norbert blei | the politics of literature

7 09 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No.149 | September 7, 2008

THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE

An Introduction, Confession, Explanation, Claims, Disclaims…and So It Goes…

(Kurt Vonnegut, Thou Shouldst Be Living at This Hour)

I used to deal with politics in various online writings: Blei-Lines, The Mourning News, Word Bites, etc. …but finally let it go. For any writer seriously devoted to crafting fiction, poetry, personal essays, getting into political word-slinging will eventually do you in, eat you alive. Turn you into the very thing you hate.

We all know the other guy’s an idiot, the other side is destroying our constitution, our county…you have the right to do this but not the right to do that and if you don’t think the way I do, you’re the enemy. The word is out, the deck is stacked, the system is in a shambles, the culture is corrupt, nobody’s telling the truth!…someone has to shout: “Fire!”

To get my life back, I had to diminish the sound. Spread the word in other ways,

Continue to mine what it means to be human. THAT path. THAT way. What makes us both idiots and saints in the same body/mind. Re-awaken the spirit as few politicians do. THAT”S what matters.

With the piece on censorship I sent out yesterday (mainly to my e-mail list), I saw an opening in the politics of the present moment where I might “get back into it” occasionally, just a little, by bringing to light situations where politics and literature crossed a certain line. And the fact (fact) that a Mayor in Alaska (who happened to be thrust into the national spotlight as a candidate for the vice presidency of the United States last week) had issues with what should or should not be read in the Mayor’s own city library…well…it needs to be made note of. http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/kilkenny.asp Especially since the mayor isn’t answering any questions—or allowed to answer any questions by party handlers. (Now, that’s a HOT remark…the kind I don’t want to get into as I consider occasionally exploring this new, sub-topic in NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: The Politics of Literature.)

We all know the problem with the web is too much freedom. By now, almost anyone who uses the internet has been burned by one story or another that he or she felt was too good to be true and just had to pass on to someone else. Anyone can say just about any damn thing he wants in cyber space. (No different than a number of talk shows.) And frequently does. And you can “Believe it or not!” As Ripley once gave the reader a choice..

Freedom inevitably generates irresponsibility. Take the ‘truth’ of so many political ads on TV. But wait…I’m getting off-topic again.

Okay…a couple of people challenged that reading list I sent out yesterday. http://www.adlerbooks.com/banned.html (I did too). Did such a list exist? (Some of the titles and authors were even misspelled. I corrected them.) Where did the Mayor find the list? Or was it handed to her by someone, some other organization, some religious group?? How was it presented to the City Librarian? Was it?

All valid questions. Yes, it’s an old list. But censorship is an old issue—still fought every day in America. I battled it when I taught high school English. Many communities and schools are still battling it today. (Just Google the word. You’ll find enough to read on the issue from now till the next election.)

My main concern was the fact that a Mayor in America (now running for national office) tried to fire a qualified librarian of the City Library because she refused to remove some books that the Mayor wanted off the shelves.

There are lists and lists of books in America, constantly generated by one group or another that wants to deny any reader his right to read any damn book he pleases. And when any one, including a public official (paid by the taxpayer) says, “No. You are not allowed to read THAT book, my good citizen-American” That’s a problem. And, I would suggest, a really BIG problem for anyone seeking higher office in this country to represent our constitutional rights.

Below, is the original blog sent yesterday…updated with various links. If this is NOT the list, my apologies. If this list is incomplete, my apologies. If the Mayor would finally speak up, answer some questions from the real American public, tell us the truth about this book banning incident (and a few other things)…my applause! –Norbert Blei

P.S. A number of people also wrote asking that I link the original e-mail posting to one of my websites, so they might more easily forward the information. With this posting, that has now been done. AND, there will be further, additional postings to NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE, when the spirit (and information) move me. –Norbert Blei

WRITERS, READERS, CITIZENS: YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.Anne KilKenny, resident of Alaska

A list of books Sarah Palin attempted to ban in Alaska

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Ronald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff
Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

FURTHER (directly/indirectly related) FOLLOW-UPS:

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-steinem4-2008sep04,0,1290251.story

And in case you missed this one (in the Chicago Tribune)…read & witness the YouTube video

http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/religion_theseeker/2008/09/palins-problems.html

Plus…

http://www.adn.com/sarah-palin/story/518490.html

Plus…Plus…

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/100/story/51821.html





jeffrey winke | the maverick

5 09 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.148 | September 5, 2008

MAVERICK

Hi Norb –

I’ve decided that I want people to refer to me as a maverick. As an opinion leader in the writing / publishing world, I’m hoping that you’ll take a leadership role in my image remake. Despite the fact that I’m living a traditional boring 8-to-5 life, I want to add zest to my reputation. I also like that being called a maverick can explain away any faults, errors in judgment and screw-ups. If there is the opportunity to talk about me to anyone — say for example the clerk where you pick up your dry cleaning, you might say: “Did I ever tell you about this guy I know, Jeff Winke? (soft chuckle) Well, he’s such a maverick!” You have to include the soft chuckle because that really seals the deal. It has to be the right kind of soft chuckle though. It has to be more of a boys-will-be-boys type of chuckle — not a sneering chuckle or a lecherous chuckle or a what-an-idiot chuckle.

