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Trade liberty for safety or money and you'll end up with neither. Liberty, like a grain of salt, easily dissolves.
The power of questioning -- not simply believing -- has no friends. Yet liberty depends on it.
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—Stanislaw Lec

 

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August 14, 2016

Multilingual Poetry

Felonies?
by Peter Byrne

Gioachino Rossini’s operas are light as a wave of starlings rising, their resonance swelling without evil intent. Even his church music, his Masses and the Stabat Mater, makes us shuffle. So why does the genial Italian set me thinking of Guido Monte’s poetry of the soul’s labors? It may be because one of those operas is The Thieving Magpie, or, happier in Italian, La Gazza Ladra. The magpie is a sharpie that boasts the high IQ of the crow family. Guido can be proud of his own astute thefts and would surely agree with the Quebec poet Gaston Miron, translated here into English:

In One Long Sentence

I beg pardon of the poets I’ve pilfered
(poets from every country and every time)
as I had no other words or writing
than yours, my brothers, and remember
it’s the highest homage to you,
for where we write together this day
it’s our words one to another
that like a ribbon connect all mankind,
my thanks.

----------------------------
In the original from L'homme rapaillé:

En une seule phrase nombreuse

Je demande pardon aux poètes que jai pillés
poètes de tous pays, de toutes époques,
je n’avais pas d’autres mots, d’autres écritures
que les vôtres, mais d’une façon, frères,
c’est un bien grand hommage à vous
car aujourd’hui, ici, entre nous, il y a
d’un homme à l’autre des mots qui sont
le propre fil conducteur de l’homme,
merci.

 

 

US. Elections

 

Trump

by Karen Moller


One might ask how millions of Americans can fall for the buffoon Trump? Hitler was supposed to have been driven by his desire to compensate the Germans for all the perceived threats he felt existed and the historical insults the German nation endured throughout history. Trump suggests that Americans feel their way of life is being threatened and he wants to “Make America Great Again.” What a joke! More likely his rhetoric could push them into an unfortunate war. A recent national poll recorded that Trump’s authoritarianism emerged as the single strongest reason why the thrice-married, foul-mouthed Trump is attractive to the white-collar working-class and Christian evangelicals. Apparently not only do they want to be saved from sin and damnation, they want the dangerous world to go away: illegal immigrants out and laws to prevent Muslims getting in.


Research shows that people’s personality, temperament, motivations, goals, and conceptions of themselves are formed early and are powerful predictors of what they will do in the future. Hitler was adept at using populist themes, and in his vitriolic beer hall speeches he used his understanding of crowd psychology to his advantage. Hitler had more personal magnetism than Trump but both suffer from narcissistic personality disorders combined with low agreeableness. Trump calls his opponents “disgusting” and writes them off as “losers.” He, on the other hand, is described as callous, rude, arrogant, and lacking in empathy.


In the realm of politics, psychologists have recently demonstrated how fundamental features of human personality, such as narcissism, shape people. Extroverts tend to take high-stakes risks and people with low levels of openness rarely question their own convictions. What do we really know about Trump? How does his mind work? How might he go about making decisions as president? These and other questions have arisen during this campaign as a result of his lack of knowledge on foreign and domestic issues, his inflammatory language, and acceptance of political violence. Research suggests that we generally believe that all politicians lie, but Trump seems to have gone to the extreme in this regard. PolitiFact recently calculated that only 2 percent of Trump’s claims were true. Does he believe that running for president is like acting in a reality TV show? A journalist asked him if he considered himself ideal company. He didn’t bother with the question, just answered in his usual vulgar way, “You really want to know what I consider ideal company? A total piece of ass!” The distinguishing feature of an acute narcissistic personality is their sense of entitlement. They love themselves, and desperately want others to admire them, and see them as brilliant and powerful. In the ancient Greek legend, the beautiful boy Narcissus, in excessive self-love of his reflected image, falls into the pool and drowns. I can’t wait till Trump falls into the pool and drowns or at least falls on his sword.

August 7, 2016

Left Out
by David Saslav

Chomsky and Waller omit some key points in their June 15 defense of "Lesser Evil Voting (LEV)." I have attempted here to summarize their eight points as best I can, then supply the missing corollaries here. Interestingly, the entirety of the Chomsky brief could have been put forward just as easily in 2000 as in 2016 or 1968, so little has changed.

