Thursday, December 31, 2009

I won't be able to post tomorrow, so here is Issa's haiku for the turn of the year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

Kobayashi Issa (1763 - 1828)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I first became aware of painter David Sholl's work on the cover of his sister Betsy Sholl's poetry collection, The Red Line. Recently I had the chance to see his works in his studio at Brickbottom Artists. As in the painting above, Sholl is a master of texture and light, freshening our vision as the best painters are able to do. Some of the paintings that most impressed me are of dogs, including his beloved lab, Farina: they're simply the doggiest dogs ever painted: captured in motion with their quizzical looks, their playful and intent mien, their canine intelligence.

You'll also find a few more radiators there. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


A BB gun.
A model plane.
A basketball.
A ’lectric train.
A bicycle.
A cowboy hat.
A comic book.
A baseball bat.
A deck of cards.
A science kit.
A racing car.
A catcher’s mitt.
So that’s my list
of everything
that Santa Claus
forgot to bring.

— Kenn Nesbit

Monday, December 21, 2009

There is a half hour interview with yours truly, speaking with Elizabeth Lund HERE. She has interviewed a number of fine poets on this site, including Meg Kearney, Fred Marchant, and Kathleen Aguero. ENJOY!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I came across this poem (though I don't recall where or when) and just wanted to post it here. Ann Hutt Browning's book of poems, Deep Landscape Turning, was published in August, 2009, by the Ibbetson Street Press.


When she awoke in the morning

She threw back her all cotton sheet,

Cotton woven in a far off country

By a dark skinned girl chained to her large loom.

When she went into her kitchen

She ground beans to brew her coffee,

Beans grown, roasted in a far off country

Where the tall trees were cleared off the land

For the coffee bushes to be planted

And tended by boys not in school and men

Old before their time and where all the waste

From treating the beans is flushed and dumped

In the river, adding that detritus

To the human waste and chemical run

Off already there in the gray water

And where downstream others used the water,

That dark water, for cooking and bathing.

After her children boarded the school bus,

Wearing clothing made in the Philippines,

Mauritania, Taiwan, a hodge-podge

Of imports from other worlds, far off countries,

Where sweat shops flourished,

Filled with child workers,

She went shopping:

Guatemalan cantaloupes, Mexican tomatoes,

Chilean oranges, California lettuce,

Carolina rice, Michigan peaches,

Blueberries from Maine, all bought because

In her garden she grew hybrid tea roses,

Siberian iris, cross-bred daylilies in six colors,

Held down by pine bark, chipped in Oregon.

Then she roamed the market aisle marked

"Special," and bought a basket, its colors

Imitative of Mexican folk art, made in China,

The price suggesting child or prison labor

Dyed the fronds of grass, wove the basket

And attached the label.

She ate a quick lunch of a hamburger,

The ground beef from a far off country

Where the virgin forest was burned off

So cattle could graze on tropical grass,

The bun made from Canadian wheat

And the ketchup, again those Mexican tomatoes.

She drove home to prop up her feet

On the foam cushioned sofa, turn on the TV,

Assembled in Nicaragua,

In a maquiladora by a woman

Who rose at five a.m. to walk three kilometers

To the bus, who then rode twenty-five miles

To the factory in the tax free zone,

Who worked from eight to five

With a quarter of an hour to eat

Or use the toilet,

Who got home at eight o'clock

To bathe and feed her three children,

With eighteen cents an hour in her pocket

On good days.

The woman on the sofa

Watched two soap operas

As usual on a week day,

And ate ice cream,

American ice cream.

She liked American ice cream.

She lived an ordinary life


Thursday, December 03, 2009

WATCH THE VIDEO of the 2008 PEN New England panel, preceded by Eric Grunwald presenting the 2008 Vasyl Stus Freedom-to-Write Award to Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, an Afghani poet and sometime journalist who was detained for three years at Guantanamo, released, then rearrested in Peshawar for a satirical poem he'd written. His whereabouts remain unknown.

The main question we wished to explore here was why so much American literary writing seems tame and well-behaved, so unthreatening to the powers that be. While there can be no single or simple answer to that question, each of our panelists had trenchant things to say, and there is a great deal to think about here. Enjoy.

