Sunday, September 11, 2011
Chile 1973: another 9/11
In the website of the radio show "Democracy Now!," host Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez interview Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, who was in Santiago, Chile, on the day of the military coup; Dorfman at the time was a cultural adviser to Chilean president Salvador Allende. Allende died during the bombing of the presidential residence by planes supplied by the U.S. military. In the interview, Dorfman -- who spent part of his childhood in New York -- reflects on the events of September 11, 1973 in Chile, and also on the events of September 11, 2001, when he was in the United States, and the long aftermath of both.
The interview with Ariel Dorfman is here.
The Democracy Now! segment continues with a discussion of some of the other significant historical events that have also taken place on September 11 in various years in India, Guatemala, and at Attica prison in upstate New York. The additional discussion is here.
The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda died during the days following the coup in September 1973 -- he had been seriously ill with a brain tumor, and his death, at the very least, was hurried along by intentional medical neglect after the military government took power.
In the website of the Paris Review is a long interview with Neruda by Rita Guibert, from 1971. Neruda talks about all aspects of his life and work, his politics, the historical and political events in which he had taken part during his life (in particular the Civil War in Spain during the 1930's, and the presidential election campaign in Chile at the time which result in the election of Salvador Allende, whom Neruda supported); and much else.
The interview with Neruda is here.
I originally read the interview with Pablo Neruda many years ago (sometime in the mid-1970's) in the book Seven Voices, which gathers interviews Rita Guibert did with seven Latin American writers. The book appears to be out of print at present, though it may be out there if you go searching the used book websites, or ask your local used book store to do a book search.
Two other works I can recommend, also long out of print as far as I know, are Chilean Writers in Exile, edited by Fernando Alegría (published 1982 by The Crossing Press), a collection of stories and short novels by Chilean writers dealing with the 1973 coup and afterwards; and For Neruda, For Chile edited by Walter Lowenfels (published 1975 by Beacon Press), an anthology of poems written in tribute to Neruda and in response to the coup in Chile, by poets from several dozen countries around world.
And one other I really like is Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez, published in English translation in 2010 by New York Review of Books. The book is an account (non-fiction, not a novel) of the experiences of Chilean filmmaker Miguel Littin, who in 1982 entered Chile after living abroad in exile for several years, and spent two months secretly making a documentary film about the political coup and about political and economic conditions in Chile under the Pinochet regime. Márquez wrote the book after extensively interviewing Littin about his experience making the film. The publisher's webpage for the book is here.
On September 11, 2001, I was at work in the morning when the planes flew into the World Trade Center. Sometime by mid-morning (around 10:00 or 10:30 Central time), our employer closed the office for the day -- office buildings in cities all over the United States were closing for the day -- and we left and went home.
I didn't go home immediately. I work in downtown Minneapolis. I walked a couple of blocks to the building of the local CBS T.V. station here. The station had a large T.V. in their window at street level, and a small crowd had gathered and was watching. I stopped and watched the news for a little while. It was there that I saw the video of one of the planes flying into one of the buildings. I remember one of the T.V. announcers (maybe Dan Rather) explaining, as the video played, that "this is actual video, not an animation." This comment struck me at the moment -- and again often in the days that followed -- as an interesting (and probably unintended) commentary on the nature of "news" reporting, what it has become in these years.
As I stood watching the T.V. news reports, a couple of dozen other people gathered around also watching, coming and going, I was suddenly reminded of all of those bad science fiction movies in the 1950's where Earth is being attacked by flying saucers.
Eventually I became aware that downtown was emptying of people, and I hopped on a bus and went home. After a little while I headed to a family member's house and hung out there for much of the day, checking out the news on various cable channels. As I sat and watched through the day, I began having the odd sensation that much in the news reports was becoming too scripted -- the way announcers kept saying "everything has changed, everything is different now." This has become an old long story in the years since. I could go on at length about this, but for the moment I'll just say (what should be obvious) that I've found it's a good idea not to take anything in a corporate new story as an established fact without checking into it further. What I heard that day in the news reports from CNN, NBC, CBS, etc., was the faint but unmistakeable beating of the drums of war.
A couple of other links to offer, also related to some or all of the above:
An interview with poet Martín Espada, in the website of the organization Solidarity, which describes itself as a "socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization." They've titled the interview "On 9/11 and the Politics of Language." (I can also highly recommend Espada's book of poems The Republic of Poetry published in 2006; I've written about Espada's book in this blog, here.) * The interview with Espada is here. (Thanks to poet Philip Metres in whose blog Behind the Lines I found the link to the interview.)
