Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

Not One, But a Lovely Two!
April 17, 2008

http://amyking.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/two-go-walking-alice-and-gertrude-and-basket-maybe2.jpg

Brandi Homan reviews I’M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU in The Cutbank Review today (an excerpt):

Even though King does something that there should be more of in contemporary poetry—addresses the sociopolitical aspects of life in the 21st century head on—I’m The Man Who Loves You accomplishes much more. It is disjointed, beautifully grotesque, and unsparing, yet it is ultimately hopeful, kind, and entertaining. In “I Used to Be Amy King,” King says, “…we are bred to be the best neglected fun, forthcoming” (32). Believe you me, King is this type of fun. I’m The Man Who Loves You is not to be neglected. This book is for anyone who has ever stepped into, or wanted to step into, their own “long black dream.”

Thanks, Brandi!

~~~

And Caroline Wilkinson reviews KISS ME WITH THE MOUTH OF YOUR COUNTRY over at Tarpaulin Sky (an excerpt):

Kiss Me with the Mouth of Your Country is a potent work not only artistically but politically, more so than King’s earlier poetry. Instead of loaded words, we get moments that bring us into a body where the borders shift. In this “country,” the “I” and “you” suddenly change because the line between the two keeps moving. The borders here are insecure because they are defended by private, piecemeal methods—“a pile of ash / that blows back into you.” This “country” is the body of a woman, and it stubbornly remains in quotes because it is a permeable thing, especially when trapped inside the home. Laws about rape and incest, ineffectual in practice, help keep it that way, as does the sexist culture. As a country, this body looks real enough, but because its borders don’t mean a great deal, it isn’t. Near the end of the chapbook, King returns to her earlier more cerebral style, turning images at a manic rate, but this idea of the body and its borders lingers. The poetry is haunted by it, like a house haunted by the idea of not being there.

Thanks, Caroline!

~~~

Aimé Césaire, Martinique poet, has died
April 17, 2008

Aime Cesaire

Thursday, April 17, 2008

PARIS: The esteemed Martinique poet and politician Aimé Césaire, a leading figure in the movement for black consciousness, died Thursday, the French president’s office and a hospital said. He was 94.

Césaire was involved in the fight for French West Indian rights, and he also served as a lawmaker in the lower house of France’s parliament for nearly 50 years. French President Nicolas Sarkozy successfully led a campaign last year to change the name of Martinique’s airport in honor of Césaire.

Sarkozy on Thursday praised Césaire as “a great poet” and a “great humanist.”