The main takeaway, I believe, should be "LEV will kick the can down the road for another long period of time," not "Expect far more meaningful progress under a Clinton administration, overflowing with gratitude to the left for throwing its support to Clinton in key swing states in November 2016." (more)


Book Review

Allen Ginsberg Rocks, Rolls & Sings the Blues
The Last Word on First Blues; produced by Pat Thomas, Omnivore Recordings, 2016. $49.98; http://omnivorerecordings.com/press-release-allen-ginsberg-the-last-word-on-first-blues/


Review/ Essay by Jonah Raskin


Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gave birth to Bob Dylan and Bob Dylan helped to turn Allen Ginsberg into a lively performance artist who recorded nearly all his words and all his music. The tape recorder was always on.


It was on when Ginsberg and Dylan went on the road together in 1975-1975 as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue that crossed much of the U.S.A. The two performers made a few milestones in musical history and the Revue revved up audiences from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to Orlando, Florida, and Austin, Texas.


Musicologist and cultural historian Pat Thomas has put together The Last Word on First Blues, a three-disk set of Allen Ginsberg’s best recordings — 35 altogether, from 1971 to 1983 — and they’re a real treat. Indeed, The Last Word on First Blues is as essential to an understanding of Ginsberg as his Collected Poems, and just as much fun.


Dylan accompanies Ginsberg on seven of the cuts, including “Going to San Diego,” “Vomit Express,” “Jimmy Berman,” and “Do the Meditation Rock.” The package includes a photo of Dylan with a guitar in his hands, as Ginsberg watches Dylan’s fingers on the strings. The caption, in Ginsberg’s handwriting, reads, “The Music Lesson.”


Some of the topical songs have lost much of their edge and Ginsberg’s sex talk isn’t as shocking as it might have been 35 years ago. But the music still has the power to carry listeners along. It might encourage some to sing along and even to dance along to the sounds of the studio musicians, most of them members of Ginsberg’s boy gang: Ed Sanders, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and Happy Traum.


The Last Word on First Blues takes Ginsberg/ Dylan fans on a musical tour, from folk and rock to the blues and calypso and from funny to funky.


“Going to San Diego” was written as a propaganda piece to lure protestors to the Republican Party convention that was scheduled there in 1972. The site was changed to Miami. “Vomit Express” recounts a bumpy airplane ride to Puerto Rico. “Jimmy Berman” honors a gay New York City newspaper boy. “Do the Meditation Rock,” the last cut on the third disk, brings the show to a rousing crescendo.


Ginsberg is almost always proselytizing and propagandizing, though the music makes the medicine go down easy. On “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag,” he urges smokers not to smoke, and on “CIA Dope Calypso” he aims to undercover the wrongs of the Central Intelligence Agency. Occasionally, Ginsberg veers toward humor, as in “Stay Away from the White House,” in which he invites a plague on all political houses.


On “Guru Blues,” the last cut on the first disk, he offers a personal ad for his own queer sexuality. Mostly, though, Allen Ginsberg is sad on these recordings. Mostly, he sings the blues, as on “Sickness Blues,” “Broken Bones Blues,” “Hard-on Blues,” and “Father Death Blues.” Few if any modern American poets have been able to make death, disaster and doom as lyrical as Ginsberg, who appears in Kerouac’s On the Road as the thinly disguised fictional character, Carlo Marx, and as himself in D.A. Pennebaker’s cinematic homage to Dylan, Dont Look Back.


Born in 1926, Ginsberg died in 1997 and while he never won a major literary award in the U.S., he was one of the most American popular poets in the twentieth century, his work translated into more than two dozen languages.


Not surprisingly, the best poetry here isn’t his, but William Blake’s “Tyger” and ”My Pretty Rose Tree.” Both cuts sound as though the English romantic poet himself might have performed them.
By 1971, when the first songs in this compilation were recorded, Ginsberg had written his best work — including Howl and Kaddish — but many of his best performances, including those with Dylan and also with fellow Beat poet, Anne Waldman, were still ahead of him.


