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Number of posts: 18
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By Dallas Lee:
In a dozen wry, candid, personal poems, Stephen Dobyns laments the “sophistry of self-deceit” that allows us to live as if the wretchedness around us does not exist.
Winter’s Journey is the 14th book of poetry from Dobyns, who is this year’s Mohr Visiting Poet at Stanford University. A reader gets the picture in the first 100 words that the human addiction to war and maddening loudmouth politics has driven the poet to the edge of insanity. Or just close enough to experiment wildly with his art.
Here we get the 70-year-old writer at “Old Fart’s Park” near his home in Rhode Island, walking or sitting in the truck with his dog before the winter ocean, worrying about ducks in the ice and the world sloping toward hell.
Consciousness. “I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I don’t know,” wrote the poet Czeslaw Milosz late in life. “As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.”
Milosz’ poem came to mind recently when news broke that Lala and Tom’s beautiful ambling old bernese mountain dog, Tallulah, had died. Several evenings later, over drinks and condolences in our kitchen, LaLa asked rhetorically: Do you think we’ll go to heaven with our dogs?
Reading Tom Poland’s fascinating account of his relationship with the author of Deliverance, I was moved to revisit James Dickey the poet, and to wonder what the hell-blaze of war consumed in him, and what it tempered into artistic resolve. Has any poet better depicted the soul-stripping terror of modern technological warfare than Dickey has done in The Firebombing? This mesmerizing, 1700-word poem leads off Buckdancer’s Choice, the 1964 collection that earned the National Book Award. The poet here is a night-fighter pilot, at home, 20 years into the suburbs, eating figs in his “half-paid-for” pantry, lost from his daily life – “Where the screwdriver is, where the children get off the bus” – but alive and airborne still in the humidity off the coast of Japan, rummaging in the guilt, thrills and sorrows of old details. The poem opens with “home” but on an ambiguous, dissonant note. Poems are […]
“A great Irish chieftain has passed.” That line from Niall O’Dowd of Irish Central, is my favorite of the recent salutes to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Chieftain implies courage, passion, ferocity in the face of poor odds. Great victories and breast-beating cries for forgiveness on a grand stage. Ribaldry and tenderness in extremis. Theatricality with brains, as Doug Cumming said of the late Bill Emerson. So it was no surprise that a dying U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy wrote a letter to Pope Benedict. He exercised a privilege well earned. What was sad, even a little heartbreaking, was that he did not receive a personal reply from the Pope – just third-person assurances of papal “concern” and “spiritual closeness.” Alas, religion, too, is mere human enterprise, and in various expressions of itself, slower to evolve than many, if not most, other species on earth. “The elephant in the room,” of […]
Look here. You can forget a thing and then recall it. Miss a turn and go back to it. Lose your mind and have fun finding it. Memory is everything. What would our imaginations be without facts to stretch and feelings to re-experience? Now Dutch scientists have proven that our memory-making enterprise starts up in earnest while we’re still in the womb, responding to sounds, voices and attitudes. This is big news. Forever the preacher’s kid, the first thing I thought was, “So that’s why I know the Baptist hymnal forwards and backwards!” Followed closely by, “But if that’s the case, why can’t I sing or play the piano?” But I digress. The great news about this memory thing is that we’ve actually forgotten even more than we thought we knew. Which means we all have vast new territories to explore. This is a gold mine for the inner life […]
“God Bless America.” We’ve made it our national hymn and we force our elected officials to recite the words from every podium, on every occasion, every time, else have their patriotism challenged. Patriotism? Where along the way did our nation of immigrants – our masses of indebted, desperate and persecuted ancestors – acquire the belief that the USA’s great wealth is a blessing from God? Which if true would mean, ipso facto, that those who suffer must be fallen from grace? Hmm. Our Country ’Tis of Thee, and as for unbelievers, Let the Heathen Rage. Pope Benedict’s encyclical this week on economic justice skewers this careless attitude toward faith and the economy. It is an explicit intellectual challenge to the moral fragility of a worldwide economy answerable solely to shareholders. And it is a hopeful note for progressives in the Roman Catholic Church – and for the faithful of any […]
His name is legion in the United States of America’s great family album – the veteran who serves youthful years in horrific danger in a distant war, then comes home and never has much to say about it. Unless calling up memories that make us laugh with him. Walter Boone Lucas was such a fellow. With smiling self-deprecation, he would tell of being drafted in Baltimore in 1942, marching on the boardwalk in Atlantic City (hasty mustering of fresh troops) with a broom handle (rifle shortage), in boots too big (no size 6.5 available), then training as a radio technician at Kelly Field in San Antonio but not being immediately assigned like everyone else (his name literally lost by the paper pushers). After all fellow trainees had shipped out, he inquired about his own status, and only then got an assignment. To cap it off, he sailed on a commandeered […]
Wait a minute. I want Michael Jackson to have his due. My wife and I and one of our children saw him perform at Atlanta stadium in the early 1980s. Phenomenal. But what are we to think when Al Sharpton goes before the cameras to say Michael was the first African-American with a global impact? On “Hardball,” Chris Matthews gracefully reminded him about Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. Or what about every street celebrant declaring that Michael’s greatest accomplishment was getting whites and blacks listening to the same music? That’s a good chuckle up in heaven’s music halls for Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and a host of other angels. Note to The Reverend Al and all the street celebrants: When we say our prayers tonight, let’s get down on our knees and ask forgiveness of – and express our thanks for – MLK, Ali, Satchmo, Pearly Brown, Ma Rainey, […]