Do you think you can do that for me? I appreciate your help.

Jeff “The Maverick” Winke

www.jeffwinke.com www.electricdaybook.com

Following a note from the webmaster:

Winke lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a downtown industrial loft with his wife, two-thirds of his children and a posse of four cats where he plies his skills as a PR counselor, magazine editor and adjunct university professor at the Milwaukee Center of Upper Iowa University.

Jeffrey Winke co-edited the first small press North American haiku anthology, the Third Coast Haiku Anthology, published in 1977. His most recent book, What’s Not There: Selected Haiku of Jeffrey Winke is a 2002 Merit Book Award winner. His motion graphis haiku collection called Chances can be viewed here…and has been designated a “Cool Website.”

Recent books include PR Idea Book: 50 Proven Tools That Really Work (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2006) and the haiku collection What’s Not There (Chicago: Deep North Press, 2002) and Coquette Sensual haiku (Milwaukee:Distant Thunder Press, 2008) which is available now.

Sensual haiku by Jeffrey Winke

Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Winke. Design by Steve Monsen. Distant Thunder Press, 234 N. Broadway, Unit 513 Milwaukee, WI 53202 USA. Cover photo “passion” by Lev Dolgachov.

attractive woman
her shadow falls
into my arms


5 EURO incl. shipment cost world-wide by clicking here…


That Smirking Face

by Jeffrey Winke

a collection of haiku and haibun by Jeffrey Winke featuring drawings by Matt M. Cipov Distant Thunder Press, 234 N. Broadway, Unit 513 Milwaukee, WI 53202 USA.

A collaborative broadside featuring Jeff’s dark urban haiku and haibun with original art by Matt M. Cipov. “I found his business card on the floor of a coffee shop and was compelled to look up his website,” Winke says. “His direct, edgy style reflects exactly the tone of the haiku and haibun I’m currently writing.”

5 EURO incl. shipment cost world-wide by clicking here…





thomas mcgrath | letters to an imaginary friend

1 09 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 250 | September 1, 2008

The Poet Working: Labor Day, 2008

(In Praise of American Poet, Thomas McGrath)

Unions, blue-collar workers, straw bosses, graveyard shifts, punching a time-clock, piece-work, AFL, CIO, Teamsters, IWW, coal miners, time-and-a-half and overtime, sick-pay, work clothes, work boots, work gloves, strikes, scabs, farm workers, supervisors, break-time, Thermos jugs, lunch buckets, walking-the-picket-line…the whole lexicon of the way work once was…was once described in America where ‘labor’ today seems almost undercover. Something whispered, out-of-sight…not to be mentioned (except in terms of migrant workers) in these days of factory closings, outsourcing, unemployment, minimum wages…used-to-be American dreams, dreams deferred.

Readers of this site may recall previous dispatches and high praise of a most neglected American poet, Thomas McGrath, who both worked and stood for that old fashioned American dream machine—in a union-of-humanity sort of way.

I still hold that his book, LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND is a literary classic of first rank, as significant a part of our American culture as Thoreau’s WALDEN POND, Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS, Sandburg’s, THE PEOPLE YES, Steinbeck’s GRAPES OF WRATH. It has been side-stepped, looked over, lost and kept out of our classrooms far too long—for political reasons.

Here’s an excerpt…a small sense of the grand sweep, beautiful language, of a book that still rings true, captures and holds up to the light the spirit of who we are, or once were.

Take your time. Give every word and line your attention. On this day above all days, listen to what McGrath has to say for himself, for us. – Norbert Blei

from: LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND
by Thomas McGrath

5.

That was the year, too, of the labor troubles on the rigs—

The first, or the last maybe. I heard the talk.

It was dull. Then, one day—windy—

We were threshing flax I remember, toward the end of the run-

After quarter-time I think—the slant light falling

Into the blackened stubble that shut like a fan toward the headland—

The strike started then. Why then I don’t know.

Cal spoke for the men and my uncle cursed him.

I remember that ugly sound, like some animal cry touching me

Deep and cold, and I ran toward them.

And the fighting started.

My uncle punched him. I heard the breaking crunch

Of his teeth going and the blood leaped out of his mouth

Over his neck and shirt—I heard their gruntings and strainings

Like love at night or men working hard together,

And heard the meaty thumpings, like beating a grain sack

As my uncle punched his body—I remember the dust

Jumped from his shirt,

He fell in the blackened stubble

Rose

Was smashed in the face

Stumbled up

Fell

Rose

Lay on his side in the harsh long slanting sun

And the blood ran out of his mouth and onto his shoulder.

