william carlos williams | pastoral

29 11 2008


Poetry Dispatch No. 259 | November 29, 2008


by William Carlos Williams

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.
No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.

from The Collected Poems of W.C. Williams, New Directions



William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963), was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. Williams “worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician,” wrote biographer Linda Wagner-Martin. During his long lifetime, Williams excelled both as a poet and a physician.

Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, a community near the city of Paterson. His father was an English immigrant, and his mother was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He attended public school in Rutherford until 1896, then was sent to study at Château de Lancy near Geneva, Switzerland, the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, France, for two years and Horace Mann School in New York City. Then, in 1902, he entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. During his time at Penn, Williams became friends with Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle (best known as H.D.) and the painter Charles Demuth. These friendships influenced his growth and passion for poetry. He received his M.D. in 1906 and spent the next four years in internships in New York City and in travel and postgraduate studies abroad (e.g., at the University of Leipzig where he studied pediatrics). He returned to Rutherford in 1910 and began his medical practice, which lasted until 1951. Most of his patients knew little if anything of his writings; instead they viewed him as a doctor who helped deliver their children into the world. It was estimated that Williams delivered 2,000 babies in the Rutherford area between 1910 and 1952. Today, Rutherford is home to a theater, “The Williams Center,” named after the poet.

Williams married Florence Herman (1891-1976) in 1912. They moved into a house in Rutherford which was their home for many years. Shortly afterwards, his first book of serious poems, The Tempers, was published. On a trip to Europe in 1924, Williams spent time with writers Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Flossie and Williams’s sons stayed behind in Europe to experience living abroad for a year as Williams and his brother had in their youth.

Although his primary occupation was as a doctor, Williams had a full literary career. His work consists of short stories, poems, plays, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, translations and correspondence. He wrote at night and spent weekends in New York City with friends – writers and artists like the avant-garde painters Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia and the poets Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore. He became involved in the Imagist movement but soon he began to develop opinions that differed from those of his poetic peers, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Later in his life, Williams toured the United States giving poetry readings and lectures.

Modern liberals portray Williams as aligned with liberal democratic issues; however, as his publications in more politically radical journals like Blast and New Masses suggest, his political commitments were further to the left than the term “liberal” indicates. He considered himself a socialist and opponent of capitalism, and in 1935 published “The Yachts”, a poem which indicts the rich elite as parasites and the masses as striving for revolution. The poem features an image of the ocean as the “watery bodies” of the poor masses beating at their hulls “in agony, in despair”, attempting to sink the yachts and end “the horror of the race”. Furthermore, in the introduction to his 1944 book of poems ,“The Wedge” he writes of socialism as an inevitable future development and as a necessity for true art to develop. In 1949, he published a booklet/bar “The Pink Church” that was about the human body but was understood, in the context of McCarthyism, as being dangerously pro-communist. The anti-communist movement led to his losing a consultantship with the Library of Congress in 1952/3, an event that contributed to his being treated for clinical depression. As is demonstrated in an unpublished article for Blast, Williams believed artists should resist producing propaganda and be “devoted to writing (first and last).” However, in the same article Williams claims that art can also be “in the service of the proletariat”.

After Williams suffered a heart attack in 1948, his health began to decline, and after 1949 a series of strokes followed. He also underwent treatment for clinical depression in a psychiatric hospital during 1953. Williams died on March 4, 1963 at the age of seventy-nine at his home in Rutherford, New Jersey. Two days later, a British publisher finally announced that he was going to print his poems – one of fate’s ironies, since Williams had always protested against the English influence on American poetry. During his lifetime, he had not received as much recognition from Britain as he had from the United States. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

During the First World War, when a number of European artists established themselves in New York City, Williams became friends with members of the avant-garde such as Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. In 1915 Williams began to be associated with a group of New York artists and writers known as “The Others.” Founded by the poet Alfred Kreymborg and by Man Ray, this group included Walter Conrad Arensberg, Wallace Stevens, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore and Duchamp. Through these involvements Williams got to know the Dadaist movement, which may explain the influence on his earlier poems of Dadaist and Surrealist principles. His involvement with The Others made Williams a key member of the early modernist movement in America.

carlosfaustWilliams disliked Ezra Pound’s and especially T. S. Eliot’s frequent use of allusions to foreign languages and Classical sources, as in Eliot’s The Waste Land. Williams preferred to draw his themes from what he called “the local.” In his modernist epic collage of place, Paterson (published between 1946 and 1958), an account of the history, people, and essence of Paterson, New Jersey, he examined the role of the poet in American society. Williams most famously summarized his poetic method in the phrase “No ideas but in things” (found in his 1927 poem “Patterson,” the forerunner to the book-length work). He advocated that poets leave aside traditional poetic forms and unnecessary literary allusions, and try to see the world as it is. Marianne Moore, another skeptic of traditional poetic forms, wrote Williams had used “plain American which cats and dogs can read,” with distinctly American idioms.

