ruth stone | lighter than air | how it is | the porch

30 07 2009

PoetryDispatch No.290 | July 30, 2009


Lighter Than Air

The fat girl next door would give us a nickel
to walk to the old man’s store
and get her an ice-cream cone,
vanilla, of course, the only flavor then.
On Powotan Avenue, Aunt Harriet and I would take
turns licking it all the way back.
It was hot that summer and we longed
to go to Virginia Beach and put our toes in the tide.
[trained every day and the James River swelled
up to our doorsteps.
Aunt Harriet and I wore tight rubber bathing caps
and long saggy bathing suits. How skinny we were.
She was nine and I was six. The lightning flashed
and we hid in the closet; the thunder crashed.
We had straight, bobbed hair and bangs.
Once a dirigible moved above the tops of the trees,
with little ladders dangling down, and we waved.

How It Is

The sensible living
aren’t interested in the dead,
unless there is money in it.
So little you can do with them.
What they say is in your head.
They visit in dreams but turn their backs
when you beg them to stay.
They are never hiding in your closet.
Empty jackets, loose sleeves yawn
on the hangers. Their cold feet
that they rubbed and rubbed
with their long sensitive fingers,
before they put on their socks,
never come back with their fine
fitted bones to warm your bed.

The Porch

Whatsoever comes to the screen,
firefly or moth,
I lean back in the wicker chair,
the porch my fragile skin
between me
and the gorgeous open maw,
the suckling swallowing world.

[from: WHAT LOVE COMES TO, New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2008}

Ruth Stone (born June 8, 1915, in Roanoke, Virginia) is an American poet, author, and teacher.

Ruth Stone is the author of thirteen books of poetry. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2002 National Book Award (for her collection In the Next Galaxy), the 2002 Wallace Stevens Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Eric Mathieu King Award from The Academy of American Poets, a Whiting Award (with which she bought plumbing for her house) two Guggenheim Fellowships (one of which roofed her house), the Delmore Schwartz Award, the Cerf Lifetime Achievement Award from the state of Vermont, and the Shelley Memorial Award. In July 2007, she was named poet laureate of Vermont. The voice of Ruth Stone reading her poem “Be Serious” is featured in the film USA The Movie. Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry and Translation 27 (2000/2001) was devoted entirely to Stone’s work.

In 1959, after her husband, professor Walter Stone, committed suicide, she was forced to raise three daughters alone. (As she has pointed out, her poems are “love poems, all written to a dead man” who forced her to “reside in limbo” with her daughters.) For twenty years she traveled the US, teaching creative writing at many universities, including the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of California Davis, Brandeis, and finally settling at State University of New York Binghamton. Today, Stone lives in Vermont.


  • * What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008) – A finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize
  • * In the Dark (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
  • * In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
  • * Ordinary Words (1999)
  • * Simplicity (1995)
  • * Who is the Widow’s Muse? (1991)
  • * The Solution (1989)
  • * Second Hand Coat: Poems New and Selected (1987)
  • * American Milk (1986)
  • * Unknown Messages (1973)
  • * Cheap: New Poems and Ballads (1972)
  • * Topography and Other Poems (1970)
  • * In an Iridescent Time (1959)

What love comes to

One of 68 poems, this one begins with, “Look at Eta Carinae”. With this, Stone perceives more than many gardeny poets, noticing not just a relentless snowstorm, but the sunlight that falls through the snow, Stone does not settle for the usual pastoral scene. Instead, she widens the frame to an astronomical scale of eleven, to show us our galactic neighbor, a hypergiant, intensely luminous blue star that seems well on its way to exploding into a supernova. source

andy borowitz | britney’s conversion diary

28 07 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND # 193 | July 28, 2009

Britney’s Conversion Diary

Andy Borowitz

Britney Spears has never been one to take things slowly when it comes to relationships. So it’s no surprise she’s considering converting to Judaism to show her commitment to new bloke Jason Trawick. The singer has been spotted wearing a necklace with the Star of David symbol on during her world tour. She has even recruited a rabbi to help her study the faith. —The Sun.

jewShalom, Diary:
I think Rabbi Pearlstein is really pissed at me. Today in Jewish class he was going through the Halakha, which I thought was the Jewish word for Hannah Montana but turns out to be like a whole bunch of boring laws about days of the week and pork and shit, and I was like, “Rabbi P., is there any way you could break this down into a bunch of tweets? I’ll read it on my phone on the way to rehearsal.” He got so mad those curls on the sides of his head started shaking. (I don’t know why he won’t let my stylist snip them off. They’re not a good look for him, K.?) On the plus side, he taught me this awesome Jewish trivia fact: You don’t have to call Jewish people “Jewish people.” It turns out they don’t mind being \ called plain old “Jews.” LOL.

jewShalom, Diary:
Here’s how Brit sees it: When a person is converting to Judaism, he or she should totally get points for things they’ve done that already make them part Jewish. Like, let’s say to be a Jewess you need twenty points. I think I have already earned points for the following Jewish thingies:

  • —Dating a hot Jew: two points. I ! think dating a Jew makes you partly Jewish, and the hotter the Jew the more points. Dating Jason wins me two points (tho I would get way more if I was dating that über-hot Jew in Maroon 5). Dating someone you met on JDate and basically just settled for gets you no points. (Snap!!!)
  • —Kissing another Jewess on TV: four points. O.K., maybe this isn’t in the Torah or anything, but it is a great moment in Jewish history, and personally, as a Jew-in-training, I am very proud to have been a part of it: the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, when I kissed Madonna, who is basically even more Jewish than Rabbi Pearlstein. Madonna is so Jewish I call her Mezuzah. (LMAO, Brit!!!) This is because of all the hot Jewish boyfriends she has had over the aeons, including her latest, Jesus Luz. (Everyone knows Jesus is a Jewish name—look it up.) If you count all of Madonna’s points for dating hot Jews, she would have eighty, which would make her equal to like four Jews, which must be more than there are in all of major-league baseball.
  • —Being persecuted: eight points. Rabbi Pearlstein goes on and on and on about how persecuted the Jews were in olden days, but, hello, did they ever have to deal with TMZ shoving a camera in their crotch every time they got out of a limo? I don’t think so!!! If you add my two points for dating a hot Jew to my four points for kissing a Jewess to my eight points for being persecuted, you get (come on, iPhone calculator) . . . fourteen Jew points!!! I should totally be able to get the other six I need by buying a Star of David toe ring.

jewShalom, Diary:
Got verklempt last night with Jason when I told him how close I was to joining his tribe and all. Felt kinda guilty that my spiritual journey has been so easy, what with my already being mostly Jewish, but then Jason explained that feeling guilty just makes you Jewisher, so it’s all good.

jewDear Diary:
I am so over Rabbi Pearlstein!!! Here’s what went down: I like went to his house to explain my awesome Jewish point system, and I’m like ringing the doorbell 4-EVAH, and then he finally comes to the door and there go his curly hairs again, and he’s like, “Do you have ANY idea what DAY it is???” And I’m like, no, and he’s like, “Jews aren’t supposed to answer the doorbell on Saturdays.” And I’m like, “Hello, isn’t that the Amish?” He seriously needs to check his facts!!! Anyway, I’m donezo with this whole Jewish thing. Saturdays are my day to party, and no one, not even Yahweh or whatever, fucks with that. Note to Brit: Find new religion that Jason and I can both convert to. Maybe Hindu? I’d look amazing with one of those cute jewels in my head.