“As a free and independent spirit, throughout his whole life he embodied the fight for the recognition of his identity and the richness of his African roots,” Sarkozy said. “Through his universal call for the respect of human dignity, consciousness and responsibility, he will remain a symbol of hope for all oppressed peoples.”

~~~

From The liberating power of words – interview with poet Aime Cesaire – Interview

Aimé Césaire: I’ve always had the feeling that I was on a quest to reconquer something, my name, my country or myself.

That is why my approach has in essence always been poetic.

Because it seems to me that in a way that’s what poetry is.

The reconquest of the self by the self….

I think it was Heidegger who said that words are the abode of being. There are many such quotations. I believe it was Rene Char, in his surrealist days, who said that words know much more about us than we know about them.

I too believe that words have a revealing as well as a creative function…

The Abbe Gregoire(1), Victor Schoelcher(2) and all those who spoke out and still speak out, who campaigned for human rights without distinction of race and against discrimination, these were my guides in life. They stand forever as representatives of the West’s great outpouring of magnanimity and solidarity, an essential contribution to the advancement of the ideas of practical universality and human values, ideas without which the world of today would not be able to see its way forward. I am forever a brother to them, at one with them in their combat and in their hopes…

I really do believe in human beings. I find. something of myself in all cultures, in that extraordinary effort that all people, everywhere, have made – and for what purpose?

Quite simply to make life livable!

It is no easy matter to put up with life and face up to death.

And this is what is so moving.

We are all taking part in the same great adventure.

That is what is meant by cultures, cultures that come together at some meeting-point….

I think it was in a passage in Hegel emphasizing the master-slave dialectic that we found this idea about specificity. He points out that the particular and the universal are not to be seen as opposites, that the universal is not the negation of the particular but is reached by a deeper exploration of the particular.

The West told us that in order to be universal we had to start by denying that we were black. I, on the contrary, said to myself that the more we were black, the more universal we would be.

It was a totally different approach. It was not a choice between alternatives, but an effort at reconciliation.

Not a cold reconciliation, but reconciliation in the heat of the fire, an alchemical reconciliation if you like.

The identity in question was an identity reconciled with the universal. For me there can never be any imprisonment within an identity.

Identity means having roots, but it is also a transition, a transition to the universal….

We are far removed from that romantic idyll beneath the calm sea. These are angry, exasperated lands, lands that spit and spew, that vomit forth life.

That is what we must live up to. We must draw upon the creativity of this plot of land! We must keep it going and not sink into a slumber of acceptance and resignation. It is a kind of summons to us from history and from nature….

And so I have tried to reconcile those two worlds, because that was what had to be done. On the other hand, I feel just as relaxed about claiming kinship with the African griot and the African epic as about claiming kinship with Rimbaud and Lautreamont – and through them with Sophocles and Aeschylus! …

I have never harboured any illusions about the risks of history, be it in Africa, in Martinique, in the Americas or anywhere else. History is always dangerous, the world of history is a risky world; but it is up to us at any given moment to establish and readjust the hierarchy of dangers. …

At any rate, it is for me the fundamental mode of expression, and the world’s salvation depends on its ability to heed that voice. It is obvious that the voice of poetry has been less and less heeded during the century we have lived through, but it will come to be realized more and more that it is the only voice that can still be life-giving and that can provide a basis on which to build and reconstruct….

* And yet this century has not been one where ethics has triumphed, has it?

A.C.: Certainly not, but one must speak out, whether one is heeded or not; we hold certain things to be fundamental, things that we cling to. Even if it means swimming against the tide, they must be upheld.

In other words, poetry is for me a searching after truth and sincerity, sincerity outside of the world, outside of alien times. We seek it deep within ourselves, often despite ourselves, despite what we seem to be, within our innermost selves.

Poetry wells up from the depths, with explosive force.

The volcano again.

No doubt I have reached the moment of crossing the great divide but I face it imperturbably in the knowledge of having put forward what I see as essential, in the knowledge, if you like, of having called out ahead of me and proclaimed the future aloud.

That is what I believe I have done; somewhat disoriented though I am to find the seasons going backwards, as it were, that is how it is and that is what I believe to be my vocation.

No resentments, none at all, no ill feelings but the inescapable solitude of the human condition. That is the most important thing.

~

1. Henri Gregoire (1750-1831), French ecclesiastic and politician, a leader of the movement in the Convention for the abolition of slavery. Ed.

2. French politician (1804-1893), campaigner for the abolition of slavery in the colonies, Deputy for Guadeloupe and Martinique. Ed.

–The liberating power of words – interview with poet Aime Cesaire – Interview

~~~

Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley
March 30, 2008

evie-shockley-with-tonya-foster.jpg

 DELIRIOUS HEM

The following excerpts are taken from “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley — Braiding: ConVERSations: To, Against, For”

It would be one thing if poetry were made of words alone,
but it is not–no more than words themselves are.

 –Paolo Friere via James Scully (Linebreak 133)
 
…If essentialism means being able to name the rubrics within which we (women of color, African Americans, women, etc., etc.) may simultaneously be constrained, limited, subjugated by more powerful others and be nurtured, engaged, empowered by ourselves and our allies, then essentialism still has useful work to do in the struggle for social justice. I recognize the dangers it poses. I’ll stop identifying as an African American woman when most people in this society have stopped understanding me in terms of my proximity to those categories (and all the others that may be relevant to my subjectivity)–you first. Meanwhile, “networks of communities and…relationships” seems to be a productive model for describing my own activities in the world (of poetry). The focus on multiplicity potentially opens our eyes to connections that are predictable and unpredictable.
 …This move turns on the significance to BAM “black aesthetics” of asserting a (“black”) “self” in the face of the oppressive and dismissive aesthetic standards that have been imposed upon the writing of African Americans since the era of Phillis Wheatley. An important point related to the foregoing is how critical it is for us to recognize that sexism is racism, at times, without losing the specificity of either category in our analyses.
 

…Whether one believes that poetry can affect or change what readers believe, can articulate ways of seeing the world that could circulate in and shape popular culture, can mobilize people for political action, etc., or not, poetry represents an economy of ideas (political, social, aesthetic, cultural) in which the currency is more valuable than it is often given credit for being.
 