One of his most notable contributions to American literature was his willingness to be a mentor for younger poets. Though Pound and Eliot may have been more lauded in their time, a number of important poets in the generations that followed were either personally tutored by Williams or pointed to Williams as a major influence. He had an especially significant influence on many of the American literary movements of the 1950s: poets of the Beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Mountain school, and the New York School. He personally mentored Charles Olson, who was instrumental in developing the poetry of the Black Mountain College and subsequently influenced many other poets. Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, two other poets associated with Black Mountain, studied under Williams. Williams was friends with Kenneth Rexroth, the founder of the San Francisco Renaissance. A lecture Williams gave at Reed College was formative in inspiring three other important members of that Renaissance: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch. One of Williams’s most dynamic relationships as a mentor was with fellow New Jerseyite Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg claimed that Williams essentially freed his poetic voice. Williams included several of Ginsberg’s letters in Paterson, stating that one of them helped inspire the fifth section of that work. Williams also wrote introductions to two of Ginsberg’s books, including Howl. Williams sponsored unknown poets such as H.H. Lewis, a radical Missouri Communist poet, who he believed wrote in the voice of the people. Though Williams consistently loved the poetry of those he mentored, he did not always like the results of his influence on other poets (the perceived formlessness, for example, of other Beat Generation poets). Williams believed more in the interplay of form and expression.

In May 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His major works are Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), Paterson (1963, repr. 1992), and Imaginations (1970). The Poetry Society of America continues to honor William Carlos Williams by presenting an annual award in his name for the best book of poetry published by a small, non-profit or university press.


Williams’ most anthologized poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow”, considered an example of the Imagist movement’s style and principles (see also “This Is Just To Say”). However, Williams, like his associate Ezra Pound, had long ago rejected the imagist movement by the time this poem was published as part of Spring and All in 1923. Williams is more strongly associated with the American Modernist movement in literature, and saw his poetic project as a distinctly American one; he sought to renew language through the fresh, raw idiom that grew out of America’s cultural and social heterogeneity, at the same time freeing it from what he saw as the worn-out language of British and European culture.

Williams tried to invent an entirely fresh form, an American form of poetry whose subject matter was centered on everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. He then came up with the concept of the variable foot evolved from years of visual and auditory sampling of his world from the first person perspective as a part of the day in the life as a physician. The variable foot is rooted within the multi-faceted American Idiom. This discovery was a part of his keen observation of how radio and newspaper influenced how people communicated and represents the “machine made out of words” (as he described a poem in the introduction to his book, The Wedge) just as the mechanistic motions of a city can become a consciousness. Williams didn’t use traditional meter in most of his poems. His correspondence with Hilda Doolittle also exposed him to the relationship of sapphic rhythms to the inner voice of poetic truth:

“The stars about the beautiful moon again hide their radiant shapes, when she is full and shines at her brightest on all the earth”—Sappho.

This is to be contrasted with a poem from Pictures from Brueghel titled “Shadows”:

“Shadows cast by the street light

under the stars,

the head is tilted back,

the long shadow of the legs

presumes a world taken for granted

on which the cricket trills”

The breaks in the poem search out a natural pause spoken in the American idiom that is also reflective of rhythms found within jazz sounds that also touch upon Sapphic harmony. Williams experimented with different types of lines and eventually found the “stepped triadic line”, a long line which is divided into three segments. This line is used in Paterson and in poems like “To Elsie” and “The Ivy Crown.” Here again one of Williams’ aims is to show the truly American (i.e., opposed to European traditions) rhythm which is unnoticed but present in everyday American language. Stylistically, Williams worked with variations on free-form styles, notably developing and utilising the triadic line as in his lengthy love-poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower




