Monday, July 31, 2017

Divine Justice on the Border

Jackie Lopez Lopez

The KKK invaded my library when I was 9.
I was poor, ugly, and abused.
They were jealous of me.
So many people have called for divine justice on the border.
SB1070 is a fire in the desert.
I get accosted every day by bodhisattvas.
I hang on by a thread to the magic.
The desert can be hard.
The shame can be thick.
And, my blood runs cold.
The plantation keeps me original.
They say that there is a New Earth and the border is on the cutting edge.
The wind is whispering justice.
I think that I will become the horse’s mouth:
Justice means no border, no wall.
You dive into eternity just to find the courage to say that.
I know how to trickle-down effect ideas to the masses.
I call them thoughts.
I hear the whispers in the slave quarters
because the border means We the People of the Entire World.
We all desperately want to be free.
Some hearts can have a stigmatism.
Some hearts cannot be swayed.
I hate to be truthful like this, but what is a lie worth if I am not a politician?
The KKK invaded my library when I was 9, and I did not count as a vote.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Justice and Parables: Alfred Dreyfus and Franz Kafka

Kathryn A. Kopple

How is it possible for the Dreyfus Affair to cast light on the work of Franz Kafka, and in particular stories such as “The Burrow?” For it may be said of Kafka, perhaps more than any other writer of his stature, that he is rarely read historically—and yet, to better understand Kafka, context is needed—and, indeed, the connection between his writing and the Dreyfus case better understood.

“The Affair,” as the Dreyfus case is known, began after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). The war prompted an arms race between the two European powers. The French, having lost to its German neighbor, was determined to modernize not only its artillery but heighten its intelligence operations. Diplomatic channels seethed with espionage; a cast of charismatic and extraordinarily careless characters took up posts in the German embassy—one of whom bore the name Maximilian von Shwarzkoppen. The French High Command monitored the Germans by hiring cleaning women (spies), who emptied the wastepaper baskets on a daily basis. Whatever material went into the trash, the cleaning lady then handed over to French officials in what was called “the ordinary task.” Shwazkoppen kept up a furious correspondence. He and his agents adopted female aliases, wrote steamy letters to each other, and reveled in obscene references. All in all, they seemed to be having a good time of it.

Sadly, the frivolity ended with the arrest of Captain Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason. Dreyfus began his service in 1880 as an artillery officer. According to Jean-Denis Brendin, author of The Affair, the induction of Dreyfus coincided with an increasingly virulent form of French anti-Semitism. Dreyfus was in a delicate position: he was not only Jewish but from Alsace-Lorraine. As such, was Dreyfus truly French? Could a Frenchman be a Jew? Did the orthodox French army, a bastion of papists and monarchists, even want Jews among its ranks?

From the beginning to the end of his long ordeal—arrest, conviction, sentencing to Devil’s Island, eventual release—Dreyfus never once suggested that he had become a scapegoat for the Jews. In statement after statement, in letter after letter, he insisted on his devotion to France, his love of France, on the glory of France; for him, there was no greater nation. The French Republic, pure in spirit and brotherly love, would never debase itself by allowing racism to stain its reputation.  He did insist he was innocent.

Others agreed. The German Embassy wanted no part of the Dreyfus Affair, or any other case that would implicate its diplomats in espionage. Swarzkoppen protested ever having come into contact with Alfred Dreyfus. He was unwilling, however, to reveal the identity of the true traitor: a complicated—some might say sociopathic—individual by the name of Major Marie Charles Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Sometime before Dreyfus’s arrest and court martial, Esterhazy volunteered to pass sensitive documents to Swarzkoppen, pleading mounting debts and possible destitution. Wary of Esterhazy, Swarzkoppen nonetheless took him on as an agent. His new spy proved to be more trouble than he was worth. Even before Dreyfus came under suspicion, Swarzkoppen was eager to be rid of Esterhazy and his demands for ever larger sums of money.

Meanwhile, the French agent at the Germany Embassy continued collecting the trash—much of it correspondence of no particular importance hastily ripped to bits and pieces, including one document that would become known as the bordereau or memorandum. The contents of the memo referred to a hydraulic break; a note covering new plans for troops; modification of artillery formations; a note pertaining to Madagascar; and The Sketch for a Firing Manuel for the country artillery. Upon reading the memo, General Auguste Mercier, the French Minister of War, was outraged, as it implied that someone under his direct authority had committed treason, a grave oversight that reflected poorly on his ability to manage his staff. The hunt for the culprit began in earnest—and the faster the traitor was caught the better. Justice would not be served in this case, as officers eager to prove their worth relied on hearsay, doctored evidence, conspired among each other. The name Alfred Dreyfus came up, and it was decided that if his handwriting matched the memo, it would certainly provide evidence enough of his guilt. Hand-writing experts were called in, although none could say for certain that Dreyfus had written the memo. Still, the Minister of War was convinced. His Jewish background, the fact that he was considered in the eyes of his superiors as more German than French, a negative review written by a superior, and the fact that he came from a family of means (ironically) compromised Captain Dreyfus. The end result: a miscarriage of justice that would take years to resolve.

On October 13, 1894, Alfred Dreyfus reported to his office. Waiting for him was a man who introduced himself as Commandant du Paty de Clam. Bendin describes the scene: 

In the rear were three men in civilian garb unknown to Dreyfus… du Paty invited Dreyfus to fill in the identificatory section of his inspection as his aides looked on. Then du Paty, whose right hand was covered by a black glove, said to Dreyfus: “I have a letter to write and present to General Boisdeffre for his signature. I’ve hurt my finger. Can you write it for me?” Dreyfus agreed to the odd request, and sat at a small table ready for the dictation. It was then that Commandant du Paty, leaning over Dreyfus, dictated to him a meticulously composed text (55).

Sadly, Dreyfus, he was signing away his legal rights. At one point during the interrogation, du Paty shouted that Dreyfus was under arrest for the crime of high treason. The Commandant had a pistol hidden beneath a folder, which he offered to Dreyfus—the intent obvious: Captain Dreyfus should use it to kill himself. He refused and was then hauled off to lock-up. His family had yet to be notified. For the moment, only the military knew his whereabouts.

Dreyfus was France’s most famous prisoner—and as such, much of the punishment meted out to him was excessive and arbitrary. Publicly degraded by being stripped of his uniform, and then shipped off to Devil’s Island, which had once served as a leper colony. There, Dreyfus was kept in solitary confinement, double shackled to his bed at night, and nearly starved to death. Many in the French High Command wished he would be forgotten. They would not get their wish.

Alfred’s brother, Matheiu Dreyfus, never ceased in his efforts to have him exonerated. His desperation led Matheiu to take up with a clairvoyant; a woman he lodged in his house. He encouraged to her spend hours in trances in an effort to make psychic contact with his brother. He also hired lawyers, knocked on doors and made trips abroad. His efforts paid off—that, and the fact the right-wing papers, with their stream of anti-Jewish vitriol, gained the attention a group known as the Dreyfusards. Among them, Emile Zola, who, sympathetic to Captain Dreyfus, published his famous J’Accuse letter denouncing the Affair. The conservative press used Zola’s Italian background as cause for dismissing him as a foreigner, a man with no genuine ties to France. One of the country’s most respected writers was thus lumped in with the grotesque Jews, who were vile, scarcely human, lacking a culture, country or language of their own, beyond contempt.

Grotesque? Or Kafkaesque? As the truth of the misdeeds of the French High Command surfaced, and the pressure to revisit the Dreyfus case mounted, it was decided that Dreyfus be allowed to return to France—not as a free man, but to face a second trial. He was once more convicted, but by then French officials, wanting to wash their hands of the Affair, offered the Captain amnesty. Dreyfus accepted—much to the dismay of his supporters. Indeed, he infuriated them by requesting that he be reinstated in the army, and by his refusal to attack in any way those responsible for his ordeal. Perhaps he feared for his family? Whatever the reason, he refused to publicly assist the Dreyfusards.

As Sander L. Gilman writes in Franz Kafka: The Jewish Patient, Kafka was eleven years old when Dreyfus was arrested. He would turn twenty-three upon the Captain’s final pardon. When Kafka was twenty-five, a last attempt was made on Dreyfus’s life. Jews across Europe were deeply shaken by these events. Kafka was no different. The “otherness” of his writing points not uniquely to a disturbed psyche (although Kafka suffered from ailments both nervous and physical) but to actual historical events as well. The Trial, certainly one of Kafka’s most famous novels, demonstrates the uncertain authority of the law, the vulnerability of the individual in the face of unfounded accusations, and the cruel absurdity of guilty before proven innocent. In particular, his story “The Burrow" may be read as the culmination of the hysteria that took hold of Europe that resulted in World War I. For what was Kafka referring to in this parable about an animal that tunnels deep within the ground—a nameless creature—that seeks to protect itself by self-burial? “The Burrow” is a story about trench warfare: the misery of fighting in those holes, and the death of thousands. The conflict resulted in an even greater hardening of one nation-state against another--and a re-emergence with particular hatred and fear of the “Other.” In some sense, Kafka was spared the worst. He applied for service in World War I and was rejected for reasons of health. After World War II broke out, his three sisters were captured and killed by the Nazis. By that time, Kafka had passed away of tuberculosis.

Credits: This article first appeared in Unusual Historicals (2013)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Interview with poet Carlos Cumpian

TLY: Today, we welcome poet Carlos Cumpián. In addition to his work as a poet, Carlos is an activist, English teacher, publisher, visual artist and performer.