Pat Thomas spent years at Stanford, rummaging through Ginsberg’s archives, listening to hundreds of hours of recordings. He picked out what he felt were eleven of his best unreleased songs, including two that were taped at Folk City, the New York City club that opened in 1960, closed in 1987 and that hosted nearly everybody on the music scene: Peter Seeger, Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. Ginsberg had to play there and did. All of the eleven songs that Thomas unearthed appear on the third disk in this package.


The author of Listen Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power, Thomas insists that “every revolution needs a soundtrack,” though record company producers tend to be more interested in the bottom line than in making revolutions. Case in point: John Hammond, the legendary record producer, taped Ginsberg in 1976. Columbia refused to release the finished product on the grounds that the lyrics were obscene.


In 1983, Hammond took matters into his own hands and issued a two-LP set called First Blues that attracted brief attention from Ginsberg and Dylan fans and then disappeared. Thomas thought that they were well worth re-releasing and did just that. No doubt Ginsberg would be pleased that the first two disks in this nifty package have all the original songs that Hammond taped.


The Last Word on First Blues preserves a slice of history and shows, too, that Ginsberg embraced the blues and made them as contemporary as sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.


Jonah Raskin is the author of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation as well as a performance poet who has published seven poetry chapbooks, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation.


April 10, 2016

Temps d'exécution
by Guido Monte

e perasmènes mères pìso mènoun
remain back days of past
said constantine

my eyes half-closed
and i’ve no words to say
while listening to things
of every day, things
that waver under the sky,
and slow down a little
fading and contradictory
waves on the water.

slow succession of the same days
lenta sucesión de los mismos días
in the fast escape of time
and a touching of hands
or a window open in the light
or a long row of burning candles
a lo largo de la travesía nocturna
along the night journey
of the old curved man
that you're now, you
looking yourself in the mirror


“constantine” is Constantine Kavafis, and his verse is transliterated by Irene Parisi.

 

 

Cleverworm
by Peter Byrne


The Farmer had created worms. Hat over heart, he now sent them forth with velvet words.

“I call you earthworms, my little squirmy ones, because the earth belongs to you. Your freedom is as wide and full as our great globe. Crawl ever onward, gathering subterranean treasure for all creatures and your own happiness. While crawling, eat your fill in joy. Let the planet be your larder.”

Then he put his hat on and went back to his rocking chair on the farmhouse porch.

Impressed, the worms did as they were told... for aeons. They weren’t equipped for much else. But from time to time a worm appeared who mused on the divine agricultural project.

Such a one was Cleverworm. He would spend his digestive breaks above ground observing from under a hanging leaf. His curiosity raced over the scene. His first thoughts were always that a lot of light was being wasted and there was nothing to eat but air. Non-worms surprised him by their modesty in concealing their higher purpose.

Once a tortoise bobbed along

“How do you do,” said Cleverworm. “I’m an earthworm. We were created in the big finale to the famous first week. We keep the soil loose for the good of all.”

“Is that so?” said the tortoise, batting both eyes.

“May I ask you what your role in the scheme of things might be?” said Cleverworm.

“Sorry Bud if I hare off. I got a lunch date with some seaweed.”

“I understand,” said Cleverworm. You keep the sea in order. How else do you use your freedom for the common good?”

The tortoise was made so complicated and different from his own simple tube that Cleverworm assumed its duties were many.

“You must be from the farm,” said the tortoise.

“Don’t we all labor in the vineyard?” said Cleverworm.

“Sure we do,” said the tortoise. “I like a nibble of vine myself.”

“But what else do you do for others while fulfilling yourself?” asked Cleverworm.

The tortoise stuck out its head and nodded back toward its shell.

“I look after my house,” it said, “and I live old.”

Cleverworm frowned. He was confused.

“But what about your con-contribution?” he stuttered.

The tortoise folded under the ends of its front feet, poised for departure.

“I go into soup,” it said, “if they catch me. And the Farmer has me tabbed for an ashtray. He likes a good cigar.”

Then it left with a rise and a fall, and another and another.

Thereabouts Cleverworm took to brooding. He was more than confused. Something didn’t jibe. He wondered if it wouldn’t be wiser not to go above ground. However, his curiosity undid his horizontal intentions. He always veered upwards.