“I have become a lot more aware over the past year or two
how often gender dynamics operate in really screwed-up ways
within a community I had complacently assumed was a lot more
progressive and enlightened than it sometimes reveals itself to be.
Just at the level, for example, of how much men outnumber women
on tables of contents, or how women’s comments are ignored in blog
conversations, or how men get threatened and aggressive when women
speak up about these things.”

  –K. Silem Mohammad
 

…I’ll just add that the variety of forms that sexism takes is part of what gives it such reverberating impact: outright dismissals of women and women’s poetry; silence regarding the influence of women poets upon poetic traditions; lip service to the importance of poetry by women that doesn’t lead to structural change in the systems that construct and reflect what we value in poetry (the canon)–these are just a few of the forms in which sexism operates in the context of poetry. And, Tonya, of course, I deeply appreciate your extension of Spahr and Young’s observation about sexism to encompass racism and other structures of exclusion.
 

…If Audre Lorde is correct in saying that “poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (in her indispensable essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”), then it can be argued that envisioning and articulating what is desired but does not yet exist is one of the primary tasks–or, less prescriptively, primary opportunities–of the poet’s work.

…The very instance of thinking through the systemic reasons that result in or contribute to the inequitable representation of poets who are not white and/or not male will necessitate the consideration of factors that cannot be reduced to aesthetics, but have everything to do with aesthetics.

…I am arguing that avant-garde poetics need not be defined in opposition to either a discernable engagement with politics in the work or an interest in audience(s). Where did this avant-garde poetry/political poetry divide come from anyway? What motivated the surrealists? What motivated Dada? The high modernists? The Beats? The Language poets? Or should I be asking what distinguishes these politically motivated aesthetic movements from the New Negro Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, the Nuyorican arts movement? And how does the most obvious answer to this last question relate to the notion of “a more radical feminism” and the intervention it could make in the world (of poetry)?
 

….I love Retallack’s concept of “pragmatically hybrid poetry communities” both because it seems grounded in immediate action and because it suggests the importance of seeking and forming alliances that don’t rely upon a mandated (false) unity around every possible issue of politics and aesthetics that might be raised.
 
…Can we accept and act on the idea that “transform[ing] the circumstances or conditions of others” may deeply involve transforming who we are and how we occupy the world (of poetry)?
 
–CONTINUED in “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley — Braiding: ConVERSations: To, Against, For”

~~

3 Responses to “Dim Sum: Tonya Foster & Evie Shockley”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 5:12 pm eEver notice how Evie takes the foreground of
    pictures and the sound of readings? There is
    a direct presence. No other.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 7:43 pm eLooking over wrongs, I’ve noticed
    over the years that oafishness and
    subconscious deflection are often
    the cause than intention and aggression.
    Which is to say, maybe things are less
    deliberate, more subtle, but paradoxically
    harder to dig up. Just a thought from mulling
    the comments I’ve seen by editors of both
    genders for years. True Anthropology might
    find more natural things than the old wounding
    paradigms presupposed. If it could ever escape
    the hothouse of likely well over 100,000 trawlers
    trapped in an inland sea, and all the political
    3rd rails, that is.
  3. Jim K Says:
    March 2nd, 2008 at 10:05 pm eOops…I am out of sync with the
    aggressiveness thing that happened..
    sorry bout the babbling.

How to Hate Hillary
March 29, 2008

“You can … discuss this avalanche of misogyny without endorsing her campaign …” –Bill Moyers in conversation with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

~~

Select excerpts from Robin Morgan’s “Goodbye To All That (#2)“:

—When a sexist idiot screamed “Iron my shirt!” at HRC, it was considered amusing; if a racist idiot shouted “Shine my shoes!” at BO, it would’ve inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor.

—John McCain answering “How do we beat the bitch?” with “Excellent question!” Would he have dared reply similarly to “How do we beat the black bastard?” For shame.

—Goodbye to the sick, malicious idea that this is funny. This is not “Clinton hating,” not “Hillary hating.” This is sociopathic woman-hating. If it were about Jews, we would recognize it instantly as anti-Semitic propaganda; if about race, as KKK poison. Hell, PETA would go ballistic if such vomitous spew were directed at animals. Where is our sense of outrage—as citizens, voters, Americans?

—Goodbye to the news-coverage target-practice . . .

The women’s movement and Media Matters wrung an apology from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for relentless misogynistic comments (www.womensmediacenter.com). But what about NBC’s Tim Russert’s continual sexist asides and his all-white-male panels pontificating on race and gender? Or CNN’s Tony Harris chuckling at “the chromosome thing” while interviewing a woman from The White House Project? And that’s not even mentioning Fox News.