Thank you so much Carlos for taking the time to share with us. You have been described as a “sound and fury barrio” poet. Your poetry is equally gentle, humorous, and often beautiful. What is beauty to you?

CARLOS: Ok why not, let’s start with an eternally philosophical question. Beauty is what our natural world has provided in its most extreme forms and transitory delicate forms, free of human debasement or meddling.

Lightning storms, snow falling, sun-showers, the Aurora Borealis, the open desert, vast cloudless blue skies, or real clouds racing past. Beauty for me are mountain shadows cast across the landscape, shooting stars and constellations, forests and sunrise over beaches. These are all places of high energy and low man-made (EMF) electrical magnetic frequencies, no factory funk or laundry detergents, no transportation exhausts and smells.

Some might think I don’t see beauty in an urban setting. Yes, cities are also places of hidden beauty. You must seek it out. Maybe you’ll experience it or just have to settle for the artifice of beauty, a pseudo-beauty that artists of all genres aspire to. There’s the Navajo song that I’ll cite, in approximation, it goes like; “I walk in Beauty, in front of me ---beauty, behind me-- beauty, to the right---beauty, to the left—beauty, above me ---beauty, underfoot –beauty all around.”

If you are able to reach a state of grace, satori, bliss, Samadhi, nirvana, enlightenment-- then you are experiencing beauty. The ability to use our bodies in a trained manner also provides an enormous glimpse of beauty— a devotion to physical discipline before we deteriorate. I have seen this human beauty appear and disappear like cresting and receding waves. I recall the words of the poet/ philosopher and ruler of Pre-Conquest Mexico, Netzahualcoyotl who wrote, that we were like flowers, that come from seed, bloom expand and fade to dust. Beauty is not aware of its own state—it just is. I do realize that each culture or civilization has developed their own “yard stick” to measure beauty and these contain differences and disagreements. But there is NO ONE UNIVERSAL absolute agreement as to what is undisputedly beautiful. We must find it for ourselves, however influenced we might be by our social conditioning.

TYL: Latino Rainbow: Poems about Latino Americans is a “teen-centered” work. I have read that you found your own formal education lacking because you were curious about the world around you, and it wasn’t being taught at school.

CARLOS: It became especially evident to me after becoming a full-time English teacher in the mid-1990s. I worked mainly in poorer areas of Chicago with an almost all black and brown student population. I realized that they had been exposed to only a few minority authors such as: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Zora Neal Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Toni Morrison. While these are all tremendously important writers they hadn’t read work by living Native Americans, Asians or their neighbors—Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans.

These were rather sophisticated Black authors who were shoveled as “essential reads” to many an urban classroom, all to the befuddlement of seventh and eighth graders. I discovered this from my tenth graders when I attempted to “introduce” these giants of African American literature to them. When I was enrolled at the University of Illinois-Chicago, I had read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston for the first time. It required some in-depth analysis to fully appreciate her characters and plot. So how was an elementary school teacher supposed to get any serious traction from 13 and 14-year-old students in an over-crowded classroom? I am sure it could be handled now that I have a Master’s in Education and two decades worth of teaching under my belt; but as a new teacher it really challenged me. I am certain it has been difficult for other teachers too.

Alas, what I found in my school’s English department. The tattered leftover remains of minority authors of uneven talents published in paperback anthologies in response to the “Black is Beautiful 1960s” or the newly woke sleeping giant; The Mexican-American “Brown Pride” period, was marked with the publication of POCHO -- published in paperback in 1970 by José Antonio Villarreal. I argue that, for the most part, teachers didn’t have thematically appealing fiction or poetry books available outside of a couple of Gary Soto and Sandra Cisneros stories. When the book Parrot in the Oven by Californian Victor Martinez appeared – I pushed to have him appear before hungry young Chicanos at my school in Little Village, La Villita. I did the same for Texas fiction writer David Rice with his Give the Pig a Chance and New Mexican multi-talented Denise Chávez who had me as a fan since 1986 with her Last of the Menu Girls. I feel the talented Luis J. Rodriguez’s autobiography Always Running and his 1999 bilingual children’s book It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way/ No tiene que ser asi are two solid literary contributions for our school kids.

If you were to go into the way back “Time-Machine” back to the mid-1960s, you might see me reading a comic book behind my text books, like Turok: Son of Stone which featured Paleo-indigenous people fighting against dinosaurs and other tribes. It was a story line with no Europeans, no Africans, just a fantasy world of survival in isolation, deep in a lost valley, in contrast to the ethnically insensitive and racist projections depicted in our school board approved Texas History Book.

The challenge of “making reading materials relevant to a minority audience” must have dawned on me way back in seventh grade. And aside from The Texas History in cartoon drawings format, I grew up seeing nearly no mention of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans or indigenous people except in the most stereotypical manner. Speedy Gonzales, Frito Bandito and the television commercial where a Mexican labor couldn’t finish his painting job unless he finished his cigarette first. It seemed wrong since I had a male Mexican-American teacher Mr. Zavala in sixth grade and my father who graduated from Bowling Green University in Ohio with a political science degree.

Books that spoke to my interests while in high school were next to impossible to find. I was pretty well alienated by the lack of topics I wanted to know about. Superficially in school we touched on the nagging issue as to where do we come from and what is the meaning to life. I pondered this as many friends were dying from accidents, drug use and later in Vietnam. I took my questions to older folks and fellow students who were juniors and seniors while I was a freshman.

Turns out, they too were curious and suggested I go to bookstores and libraries. I started my search with intriguing titles like the I CHING, specifically Hellmut Wilhelm’s translation of the Chinese classic. I had a leather cover made for it because I consulted it on a weekly basis for years. Then there were pop sociology works like Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Alvin Tolfer’s The Population Bomb, and Future Shock. I met a few Hare Krishna devotees and read their colorful Bhagavad Gita. I did this thinking I might journey to India, therefore I wanted to understand their culture. How could I do that without reading their classic? So, I read parts of The Rig Veda, The Mahábhárata, and The Upanishads. I had my introduction to Buddha with Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. You might say I was in the “spiritual supermarket” going down the aisles reading the ingredients. How Tao you do Lao Tzu?

My older friends introduced me to poetry by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the other Beat poets he published through City Lights Books. I found Gary Snyder’s poetry perfect as I was drawn to various non-western mythologies of Asia and North America which he incorporated in his poems. I forged ahead with reading my dictionary at my elbow as I worked to understand all the new spiritual and philosophical words and concepts.

It was The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran with his parable-like tales and his book’s pencil illustrations that basically turned me towards reading philosophy. I may have spent too much time trying to figure out the various philosophies. In part, it was a rejection of Catholic school and church which I regularly attended up until age 14.

What I call the “breaking event” happened when I was eleven (don’t go cray-cray now). When walking back from the store one late afternoon with my brother, he slapped my arm and said rather alarmed, “Hey, what’s that?” Pointing directly across the street from where we were living was a bus-size silver UFO with greenish-blue lights visible in its portal. It hovered silently and I strained my eyes trying to make out a series of odd markings that circled its underside meant. Years later I say those markings appeared like Sanskrit. The sighting lasted two to four minutes. The craft went swiftly straight up into a cloudless sky in seconds and became as small as a daytime star. Having seen that it struck me that all my Catholic catechism classes never covered alien UFO sightings. I now had to question EVERYTHING.

In turn, my questioning led me to become such a “book worm.” If anyone wanted to find me I would be on a park bench or room reading or haunting the aisles of Wells Street Barbara’s Books or the local or downtown Chicago Public Library. Right out of high school, I had a girlfriend who wanted me to read what I thought was childish stuff at the time--The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I wish now that I finished that book. Back then I wanted “heavier” topics. I found the American Protestant turned Buddhist Alan W. Watts’ books and went down his philosophical “rabbit hole” and in the process bumped into Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Das) and Dr. Timothy Leary who were trying to expand our Western minds. This was all before I found Chicano literature.

The first Chicano materials I read were collected was by professor Phillip D. Ortego, who edited We are Chicanos, an anthology that appeared 1973. Dr. Ortego is now in his 90s and has taught longer than any professor I’ve ever known. Later, it was the 1974 paperback, Voices of Atztlan; Chicano Literature of Today which introduced me to the fiction and poetry of Tomas Rivera, Ricardo Sanchez, Luis Valdez, Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado and Gloria Perez, among others. I was blessed to later meet many of the same writers and host them in Chicago for public readings.

Reading saved me from a world of hurt (gangs). From age 15 on I became a reader of more than comic books and pop culture magazines. Once while on the train, a college recruiter saw me reading a Mesoamerican history book, he asked if I was reading it because of a college course. I assured him it was just for my own interest. He gave me his business card and said call if I wanted help to get into college. I didn’t take him up on that offer for two years before starting baccalaureate studies. I was married and had a kid and worked during the day had to take evening classes, so earning my BA only took me seven years. I was often the oldest guy in many of my classes at the University of Illinois. I was also the only Spanish-speaking (my Spanish was not all that rich) Chicano in many of my English classes too. The Latinos were not really becoming English majors. This was in the 1980s! I am like the turtle—slow and steady wins the race (I guess) because I finally earned my Masters in 2010.

TLY: Have you ever traveled to a new place to find that, instead of feeling lost, you felt completely at ease—at home, even? 

