Archive for March 2011

Anna Akhmatova, Russia, Living Together, Love   Leave a comment

In 1923 Russia, limited living space caused people who would normally choose to live apart to co-habit in small spaces, so Russian poet Anna Akhmatova lived with her new husband, Nikolai Punin, his ex-wife, and his daughter, and continued this arrangement through her divorce from Punin and his remarriage to his third wife who decided that two ex-wives was too many and stayed with her parents. Punin was a professor and art critic. He described his relationship with Akhmatova  from the beginning as “a dark joy and sweet destruction.”  Both of them faced incredible hardships as did most in Russia at this time. Akhmatova said that she nearly starved to death three times in her life. While she was in Moscow searching for ways to free her imprisoned son, the Punin household was evacuated from Leningrad. Punin was dying of dystrophy. When he arrived at the train station with his ex-wife, daughter and granddaughter(third wife stayed behind), Akhmatova greeted them with a bouquet of white flowers. Punin convalesced in a hospital in Samarkand and below is some of the letter he wrote to Akhmatova. It is an amazing letter that she cherished.

Hello,  Anya,

I am definitely grateful for your concern and touched by it-I have not deserved it… The realization that I am still alive brings me to a rapturous state and I call this–the feeling of happiness. Moreover, when I was dying… I also felt that rapturous happiness. At that time particularly I thought a lot about you. This was because in the intensity of the spiritual experience I was going through there was something… akin to the feeling alive in me in the twenties when I was with you. It seemed to me, that for the first time I understood you so fully and comprehensively and it was just because it was so completely unselfish, as I, of course, did not expect ever to see you again. It was really a meeting and farewell before death. And it seemed to me that I knew of no other person whose life was so whole and therefore so perfect as yours, from your first childish poems…to the prophetic murmur, and at the same time, roar, of the Poema. I thought then that this life, was perfect not through will, but-this seemed to me to be particularly precious-through its organic wholeness, that is, its inevitability, which seems somehow not to have anything to do with you. Now I cannot express all that I thought then, but a great deal of what I could not forgive in you stood before me, not only forgiven, but something right and wonderful.

The above information comes from the book The Word That Causes Death’s Defeat” Poems of Memory. Translated with introduction, biography, critical essays and commentary by Nancy K. Anderson


Posted March 29, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Balance   Leave a comment

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

                                            Albert Einstein

Sgt. Charles Daniels watched the tightrope walker, Phillipe Petit, on the suspended cable between the twin towers and later had this to say; “I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire. And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle…He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again. Unbelievable really…Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.”

What great balance Mr. Petit exhibited on that remarkable day in 1974. Does genius, whether that is physical, emotional, musical, mathematical, or any of the multiple types of intelligences, require a life out of normal balance?  Not many would consider Petit’s life and work the usual. His greatest feat, among many, was the high-wire walk at the World Trade Center, but the “artistic crime of the century” was a six-year plan that took several trips to New York from Petit’s home in France, and much illegal sneaking into the building to complete his dream. Petit also became adept at equestrianism, fencing, carpentry, rock-climbing and the art of bullfighting.

Years ago when I worked in a school as a para-educator one of my co-workers was a lovely young woman with small children who sometimes shared break time with me. Her unawareness of world affairs often shocked me. While I considered her the proverbial ostrich with her head in the sand, at the same time I heard about a past acquaintance that was living in an East Coast city, teaching yoga, writing about yoga, and residing in a housing structure where she had a room and shared kitchen duties with other tenants. This person had no TV and avoided news and dedicated her time to her peaceful life and work. I admired her and it dawned on me one day that these two women were approaching their lives in similar ways, but I felt critical of one for not knowing about her own country’s issues and events and I admired the other woman who chose her lifestyle for a different reason.  It caused me to consider my unbalanced judgments.

How does one balance the seriousness of  living and at the same time enjoy the only life one has? Can there be a creative balance? Can one live a life of conscience, compassion, and still find joy and beauty amongst the pain and fear of today’s headlines of disasters, violence, and corruption? The answer seems to be about balance.

