This is the inaugural reading for Poetry Hotel Press and is a celebration of the press’s first publications, Ivan Argüelles’ Ars Poetica, Jack Foley’s selected poems, EYES, and Clara Hsu’s Babouche Impromptu and Other Moroccan Sketches.
Poetry Hotel Press is a new press founded by Jack Foley and Clara Hsu. It is a poetry press founded for the love of poetry by two poets. “The necessity of poetry has to be stated over and over,” wrote Adrienne Rich in her introduction to Judy Grahn’sThe Work of a Common Woman, “but only to those who have reason to fear its power, or those who still believe that language is ‘only words’ and that an old language is good enough for our descriptions of the world we are trying to transform.”
Poetry Hotel Press is a new press trying to do an old thing: to make the world better by addressing the emotions that lie at the base of all our actions. We are asking for your support in this activity. Poetry is politics in another form—politics finding its way into the deepest areas of that mind/body amalgamation that we call “life.”
“Admittedly or not, conscious or unconscious, the poetic state, a transcendent experience of life, is what the public is fundamentally seeking through love, crime,drugs, war or revolt.” —Antonin Artaud
The late Pete Seeger remarked to Amy Goodman that we should imagine the world as a seesaw. At one end there is a basket filled with rocks. At the other end is a basket with some sand. The basket with rocks is very heavy and tips the seesaw. We need to take our teaspoons and fill the other basket. It will take a long time, but if we all do it, one day the seesaw may tip.
KPFA Fund Drive—Cover to Cover with Jack Foley
Wednesday February 5, 3-3:30pm, 94.1FM
I think of Jack Foley’s poetry show, Cover to Cover, on KPFA. Since the 1980’s, Jack has been providing the Bay Area audience with a treasure trove of poetry, including interviews with poets, books, movies, music reviews and a plethora of historical recordings. As KPFA is restructuring its programming, one of its criteria of keeping a show is how much income it can generate. Fund drive is test time, and it is important that poets and poetry lovers show their support. Any amount is appreciated. Membership starts at $25. You may call during the show—always a good idea—or donate on line. Do make sure in either case that the credit goes to Cover to Cover with Jack Foley. We need to show KPFA’s management that this poetry show matters! Poetry Hotel Press is donating its 2013 titles as thank you gifts (for a pledge of $60 and more). They are Ars Poetica by Ivan Arguelles, EYES by Jack Foley, and Babouche Impromptu and Other Moroccan Sketches by Clara Hsu. I will be pitching with Jack for this show. Let us hear from you! As Jack said, “We can do this.”
In the magazine turnrow (Summer, 2004), Dana Gioia writes, “Jack Foley has a literary radio show on KPFA that may be the best thing of its kind in the country.” Having heard one of Foley’s shows on Arabic poetry, a listener wrote in, “I’m not drawn toward a lot of poetry—yet—but I was captivated when I heard not only Arabic, but Arabic poetry on your show. I was quite moved. I sat in my car in the rain last Wednesday and ran down my battery, unable to move until the show was over. I’ve heard many recitations from the beautiful Qur’an, but the voices of these poets were very different. Thank you. Thank you.” There have been many other testimonials.
Photo: Al Young and Jack Foley at KPFA.
Mary—can scarcely believe it.
Just back from LA—would have liked to have told you about it.
I lost my Catholicism so many years back,
will never regain it
but I would have gone to church with you.
If anyone had power to bless…
But you would not receive such praise
We who are luminous
I loved the hum of your voice
the sweetness of your consciousness
that found good in everyone
And you were Irish
named for the mother of heaven
Stella maris, star of the sea,
are 90 % light,
how you loved ritual, color, dance
how your words
moved to the movement
in homage to spirit inhabiting everything
(as Pagan a thing as Christian)
Flames loop and leap the arteries
There is a core of ember in the womb
—Can scarcely believe your vanishing
beyond our brightness
beyond anything I can know
I remember your sweetness
your love of art
your passion for justice
in the bodies of strong women
reality and dream and memory
with hard and thudding rhythms of our love
my love for you remains
here, on this earth,
under the deep sky of california
passionate and lasting as the redwoods
(like the one planted in 1980 by William Everson!)
and wishing that I am terribly wrong
about the afterlife
so that you
in all your dearness
in a house
that is on no corner
of any earthly city—
that you might have
[lines in italics from Mary Rudge’s book, Water Planet]
For Mary Rudge
child of verse
how did the curtain fall?
