Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Moment of Silence -- Emmanuel Ortiz Part 2

A beautiful poem. Again, sans comments....

The wikipedia entry has the following to say...
Moment of Silence is a controversial poem by Emmanuel Ortiz published on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. The poem links the history of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, the War on Terror, environmental racism, and structural violence to the attacks.

The poem goes on to critique the notion of a moment of silence, perhaps best summed up by the lines: "From somewhere within the pillars of power, you open your mouth to invoke a moment of our silence and we are all left speechless" and "This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written." The majority of the poem serves as a list of historical crimes by the West against indigenous peoples or the Third World and how the structures which perpetuate those crimes slip through the cracks whenever people take a "moment of silence". Essentially, Ortiz believes a moment of silence "cut[s] in line" by failing to acknowledge previous and ongoing forms of structural violence.


Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people,
not a war - for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war ... ssssshhhhh....
Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have
piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found
their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of
sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half
of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the
refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be. Not like it always has

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa,
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and
Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all...Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing...For our dead.

EMMANUEL ORTIZ, 11 Sep 2002.

Here's a link to an mp3 rendering of this poem!

I Wanted to Write an Anti-war Poem -- Emmanuel Ortiz Part 1

Emmanuel Ortiz is a Chicano (native born Mexican), a Puerto Rican, an Irish American.. but foremost an activist and a spoken-word poet. He works with the Minnesota Alliance for the indigenous Zapatistas. I've been reading his poems lately and I'm putting up two of his poems here, sans comments. They are to be read in entirety and given subsequent introspection.

I Wanted to Write an Anti-war Poem, But...

Ever since the war started,
One year ago today,
I have wanted to write an anti-war poem.
For each of the last 365 days
I have been trying to write
To voice my opinion
In opposition to this war.

But nothing has come out.

After five days of watching
And not watching
Bombs fall on Iraq
I thought I had it
When some white boy
During a soccer game
Told me to "go back to Baghdad"
And as my fists found his temples
In retaliation for the bombs that were obliterating theirs
I remember thinking to myself
Amidst the slow-motion home-movie haze
"This will make a great poem"
A poem about
How he mistook
Mesoamerica for Mesopotamia
Borinken for Babylon.
And why Baghdad
Instead of Brasilia, Beijing, Beirut, Bogotá, Bombay,
Even Bi-racialville U.S.A.

I swear I was gonna write a poem about that white boy
About how his words were acts of errorism
Misguided missiles
Missing their marks
Leaving brown bodies burning
Turning soccer fields into battlefields
Turning mosques and marketplaces into burial grounds
I wanted to write that poem
Testimony to our bodies
How they have always been battlefields
And burial grounds.

I wanted to tell that white boy off
In a poem
That said
Go back to Nazi Germany
Go back to Imperialist Britain
Go back to Hollywood
Go back to the Oval Office
Go back across the Mason-Dixie line
Go back to Oklahoma City
Go back to Jasper, Texas
Go back to the suburbs
Go back into every red-white and blue-blooded American home
Crawl back inside the weapon of mass distraction
That is the centerpiece of your living room
Back into the studios of CNN
You can go anywhere you want to, Mr. All-American White Boy
As long as you go
Because where else do you go
When you've reached the top of the world?

Damn, I wanted to write that poem.

But I never did.

I traveled
Crisscrossing the country
Wrote and read other poems.
I think I wrote a poem for my brother
Who has never seen the island that gave birth to our grandmother
Wrote one for a lover
Who I lost to another
But no poems against war.
I played soccer
And video games
Watched the Super Bowl
Skipped the halftime show
But wrote no poems against the war

But I swear to you
I wanted to
Been meaning to
Write that anti-war poem
Even had deadlines
But then Haiti made headlines
And that war hit close to my ancestral home again
My heart was a hurricane
And I felt a need to start over again
Searching for the right words to say
As a grandchild of Borinken
To the people of neighboring Ayiti
To the heirs of Caonabo and Anacaona
Children of Toussaint L'Overture.

