commentary


“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”    – a quote from Marguerite Duras (b. 1914), French author, filmmaker. Outside: Selected Writings, foreword (1984)    – as seen on Quotes @ dictionary.com

This quotation jibes with my own beliefs and point of view. For me, it speaks to the human condition – in the parade of life, there are no spectators.

Speaking of opinions, I think that not enough people have ’em. Too often what passes for an opinion is merely a cliche or others’ rehashed ideas. What am I trying to say? Think for yourself and don’t accept other people’s ideas wholesale. Practice critical thinking. There is no patent on ideas.

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Upon the little spark they blowed,

Until the smoke it billowed.

In me this question did inspire –

If smoke, then is there fire?

*

Pretty funny stuff. It sums up the fundamentalist viewpoint pretty well. It illustrates, for me, how endemic this kind of thinking is in our country – in our world, even? It’s kind of the mandate for institutionalized religion & spirituality, don’t you think? – to limit critical thinking, self-expression, etc.

Or substitute with the dogma of your choice.

Genesis 11:7  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

Russel’s Teapot.com

Wiki’s explanation of the term Russel’s teapot

Is There A God? by Bertrand Russel (from which the phrase came)

On Thursday June 16th, I attended a screening of “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria” put on by Radical Women. Here’s a blurb advertising the movie from the email:

“This Emmy Award-winning documentary tells the story of the first known collective uprising against queer oppression – a multi-racial rebellion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district that took place three years before the Stonewall Riot in New York. The revolt connected to issues of police harassment, housing rights, war resistance, and sexual liberation. View and discuss this enlightening film.”

This is a very good synopsis and gives you the context within which it was viewed and discussed. And obviously, I was interested in the fact that it was started by a bunch of feisty transwomen.

It was shown at the Radical Women’s Freeway Hall.  It was the first time I’d been to one of their meetings. I thought it would be the perfect place to watch the movie – within a diverse community of like-minded people.  I was not disappointed. The people were friendly, kind, perceptive and very tuned-in.

At one point during the movie, everyone applauded and cheered, while I struggled to contain my own grief; it was just that powerful for me. It was the kind of grief you feel when you’re in a safe place, within a supportive community.

There was a lively discussion afterwards. Many perceptive points were brought up. A couple of people spoke about how women are expected to do painful things to their bodies in order to look “attractive”. The pros and cons of  “corrective surgery” and the right to choose was discussed. This was a very sympathetic and understanding crowd. This is the kind of experience I had been seeking & hoping for! As such it was very fulfilling.

During dinner beforehand, I met several people and chatted. One of the women (there were men there, too!) asked me if I was going to “Slutwalk” on Sunday. I said I’m not really into that kind of thing. She explained that the genesis of Slutwalk was a groundswell of response to a police officer in Toronto who, speaking at a safety & security panel at the university, advised that, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Someone else chimed in with an example of  how rape is treated in our society: a woman had been gang-raped while attending a fraternity party in New York. In the trial that followed, she was subsequently grilled and smeared by the defense, as victims usually are (and often by the police in the course of their investigations – “What were you wearing?”)

She hadn’t in any way provoked the rape – as if rapists needed provocation! As if there were actually such a thing as “incitement to rape”. It’s just blaming the victim; all too familiar; all too common. So much so that it is internalized by the victims and society in general. What’s the subliminal message there?

I was convinced. I went to the gathering before the march at Bobby Morris Playfield in Cal Anderson Park. I even did my best to dress a little slutty. For a while people were just standing and milling around. I almost left. I wasn’t really “with anyone”, just there as an individual. Somehow, the thought that “this is a community, my community – and if not, let me make it so” – kept me there.

We marched down to Westlake Center. On the march and at the rally there, I kept having the impulse to leave. My boots were killin’ me, yo! lol

At the rally, after a bit of a wait, the impassioned words of the speakers kept me in thrall. Three women spoke about their rapes. Alyssa Royce, who spoke first, said that one 1 of 6 women are raped in their lifetimes (sounds a bit low.) Then she asked, “How many people here have been raped?” I held up my hand. It was a powerful moment. Grief swelled up in me. I fought the impulse to leave.