CARLOS: Yes, in 1972, there was this one place, in the Mexican state of Morelos. Up in the mountains, it was an Eden-like place, a glimpse of paradise. A 2012 road trip to Montana’s mountains prompted me reflect on human existence and made me feel connected. At the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn where Custer was “rubbed out” I felt it was a deeply spiritual place with the long sweet grass or buffalo grass waving in the wind on an overcast afternoon. But if I wanted a “home” experience, it would just be the smell soil after a fine drizzle, turning cool air into a rare incense on a summer night in San Antonio, Texas. Love your question. 

TLY: The word “destiny” is rooted in religion, culture—and, in the States, ideas of personal success. How do you define destiny?

CARLOS: I embrace a mainly a backwards-looking definition or understanding of destiny. I see destiny only in retrospect. The future for the most part is “unwritten.” While I am a fairly decent student of history, I appreciate the concept of destiny as mainly myth and luck that’s coupled with gut survival. The fact we will all die is the only guaranteed destiny I know in store for us mortals. I am more intrigued in how “Black Swan” events might set the action for collective destiny. An example is the 9/11 horror or the 2008 stock market housing crash or the 2011 Japanese 9-point earthquake, that busted open the Fukashima reactor. But it takes years for the dust to settle to understand these occurrences. I know one’s personal interests can provide a sense of a destiny. We shouldn’t confuse destiny with goals. Our interests can change quickly depending who we are with and what’s expected. When I was in diapers my paternal grandfather said I would become a football player. That never happened. The closest was when I played baseball in sixth grade. My father told me I should have become lawyer or actor. Instead, I became a teacher which at times is about acting and the law. Destiny is not entirely pre-determined like the old Calvinists thought. There’s free will but within historical limits until conditions suddenly change. My passion has been to understand and anticipate some of the earth and social changes which will impact my family and friends.

TLY: We live in a multi-lingual society. How has this influenced you and your writing?

CARLOS: I understand the USA as a multi-lingual country because my parents were always switching between English and Spanish while we were growing up in California and Texas. After we moved to Chicago, I heard a strange form of Spanish coming out of some neighboring old timers rolling a ball in their backyard. It turned out to be Italian! My old friend and mentor Carlos Cortez was married to a woman straight from Greece. They could speak to each other in Greek, then switch to Spanish, then to English in a matter of minutes. Cortez himself was the result of a German American woman and Mexican man meeting and marrying in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I figured if I wanted to be understood by either English-speakers or Spanish-speakers— I should try to be good in both. In the 1980’s, I became “serious” about one day publishing a poetry collection. This was after coming across a collection of Cuban poetry. Every poem was translated facing each other Spanish across from English page for page. That’s when the light came on for me, this was a clear signal I needed to reach both los hispanohablantes and English-speakers in the same text!

Honestly, I am always learning when it comes to languages—currently I’ve added Lakota to my pursuits, I also want to know my own tribal tongue which is connected to the Hokan speakers of the Southwest. Years ago, I wanted to learn French after visiting Quebec, but there’s only so many days in a year and I would have to move there if I wanted to use it. I’ve little interest in traveling to Africa or Europe where more French is spoken.

TLY: You have been named among the Chicago Public Library’s “Top Ten Most Requested Chicago Poets.” What is your dream library, real or imagined?

CARLOS: Wow, I’ll keep it short, I would love a library where readings of fiction and poetry are hosted on weekly basis as well as films-documentaries on poets and writers plus VISITS from established voices plus book-signings and writing workshops happen twice a month. This is stealing or combining Evanston’s’ library a suburb just north of Chicago and Chicago’s own system with coffee house culture. Every parent should try to bring their child or children to the library at least a few times each season.

TLY: In the poem “Chupacabra Furlough,” you write about a creature that is goat vampire, of sorts—a mythical creature that belongs to the folklore of the Americas. It’s a fantastic poem, and I was hoping you would share your thoughts about it with us.

CARLOS: Gracias, you are kind, yes, the poem speaks to my interest in alien and cryptozoology sightings—Latinos (Puerto Ricans and Mexicans) have had a fair share of them in the past decade—there was one case which really, I confess it “scared me” from Monterey, Mexico of a dark humanoid that could fly it appeared going from mountain top to mountain top and even leaped from a tall tree to attack a young police officer who was out looking for it. The case was never solved—some called this creature a “bruja” a witch but it could be an alien. The goat-sucker or Chupacabra is an animal with dog and lizard features could be the result of a lab experiment gone wrong or an escaped critter from an alien craft. Then again, it might be too much rum or mescal at work on some lonely outpost in the hills.

TYL: You edited the anthology Emergency Tacos: Seven Poets con Picante (March Abrazo (March 1989). What should readers expect?

CARLOS: The long out of print collection will go on to be a collector’s item, with wonderful Sandra Cisneros in the chapbook anthology. Then there’s the late great Carlos Cortez’s poems and art. Cynthia Gallaher is also in the collection and she’s been getting some mileage for her recent non-fiction collection a Frugal Poet's Guide to Life (Book Baby, 2016). The other poets Beatriz Badikian, Margarite Lopez Castro, Raul Niño and myself round out the collection. Niño’s first book Breathing Light is also a collector’s item—he had a follow up in 2007 called The Book of Mornings—which is a chapbook while Breathing Light is perfect bound. I would love for my amigo Raul to finally come out with his poetry manuscript Rough Sutra. The other women I’ve lost contact with and can’t say what they are up to publishing wise. Readers can expect a wide-range of styles and some bilingualism in the works I’ve published. Recently, Arte Publico Press, the well-heeled university press, accepted one of our Puerto Rican writers—Frank Varela’s manuscript which included poems originally published in March Abrazo Press Serpent Underfoot and Bitter Coffee titles. Frank’s new work is Diaspora: Selected and New Poems which earned him a 2017 Latino Literature non-fiction award.

TLY: Once, in conversation about poetry, you said, “No postcards.” What is a postcard poem?

CARLOS: I am not all that good with writing Haiku-like work—or poems that can be appreciated on a postcard complete with an image or photo. I’ve been part of such collections, but, it’s not the most satisfying medium. Some will tell you -- use what you can and be glad you ever got published, I agree.

TLY: It’s been a great honor and pleasure, Carlos. Before we let you go, can share with us current or future projects you are working on?

CARLOS: I am reviewing my three-decade collection of letters, fliers, notes, booklets, posters, photos, and other documents for donating my literary archives in a Michigan university. The collecting and sorting is at times a challenge and I hope by September 2017 to have most of it completed. I do have a poetry manuscript that is on the burner and my play, Behind the Buckskin Curtain: Buffalo Bills Wild West that needs revisiting. You may know from Facebook comments that I have been exploring survivalist literature as both a cultural phenomenon and a practical way to be self-sufficient when faced with a possible grid down or massive ecological challenge. I hope we all look up from our reading and take measures to make the coming transitions or earth changes as safe as possible. Be well and thanks.


Carlos Cumpián is a widely anthologized poet.  He is the author of: 14 Abriles: Poems (March Abrazo Press, Chicago, 2010); Armadillo Charm (Tia Chucha Press, L.A. 1996, 2nd printing, 1998); Latino Rainbow: Poems about Latino Americans (Children's Press, Scholastic Books, Danbury, Conn., 1994, available in hardcover, paperback and teacher's guide editions), Coyote Sun (March Abrazo Press, Chicago, 1990, 4th printing, 2005). His most recent essay appears in With a Book in Their Hand: Chicano/a Readers and Readerships Across the Centuries (University of New Mexico Press, 2015).

Carlos is also the editor of MARCH/Abrazo Press and has been instrumental in the longevity of the small press and establishing its presence as an independent publisher of Latino and Native American poetry. Carlos taught high school English in Chicago and worked to provide quality education to inner-city high school youth. He has also taught at Columbia College in Chicago and still does public readings and beginner and advanced workshops on poetry and small press management.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Black Lives Matter

Jackie Lopez Lopez

You can’t fool me.
Black lives matter
because Kingdom Come matters,
because love matters.
Like the rivers that pulse in my sea, I see.
Like the earthquake beneath my feet, I feel.
Like a handsome tornado in the sun, I hear.
Like a butterfly on a sunflower, I taste.
Like a hierophant in the slave quarters, I know.
I know because I have to make a living in this Godforsaken land.
The cops follow me.
The doctors arrest me.
The principal lies to me.
The teacher implores me…”be white.”
Oh, but I know black lives matter.
I’m no fool.
I know what redemption means.
I know what soulful music means.
I know what heroines and heroes are.
I am a historian on the back porch of my grandmother’s house.
And, Africa gave the world music.
And, I’ve got the drum in my heart beating because of it.
I will not stand down.
I will not salute the KKK.
I will pollute the elite with truth and poverty.
We shall see if they can survive on that.
Intelligence is not a university degree.
It is a heart.
For knowledge without the eye of virtue, is for not.
Black lives matter because black is the genius behind everything in the universe.
Black lives have spoken up for me, so, now I speak in praise to them.
For black are the color of my eyes, black is the color of my soul, and black were the color of my grandmother’s thighs

Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Forget the Pictures

Kathryn A. Kopple

When I try to remember my year in Sao Paolo, I am able to summon just enough material to fill a teacup.  A cup of tea does not an exciting story make, unless the tea happens to be particularly potent. Unwilling to risk a diluted version of my experience, or able to go so far as to falsify the disparate and vaguely tangible, I turn to the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss.  I think of Levi-Strauss as the French Borges of anthropology.  A man of the library.  An anthropologist who found in the archives answers that weren't available to him in the field.  He also who wrote Tristes Tropiques, a book about Sao Paolo.