Risky Writing and the Forces That Silence It
April 10, 2008

Richard Hoffman writer, chair, PEN New England
Carole Horne general manager, Harvard Book Store
Linda McCarriston professor, creative writing, UAlaska
Mark Pawlak editor, Hanging Loose Press
Jill Petty editor, South End Press

Richard Hoffman moderates a panel discussion about the forces in the world of publishing, society at large, and our own psyches that work to silence "risky writing".

The importance of politically challenging fiction and poetry throughout history is undeniable: from Turgenev's powerful A Sportsman's Notebook, which prompted Czar Alexander II to free his country's slaves, to Ginsberg's Howl to Doris Lessing's fiction to James Baldwin's powerful and incisive essays.

Has such writing been effectively denied its audience in our day? To what extent are the barriers to risky or oppositional writing real or imagined? What are the long-term societal and cultural dangers of a safe literature, of books as mere entertainment or escape? And what are the individual author and the reader hungry for substance, to do?

PEN New England's Freedom-to-Write (FTW) Committee, in partnership with the Cambridge Forum, hosts a panel discussion about the forces in the world of publishing, society at large, and our own psyches that work to silence "risky writing," the most dangerous but often most important of an author's works. The panel, moderated by Richard Hoffman, poet, fiction writer, and author of the memoir Half the House, features Carole Horne, General Manager, Harvard Book Store; Linda McCarriston, author of Eva-Mary and other books and professor of creative writing and literary arts at the University of Alaska, Anchorage; Mark Pawlak, poet, author of Special Handling and other books, and editor of Hanging Loose Press; and Jill Petty, editor and small press publisher.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The inaugural issue of SOLSTICE is up, and it is a treasure-trove. Work by Mike Steinberg, Tanya Whiton, Roland Merullo, Pablo Medina, Kathleen Aguero, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Kurt Brown, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Anne Marie Oomen and others, including yours truly. This is the journal to watch: eclectic and adventurous, fearless and joyful, this is a gathering of voices that marks a new beginning for online literature.

Janus Head, volume 11, Nos. 1&2 (double issue) is online. Janus Head is among the most catholic explorations of current thinking in the world. An altogether remarkable journal. And the print version is always exquisitely produced as well. I have two poems in this issue, in the company of poets whose work is almost more exciting than I can stand! (Check out Betsy Sholl's new work!) You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Fairly Unbalanced: Writing Political Satire in the 21st Century
June 14, 2009

Jimmy Tingle, comedian
Elizabeth Searle, co-vice chair, PEN New England
Percival Everett, writer
Baron Wormser, former Maine Poet Laureate
Lise Haines, writer
Teddy Sherrill, former director of advertising, Harvard Lampoon
Richard Hoffman, writer and chair of PEN New England

PEN New England and Cambridge Forum present a discussion of the power and the pitfalls of writing in the age of Jon Stewart and Al Franken.

PEN also presents the 2009 Vasyl Stus Freedom to Write Award to Nurmuhemmet Yasin, whose satirical story "Wild Pigeon" Chinese authorities considered critical of their presence in the Xinjiang Uighur Region. After a closed trial in 2005 at which he was denied a lawyer, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The award is named in honor of Vasyl Stus, the leading Ukrainian poet of his generation and the last poet to die in a Soviet gulag, and is awarded to Yasin in absentia.

PEN New England is one of five regional branches of PEN America Center, which in turn is part of International PEN, the only worldwide organization of writing professionals and the world's first human rights organization. PEN's mission is to promote literacy and a culture of literature, and to defend free expression everywhere.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Below are my remarks at Don't Close the Books! Rally at Massachusetts Statehouse, prior to Massachusetts Book Awards November 4, 2009. The rally was to protest and attempt to reverse the decision by Governor Patrick to severely cut funding for libraries across the state. Several people asked me for a copy so I thought it easiest to post it here. For more information about this event, and to lend your support to our public libraries, visit The Massachusetts Library Association.