—Goodbye to pretending the black community is entirely male and all women are white . . .

Surprise! Women exist in all opinions, pigmentations, ethnicities, abilities, sexual preferences, and ages—not only African American and European American but Latina and Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Arab American and—hey, every group, because a group wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t given birth to it. A few non-racist countries may exist—but sexism is everywhere. No matter how many ways a woman breaks free from other discriminations, she remains a female human being in a world still so patriarchal that it’s the “norm.”

—Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!) Goodbye to some women pouting because she didn’t bake cookies or she did, sniping because she learned the rules and then bent or broke them. Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms.-perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement. She’s running to be president of the United States.

—Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten thestatus quo), who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her. Goodbye to women of any age again feeling unworthy, sulking “what if she’s not electable?” or “maybe it’s post-feminism and whoooosh we’re already free.”

—So listen to her voice:

“For too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words.

“It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when woman and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide along women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

“Women’s rights are human rights. Among those rights are the right to speak freely—and the right to be heard.”

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton defying the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Government at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (look here for the full, stunning speech).

–Select excerpts from Robin Morgan’s “Goodbye To All That (#2)

~~

From “All You Need is Hate” by Stanley Fish:

She is vilified for being a feminist and for not being one, for being an extreme leftist and for being a “warmongering hawk,” for being godless and for being “frighteningly fundamentalist,” for being the victim of her husband’s peccadilloes and for enabling them…

But the people and groups Horowitz surveys have brought criticism of Clinton to what sportswriters call “the next level,” in this case to the level of personal vituperation unconnected to, and often unconcerned with, the facts. These people are obsessed with things like her hair styles, the “strangeness” of her eyes — “Analysis of Clinton’s eyes is a favorite motif among her most rabid adversaries” — and they retail and recycle items from what Horowitz calls “The Crazy Files”: she’s Osama bin Laden’s candidate; she kills cats; she’s a witch (this is not meant metaphorically)…

The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay.

–from “All You Need is Hate” by Stanley Fish

~~

And lest you buy into the notion that Clinton is “calculating” while the other campaigns are not, take a peek at “Mr. Obama Goes to Washington“:

That’s the key word in trying to figure out Obama: He seems like everything to everybody, which is not necessarily his fault. Much of the media coverage of Obama has been personality focused, as the story of the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan, the third African-American senator since Reconstruction. Because the media have not looked as closely at his political positions, Obama has taken on the quality of a blank screen on which people can project whatever they like. But he hasn’t discouraged this. A masterful politician, Obama has a Bill Clinton-esque talent for maximizing that screen and appearing comfortable in almost any setting. And, like Clinton, Obama has an impressive control of the issues and a mesmerizing ability to connect with people…

Obama has a remarkable ability to convince you that his positions are motivated purely by principles, not tactical considerations. This skill is so subtle and impressive, it resembles Luke Skywalker’s mastery of the Force. It’s a powerful tool for a Democratic Party that often emanates calculation rather than conviction….

–from “Mr. Obama Goes to Washington

~~

All campaigns and politicians are calculated, especially in terms of appealing to people on an emotional level. If they weren’t, they’d flop. So let’s call out and then ditch the ad hominem woman-hating attacks and start dealing with what really separates Clinton and Obama. Please.

~~

7 Responses to “How to Hate Hillary”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    February 7th, 2008 at 10:39 pm eaaauuuuugh! Evil lizard-brain bastards…
    they have no clue they are reverting to livestock.
    WTF century is this?
    Great interview…it really is a primitive
    fetishistic thing. Astonishing.
    To see a collection of sayings more
    cringing and primal than even Freudian
    theory is depressing. The animal still
    lurks.
  2. Jordan Says:
    February 9th, 2008 at 1:54 pm eShe makes little kids cry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW7s8TuvZ8U
  3. Amy King Says:
    February 9th, 2008 at 9:47 pm eOh no! Going for the stomach … how could they? How could she? Arggh!
  4. Greg Rappleye Says:
    February 10th, 2008 at 12:39 am eAmen.

    Thank you for this post.

  5. Amy King Says:
    February 10th, 2008 at 3:02 am eMy pleasure. Thanks for stopping by!
  6. Paula Delaine Says:
    February 26th, 2008 at 11:46 am eThe Misogyny of Hillary Hating

    What I have to say has nothing to do with which Democratic candidate would be a better president: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It has to do with the contest between Hillary, a woman who seeks to be our next president, and the “Hillary Haters”, people who have been relentlessly poisoning the public imagination with negative personal attacks against her. They don’t attack her politics, policies, intelligence or capacity to be president – only her personality.