[from THE NEW YORKER, “Shouts and Murmurs”, July 27, 2009]

ray bradbury | I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries…

26 07 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 192 | July 25, 2009

Ray Bradbury

“I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries…”

I’ve never been a great lover of science fiction, but I have always loved the stories, novels, and plays of Ray Bradbury. If you’re going to give me man in space—give me the human condition. Which is precisely what Bradbury has always done. The consciousness of his tales may be spatial—but his characters remain grounded in ways we comprehend and see ourselves.

I’m aware his style is sometimes condemned by the new sci-fi guard as old fashioned humanism. Yet what else is there that keeps us and makes us alive? Which is precisely why I admire all his work, sci-fi or straight—including his classic book of boyhood, DANDELION WINE.

Bradbury has grown old with a vengeance. Yes, he’s still out there—in the real world A wise man. We don’t honor these old writer-warriors enough.

I smiled when I saw this story recently on the front page of The New York Time. A photo of Ray holding up a sign that read: APPLAUSE. There’s nothing better than an angry old writer rallying readers to stand up and fight—be it book burners (FAHRENHEIT 451) or libraries cutting back on services because the public funding isn’t there—for all that makes us human.

Here’s the Bradbury. Here’s to the Public Library. Long may they both live. —Norbert Blei

At 88, a Writer Fights for Libraries, and Tells a Few of Life’s Tales


VENTURA, Calif. — When you are pushing 90, have written scores of famous novels, short stories and screenplays, and have fulfilled the goal of taking a simulated ride to Mars, what’s left?

“Bo Derek. is a really good friend of mine and I’d like to spend more time with her,” said Ray Bradbury, peering up from behind an old television tray in his den.

An unlikely answer, but Mr. Bradbury, the science fiction writer, is very specific in his eccentric list of interests, and his pursuit of them in his advancing age and state of relative immobility.

This is a lucky thing for the Ventura County Public Libraries — because among Mr. Bradbury’s passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.

Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H.P. Wright Library, which like many others in the state’s public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Property tax dollars, which provide most of the financing for libraries in Ventura County, have fallen precipitously, putting the library system roughly $650,000 in the hole. Almost half of that amount is attributed to the H. P. Wright Library, which serves roughly two-thirds of this coastal city about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

In January the branch the branch was told that unless it came up with $280,000 it would close. The branch’s private fund-raising group, San Buenaventura Friends of the Library, has until March to reach its goal; so far it has raised $80,000.

Enter Mr. Bradbury. While at a meeting concerning the library, Berta Steele, vice president of the friends group, ran into Michael Kelly, a local artist who runs the Ray Bradbury Theater and Film Foundation, a group dedicated to arts and literacy advocacy. Mr. Kelly told Ms. Steele that he could get Mr. Bradbury up to Ventura to help the library’s cause.

On Saturday, the two organizations will host a $25-a-head discussion with Mr. Bradbury and present a screening of “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” a film based on his short story of the same name.

The fund-raiser’s financial goal is not a long-term fix. That would come only if property taxes crawl back up or voters approve a proposed half-cent increase in the local sales tax in November, some of which would go to libraries.

Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.

The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

A Yahoo spokeswoman said it was impossible to verify Mr. Bradbury’s account without more details.

Mr. Bradbury has long been known for his clear memory of some of life’s events, and that remains the case, he said. “I have total recall,” he said. “I remember being born. I remember being in the womb, I remember being inside. Coming out was great.”

He also recalled watching the film “Pumping Iron,” which features Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body-building days, and how his personal recommendation of the film for an Academy Award helped spark Mr. Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood career. He remembers lining his four daughters’ cribs with Golden Books when they were tiny. And he remembers meeting Ms. Derek on a train in France years ago.
“She said, ‘Mr. Bradbury.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said: ‘I love you! My name is Bo Derek.'”

Ms. Derek’s spokeswoman, Rona Menashe, said the story was true. She said her client would like to see some more of Mr. Bradbury, too.

Mr. “Bradbury’s wife, Maggie, to whom he was married for over five decades, died in 2003. He turns 89 in August.

When he is not raising money for libraries, Mr. Bradbury still writes for a few hours every morning (“I can’t tell you,” is the answer to any questions on his latest book); reads George Bernard Shaw; receives visitors including reporters, filmmakers, friends and children of friends; and watches movies on his giant flat-screen television.

He can still be found regularly at the Los Angeles Public Library branch in Koreatown, which he visited often as a teenager.

“The children ask me, ‘How can I live forever, too?'” he said. “I tell them do what you love and love what you do. That’s the story on my life.”

[from THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 20, 2009]

Raymond Douglas “Ray” Bradbury (August 22, 1920) is an American mainstream, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer.

Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury is widely considered one of the greatest and most popular American writers of speculative fiction of the twentieth century. Ray Bradbury’s popularity has been increased by more than 20 television shows and films using his writings.

Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, to a Swedish immigrant mother and a father who was a power and telephone lineman. His paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were newspaper publishers. Bradbury was a reader and writer throughout his youth, spending much time in the Carnegie Library in Waukegan. He used this library as a setting for much of his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, and depicted Waukegan as “Green Town” in some of his other semi-autobiographical novels—Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer—as well as in many of his short stories.

He attributes his lifelong habit of writing every day to an incident in 1932 when a carnival entertainer, Mr. Electrico, touched him with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, “Live forever!” The Bradbury family lived in Tucson, Arizona, in 1926–27 and 1932–33 as his father pursued employment, each time returning to Waukegan, but eventually settled in Los Angeles in 1934, when Ray was thirteen. Bradbury graduated from the Los Angeles High School in 1938 but didn’t attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers at the corner of South Norton Avenue and Olympic Boulevard. In regards to his education, Bradbury said:

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Having been influenced by science fiction heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, he began to publish science fiction stories in fanzines in 1938. Ray was invited by Forrest J Ackerman to attend the now legendary Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club. This was where Ray met the writers Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Williamson. His first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma”, which appeared in the fan magazine Imagination! in January, 1938. Launching his own fanzine in 1939, titled Futuria Fantasia, he wrote most of its four issues, each limited to under a hundred copies. In the first issue, Issue No. 1, from the summer of 1939, was his short story “Don’t Get Technatal” under the pseudonym Ron Reynolds, the editorial “Greetings! At Long Last — Futuria Fantasia!”, and the poem “Thought and Space”.

Bradbury’s first paid piece, “Pendulum”, written with Henry Hasse, was published in the pulp magazine Super Science Stories in November, 1941, for which he earned $15. He became a full-time writer by the end of 1942. His first book, Dark Carnival, a collection of short works, was published in 1947 by Arkham House, a firm owned by writer August Derleth. A chance encounter in a Los Angeles bookstore with the British expatriate writer Christopher Isherwood gave Bradbury the opportunity to put The Martian Chronicles into the hands of a respected critic. Isherwood’s glowing review followed and substantially boosted Bradbury’s career. Ray Bradbury married Marguerite McClure (1922–2003) in 1947, and they had four daughters.

