more than six centimeters.”

Then he said, “Well, if you don’t move any more by tomorrow, we’re going to have to do a c-section.” I said, “So you come in here, and you poke me to death, and now I”m swollen! I have never had a c-section in my life. My oldest son was nine pounds-no cuts, no slits, no nothing. And you’re going to make me have a c-section?”

The next day, the doctor came back and took me in to have the c-section done. A sergeant came in and said, “She needs to be shackled. She’s no different from anybody else.” I was hurting and I was tired. I said to the sergeant, “Ma’am, there is no way I need those shackles. I’m not going anywhere; I’m in pain. You’ve got a guard in my room. And I don’t know if you have kids but this ain’t something fun to have your hands shackled for.” But she made them keep the shackles on me when I went in for the c-section.

The doctor gave me an epidural. I went through with the c-section and finally, the baby came on out. It was a boy. The guard held him up to show him to me. Even then, they never took the shackles off me.

This c-section I was force to have-I doubt that it’s legal. I don’t remember signing any paperwork but I never looked into finding a lawyer. I was hoping there was something I could do but I was told that I had no rights. The guard said to me, ” You lost your rights the day you walked in here.”

I named the baby Joshua.

Now that was a long excerpt for what was supposed to be a round-up but it disturbed me enough to want to share what happens behind the wall to the fastest-growing population of prisoners: women.

Zong! – M. Nourbese Phillips

I had such high hopes for this book when I read the description: “[an] extended poetry cycle is based on a legal decision, at the end of the eighteenth century, related to the murder of Africans on board a slave ship. It was intended to be part of my research for my next book. However, the arrangement of the words on the page make the book, honestly speaking,  unreadable!  Here is a link to a sample so that what I’m saying can be understood from a reader’s point of view. Flipping through page after page, I found nothing else but the same.

Now I had watched a video of Ms. Phillips read-performing her work and I got it. In fact, it was the video that predisposed me to order the book. However, I simply think print isn’t the best format for that type of poetry.

I admit it. I bought this book because I like Edwidge Danticat’s books and was very interested in reading her choices. So far I have read two of the essays in the book: Generation Why? by Zadie Smith and Beds by Toi Derricote.

Generation Y was devastating in its critique of the Facebook phenomenon and makes me rethink being constantly connected; especially  considering I tend to reconnect with books when I disconnect.

Beds was originally published in Creative Nonfiction. A more apt named journal for this piece of writing, I cannot imagine. It reads like a piece of harrowing fiction but its placement in a book of essays dispels that delusion. With this essay, I found myself a fan of Derricote’s and will be adding her poetry to my to-be-read-this-year list; right alongside White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

So long had life together been that now
the second of January fell again
on Tuesday, making her astonished brow
lift like a windshield wiper in the rain,
  so that her misty sadness cleared, and showed
  a cloudless distance waiting up the road.

So long had life together been that once
the snow began to fall, it seemed unending;
that, lest the flakes should make her eyelids wince,
I’d shield them with my hand, and they, pretending
  not to believe that cherishing of eyes,
  would beat against my palm like butterflies.

So alien had all novelty become
that sleep’s entanglements would put to shame
whatever depths the analysts might plumb;
that when my lips blew out the candle flame,
  her lips, fluttering from my shoulder, sought
  to join my own, without another thought.

So long had life together been that all
that tattered brood of papered roses went,
and a whole birch grove grew upon the wall,
and we had monkeys, by some accident,
  and tonguelike on the sea, for thirty days,
  the sunset threatened Turkey with its blaze.

So long had life together been without
books, chairs, utensils-only that ancient bed-
that the triangle, before it came about
had been a perpendicular, the head
  of some acquaintance hovering above
  two points which had been coalesced by love.

So long had life together been that she
and I, with our joint shadows, had composed
a double door, a door which, even if we
were lost in work or sleep, was always closed:
  somehow its halves were split and we went right
  through them into the future, into night.

 

 

Excerpted from Joseph Brodsky: Collected Poems in English

A think brown-haired girl pouts
high on stage. She cannot swing
her slight body round the new pole.
It runs floor to ceiling, piercing
the strip club like a shaft of light
the way the voice of God appears in movies.
Except this pole is plastic and God
would gurgle because it’s full of liquid
like a lava-lamp. The words would have to sploosh
up through bubbles
like burbs, one at a time like Jesus.

Is. Love. except the pole’s sealed
and there is no place for love to go
so the bubbles just keep on going up
and down and the girl
can’t get her hands around it.
She says she misses the jungle-gym type bar
this bubble bar replaced.
She anticipates missing the smell
of its metals on her hands after work.

Training me, she instructs
your thighs. Don’t touch your knees.
Keep both feet flat on the floor at all times.
Don’t do anything I do. She smiles
at the way everything is against some law.
I go on stage and the speakers spit
out the first lines of the song I picked:
I love myself/I want you to love me.
I dance for a man. He’s fifty, at least,
his wife beside him. But you’re beautiful,
she says like a mother comforting a taunted child,
like someone else’s mother. Mine said,
There is nothing
you can’t talk your way out of.

The bar’s dark and dollars scratch my skin.
when the next song starts I take off my bra,
my breasts covered, by Florida law,
with flesh brown tape. I wrap my arms, both legs
around the wide, bright pole,
spin slowly down to the floor.
Who else will pay for what he can’t see?
Like God, I’ve always been invisible

Excerpted from Bum Rush the Page

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, likea light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Exodus.
Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mosaics
mantled by the benediction of the shark’s shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harp of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea sands
out there past the reef’s moiling shelf,
where the men-o’-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I’ll guide you there myself.
It’s all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations –
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river’s drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges’ choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves’ progress,
and that was Emancipation –

jubilation, O jubilation –
vanishing swiftly
as the sea’s lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.

 

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