  • * Poems (1909)
  • * The Tempers (1913)
  • * Al Que Quiere (1917)
  • * Kora in Hell. Improvisations (1920, repr. 1973)
  • * Sour Grapes (1921)
  • * Spring and All (1923)
  • * Go Go (1923)
  • * The Cod Head (1932)
  • * Collected Poems, 1921-1931 (1934)
  • * An Early Martyr and Other Poems (1935)
  • * Adam & Eve & The City (1936)
  • * The Complete Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, 1906-1938 (1938)
  • * The Broken Span (1941)
  • * The Wedge (1944)
  • * Paterson (Book I, (1946; Book II, (1948; Book III, 1949; Book IV, (1951; Book V, (1958)
  • * Clouds, Aigeltinger, Russia (1948)
  • * The Collected Later Poems (1950; rev. ed.1963)
  • * Collected Earlier Poems (1951; rev. ed., 1966)
  • * The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954)
  • * Journey to Love (1955)
  • * Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962)
  • * Paterson (Books I-V in one volume, (1963)
  • * Imaginations (1970)
  • * Collected Poems: Volume 1, 1909-1939 (1988)
  • * Collected Poems: Volume 2, 1939-1962 (1989)
  • * Early Poems (1997)


  • * Kora in Hell (1920) — Prose-poem improvisations.
  • * The Great American Novel (1923) — A novel.
  • * Spring and All (1923) — A hybrid of prose and verse.
  • * In the American Grain (1925, 1967, repr. New Directions 2004) — Prose on historical figures and events.
  • * A Voyage to Pagany (1928; repr. 1970) — An autobiographical travelogue in the form of a novel.
  • * Novelette and Other Prose (1932)
  • * The Knife of the Times, and Other Stories (1932; repr. 1974)
  • * White Mule (1937; repr. 1967) — A novel.
  • * Life along the Passaic River (1938) — Short stories.
  • * In the Money (1940; repr. 1967) — Sequel to White Mule.
  • * Make Light of It: Collected Stories (1950)
  • * Autobiography (1951; 1967)
  • * The Build-Up (1952) — Completes the “Stecher trilogy” begun with White Mule.
  • * Selected Essays (1954)
  • * The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (1957)
  • * I Wanted to Write a Poem: The Autobiography of the Works of a Poet (1958)
  • * Yes, Mrs. Williams: A Personal Record of My Mother (1959)
  • * The Farmers’ Daughters: Collected Stories (1961)
  • * Imaginations (1970) — A collection of five previously published early works.
  • * The Embodiment of Knowledge (1974) — Philosophical and critical notes and essays.
  • * Interviews With William Carlos Williams: “Speaking Straight Ahead” (1976)
  • * A Recognizable Image: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists (1978)
  • * Pound/Williams: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (1996)
  • * The Collected Stories of William Carlos Williams (1996)
  • * The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams (1998)
  • * William Carlos Williams and Charles Tomlinson: A Transatlantic Connection (1998)


  • * Many Loves and Other Plays: The Collected Plays of William Carlos Williams (1961)


david brooks | the insider’s crusade

24 11 2008


NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 162 | November 24, 2008

Political Provocateur

This will be a new, occasional connection to national/global politics, whenever/wherever the words appear, the spirit moves me—as this essay did by conservative pundit David Brooks of The New York Times and the Lehrer News Hour, PBS.

I’m more than a little upset with folks (Democrats especially) already knocking Obama because he didn’t do this or say that, or appoint so-and-so etc., when it’s only two weeks since he won the election, and (in my book) has already done more toward getting this country back on track, back where it belongs in the world than the present occupant in the White House has done in the last eight years.

I don’t always agree with David Brooks, but I always consider him fair and listen carefully to what he has to say. He’s a far cry from the manic pundits (ala Rush) who have nothing to offer folks but their insufferable egos and trash talk.

If true America conservatives are listening and taking note of Obama’s presence in the national and world stage …maybe, indeed hope, is on its way for everyone. — Norbert Blei


The Insider’s Crusade


Jan. 20, 2009, will be a historic day. Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.).

The domestic policy team will be there, too, including Jason Furman (Harvard, Harvard Ph.D.), Austan Goolsbee (Yale, M.I.T. Ph.D.), Blair Levin (Yale, Yale Law), Peter Orszag (Princeton, London School of Economics Ph.D.) and, of course, the White House Counsel Greg Craig (Harvard, Yale Law).