She spoke of the brutal rape she experienced when she was 18, woken in bed by a man with a gun that threatened to kill her and her father if she made any noise.

Christy Forester spoke courageously and movingly about her rape.  Cee Fisher of Radical Women spoke about people of color, saying how much more often that community is victimized. She also spoke passionately of the need for a strong feminist community – very inspiring. Thanks for that! Elizabeth Fawthrop of the International Socialist Organization spoke about activism around women’s rights to autonomy in reproductive care with the group Seattle Clinic Defense. The presenter/MC from Slutwalk Seattle spoke about men and children being victims, too. I thought about the high incidence of abuse in prison. Maria Gardner, a young transwoman of color, spontaneously got up and spoke  of her experience being raped, very courageous and eloquent.

One of my favorites was poet Tara Hardy. She read one poem and recited three.  All four poems just rolled out effortlessly, powerfully. One of my favorite lines encouraged the “Uncommon Woman” to “…wear your grief like a party dress…” It definitely spoke to me. I have a lot of grief issues.

All of the women were powerful speakers. It was so good to hear those strong, empowering feminist words ringing out in Westlake Center. Bystanders and people passing by stopped and stared with slack jaws. It was a good experience, an incredibly empowering event for me. I totally re-adjusted my thinking about a lot of stuff. I’m glad I was there.

Alyssa Royce speaks    first speaker, very moving

Poet Tara Hardy     I especially like the poem “Uncommon Woman”, which starts at 9:42

Cee Fisher speaks   for Radical Women

Christy Forrester speaks   very moving

Liz Fawthrop speaks    of the ISO and Seattle Clinic Defense

the MC/presenter and Maria Gardner speak     eloquently

Slutwalk Seattle.com  and  Slutwalk Seattle on Facebook – the organization. They need donations! It’s a great cause!

Seattle Clinic Defense – get involved!

Radical Women Seattle on Facebook

ISO Seattle on Facebook  and  Seattle ISO website

lots of photos of Slutwalk

The march paused at an intersection, photographer unknown. We had to pause repeatedly at intersections. It was annoying! Seems like it would’ve been easier for the police to just make traffic pause while we passed through. There were lots of gawkers with their camera phones stuck out at all the “sluts”.

the crowd gathers at Cal Anderson Park

at Cal Anderson Park

I love the expression on this guy’s face and the sense of community/family I get from this photo

Christy Forrester at Westlake Center

// //

“Pretty interesting artwork!”

Thanks Ellen. I wish more people would comment on my blog. Even criticism is good feedback for writers, artists – a jump-off point, a muse. I don’t really get why people don’t comment more. I value feedback from people I “friend”.
Posting this stuff, though – I take pride in everything on my blog. Reading some of what I’ve written today, I got a sense of accomplishment, a body of work, even if it is “just another blog”. Like I’ve made a contribution, somehow; I matter.
It’s one thing I have to appreciate about Facebook – you get a chance to express yourself to a wider audience. 🙂

Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg by Michael Schumacher

I wrote this poem in 1994 to remember how I felt and what I thought – some impressions – after finishing the “Dharma Lion” biography. I was depressed from chemotherapy. Finishing the book seemed like a victory; recording and writing the poem was cathartic. It was a sort of  journal entry, so I wouldn’t forget all of the good stuff I’d just read.

I resisted the urge to try to send it to Ginsberg, which I had done with an earlier poem in 1976. He kindly replied to that… [See “poem sent to Allen Ginsberg, 1976” on this blog.] 

I saw Ginsberg up close once, standing in the aisle with Anne Waldman, after one of the nights of the Nova Convention honoring William Burroughs, in NYC. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday – Nov 30th , Dec 1st  & 2nd , 1978)

There’s an awesome link!! to the Giorno Poetry Systems recordings from the Nova Convention here.

I wish that I had taken the opportunity to go up to him to shake hands and say hi, but I was shy and didn’t really understand his greatness. Whatever… I met his gaze with admiration and seriousness.