Then I heard the quiet and that I was crying-

They had shut down the engine.

The last of the bundle-teams

Was coming in at a gallop.

Crying and cursing

Yelled at the crew: “Can’t you jump the son-of-a-bitch!

Cal ! Cal ! get up”

But he didn’t get up.

None of them moved.

Raging at my uncle I ran.

Got slapped,

Ran sobbing straight to the engine.

I don’t know what I intended. To start the thing maybe,

To run her straight down the belt and into the feeder

Like a vast iron bundle.

I jammed the drive-lever over, lashed back on the throttle,

And the drive belt popped and jumped and the thresher groaned,

The beaters clutched at the air, knives flashed,

And I wrestled the clutch.

Far away, I heard them

Yelling my name, but it didn’t sound like my own,

And the clutch stuck. (Did I want it to stick?) I hammered it

And the fireman came on a run and grabbed me and held me

Sobbing and screaming and fighting, my hand clenched

On the whistle rope while it screamed down all of our noises-

Stampeding a couple of empties into the field—

A long, long blast, hoarse, with the falling, brazen

Melancholy of engines when the pressure’s falling.

Quiet then. My uncle was cursing the Reds,

Ordering the rig to start, but no one started.

The men drifted away.

The water monkey

Came in with his load.

Questioned.

He got no answer.

Cal’s buddy and someone else got him up

On an empty rack and they started out for home,

Him lying on the flat rack-bed.

Still crying, I picked up his hat that lay in the churned up dust,

And left my rack and team and my uncle’s threats,

And cut for home across the river quarter.

6.


Green permission

Dusk of the brass whistle . .


Gooseberry dark.

Green moonlight of willow.

Ironwood, basswood and the horny elm. ; :

June berry; box-elder; thick in the thorny brake

The black choke cherry, the high broken ash and the slick

White bark of poplar.

I called the king of the woods,

The wind-sprung oak.

I called the queen of ivy,

Maharani to his rut-barked duchies;

Summoned the foxgrape, the lank woodbine,

And the small flowers: the wood violets, the cold

Spears of the iris, the spikes of the ghostflower

It was before the alphabet of trees

Or later.

Runeless I stood in the green rain

Of the leaves.

Waiting.

Nothing.

Echo of distant horns.

Then

Under the hush and whisper of the wood,

I heard the echoes of the little war.

A fox barked in the hills; and a red hawk boomed

Down on the darkening flats in a feathery splash of hunger.

Silence and waiting.

The rivery rustle

Of a hunting mink.

Upstream in the chuckling shallows

A beaver spanked the water where, in its time,

The dam would be where my brother, now in his diapers,

Would trap for the beaver’s grandsons.

I could not

See in that green dark.

I went downstream

Below the crossing where I’d swum the midnight river

On my way home from a move.

I put my clothes

Stinking with sweat and dusty (I thought:

How the dust had jumped from Cal’s shirt!)

I put them on the broken stump.

I dived from the hummock where the cut-bank crumbled.

Under the river the silence was humming, singing:

Night-song.

In the arrest and glaucous light

Delicate, snake-like, the water-weed waved and retracted.

The water sang. The blood in my ears whistled.

I roared up out of the river into the last of the sunlight.

Then: I heard the green singing of the leaves;

The water-mystery,

The night-deep and teasing terror on the lone river

Sang in my bones,

And under its eves and seas I broke my weeping,

In that deeper grieving,

The long, halting—the halt and the long hurry—

Toward the heaving, harsh, the green blurring of the salt

mysterious sea.

7.

Later, climbing the coulee hills in the sandy dusk,

After sundown in the long northern twilight,

The night hawk circling where the ragamuffin crows

Steered for the cloudy wood;

In that dead calm, in that flat light,

(The water darkening where the cattle stood to their knees)

I heard the singing of the little clan.

Comfort of crickets and a thrum of frogs.

Sleepy rustle of birds.

In the dusk the bats hustled.

The hawk wheeled and whirled on the tall perch of the air;

Whirled, fell

Down a long cliff of light, sliding from day into dusk.

Something squealed in the brake.

The crickets were silent.

The cattle lifted their blank and unregardant

Gaze to the hills.

Then, up the long slope of air on his stony, unwavering wing

The hawk plunged upward into a shower of light.

The crickets sang. The frogs

Were weaving their tweeds in the river shallows.

Hawk swoop.

Silence.

Singing.

The formal calls of a round-dance.

This riddling of the river-mystery I could not read.

Then, climbing the high pass of my loss, I tramped

Up the dark coulee.