Although he is often described as a science fiction writer, Bradbury does not box himself into a particular narrative categorization:

First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.

On another occasion, Bradbury observed that the novel touches on the alienation of people by media:

In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.

Besides his fiction work, Bradbury has written many short essays on the arts and culture, attracting the attention of critics in this field. Bradbury was a consultant for the American Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and the original exhibit housed in Epcot’s Spaceship Earth geosphere at Walt Disney World.

Bradbury was a close friend of Charles Addams and collaborated with him on the creation of the macabre “Family” enjoyed by New Yorker readers for many years and later popularized as The Addams Family. Bradbury called them the Elliotts and placed them in rural Illinois. His first story about them was “Homecoming,” published in the New Yorker Halloween issue for 1946, with Addams illustrations. He and Addams planned a larger collaborative work that would tell the family’s complete history, but it never materialized and according to a 2001 interview they went their separate ways.  In October 2001, Bradbury published all the Family stories he had written in one book with a connecting narrative, From the Dust Returned, featuring a wraparound Addams cover.

From 1951 to 1954, 27 of Bradbury’s stories were adapted by Al Feldstein for EC Comics, and 16 of these were collected in the paperbacks, The Autumn People (1965) and Tomorrow Midnight (1966). Cover art for both books was done by famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. The reprints were published by Ballantine Books.

Also in the early 1950s, adaptations of Bradbury’s stories were televised on a variety of shows including Tales of Tomorrow, Lights Out, Out There, Suspense, CBS Television Workshop, Jane Wyman’s Fireside Theatre, Star Tonight, Windows, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “The Merry-Go-Round,” a half-hour film adaptation of Bradbury’s “The Black Ferris,” praised by Variety, was shown on Starlight Summer Theater in 1954 and NBC’s Sneak Preview in 1956. Director Jack Arnold first brought Bradbury to movie theaters in 1953 with It Came from Outer Space, a Harry Essex screenplay developed from Bradbury’s screen treatment, “The Meteor”. Three weeks later, Eugène Lourié’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), based on Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn,” about a sea monster mistaking the sound of a fog horn for the mating cry of a female, was released. Bradbury’s close friend Ray Harryhausen produced the stop-motion animation of the creature. Bradbury would later return the favor by writing a short story, “Tyrannosaurus Rex”, about a stop-motion animator who strongly resembled Harryhausen. Over the next 50 years, more than 35 features, shorts, and TV movies were based on Bradbury’s stories or screenplays.

In 1969, The Illustrated Man was brought to the big screen, starring Oscar winner Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, & Robert Drivas. Containing the prologue, and three short stories from the book, the film received mediocre reviews. The Martian Chronicles became a three-part TV miniseries starring Rock Hudson which was first broadcast by NBC in 1980. The 1983 horror film Something Wicked This Way Comes, starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, is based on the Bradbury novel of the same name.

In 1984, Michael McDonough of Brigham Young University produced “Bradbury 13,” a series of thirteen audio adaptations of famous Ray Bradbury stories, in conjunction with National Public Radio. The full-cast dramatizations featured adaptations of “The Man,” “The Ravine,” “Night Call, Collect,” “The Veldt,” “Kaleidoscope,” “There Was an Old Woman,” “Here There Be Tygers,” “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed,” “The Wind,” “The Fox and the Forest,” “The Happiness Machine,” “The Screaming Woman”, and “A Sound of Thunder”. Voiceover actor Paul Frees provided narration, while Bradbury himself was responsible for the opening voiceover; Greg Hansen and Roger Hoffman scored the episodes. The series won a Peabody Award as well as two Gold Cindy awards. The series has not yet been released on CD but is heavily traded by fans of “old time radio”.

From 1985 to 1992 Bradbury hosted a syndicated anthology television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, for which he adapted 65 of his stories. Each episode would begin with a shot of Bradbury in his office, gazing over mementoes of his life, which he states (in narrative) are used to spark ideas for stories. Five episodes of the USSR science fiction TV series This Fantastic World adapted Ray Bradbury’s stories I Sing The Body Electric, Fahrenheit 451, A Piece of Wood, To the Chicago Abyss, and Forever and the Earth. A Soviet adaptation of “The Veldt” was filmed in 1987.

The 1998 film The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, released by Touchstone Pictures, was written by Ray Bradbury. It was based on his story “The Magic White Suit” originally published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1957. The story had also previously been adapted as a play, a musical, and a 1958 television version. In 2002, Bradbury’s own Pandemonium Theatre Company production of Fahrenheit 451 at Burbank’s Falcon Theatre combined live acting with projected digital animation by the Pixel Pups. In 1984 Telarium released a video game for Commodore 64 based on Fahrenheit 451.  Bradbury and director Charles Rome Smith co-founded Pandemonium in 1964, staging the New York production of The World of Ray Bradbury (1964), adaptations of “The Pedestrian,” “The Veldt”, and “To the Chicago Abyss.”

In 2005, the film A Sound of Thunder was released, loosely based upon the short story of the same name.  Short film adaptations of A Piece of Wood and The Small Assassin were released in 2005 and 2007 respectively. In 2008, the film Ray Bradbury’s Chrysalis was produced by Roger Lay Jr for Urban Archipelago Films, based upon the short story of the same name. The film went on to win the best feature award at the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix. The film has been picked up for international distribution by Arsenal Pictures and for domestic distribution by Lightning Entertainment. A new film version of Fahrenheit 451 is being planned by director Frank Darabont.


  • * In 2007, Bradbury received the French Commandeur Ordre des Arts et des Lettres medal.
  • * For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Ray Bradbury was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6644 Hollywood Blvd.
  • * An asteroid is named in his honor, “9766 Bradbury,” along with a crater on the moon called “Dandelion Crater” (named after his novel, Dandelion Wine).
  • * On April 16, 2007, Bradbury received a special citation from The Pulitzer Board, “for his distinguished, prolific, and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.”
  • * On November 17, 2004, Bradbury was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts, presented by then-President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. Bradbury has also received the World Fantasy Award life achievement, Stoker Award life achievement, SFWA Grand Master, SF Hall of Fame Living Inductee, and First Fandom Award. He received an Emmy Award for his work on The Halloween Tree. He received the Prometheus Award for Fahrenheit 451.
  • * The “About the Author” sections in several of his published works claim that he has been nominated for an Academy Award. A search of the Academy’s awards database proves this to be incorrect. One short film he worked on, Icarus Montgolfier Wright was nominated for an Academy Award, but Bradbury himself has not been.
  • * Ray Bradbury Park was dedicated in Waukegan, Illinois in 1990. The author was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.The park contains locations described in “Dandelion Wine”, most notably the staircase.
  • * Honorary doctorate from Woodbury University in 2003. Bradbury presents the Ray Bradbury Creativity Award each year at Woodbury University. Winners include sculptor Robert Graham, actress Anjelica Huston, Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, director Irvin Kershner, humorist Stan Freberg, and architect Jon A. Jerde.
  • * Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award for 2000 from the National Book Foundation.
  • * In 2008, he was named SFPA Grandmaster.
  • * The Ray Bradbury Award, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for screenwriting, was named in Bradbury’s honor.