Wanted to write that poem
But there were rallies and meetings to attend
And I needed a new job
One where I wasn't plagued by white liberals
Asking where I come from
And trying to speak Spanish

Wanted to write my anti-war poem
Standing on firm ground
But I'm looking for a place to live
Can't tell you where I will call 'home' in a month
Been questioning where I call home even now

I wanted to write a poem
That meant something
That made a difference
That could stop bullets
Topple empires
A poem that would rebuild marketplaces
Breathe life back into burnt brown bodies
A poem that could cross rivers
With two names
Rio Grande y Bravo
Tigris and Dijla
Euphrates and Furat,
Traversing Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia

I swear
If these wars ever end
The one that rages always over there somewhere
And the one right here in my heart
If these wars ever end
If my brother ever makes it to Puerto Rico
If my lost lover ever comes back to me
If I ever find home
Work with meaning If the war that just wants peace and love
If that war over there
This war right here
If these wars
Ever end
If I can ever find a moment's quiet
Peace of mind
Then maybe
Just maybe
I'll write that poem.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Age of Tranquil Mistrust -- Wodehouse Nugget 2

From Something Fresh (aka, Something New [American edition]) --
Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome pessimism, which, though it takes the fine edge off of whatever triumphs may come to us, has the admirable effect of preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with strings attached, and unhatched chickens, at which ardent youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment. As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a habit of mind that looks askance at Fate bearing gifts. We miss, perhaps, the occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping light-heartedly into traps.

It must be your fault -- Wodehouse Nugget 1

As a huge fan of P.G.Wodehouse's writing, I figured might as well start a series of quoting interesting Wodehouse-ian nuggets. This one is from Sam the Sudden.
It is a curious fact, and one frequently noted by philosophers, that every woman in this world cherishes within herself a deep-rooted belief, from which nothing can shake her, that the particular man to whom she has plighted her love is to be held personally blameworthy for practically all of the untoward happenings of life. The vapid and unreflective would call these things accidents, but she knows better. If she arrives at a station at five minutes past nine to catch a train that has already left at nine minutes past five, she knows that it is her Henry who is responsible, just as he was responsible the day before for a shower of rain coming on when she was wearing her new hat.

Omar Khayyam, the Rubaiyat and other stories

His name means tent maker. His most renowned book as a mathematician is "Treatise on Demonstration of the Problems of Algebra". He is supposed to have calculated the length of a year as 365.24219858156 days. He was made famous by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859 in a different field.

That was Omar Khayyam, the Persian mathematician, poet, astronomer, and philosopher, of course. Outside of Iran, thanks to Edward Fitzgerald, he's mostly famous for his Rubaiyat. Rubaiyat derives from Rubaiyaas, which derives from the Arabic word for the number 4, meaning a verse with four lines, or a quatrain. The Rubaiyat is a collection of Khayyam's quatrains -- he wrote 1000s of them. One of the more famous ones (Edward Fitzgerald's translation) --

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Even though Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr. have quoted the above quatrain in their speeches (MLK, in his speech Why I oppose the war in Vietnam says, "It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home. Come home America. Omar Khayyám is right 'The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on.'"), probably Omar Khayyam's biggest contributions are in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. He wrote the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra. Importantly he generalized the algorithm for solving cubic equations (and some higher power equations). In his book, Omar Khayyam has this to say --

From the Indians one has methods for obtaining square and cube roots, methods which are based on knowledge of individual cases, namely the knowledge of the squares of the nine digits 12, 22, 32 (etc.) and their respective products, i.e. 2 × 3 etc. We have written a treatise on the proof of the validity of those methods and that they satisfy the conditions. In addition we have increased their types, namely in the form of the determination of the fourth, fifth, sixth roots up to any desired degree. No one preceded us in this and those proofs are purely arithmetic, founded on the arithmetic of The Elements (of Euclid).

On the lighter side, an extremely hilarious and interesting take on the theatrical managers of 1920s in Broadway by Wodehouse (from Little Warrior urf Jill the Reckless).

Mr.Goble is a theatrical Manager on Broadway and is putting on a musical comedy written and financed by Mr. Pilkington from England. Wally is an established writer and composer. Mr.Goble has just come to the sets during practice and has cut out a line about a watermelon from the hero's script.