Good morning. I am here today as an author and a teacher of writing and literature, but mainly as Chair of PEN New England, our local chapter of PEN, an international organization founded by writers, and also the oldest human rights organization in the world. I am here because, in addition to all the many services libraries provide, they are also the guardians and exemplars of certain values, and chief among them, as it is for PEN, is intellectual freedom, freedom of expression. Censorship is anathema because it inhibits knowledge and debate, it constrains the discourse not only horizontally, among the living, but our all-important discourse with the writers and thinkers of the past. Any restriction that diminishes access to the resources libraries provide is a form of censorship, no matter the professed reason for that restriction. Even if the stated reason is a recession, or an ailing budget. Intent is irrelevant here. Restriction equals censorship.

Another related value libraries hold dear is that of privacy, the privacy to think one’s thoughts, to ask one’s questions, to seek out information and opinions. It was only a few years ago that the US Bureau of Homeland Security, with no regard for the confidentiality that is a cornerstone of intellectual freedom, sought to determine what books, articles, and internet sites had been accessed by persons they deemed “of interest.” And it was the loud and strong stand of the American Library Association that led the resistance to that infringement of civil rights. Recently one of the writers PEN has sought to defend, currently imprisoned by the Chinese government, was convicted on the basis of information provided by Yahoo, for whom global market share would seem to be a value that trumps privacy. When the chips are down, I trust my public library to safeguard my intellectual freedom before I trust Comcast, Hotmail, Gmail, or Verizon.

Because, at PEN, we are devoted to fostering the discourse that literature represents, because we believe that a multiplicity of worldviews is essential to resisting what George Orwell called “Groupthink”, we are committed to spreading literacy, which is not a simple question of being able to read or being unable to read. In our work with children, with highschool students, with prisoners, we see clearly that literacy is a process by which, once able to read and write, an individual becomes increasingly able to interact with complex texts and, thereby, to acquire knowledge and understanding and the ability to take part in the larger conversation from which they would otherwise remain excluded. Libraries are the centers of that literacy effort. No literate person setting foot in a library is not returned to a state of intellectual curiosity, a state both humbling and exciting: look — and in a library you can SEE it as you cannot see digitized texts arrayed in cyberspace — look at all there is to learn and understand, riches greater than one life can gather and spend. This understanding, so clearly apprehended in this sacred space, is our greatest safeguard against the intellectual intolerance that history tells us precedes a society’s descent into violence and totalitarianism.

Libraries represent our commitment to learning, and in their democratic access to a treasury of intellectual and cultural capital, they are our real common-wealth, not merely a symbol of it, but the embodiment of that ideal and its daily continuance. Public libraries level the playing field. Our public libraries make available the conversations of the past — the enthusiasms, arguments, warnings, discoveries — to people who would otherwise have no context for understanding the issues of our day. Without our libraries an ahistorical view of the world prevails in which our troubles have never been faced by human beings before, in which we are isolated from one another’s concerns, and in which the civic matters that affect us are decided by the loudest voices and catchiest slogans.

It’s a truism that libraries are institutions charged with preserving and transmitting the records of humankind on behalf of future generations, but it’s important to understand that that rhetorical term “future generations” really means our kids. When we close libraries, or cut their hours, or their staffs, or their budgets, we are really ripping off our kids. I can’t imagine my boyhood without the refuge, the promise, the renewal that was mine at the library. Nothing in my boyhood, not athletics, not school subjects, not my religious upbringing was so empowering. I understood very early, with the help of a friendly librarian — have I mentioned that librarians are also educators? — that there was no question I had about the world or anything in it that I could not set about answering with the help of those alphabetized drawers full of cards. It had been ordered and cross-referenced in such a way that even the act of tracking down the information was rewarding. I think that I also learned that my education, my entertainment, and my direction were my own to seek; they were not something that anyone could either give me or withhold.

Sometimes magical but always sacred places, places of refuge and contemplation, of inspiration, of learning, libraries are, especially now, important troves of information. Research shows clearly that in times of recession, people need their libraries more than ever, for career research, educational opportunities, legal and financial information, job-hunting, and even, for some, a safe warm place on a winter’s day. This is no time to weaken our commitment to institutions at the heart of peoples’ aspirations. The public library is the very center of democracy. In a difficult time, our libraries are more essential than ever. Funding them adequately is both a practical and a moral necessity.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

OK, now this is just for fun. you might get a charge out of our foolishness at Stonecoast as captured on these videos: me, novelist and playwright Mike Kimball, and poet and memoirist Debra Marquart making music at the "talent night." Have a look and a listen.