One day, from under another leaf, he was delighted to see an adder.

“You’re like a royal worm,” said Cleverworm, all admiration.

“That’s flattery from right out of the basement,” said the adder.

“You must be able to race straight through the earth, loosening the soil marvelously and encouraging seepage no end,” said Cleverworm.

“I never cared much for that side of the business,” said the adder, with a hiss that Cleverworm tried not to take as hostile.

“Oh,” said Cleverworm, troubled now.

“Why eat dirt?” said the adder and slid off a way as if it wasn’t interested in a reply.

“Somebody has to make holes,” said Cleverworm, whose crest, had he one, would have fallen.

“Really?” said the adder. “Myself I prefer a bath in the sun.”

It slithered up the side of a big stone and coiled on top.

Cleverworm kept a respectful distance.

The adder raised its head and snapped its jaws on a midge. There was a ripple in its lower region and it put its head down again to rest.

“You do keep insect pests in check,” said Cleverworm who had to raise his voice to be heard on the top of the stone.

The adder slowly sought him with one eye.

“I sure do, Sonny. Now go eat yourself some holes and let me get my rest.”

Cleverworm felt less and less sure of the world above ground. After confusion came doubt. The eternal handwriting wasn’t so easy to read up above as down below. Underground these days, even while boring and ingurgitating at full spate, his thoughts would go vertical. He imagined a house of his own, a sunbath, the taste of midge, a cigar.

The next time he rose to the surface he didn’t stop under a leaf to gawk. He crawled straight toward the farmhouse. An inquisitive robin kept chattering over him as he made his way through the long grass. But in his distress Cleverworm didn’t feel like conversation. Anyway, birds tended to natter on about bird food, a topic that had no appeal for him.

The Farmer sat in his rocker on the front porch looking out over his fields. Cleverworm couldn’t hold back his tears. Blurting out his misgivings about the curves in the eternal roadmap, he understood why he had come to the farmhouse. He needed a good draft of the Farmer’s inspirational oratory. He needed to hear once more about his terrestrial destiny and the importance of opening sacred channels between top and subsoil.

So he was disappointed at first to hear the Farmer speak to him only in a whisper.

“I understand completely. I feel for you. You’re right to be tired of going through life with your mouth open shitting humus. As it turns out you’ve come at the right time. It just so happens there’s an opening for a bright lad like you.”

And the Farmer gave Cleverworm a full round wink.

“From now on you can leave the drainage bit to those dim little crawlers no good for anything better.”

Cleverworm wished to demur. But who was he to contradict decisions made on high? What’s more, being taken into the Farmer’s confidence flattered and thrilled him.

“You ever heard tell of mysticism?” asked the Farmer, narrowing his eyes.

“I can’t say that I have,” said Cleverworm.

He tried to look as honest as he in fact was. His top segment glistened with readiness to learn. He now found the Farmer’s intimate voice even more potent than his oratory. The two of them were as good as equals, even friends.

“You see, my boy,” continued the Farmer, taking his fishing pole from where it had been resting against the porch railing, “some worms are a cut above the others, superior types not meant to be grubbing around down there in the muck.”

Cleverworm, shivering with pleasure, struggled to keep pride at bay.

“The truth is your better class earthworm’s a mystic,” said the Farmer, lifting his eyebrows generously.

Then he went down and got a rusty tin can from under the front steps.

“Make yourself at home in there,” he said, helping Cleverworm into the can.

“Just like underground, “said Cleverworm, displaying his sense of humor.

“By gum, you mystic worms are one in a barrelful,” said the Farmer almost to himself, with a chuckle.

He walked with long strides now, carrying the tin can and his pole.

“Are the other worms in here mystics too?” asked Cleverworm.

“Can’t you tell?” said the Farmer, “every last one of them is an above average, thinking worm.”

Cleverworm tried in the dark to give an impression of thought.

“Does mysticism hurt?” he asked

The Farmer turned a shade stern.

“You never heard tell of that cross and the nails?”

The change of tone reminded Cleverworm how much he still had to learn. But the Farmer hadn’t withdrawn his sympathy. He still cared.

“There’s a twinge of discomfort in one end or the other, but I don’t have to tell a sharpie like you what the Good Book says about the pain-gain equation.”