And, a talk given by writer in Arundhati Roy in September 2002, titled "Come September," in which she reflects on the events of the previous year, and more generally on the economic and political role of the United States in the world, and on various movements to resist the trends of corporate globalization. A transcript of her talk is here. (The page will come up as a pdf in the web browser.) * When I Googled for this item, I also saw some links to YouTube video of Roy's talk, though I haven't checked any of them.
The next day, September 12, 2011, poet Adrienne Rich was scheduled to read at the University of Minnesota. During the day I called the phone number listed for info about the reading, and reached a recording at the university English department office, informing callers (as had already been announced in the news) that all classes at the university had been cancelled for the day. The recording then said that the Adrienne Rich reading would go on as scheduled.
I went to the reading that night. It was the Ted Mann Concert Hall, a modern building on the West Bank campus (across the Mississippi River from the main campus on the east side). The building is well-designed for such events, with good accoustics and a good view of the stages in front. The reading was free, and a large crowd showed up, the place was packed.
As things got started, the person who was introducing Adrienne Rich explained that Rich had been in Kansas City the day before (the 11th) when all flights were grounded. So she hired a driver, and they drove for 13 hours through the night so she could make it to Minneapolis for the reading on the 12th.
Rich came out and read. The room was absolutely charged with the air of the events that had taken place the day before. She started by talking a little about this. Then she read poems. I don't remember, now, most of what she read -- I do remember that she read her long poem "An Atlas of the Difficult World" from the book of the same name, among others. What I remember from that evening is that there, in that room, were gathered several hundred of us who wanted something other than the fanatical saber rattling that had been blaring out from corporate news media and government press conferences during the previous 24 hours.
She read for probably 45 minutes. Copies of her book Fox (just published at the time) were on a table in the lobby. I hung around for a little bit afterwards, talked with a couple of friends. I headed out into the mild fall night and caught a bus home.
Every year since 2001, when September comes it's become commonplace for news media people to ask whoever they're talking to "Where were you on September 11?"
When I think about that question, more often than not I remember, instead, being at Adrienne Rich's poetry reading on the evening of September 12. "Only these friends hold joyous here," wrote Robert Duncan, "where the world like great Sodom lies under fear." (The poem by Duncan is "This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom" in his book The Opening of the Field.)
Remembering back to that night, September 12, 2001, I can't think of anything else I would rather have been doing, or anywhere else I would rather have been.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
John Howard Griffin
At the Albuquerque airport on the way back to Minneapolis, I ran into Bryce Milligan and we talked for a few minutes. As noted in the previous blogpost about the conference (at the above link), Bryce is the publisher of Wings Press. (See additional links below.)
Bryce mentioned that Wings Press is publishing a 50th anniversary edition of the book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.
If you're not familiar with the book, I definitely recommend it. I read it long ago, for a high school English class. The book is Griffin's real-life account of his experience in 1959 of having his Caucasian skin darkened (through medications and sun-lamp treatments), shaving his head, and then living the next several weeks as -- to all appearances -- an African-American man, traveling through the southern United States. He did this in coordination with Sepia magazine, which published Griffin's reports of his experiences in 1960; Griffin expanded the articles into the book Black Like Me, which was published in 1961.
The publication of Griffin's articles, and the book that followed, caused shock and awakening for many white Americans at the time, presenting the stark picture of Griffin's daily encounters with every manner of racism, including, at times, real danger to his life. Griffin was already an experienced and published writer at the time he wrote Black Like Me, and he reflects on his experiences with insight and sensitivity.
The Wings Press webpage for the book is here. According to the webpage, the official publication date for the new edition is October 1, 2011. The page includes short excerpts from reviews in many publications, and a full review of the book from the Washington Post in 2007.
Wings Press has also published several of John Howard Griffin's other books. The Wings Press webpage for Griffin is here.
The main page for Wings Press is here.
Saturday, September 03, 2011
Albuquerque Cultural Conference (2011)
The conference began with a reading/performance by 17 poets and musicians on Friday evening August 26; then panel discussions and presentations took place on Saturday and Sunday August 27 and 28. The Friday reading was at the Outpost Performance Space. The rest of the conference events were at the Harwood Art Center, where the conference has taken place each of the previous years.
The conference is organized not as a standard academic conference; each year of the conference, the content of the events has generally been politically conscious, with a strong emphasis on recovering and encouraging and making working-class people's culture, and on understanding the political and economic conditions of the world that often make such cultural work difficult. Organizers of the conference each year have included John Crawford, publisher of West End Press (and a longtime friend), and Leslie Fishburn Clark, with a cadre of energetic volunteers in the Albuquerque area and elsewhere.