There is much to admire about Levi-Strauss.  He is a tremendous, if utterly self-indulgent, writer.  I am hoping his elegant phrasing, acerbic wit, and inexhaustible genius will enable me to exhume a year of my life that has gone missing.  Looking back, I should have kept a diary.  I didn't.  The idea may have occurred to me but as fallible as my memory I am almost certain it was the last thing on my mind.  A year away involved lots of planning of a kind I'd never done before: choosing the right sort of luggage (go with the duffel bag; you can cram a lot in a duffel bag); passport and visa applications; trips to the doctor for vaccines; going to the bank for travelers checks.  You would have thought I'd have had some contact with my future host family before leaving the States.  A letter.  A phone call. But I don't remember any contact at all.

I do recall arriving at the airport in Sao Paolo after a miserable flight.  I was picked up by two attractive people, a man and a woman, who could have been anyone--and in a way were anyone because to this day I can't remember their names.  It is altogether possible that in the entire time I was in their home, I never addressed them as anything but "senhor" and "senhora."  Mr. and Mrs.

Senhor struck me as quite put together. I was used to my own father, who dressed for comfort and thought about his appearance as little as possible. But, like my father, he wasn't stuffy.  He was also a cheerful person.  As for the senhora, she reminded me of my mother because she bleached her hair blond. There was a fluttery quality about this woman, like a leaf that never ceased to tremble, wind or no wind.

Senhora often showed me pictures of her son.  She missed him to a degree I found surprising, almost upsetting.  Her beloved child had signed up for a year abroad in the States, and in exchange, she got me.  A stranger from a country I suspect she'd never visited, and about which she could only imagine. All those pictures. So little English.  A word or two.

Living among the Paulistas is like living among New Yorkers.  City people. The official language is Portuguese, although people assume Brasilians speak Spanish.  The country as we know it began as a Portuguese colony.  Its Christopher Columbus was Pedro Álvares Cabral, who set off for India in the early 16th century, got lost, and landed in Brasil. Levi-Strauss mentions that there is some dispute about whether the French hadn't arrived first. The name "Brasil," so the theory goes, was adapted by French settlers, and "as early as the twelfth century had been closely guarded and secret name of a mythical continent of wood dyes."  Red gold.  These colorful dyes come from the Pau Brasil, the tree after which the country is named.  Pau Brasil is also known as the music tree because it is used in bow making.

It should also be noted that Brasilians don't like being thought of as just another Latin American country, and it is a sign of ignorance if not disrespect to assume they are like Chile or Peru, or any of the other Spanish speaking nations in the region.

Sao Paulo is a mega-opolis, a giant city--one of the largest in the world.  Levi-Strauss writes that already, in 1935, when he was a professor at the fledgling University of Sao Paolo, vestiges of Sao Paolo as an exotic, tropical outpost were almost nowhere to be found. Instead of tribes of native peoples, he arrived to a society made up of the descendants of European colonial-settlers, Afro-Brasilians, and immigrants.  He writes of having been deceived by one of his professors in France, observing that he had been told that the suburbs of Sao Paolo are "full of Indians, whom you can study at the weekends."  Given the history of the Americas and the fate of the indigenous people, it seems incredible to think he could have been so naive.  But, then, we have deceived ourselves so long when it comes to the disasters that befell indigenous people with the onslaught of European colonization that it becomes sadly plausible. As Levi-Strauss explains it, he thought that Sao Paolo was a "native town."

Reading Tristes Tropiques, I chase after Levi-Strauss as he expertly navigates Sao Pao looking for details--signs, anything--to figure out where I might have lived.  On the slope which leads down to the Tamanduatehy river and overlooks the working-class district of Braz and Penha?  Or, near the Praca da Se, the cathedral square?  Most likely, I was lodged at Perdizes or Agua-Branca, both middle-class neighborhoods. Nothing luxurious, like the Campos Elyseos, a neighborhood of villas and eucalyptus trees but which, according to Levi-Strauss, already fallen into ruin in 1935.

Everywhere Levi-Strauss looks, he finds evidence of urban and rural decay. The wear and tear depressing. In the New World, nothing should age. All is youth and vigor. If the New World must age, couldn't it do it more gracefully--like Old World cities? As for me, I remember only ultra-new, modern high rises, which now make me think of something out of Kafka's Amerika in which entrances and exits are constantly shifting, and high rises are places of entrapment.  I can only assume that I spent long periods of time alone in my room, at least in the beginning of my stay to explain this persistent impression of claustrophobia.

Inside  my white-walled cell, I moped.  Lunch was the brightest part of the day. The family sat around the table while my host mother and the hired help served meals that were delicious and lavish, and all of it freshly cooked.  Coming from a home in which both parents worked and Thanksgiving was one of the few meals we ate as a family, I realized I'd been starved, not intentionally, but no such custom existed in my house. We lived on peanut butter sandwiches, cereal and yogurt.  Meat suddenly became a staple.

Sometimes, for my benefit, a young couple who spoke English came to lunch.  Right from the start, they told me they weren't married but lived together.  The woman explained that people shouldn't rush into marriage.  Weddings cost a lot of money.  Divorce too difficult. She smiled, kissed her partner--couldn't have been more beautiful, charming, or liberated.  Divorce in the States was legal but, with exceptions, culturally taboo--as was living together. In Brasil, which I didn't know at the time, divorce only became legal in 1977.  Taboos aside, the easiest way around the law was to simply not get married.

No doubt, Levi-Strauss would have something brilliant to say about marriage customs.  But, I didn't go to Brasil to conduct anthropological field work.  I went to Sao Paolo as an exchange student.  I expected when I stepped off the plane to feel concrete under my feet, not virgin soil.  Having flown in, it was difficult for me to get a sense that I was in the tropics.  I had been dropped into a huge, unruly urban center, and anything outside of the city had been cut off from view by corridors of skyscrapers.  This urban behemoth is situated on a plateau nearly two thousand five hundred miles above sea level. Winter, which lasts from June to September, is cold and grey.  Heat brings rain, which lasts from October through March, and humidity.  Levi-Strauss remarks that, in Sao Paulo, the humidity causes the rain to fall in odd patterns and consistency, like a multitude of tapioca pearls.  When the clouds move out, and the sky turns blue, the pearly drops vanish and it begins to pour.
Before I left the States, my sponsors told me to think of myself at all times as a guest, not only in someone's home but in another country. Boasting  about where I came from was unacceptable. My conduct should be beyond reproach.  People were counting on me.  My host mother, for instance. The exchange program meant her son could study in the United States. To secure a brighter future for him, she agreed to take me in.  It cost her a great deal but she dealt with the grief by sending him letters, mailing off packages, showing me pictures.  As for me, I came unprepared. Where were the pictures of my family?  The town where I lived?  Pictures were to be our lingua franca. Without pictures, I had nothing to exchange.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Scott Fitzgerald Slept Here, Briefly


St. Paul -- Two years ago, on a brilliant Saturday in September, a marching band paraded down Summit Avenue in St. Paul, followed by open touring cars carrying descendants of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Eugene McCarthy and the novelist J. F. Powers, and by a crowd on foot, including any number of people who looked like authors, and a smattering of high school kids who had been reading ''The Great Gatsby.'' The parade wound down the hill past the cathedral to the old Shubert Theater on Exchange Street, where Fitzgerald had gone to see plays as a boy, and there, after a few speeches, buckets of Mississippi and White Bear Lake water were sloshed on the facade, rechristening the Shubert the Fitzgerald Theater. That evening, it was packed for a five-hour reading of ''Gatsby,'' from Nick Carraway's father's advice to reserve judgment on people who haven't had the advantages you've had, to the famous ending: ''So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.''

Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul on Sept. 24, 1896, and his birthday is celebrated here because the memory of him is so vivid, though the city has never developed him as a tourist attraction. He is our brave romantic among the taciturn Scandinavians, the chronicler of those with vast hopes and not much to base them on, and when you walk under the canopy of elms through his old neighborhood, along Summit and Portland and Laurel and Goodrich Avenues, especially on a fall day, it's easy to imagine him back in the fall of 1919, with no money, living with his parents, desperately rewriting his first novel.

He grew up on these streets, a slight, fair-haired boy whose family lived in a series of apartments and row houses on the periphery of great wealth and who developed a ''two-cylinder inferiority complex.'' He wrote, ''I spent my youth in alternately crawling in front of the kitchen maids and insulting the great.'' He was humiliated at football but kept trying, and wrote a story about a boy like himself, fair-haired and slender, who won the big game single-handedly for his team. Writing was how to make your way from the periphery into the center of things: he learned this when he was 11. He wrote a play called ''The Captured Shadow'' for Mrs. Backus's School for Girls, with himself playing a burglar. He put on plays in the attic of his friend Cecil Read's house, where a whole gang of children met, with Scott directing the plays and taking the leading roles.

Boys thought he was a showoff and talked too much, but girls were fond of him. A Southern girl named Violet Stockton spent a summer in St. Paul visiting her aunt and uncle, and Scott spent every day with her sitting on the front porch inventing stories about passers-by and making her laugh. There was Marie Hersey, Margaret Armstrong and then, at the age of 19, home from Princeton, he met Ginevra King, a beauty from Lake Forest, Ill., and was intoxicated by her. He took her to dances at the Town and Country Club, he wrote to her daily, he never forgot her. She became Judy Jones in ''Winter Dreams'' and Isabelle in ''This Side of Paradise'' and Daisy Buchanan in ''Gatsby.''