The farmyard dark was dappled

With yellowy ponds of light, where the lanterns hung.

It was quiet and empty.

In the hot clutter

Of the kitchen my mother was weeping. “He wouldn’t eat.”

She said, meaning Cal.

She had a womanly notion

(Which she didn’t really believe) that all man’s troubles

Could be ended by eating—it was a gesture she made

To soothe the world.

My father had driven my uncle out of the yard

Because Cal was our man, and not to be mistreated

Any more than horses or dogs. He was also my father’s friend.

I got some supper and took it out to the barn.

In the lemony pale light of a lantern, at the tar end,

He lay in a stall. His partner sat in the straw

Beside him, whittling, not looking at me. I didn’t ask

Where his gun was, that slept in an oily rag

In his suitcase.

I put the food beside him

As I’d done with sick dogs.

He was gone where my love

Nor my partisanship could reach him.

Outside the barn my father knelt in the dust

In the lantern light, fixing a harness. Wanting

Just to be around, I suppose, to try to show Cal

He couldn’t desert him.

He held the tubular punch

With its spur-like rowle, punching a worn hame strap

And shook the bright copper rivets out of a box.

“Hard lines, Tom,” he said. “Hard lines, Old Timer.”

I sat in the lantern’s circle, the world of men,

And heard Gal breathe in his stall.

An army of crickets

Rasped in my ear.

“Don’t hate anybody.”

My father said. `

I went toward the house through the dark.

That night the men all left.

Along toward morning

I heard the rattle of Fords. They had left Cal there

In the bloody dust that day but they wouldn’t work after that.

“The folded arms of the workers” I heard Warren saying,

Sometime in the future where Mister Peets lies dreaming

Of a universal voting-machine.

And Showboat

Quinn goes by (New York, later) “The fuckin’ proletariat

Is in love with its fuckin chains. How do you put this fuckin

Strike on a cost-plus basis?”

There were strikes on other rigs that day, most of them lost,

And, on the second night, a few barns burned.

After that a scattering of flat alky bottles,

Gasoline filled, were found, buried in bundles.

“The folded arms of the workers.”

I see Sodaberg

Organizing the tow boats.

I see him on Brooklyn Bridge,

The fizzing dynamite fuse as it drops on the barges.

Then Mac with his mournful face comes round the corner

(New York) up from the blazing waterfront, preaching

His strikes.

And my neighbors are striking on Marsh Street.

(L.A., and later)

And the hawk falls.

A dream-borne singing troubles my still boy’s sleep

In the high night where Cal had gone:

They came through

The high passes, they crossed the darl mountains

In a month of snow.

Finding the plain, the bitter water, the iron

Rivers of the black north

Hunters

in the high plateaus of that country

Climbing toward sleep

But far

from the laughter.

[excerpt, from Part III, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Alan Swallow Press, 1962]

Much more on Thomas McGrath can be found here…





john bennett | two for a day

13 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 249 | August 12, 2008

Two for a Day

from John Bennett

Note from the Editor:

Put a little John Bennett in your life.
You will be better for it. Live it.

Books at: Hcolompress


Norbert Blei

Hollyhocks
&
High-energy Young Ladies

John Bennett

Make sense of a sunbeam, calculate a wave, calibrate a wolf howl, draw lines in the dust, go grim with a rifle defending the motherland, fatherland, land on your feet and start running, the hounds bay and the fox hunt is on.

Back and forth between the particular and the germane like a praying mantis lost in a butcher shop, cowboys and cowgirls riding side-saddle into the arena, gladiators peering through slits in spiked helmets, who do you love?
Is it me, could it possibly be after all these years of false starts, heaps of gutted crab piled high in the corner?

I’ve got things gone amiss in life, a granddaughter gone astray, a lover with her arms crossed in a pout, a trick knee, heart, pony, imagination off in the ditch, tangled in carnage and confetti.

I wake with a whistle, slap my head and hop to it, I’ve still got a trick up my sleeve. Secrets intact I skip out the door into my rat-trap conveyance and with lights blinking red all around me roar off. “Java, java, java,” I think, my life reduced to a coffee bean. “Plunk your magic twanger,” I think, my vocabulary shrouded in code, ancient kid shows on the radio displacing Nietzsche and Kant.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, off we go with the first cigarette of the day burning bright like a blowtorch between my once kissable lips.

The first rig at the drive-thru, the glass slides back and there they are, three blond, dark and tall beauties, a wild crazy perfection that drops death to its knees.

“Ho!” I sing out and trigger delight in them. They all three dance and glide to the window like goldfish in a pond, as if we’d just met in a dream.

“What’ll it be?” says the tall one, and “Yes indeed!” I say. “What will it be!” Then we’re lost for words as the universe sings all around us.