In 2004 it was reported that Bradbury was extremely upset with filmmaker Michael Moore for using the title Fahrenheit 9/11, which is an allusion to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for his documentary about the George W. Bush administration. Bradbury expressed displeasure with Moore’s use of the title but stated that his resentment was not politically motivated. Bradbury asserts that he does not want any of the money made by the movie, nor does he believe that he deserves it. He pressured Moore to change the name, but to no avail. Moore called Bradbury two weeks before the film’s release to apologize, saying that the film’s marketing had been set in motion a long time ago and it was too late to change the title. Both Bradbury and Michael Moore have said that there is absolutely no animosity between them, and have nothing but professional respect for each other’s work.


  • * Bradbury’s works and approach to writing are documented in Terry Sanders’ film Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer (1963). source

tim o’brien | in the lake of the woods

20 07 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 191 | July 20, 2009

Tim O’Brien

(The Art & The Artists of Self Destruction, #7)

In the continuing exploration of art/artists/self destruction, here is yet another area of that subject worthy of comment. How the writer, in particular, creates the narrative, finds the words, creates the mood to capture the reality of that moment with a clarity almost beyond real…anchored in the everydayness of the act, the matter-of-factness of thought and thoughtlessness .

I turn to a passage from Tim O’Brien’s extraordinary novel, IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS (1994).

I would add about O’Brien, that no American ‘war novelist’ (WW !, WW II, The Korean War…) to my knowledge has ever published four incomparable master works: IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE, GOING AFTER CACCIATO, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, and IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS.

Vietnam haunts his most important work…it’s either the back story or the whole story. Given the fact that IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS is set in his home state, Minnesota… the lake, the woods, the beauty of true north…this brilliant novel would never have achieved the level of narrative artistry O’Brien commands, without the ghost of Vietnam.––Norbert Blei

…This ,was how it was. You go about your business. You carry the burdens, entomb yourself in silence, conceal demon-history from all others and most times from yourself. Nothing theatrical. Shovel snow; diddle at politics or run a jewelry store; seek periodic forgetfulness; betray the present with every breath drawn from the bubble of a rotted past. And then one day you discover a length of clothesline. You amaze yourself. You pull over a garbage can and hop aboard and hook yourself up to forever. No notes, no diagrams. You don’t explain a thing. Which was the art of it—his father’s art, Kathy’s art—that magnificent giving over to pure and absolute Mystery. It was the difference, he thought, between evil and a bad childhood. To know is to be disappointed. To understand is to be be¬trayed. All the petty hows and whys, the unseemly motives, the abscesses of character, the sordid little uglinesses of self and history—these were the gimmicks you kept under wraps to the end. Better to leave your audience wailing in the dark, shaking their fists, some crying How?, others Why?

from IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS by Tim O’Brien

In the Lake of the Woods (1994) is a novel by Tim O’Brien, author of Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Things They Carried. An example of O’Brien’s recurring Vietnam War theme, In the Lake of the Woods follows the struggle of John Wade to deal with a recently failed campaign for the United States Senate. After moving to Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, John discovers one morning that his wife Kathy is missing. Through the use of flashbacks of John’s childhood, college years, and Vietnam experiences, as well as testimony and evidence from affected characters, the novel creatively introduces several hypotheses for the disappearance of Kathy Wade. It won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in 1995.

The main storyline often branches out to flashbacks of significant events in John’s past. John’s childhood is constantly referred to as the advent of his persona, Sorcerer. As a child, John was frequently abused verbally and emotionally by his alcoholic father, whom to other children seemed the perfect father. John often visited Karra’s Studio of Magic, but the only item he bought was the Guillotine of Death, purchased by his father. John was devastated after his father’s death. John and Kathy met and became intimate during their college years, despite the number of secrets harbored between the two. John spied on Kathy, which she was aware of, just as he was aware of her affair with the dentist. When John was deployed to Vietnam, he and Kathy conversed through letters, some of which frightened Kathy. John became deeply absorbed in his identity as Sorcerer. Charlie Company was involved in the real-life My Lai massacre but later, while working a desk job in records, John erased his involvement with the Company. Afterwards, John became lieutenant governor of Minnesota and later ran for the US Senate, with his campaign managed by the business-oriented Tony Carbo. John was set to win the election, until the public found out about his involvement in the My Lai Massacre. When the information surfaces, John goes from being way ahead in the polls to eventually losing by a “landslide”.

After his loss, John and Kathy moved to a cottage in Lake of the Woods. They are continuously troubled by the revelation of John’s Vietnam secrets, but pretend to be happy nevertheless. One night John wakes up to boil a kettle of water for tea. Instead of preparing a drink, he pours the boiling water over a few household plants, reciting “Kill Jesus,” which seems to please him. He remembers climbing back into bed with Kathy, but the next morning she’s gone. After a day of walking around the area and discovering the boat’s absence, John talks to his closest neighbors, the Rasmussens. After some time they call the sheriff and organize a search party. The authorities are suspicious of John’s calm demeanor and noninvolvement in the search effort. Kathy’s sister joins the effort and John begins to search for Kathy as well. After eighteen days the search party is called off and the investigation into John heats up. With a boat from Claude and supplies from the Mini-Mart, John heads north on the lake to escape from his problems. Claude is the last person to talk to the disoriented John, over the boat’s radio.

O’Brien introduces a number of theories over the course of the story. Maybe Kathy had sped over the lake too quickly, hit a rough patch of water, and had been violently tossed into the lake, where she drowned. Perhaps she had misnavigated the boat and had become hopelessly lost in the wilderness, only to run out of supplies. Or possibly John had returned to the bedroom with the boiling water and had poured it over her face, scalding her. Afterwards he would have sunk the boat and body in the lake, weighed down by a number of rocks. Or the event might have been John’s last great magic trick, a disappearing act. John and Kathy would have planned her disappearance, and to have John join her later on, after the search efforts had been called off, leaving them to a new start at life. O’Brien introduces numerous pieces of evidence to support these theories, and leaves the decision up to the reader. Although the inconclusive ending irritates many readers, O’Brien tries to argue that this is the truest way to tell a story, which is reminiscent of his other book, The Things They Carried.

The present conflict in the story occurs in late 1986, in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota. John and Kathy intentionally choose this setting for its isolation from the outside world, which is desirable to them in their quest to forget the stress and emotion of the failed election. In addition to the immediate setting of the main course of action, the American political environment also pushes into and tensions rise setting up some very interesting theories for Kathy’s disappearance.

Characters in “In the Lake of the Woods”

Main characters

  • John Wade – A 41-year-old man at the height of his political career, serves as the central focus of the novel. The lieutenant governor of Minnesota, John was running for the U.S. Senate when he was defeated in a landslide after details of his war actions in Vietnam (My Lai) were uncovered. John and his wife Kathy rent a cottage in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota after the primary to escape the pressures of the outside world. John is repressive of his memory of Vietnam, as well as details of his childhood, including his father’s death. It is worth noting that John’s alter ego or inner anger is the “Sorcerer.”
  • Kathy Wade – John’s wife, has been intimately involved with John since their college days. She has stood by John’s side throughout their marriage, despite her fierce inner loathing for the field of politics that serves as John’s passion. Kathy is aware that John represses memories of his past, memories that bubble up in John’s dreams and subconsciousness. In spite of John’s anger and frustration from his loss in a landslide election, Kathy is secretly glad that he will be out of politics and more involved in her life again as she yearned for John’s attention.