And wait — there's more!

Friday, October 16, 2009

My op-ed piece, written in my capacity as Chair of PEN New England, appeared in this Wednesday's Boston Globe. I reprint it here, but I have also added a link at the bottom directing you to PEN American Center's case file on this persecuted writer, with directions for expressing your outrage to the Chinese authorities.

Author’s pen is mightier than China’s sword

By Richard Hoffman | October 14, 2009

IMAGINE YOU are a popular, award-winning author whose poems and stories are widely-read, anthologized, and taught to schoolchildren. You have written a short story about a young pigeon, the son of a king, who is captured by humans and caged, and who by story’s end finds captivity so intolerable that he chooses to eat a poison strawberry rather than live such a life. You call the story “The Wild Pigeon.’’ It is published to acclaim.

But you are writing in a land where writers’ works come under constant scrutiny and where one morning there’s a knock at your door. You open it and are taken from your family, tried, and convicted without a jury or legal representation and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for “inciting separatism.’’

This is no fable, Kafka-esque though it is. This is the story of Nurmuhemmet Yasin, a 34-year-old Uighur writer in northwestern China who was arrested in 2004. He is the recipient of this year’s Vasyl Stus Freedom to Write Award from PEN New England.

Until recently, many had never heard of the Uighurs, a Turkish people who live in an area of northwest China known to the Chinese as Xinjiang Province, an area formerly called East Turkistan. Seeking to exploit the region’s rich resources, Beijing has been increasing pressure on the region’s citizens to conform, resettling the province with ethnic Han Chinese in much the same way it has sought to undermine the autonomy of its neighbor to the south, Tibet.

Yasin’s “The Wild Pigeon’’ is clearly a political allegory, a short story about dignity, integrity, and pride in the face of cultural and territorial erasure. In the story, a mother explains to her son, “They want to change the character of our heritage . . . strip us of our memory and identity. Perhaps in the near future, they will build factories and high-rises here, and the smoke that comes from making products we don’t need will seep into the environment and poison our land and our water.’’

But whether or not we understand or even care about the situation of the Uighur minority in China, we should all concern ourselves with the plight of Yasin. Those who love stories and poems and plays and essays, who understand they are vital to all human cultures, must rise in defense of any author anywhere whose government violates the basic right of freedom of expression.

Yasin is one of more than three dozen writers held in prison by the Chinese authorities, according to PEN American Center. In addition, poets, playwrights, and novelists are imprisoned in Turkey, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Myanmar, and Iran for the crime of writing about how the world appears to them. In a world in which our destinies are intertwined, in which we need more desperately than ever to know one another, such censorship hurts us all.

Toward the end of “The Wild Pigeon,’’ the protagonist’s captors converse, as they watch the bird refuse food or water:

“Just let him go. To watch a pigeon die slowly like this is too pitiful.’’

“Setting him free does us no good. Nothing good will come of this.’’

“Nothing good will come of this in any event.’’

Readers and writers worldwide need to tell Chinese authorities that we have not forgotten Nurmuhemmet Yasin, that we are all watching.

Richard Hoffman is the chairman of PEN New England.

© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's been a long time since I posted anything new here, but I have been recently showered with good fortune. Gold Star Road was selected this week for the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club for best book of poetry published in the previous two years. Then, within hours, it was announced that I had received one of eight Brother Thomas Fellowships, a $15,000 award administered by The Boston Foundation. Needless to say, I am thrilled.

I also want to extend an invitation to any and all to join me in celebration of the publication of my story collection, Interference & Other Stories, on October 22, 2009, at GOOD FOOD CAFÉ, 2378 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140. Click here for directions. There will be food and fun, door-prizes, and I will give a short reading. Porter Square Books will be there selling books.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

This came to me from my friend Gene Bell-Villada. It was supposd to have been first published on the site Our Future Today, but I couldn't find it there, so I'm simply sharing it here.