It was quite an event, the Nova Convention. I attended Friday and Saturday nights. I was staying in a drafty dorm room in Brooklyn with a bunch of other guys as we upgraded our Seafarers’ Union status. I got a cold and a nasty cough, partly despatched with some penicillin. My new friend Glen and some of the others showed me how to use the subways in New York.

Anne Waldman read her poem “Skin Meat Bones” [also the title of a collection of her poetry, Coffee House Press, 1985.] It’s a very powerful piece.

From Publishers Weekly:  “The verse in this collection is meant to be read aloud. Alongside the title poem are pitch instructions: ‘skin,’ high soprano register; ‘Meat,’ tenor; ‘bones,’ basso profundo. As if they were notes, Waldman plays with words, with their sounds and rhythms, placing them in various configurations within the poetry…”

There’s a nice trancelike recitation by Waldman with accompaniment by Ambrose Bye here

Ginsberg performed one of his Blake poems set to music – “The Nurse’s Song” from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” – accompanying himself on the harmonium and with a young man on guitar [Steve Taylor?] as well.  That incredibly rich, deep mellifluous voice of his, rollling out, “All  of  the hillllssss   ech-ooo-edddd!”. What a wonderful memory, probably my favorite from the event.

Frank Zappa was there as a stand-in for Keith Richards, apparently; who was supposed to have been there discussing songwriting. I have a vague recollection of Frank reading Burroughs’ “Talking Asshole” bit, pretty straightforward if not deadpan– truly the perfect guy to do it. Perhaps the occasion was a source of inspiration for some of his later anti-censorship activism…

Certainly Ginsberg and Burroughs used language not for the squeamish, but it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me at the time. Listening back to some of the recordings at the link above, Ginsberg’s performance surprised me – I had only remembered the gentleness and serenity of his soul…

Laurie Anderson’s performance piece was playful, weird – changing her voice into a little girl’s voice, with electronics… I can’t remember if she played her electronic violin… it seems like she did… It was all pretty cool, definitely left an impression.

Patti Smith good-naturedly announced that Keith Richards hadn’t been able to make it, after all. (Did anyone really think he was going to be there? I think most of the crowd was pretty jazzed at the line-up of luminaries, anyway.) She recited a couple of poems with some singing thrown in for good measure, playing clarinet and accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. My most vivid memory is of her screeching abandonedly on her clarinet as a frantic-blonde haired female groupie in a leopard skin top beseeched her from rightinfront of the stage.

Yeah, I think Keith was having problems of his own then. Weird days, my memories of my time in NY… alone yet joyously independent… hazy drugsandsomethingevil in the air, like acrid smoke – stark,  slanted sunlight of winter though not too cold…  Sid Vicious  all over the news everywhere after the murder of Nancy…

Listening to a friend’s copy of the then radical, bonecrushing assault of the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” – it seemingly made inroads into the musical / cultural lexicon – what did it mean?… Well it was pretty gritty and tight rock and roll, for the times. A real revival.  [Recommended reading: “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain]

Burroughs concluded the event  on Saturday evening. It was just 2 weeks after Jonestown – it was InTheNews. My memories of Burroughs speaking are of his inimitable gross-out droll humor; my own struggle to control a nasty cough as he spoke about “virus infected shits”; and his solemn parting words, “Onward, to Jonestown!”

*************

Ted Joans, the Beat era poet, organized two vigils in Seattle when Ginsberg passed. I read my Ginsberg poem at both. I got to meet Ted. He gave me a photo of myself reading, when I saw him at the second one. So thoughtful…!

Ted Joans, along with LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka , was an important African-American voice in the Beat era. They of course got little of the limelight that their caucasian peers did.  Amiri Baraka went on to help initiate the Black Arts movement.  And the jazz that Kerouac and many others loved was largely played by people of color. His enthusiasm for the music –  very much a muse of and influence on Kerouac, who also wrote about jazz as a critic – I believe helped to serve as an example of greater tolerance within the larger confines of society.