This truly will be an administration that looks like America, or at least that slice of America that got double 800s on their SATs. Even more than past administrations, this will be a valedictocracy— rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes. If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvard-Yale game any time over the next four years, we’re screwed.

Already the culture of the ‘Obama ad¬ministration is coming into focus. Its members are twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them, three times if you include the columnists. They typically served in the Clinton administration and then, like Cincinnatus, retreated to the comforts of private life— that is, if Cincinnatus had worked at Goldman Sachs, Williams & Connolly or the Brookings Institution. So many of them send their kids to Georgetown Day School, the posh leftish private school in D.C. that they’ll be able to hold White House staff meetings in the carpool line.

And yet as much as I want to resent these overeducated Achievatrons (not to mention the incursion of a French- style government dominated by highly trained Enarchs), I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition.

The fact that they can already leak one big appointee per day is testimony to an awful lot of expert staff work. Unlike past Democratic administrations, they are not just handing out jobs to the hacks approved by the favored interest groups. They’re thinking holistically — there’s a nice balance of policy wonks, governors and legislators. They’re also thinking strategically. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute notes, it was smart to name Tom Daschle both the head of Health and Human Services and the health czar. Splitting those duties up, as Bill Clinton did, leads to all sorts of conflicts.

Most of all, they are picking Washington insiders. Or to be more precise, they are picking the best of the Washington insiders.

Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced “fresh faces” to change things. After all, it was LBJ. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.

As a result, the team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory. One may not agree with them on everything or even most things, but a few things are indisputably true.

First, these are open-minded individuals who are persuadable by evidence. Orszag, who will probably be budget director, is trusted by Republicans and Democrats for his honest presentation of the facts.

Second, they are admired professionals. Conservative legal experts have a high regard for the probable attorney general, Eric Holder, despite the business over the Marc Rich pardon.

Third, they are not excessively partisan. Obama signaled that he means to live up to his post partisan rhetoric by letting Joe Lieberman keep his committee chairmanship.

Fourth, they are not ideological. The economic advisers, Furman and Goolsbee, are moderate and thoughtful Democrats. Hillary Clinton at State is problematic, mostly because nobody has a role for her husband. But, as she demonstrated in the Senate, her foreign-policy views are hardheaded and pragmatic.

Finally, there are many people on this team with practical creativity. Any think tanker can come up with broad doctrines, but it is rare to find people who can give the president a list of concrete steps he can do day by day to advance American interests. Dennis Ross, who advised Obama during the campaign, is the best I’ve ever seen at this, but Rahm Emanuel also has this capacity, as does Craig and legislative liaison Phil Schiliro.

Believe me, I’m trying not to join in the vast, heaving 0-phoria now sweeping the coastal haut-bourgeoisie. But the personnel decisions have been superb. The events of the past two weeks should be reassuring to anybody who feared that Obama would veer to the left, or would suffer self-inflicted wounds because of his inexperience. He’s off to a start that nearly justifies the hype.

[New York Times Nov.21. 2008]


davidbrooksDavid Brooks (born August 11, 1961) is a Canadian-American political and cultural commentator. Brooks served as an editorial writer and film reviewer for the Washington Times, a reporter and later op-ed editor for The Wall Street Journal, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard from its inception, a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, and a commentator on NPR. He is now a columnist for The New York Times and commentator on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Brooks was born into a Jewish family in Toronto and grew up in New York City in Stuyvesant Town. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1983 with a degree in history.

He wrote a book of cultural commentary titled Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. Brooks also writes articles and makes television appearances as a commentator on various trends in pop culture, such as internet dating. His newest book is entitled On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.

Before the Iraq War, Brooks argued forcefully on moral grounds for American military intervention, echoing the belief of conservative commentators and political figures that American and British forces would be welcomed as liberators. However, some of his opinion pieces in the spring of 2004 suggested that he had tempered somewhat his earlier optimism about the war. David Brooks was a visiting professor of public policy at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, and he taught an undergraduate seminar there in the fall of 2006.

Brooks, who some consider a conservative, describes himself as being originally a liberal. In 1983, for example, he wrote a parody of conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. :

In the afternoons he is in the habit of going into crowded rooms and making everybody else feel inferior. The evenings are reserved for extended bouts of name-dropping. (University of Chicago Maroon, April 5, 1983.)