Balance in daily life is tricky enough.  We all know how the best laid plans of doing the things we want or need such as exercising, eating balanced meals, spending the right amount of time with others, balancing our spiritual, emotional, recreational needs are easily thrown out of balance. But what if balance is over rated?  Without some kind of unbalanced drive would we have the artists and heroes that push themselves beyond balance? Practicing piano hours and hours a day for years? Pollack throwing paint? Picasso painting Guernica? Gandhi?  Ballerinas? Marathon runners?  Movie directors who shock our senses? Writers who lock themselves away for weeks on end to write their novel? Those who trek to mountaintops and fast for visions that change their lives? Would we see the extremes that humans are capable of without those who push their lives in ways that seem out of balance to others?  All those great rock and roll musicians? Many died from drug overdoses. Would they do it the same way again, would they write the same songs?

The great poet, diplomat, and activist, Pablo Neruda writes in his memoirs that he never learned to divide. The truth is that we are not born balanced. Some people are described as well-rounded and that may be a gift or a curse. A gift if one finds pleasure in pursuing various things or a curse if nothing excites a passion that drives one to push themselves past balance at least once in their lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.”

We are not created equal and never will be and what a boring place this would be if we were. The most symmetrical face is the loveliest, but we love the child whose ears stick out a bit further than his brothers or the gap between a person’s teeth, the distinctive eyes set wider apart than usual, and the mass of freckles on a 10-year-old face.

It seems that balance comes from within, from the core, and the only one directing the high-wire is the person walking that line. We know when our gut feels out of balance, when our vision is wavy, and when our equilibrium throws us off. That might be when life is too smooth for some and they need to throw in a few flips, while the person beside them keeps his/her wire  flat and grounded just where he/she feels the safest and most balanced.

Perhaps the perfect balance is between waking and dreams. Just before falling asleep or just when waking.

Posted March 19, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Disaster Capitalism   Leave a comment


In 2007 Author Naomi Klein’s third book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism became an international best seller and was translated in 20 languages. Today she seems as much seer, sage, authentic psychic as author. Her predictions are coming true.

Klein was the average teenager in the mid to late 80s hanging out in malls and searching for clothes with designer logos, which meant the clothes were expensive and the buyer suckered in as a free walking/wearing advertisement for corporate giants who pay workers little for their labor, such as the children in Thailand stuffing, cutting, dressing and assembling Barbie dolls. Dolls that these child laborers never get to play with while they toil in high heat with hardly a break. But before Naomi Klein learned of the sweatshops and child labor creating the clothing she purchased, life changed.  Her mother had a stroke, which caused Klein to quit hanging out at the mall being “such a brat” and join her physician father and brother in caring for her mother in their home. Klein waited to attend college so she could be home that year and care for her mother.

Klein wrote the The Shock Doctrine after doing four years of historical research and on-the-ground reporting in disaster zones. Her theory is that after disasters such as Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans, war, or terrorist attacks when the public is stunned by the occurrence, that is when unpopular economic changes, or what Klein calls shock therapy, is pushed through by those in power.

She believes this backdoor entry to making changes that work against the public but for corporations can be traced back to the Milton Friedman teachings at the University of Chicago School of Economics. His influence is still felt around the world.

Klein gives the example such as when victims of Katrina were moved to various places around the country after the disaster, their public housing, some of which was still livable, their schools and hospitals were not reopened. Milton Friedman, age 93 at the time of the hurricane wrote an op ed piece for the New York Times. His idea – instead of using some of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money to improve New Orleans existing public school system – the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run for-profit, that would be subsidized by the state. Bush backed this idea with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools to charter schools, publicly funded but run by private entities that make their own rules. This idea obliterates any civil rights gains that guarantee children the same standard of education. Klein reports that considering the snail’s pace to rebuild New Orleans’ levees and get the electricity grid back in place, the auctioning off of the city’s school system happened with military speed and precision. New Orleans’ teachers who were once represented by a strong union had a shredded union contract and all it’s forty-seven hundred members were fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired at reduced salaries. Housing that was undamaged or slightly damaged and which people could have returned to was torn down and the land snapped up by corporations to build hotels and resorts. Klein saw this in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. The Sri Lankan government declared that out of the tragedy would come a world-class tourism destination. It all sounded so positive, but the reality was that the entire beautiful coastline was handed over to entrepreneurs and foreign investors and blocked hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages near the water, and so destroyed the livelihood and self-sustaining way of life that they knew.

Klein’s book is full of examples of mega disaster, real or media-enhanced, being used for superprofits by corporations and the United States Government working hand in hand to the detriment of the poor and middle class. The three trademarks of disaster capitalism are privatization (ask any therapist in town how privatizing Health and Human Services foster care system is harming children in Scottsbluff, NE), government deregulation (fraudulent Wall Street Bankers receive huge bonuses following losses by homeowners), and deep cuts in social spending (do you have a family member using Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Headstart, Special Ed?).