Sure, the Irish continue to save civilization. Fight, make love, write poetry. Talk about these things over pints. Tell redeeming stories. If you haven’t met Henry Smart, a street kid who rises out of Dublin’s sewers (literally) to enliven the hapless Irish Citizens Army in the 1916 Easter Rising, I urge you to track him down and introduce yourself. You’ll find him in Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry, a novel of great rollicking excess and unforgettable characters. It’s a wild ride of killing, betrayal and passion. The good news is that Henry suffers no unrequited love. His “Maud Gonne” – no coy mistress – throws him on his back in the basement of Dublin’s General Post Office and consummates a delightful couple of pages, even as the bombardment continues. When she goes missing, Henry mounts every risk to find her (to our great relief, readers, because we want more […]
Keith Graham’s excellent reflection on the military draft and a broader concept of mandated service is a comfortable context for a wonderfully ironic little poem by the late William Stafford, a conscientious objector who served the WWII years in government work camps. At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die. This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky. Birds fly here without any sound, unfolding their wings across the open. No people killed – or were killed – on this ground hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrate it by forgetting its name. From Stories That Could Be True. William Stafford. Harper & Row. 1977 Also: The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, Graywolf Press. 1998 […]
Emily Dickinson’s dictum “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” is wise counsel for writers sidling into the thickets of politics and religion. “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Well, Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry would sooner strike us sightless – knock us off our asses like Saul on the road to Damascus – to stop the heedless plundering of the earth. It is the destruction of the world In our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it? We have so ravaged the path out of Eden, Berry says, that few signposts remain showing the way home. We’ve lost touch with the earth as mother and friend, as provider of the air, water and land that we share with all other living things. We eat and drink […]
All things seen are real, said Walt Whitman, and in that spirit three decades ago, the Academy of American Poets presented the annual Walt Whitman Award to the writer of a book-length collection of poems, Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Today, the author of that collection and its improbable title poem – David Bottoms of Canton – is Georgia’s Poet Laureate, professor of creative writing and poetry at Georgia State University, and author of other highly regarded volumes, including Vagrant Grace, Armored Hearts, Easter Weekend and Under the Vulture-Tree. He is also founding coeditor of the literary publication Five Points. The jolting image of shooting rats is proof enough that art’s golden thread winds its way through the most banal of human activities — even the back-roads rambling of young men carrying whisky and guns. Certainly that was the belief of Robert Penn Warren, the Academy’s judge that […]
Remember the Alamo? I do. As a boy, I went to the dentist in a building across from the Alamo. While the dentist did repairs, I floated on laughing gas wondering why Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie had to die. (Or later on, whether Cherry, the girl who lived across the street from me, would leave her blinds open again that night). At Alamo Heights High School, I learned that men from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, the Carolinas, etc. etc. (in other words, the United States of America), crossed the Red River to fight and die for those Irish-Scots-German immigrants who settled in Mexico north of the Rio Grande, then claimed their sovereignty. The wives of those brave volunteers even sent satin garments for the battle flags. And after all that, Texas Gov. Rick Perry threatens to secede from the Union? And Tom Delay, looking like a hedge fund manager, is […]
Lest we forget what Easter is about, The New York Times Sunday Book Review provides a sharply eloquent review by Jack Miles of National Book Award winner James Carroll’s new book, “Practicing Catholic.” It’s a scholarly assessment, serious, thought-provoking and alas, relieved by a delightful smirk of gas from James Joyce: O Ireland my first and only love Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove! O lovely land where the shamrock grows! (Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose.) Joyce, as the reviewer notes, “had no faith in either Christ or Caesar (or in Ireland, for that matter), and Carroll does.” Miles, who is general editor of the forthcoming “Norton Anthology of World Religions,” writes that there is no nose-blowing flippancy in Carroll’s “anguished denunciation” of Pope Benedict XVI as “the chief sponsor of the new Catholic fundamentalism, enforced with no regard for the real cost to human beings.” […]
“If there is a South in the future, and if there is a civilization, it may be because we got soft enough and subtle enough and loving cunning enough to make do during the cyclone.” That is one provocative thought in a classic essay by Reese Cleghorn, one of the nation’s most gifted writers in an epoch when journalists — ahead of politicians and preachers — led the nation’s conversion from the socio-religious idolatry of segregation. Cleghorn, 78, who died suddenly last month at his home in Washington D.C., first rose to prominence as associate editor of The Atlanta Journal in the 1960s. He was a columnist who wrote with courage, empathy and wit to help the nation lift up its eyes. At a memorial service in the University of Maryland chapel, former Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Gene Roberts said Cleghorn “was among a handful of liberal southern columnists and editorial […]
Reese Cleghorn’s “My Grandfather and the Cyclone” was published in the book, “You Can’t Eat Magnolias” (1972). Here is an excerpt:
Before Bono, Buffet and Gates, Millard Fuller was the world’s celebrity philanthropist. Recognized not for the riches he gave away but for building that great vessel of pragmatic spirituality and sweat equity, Habitat for Humanity. Millard embodied the genius of simplicity. No idea was too trivial, too big or too implausible. He made his first fortune, after all, selling mistletoe and tractor-seat cushions with his friend Morris Dees while still in law school at the University of Alabama. His idea in response to the affordable housing challenge was a proposition of such bare-boned beauty that it’s been likened to the joy of frontier barn-raisings. He simply asked folks to go beyond writing the check and come build the house — dig the trench, drive the nail, raise high the roof beam. Global human capitalism: It happens, now, every week around the world — Atlanta, L.A., New York City, Zambia, Ireland, […]