He dropped out of Princeton in 1917 because his grades were poor, a calamity that launched Scott into the pivotal two years of his life, when he: enlisted in the Army and reported for training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. (under Capt. Dwight D. Eisenhower), where he wrote a novel in three months, ''The Romantic Egotist,'' and sent it to Scribners; was assigned to Camp Sheridan near Montgomery, Ala., where he fell in love with 18-year-old Zelda Sayre, was rejected by Scribners and rewrote the novel, now called ''The Education of a Personage,'' and became engaged to Zelda; was on his way to an embarkation point for France when World War I ended and he was decommissioned, losing his chance to be a hero; moved to New York, got a job writing slogans for trolley placards, wrote stories, got ''Personage'' back from Scribners with a polite letter, was spurned by Zelda, went on a weeklong bender and, in July 1919, returned to St. Paul. ''I was in love with a whirlwind,'' he said, ''so when the girl threw me over, I went home and finished my novel.''

The next three months of his life are part of St. Paul folklore. Whenever old St. Paulites drive past the row houses on Summit, east of Dale, we look up at the third-floor window of 599, where Fitzgerald lived in his parents' guest room that summer and pinned the chapters of his novel to the curtains and revised them and wrote new scenes. A few blocks away is W. A. Frost's drugstore, now a popular restaurant, where Fitzgerald bought cigarettes and hung out in the evenings. Some evenings, he stopped at Mrs. Porterfield's boardinghouse on Summit and Mackubin and sat on the porch with friends who lived there and talked about books and writing. In September, he sent the new manuscript to Maxwell Perkins at Scribners and got a job at the Northern Pacific shops, repairing car roofs.

Two weeks passed. ''Then the postman rang, and that day I quit work and ran along the streets, stopping automobiles to tell friends and acquaintances about it -- my novel 'This Side of Paradise' was accepted for publication. That week the postman rang and rang, and I paid off my terrible small debts, bought a suit, and woke up every morning with a world of ineffable toploftiness and promise.''

''It came out all right,'' he wrote, ''but it came out all right for a different person. The man with the jingle of money in his pocket who married the girl a year later would always cherish an abiding distrust, an animosity, toward the leisure class -- not the conviction of a revolutionary but the smoldering hatred of a peasant.''

He married Zelda at St. Patrick's in New York, and they embarked on their famous whirlwind life, from 59th Street and the Plaza Hotel to Long Island to Paris and back, and he returned to St. Paul only once, with Zelda, in 1921, for the birth of their daughter. He was famous, spending money he didn't have, giving all-night parties, drinking enough to get himself thrown out of the White Bear Yacht Club.

He rented a house on Goodrich Avenue and tried to get some work done, and wrote one of his finest stories, ''Winter Dreams,'' about Dexter Green and his dreams of glory and happiness and the fabulous girl, Judy Jones, who loves him and then doesn't. Years later, in New York, when a man tells Dexter that Judy is married to a heavy drinker named Lud Simms and living in Detroit and that, frankly, it's hard to imagine why Simms married her, there's nothing special about her, Dexter Green realizes that his youth is gone. ''He wanted to care and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back anymore.'' And with that story, Fitzgerald left home forever.

He was not overly fond of us, it must be admitted. New York was his city; St. Paul was the city of his parents -- ''dull as hell,'' he said in a letter; he hated the cold winters; and he had no interest in the prairie, the North Woods, the lakes -- few writers have been less interested in nature than Fitzgerald. So he left and didn't look back and never wrote a homage to home, his roots, the goodness of the Midwest.

Somehow, it doesn't matter. He is admired in St. Paul anyway, as an elegant writer whose work breathes with feeling, an honorable man who kept at his work, though distracted by celebrity and burdened by alcoholism, and whose work keeps finding a new audience. The writers who pitied Fitzgerald elaborately when he died young -- Glenway Wescott, John Dos Passos, John Peale Bishop -- are today little read, if not unreadable, and as for Dorothy Parker, who is supposed to have looked at Fitzgerald's corpse and muttered, ''The poor son of a bitch'' -- who has read Dorothy Parker lately? Even Hemingway drifts through a long eclipse. Fitzgerald, the man who squandered his talent and died young, turns out to be the great survivor of his generation.

And so, this week, St. Paul is putting on a 100th birthday party for Fitzgerald. A life-size statue of him will be unveiled downtown, a flock of writers is scheduled to speak up for him -- including Joseph Heller, Jane Smiley, Donald Hall, Michael Dorris, Tobias Wolff, Patricia Hampl, Robert Bly -- and his granddaughter Eleanor Lanahan, and Frances Kroll Ring, who was his secretary and typed ''The Last Tycoon'' for him. The Postal Service will issue a stamp, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will play the overture to John Harbison's new opera, ''The Great Gatsby,'' and, most important, people will stand up and read Fitzgerald's work. Almost all of it. Fitzgerald himself feared that the motion picture would render prose fiction as obsolete as the silent movie, but his own work proves him wrong. He has remained astonishingly young and truthful and is lively company, and when you encounter him, you find the fellow we in St. Paul admire, who came home in despair, having lost everything, and wrote the novel and won the girl.

Credits: New York Times Books, 1996

Monday, July 17, 2017

We Share the Same Soul

Eye stained glass mosaic.

Jackie Lopez Lopez

I am not a rocket scientist, so, believe me when I tell you this:
We share the same soul.
Do not cast me aside like a perpendicular softball.
Do not throw me away like a secondary luncheon date.
Do not handle me with triumphs.
I am a cast-away in the loneliness avenue just like you.
And, I love it!
God speaks to me just like he speaks to you, so, you better
tell the omens to bode well.
The reason why you read me like a book is because we have
an antagonistic becoming in the elephant room.
I shall do you no harm.
I forgive you everything…
the strength in your eyes.
I am a Samba Bodhisattva, and I am pure of heart just like you.
You already have my soul.
I know I cannot impart wisdom soon enough.
You have been wanting me to speak to you for a long time.
When we were young, you gave me a heart attack and I couldn’t speak to you.
Now that I am much older I am still young.
Kiss the sanity out of me.
Drug the internal commotion.
I will shout out your name from my balcony.
People will be coming from everywhere just to hear me prophesize.
You intuit the drum licks to my dance.
Love is the greatest synonym to God blasting a hole through
the universal consciousness of becoming.
I take my pledge to offer you matrimony as soon as I can.
I am not without resources.
I no longer drive.
I have a candid camera that I will never use.
I keep still in the mornings.
I sip my coffee like a religion.
I dine on the asphalt of my lonely years.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Man on the Run: Leon Trotsky in Exile

Forward to the 1958 edition

Four decades after the Russian Revolution, three decades after he lost power and homeland, two decades after his grisly murder, and while he is still but a Judas figure in his native Russia, Leon Trotsky continues to command interest. Whether the interest stems from his personality, his role in history, or the drama of his life, he is to many today a veritable Hero of Our Time.

 It is all the more striking how little is known about Trotsky's life after his banishment from Russia in 1929. One may, perhaps, be able to recall that his first asylum was Turkey, that he was unable to leave there until France admitted him in 1933 for two years, that Norway then received him for a brief and harassed year and a half, and that only during the last four years or less in Mexico did he find a bearable if distant refuge. One may remember, too, that as an exiled revolutionary of world- wide fame Trotsky organized the small but active Fourth International and wrote extensively, notably My Life and the widely read History of the Russian Revolution. Yet such recollections are bound to be hazy. Not least among the reasons is that up to now the reconstruction of Trotsky's dozen post- Soviet years has been limited to a brief work in French by Victor Serge, and the two volumes issued on the eve of World War II by John Dewey's Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made Against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials: The Case of Leon Trotsky and Not Guilty.

This paucity adds value to what is in any event a singular document-a previously unpublished diary of the exile period. The present volume contains the complete text of the only extant document of this sort by Trotsky. It is the diary he kept in France and Norway in 1935, from February 7 to September 8. Also made public for the first time in this volume is Trotsky's brief but hardly less remarkable Testament. It consists of three testamentary statements-political, personal, and legal-which he wrote in Mexico in the spring of 1940, half a year before his death.

 What is the background of the Diary of 1935 and its central themes?

Trotsky turned to a genre he did not otherwise find congenial for a reason extremely interesting to the historian. Unperceived until now, this was Trotsky's recognition, in the mid-1930's, of profound changes in his life. The Diary coincides with the culminating phase of this crisis, which had begun two years earlier in 1933. The crisis was in part political, in part personal. The Diary reflects both of these aspects more fully than anything else Trotsky ever published. It does so through a plethora of unrelated and often miscellaneous entries, big and small, political and non-political, some augmented by, or even in the form of, newspaper clippings. Although much of the Diary gives the impression of being written with future publication in mind, the author makes no attempt to relate his separate entries to each other, or to indicate each time why he is commenting on a given topic. It is important, however, to keep in mind that some aspects of Trotsky's life are clearly reflected in the Diary, others are only dimly glimpsed, and some do not appear at all.