The United States Government tested these Friedman theories for the last 40 years in South American countries. Klein writes that Friedman first learned to exploit a large-scale shock or crises in the mid-seventies when he was advisor to dictator General Augusto Pinochet. The Chilean people were in a state of shock after Pinochet’s violent coup (supported by the U.S. and CIA). The country was also experiencing hyperinflation created by billions in World Bank loans, which usually included a structural adjustment policy (SAP). These SAPs have to do with privatization of resources. Friedman advised the evil dictator to impose a rapid-fire transformation of the economy – tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending and deregulation. Public schools were replaced with voucher-funded private ones. This extreme capitalist makeover was known as “Chicago School” revolution since so many of Pinochet’s economists studied under Friedman who coined the term “shock treatment” for this tactic, because the swift economic shifts cause psychological reactions that facilitate the adjustment. Pinochet used torture cells. Thirty years later this formula emerged with greater violence in Iraq. September 11th provided just the megadisaster that provided the Bush presidency, which was packed with Friedman cronies, to turn the people’s fear of Weapons of Mass Destruction and create “The War on Terror.” Bush immediately outsourced to corporations like Blackwater and Halliburton (Cheney) to create an almost entirely for-profit venture of war. Just what Eisenhower warned against in creating a military-industrial complex where a global war is fought on every level by private companies whose involvement is paid for with public money.

What Governor Walker of Wisconsin is doing is another example of how the shock doctrine works. Governor Walker campaigned on popular items like tax cuts but never mentioned taking away collective bargaining. Then once in office, he exaggerates the budget issue, and manufactures a crisis insisting that a bill be passed immediately taking away worker’s rights, but Walker had already cut taxes for the rich even more.  Naomi Klein is excited about the people’s fight in Wisconsin. She states, “What this fight is really about is not unions vs. taxpayers, as we’ve been told. It’s a fight about who is going to pay for the crisis created by the wealthiest elite in this country.”  “Is it going to be regular working people? Or is it going to be the people who created this crisis? That’s the debate we need to have.”

Posted March 19, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

Mer Licht, Meow, Mr. Ping, and Goethe   Leave a comment

Mer Licht or Meow

A noise in the night roused me from dreams. It sounded like something fell off the bed and I considered that it might be my old cat, Mr. Ping, and thought maybe he had died and fallen to the floor. Considering that he is only on life number three of nine, I decided to wait until morning to see if the noise was him hitting the floor. My tender-heart hardens a bit between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. I knew that if Ping had succumbed to old age he would still be there in the morning for me to handle funeral planning.

The next morning my cat meowed his survival of things that go bump in the night and said he was ready for breakfast. He’s been looking a bit ragged and one day he will not wake from his nap. When it happens, I will take care of his bony little body without the creepy feeling that it once would have caused. Age gives us more experience, or, resignation, regarding death and the understanding of the cycles of life.

Poet Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” His sentiment is fierce and fine, but a gentle going seems okay, too. No matter how it happens, it happens. Some have wise words in their dying hours, or possibly the person listening to the weakening person’s breath and the quiet exhalation of words might have misheard or embellished that last sentence for posterity.  Consider Francisco “Pancho” Villa who when dying after receiving multiple bullet wounds told a comrade, “Don’t let it end this way. Tell them I said something.”  German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe, supposedly said, “Mer Licht” (More light). The best are from Karl Marx. His housekeeper asked if he had any last words and he replied, “Go on, get out? Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”

Working on one’s perfect, profound, or comedic last words is likely a waste of time, since the opportunity may not present itself, and if it did, the chance of forgetting your lines would be great at this stage in the game. But the epitaph on the gravestone or planning your own funeral and/or writing your obituary is something that can be done ahead of time. Although, writing an obituary is chancy, because if you write it too soon, you might miss some great accomplishments and forget to add them, but waiting too long, well you know. Even choosing an epitaph might be like getting that tasteless tattoo at a young age that you regret at 35, so it would be wise to revisit that decision yearly and consider if it still works for you. Writing your own might be better than what another puts on your stone.  A few examples of epitaphs: The words on an unknown vicar’s tombstone from the 18th century read, “He was literally a father to all the children of the parish.”  Or the stone of Sir John Strange (1696-1754): “Here lies an honest lawyer, – That is Strange.”  And on Dr. Keene’s from the 18th Century, “ Here lies Dr. Keen, the good Bishop of Chester, Who ate up a fat goose, but could not digest her.” From Groucho Marx (1890- 1977)”Here lies Groucho Marx and Lies and Lies and Lies. P.S. He never kissed an ugly girl.”