Buckley admired the parody and offered Brooks a job with National Review. A turning point in Brooks’s thinking came later that year in a televised debate with Milton Friedman, which, as Brooks describes it, “was essentially me making a point, and he making a two-sentence rebuttal which totally devastated my point.” On August 10, 2006, Brooks wrote a column for the New York Times titled “Party No. 3”. The column proposed the idea of the McCain-Lieberman Party, or the fictional representation of the moderate majority in America. Many in the “conservative movement” such as Rush Limbaugh denounce him as he frequently runs to the left. He has long been a McCain supporter and has not shown a liking for Governor Sarah Palin, calling her a “cancer” on the Republican Party.

Brooks opposes what he sees as self-destructive behavior like teenage sex and divorce; however, he is not a culture warrior in the traditional sense. His view is that “sex is more explicit everywhere barring real life. As the entertainment media have become more sex-saturated, American teenagers have become more sexually abstemious” by “waiting longer to have sex…[and] having fewer partners.” He sees the culture war as nearly over, because “today’s young people…seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right.” As a result, he is optimistic about the United States’ social stability, which he considers to be “in the middle of an amazing moment of improvement and repair.” (New York Times, April 17, 2005, 4-14.)

Brooks also broke with many in the conservative movement when, in late 2003, he came out in favor of same-sex marriage in his New York Times column. He equated the idea with traditional conservative values: “We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity…. It’s going to be up to conservatives to make the important, moral case for marriage, including gay marriage.” (New York Times, November 22, 2003, A-15.)

Regarding women’s issues, Brooks is a third-wave feminist. He has also positioned himself as an outspoken critic of the Assault Weapons Ban. In a March 2007 article published in the New York Times titled No U-Turns, Brooks explains that the Republican party must distance itself from the minimal-government conservative principles that had arisen during the Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan eras. He claims that these outdated concepts had served their purposes and should no longer be embraced by Republicans in order to win elections.

In April 2004, Sasha Issenberg of Philadelphia magazine set out to retrace the journey through Franklin County, Pennsylvania, that Brooks described in the article “One Nation, Slightly Divisible” published in 2001 in the Atlantic Monthly.  Issenberg uncovered several inaccuracies and distortions in Brooks’s article. For example, Brooks wrote “On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal…I’d scan the menu and realize that I’d been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and ‘seafood delight’ trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.” Issenberg discovered that, to the contrary, “I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The `Steak and Lobster’ combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75.”

When confronted with these inaccuracies, Brooks accused Issenberg of being “too pedantic” and of “taking all of this too literally”.

On January 6, 2004, Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times that seemed to accuse critics of the Iraq war of anti-Semitism, claiming “to hear these people describe it, PNAC is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles” and that “anti-Semitism is resurgent”. Brooks later apologized to the paper’s public editor for the column, writing “I am still on the learning curve here, and I do realize that mixture of a crack with a serious accusation was incredibly stupid on my part…Please do pass along to readers that I’m aware of how foolish I was to write the column in the way I did.”

Partial bibliography

  • * On Paradise Drive : How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (2004) ISBN 0-7432-2738-7
  • * Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000) ISBN 0-684-85377-9


special edition | celebration

14 11 2008


Poetry Dispatch | Notes from the Underground

Special Edition:



Dateline: November 14, 2008:

Late breaking news from Monsieur K in France:
“We are already over 50.000
Do we miss the party ????”–MK


Thank you, Monsieur K, and thank all you readers and writers on the world-wide-web for your attention and appreciation of this site.

By way of “Thanks for 50,000 visitors since September 2007 (so far)” –a special contest offer.

Complete the following sentence in 50 words or less:

“Poetry Dispatch and Notes from the Underground (Basho’s Road) have added to/changed my life (done something positive) by/because…”

(If you care to mention your location in the world and the number of people you occasionally dispatch it to…that too would be greatly appreciated.)

1st Prize:

A hand-written, in French (or German, Spanish, English, etc.) French postcard from the elusive, mysterious, wise, and wizardly Monsieur K himself, postmarked from his secretive domain: La Baule, France. ( A collector’s items for sure.)

2nd Prize:

A used book, in pristine shape (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction) from the private library of Norbert Blei, with a personal note of thanks (in English—or Czech).