 On the political level, Trotsky had been deeply shaken in 1933 by Hitler's rise to power and the failure of the German parties of the left to resist. During the following year, 1934, his forebodings about the future were intensified by two events: in France, the now-forgotten right-wing upheaval of February 6, and in the U. S. S.R., the assassination of Kirov. Together, these developments in Germany, France, and Russia forced an end to a major phase in Trotsky's thinking. Now the perspective shifted from the hope of influencing Communism from within the Third International, and hence returning to the U. S. S.R. before too long, to the idea of a separate Fourth International to counteract the prophesied triumphs of fascism and Stalin over an enfeebled Europe.

In the Diary, this abstract political level of Trotsky's crisis in exile is interwoven with his general character: the revolutionary intellectual in politics, the 'outsider ' with his ideologies. His particular variety of politics dominates the Diary, be the entries about the novels he has just read, life in Norway or France, or individuals in the news. The reader will find echoes of Trotsky's lifelong polemics on current events, his once well-known commentaries on literature and human relations, above all his absorption in ideology. Here, as elsewhere, Trotsky indicates no ideological doubts or even soul-searching. His own verities remain unchanged: the proletariat, socialism, world revolution, Marx and Lenin, History. A related political theme is the Russian Revolution, the decade that followed, and especially Trotsky's recollections of Lenin. In its running commentary on current events, the Diary condemns mercilessly all movements and leaders between the advancing fascism and Stalin, while voicing a qualified hopefulness about the gathering of new forces behind the author's own position.

Note:  Publisher's Forward (excerpt)

NOTEBOOK 1 (February 1935-May 1935) 

The diary is not a literary form I am especially fond of; at the moment I would prefer the daily newspaper. But there is none available .... Cut off from political action, I am obliged to resort to such ersatz journalism as a private diary. At the beginning of the war, when I was confined in Switzerland, I kept a diary for a few weeks. Later, after being deported from France to Spain in 1916, I did so again. I think that is all. Now once again I have to resort to a political diary. Will it be for long? Perhaps months; in my case not years. Events must come to a head in one way or another and put an end to the diary-if it is not cut short even sooner by a surreptitious shot directed by an agent of . . . Stalin, Hitler, or their French friend-enemies.

Lassalle wrote once that he would gladly leave unwritten what he knew if only he could accomplish at least a part of what he felt able to do. Any revolutionary would feel the same way. But one has to take the situation as it is. For the very reason that it fell to my lot to take part in great events, my past now cuts me off from chances for action. I am reduced to interpreting events and trying to foresee their future course. At least this occupation is more satisfying than mere passive reading.

 Here my contacts with life are almost entirely limited to the newspapers and partly to letters. It will not be surprising if my diary tends to take the form of a review of newspapers and periodicals. But it is not the world of the newspapermen as such that interests me, but the workings of the deeper social forces as they appear reflected in the crooked mirror of the press. However, I naturally am not committing myself in advance to this form. The advantage of a diary-alas, the only one-lies precisely in the fact that it leaves one free from any literary requirements or prescriptions.

* * *

February 8 It is hard to imagine a more painful occupation than reading Leon Blum. Although he is an educated and, in his way, intelligent man, he seems to have set himself the aim in life of uttering nothing but parlour trivialities and pretentious nonsense. The explanation for this is that he is a political has-been. Our whole epoch is not for him. His minuscule talents, suitable for parliamentary lobbying, seem wretched and paltry in the awesome whirlpool of our days.

In today's issue, there is an article devoted to the anniversary of February 6th. Of course ' Ie fascisme n'a pas eu sa journee!' But still, Flandin is far from being equal to the situation: ' les emeutiers fascistes se fortifient contre sa faiblesse.' Blum, the tower of strength, reproaches Flandin for his weakness. Blum presents Flandin with an ultimatum: ' Pour ou contre l'emeute fasciste!' But Flandin is by no means obliged to choose. All his 'strength ' lies in the fact that he stands between l' emeute fasciste and fa defense ouvriere. The weaker Blum and Cachin are, the nearer the resultant force approaches the fascists

Stalin once delivered himself of an aphorism: Social Democracy and fascism are twins! Nowadays it is Social Democracy and Stalinism-Blum and Cachin that have become twins. They are doing everything in their power to ensure the victory of fascism.

 In L' Humanite there is the same triumphant headline: ' Ils n' ont pas eu leur journee!' It was the weak Flandin who provided this triumph for the mighty 'United Front'. The threat by the United Front to bring the workers out onto the Place de la Concorde, i.e., to expose the unarmed and unorganized masses to the guns and brass knuckles of militarized gangs, would have been criminal adventurism if it had been a serious threat in the first place. But it was mere bluff [in English], arranged in advance with the 'weak' Flandin. In the good old days Victor Adler used to be a past master of such tactics, and where is his party now . Today's denunciations of Flandin both in Popu and in Huma are a mere cover-up for yesterday's agreement with him. These gentlemen think they can cheat history. They will only cheat themselves.

Meanwhile, Le Temps is fighting against corruption and the decline in morals.

February 9 Rakosi has been sentenced to hard labour for life. He behaved with revolutionary dignity-after several years in prison. In any case, it was certainly not the protests of L' Humanite, which hardly evoked any response, that saved him from execution. A much more important factor was the tone of the large metropolitan French press, beginning with Le Temps. That paper was 'for' Rakosi against the Hungarian government, just as it had been 'against ' Zinoviev for Stalin's justice-in both cases, of course, out of ' patriotic' considerations. And what other considerations might Le Temps have?

In the Zinoviev case, to be sure, there were also considerations of social conservatism: the Moscow correspondent of Le Temps, who evidently knows very well where to look for directives, stressed several times that Zinoviev, like all the oppositionists now being persecuted, stood to the left of the government. and that therefore there was not the slightest basis for alarm. It is true that Rakosi stands to the left of Horthy-a great deal to the left, in fact-but in this case it is a matter of doing a small favour for the Kremlin. A disinterested one, we must assume.

The Ministry of the Interior has forbidden the workers' counter-demonstrations scheduled for February loth. By demanding of the ' weak' Flandin that he dissolve the fascist leagues, Cachin and Blum strengthen his hand against the workers' organizations. The machinery of neo-Bonapartism is evident. Cachin-Blum will of course revile Flandin in print-which benefits Flandin as much as it does them. At heart these gentlemen will rejoice at the ban against workers' demonstrations; everything will get back to normal, God willing, and they will be able to continue their useful function as oppositionists.

The number of strikers receiving assistance has meanwhile grown to 483,000. Blum sent Frossard to make a speech in the Chamber of Deputies on the question of the strikers. This is really addressed to the bourgeoisie and means 'Don't get upset about the strikers. They are no threat to you. Just preserve the parliament and our liberties for us.'

Leon Trotsky's Diaries

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interview with poet Alfred Corn

TLY: Today we welcome Alfred Corn, poet, novelist, scholar and essayist.

To begin, Alfred, from interviews and discussions, one has the impression that you have led a marvelously errant existence—traveling throughout the States and abroad. What places do you return to most in your writing?

ALFRED:  I haven’t taken a census, but New York City plays a big part. In addition to many short lyrics set in Gotham, there is a long poetic sequence, the title poem of my second book A Call in the Midst of the Crowd, that depicts the city—partly through historical documents and partly through autobiographical lyrics. But I also have a long poem about London, titled “Eleven Londons,” recounting my stays there over a forty-year period. And the seventy-page poem “1992,” details travels to the four corners of these United States.

TLY: The following quote is attributed to travel writer Norman Lewis: “The words you know show the extent of your understanding of what’s going on in the world.” What are your thoughts?

ALFRED: That sounds plausible. To some degree language creates reality. I think of Wilde’s aphorism, “Nature imitates art.” Nature, reality, also “imitates” language.

TLY: You are a writer whose work has been translated and you are also a translator. There are writers who dislike having their work translated, among them Vladimir Nabokov. Contrary to received opinion—poets make the best translators—Nabokov speaks of the poet as perhaps the worst of all possible translators. He describes the process as an act of transvestitism, a form of literary cross-dressing. In fact, he uses the phrase “dress up.” After hearing remarks like that, one wonders that any poet is brave enough to translate at all—or, dress up in another language as it were. How do your respond to such arguments?

ALFRED: Nabokov enjoyed being outrageous, and he had the personal confidence to bring it off. But needless to say he is wrong here. Pasternak produced a wonderful Shakespeare in Russian, and Richard Wilbur has done brilliantly accurate and graceful versions of Molière, just to mention two examples.

TLY: Recently, the Spanish publisher Chamán Ediciones brought out Rocinante, a bilingual selection of your poetry. For readers who may not be aware of Rocinante, would you be so kind as to explain? Also, how did Rocinante become the title for the selected works?

ALFRED: Over a long period my friend the Mexican fiction writer and visual artist Guillermo Arreola voluntarily translated poems of mine. The superb Spanish poet Antonio Rodriguez Jimenez, after we began an email correspondence, asked if it would interest me to bring out my poems in Spain, mentioning that a new publisher called Chamán Ediciones might want to do it. Guillermo sent them what he had, and I added a few lyrics translated by others (including some that I had done). The volume came out a year ago under the title Rocinante, which I chose, somewhat over the publishers’ objections. Not everyone does, but you know that was the name of Don Quijote’s horse, an aging nag that is the equine equivalent of the Don himself. I was seventy-two when the book appeared, and I very much identified with Quijote’s noble and insane quest. There’s also the old metaphor of the horse and rider understood as the body and the soul. The Cervantes epigraph I used for the volume was “El supo obrar y yo escribir.” (“He was able to work and I to write.”) Human experience is effected through the body and the rider is the writer; or the soul.