The only sure thing is buying the plot and putting your name and birth date on the stone, but what’s the rush? Here’s hoping Mr. Ping has six more lives to go, but in the meantime, he is not losing any sleep over what his last words will be. I am thinking they will sound something like “Meow” and I’ll interpret them as “Thanks for the memories, sleeping in the sun, on your pillow, on your lap, next to the dogs, on the windowsill, etc. etc. and thanks for the tuna. Ping provides good instruction on being in the moment no matter how many lives one has, or how many times one must reinvent himself or herself all the while recognizing that once a cat, always a cat and that’s not a bad thing.

Posted March 9, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Denver Art Museum Show, Blink, Sound,and Moving Image featuring R.Edward Lowe   Leave a comment


“Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image” opening on March 13th and featuring a piece by R. Edward Lowe of Scottsbluff.  This show explores how technology-based art relates to the human spirit through narrative, performance, music, humor, social and political issues, nostalgia, and the purely sensory. It explores the possibilities that arise when artists use nontraditional methods to express an idea, “ says curator Jill Desmond. “Artists have taken and re-contextualized everyday technology and pop-culture highlights to create an active experience that delights the senses and brings static objects to life.”

Posted March 9, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Eating fish, choking on bones, dares, and grease   Leave a comment

I fear this is a so-what poem. Something reminded me of eating fish with fear. So-what?  But here it is anyway.

The Ordeal of Eating Fish

I hold the dead fish
feel the firmness of fin and tail
touch its eye on a dare from my brother
we clean fish on a board

I pull the spoon across the scales
as my dad does   against the grain       against the flow
against the smooth way

mother sets the table
with the usual poor people side dishes
radishes, salt and pepper, white bread stacked on a plate,
oleo, oleo, oleo chant little entertainers
Dale next door offers cucumbers and says
if he was any happier he’d be dead

not being seafaring people
whose children inhale the ways
of fish and the daily catchers of fish
and become accustomed to the usual smell of fishy gear
we know the smell of truck grease
and that stale beer smell when you tip a can from the pile
in the wheelbarrow and a drop of stink drips out
we know the feel of ball bearings across our palms
and the hot bright snap of welding sparks
that’ll make us blind if we look

I’d like to chance the colors of the welder’s arc
one last time

each bite of fish
another step on this dining tightrope
push the fish around the plate
the fish I scaled
the one whose eye I touched
I’ve not been blinded by watching welders
or backed over by a greasy truck
or died from dares

but fish days frighten mother
bones too many bones
to catch in small throats
worse than words attached to guts
that won’t come out or stay down
like fish on stringers

mother puts a slice of bread on each plate
theory is swallowed bite of bread
pushes a stuck bone down

but would it work
might I live with a bone
lodged crossways
only to eat soup and milk forever after

mother repeats the rules
watch for bones   pick them out
chew, chew, chew

dare I swallow

Mary Strong Jackson

Posted March 7, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Abani, Akhamatova, Neruda, Whitman, Breytenbach, Wisconsin, Egypt   Leave a comment

Poets of Conscience

The first poet laureate of San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, gives this definition of poetry. “Poetry is perpetual revolt against silence, exile, and cunning,” and this description of a poet “The poet is a subversive barbarian at the city gates constantly challenging our status quo.”

Poets, our canaries in the coalmines, warn us of injustice, danger, some die speaking up for the people. Our own American favorite Walt Whitman walked from  New York state to the south during the Civil War. He was in search of his brother whom Whitman feared was wounded based on a list of published names of  injured soldiers. One was listed as Whitmore and Walt Whitman feared it might have been a misspelling of Whitman. His wallet was stolen on the way so he could not pay to ride and walked the long distance until he found his brother who had a superficial wound. The impact of the wounded soldiers, so many with missing limbs, caused Whitman to volunteer as a nurse for the injured. He later wrote two books about the experience giving all readers the non-glorified version of war. Whitman wrote,” I have at night watch’d by the side of a sick man in the hospital, one who could not live many hours. I have seen his eyes flash and burn as he recurr’d to the cruelties on his surrender’d brother, and mutilations of the corpse afterward.”