With laurel crown
on haloed hair
and loving faces gathered around.
brittle bones and heart.
with a problem shoe
fed her kids and filled the cupboard.
full of grace
the Lord is with thee.
from earth to heaven
for the wee lamb blithe and spry.
Photo by Dave Holt.
–by Jack Foley
Wikipedia—helpful, as usual:
“A blog (a truncation of the expression web log) is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (‘posts’) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). Until 2009 blogs were usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often covered a single subject…The term ‘weblog’ was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, ‘blog,’was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used ‘blog’ as both a noun and verb.”
Behind it, the long history of “confessional” literature—beginning with the complex, brilliant, perverse St. Augustine, inventor of the doctrine of “original sin.”
“When he was reading,” wrote St. Augustine of St. Ambrose in the sixth book of The Confessions, “his eye glided over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest.” Augustine was aware that a momentous change had come upon the world. The new consciousness was Christian, inward, and silent before the page. The privacy of the reading figure who does not pronounce his words to anyone, who does not perform, is of enormous importance here. “Who durst intrude on one so intent?” asks Augustine. In the introduction to his 1986 anthology of language poetry, In the American Tree, blogger Ron Silliman writes of his movement’s involvement with “a poetics not centered on speech.” Leaving aside the question of whether any writing can be “not centered on speech,” one would have to add—since performance involves speech—not centered on performance as well. Was St. Ambrose the first language poet? Is that figure “our” figure?
Writing, linked as it is with “Christianity,” “inwardness,” and “privacy,” clearly became a defining issue of our culture. In a culture which so values silent reading—reading with the eyes alone—what is the status of an art whose primary symbol is Homer, a blind man? How could the oral aspects of poetry, which insist that our “tongues” be anything but “at rest,” survive?
Technology to the rescue. The same computer which allows you to read silently also allows you to listen.
But how should poetry sound? Should The Waste Land be spoken by one voice (as in Eliot’s recording) or by many? Isn’t “one voice” itself multiple—as when J.R.R. Tolkien reads from The Hobbit and sounds by turns like Professor Tolkien and Gollum? If sound is to represent consciousness, what happens when consciousness itself is taken to be multiple?
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there….
image: St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, the Basilica of St. Anne de , Quebec City, Canada
—by Jack Foley
At the conclusion of the great Brecht-Weill theater piece, Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera, 1928), the Street Singer, seemingly alone on the stage,sings,
Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die andern sind im Licht.
Und man siehet die im Lichte
Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.
For some are in darkness / And others are in the light / And you see the ones in the light /You don’t see those in darkness (in Marc Blitzstein’s rhymed translation: There are some who are in darkness / And the others are in light / And you see the ones in brightness / Those in darkness drop from sight). Suddenly, behind the singer, the stage lights up and we see—beggars (what we would call “street people”). They are precisely what the theater audience went to the theater to avoid. It is a moment of violent contradiction (“dialectics”) and illumination. For a moment, the theater, in all its falseness, is alive with reality.
That impulse to illuminate what Langston Hughes called “the darker brother” (“I, Too”) has been at the heart of one of the great struggles of the twentieth/twenty-first century, and it has taken place both in the realm of politics and the realm of the psyche. What is “the Unconscious” if not “the darker brother” understood as a fact of mind? Und man siehet die in Lichte / Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.