Fascist America: Are We There Yet?

By Sara Robinson

All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives
watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist
rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and
violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself
powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new
outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on
right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried
readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we
there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and
Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our
maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of
reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change
course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still
plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As
bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on
the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's
pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a
1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued
that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by
their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said,
mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of
five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that
links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms
together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there
yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping
an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's
suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a
while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there
right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot
and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American
future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us
who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's
changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these
people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

What is fascism?

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so
long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's
fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by
revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

   "Fascism is a system of political authority and social order
intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in
which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and

Elsewhere, he refines this further as

   "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with
community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults
of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed
nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration
with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with
redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of
internal cleansing and external expansion."

Jonah Goldberg aside, that's a basic definition most legitimate
scholars in the field can agree on, and the one I'll be referring to

From proto-fascism to the tipping point

According to Paxton, fascism unfolds in five stages. The first two are
pretty solidly behind us -- and the third should be of particular
interest to progressives right now.

In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of
nationalist renewal (what Roger Griffin calls "palingenesis" -- a
phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes). They come together to restore a
broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and
purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion. The way the
organizing story is told varies from country to country; but it's
always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by
resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging
society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who
are blamed for their current misery.

Fascism only grows in the disturbed soil of a mature democracy in
crisis. Paxton suggests that the Ku Klux Klan, which formed in reaction
to post-Civil War Reconstruction, may in fact be the first
authentically fascist movement in modern times. Almost every major
country in Europe sprouted a proto-fascist movement in the wretched
years following WWI (when the Klan enjoyed a major resurgence here as
well) -- but most of them stalled either at this first stage, or the
next one.

As Rick Perlstein documented in his two books on Barry Goldwater and
Richard Nixon, modern American conservatism was built on these same
themes. From "Morning in America" to the Rapture-ready religious right
to the white nationalism promoted by the GOP through various gradients
of racist groups, it's easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered
redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the
innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America.
This vision has been so thoroughly embraced that the entire Republican
party now openly defines itself along these lines. At this late stage,
it's blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently
addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn't have a
moment's shame about any of it. No apologies, to anyone. These same
narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement
in history.

In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real
political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power.
Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from
the rural, less-educated parts of the country; and almost all of them
came to power very specifically by offering themselves as informal goon
squads organized to intimidate farmworkers on behalf of the large
landowners. The KKK disenfranchised black sharecroppers and set itself
up as the enforcement wing of Jim Crow. The Italian Squadristi and the
German Brownshirts made their bones breaking up farmers' strikes. And
these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for
Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random
Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon
squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may
eventually use to intimidate the rest of us.

Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain
relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose
inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation;
and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable
to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a
legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and
Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of
constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that
the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the
loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment
of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative
leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to
continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the
conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with
a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the
depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional
Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been
humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic
national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't
even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and
ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their
last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an
undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow
American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy
fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize
power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

When that unholy alliance is made, the third stage -- the transition to
full-fledged government fascism -- begins.

The third stage: being there

All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to
call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear
signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming
between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown
brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations --
passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat
talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative
leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two
sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public.
What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly
didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag
movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick
Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with
massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind
of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of
the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional
Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field
manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine
art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of
public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where
some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting
a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August
for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes,
kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly
thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs.
They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their
enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical
harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials
who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins.
It's also our very last chance to stop it.

The fail-safe point

According to Paxton, the forging of this third-stage alliance is the
make-or-break moment -- and the worst part of it is that by the time
you've arrived at that point, it's probably too late to stop it. From
here, it escalates, as minor thuggery turns into beatings, killings,
and systematic tagging of certain groups for elimination, all directed
by people at the very top of the power structure. After Labor Day, when
Democratic senators and representatives go back to Washington, the mobs
now being created to harass them will remain to run the same tactics --
escalated and perfected with each new use -- against anyone in town
whose color, religion, or politics they don't like. In some places,
they're already making notes and taking names.


Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point
us straight at it:

   1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that
represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the
political scene?

   2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage
apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

   3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the
control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted
to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.

The Road Ahead

History tells us that once this alliance catalyzes and makes a
successful bid for power, there's no way off this ride. As Dave Neiwert
wrote in his recent book, The Eliminationists, "if we can only identify
fascism in its mature form—the goose-stepping brownshirts, the
full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass
rallies—then it will be far too late to stop it." Paxton (who
presciently warned that "An authentic popular fascism in the United
States would be pious and anti-Black") agrees that if a
corporate/brownshirt alliance gets a toehold -- as ours is now
scrambling to do -- it can very quickly rise to power and destroy the
last vestiges of democratic government. Once they start racking up
wins, the country will be doomed to take the whole ugly trip through
the last two stages, with no turnoffs or pit stops between now and the

What awaits us? In stage four, as the duo assumes full control of the
country, power struggles emerge between the brownshirt-bred party
faithful and the institutions of the conservative elites -- church,
military, professions, and business. The character of the regime is
determined by who gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained
power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may
well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a
more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can
re-emerge over time. But in neither case will the results resemble the
democracy that this alliance overthrew.

Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy."
Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military
victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for
expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the
absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets
lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount
it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's
a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're
angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to
throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as
you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her
breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger.
These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the
first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and
louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil
disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of
the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a
last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best
experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the
conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their
noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country
is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond
which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two of my adaptations of Andrea Alciati's EMBLEMS are up, at AGNI. I'm making a little book of these that I'm calling Unreasonable Facsimiles: based on the ‘Emblems’ of Andrea Alciati

Alciati’s Emblematum Liber, first published in 1531, is an urbane collection of proverbs, riddles, and enigmatic emblems that is today most familiar to art historians because of their accompanying woodblocks. Alciati’s book, however, was enormously popular and influential in the Renaissance and gave rise to a school of “emblem poetry” that continued to be popular through the 19th century. I am most excited by the rhetorical strategies, the wit, and the ethical imagination at work in Alciati’s Emblems and the poems I have written so far in this series attempt to bring those qualities to bear on poems about our own times. Playful, enigmatic, epigrammatic, demotic, ironic, and succinct, the poems will comprise more of a series than a sequence. Alciati (sometimes referred to as Alciato) wrote 212 of these. I would like to compose twenty-five or thirty; I'm about halfway there.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

In Dublin in 2008 I had the opportunity to spend an entire day at The National Library where they had mounted the greatest exhibit about a writer I have ever seen, devoted to the life and work of William Butler Yeats. Usually, at least in my experience, exhibits about writers tend to be disappointing: "Look, there's his chair! His desk, the couch he used to sprawl on to take naps, his dictionary, and ooo, ooo, come over here, there's a manuscript page under glass with a coffee ring on it!" It's all a bit like coming to the tomb on Easter morning and gawking, "Look, there's the rock, there's a piece of shroud, etc." But this exhibit, besides being comprehensive and deep in its considerations of Yeats and his times, and besides being organized like an excellent biography that is able to braid the chronology with the themes of each era of the poet's work, uses the resources of technology to the fullest to engage viewers and readers. I left feeling that I had been handling Yeats's manuscripts all day — and I had, albeit digitally.

I could go on and on: can't make out Yeats's handwriting? Click to the print version. Prefer to hear it? OK, then Seamus Heaney will say it for you. But I won't go on, because NOW THE WHOLE EXHIBIT IS ONLINE with the manuscripts, films, artifacts, and recordings available at your desk.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I share my birthday, May 6th, with one of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell. Wood s Lot has a nice gathering of Jarrell material, from which this gem:


Randall Jarrell

What a girl called "the dailiness of life"
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
"Since you're up . . ." Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

INERTIA 6 is up, containing new work by poets Jon Woodward, Pelle Lowe, Betsy Sholl, Cheryl Clark Vermeulen, Chad Arnold, Jon Woodward, Sue Nacey, Ken Buswell, and yours truly.

Also, 19 great short video readings from the Stonecoast MFA program's last residency, available on the program's YouTube channel.