Secondary characters

  • * Ruth Rasmussen, who, along with her husband Claude Rasmussen, are the closest neighbors to the Wades’ cottage. When Kathy goes missing Ruth supports John and helps him through the search effort.
  • * Claude Rasmussen, the husband of Ruth, is the closest thing to a friend John has in the text. John finds several things in common with him and builds a stronger relationship with him through the investigation. Claude helps John prepare his boat and is the last person to contact him before he goes missing.
  • * Eleanor Wade is the mother of John. She comments on the isolation John experienced as a child, as well as the transformation of his personality from the effect John’s father had on him.
  • * Paul Wade, John’s father, committed suicide when John was a child. An alcoholic and often abusive father, Paul was nevertheless idolized by John, and consequentially his death devastated John. John always struggled with the notion that Paul didn’t offer him affection which affected him throughout his life.
  • * Patricia S. Hood, The sister of Kathy, who never trusted John. Kathy often confided in her when she could no longer hold in the pressures of her relationship. Patricia assists on the search efforts when she hears the news of her missing sister, and becomes annoyed and suspicious at John’s reluctance to get involved with the search.
  • * Arthur Lux is the sheriff of Lake of the Woods County. He heads the investigation in charge of the search for Kathy Wade.
  • * Vinny Pearson runs the Texaco station in town while also serving as the police for the general area. Upfront and accusative, Vinny suspects John’s guilt from the onset of the search effort and investigation.
  • * Myra Shaw, Vinny’s cousin, is an obese girl who works at the Mini-Mart. She observes John and Kathy fighting while eating dinner and later on witnesses John buying supplies before he disappears.
  • * Anthony (Tony) Carbo served as John’s campaign manager through his political career. He is described as overweight and physically repulsive, and appears only concerned with winning. Though he is not personally attached to John, Tony still felt betrayed that John hid the secrets from Vietnam from him. Tony’s physical attraction to Kathy Wade becomes evident, and at one point he makes a reference to masturbating over her. He could be the physical embodiment of the ugly side of politics.
  • * Sandra Karra, known to John as the Carrot Lady, owns Karra’s Studio of Magic. She speculated that John had a crush on her as a child, because of his frequent visits to the shop and his fascination with her.
  • * The many men of Charlie Company were mentally deteriorated by the magical land of Vietnam, as well as the lack of a visible enemy. The events at My Lai were a means for them to strike back at what they thought was the enemy.
  • * PFC Weatherby is a soldier in John’s Charlie Company. In the heat of battle John shoots Weatherby in the head and later blames his death on the Viet Cong. It is debatable whether he does this on purpose or not.
  • * Richard Thinbill begged for John to release the events at My Lai to the authorities, but was persuaded by John not to. He is haunted by the sound of flies in the years after the war and is eventually the person that reveals that John was a member of Charlie Company. source

Tim O’Brien in Vietnam circa 1969

Tim O’Brien (born October 1, 1946 in Austin, Minnesota) is an American novelist who mainly writes about his experiences in the Vietnam War and the impact the war had on the American soldiers who fought there. He currently holds the Mitte Chair in Creative Writing at the MFA program of Texas State University-San Marcos.

He was born in Austin, Minnesota, a town of about 20,000 people (a setting which figures prominently in his novels). When O’Brien was twelve, his family, including a younger sister and brother, moved to Worthington, Minnesota, a place that once billed itself as “the turkey capital of the world.” Worthington had a large influence on O’Brien’s imagination and early development as an author. The town is located on Lake Okabena in the western portion of the state and serves as the setting for some of his stories, especially those in the collection titled The Things They Carried. He earned his BA in Political Science from Macalester College in 1968. That same year he was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam, where he served from 1968 to 1970 in 3rd Platoon, A Co., 5th Batt. 46th Inf., as an infantry foot soldier. O’Brien’s tour of duty was 1969-70. He served in the Americal Division, a platoon of which participated in the infamous My Lai Massacre. O’Brien has said that when his unit got to the area around My Lai (referred to as “Pinkville” by the U.S. forces), “we all wondered why the place was so hostile. We did not know there had been a massacre there a year earlier. The news about that only came out later, while we were there, and then we knew.”

Upon completing his tour of duty, O’Brien went on to graduate school at Harvard University and received an internship at the Washington Post. His writing career was launched in 1973 with the release of If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, about his war experiences. In this memoir, O’Brien writes: “Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.”

While O’ Brien insists it is not his job or his place to discuss the politics of the Vietnam War, he does occasionally let fly. Speaking years later about his upbringing and the war, O’Brien called his hometown “a town that congratulates itself, day after day, on its own ignorance of the world: a town that got us into Vietnam. Uh, the people in that town sent me to that war, you know, couldn’t spell the word ‘Hanoi’ if you spotted them three vowels.” Contrasting the continuing American search for U.S. MIA/POWs in Vietnam with the reality of the Vietnamese war dead, he calls the American perspective “A perverse and outrageous double standard. What if things were reversed? What if the Vietnamese were to ask us, or to require us, to locate and identify each of their own MIAs? Numbers alone make it impossible: 100,000 is a conservative estimate. Maybe double that. Maybe triple. From my own sliver of experience — one year at war, one set of eyes — I can testify to the lasting anonymity of a great many Vietnamese dead.”

One attribute in O’Brien’s work is the blur between fiction and reality; labeled “metafiction,” his work contains actual details of the situations he experienced; while that is not unusual, his conscious, explicit, and metafictional approach to the distinction between fiction and fact is extraordinary: In the chapter “Good Form” in The Things They Carried, O’Brien casts a distinction between “story-truth” (the truth of fiction) and “happening-truth” (the truth of fact or occurrence), writing that “story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth.” Story truth is emotional truth; thus the feeling created by a fictional story is sometimes truer than what results from reading the facts. Certain sets of stories in The Things They Carried seem to contradict each other, and certain stories are designed to “undo” the suspension of disbelief created in previous stories; for example, “Speaking of Courage” is followed by “Notes,” which explains in what ways “Speaking of Courage” is fictive.

O’Brien received the National Book Award in 1979 for his book Going After Cacciato. His novel In the Lake of the Woods won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in 1995. His most recent novel is July, July. O’Brien’s papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead.” – Tim O’Brien


  • * If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973)
  • * Northern Lights (1975)
  • * Going After Cacciato (1978)
  • * The Nuclear Age (1985)
  • * The Things They Carried (1990)
  • * In the Lake of the Woods (1994)
  • * Tomcat in Love (1998)
  • * July, July (2002)
  • * Where Have You Gone Charming Billy?

chidozie chukwubuike | the decoration

15 07 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 190 | July 15, 2009


Editor’s Note: Writing Out of Africa by Norbert Blei

“People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads and so they fail to see what is there in front of them. This what people have come to expect. It’s not viewed as a serious continent. It’s a place of strange, bizarre and illogical things, where people don’t do what common sense demands.” Chinua Achebe

Much of the literature of Africa continues to be a testament of turmoil, oppression, corrupt ‘democratic’ dictatorships born anew from the gnarled roots of colonialism and the word for existence: apartheid. A dark continent of dark hearts seeking the light of change, of social conscience. The many tribal voices wanting to be heard, calling for fairness, dignity, survival–a oneness of old and new ways that do not repress a people.