What does it mean to be “white”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the word “white” meaning “A white man; a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion,” was in 1671. The second was in 1726. The speaker is a ship’s captain:
There may be about 20000 Whites (or I should say Portuguese, for they are none of the whitest,) and about treble that number of Slaves.
The term“Caucasian” is even later:
Of or belonging to the region of the Caucasus; a name given by [Johann Friedrich] Blumenbach (a 1800) to the “white” race of mankind, which he derived from this region.
“Through the centuries of the slave trade,” writes Earl Conrad in The Invention of the Negro(1967),
the word race was rarely if ever used…Shakespeare’s Shylock uses the words tribe, nation, but not race. The Moor in Othello calls himself black and the word slave is several times used, but not race. The word does not appear in the King James Version of the Bible in any context other than as running a race. The Bible refers to nations and says: “God made the world and all things therein, and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” The Bible, with all its violence and its incessant warfare between peoples, does not have racist references to tribes, groups, provinces, nations, men.
And again, on the subject of slavery:
The traffic grew with the profits—the shuttle service importing human chattel to America in over-crowded ships. It was on these ships that we find the beginnings—the first crystallizations—of the curious doctrine which was to be called “white supremacy”…Among the first white men to develop attitudes of supremacy were the slave ship crews.
Hand in hand with what Mr. Conrad calls “the invention of the Negro” goes the invention of “the white man.”
Some years ago, my son came home from school one day and told me that he had seen some T shirts which had the phrase “Black is Beautiful” on them. He complained that he couldn’t wear a shirt that said, “White is Beautiful.” I said, “That’s true. But you could wear a shirt that said “Irish is Beautiful” or “Italian is Beautiful.” The point suddenly became quite clear to me: “white” was not an ethnic group; it had no traditions, no “culture.”
But if it was not an ethnic group, what was it?
I think the answer is that “white” is an indication of dominance. It is always involved at some level with what Kipling memorably called “the white man’s burden.” “White” in this sense is an indication of power, or of the struggle for power, or of power’s lack. In the entry from theO.E.D. that I quoted a moment ago, the rhetorical opposite of “Whites” is not “Blacks” but “Slaves”:
There may be about 20000 Whites (or I should say Portuguese, for they are none of the whitest,) and about treble that Number of Slaves.
To be “white” is to engage in dominance behavior. Insofar as one does not engage in dominance behavior one is not white. But one remains Italian or Irish or German or Swedish or Jewish or whatever. The only way for the “majority” to conceive of itself as a majority is to conceive of itself as white: without whiteness there only “minorities”—not multi-crushing “unity” (whiteness) but “multiplicity.”
To speak of multi- (as opposed to mono-) culturalism, therefore, is to speak of seeing the world without whiteness—though one has to admit that whiteness (power, dominance) is much in evidence. We create it daily in our interplay with others. To feel superior to another is to dominate him/her to some degree, and so part of the pleasure we might feel in, say, receiving a university education is the pleasure of dominance, the pleasure of “whiteness.”
What I have been discussing here is primarily the perception of “multiplicity” as a social and political fact—which is indeed something to fight for. It is as a social and political fact that the term “multiplicity” is primarily understood. But it seems to me that it is necessary to go further than that: it is necessary to understand multiplicity as a fact of consciousness—to perceive that the same multiplicity/diversity we perceive in the world is perceived because it is a reflection of the nature of our own consciousness. The only way we can understand multiplicity at a deep level is to understand that it flows from ourselves. Unfortunately, “ethnic”literature often does not grasp this fact and projects itself simply as an “I” consciousness, an individual consciousness, an ego: look what happened to ME; MY GROUP has been unfairly discriminated against, etc. It is of course necessary to make such assertions—groups are unfairly discriminated against—but it is also necessary to move beyond them. The term“individual” comes from the Latin, individuus. It means “not divided,” “incapable of further division”—in dividuus. If I am thinking in political terms, the word “individual” is admirable: the “rights of the individual” are everywhere to be defended. But if I am thinking in terms of consciousness, the word fails entirely: in terms of consciousness, I am deeply divided. It is in fact the very nature of consciousness to be divided, to be multiple—to see many points of view. Insofar as that is true, I am not an “individual.”