TLY: When you chose the poems for the edition, did you do so with an ear as to which ones would translate best into Spanish? 

ALFRED: No, Guillerno chose those that interested him. Also, we added one translation made by the late Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia. And a couple that I had translated myself.

TLY: Rocinante includes a selection of poems by Alfred Corn written in Spanish. Do you consider these poems translations given that you are a native English speaker? Or, did the poems come to you in Spanish and should readers consider them original works in Castilian?

ALFRED: The poem “La Luz azul” was written in Spanish, with no intention of later translating it into English. But when I decided to include it in a book, I thought it would be a courtesy to readers with no Spanish to provide a translation. And once again there was the problem experienced by all translators: I wasn’t able to get absolutely everything in the original text into English, despite being both the author and the translator. The content of the very brief “Respuesta a Dario” I think comes through, but the Spanish text rhymes and keeps a syllable count I didn’t manage to reproduce in English. Such are the normal frustrations of the translator, rather more intense here because I was also the author.

TLY: Have you written poems in other foreign languages?

ALFRED: Yes. Several poems in French. One is incorporated into the book-length poem Notes from a Child of Paradise, but the others I never published.

TLY: Rocinante is truly a gem, just beautiful. TLY recognized many poems, and missed quite a few as well. What has the reaction to the book been in Spain? What were some questions you were asked during readings?

ALFRED: Strangely enough, some of the best reviews I’ve ever received for any book were those written in response to Rocinante. I think much of the credit must go to Guillermo’s very fine translations. As for questions, people asked me about the title, just as you have. I’ve come to see that it is a little disturbing, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

TLY: Again, we want to thank you so much for answering our questions. Before we let you go, could you tell us about any current projects you are working on?

ALFRED: Sure. For several years, off and on, I’ve been translating Rilke’s Duino Elegies. I now have a draft of all ten. I will need to revise a little, and provide an introduction, but the bulk of the task is complete now. I’ve also been working on short stories and should produce one or two more if they’re going to be brought out as a collection. At the same time, I’ve continued to write new poems, probably enough for a new book, but I haven’t yet attempted to assemble it. Over the course of the years you develop a sense of when it’s right moment, and no doubt that will come before long.

ROCINANTE, an excerpt

St. Anthony in the Desert

To be filled with that hallowed emptiness
The hermit sojourns in a desert cave.
Fasting and prayer will make seclusion safe,
His daily bread, each word the Spirit says.
Chimera stirs and rears her dripping head;
A slack-skinned reptile puffs and makes a face;
Vile, harrowing nightmares shimmer through long days;
The sun beats a brass gong and will not set.
Faint shadow on cave walls, you foretell grief
Or joy, not known till whose the profile is:
Love itself may corrupt and then deceive
Its object, hiding venom in a kiss.
Anthony kneels, embraces his fierce lot,
And hears: Be still, and know that I am God.

San Antonio en el desierto

Para colmarse de sagrada vacuidad 
se aísla el ermitaño en una cueva del desierto.
Ayuno y oración harán fiable el destierro.
La palabra que el espíritu dicta: su pan de cada día.

Menea y alza Quimera su cabeza alambicada;
un reptil de fofa piel resopla y brama;
bruñen los holgados días lacerantes y abyectas pesadillas;
pega el sol en un gong de latón, y no se ocultará.

Leve sombra en las paredes  de la cueva, si presagias
penuria o regocijo, se sabrá por el contorno que dibujas.
El amor mismo puede que corrompa, y así burlar
su objetivo, disimulado en un beso deletéreo.
Antonio se hinca, se ciñe a su feroz encierro,
y escucha: sosiégate, y entérate: soy Dios.


As if to move a flexible sphere from here
to there with unassisted head and foot
were natural and obvious. As if
a dance could always bow to resolute
constraint and never be danced the same way twice.
As if whistles and cheers, the hullabaloo
of fervent gazers were all the music needed
to keep its players’ goals in tune. So that
as they weave, dodge, collide, collapse in breathless
haystacks—and rise and fall and rise again—
we’re made, if not one, then at least whole.


Como si trasladar una esfera flexible desde acá
hacia allá con cabeza o pie por si solo
fuera natural y obvio. Como si
un baile se pudiera someter a reglas estrictas
sin bailarse dos veces de la misma manera.
Como si aplausos y silbidos y el revuelo
de los espectadores fuesen toda la música
requerida para sintonizar los goles
de los jugadores. Así que mientras
hacen eses, esquivan, chocan, se desploman en pilas
jadeantes (y suben y caen y de nuevo suben)
nos hacemos, si no en uno, al menos enteros.

                                       (Traducción de Alfred Corn) 

"A Poem Named 'Basho in the Genju Hut'"

A human life is measured
in a linked sequence of dwellings.
The Basho Hut gave Basho
both shelter and a name;
and then he burned to travel.

Genju (the monk whose name
translates as "Unreal") had died,
yet he left behind a hut
where, much later, Basho stopped,
tasting Genju's precept:
The world and those that dwell
under its roof are ... unreal.

Call it a hut, a name
transferred from hand to hand.
His poems sheltered Basho,
and poems translate the world:
Basho in the Unreal Hut.

Un poema titulado “Basho en la cabaña de Genju”

A una vida humana se le mide
en el orden secuencial de sus moradas.
La cabaña de Basho dio a Basho
un refugio y un nombre
y aun así él deseaba ardientemente viajar.

Genju (el monje cuyo nombre se traduce
como  “Irreal”) había muerto,
sin embargo dejó tras de sí una cabaña
que, tiempo después, Basho habitó
certificando la máxima de Genju:
El mundo y los que moran
bajo su techo son… irreales.

Llámalo una cabaña, un nombre
que pasa de mano en mano.
Sus poemas protegieron a Basho,
y los poemas traducen el mundo:
Basho en la Cabaña Irreal.

November Leaves

Morning finds them silver, quite a killing
At the trees’ expense. And, like the delicate milling
That seconds the die-cut dial of a dime,
The cold has etched each margin with shining rime.

Small change—but enough for what there is to buy:
Those white-sale blankets, woolens of the snows
Winter tosses down from its vault of sky.
Green copper silver time grows on trees; and goes. 

Noviembre se deshoja

Muertas, la mañana las encuentra plateadas
a costa de los árboles. Como el fino estriado
que el troquel sigue en las monedas
en cada imagen una rima el frío ha gravado.

Basta poco cambio para lo que hay que comprar:
mantas en saldos de blancos, lanas al nevar,
de la bóveda celeste el invierno reparte.
Verde cobre plata el tiempo en ramas crece y parte.

                              (Traducción de Manuel Ulacia)

More about Alfred

Alfred Corn is the author of eleven books of poems, the most recent titled Unions (2015) and two novels, the second titled Miranda’s Book, which also appeared in 2015. His two collections of essays are The Metamorphoses of Metaphor and Atlas: Selected Essays, 1989-2007. He has received the Guggenheim, the NEA, an Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and one from the Academy of American Poets. He has taught at Yale, Columbia, Connecticut College, The University of Cincinnati, and UCLA. In 2013 he was made a Life Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. In 2015 he was guest speaker at the new museum in Wuzhen, China, dedicated to the work of the painter and writer Mu Xin. This past April Chamán Ediciones in Spain published Rocinante, a selection of his work translated in Spanish, followed this year by its publication in Mexico. A new collection of essays titled Arks & Covenants appeared in May of 2017. This past October, Roads Taken, a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Alfred Corn’s first book All Roads at Once was held at Poets’ House in New York City, and in November he will be inducted into the Georgia Writers’ Hall of Fame.

Critical Reception of Alfred's Work

“The poems in this beautiful first volume are meditations on time, in a contemporary urban setting.  Alfred Corn tracks the elusive present through the forest of particulars of ‘daily’ life.  This is a brilliant beginning.”

               —John Ashbery

“As a coda I offer the best first book of poems this year.... Alfred Corn’s All Roads at Once.”

               —Harold Bloom, The New Republic

“Airy, all‑seeing, a new window onto the world—this is an extremely beautiful first book.  Among Mr. Corn’s contemporaries I know of no poet more accomplished.”

               —James Merrill


“Alfred Corn’s second book of poems goes well beyond fulfilling the authentic promise of his first.  The title poem is an extraordinary and quite inevitable extension of the New York tradition of major visionary poems, which goes from Poe’s ‘City in the Sea’ and Whitman’s ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ to Hart Crane’s The Bridge and Ashbery’s ‘Self‑Portrait in a Convex Mirror.’  Corn achieves an authority and resonance wholly worthy of his precursors.  I know of nothing else of such ambition and realized power in Corn’s own generation of American poets.  He has had the skill and courage to confront, absorb, and renew our poetic tradition at its most vital.  His aesthetic prospects are remarkable, even in this crowded time.”

                —Harold Bloom

[In the appendix to The Western Canon, Harold Bloom placed this volume on his list of twentieth century works that he regards as candidates to be included in the permanent canon of modern Western poetry.]

“Alfred Corn has enormous resources at work in his poems: wit, strength, sureness of touch.  The poems interweave the strands of a world touchingly recollected, and of a world jubilantly imagined.  The mesh of these, gathered in lively meditation, present a fabric of poetry wonderfully original, generous, warm, animated.  He belongs very clearly with the best of those poets—Williams, O’Hara, L.E. Sissman and Stevens—who have made first‑rate poetry out of the filth, confusion and steeliness of urban life.  I suppose Baudelaire belongs somewhere on that list, too.”