The literature of this continent is vast. Many of their writers unknown to most of us, myself included. Our association with their culture often associated with Western writers–Hemingway’s short stories and his marvelous GREEN HILLS OF AFRICA; Alan Paton’s, CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY; Isak Dinesen’s, OUT OF AFRICA; and, of course, Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS.

Not enough of us are familiar with Wole Soyinka, Es’kia Mphahlele, Kenule Saro-Wia…or even South African, Nobel prize winners, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. The Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, has sold millions of copies of his novel, THINGS FALL APART–translated in more than fifty languages.

The late writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa is another important Nigerian author reflecting the way of the writer in Africa in our own time. He was hanged in 1995 by yet another ‘General’ in fear of the written word. A recent piece by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times, relates how Saro-Wiwa envied Western writers “who can peacefully practice their craft.”

So little of our own literature probes the depths of the ‘political/social’ these days—which we have left to the pundits and talking heads for a 24 hour news cycle. On to the next ‘novel’ news-bite. Our novelists (most of them) stare at their navels…their agony over marriage, love affairs, professions, academia, addictions of all sorts and —and record. As if that’s the real story of us all. We entertain ourselves and the masses with romance, mystery, espionage, enhanced memoirs, and how-to-do just about everything but think, feel, and live. We manufacture, market and consume ‘bestsellers’ like franchise food products. But we are left malnourished.

The story out of Africa is the same ‘old’ story, told by many different writers—but needs to be told and retold again, for the story is so vast it’s almost impossible to grasp all the beauty, darkness, danger…and, yes, hope.

Saro-Wiwa once put it this way: “The writer cannot be a mere storyteller, he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils, he or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.”

I am pleased to introduce a young writer out of Africa, a Nigerian poet, playwright, teacher, journalist, Chidoze Chukwubuike, who sent me his work some weeks ago. He describes his fascination with the creative process in this way:

“I enjoy writing didactic short stories, play-lets and poems. In my writings I prefer to employ contemporary themes; things that affect me in my immediate environment, such as hunger, insecurity, political instability, etc. I enjoy watching my characters battle the conflicts that arise while exploring these themes. I also derive great joy in following my characters as they lead me to a resolution.”

And so the story out of Africa continues. “People create stories create people: or rather stories create people create stories,” said Chinua Achebe.

Here is Chidoze’s story, telling it to us in our own time:

The Decoration

Chidozie Chukwubuike

A glittering black Land Cruiser jeep, with tinted glasses conveniently hiding its occupants, drove into the arena and parked ten meters away from the pavilion. Chief Nwakibie was like the chameleon that would not let the intensity of the bush fire force him to deviate from the unhurried strides he inherited from his ancestors. He sat in the luxurious air-conditioned car and scanned the faces of the youths huddled together in that dilapidated pavilion at the Ubaha village Square. Lolo, the Chief’s wife never ceased to wonder why they always had to sit back in the car for as long as twenty minutes before alighting, whenever they arrived at any occasion.

That day was Eke, and most of the villagers were at the Eke Ubaha market. Many of the youths were boiling with suppressed excitement over what they planned to do.

“Are you sure this is actually Chief Nwakibie’s car?” Ugbaja, one of the youths asked.

“There’s no doubt about that; if it’s not him, then, it’s his driver. As for the car, it’s surely his”, Akirika replied unsolicited. He was the leader of the Ubaha youths.

“I heard Chief Nwakibie appears incognito at events. I was reliably told that recently, at the House of Assembly, some members met secretly to plan for his suspension not knowing that he was sitting right there with them”, Ugomma, the only lady in the group, volunteered. The youths laughed uncomfortably and began to glance around suspiciously.

“He can be invincible at the House of Assembly not here in Ubaha”, Akirika once again responded. Angered by the fear of the possibility of what Ugomma said happening, he hollered, “Ubaha Reformed Youths Movement”.

“Progress!” the crowed of youths replied in unison.

“U. R.Y. M”.


Back in the car, Chief Nwakibie was enjoying the spectacle. He was sure the youths were talking about him. They always did; admiring his flamboyance, and wishing to be like him. He smiled wryly to himself and made a mental note to invite the pretty girl that seemed to have said something that annoyed Akirika to the city. “She is the only girl among the lot and Chief Nwakibie, the honourable member representing Ubaha-Alaukwu constituency, will not allow this unruly gang to defile such a beauty. Pretty girls are for honorable men like me”, he mused.

Akirika, sporting a faded T-shirt and an old pair of jeans trousers was conspicuously the most decently dressed youth in that gathering. He was a graduate of mechanical engineering. The others, even Ugomma, were dressed in what could be best described as rags. The rumour mill had it that Chief Nwakibie auctioned out to the highest bidders everything that was meant to come to Ubaha through political quota. That could account for the multiplication of school drop-outs and joblessness among those who managed to finish school in the community.

The unkempt appearance of the youths tickled chief Nwakibie’s fancy and he burst into a paroxysm of laughter, patting his well rounded pot-belly, to the chagrin of his wife. She thought he was laughing at her countenance. She was about to protest, when chief exploded in between guffaws; “Yeah! Keep them down there in the dust, and make them thankful for little mercies. That’s the catechism of survival”.

Without warning, he stepped out of the car and his wife and police orderly followed humbly. The youths surged forward to welcome them.

One important lesson in the art of being the wife of a ‘big man’ is not to wear your displeasure on the face in public. Lolo switched on her automatic plastic smile. She was dressed in a two-piece lace lappa, a buba-blouse, and a canopy of head gear to match. From her neck and wrists dangled dazzling jewelries as she pushed along, behind her husband, as much as her over-fed frame could permit. The police orderly followed at a respectable distance and the driver was left alone in the car to wear patience like a sacred garb.

Shouts of “Chief – Chief!” rent the air. In an exaggerated show of solidarity, the youths tried to out-do one another in the praise of chief Nwakibie. He waved his titular fan in acknowledgment as he moved in punctuated strides. Intoxicated by the accolades, he changed his gait and began to sway like a peacock with his flamboyant suede chieftaincy regalia contributing to the glamour. Eventually, they returned to the pavilion and chief Nwakibie raised his voice in salute.

“Indefatigable youths of my beloved constituency”, he roared.

“Mmm”, the youths responded in a half-hearted murmur. The chief did not notice the dramatic change in the countenance of the crowd, but Lolo became apprehensive.

“My good people, I invited you here today to seek your support in the forth-coming elections, although it’s still two years away but you know that in politics two years is like two days. I’m sure when the time comes we shall dance a better dance”.

“Yes, Chief, we shall dance but not your dance,” Akirika interrupted him, his face suddenly wearing a mean look.