    Hillary’s personality is no different now than when she held a comfortable lead in public opinion polls a couple of months ago and was favored to win. Recently, though, you’d think that she’s morphed into evil itself the way Hillary Haters on the radio talk shows, for instance, relentlessly portray her as: “evil Hillary”, “witch”, “ball-busting”, “prostitute”, “that bitch”, “mean-looking”, “untrustworthy”, “doesn’t know how to run her own home”, “she stuck with Bill just so she could use him for her own political ambitions”. These attacks (made mostly by men and some self-deprecating women) are unfair, sexist, and hateful. None of the male candidates are being demonized in this way. For those of us who have worked for women’s equality for so long, it’s painful to watch a qualified female candidate being trashed in this way.

    Here are some other examples of what has been said about her, but not the other candidates:
    • “I don’t trust her. She’s calculating and manipulative.” – What candidate isn’t calculating and manipulative when they want to sway public opinion and gain support…even the ones who are perceived as “honest”. It’s the nature of politics. Why berate Hillary for doing the same thing the male politicians do?

    • “I don’t know why I don’t like her. I just don’t. I mean, she’d probably be a good president, but she just rubs me the wrong way.” We’re supposed to be seeking someone who’s capable of running the country – not a personal relationship. Hillary Haters are being rubbed the wrong way because she’s a woman seeking power, going out of bounds of her expected sex role.

    • “I don’t like the way she talks or looks.” This is a personal projection having nothing to do with her ability to be an effective president. “Like-ability” is not the best measure of leadership. After all, George Bush was well-liked, and look what we got…twice.

    • “She’s a Washington insider, part of the Establishment. We need a change in the way things are done in Washington.” As members of Congress, all three of the leading primary candidates are Washington insiders…Hillary, Obama, and McCain. But a candidate’s status as an “insider” or “outsider” doesn’t guarantee we’ll get what we want. Uh, didn’t the “outsider” George W. Bush run for president with a promise to change Washington politics? He did, but not the way we wanted.

    In another example: when Hillary showed a little emotion in public – moist eyes – the media grabbed hold as if here was a true sign of her weakness and inability to be a strong president. Yet when Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shed a few tears while in office, they were perceived as positively human. It is mostly men who are concerned about Hillary’s emotions. Most women do not believe the public expression of natural human emotion is a weakness – especially when it’s as self-controlled display as Hillary’s was. In fact, it’s perceived as a strength.

    One could easily assume that curtained Republicans and/or corporate media moguls are injecting the virus of Hillary Hating into the media for ulterior purposes. So much of American media is now owned by a few people, most of whom are white, male Republicans. But I think the success of such a tactic points to a deeper problem than dirty politics or how a media message is skillfully crafted to favor one candidate over the other. If fear of Feminine Power weren’t so rampant in our hyper-masculine culture, and if the American public weren’t so susceptible to media manipulation and idol-worship, the Hillary Haters would not have found their seeds of slander so quickly bear fruit in the public imagination.

    Hatred of the Feminine is not always easy to see when you’re swimming in it. But thanks to blatant media bias during this long primary season, the non-objective choice of words and images that were fed to the public about Hillary and Obama starkly reveal our resistance in being fair to women. Why do we still silently stand by and accept this? Will our media be able to silently get away with racial bias against Obama if he wins the Democratic primary and challenges John McCain for the presidency?

    I’m glad that both a woman and an African American finally have a good chance to become president of our country. But misogyny should not be any more acceptable to Americans than racism. Reflect on this: if nothing other than gender changed, would Obama be able to gain as many votes if he were a black woman (unless, of course, he is Oprah)? Could Hillary Haters skewer Hillary’s character in the media as successfully if she were a white man?

    Barack Obama may inspire us because he speaks to our frustrations and longing to be better than we are. But If Hillary is a polarizing figure – as Hillary Haters claim – it’s not because of her politics nor even her personality. She’s a pioneer, a woman who dares to take on the most powerful leadership position in America, the provence of men. Pioneers always encounter resistance from those most frightened at the prospect of real change.