3rd Prize:

Something from Blei’s private desk/junk drawer, crammed with all sorts of treasures—from a brand new yellow Dixon Ticonderoga, No.2, Soft, never-sharpened pencil, circa l950, to…who knows? A hand-scribbled note…an old photograph, a Turkish cigarette, circa1976?

ALL entries (one per person) to be e-mailed only:


Deadline: November 22, 2008 (Please include your regular/snail mail address).

All winning entries will appear in a future dispatch. (Maybe all losing entries as well.)


— Norbert Blei (America) & Monsieur K. (France)

gordon | a poem for veterans day

11 11 2008


Poetry Dispatch No. 258 | November 11, 2008


A Veterans Day poem Posted by Gordon25 on Thu Nov-10-05 10:45 PM

Though I visit almost daily, I haven’t been posting much since the 2004 election. Been doing battle with my own ptsd demons given new life by the insanity in Iraq and the hopelessness of watching the destruction of a country I once believed in enough to volunteer for wartime service (USMC; Vietnam; ’65-’66). I struggle daily to retain some tiny shred of hope that eventually enough people will learn the “lessons of Vietnam”: i.e., when you send young men to fight and die on the basis of lies, everybody loses. As Veterans Day approaches each year I go back through a lot of my old journals, combing through them for new insights and understandings. This year I pulled out my journal from the time I spent in a VA hospital after I got back, and ran across a poem I thought I might share with you. It contains no great truths or profound significance. But it captured a moment and I pass it on as a tribute to all my brothers and sisters in arms, past, present and future.. Thank you all for being here, and each in your own way, continuing the fight. For make no mistake, you are in a war — a war for America’s soul.


They were old men,
Smitty ninety-six,
Bill eighty-two,
sitting tied in their wheelchairs
in the hospital day-room
a single shaft of sunshine –

staring vacantly out the window
lost in a monologue
with Headquarters Planning Staff –
France, 1917, the mud and rain
and God! the pain when
the shell exploded –
proud because he didn’t quit –

And Smitty,
growling in a voice gone
harsh and near-unintelligible
from too many years
of top sergeant yelling
from San Juan
to Nicaragua,
through France
and Guadalcanal,
“Shut up, goddamnit!
You shut up
when I’m talking!’
I was in the field
while you
were still in diapers,
Shut up, goddammit!”
over sagging lower lip,
paralyzed –

Persistent in their
disregard for death –

VA Hospital,
Salt Lake City, Utah


miriam makeba | mama afrika

10 11 2008


NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.161 | November 10, 2008


Miriam Makeba


“I have to go and say farewell to all the countries that I have been to, if I can. I’m 73 now, it is taxing on me.”

Her ‘activist’ mission was simple: to bring the world together with music. She died today in Italy still determined and engaged in trying to make the world sing. Norbert Blei

“You sing about those things that surround you,” she said. “Our surrounding has always been that of suffering from apartheid and the racism that exists in our country. So our music has to be affected by all that.”

“I believe I can sing anything”



Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat Chor:„Pata Pata”)
Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat …(Chor: Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat…(Chor: „Pata
Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

1. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pa …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata

2. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata)
„Pata Pata” is the name of a dance … we do down Johannesburg way.
And everybody … starts to move … as soon as „Pata Pata” starts to play – hoo …

3. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

2. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)

4. Strophe

Haji-a sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga jo-ho …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si …(Chor: „Pata)
Hoo, every Friday and Saturday night … it’s „Pata Pata”-time.
The dance keeps going all night long … till the morning sun begins to shine – hey!
Aya sat wuguga sat – wo-ho-o …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)

5. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

3. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata

6. Strophe

Huh- a sat wuguga sat – hit it! …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
Aah- sat wuguga sat – aim not si – hit it! …(Chor: „
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata Pata


miriamMiriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008 was a Grammy Award-winning South African singer, also known as Mama Afrika.

Miriam Zenzi Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father, who died when she was six, was a Xhosa. As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.

Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.

In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the US. Her break came when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959. She went to the premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival.

Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to and fame in the United States. She released many of her most famous hits there including “Pata Pata”, “The Click Song” (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa), and “Malaika”. In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.

She discovered that her South African passport was revoked when she tried to return there in 1960 for her mother’s funeral. In 1963, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She has had nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship of ten countries.

Her marriage to Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result of this, the couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to perform primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. She was one of the African and Afro-American entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. Makeba also served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.