I flew to Albuquerque on Thursday the 25th, to settle in and connect with people, and to have a little time to adjust to the altitude. (Albuquerque is more than 4000 feet higher than Minneapolis where I live.) I stayed at the Hotel Blue on the western edge of downtown Albuquerque, on Central Avenue (part of the famous old Route 66), about a mile from Harwood center. Several other conference participants stayed there too, and we had good conversation in the hotel breakfast room in the mornings before the conference got underway each day.
The poets and musicians who read in the Friday evening event were Bryce Milligan (who read poems and also sang and played guitar), Margaret Randall, Jessica Helen Lopez, Robert Bohm, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Jason Yurcic, Cherríe Moraga, Mary Oishi with musician Zenobia (Oishi sang gospel and blues songs, accompanied by Zenobia who played piano and also sang); and, in the second half of the program, Michael Henson (who read poems and also sang and played guitar), Gerald McCarthy, Sasha Pimentel Chacon, Anya Achtenberg, Lisa Gill, Nasser M. Khan, Hakim Bellamy and Carlos Contreras. Poets Lisa Gill and Nasser Khan also served as emcees for the reading; they read short quotes from a variety of other writers each time they introduced the poets who were reading. Several of the poets (Jessica Helen Lopez, Jason Yurcic, Lisa Gill, Nasser Khan, Hakim Bellamy, and Carlos Contreras) have been active in the poetry slam and spoken word/performance scene in Albuquerque. Bellamy and Contreras finished the event with a joint reading in which they read in tandem, first one, then the other, sometimes reading together in unison.
Altogether I found the Friday reading just stunning. One great poem after another. The Outpost Performance Space is a comfortable and fairly intimate theater room, with good lighting and acoustics. It was a good spot to have the reading.
Most of the Saturday and Sunday events were panel discussions, more or less, though the atmosphere was mostly more relaxed than the words "panel discussion" usually suggest. The panels and other presentations were organized broadly around the themes of dealing with cultural trauma and responding effectively with resilience.
Among the conference events I found particularly compelling were a panel titled Cultures of Violence: The Conflict over the Border, Racism, and Homophobia, with panelists Mary Oishi, Roberto Rodriguez, Celia Herrera Rodriguez, and Kamala Platt, and moderator Margaret Randall, the first event on Saturday morning; a panel titled The Power of Literacy: Reading, Writing and Living as a Community, with panelists Melissa Jameson, Genevieve Garcia de Mueller, Rebecca Sherry, and Kati O'Donnell, with moderator Brian Hendrickson, the first panel on Sunday; and a panel a little later on Sunday titled Prison Writing and Performance, with panelists Carlos Contreras, Amanda Gardner, Michele Welsing, and Gerald McCarthy, with moderador Brent Pulsipher. I also really liked the presentation on Saturday by Cherríe Moraga and Celia Herrera Rodriguez, in which they showed an edited video of a performance of one of Moraga's theater works, dealing with violence against women and the possibilities of response and healing, as individuals and as a culture.
I found a number of the other conference events valuable too. A full llist of the panels and presenters is in the Albuquerque Cultural Conference website, here. In general, with all of the conference events, the discussion from the general gathering was lively and energetic once the panelists had finished their initial presentations.
What I usually find most important in events such as the conference are the chances to get to know the other people there, and to reconnect with friends who live scattered far and wide. Thursday after I got into town, lunch with longtime poet and writer friend Fred Whitehead. (The above link is to an article by Fred, "Beliefs and Ethics Reconsidered," in the website Community of Reason KC.) At the Friday reading, a chance to talk briefly with poet friend Lorna Dee Cervantes, who had to hurry back to San Francisco the next day for the wedding celebration of her younger brother. Longtime friends writer Margaret Randall and artist Barbara Byers. Writer Demetria Martinez. Poets Mike Henson and Robert Bohm. I was pleased to meet face to face with poet Gerald McCarthy, whose book Trouble Light I've written about in this blog, here. And longtime poet friend Anya Achtenberg -- because of our lives and schedules, in recent years Anya and I have tended to run into each other more often at out-of-town events such as the conference, even though we both live in Minneapolis.
Saturday evening after a conference dinner and a keynote talk by Michelle Hall Kells, there was another reading by about a dozen poets, again with a bit of music also. Some of the poets had also read in the Friday evening reading, and some hadn't. I unfortunately don't have a complete list of the people who read Saturday evening: poets and musicians included Bryce Milligan (Bryce is also the publisher of the excellent Wings Press), Fred Whitehead, Mike Henson, Jules Nyquist, Laura Fillmore, Anya Achtenberg, myself, Nasser Khan, Don McIver (who also emceed a panel on Sunday afternoon on spoken word and performance poetry), Robert Bohm, Gerald McCarthy, a woman named Ellen whose last name I unfortunately don't remember (if I can track it down I'll come back and edit this), and one or two other people. The reading went well, even with some palpable fatigue in the room after a day of fairly intense conference discussion.