  7. Amy King Says:
    February 26th, 2008 at 6:12 pm eWell put, Paula. Thanks very much for this. The fact that only a handful of self-identified feminists are discussing this bursting, publicized misogyny is shameful for us as an “advanced” nation. We claim to be purging ourselves of such hatred, but the truth is that those who attempt to even point it out, or even not to play along, get called names in an attempt to shut us up. Damn shame our advanced society is so backwards.

Let’s Go Out Past the Party Lights
March 29, 2008

If I had a woman, I’d play this Tom Waits’ re-make for her.

If I had to live in the suburbs, I’d pick North Massapequa, former home of Christine Jorgensen, who was the world’s first publicized sex change star.

If I had to live in North Massapequa, originally settled by the Native Americans of the Algonquain language group, I’d choose a house ten minutes from the ocean and the Wantagh nature trail.

If I had to live ten minutes from the ocean, I’d explore the vineyards of Long Island and take the LIRR into Manhattan every other weekend.

If I had to read up on such “surburban” living, I might go here:

This fascinating study of the suburbs of Long Island, New York (and by analogy, those across America) arose from the authors’ daily commute from Manhattan to SUNY Old Westbury, which is near Levittown, one of the earliest and perhaps the most famous of American suburbs. Initially they had imagined suburbia “as an anaesthetized state of mind, a no place dominated by a culture of conformity and consumption.” Their research quickly taught them otherwise. While Picture Windows does document a growing obsession with middle-class consumer goods, like the televisions that came with 1950 houses at Levittown, it disrupts the myth of suburban serenity to reveal “a rich and stormy history” of political and social conflict. The planners and visionaries of suburbia, as the authors attest, tried to create a place “where ordinary people, not just the elite, would have access to affordable, attractive modern housing in communities with parks, gardens, recreation, stores, and cooperative town meeting places.” Shunning the “snobbery” of cultural critics who deplored the “neat little toy houses on their neat little patches of lawn,” Baxandall and Ewen find much to celebrate in the burgeoning suburbs. Most of those who flocked to the new towns had been crowded into city slums during the depression and war; they never questioned the architectural conformity of the suburbs, but only rejoiced in the chance of owning their own brand-new homes, places empty of anyone else’s memories and rich with potential. Picture Windows is a quintessentially American story, told with skill and conviction. –Regina Marler

Or here:

Le Corbusier’s vision of the future had come true: “The cities shall be part of the country; I shall live 30 miles from my office in one direction, under a pine tree; my secretary will live 30 miles away from it too, in the other direction, under another pine tree.” What that vision omits, of course, is the 5 or 6 million people in between, each with his or her own pine tree.

“…you are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always well taken care of if you come from Iowa.” Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography

Or Brooklyn, or Baltimore, or Buffalo, or Stone Mountain, or Massapequa, or, or, if.

~~

3 Responses to “Let’s Go Out Past the Party Lights”

  1. Gary Says:
    January 7th, 2008 at 9:37 pm eWhile you’re on the topic, don’t forget Candy Darling, who lived for a while in Massapequa Park.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    January 8th, 2008 at 5:41 pm eThe move made. Hopefully a lot of
    commute drag is gone from life.
    Seems a bit like Cape Cod, at least
    the low, gradual part. Been for a shufti or two,
    looks like. Nice place!
  3. Amy King Says:
    January 11th, 2008 at 7:07 pm eCandy Darling! I didn’t know!

    It’s a lovely area, though not as busy to the naked eye as Brooklyn…

“Why Poetry?”
March 28, 2008

james-baldwin-nyc.jpg

An excerpt from James Baldwin’s essay, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” (1979):

People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate. …

What joins all languages, and all men, is the necessity to confront life, in order, not inconceivably, to outwit death: The price for this is the acceptance, and achievement, of one’s temporal identity. So that, for example, thought it is not taught in the schools (and this has the potential of becoming a political issue) the south of France still clings to its ancient and musical Proven�al, which resists being described as a “dialect.” And much of the tension in the Basque countries, and in Wales, is due to the Basque and Welsh determination not to allow their languages to be destroyed. This determination also feeds the flames in Ireland for many indignities the Irish have been forced to undergo at English hands is the English contempt for their language.

It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity. There have been, and are, times, and places, when to speak a certain language could be dangerous, even fatal. Or, one may speak the same language, but in such a way that one’s antecedents are revealed, or (one hopes) hidden.

–from James Baldwin’s “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” (1979).