The gentleman who was playing the part of Lord Finchley, an English character actor who specialized in London "nuts," raised his eyebrows, annoyed. Like Mr Pilkington, he had never before come into contact with Mr Goble as stage-director, and, accustomed to the suaver methods of his native land, he was finding the experience trying. He had not yet recovered from the agony of having that water-melon line cut out of his part. It was the only good line, he considered, that he had. Any line that is cut out of an actor's part is always the only good line he has.

"The speech about Omar Khayyam?" he enquired with suppressed irritation.

"I thought that was the way you said it. All wrong! It's Omar of Khayyam."

"I think you will find that Omar Khayyam is the--ah--generally accepted version of the poet's name," said the portrayer of Lord Finchley, adding beneath his breath. "You silly ass!"

"You say Omar of Khayyam," bellowed Mr Goble. "Who's running this show, anyway?"

"Just as you please."

Mr Goble turned to Wally.

"These actors . . ." he began, when Mr Pilkington appeared again at his elbow.

"Mr Goble! Mr Goble!"

"What is it now?"

"Omar Khayyam was a Persian poet. His name was Khayyam."

"That wasn't the way I heard it," said Mr Goble doggedly. "Did you?" he enquired of Wally. "I thought he was born at Khayyam."

"You're probably quite right," said Wally, "but, if so, everybody else has been wrong for a good many years. It's usually supposed that the gentleman's name was Omar Khayyam. Khayyam, Omar J. Born 1050 A.D., educated privately and at Bagdad University. Represented Persia in the Olympic Games of 1072, winning the sitting high-jump and the egg-and-spoon race. The Khayyams were quite a well-known family in Bagdad, and there was a lot of talk when Omar, who was Mrs Khayyam's pet son, took to drink and started writing poetry. They had had it all fixed for him to go into his father's date business."

Mr Goble was impressed. He had a respect for Wally's opinion, for Wally had written "Follow the Girl" and look what a knock-out that had been. He stopped the rehearsal again.

"Go back to that Khayyam speech!" he said, interrupting Lord Finchley in mid-sentence.

The actor whispered a hearty English oath beneath his breath. He had been up late last night, and, in spite of the fair weather, he was feeling a trifle on edge.

"'In the words of Omar of Khayyam' . . ."

Mr Goble clapped his hands.

"Cut that 'of,'" he said. "The show's too long, anyway."

And, having handled a delicate matter in masterly fashion, he leaned back in his chair and chewed the end off another cigar.

Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan is one of my favorite poems. It is the sheer genius of a subconscious mind pushed to an elevated state by natural drugs. Kubla Khan is a magic that is never dissected, one is always content in the ecstasy of the flow of words, the sublime prosody. An extremely detailed analysis of this poem is available in John Spencer Hill's Coleridge Companion available online at an archived version of a UOttawa webpage. For some reason the University of Ottawa does not host this page anymore.

If you dont want to read the entire analysis, some interesting extracts follow:

... Kubla Khan is a fascinating and exasperating poem. Almost everyone has read it, almost everyone has been charmed by its magic, almost everyone thinks he knows what it is about -- and almost everyone, it seems, has felt impelled to write about it. It must surely be true that no poem of comparable length in English or any other language has been the subject of so much critical commentary. Its fifty-four lines have spawned thousands of pages of discussion and analysis. Kubla Khan is the sole or a major subject in five book-length studies; close to 150 articles and book-chapters (doubtless I have missed some others) have been devoted exclusively to it; and brief notes and incidental comments on it are without number. Despite this deluge, however, there is no critical unanimity and very little agreement on a number of important issues connected with the poem: its date of composition, its "meaning", its sources in Coleridge's reading and observation of nature, its structural integrity (i.e. fragment versus complete poem), and its relationship to the Preface by which Coleridge introduced it on its first publication in 1816...

... In a moment of rash optimism a notable scholar once began an essay by declaring that "We now know almost everything about Coleridge's Kubla Khan except what the poem is about". The truth of the matter, however, is that we know almost nothing conclusive about Kubla Khan, including what it is about.This flower plucked in Paradise (or on Parnassus) and handed down to us by Coleridge is, indeed, a miracle of rare device; but like all miracles it is largely elusive...