I drive off with a 20-oz. drip and pass a row of pink, red and white hollyhocks along an old wooden fence just as the sun rises up over the ridge. I burst out in song and for a moment have the world by the tail.

A Day in the Life

John Bennett

Here’s a message from god. A glimpse behind the curtain. A tour guide through the seven dancing veils. An eye opener, a spine tingler, a twist of lemon. This can’t go on forever. The ink runs out, the paper turns brittle and bursts into flame, the alarm malfunctions.

This morning three laughing girls at a coffee-house drive-up set my heart dancing and launched me into the day. Twenty minutes ago and thirteen hours later there was only one girl left at the window, and she’d been there all day. I’d just woken up from a nap full of bad dreams and she was pulling a triple shift. The dance was gone from our eyes. We exchanged courtesies at the end of the transaction and I drove off.

Now I’m sitting in my car on the overlook at the top of this hill, last light in the sky, an entire lifetime lived in a day.





ronald baatz | the elephants and everybody else

9 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 248 | August 8, 2008

RONALD BAATZ: The Elephants and Everybody Else

Readers familiar with this website and other writings know of my deep and long admiration for the work of Ronald Baatz. Some of what I have written about him can be found on this site. ( “Select Category”…scroll down to Ronald Baatz.) You will also find a wonderful poet, Mark Weber, and a book they both share.

Baatz and I go back to Marvin Malone’s lively WORMWOOD REVIEW, which began in the 60’s and had almost a 40-year run. What one man alone could do with one little mag in America is still beyond believable. (Check the first ‘Baatz Bibliography’ which I’ve included at the end of this piece.) The quality and diversity of writers Malone gathered together in each issue—truly a PhD thesis waiting to be written, if it hasn’t happened already. Something too for future little mag and small press editors/publishers to study. In the end, of course, it all comes down to a one-man/woman operation and obsession—to print/to share/to distribute what one senses is out there in the culture, the literary firmament… And no one mined that field better than Marvin Malone.

It was my intention with this Poetry Dispatch to write a longer, informative piece on Ronald Baatz and his latest book, THE ELEPHANTS AND EVERYBODY ELSE, which Cross+Roads Press recently published. I wanted to give new and old readers of his something close to a profile, almost as personal, true-to-life, and informative as the one on Curt Johnson, which appears at the end of his book, SALUD, Selected Writings.

Baatz seemed open to my suggestion at first. I followed with preliminary notes outlining specific areas of questioning I wanted him to think about, areas of art and life which might benefit both readers and writers. But I didn’t hear from him as quickly as I usually do. And then I knew, instantly, it wasn’t going to happen.

Baatz has always been a pretty private writer, and I sensed he was uncomfortable with where I wanted to go with the questioning, although I fully understood and avoided anything too personal. It was mainly the writing I wanted to deal with. A little history and insight here and there. I wrote back, gave him a chance to beg off—and he took it. So…we’ll leave it at that. I respect his right to let the work speak for itself. Though I am disappointed…and disappointed for readers and writers as well.

But what we have here in “The Elephants…” is one magnificent book (in my humble estimation and experience as writer, editor, publisher) which could have been, should have been published by one of our larger commercial presses in America, or one of our more distinguished, highly financially backed independent or academic presses…BUT, given the nature of ‘how it is out there,’ given the ‘influential’ games some folks play—it didn’t/wouldn’t happen.

And that’s where the very small, highly under-financed, unpredictable, insecure, over-worked, often unacknowledged, here-today-gone-tomorrow, small press comes in, to play the role it has always played (underground and out of sight) in seeing that these other voices be heard.

When people ask: “What kind of work does Cross+Roads Press publish?” I am more than proud to suggest any book on the backlist, or to turn to the latest: THE ELEPHANTS AND EVERYBODY ELSE by Ronald Baatz.

Just holding a copy in one’s hand…and you know it’s something special, quite out of the ordinary. I don’t have to say: This is what I want. This is what I’m looking for. This is what matters. This is the kind of writer I want to help and the only reason I keep going though, as always, I’m never sure how much longer.

Nor do I care to confess: I printed only 250 copies of it because that’s all I could afford, and I may not recover—again! Even sadder, there’s the possibility that fewer than half that many people will ever find the book. You never really know, the odds are always against you. But, on the other hand, I also know (sense, feel, etc.) “instant classic” about this book. That years from now (perhaps next year, or the year after) people will be looking for a copy of “Elephants” and it will be gone, hard to find, selling for considerably more than the cover price of $13 plus postage.

That’s the only faith the small press writer/publisher keeps.