~~

paule-marshall.jpg

An excerpt from Paule Marshall’s essay, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” (1983):

‘’If you say what’s on your mind in the language that comes to you from your parents and your street and friends you’ll probably say something beautiful.’’ Grace Paley tells this, she says, to her students at the beginning of every writing course. …

I grew up among poets. Now they didn’t look like poets – whatever that breed is supposed to look like. Nothing about them suggested that poetry was their calling. They were just a group of ordinary housewives and mothers, my mother included, who dressed in a way (shapeless housedresses, dowdy felt hats and long, dark, solemn coats) that made it impossible for me to imagine they had ever been young. …

Later, armed with the few dollars they had earned, which in their vocabulary became ‘’a few raw-mouth pennies,’’ they made their way back to our neighborhood, where they would sometimes stop off to have a cup of tea or cocoa together before going home to cook dinner for their husbands and children. …

The basement kitchen of the brownstone house where my family lived was the usual gathering place. Once inside the warm safety of its walls the women threw off the drab coats and hats, seated themselves at the large center table, drank their cups of tea or cocoa, and talked. While my sister and I sat at a smaller table over in a corner doing our homework, they talked – endlessly, passionately, poetically, and with impressive range. No subject was beyond them.

True, they would indulge in the usual gossip: whose husband was running with whom, whose daughter looked slightly ‘’in the way’’ (pregnant) under her bridal gown as she walked down the aisle. That sort of thing. But they also tackled the great issues of the time. They were always, for example, discussing the state of the economy. It was the mid and late 30’s then, and the aftershock of the Depression, with its soup lines and suicides on Wall Street, was still being felt.

Some people, they declared, didn’t know how to deal with adversity. They didn’t know that you had to ‘’tie up your belly’’ (hold in the pain, that is) when things got rough and go on with life. They took their image from the bellyband that is tied around the stomach of a newborn baby to keep the navel pressed in.

They talked politics. Roosevelt was their hero. He had come along and rescued the country with relief and jobs, and in gratitude they christened their sons Franklin and Delano and hoped they would live up to the names. …

THERE was no way for me to understand it at the time, but the talk that filled the kitchen those afternoons was highly functional. It served as therapy, the cheapest kind available to my mother and her friends. Not only did it help them recover from the long wait on the corner that morning and the bargaining over their labor, it restored them to a sense of themselves and reaffirmed their self-worth. Through language they were able to overcome the humiliations of the work-day. …

But more than therapy, that freewheeling, wide-ranging, exuberant talk functioned as an outlet for the tremendous creative energy they possessed. They were women in whom the need for self-expression was strong, and since language was the only vehicle readily available to them they made of it an art form that – in keeping with the African tradition in which art and life are one – was an integral part of their lives.

And their talk was a refuge. They never really ceased being baffled and overwhelmed by America – its vastness, complexity and power. Its strange customs and laws. At a level beyond words they remained fearful and in awe. Their uneasiness and fear were even reflected in their attitude toward the children they had given birth to in this country. They referred to those like myself, the little Brooklynborn Bajans (Barbadians), as ‘’these New York children’’ and complained that they couldn’t discipline us properly because of the laws here. ‘’You can’t beat these children as you would like, you know, because the authorities in this place will dash you in jail for them. After all, these is New York children.’’ Not only were we different, American, we had, as they saw it, escaped their ultimate authority.

Confronted therefore by a world they could not encompass, which even limited their rights as parents, and at the same time finding themselves permanently separated from the world they had known, they took refuge in language. ‘’Language is the only homeland,’’ Czeslaw Milosz, the emigre Polish writer and Nobel Laureate, has said. This is what it became for the women at the kitchen table.

It served another purpose also, I suspect. My mother and her friends were after all the female counterpart of Ralph Ellison’s invisible man. Indeed, you might say they suffered a triple invisibility, being black, female and foreigners. They really didn’t count in American society except as a source of cheap labor. But given the kind of women they were, they couldn’t tolerate the fact of their invisibility, their powerlessness. And they fought back, using the only weapon at their command: the spoken word.

Those late afternoon conversations on a wide range of topics were a way for them to feel they exercised some measure of control over their lives and the events that shaped them. ‘’Soully-gal, talk yuh talk!’’ they were always exhorting each other. ‘’In this man world you got to take yuh mouth and make a gun!’’ They were in control, if only verbally and if only for the two hours or so that they remained in our house.

–from Paule Marshall’s essay, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” (1983).