It is at this point that “literature”—even supposedly “avant-garde” literature—and politics begin to merge. One of the iconic examples of the twentieth-century avant-garde is T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land (1922). And whatever its strengths and failings, The Waste Land is a poem that understands consciousness to be multiple, to consist of the interplay of many sometimes conflicting voices. It is perhaps easier for people to understand this concept in terms of music (a band, a group) than it is to understand it in terms of literature—which is why The Waste Land seemed so “obscure” to so many. But if we are serious about multiplicity as a political fact then we must understand that we need to establish it as a fact of the psyche as well. Otherwise we get the often-voiced complaint that multiplicity (read “political correctness”) is simply something imposed upon us by a particular group with its own agenda—something which we as “individuals” ought to fight against.
Monotheism and individualism have been for many years the bedrock foundations of a particular strand of Western culture—a strand we sometimes name as “the dominant culture.” But they are not the only elements of Western culture. As Brecht and many other twentieth-century figures understood, there is a fructifying “darkness” to which we can look for illumination. (The religious figure Matthew Fox has actually called for an “endarkening” of culture!) It seems to me that both the concept of monotheism and the concept of “individuality” affirm precisely what “multiplicity” ought to be against—though I don’t wish to be dogmatic here: despite the central issue, some modes of monotheism certainly do allow for pluralism. But the point is that for some time now, we have been watching Western culture collapse around us—watching its tremendous failures; yet Western culture has within itself the means of its own renewal: it is large enough and diverse enough to be able to re-create itself in an image in which we can truly live. But we need to redefine things, not simply affirm them under another name or in a different context. If ethnicity affirms the monotheistic “God” and “individuality,” it is affirming precisely those things that oppressed it in the first place: as such it remains stylistically closed, ego-centric, never experiencing the clash of cultures that “multiculturalism” and ethnicity’s own best impulses imply.
In the multicultural poetry anthology, Unsettling America (1994), editors Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan take a sense of movement and change to be the primary fact about America: “We chose poems,” Jennifer Gillan writes, “that directly address the instability of American identity and confront the prevalence of cultural conflict and exchange within the United States…We hope to highlight the constant erecting, blurring, breaking, clarifying, and crossing of boundaries that are a consequence of the complex intersections among peoples, cultures, and languages within national borders, which themselves are revised constantly.”
Gillan’s eloquent words recall those of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in Americaappeared in the original French and in an English translation between 1835 and 1840. In America, writes de Tocqueville, “continual changes are…every instant occurring under the observation of every man”; there is “universal tumult,” an “incessant conflict of jarring interests”; “everyone is in motion.”
As these quotations suggest, “the instability of American identity”—its “unsettling”—is an old story, but it is one which is continually hidden under the rhetoric of stability and constancy, a rhetoric which has furnished many a politician with comforting platitudes about “family values” and “Americanism”—not to mention the dubious notion of the immigrant’s supposed “newly found freedom in America.” What Ishmael Reed calls “MultiAmerica” is not a melting pot but a conversation among people who both agree and disagree—and who live with one another in an extremely problematical way, a way which is constantly “unstable,” constantly attempting to define itself. The tensions that arise out of genuine difference, out of what may be in fact utter incompatibility, are what Americans must simultaneously deny and deal with on an everyday basis. It is a mistake to treat this situation as a problem to be “solved”—as a “problem” it is fundamentally insoluble!—but it is no mistake to find distinctive and imaginative ways to recognize it and live with it, to allow for the fact of motion in everything that we do. We may wish for stasis, but as Galileo Galilei put it in 1633, at the very beginning of our awakening to our deepest understanding of the world, Eppur si muove—“And yet it moves.”
This article appeared first in “Foley’s Books,” THE ALSOP REVIEW.