Russian poet Anna Akhamatova was born in an upper class family in 1889, but her father thought poetry was decadent and so she wrote under her maternal grandmother’s last name. The Russian people loved Akhamotova’s work. The Bolsheviks executed Akhamatova’s first husband, and her second husband died in a Siberian labor camp in 1953. Her association with her first husband, even though they were divorced before his arrest, caused an unofficial ban on her poetry from 1925 until 1940. After World War II, the ban on her work was official but it did not deter the adoration of her people towards her poetry. Her son was arrested in 1949 and not released from jail until 1956. Throughout all of this she continued to write enduring the artistic repression, and today we have her reactions to the horrors of the Stalinist Terror in a book called Poem Without a Hero” and “Requiem” which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987.  From Requiem: “I remember them always and everywhere/And if they shut my tormented mouth/ Through which a hundred million of my people cry/Let them remember me also…

One of the best-known poets of conscience, Pablo Neruda, led a fascinating life that intertwined with artists, activists, and leaders worldwide. He  worked as Chilean consul in Burma, Ceylon and Java, in Spain during the civil war and in Mexico, and as a senator for the Chilean people. Neruda, a Communist, was exiled from his senate seat and from his country. He  escaped by horseback in 1949 over the Andes then to Europe. His exile from his homeland lasted until 1952. The movie Il Postino portrays his time living in Capri with his love, Matilde, and was the time he wrote his exquisite love poems about her. Neruda’s passion to give voice for his people’s rights grew stronger in 1936 after his friend and poet Ferderico Garcia Lorca was murdered while Neruda waited at a sporting event for his friend. Lorca’s death was three days before the Spanish Civil War broke out. He was killed by the Nationalist militia. Neruda won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for literature. In his memoirs, he wrote, “Perhaps the poet has always had the same obligations throughout history. It has been poetry’s distinction to go out into the street, to take part in this or that combat. The poet didn’t scare off when they said he was a rebel. Poetry is rebellion. The poet was not offended when he was called subversive. Life transcends all structures, and there are new rules of conduct for the soul. The seed sprouts anywhere, all ideas are exotic, we wait for enormous changes every day, we live through the mutation of human order avidly; spring is rebellious.”

The poet Breyten Breytenbach born near Cape Town, Africa studied in Paris in the early 1960s and married a French woman of Vietnamese descent. Marrying someone of a different race was illegal in Africa and he was denied entrance back to his homeland. Breytenbach also a painter and activist founded a group that fought apartheid. He returned to South Africa illegally and was arrested and spent seven years in prison for high treason. Released in 1982 after an intensive international intervention he returned to Paris. His book “The True Confessions of an Albion Terrorist” describes the years of his imprisonment.

In 1985, Nigerian poet/writer Chris Abani then 16 years old wrote his first novel and two years later was in prison for writing the book, which told the fictional story of a political coup.  The Nigerian government said his novel was a threat to national security and imprisoned him. After his release from prison six months later, he acted in a theatre group that performed plays with themes of social injustice. For this he was placed in prison again and tortured. When he led a riot after his 14-year-old cellmate was tortured and died, Abani was placed on death row. Due to the influence and work of human rights groups he was released from prison.  Abani now makes his home in Los Angeles where he is currently a Middleton Fellow at USC and teaches in the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. His poem about his 14-year-old cellmate is painted on a wall in the city of Leiden, The Netherlands. The title is “Ode to Joy.”

Harold Pinter, English playwright and 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, said of Abani  “Chris Abani’s poems seem to me to be totally naked. In no way are they pitying, never for a moment self-indulgent. They’re economic, spare, concrete and precise, and truly alarming. They also express a profound and very tough compassion for all the people he saw die, all the people he saw mutilated around him. The other point here is that although the poems are precise and specific, they definitely refer to a universal state of affairs which is, of course, man’s inhumanity to man. These are not simply documentary facts, they are coherent and harmonious pieces of work, I admire this very much.”

Poets throughout history have used their words to fight for the end of minor injustices to brutality inflicted on their people.  Expression takes many forms. It cries out in images and sounds that unveil the pain and solidarity of the poor, the disenfranchised and the idiocy of policies that do not aid the people written by those voted in to represent those same people. Amazing poetry pours from the poets of Egypt and no doubt the people of Wisconsin are writing songs and poems tonight.

Posted March 1, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

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