Here are five poems from the book–of almost fifty poems. I will let them speak for Ron Baatz, everything and everybody else—and leave it at that. —Norbert Blei

THE STORYTELLER

Since the search for a new pen had been repeatedly put off,
he continued writing with the old one, even though it felt
thoroughly used up to him. He was correct in sensing that
as far as telling a story was concerned it had long ago run dry.
Finally, out of a mounting frustration, he grabbed his cane
and went out to buy a new pen, an expensive pen for a change,
a genuine fountain pen, since he had never owned such and
he suspected a wealth of new stories might come from one.
The problem was, he couldn’t go into a store to try one out.
They didn’t have ink in them. He would not be able to sample
the way words flowed from one that might excite his imagination.
The pleasures of even a simple sentence would be denied him.
But after hemming and hawing in front of a store window,
gawking like a child wishing sticky candy, he went in and asked
if he could hold one of the fountain pens. He felt
its well-balanced weight, its lustrous blackness, but also
he was pained at the awareness of the dry and wordless point.
He complained it was no better than holding a knife, an umbrella
or a baseball bat, which were all exquisitely useful when properly
applied to the world, but none was capable of leaving behind
a single utterance once they had accomplished their assigned task.
When it finally came to making a decision,
the bespectacled writer bought one of the pens.
The temptation to intimately know one was
just too much for him to resist. And so with
pen and bottle of ink he walked with anticipation
through the dark streets, in the direction of his house
where his wife stood impatiently at the front door,
worried sick over how late the hour had grown.
To make matters worse, instead of going directly home
he detoured to the outskirts of town, knowing
the earth was scheduled to collide with a meteor shower
the likes of which hadn’t been seen in ages. Beyond
the town’s glow, fields were abundant with wattle bushes
and tall dry weeds, and cicadas were in riot amongst them.
But as long as he stood there, not a single shooting star
was seen to scratch the sky. The ironclad pattern of stars
did absolutely nothing to persuade the writer to be optimistic
that his new pen would offer up even a single unique story.
Wagging his head he spit at the earth the cold spit of despair.
As a last resort, he took the empty fountain pen from the bag
and looking straight up at the brilliant stillness of the heavens
he connected a handful of the dots, creating the figure of a goat,
the very thinnest moon imaginable lodged tightly in its stomach.

THE INSOMNIAC

There was this elephant, a bull, who suffered from insomnia.
After nights of not sleeping, this elephant would find himself
at the edge of the town and there he would stand, transfixed
by aromas that would activate in him titanic fits of hunger.
Unable to satisfy this hunger, eventually the elephant would
meander over to the cemetery, where, in all likelihood, the
old gravedigger could be found working in the cool of dark
by the wavering light of a single torch. Well aware
of the nearness of his own death, the old man could be heard
mumbling grim sentences into the opening of the earth.
He would swear at himself too, at how foolhardy he had
often been in making his way through this tantalizing world.
He’d bemoan the bitter loss of loved ones; yet at the same time
he wished only to be left alone so that he might embrace
the unceremonious bliss of dying in peace. His death should be
as inconsequential as that of a moth dying in a cold mist.
He was old, and because he was old he was tired of being
invisible to the young, of aching bones, of trimming his
wiry beard, of praying to a deaf god, of getting drunk on
cheap wine, of being incapable of loving yet another woman,
of taking his teeth out, of putting them back in, of fearing
the panther in the garden, of hoping he’d mistake dying
for simply falling asleep. As he labored the gravedigger
would keep an eye on the elephant, trying to understand
what was going on in such an gigantic, gray, slow-moving head.
Did the elephant think that the man was digging his own grave
because he intended to commit suicide, only to back away
from this naked act of despair at the very last moment?
Or maybe the elephant thought the man was stealing soil
to take home to enrich his garden, to encourage new growth
instead of leaving the soil where its only role was to embosom
the dead. Or might the elephant suspect that the man was
digging up money he had hidden when being chased by the law
and now he needed this money in order to run off to America
to finally fulfill his dream of opening a French restaurant?
Having sized up the elephant, the gravedigger was relieved
that he did not have to dig graves for the likes of such a creature.
Although, with careful consideration, he had estimated that
he could get the job done in one night of nonstop digging.
As for the elephant, he could not begin to conceive of
being forced to sleep eternally in the dark of the earth.
Even though he was aware that his flesh would end up
in places like the belly of the vulture, still, he found
comfort in the fact that his bones would be left behind
as monument to the years of struggle he had waged.
Whenever the elephant grew bored with the digging,
he would go off elsewhere in search of distractions.
He would stop at the motel at the edge of town and
drink water from its swimming pool. Many a night
he could be seen spraying water rowdily up at the sky
as though trying to put out the moon and all the stars.