When he spoke at the second vigil he urged us to ”Be kind” and said that our poems etc. were going to be compiled and put in some kind of book. I never heard any more about that, though I think I gave him a copy of my poem.

Ted was in the Seattle phone book at the time; he was living here. I wish that I would’ve taken the opportunity to invite him and his missus to dinner at my home – taken his “kindness ethic” to heart. But I was too uptight. Afraid he would try to mooch some money from me or something. How pathetic of me.

At the second vigil I wore a red chiffon scarf around my neck. I got up to read this poem. I tore off my shirt with a mad gleam in my eye, and asked no one in particular if I should continue to disrobe. I wanted to do something memorable in honor of Ginsberg; which incidentally, was something he was famous for. I’d invited along my sister and a friend. Joans kindly urged me not to, lol.

Some woman spoke about what a lecher Ginsberg was, he’d tried to seduce her or something. We all gasped inwardly; that musta been Ginsberg come back to smile on us…

______________________________________________________

That  Long  Allen  Ginsberg  Biography  I  Read
( Dharma  Lion)

************************************************
Allen Ginsberg!
– lover of teeming humanity, your fellow fellow man
man’s actual human being!    …so warm
You’ve  given the world your very humanity
relaxed honest sexuality
Ahhhh, gift of brotherhood –
not weepy, shrinking –
forthright and direct –
Angry World – go love yourself!

Ginsberg –
in love with your persona –  a human fame
Perfect accomplishment!  Remarkable  life!
Energy, and driven –
Remarkable toiler, master of your art and intellect.
Ohhh, very wise one
your typical All-American Jewish success story
Real..  People’s..  Advocate!

In a disposable world,
they were unable to put your can out on the curb
shut you up or shut you down.
a hero to generations
in the void of America, you discovered…
the rest of the world!
Your amazing presence on earth
my poetic muse
Your gift – a gift to us all

Your human love – between all people a bond
warm humanity, in awe as I read.
Did you invent yourself ?
– The millennium of the moments of your life,
colorful, they appear before my eyes
you’ve showed me something
– gave birth to yourself!

O, very wise one
awesome vision, visionary
protector of the earth
observing, commenting on
American  society and its
bareballed naked hairy lies
defrocker of falsehood
and legislated morality

beat generation…

this legacy!…
borne  on  your  poetic  voice, as the wind

raised by it
was the only thing that caught my ear, anyhow
– made good sense
not that rhymey stuff!
Ahh, now I understand – unrhymey stuff!

Read your biography
– it was good!
you know lots about
what’s good about life

I’ve admired you for many years
now I read this  bio
Now I wrote this down so clean
Thanks and Thanks…

…to  the  Author  of  your  life

(1994)

see also:  The Beat Writers

Working in the suburbs one day shortly before the second invasion of Iraq (2003), I experienced a feeling of dread. I had been active in the SGI-USA (Buddhist) Victory Over Violence campaign, visiting kids down at the Youth Detention Center. I thought about what the Reverend there had said about the government cutting services. I got to read this poem and a couple others for some of the kids. I think I read “Seattle Rain” and/or “Diggle Rhyme”. They kinda looked at me like I was crazy but you never know what’s going to get through to somebody.

I had been journaling a lot and had gotten so much out of it, including the muse for poetry. I had become more articulate; I thought of new original ideas concepts of my own; and I actually had something to say. Wow. That was a good feeling.

I suggested that they try their hand at journaling, too.

*
*

quiet down at juvy
things are quiet nowdays
down at juvenile hall
“they’re giving ’em more little nice things to do, but even so…
they’re cutting down on the numbers
cutting down on funding”

“you can feel the quiet”
what does it mean?

war;  the horror!
is it locked in
like a laser-guided missile?

Do you have to ask?
All that money!
All those lives!

it’s all about to come down
like heavy dope on the street

people around the world are saying “No!”

and civil disobedience  – people are going to jail
“I don’t agree with your war!”

at the White House, Laura Bush cancels poets
because what’s going on is
“a violation of the most sacred values
of poets through the ages”

out in the suburbs
even a crow chatters its complaint
but things are quiet down in juvy

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