“Whose dance? You wretch! Do you realize what I can do to you for speaking into my mouth?” Chief Nwakibie thundered angrily.

“Yes, Chief, I may be a wretch but not a thief like you. We don’t care what happens to us after this. Today, you shall face the people’s justice”.

Everything happened very fast. Three of the youths seized and disarmed the police orderly, who was already moving towards Akirika menacingly. Another three moved like lightening and apprehended Chief Nwakibie’s driver, who had dozed off with his head cushioned on the steering. Chief Nwakibie quickly fished out his cell-phone but the youths anticipated that move and were prepared. They confiscated his phones and that of his wife and aides. Irobi, one of the youths, and a hulking brute, kicked Chief Nwakibie’s feet off the ground and he crashed to the ground with heavy impact but minimal sound, like a bag of fermented cassava. Lolo began to weep.

From his lowly position in the dust, Chief Nwakibie looked up and met the disdainful faces of the youths. He looked beyond them and, as though addressing the cheerless sky, asked; “why am I being treated like a common thief?”

“We are sorry, Chief, please accept our apologies. Henceforth, we shall begin to treat you like an uncommon thief”, Akirika, standing over Chief Nwakibie, pleaded in mock seriousness. He directed the youths to lock up the police orderly and the driver in a place they would be incapable of any mischief. Ugomma was sent to bring in the newspaper correspondents the youths invited to cover the events of that day. On hearing newspaper correspondents, Chief Nwakibie jumped from where he lay in a heap on the ground, and frantically began to beg.

“Listen, young men stop being unreasonable. Leave those hounds out of this. We can settle this amicably between us. I can make each of you rich here and now. I have two million Naira, cash, right now in the booth of my jeep. I can give every penny of it to you”.

“Chief Nwakibie, we shall take the money from your booth without your permission when the time is ripe. We shall confiscate it because it’s stolen money. Honourable thief, you have been found guilty”, Akirika concluded.

“ By which court of law?” Chief Nwakibie asked, perplexed.

“The supreme court of the people’s conscience”, Akirika replied calmly. “Nwakibie, some years ago, I saw you with the eyes of a child leading the youths of this village to the public disgrace of thieves, parading them round the seven towns of Ubaha. You disgraced people for stealing oranges, pears, and maize. You disgraced children for pilfering soup and ụtara . You stripped them naked, sprayed them with ash, unleashed tailor ants on them, and hung around their necks, whatever object they stole. Chief, I saw you beat those people, some of whom might have been forced into petty theft because of the greed of people like you. In our eyes you were a hero. You led in the song, we tagged behind you and sang the refrain, “a thief is a cheat”, as we humiliated them round the entire Ubaha. Today, Nwakibie, you have been found guilty of stealing the destiny of a generation. Is it not natural that you be made to drink from the same gourd with which you fed others?”

As the meaning of Akirika’s words registered in Lolo’s consciousness, she fell to the ground and began to beg the irate youths to spare her husband. Her plea was like water dropping on cocoa-yam leaves. Chief Nwakibie desperately employed every oratorical gimmick he could remember to placate the youths. He promised them heaven on earth and pleaded until his voice became hoarse. He was still begging them when the three journalists arrived and went to work with their cameras and mini-recorders. He didn’t hear when the command was given for his clothes to be removed.

The youths pounced on Chief Nwakibie and tore off every piece of clothing on him down to his under-pants. Reflexively, he covered his crotch with his palms. He began to run away, stark naked, and the youths humoured themselves by sending Ugomma after him in mock pursuit. They giggled at the way his naked buttocks clapped about like palm wine going to market in a half-empty calabash. He abruptly stopped running and started back towards the pavilion.

Ochieze, a clown among the youths, hushed the crowd and peered at Chief Nwakibie as though inspecting a commodity to purchase. He touched Chief’s cheeks, poked at his chest, then, moved around and slapped his buttocks. It vibrated in a very comic way. The youths roared with laughter. “God has wasted meat here”, Ochieze interjected as he laughed. “Nwakibie, if the flesh on your body were given to a goat the world would have had more meat to eat”. This generated another bout of laughter.

As their mirth wore out, Akirika took charge once again. He began to address the crowd, particularly the journalists. The event that was to be known many years to come as The Decoration began.

“Ladies and gentlemen”, Akirika said aloud, “we hereby decorate our honourable thief with these garlands”. One of the youths handed him a hoe, which would be hung with a rope around Chief Nwakibie’s neck. “Great Ubaha Reformed Youths Movement!” he saluted “Progress!” chorused the crowd.

“This is a hoe”, Akirika said as he raised the hoe for all to see. “We are decorating Chief Nwakibie with this hoe, symbolizing the labour he stole from us. He sold away to strangers employment opportunities that were supposed to be given to Ubaha youths on merit”.

The youths angrily jeered at Chief Nwakibie. Some made to ruffle him but Akirika restrained them. He strapped to the chief’s left shoulder a sack bag symbolizing all the money Chief Nwakaibie had stolen from the people in the form of constituency allocations from the national treasury. He also gave Chief Nwakibie a ballot box to carry on his head. The box was symbolic of a stolen mandate. Akirika explained to the journalists how the popular candidate, whom they all voted for was manipulated out of the contest by the political god-fathers, who installed Chief Nwakibie instead. Having so decorated the honorable member representing Ubaha-Alaukwu constituency, the youths sprayed him with ash and tailor ants. The questioning session began.

“Who are you?”
“I am chief Nwakibie, Honourable MP”.
Whack! Whack! The sticks hit his body from every angle. Slap. Kick. Punch.
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am”.

The youths, enraged, surged forward to lynch him, but Akirika managed to hold them at bay. “Nwakibie, you know the tradition. I won’t be able to help you again; this is your last chance”, he warned and turned towards Lolo. “Woman if you want your husband to survive this ordeal, then advise him. He knows the tradition”.

Lolo moved to her husband and managed to talk to him amidst sobs: “Honey, please, do whatever they want you to do; afterwards, we can run away to Burkina Faso or Czechoslovakia ”.

“Who are you?” The youths once again asked in one voice.

Silence. Everybody waited. Tears welled up in Chief Nwakibie’s eyes, he blinked and two drops escaped and landed on his protruded ash-coated tummy and drew two vertical lines.

Suddenly, something seemed to give way inside Chief Nwakibie. He smiled in spite of himself. It was real. It was not a bad dream from which he would wake up. He swayed like someone in a trance as he answered: “I am a thief; a thief is a cheat!”

The youths took up the chant ‘a thief is a cheat’, and Chief Nwakibie sluggishly danced along. They would stop at intervals to repeat the question, “Who are you?”