... By far the most intriguing question about this most intriguing of poems is "What does it mean?" -- if, indeed, it has or was ever intended to have any particular meaning. For the overwhelming majority of Coleridge's contemporaries, Kubla Khan seemed (as Lamb foresaw) to be no better than nonsense, and they dismissed it contemptuously. "The poem itself is below criticism", declared the anonymous reviewer in the Monthly Review (Jan 1817); and Thomas Moore, writing in the EdinburghReview (Sep 1816), tartly asserted that "the thing now before us, is utterly destitute of value" and he defied "any man to point out a passage of poetical merit" in it...

... While derisive asperity of this sort is the common fare of most of the early reviews, there are, nevertheless, contemporary readers whose response is both sympathetic and positive -- even though they value the poem for its rich and bewitching suggestiveness rather than for any discernible "meaning" that it might possess. Charles Lamb, for example, speaks fondly of hearing Coleridge recite Kubla Khan "so enchantingly that it irradiates & brings heaven & Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it"; and Leigh Hunt turns hopefully to analogies in music and painting in an effort to describe the poem's haunting but indefinable effect: "Kubla Khan is a voice and a vision, an everlasting tune in our mouths, a dream fit for Cambuscan and all his poets, a dance of pictures such as Giotto or Cimabue, revived and re-inspired, would have made for a Storie of Old Tartarie, a piece of the invisible world made visible by a sun at midnight and sliding before our eyes."...

... Throughout the nineteenth century and during the first quarter of the twentieth century Kubla Khan was considered, almost universally, to be a poem in which sound overwhelms sense. With a few exceptions (such as Lamb and Leigh Hunt), Romantic critics -- accustomed to poetry of statement and antipathetic to any notion of ars gratia artis -- summarily dismissed Kubla Khan as a meaningless farrago of sonorous phrases beneath the notice of serious criticism. It only demonstrated, according to William Hazlitt, that "Mr Coleridge can write better nonsense verses than any man in England" -- and then he added, proleptically, "It is not a poem, but a musical composition"...

... For Victorian and Early Modern readers, on the other hand, Kubla Khan was a poem not below but beyond the reach of criticism, and they adopted (without the irony) Hazlitt's perception that it must properly be appreciated as verbalised music. "When it has been said", wrote Swinburne of Kubla Khan, "that such melodies were never heard, such dreams never dreamed, such speech never spoken, the chief thing remains unsaid, and unspeakable. There is a charm upon [this poem] which can only be felt in silent submission of wonder". Even John Livingston Lowes -- culpable, if ever anyone has been, of murdering to dissect -- insisted on the elusive magic of Coleridge's dream vision: "For Kubla Khan is as near enchantment, I suppose, as we are like to come in this dull world." While one may track or attempt to track individual images to their sources, Kubla Khan as a whole remains utterly inexplicable -- a "dissolving phantasmagoria" of highly charged images whose streaming pageant is, in the final analysis, "as aimless as it is magnificent". The earth has bubbles as the water has, and this is of them...

... Generally speaking, however, the most popular view by far is that Kubla Khan is concerned with the poetic process itself. "What is Kubla Khan about? This is, or ought to be, an established fact of criticism: Kubla Khan is a poem about poetry"...

... The dream of Xanadu itself is an inspired vision... the artist's purpose is to capture such visions in words, but in attempting to do so he encounters two serious difficulties: first, language is an inadequate medium that permits only an approximation of the visions it is used to record, and, second, the visions themselves, by the time the poet comes to set them down, have faded into the light of common day and must be reconstructed from memory. Between the conception and the execution falls the shadow.... the vision of Kubla's Xanadu is replaced by that of a damsel singing of Mount Abora -- an experience more auditory than visual and therefore less susceptible of description by mere words...

With that, will hide behind the opium induced genius of Coleridge.

Kubla Khan

(or, a Vision in a Dream, a Fragment)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

published in 1816, with the following Author's Preface:

"In the summer of the year 1797, the author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farmhouse between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne [opium, most likely] had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in Purcha's Pilgrimage: 'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.' The author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external sense, during which time he has the most vivid confidence that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purpot of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!"