~~

3 Responses to ““Why Poetry?””

  1. Jim K. Says:
    August 27th, 2007 at 1:15 am eA couple brilliant essays.
  2. Sara Says:
    September 3rd, 2007 at 1:11 am eHey Amy,

    ‘One of the best posts around, with something actually important to say — how refreshing when so many poets’ blogs, including mine, have really been diluted down to a kind-of just-to-stay-networked “game-ery,” ‘you know? You chose some brilliant essays that together are even greater than the sum of their parts. So per usual, Bravo!

    ‘Hope all is well,

    Sara

  3. Amy King Says:
    September 4th, 2007 at 3:32 pm eThank you both, Jim and Sara — I’m very glad you appreciated these. I love these essays and wish I had time to post from more …

    Cheers!

Analysis 101
March 27, 2008

Many of my students are required to watch the above youtube video, “A Girl Like Me”, among numerous others, as part of their supplemental assignments in my courses. Basically, I try to get them to begin analyzing by using the mediums they are most accustomed to, which include youtube and showing dvds of popular media in class. Some resist — these are the students who equate growing up in the “Information Age” with “knowing it all”. “Why do we have to ask so many questions?” And then there are the other students who suspect that they have inherited their belief systems from their parents and mainstream media and are longing for permission to question those values, especially as they become aware of the absence of a historical context for how those values came about. I aim to enable.

The video below, Ciara’s “Like a Boy”, is not assigned viewing; I expect they will have seen that one on their own. But the video did resonate with some recent comments Gloria Steinem made at Mill’s College last March. What follows are a few paragraphs I’ve excerpted from an article in the latest Curve Magazine, “Gloria Steinem’s Two Cents”, about her visit there.

~~

–from “Gloria Steinem’s Two Cents” in Curve Magazine

The 73-year-old former editor and founder of Ms. magazine joked about her undercover work as a Playboy Bunny for a labor expose in 1963, saying that she is still introduced as a former Bunny and would not do it again. She added that while it was not a great career move, it was a feminist step forward. Steinem said that a story she would try to get out today is of sexual and labor slavery, which is “more numerous in form in relation to the current population and the world than it was in the 1800s.” She says that these forms of slavery are much larger, more damaging and more profitable than the drugs and arms industries.

On the greater number of women who attend college today as an indication of living in “the best of times,” Steinem responded that the numbers partially reflect women who are now in college because they weren’t able to attend before. The audience responded with mumbles when Steinem added, “There are all these studies that show, like the famous valedictorian study, that women’s self-esteem goes down with every additional year of higher education–because we are essentially studying our absence. It took me over 20 years to get over my college education. I don’t think we can make easy assumptions.”

Steinem also took Mills to task for their own survey, in which its students (all female) revealed their regard for feminism as an “elitist movement, that it only represented white upper- and middle-class and largely heterosexual women.” Steinem argued the opposite: “The women’s movement is factually, actually, the most inclusive from every point of view– from race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, language –movement that this country has ever seen,” she stated, remembering the 1977 National Women’s Conference. “[It] was probably the only truly representative national political meeting the country has ever seen. In 1977.” Furthermore, Steinem argued that to label feminism a white, elitist and exclusive movement “wipes out the history of women of color who have been the pioneers of the women’s movement always.”

Dr. Candace Falk, director of the Emma Goldman Papers Project, about the radical first-wave feminist, at UC Berkeley, said, “What I think is very interesting about [Steinem] is her ability to listen and to change, and to become one with her political analysis, and her sexual analysis, and her understanding of the world, of hierarchies, of capitalism–of all the ways in which things converge to put women in the lesser place–but also have a larger view of a kind of world that would include all of us.”

–from “Gloria Steinem’s Two Cents” in Curve Magazine

5 Responses to “Analysis 101”

  1. Mr. Horton Says:
    August 9th, 2007 at 2:03 am eThanks for “Girl Like Me.” Very powerful stuff.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    August 9th, 2007 at 5:27 am eGreat to have just for looking.
    YouTube is getting to be a key resource!
    There really ought to be a YouTube//Lib. Of Congress
    project. Or someone. Buying up rights if necessary.
  3. Emmanuel Sigauke Says:
    August 9th, 2007 at 4:16 pm eI started using YouTube in class this summer and what an amazing resource! Most of my students used it as a tool to present on their research projects, and that worked for a summer writing class.
  4. Nic Sebastian Says:
    August 9th, 2007 at 9:09 pm eGot a great kick out of both videos — thanks!
  5. Amy King Says:
    August 10th, 2007 at 4:08 pm eWelcomes all around!