After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she moved to Brussels. In 1987, she appeared in Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. Shortly thereafter she published her autobiography Makeba: My Story (ISBN 0-453-00561-6).

Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990. In the fall of 1991, she made a guest appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show, entitled “Olivia Comes Out Of The Closet”. In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!, about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, as the title character’s mother, “Angelina.” She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of apartheid.

In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn was nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best World Music” category. In 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, “for outstanding services to peace and international understanding”. In 2002, she shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life. Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered “severe arthritis” for some time.

She died in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy, in the evening of 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation. In his condolence message, former South African president Nelson Mandela said it was “fitting that Makeba died doing what she did best – singing.”



  • Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert (1991).
  • * Miriam Makeba: 1960
  • * The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba: 1960
  • * The World Of Miriam Makeba: 1962
  • * Makeba: 1963
  • * Makeba Sings: 1965
  • * An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba (with Harry Belafonte): 1965
  • * The Click Song: 1965
  • * All About Makeba: 1966
  • * Malaisha: 1966
  • * Miriam Makeba In Concert!: 1967
  • * Pata Pata: 1967
  • * Makeba!: 1968
  • * The Promise: 1974
  • * Country Girl: 1975
  • * Pata Pata: 1977
  • * Sangoma: 1988
  • * Welela: 1989
  • * Eyes On Tomorrow: 1991
  • * Sing Me A Song: 1993
  • * A Promise: 1994
  • * Live From Paris & Conakry: 1998
  • * Homeland, 2000
  • * Keep Me In Mind, 2002
  • * Live at Berns Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden, 1966: 2003
  • * Reflections, 2004
  • * Makeba Forever, 2006 (last recording)


  • * The Queen Of African Music – 17 Great Songs, 1987
  • * Africa 1960-65 recordings, 1991
  • * Eyes On Tomorrow, 1991
  • * The Best Of Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks: 1956 – 1959 recordings, 1998
  • * Mama Africa: The Very Best Of Miriam Makeba, 2000
  • * The Guinea Years, 2001
  • * The Definitive Collection, 2002
  • * The Best Of The Early Years, 2003


hatto fischer | poetry & politics

8 11 2008


Cornelius Castoriadis 1922 – 1997

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 160 | November 8, 2008


HATTO FISCHER: Poetry & politics

As Americans witnessed in the presidential campaign, first in Berlin, Europe was waiting with open and anxious arms for new leadership in America. In some ways they sensed the voice within Obama well before many in our country finally cast their vote for change last Tuesday.

It was heartening to witness and hear the groundswell of support all over the world as the first Black, against all odds, historical and cultural, was elected the 44th President of the United State and stood humbly before the thousands who gathered in celebration in Chicago only four nights ago.

Among a number of friends from other parts of the world who expressed their congratulations and thoughts with me, Hatto Fischer, in Greece, is one writer, poet, thinker, cultural-ambassador-to-the-world in particular, that I would like to share at this historic moment with all readers of Poetry Dispatch and Notes from the Underground.

I only wish there were a place for him in whatever cultural program Barack creates for the greater good, the greater world at large. —Norbert Blei


Athens 7.11.2008
Dear Norb,

after Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, it is time to say something about the connection between poetry and politics.

Certainly you have made your contributions, from spreading local news to encouraging the poetic way. You have done so by enabling writers, poets to find their voices through publications, reviews, recognitions, discussions and just listening to them.

All along, and ever since with Sam Hamill and others ‘the Poets against the War’ came to life after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I have asked myself what does this say about the American society, its people and especially its poets? In seeing how many engage themselves, poetically speaking, I wondered when will this poetic language enter daily life and daily language? It has to do with not only how to gain dignity in a void of knowledge about existence, so that you end up in some back room in front of an empty sheet of paper, but by learning how to handle the imagination.

As the Bulgarian poetess Dostena Lavergne would say, poetry has to do with something amorphous but it is a binding power of a different order. Many would doubt that connections through poetry have that same quality when compared with hard fought negotiations at the end of which there stands a legal paper called ‘contract’. Yet the poetic commitment to life, the zeal to feel its impulses, is much stronger and more enduring than any contract linking any mortal to a legal system and to the many lawyers who make a living off those who think breaking the law is a way of life.