On Friday morning Fred Whitehead, artist Laura Fillmore and I visited the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, on Central Avenue in Albuquerque on the west side of downtown. The museum, seen from the street, is a modest-looking place, basically a storefront at street level. Inside, the space is given over to carefully prepared exhibits dealing with many aspects of the Holocaust in Europe in the 20th century; also with the long systematic genocide perpetrated by the U.S. government against Native American people; and slavery in the United States, and the history of horrific medical atrocities and "experiments" conducted on various populations of African-American people in the United States, with various government and institutional support; also an exhibit on the genocides in the early 20th century by the government and military of Turkey against Armenian and Greek populations; and other material and information. Historical timelines. Photographs. Identification documents of people who died in the concentration camps. An exhibit of artwork by a young girl who died in Auschwitz. A map of the United States showing ancestral lands of Native American people and the reservations that are presently marked out across the country. An exhibit on the mass murder done by the U.S. government at Wounded Knee, and on the history of forced removal of Native American people from the land where they lived.
Such a place as the museum, and the information and exhibits it contains, often leaves me silent and numb. I did respond with some silence and numbness, though more than that, I found myself moved to thought. We should feel the horror that such exhibits bring to the forefront of our attention; more than that, we should understand that we may be in a position to act to help prevent such things from continuing or recurring. We talked for a few minutes with a man and woman who were staffing the museum, and the man (who introduced himself with his first name Michael) suggested that if we took away just one thing from the museum, it should be this: that the people who perpetrated the Holocaust, and the other terrible histories the museum's exhibits tell about, were ordinary people, ordinary human beings. They were not inhuman or superhuman monsters. They were affected, in ways that carried unspeakable consequences, by ideas that were present in the times and places in which they lived.
I take this to mean that we have a responsibility to act in any ways we can to oppose the actions and ideas that lead to such history as the museum illuminates. We can't allow ourselves to become silent, in a time and a world in which silence becomes complicity with those who would commit atrocities, and with those who would tolerate such actions, or who would look the other way. We are part of history, and history isn't over yet.
Very much of the discussion during the Cultural Conference, it seems to me, related to questions of how best to take part of the making and movement of history. As writers, artists, musicians, there is much we can do. When an attorney general speaks of "enhanced interrogation," and really means torturing human beings; when a senator speaks of "reforming entitlements," and really means making thousands more people homeless; when a president talks about the need to make "tough choices," and really means another 10,000 workers will lose their jobs in the near future; when a random government or corporate bureaucrat talks about the "terrorist threat," and really means that air force bombers are going to drop bombs on a village because an oil company wants the land for a pipeline; we have a responsibility to expose these words and actions for what they are, in any of the ways we know how, and to offer this exposure and reality to anyone who is willing to listen, even in cases where it may shatter some long-held illusions about the sort of society and culture and world we live in.
Sunday evening after the official conference events had finished, a handful of us gathered at the home of John Crawford in Albuquerque for a relaxed evening of more good talk. Each time I've been to Albuquerque it has rained once; as we sat talking in John's back yard, clouds mulled overhead and lightning ripped spectacularly in the distance in several directions, wind bristled the tree leaves, here and there a few sprinkles of rain; then, just as we were all standing up getting ready to leave, the rain really started coming down, not quite a cloudburst but steady with large drops. After about ten minutes it let up.
The days were warm during the weekend of the conference, the sky mostly clear and bright. The strong sharp light in the high desert, in the mountain altitudes. Each morning the sunrise a pale glow above the Sandias to the east of the city.
I took home a few books from the book tables at the conference:
Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems by Lorna Dee Cervantes, published 2011 by Wings Press.
The Stories of Devil-Girl by Anya Achtenberg, a book of short interwoven prose works, part fiction, part autobiography, part memoir; published 2008 by Modern History Press (ordering information is available in Achtenberg's website, here).
Always Messing with them Boys, book of poems by Jessica Helen Lopez, published 2011 by West End Press.
A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness by Cherrie Moraga, a collection of essays, published 2011 by Duke University Press.
I also found, in a small used bookstore in Albuquerque, Freud by Other Means by Gene Frumkin, book of poems published 2002 by La Alameda Press.
Based on discussion at the end of the conference, it appears likely that there will be another Albuquerque Cultural Conference next year. I already want to go.
The main page of the Albuquerque Cultural Conference website is here. The Conference blog is here.