                —Anthony Hecht


The Various Light

“Corn’s prodigious gifts, evident from the beginning, have reached such a peak of articulation in his new book that it no longer suffices to describe him as a promising poet.  Potentiality has been swallowed up in the splendor of achievement....  Few poets of our time have drawn upon the wisdom of experience with such unaffected honesty and tactful skill.  If Corn continues to write verse of such resonance, he will be a very important American poet indeed; as it is, at the age of 37, he stands at the forefront of his generation.”

                —Robert Shaw, The Nation, November 8, 1980

“Alfred Corn’s work fits well into the kind of poetry discussed by David Kalstone in Five Temperaments.  Its subjects are autobiographical, its methods reflective, its use of language literate and allusive.  The poems celebrate a sense of place and frequently have an autumnal air.... This book makes even clearer his artistic allegiance to the style that extends from Wallace Stevens to James Merrill, a style saved from debilitating nostalgia by a kind of philosophical sadness.”

               —Charles Molesworth, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, October 12, 1980

“Uniquely, Alfred Corn is a poet able to manage and merge two distinct and often contradictory instincts, namely, to articulate a sharp verbal discipline within the broader framework of a narrative posture.  As such, the consequence of Corn’s poetry is immediate, attentive to both past and present, to emotional setting and physical event....  Moreover, the sensuous surface of Corn’s language is so smoothly polished that one rarely notices how much is going on.  Each phrase and contour of thought contributes to the lasting effect, but the effect never seems contrived or labored, only steadily delivered.”

               —G.E. Murray, Parnassus, Spring/Summer 1983

“Corn’s combination of sympathy and critical distance is an important perspective on a youthful, passionate age.  If his portrait of the 1960’s is not all our romantic side could desire, it is nonetheless a vision we can use.”

                —Don Bogen, The Nation, July 7, 1984

“And what a poet he is! .... The poem is, by turns, learned, impassioned, touching, lyrical, and droll.  The poet’s intention is ‘to find words that would fall in love with what they saw.’  He succeeds splendidly.  His poetry can be savoured line by line: it is poetry to read aloud.  With this book, his fourth, Alfred Corn establishes his standing as one of our finest poets.”

                —Joel Conarroe, The Washington Post Book World, August 5, 1984

“Corn’s fourth book is a long autobiographical narrative poem.  With this work, he seals his position as one of the finest practicing American poets.  There are contrasts of the American and European experience, there is the historic setting with its changes and conflicts, and there is the splendid celebration of the American western landscape. The accomplishment is major.  Corn has created a fresh, moving, and very contemporary work that speaks both to and for our times.” 

                 —R.S. Bravard, Choice, October 1984

“Corn is the inheritor of a long tradition, that of the personal epic, with Dante, Milton, and Wordsworth as the leading figures to whom Corn alludes.... The reader will marvel at Corn’s writing throughout.... It is an important work, a worthy heir to Stevens’s Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, to which Corn owes a good deal....  One puts down Notes from a Child of Paradise convinced, as Stevens says, that ‘Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation.’”

                 —Jay Parini, Boston Review, July-August 1984

“Few poets could sustain, as Corn does, both the fiery voluptuousness of the abstract oracular passages, and the broken simplicity of the late 20th-century voice, tentative, self-conscious, unheroic....  If Notes is a kind of religious poetry, then maybe love is its creed—or is it the poet’s faith that consciousness will save, that through memory we may work redemption?  That Corn gives us such full draughts of soul in a poetry that never leaves behind the body is indeed cause for rejoicing.”

                —Wayne Koestenbaum, The New York Native, December 30, 1985

“It is only a poem sure of its powers of closure, successful in its final in‑gathering of all its moments of reaching, charged with the weight of its ways of seeing that can afford to surrender the last word like this.”

                —John Hollander, The Yale Review, Autumn 1984                       

The Metamorphoses of Metaphor

“In the background of Alfred Corn’s fine essays, and serving to unify them, is a wide and deep knowledge of literary influence, and especially of the mutations of Symbolist poetry in Europe and America.  What happens in the foreground is fresh and acute interpretation of particular writers and their works.  Whether he is dealing with Hart Crane’s notion of Atlantis, or two lines of Robert Lowell’s, or the whole shape of Stevens’ development, he gives us what he says the critic should give—’something we did not know beforehand.’”

                —Richard Wilbur

“A distinguished poet himself, Mr. Corn is especially alert to the influence of the past on poets, how poems speak to other poems in a continuing conversation.... He is at his best on the modern American poets Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, John Hollander and Hart Crane.... Like the best literary essays, these send one back to the originals.”

               —Barbara Fisher Williams, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, March 29, 1987

“What Corn offers is not so much a thesis as a lesson in sensibility and in the reflective power of the imagination.  Metaphors, he demonstrates, are images that yet fresh images beget.  Corn’s reflections on recent and contemporary American poets are particularly resonant.... his emphasis is, as it should be, not on tradition but on the individual talents who extend and sometimes subvert that tradition.  His interpretations of poems by Lowell and by Elizabeth Bishop are shrewd, persuasive, succinct.”

               —David Lehmann, Washington Post Book World, August 2, 1987

“Corn’s elucidations have the spaciousness of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne—of the American Romantics he admires.... Corn’s transcendentalist bent unifies the writers he treats.... The Metamorphoses of Metaphor is a profound work of criticism.”

                —Wayne Koestenbaum, The New York Native, May 3, 1987

“Writing on poets like Stevens, Dante, Bishop, Crane and Cavafy, he tracks the ‘metamorphoses’ of metaphor, the ways in which metaphors retain ‘Some of the fluctuant reality of life itself.’  Underlying each of these essays is a deep knowledge of the traditions of Romantic and Symbolist poetry, traditions that continue—if Corn is right—to inform much of the best poetry written in our time.”

                —Jay Parini, The Boston Sunday Globe, October 4, 1987                     

The West Door

“No sensitive reader could fail to find significant rewards, certainly, in the work of this richly talented poet.  Page after page the intricate, loving fitting of word to word, of phrase to line, wins both admiration and delight.”

               —Vernon Shetley, Poetry, May 1988

“His expression here is so beautifully spare that the poems appear to have sprung from a precise moment of discovery or memory—the point at which something is felt for the first time, before an explanation of feeling or vision is attempted.  The poems are firmly grounded in emotional and physical reality and are tight with meaning and feeling.”

               —ALA Booklist, January 1, 1988

“Alfred Corn’s poems, in his brilliant new collection, The West Door, are occasional in the best sense: they are provoked not by the poet’s mood but by calls from without, by promptings from nature, history, and art.... Because these poems are responses, they center around the experience of being summoned.... Despite his interest in reticence, Corn’s most evident trait is his mastery of rhythm and sound...but this power is not deployed carelessly.  He strives for intricacy in order to embody his meaning, hoisting his language high because he wants to believe in ‘The interrelation of all things dead and living,’ and the page’s grip on the sacred things it expounds.... He attains a calm in which our attention is drawn not to the individual note of brilliance but to the grace of the whole.”

               —Wayne Koestenbaum, The Village Voice, February 9, 1988 

“The poems in The West Door, Alfred Corn’s fifth collection, are remarkably finished.  They nearly shine from the page.  Reading them, it never seems that a better word might have been found, or the meter more refined.  There is always the sense that, as in Hart Crane’s poetry, every element—the etymologies, the syntax, even the spellings—will work in every possible way.  No potential has been left buried, no meaning unconsidered.  Corn’s poetry is clearly the result of rigorous craft.... His poems are resonant with their various sources, but they are nonetheless autonomous.  What gives Corn’s work its force is that its elegance and control is never an end in itself.  His poetry is for poetry’s sake, no doubt, but it is more urgently concerned with life.”

               —Matthew Gilbert, Boston Review, April 1988


“By turns mandarin and earthy, intricate and bold, Autobiographies is both an exploration of our variegated national culture and a significant contribution to it.  Sinuous and supple, his verse twines around our nomadic unease, rooting us in a poet’s imagination.  Alfred Corn is a national resource, a bard of astonishing breadth.”

                —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“As the processes of change continue to accelerate toward ever greater mobility and diversity, so does what amounts to a balkanization of poetry itself.  It is the brave exception who declines to hunker down in some enclave or other and ignore the rest.  Among those exceptions, Alfred Corn is notable for equanimity as well as bravery in taking on the challenge of thinking about America—which means thinking about Americans.  Seeing the very fact of mobility and diversity as an epic theme, he brings to it a discerning eye and ear, a marvelous memory for detail, and above all an exhilarating range of sympathy.  1992, the long poem in this book is a work to stretch the minds of every one of us, and therefore to be heartily recommended.”

                 —Amy Clampitt

“The stunning 76-page poem that concludes Autobiographies is an apt illustration of Mr. Corn’s method of indirection. The poem 1992 is a series of two-part vignettes. The first part of each describes the speaker’s visit to a particular place in the United States, yet the second turns the reader’s attention away from that speaker and toward one or more locals: a Tampa waitress, a Mississippi truck driver, and so on. The last section of 1992 includes an update of each of these characters, and each update ends in mid-sentence: the poem is not really unfinished; the lives go on outside its boundaries.”

                —David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review


By the author

For Purchase Rocinante

For Purchase  Arks and Covenants

For Purchase Stake

For Purchase Unions

For Purchase Tables

For Purchase All Roads at Once

For Purchase The Poem's Heartbeat

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