The journey round the seven towns of Ubaha had begun. They would pass through the densely crowded Eke Ubaha market.

charles p. ries | reviews on michael kriesel, william taylor jr. & karla huston

8 07 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 189 | July 8, 2009

(small press reviews #3)


Michael Kriesel, William Taylor Jr. & Karla Huston

The Light of Fields by: Michael Kriesel, 31 Poems / 68 Pages, Price: $5 (includes shipping), Propaganda Press / “Pocket Protector Series”, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02149. Review by Charles P. Ries

“The Light of Fields” by Michael Kriesel was originally published in 1982 by Jump River Press, Inc. out of Prentice, Wisconsin when Kriesel was just twenty years old. It was one of Kriesel’s first books of poetry and gave me the opportunity to visit this writer early in his career. One can certainly see the same careful, spare, almost Haiku quality to many of Kriesel’s poems, and one also finds his wonderful ability to extract unique and unfolding metaphors from the heart of rural Wisconsin. I don’t think any poet writing today can draw image from the rural farming environment like Kriesel. But what I also found was a young man focused on romance, reflecting on marriage. I often think that first poems are the most personal. They are the fertile ground from which art grows. If one reads Kriesel more recent books of poetry, we see him dancing between forms, extending forms, getting us lost in his numinous meanings, but in “The Light of Fields” we find Kriesel looking around and discovering his world for the first time.

Here is his wonderful title poem, “The Light of Fields”:

“Wholly knowing the grasses sure / growing // the earth holding green breathing / beings toward morning / against the far dark between stars // and supporting each separate stem / bent away from the sun // Knowing these by the earth in you / deep with the nights of our sleep / and the light of these fields in you / easy I rest in your grain //Wholly knowing these grasses grow / over all death // and the delicate skeletons covered by / green raising past them // I love you / and lie down in your fields // unafraid of grass rising to cover me.”

Let me also say this is a tiny book of poetry – just two inches by two and three quarters inches square. Leah Angstman who is the publisher of Propaganda Press calls it her “Pocket Protector Series”. This is the seventh in her Pocket Protector Series. And while this book is tiny, it is packed with poetry. This was a wonderful opportunity to visit a writer as a young man and discover that his early work foretold the bright future Kriesel continues to have.

WORDS FOR SONGS NEVER WRITTEN: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by: William Taylor Jr., 126 Poems/196 Pages/$13.95, Centennial Press, Charles Nevsimal, Publisher, P.O. Box 170322, Milwaukee, WI 53217-8026. Review by Charles P. Ries

“Words for Songs Never Written” is big, deep, and beautiful. In the small press, where doing everything on no budget is the norm; it is wonderful to see a publication that “looks” as good as this one. It is a perfect melding of content and medium moving a great book of poetry to another level. So who better to publish this full collection than Charles Nevsimal of Centennial Press, who has made a business of migrating anything between two covers into both visual and literary art. In “Words for Songs Never Written”, William Taylor Jr. weeps in the mist of poetic transcendence as he examines the common miracles that live within and near each of us.

I first encountered Taylor’s work eight years ago when I discovered his poem “Being Lonely” in Zen Baby (this poem also appears in this collection). It was such a remarkable poem of searching sadness that I never forgot it. “Words for Songs Never Written” again demonstrates why Taylor has attracted such a devoted following and such high praise from throughout the independent press. In his poem, “Eyes Like Something Lost” he writes,

“I didn’t know her / I had never seen her before // but there was something / in her voice / and in her eyes // there was something / in the clothes she wore / and the way she moved // something in her way of speaking // that instantly told me / she was damaged // I felt a sudden kinship of sorts / for I am the same way / myself // I watched her from across the room / and wondered what the world / had done to her // I imagined the two of us / sitting in some quiet room / smoking and drinking / telling stories / ’til 4 a.m. // she had a frightened smile / she had eyes like something lost // and she was gone before / I could tell her she was / beautiful.”

I asked him how he walks the line between pathos and hope, without falling subject to cliché. He told me, “In much of my work there is a certain mood or feeling I want to convey and I simply try to use the best words possible to do so. I don’t know how else to explain it. I do believe there is sadness in beauty and sometimes beauty in sadness. To quote Thomas Hardy, If a way to the best there be, it exacts a full look at the worst. Meaning, the dark aspects of life must be confronted and accepted before any real peace of mind or happiness can be achieved. A kind of peace must be made with the darkness.”

This collision of darkness and light, sadness and hope is well reflected in his poem, “Early Morning Just Before The Dawn”:

“The bus moves along the freeway / beneath grayblue clouds / fading stars / and wisps of pink // I’m rarely up before noon / so I don’t see this kind of thing / too often // there is something in me that imagines / if everything cold remain / just like this / things would work out / in spite of it all / but the sun crawls red / and slow to the horizon / like a wounded god / and soon, too soon, / all the bloody trouble will begin.”

Taylor stands back from the world, sees its pain, its many blemishes, and yet celebrates the inevitable beauty of it all. When I was reading this collection I was reminded of the great small press poet, Albert Huffstickler, who passed away in 2002 and called poetry the sharing of “holy secrets.” I believe that great poetry and poets convey this almost mystical essence in their work. It is what draws me and keeps me reading writers like Taylor. It is remarkable that Taylor, who just turned 40 years of age, can write with such life weary maturity. I am eager to see how he will continue to elevate and explain his pain, longing, and his unrequited search for perfect redemption. This is a wonderful poet, and great book of poetry.

AN INVENTORY OF LOST THINGS by: Karla Huston, 32 Pages / 23 Poems, Price: $8, Centennial Press, P.O. Box 170322, Milwaukee, WI 53217. Review/Interview by Charles P. Ries

Women have a distinct view of the erotic and love’s secrets. In reading Karla Huston’s new book of poetry, “An Inventory of Lost Things”, I enter into the ebb and flow of feminine romantic imagination. While not all of twenty-three poems of this collection focus on the heart’s yearning, a good number do and comprise the central theme of this eloquently written book of poetry.

Huston approaches her topic from a number of angles. In final stanza of her poem “The One on The Left” she says,

“But you can’t take your mind off the boy, / barely twenty, going on the rest of his life – / going off for an afternoon at the shore. God knows / what they’ll do on the blanket / when it’s floated behind the vine-covered fence.” And again these lines taken from the closing of her poem, “Your Marie”: “You should know her hair was chestnut, / a flag of copper stars glittering / against the curve of her neck / and the strand that kissed her cheek / I knew you’d kissed when she left you / for the last time while her hips rolled / when she walked away / and her breast swayed in dreams / even now the ones you prayed into.”

Her book of poetry would easily fall into the category of great chic lit. Huston poems are thoughtfully narrative and carefully designed. There is no spare air in these poems. Each is complete from beginning to end.

I am reminded, as I read this collection, of the seminal book on women’s sexual fantasies, My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday. Our two genders reflect so differently on the erotic and on romance. Huston is masterful at understanding the sensual wonder world of the woman. As in this section from her poem “Rewind” demonstrates,

“If she could, she’d take the first / bus out of happyland, find her own / little place and read sweaty novels / for the rest of her life. He’s weary / of the honey-I’m-homes / and the honey-dos and the honeyed / hams.” And again from this section of her poem, “The Plastic Surgeon’s Wife”: “When they make love, she fears / how he’d like to improve her – / a little lift there, a little tighter there, / fill her breasts with vanilla, / admire the suction in her soul — / his reservoir, never full.”

This is a wonderful exploration of the feminine mind, by a writer uniquely suited to explore this undulating landscape of passion, yearning, and lost things.

More on Karla Huston can be fond on here web site by clicking here…

Charles P. Ries

lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press & Publishing. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot. He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore and a member of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. But most of all he is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes. You may find additional samples of his work by going to:


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