THE DOG KILLER

One elephant, an unusually large domestic bull, suddenly
got it into his head that he didn’t like dogs, and whenever
he came in contact with a dog he’d grab it and curl it up
in his trunk and then barbarically slam it to the ground,
more often than not killing the helpless animal. No one,
not even the owner, could say exactly why the elephant
was behaving as such, since none of the dogs had been
taunting the elephant. It got to the point where the owner,
an old man who made a living with this elephant by
taking tourists for rides, had to chain the elephant to a tree.
The elephant’s only consolation was scratching up
against this tree, predominantly with his forehead.
And when the old man took the elephant down to the river
every day for a washing and some recreation, he
simply made sure that there were no dogs to be encountered.
Naturally he made sure no children were around who
also might fall victim to the elephant’s unpredictable behavior.
While washing the elephant the old man would talk to him,
questioning his sudden dislike for dogs. As always
with the elephant and the old man, the elephant listened
as muscly drops of water fell from his huge eyelashes and
his trunk entered the water like a snake coming down from heaven.
The old man’s voice was the most familiar sound to the elephant;
and without that consoling, loving sound heard daily,
there’s no telling what the elephant might’ve done
in the way of destruction. The old man had been given
the elephant when he was a child by his father, and now
neither the man nor the elephant had long to go on this earth.
It was true that the old man had been bitten twice by stray dogs
and the elephant had been witness to these attacks, and
because of this there was some suspicion that the elephant
was now inflicting punishment on any dog they came across.
At a town hall meeting the people unanimously voted that
the elephant not be allowed to travel in the streets anymore.
What caused the old man many a sleepless night was
the question of how he could make enough in earnings
to feed both himself and the elephant if he could not
continue to cater successfully to the hordes of tourists.
It was a problem he dwelt on day and night. Eventually
he realized that setting the elephant free in the wild
was what he had to do; and as for himself, he would go
and live with his brother’s family in a nearby town.
This he did, to both his own sorrow and the elephant’s.
They did not die on the same day. Unquestionably
it would have made a better story if they had. The elephant died
a year after they had parted, a vicious stab wound
delivered by a young bull having been the cause.
Beyond that, the old man lived a few years of joy
and contentment in the company of loved ones.
Unlike the elephant he had a peaceful death, which
came in his sleep, the sweetness of his daily ration
of vanilla ice cream still lingering in his belly.

THE KITE FLYER

Late afternoon was when he preferred being alone
at the beach to launch a kite. On most days luck
would be with him and he’d locate a fine current of wind
suitable for his mission. Blue cloudless days were his favorite.
Actually, he didn’t like clouds on blue days or any other days.
Clouds proved nothing more than needless distractions.
Turning his hawklike nose and squinting eyes upwards,
he craved the possibilities of incalculable space.
With feet firmly planted in sand, he felt the tension on the string
linked him directly to the endless play of atmospheric forces.
This allowed him to forget, if only momentarily,
his everyday life. Once his kite was safely aloft,
he was able to forget clogged rain gutters, taxes,
his garden choking with weeds, high blood pressure,
stolen chickens, his rusting automobile, the grandchildren,
who, for some reason, didn’t seem to have a home of their own.
On mornings he brought one of his grandsons with him
initially the child would take interest, even joy, in watching
the kite slowly diminish in size as it rose higher and higher;
but before long the child would resort to his shovel and pail.
Thoughtfully, digging in sand, he would start asking questions,
bothersome ones about the sky. The man would end up swearing
to himself never to permit his peaceful kite-flying solitude to be
intruded upon again. The last thing he wanted to deal with
were words and difficult explanations. From being alive
for so many years, he understood words imposed limitations.
Not even from an innocent child could he tolerate words, and
he certainly had no intention of explaining why the sky was blue.
Eventually he would cut the string, permitting the wind
to take the kite wherever it pleased. He’d gaze up at the sky,
life’s frustrations evaporating like mist on green dreamy bananas.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, the grandson would also look up
and he would see his grandfather, a man lost in the desire
to be elsewhere. What else could he do but shovel sand
into his grandfather’s socks?