There are many types of ‘outlaws’ and some may think here of Johnny Cash with his stories about in and out of jail, but he too affirmed to strike back after 9/11 insofar as he said who would be so foolish to do something like that and think to get away with it. Yes, unfortunately revenge exists as a rule all over the world. It is even the highest law in the Islamic religion. It is assumed to be the only way to regain balance out of a position of permanent imbalance. It will be an open question if Barack Obama as President will understand this call: not to define foreign policy on the principle of revenge which is also embodied in the death penalty and meant to deter by being absolute in the negation of life, and which the act of killing spells out plainly for all to see. It is repeatedly shown on the television screen and not only there, for it is backed up by those advocating that by taking literally speaking the law into your own hands, for the state is not to be trusted to do the dirty work, the only way to seek revenge is to do it oneself. But that is an absurd equation of law with own hands, and yet there it is this savage custom to become wild when claiming to be civilized.

And one more thing: if some American writers pride themselves to get the money whenever they want, as if this is the raw law of survival, then in reality this myth ‘of lets go freely on a binge but care only for yourself’, that goes at the expense of those willing to give and who end up being abused by this kind of egoistic drive. Such a drive ends up in loneliness as described by Canetti who sees in it another form of death drive. But that is not the way out of the dilemma insofar as you cannot recognize your own greatness by negating that of all others. If that would be the credo, it would leave America exposed to the kind of vanity fair Palin surely comes close to and which you, Norb, pointed out in that webpage you send around so that we could imagine what would it be like if she sat in the Oval office. The agreement by her to go hunting with the Canadian comedian posing as Skarkozy after he invited her to hunt from a helicopter as he had never done that before, it underlines the seriousness of that joke aimed to expose vanity.

But I want to come back to the poetic language to which you besides Sam Hamill have contributed so much. I think the fact that Americans look at themselves now with respect and take more seriously then their fears their abilities to handle the elusiveness of the imagination to show new ways, it is the result of all this incredible poetic work. So aside from the congratulations which should go directly to Barack Obama and his campaign team, there needs to be given recognition to the poets. Without them it would not have been possible to learn those lessons from the past, including those of the Civil Rights Movement. It explains why the dreams of the past did not shatter even after Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. A powerful emotional base for civic engagement has been created over time and through this election it came to fore. Hence I find it awesome that Barack Obama recognizes this first of all. In Chicago he said to the people ‘you did not elect me’. He meant they elected first of all themselves or rather a more just political system. If hope has a meaning in what Barack Obama says for the future, then it would be important to support him in what he intends, namely to give back or even to give to the people for the first time a political system by which they can govern themselves. All political systems have been abused until now in order to govern against the people. By contrast his style of politics intends to be for the people. Thus he will be a true challenge not only to himself and the American people, but equally to every other government, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world.

We need to think only of the many flawed elections we have witnessed recently in Africa, the countless equally intolerable state of affairs in Zimbabwe with Mugabe clinging on to power by all means but one example, and to which only Gordon Brown has stood up so far in a world wide beset by a permanent art of rationalization. The latter is an outcome of corruption of the mind. It explains why there exists an unwillingness to take serious the need to be honest. So far this has been the type of governance when it comes to viewing what people want. Hence change comes when the imagination enters to further thoughts how best to express good governance through politics by all people. It was the Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who mentioned that participation involves the imagination, even in what people project upon the White House when they drive by in Washington D.C..

I wish you and all the poets you have encouraged so far to keep on writing as testified in that recent book you published, namely ‘other voices’. They should continue, continue to link daily work with day dreams, so as to free the imagination in order to be able and willing to handle with imagination the problems ahead. But what has been achieved as of now, and I mean this election result of Nov. 4th 2008, there needs to be given a tribute to all poets who have already freed the imagination. That is the prerequisite to stand up against doubt and skepticism, as said by Barack Obama. And no wonder he ends with ‘yes we can’. By achieving that American poetry has already contradicted the statement by that member of the Stockholm Academy for the Nobel Prize, who said nothing much can be expected from American Literature when compared to the European one.

What took place in the United States with the election of Barack Obama, is a historical feat. It seems everyone picked up as well something from Nelson Mandela when voting on November 4th, namely to finally get rid of that fear to be great in daily life. Nelson Mandela said you free the others by not being afraid of your own greatness. By doing that you free the others and that is the best way to reach out to the others around the globe.

Greetings from Athens and congratulations to you for all the work you have done to give others a voice.

hatto fischer


The book OTHER VOICES is available by clicking here…