Cleverworm couldn’t disagree with that. Careful not to seem to be seeking compliments, he asked how a mystic worm could be recognized.

“Easy,” said the Farmer. “He has a special gift.”

They had reached the riverside. The Farmer sat down on the bank and pushed his hat back from his brow.

“A real spiritual earthworm knows how to talk to other critters, just as you told me you got chummy with that mud turtle and chewed the rag with a snake. And there’s nothing like your mystic fella’ for coaxing in the fish. He’s such a hand at it that we often don’t call him a mystic at all, but simply an angling worm.”

Then, picking Cleverworm up ever so gently, the Farmer explained to him about the barb of a fishhook.


US Elections & Democracy

April 3, 2016

The Story of the Four Bears
By Peter Byrne


“In a far-off country there was once a little girl who was called Silver-hair, because her curly hair shone brightly. She was a sad romp, and so restless that she could not be kept quiet at home, but must needs run out and away, without leave.” The Three Bears, Robert Southey, 1848

Papa Bear had a heavy hoof.

Mama Bear had a fussy step.

Junior Bear skipped by himself behind.

The Bear family had been on vacation.

They were tired of doing nothing and glad to see their front door.

They were surprised when it opened to them.

Cousin Bear said hi.

Papa Bear said ah shit.

Mama Bear said they hadn’t expected her.

Junior Bear noted his cousin had tits.

Cousin Bear winked her mascaraed right eye.

Papa Bear said she’d sat in his TV armchair.

Mama Bear said she’d been in her fridge.

Junior Bear wished she’d mussed his bed.

Cousin Bear told them there was salad for dinner.

Papa Bear asked what it was salad of.

Mama Bear said the table was set wrong.

Junior Bear hoped for pimento in his olive.

Cousin Bear served up left-handed.

The four Bears ate their dinner.

Papa Bear burped and demanded more.

Mama Bear picked her teeth behind her hand.

Junior Bear swobbed his plate.

Cousin Bear pushed emptied dishes to Papa Bear.

Papa Bear sputtered and harrumphed.

Mother Bear understood and gasped.

Junior Bear said he would dry.

Cousin Bear shuffled her deck.

Papa Bear swore in the kitchen.

Mama Bear took up her cards.

Junior Bear flicked his dish cloth.

Cousin Bear said time for a Silver-haired romp.

Papa Bear said Junior Bear had his chair.

Mama Bear said deal again and she would try.

Junior Bear put his chin on the table.

Cousin Bear said the game was Blackjill.

Papa Bear said it was Blackjack.

Mama Bear told him to shush and watch.

Junior Bear said off we go.

Cousin Bear cut the deck.

Papa Bear pawed the cards away.

Mama Bear turned to the dart board.

Junior Bear flexed his arm.

Cousin Bear hit the bull’s eye.

Papa Bear said no left-hand throws.

Mama Bear asked whose rules.

Junior Bear said right-handers’ rules.

Cousin Bear said they would talk.

Papa Bear reclaimed his chair.

Mama Bear raised her elbows.

Junior Bear feared trouble.

Cousin Bear said nobody’s boss.

Papa Bear slapped the table.

Mama Bear said he’d hurt his hand.

Junior Bear hoped for trouble.

Cousin Bear held her left fist high.

Papa Bear huffed.

Mama Bear said go ahead puff.

Junior Bear said hot damn.

Cousin Bear said it was time to vote.

Papa Bear said God trumped elections.

Mama Bear said His beard was in everyone’s way.

Junior Bear winked at Cousin Bear.

She winked back with her left mascaraed eye.

In Memoriam

                                                    

                                                            Gilles d'Aymery

                                                              1950 - 2015

Multilingual Poetry

To Gilles
by Guido Monte

and yet a forgotten way inside, thereby we’ll go out to see the light

world behind a world, full of tears at a too high price. and nothing be understood, between blocks of stones following steps of fatigue, a time for everyone of fatigue infinie, di fatica di vivere e di vedere l’orrore effort to live and see horror

before and behind the world, before: ashabdham silence in the same breath de vida, primeval breath…

and going now, after the hiding, to the life ins leben

Guido Monte teaches Italian and Latin literature in Palermo, Italy.

 

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