THE DRIFTER

She wished to show him the damaged cherry blossoms.
Being comfortable on the back porch with newspaper
and coffee, he put up a minor resistance. Not that he was
reading all that much, the last cool breeze of morning
having the desirable effect of helping him doze off.
Once she got him out to the orchard she handed him
some of the hail still remaining in shaded ground.
He rolled the balls around in the palm of his hand,
attempting to make them come to rest on the same line,
wondering what that line might be called. Even though
he knew she would probably know the answer, he did not ask,
aware that this was not where his attention was supposed to be.
He was supposed to be showing concern for how cruel
nature was capable of being to its own fine creations.
When she took him by the arm to return to the house,
he made sure to throw the balls of hail back in the shade.
If she were to ask him why he was showing concern
for the hail, he would not have been able to answer her.
Perhaps it was simply because he himself would have preferred
to remain in the shade, that if his life were to be leaving
his body he’d prefer to have it happen in the cool of the
back porch, newspaper on lap, none of the news being
of any importance anymore. If he were to mention this,
she no doubt would’ve accused him of dwelling
on his own death too much, when he should’ve been
at least mildly shocked at the damaged blossoms still clinging
to the hail-scarred branches. In a white cotton dress
she was without question a remarkably beautiful woman.
As much as this porch of hers was his place of retreat
from the undying annoyances of the world, he hated
being deposited there by her so that she could return
to whatever it was that she had been doing in the kitchen.
He wanted to chase after her and grab her by the arm
to tell her not to worry about the damage done
to the cherry blossoms. Of course he didn’t do this.
It had been her family’s farm before she had been born,
and now she was the only family the farm had left.
He heard her placing a large iron pot on the stove.
He thought about what it would be like to live with her.
The place was so calm and quiet. The time could be
used to think things over. He had no plans, no goals.
He was without ambition. At heart he was a drifter, but
his heart was growing weary of drifting. In the kitchen
he found her washing cabbage in a deep sink, in front of
a window that looked out onto a field that extended to where
a fence had collapsed in tall grass at the edge of the orchard.
He put his arms around her, and without turning she asked him
if he’d ever noticed how consoling the orchard was in
in the dying light of evening, more so than it ever was
in the light of dawn.

A Baatz Bibliography

  • ALL THE DAYS ARE Tideline Press 1974
  • AFTERNOON PLUMS RISING Tideline Press 1982
  • STRANGE BREAKFAST Permanent Press 1987
  • LUCKY SO BEAUTIFUL Wolfscat Press 1989
  • RAVAGED Clark Street Review Press 2000
  • MT TREMPER HAIKU Flypaper Press 2000
  • AT HERRING COVE Lockout Press 2002
  • WHITE TULIPS Tideline Press 2003
  • IN A CLAY PIG’S EYE Seastone Editions 2005
  • ON THE BACK PORCH Concrete Meat Press 2006
  • FISH FORK Seastone Editions 2008
  • BIRD EFFORT Kamini Press 2008
  • OUT OF HIS CHILDHOOD Zerx Press shared chapbook with Mark Weber 2007
  • CEMETERY COUNTRY Zerx Press shared chapbook with Mark Weber 2008
  • NEXT EXIT: SEVEN Kendra Steiner Editions shared chapbook with Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal 2008
  • THE COMPANIONSHIP OF THE PLUM Kendra Steiner Editions shared chapbook with Bill Shute 2008
  • THE WORMWOOD REVIEW three special sections issues: 104, 140, 144
    “Second Hand”, WR #104 1986; “Out in the Late October Garden”, WR #140 1995; “Every Winter”, WR #144, 1997
  • YELLOW SILK anthology of erotic arts and letters Harmony Books 1990
  • THE BOOK OF EROS anthology of arts and letters from Yellow Silk
    Harmony Books 1995
  • SEVEN HUNDRED KISSES anthology of erotic writing from Yellow Silk
    HarperSanFrancisco




brad leithauser | old globe

5 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 247 | August 5, 2008

OLD GLOBE

by Brad Leithauser

For her big birthday
we gave her (nothing less would do)
the world, which is to say

a globe copyrighted the very year
she was born—ninety years before.
She held it tenderly, and it was clear
both had come such a long way:
the lovely, dwindled, ever-eager-to-please
woman whose memory had begun to fray

and a planet drawn and redrawn through
endless shifts of aims and loyalties,
and war and war.
*
Her eye fell at random. “Formosa,” she read.
“Now that’s pretty. Is it there today?”
A pause. “It is,” my brother said,
“though now it’s called Taiwan.”
She looked apologetic. “I sometimes forget…”
“Like Sri Lanka,” I added. “Which was Ceylon.”

And so my brothers and I, globe at hand, began:
which places had seen a change of name
in the last ninety years? Burma, Baluchistan,

Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia, Transjordan, Tibet.
Because she laughed, we extended our game
into history, mist: Vineland, Persia, Cathay…
*
She was in a middle place—
her fifties—when photos were first transmitted,
miraculously, from outer space.
Who could believe those men—in their black noon–
got up like robots, wandering the wild
wastelands of the moon,

and overheard a wholly naked sun
and an Earth so far away
it was less real than this one,
the gift received today—
the globe she’d so tenderly fitted
under her arm, like a child.
*
Finally, there’s cake: nine candles in a ring
. .. .Just so, the past turns distant past,
each rich decade diminishing
to a little stick of wax, rapidly
expiring. I say, “Now make a wish before
you blow them out.” She says, “I don’t see—”

stops. Then mildly protests: “But they look so nice.”
We laugh at her—and wince when a look of doubt
or fear clouds her face; she needs advice.
Well—what should anyone wish for
in blowing candles out
but that the light might last?

[from The New York Review of Books, May 29, 2008]








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