Posts Tagged ‘political poetry’

Langston Hughes and the Real Harlem Renaissance

August 24, 2009


Pastel drawing of Hughes by Winold Reiss (bio) via

Advertisement For The Waldorf-Astoria
by Langston Hughes

Fine living . . . a la carte?
Come to the Waldorf-Astoria!

LISTEN HUNGRY ONES!
Look! See what Vanity Fair says about the
new Waldorf-Astoria:

“All the luxuries of private home. . . .”
Now, won’t that be charming when the last flop-house
has turned you down this winter?
Furthermore:
“It is far beyond anything hitherto attempted in the hotel
world. . . .” It cost twenty-eight million dollars. The fa-
mous Oscar Tschirky is in charge of banqueting.
Alexandre Gastaud is chef. It will be a distinguished
background for society.
So when you’ve no place else to go, homeless and hungry
ones, choose the Waldorf as a background for your rags–
(Or do you still consider the subway after midnight good
enough?)

ROOMERS
Take a room at the new Waldorf, you down-and-outers–
sleepers in charity’s flop-houses where God pulls a
long face, and you have to pray to get a bed.
They serve swell board at the Waldorf-Astoria. Look at the menu, will
you:

GUMBO CREOLE
CRABMEAT IN CASSOLETTE
BOILED BRISKET OF BEEF
SMALL ONIONS IN CREAM
WATERCRESS SALAD
PEACH MELBA

Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
Why not?
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
because your hands dug coal, drilled stone, sewed gar-
ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
and live easy.
(Or haven’t you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bit-
ter bread of charity?)
Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
warm, anyway. You’ve got nothing else to do.

~

Since I wasn’t born yet during the thirties, when I heard the term “Harlem Renaissance” it merely conjured the idea of artistic revival. But it’s obvious from the above poem and Hughes’s central role in its history that the Renaissance was a lot more about rage and revolution than I had thought. Scott Fowler agrees:

The Harlem Renaissance marks the point when blacks began to stop denying the
blackness inside themselves and began denying the god that put their race through great trial and tribulations. Langston Hughes was at the forefront of this involvement. He understood that it didn’t matter what others thought of the Negro experience. He knew that as long as blacks embraced their heritage, and took pride

Activist Mike Roselle (Democracy Now interview, email, website) had asked me today:

Did Langston write any good sand poetry?

Mike will be reading from his new book September 28 at Bus Boys and Poets, which of course runs their name together on their website, so that it also can be read Bus Boy Sand Poets. I somehow missed this and had been telling him about Hughes in the context of the origin of the name one of my favorite spots in DC, after attending the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.
Missing out on Mike’s whimsy, I wanted to answer the part about “good.” I found was the kick-ass “Advertisement For The Waldorf-Astoria” (above) available in Hughes’s Collected Poems (Vintage, 1995), which I had not read before.

I’m guessing that this poem may have been suppressed during the Cold War, just as the terser poem, “Goodbye Christ.” Joshua Good (email) doesn’t mention but the latter poem, so I’ll have to read the second volume of Arnold Rampersad (email)’s Life of Langston Hughes (Oxford University Press, 1986 and 1988) to see if Rampersad mentions “Advertisement.”

In an January 2009 article in Poetry Magazine on newly discovered political poems, Rampersad talks about the suppression of Hughes in general:

By the end of 1933, in the depths of the crisis, he had composed some of the harshest political verse ever penned by an American. These pieces include “Good Morning Revolution” and “Columbia,” but above all, “Goodbye Christ.” Here the speaker of the poem ridicules the legend of Jesus in favor of the radical reality of Marx, Lenin, “worker,” “peasant,” “me.” Around 1940, under severe pressure from conservatives, Hughes repudiated “Goodbye Christ” as an unfortunate error of his youth. However, in 1953 he was again forced to condemn this poem when he appeared, by subpoena, before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous subcommittee probing allegedly “un-American” activities by some of our leading scholars, scientists, and artists. At his core, Hughes was a lyric poet entranced by the charms and mysteries of nature. Nevertheless, political protest was a key aspect of his writing virtually from his high-school days, when many of his classmates were the children of Jewish and Catholic immigrants from Europe who taught him the importance of protesting against injustice. A stirring voyage to colonial Africa in 1923, when he was barely twenty-one, only intensified his commitment to protest art.

Hughes certainly suffered right wing propaganda against him, as this flyer by Huey Long buddy Gerald L.K. Smith and publisher of The Flag and the Cross illustrates:

The flyer also points to how ferment on the right is nothing new. (In case any of my younger readers have not read about the McCarthy hearings or missed my post on Cointelpro.)

Hughes explains the genesis of “Advertisement” in his The Big Sea: An Autobiography (1940, reissued by Hill and Wang in 1993:

In the midst of that depression, the Waldorf-Astoria opened. On the way to my friend’s home on Park Avenue I frequently passed it, a mighty towering structure looming proud above the street, in a city where thousands were poor and unemployed. So I wrote a poem about it called “Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria,” modeled after an ad in Vanity Fair announcing the opening of New York’s greatest hotel. (Where no Negroes worked and none were admitted as guests.)

The hotel opened at the very time when people were sleeping on newspapers in doorways, because they had no place to go. But suites in the Waldorf ran into thousands a year, and dinner in the Sert Room was ten dollars! (Negroes, even if they had the money, couldn’t eat there. So naturally, I didn’t care much for the Waldorf-Astoria.)

~

So, about Bus Boys and Poets–it’s a restaurant/bookstore/performance space/community center for progressives, founded in the U Street neighborhood in 2005 by activist, artist and restaurateur Andy Shallal. He named it in honor of Hughes, who (like Duke Ellington and Thurgood Marshall) lived in the neighborhood. Hughes had worked as a busboy in the 1930s at the Wardman Park Hotel (about two miles to the West off of Rock Creek Parkway) , prior to gaining recognition as a poet and then moving to Harlem. (Poet Kwame Alexander has a piece on Hughes in DC on the site Beltway Poets.)

And about sand, I couldn’t find anything for Mike but a reference in a much tamer, more conventional poem, so instead, I wrote back about his essay Are You Spanish,” published in the Chicago Defender (September 18, 1943–see page 50 of Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender, U. of Illinois Press, 1995, edited by Christopher C. De Santis of Illinois State (his webpage, email).

Hughes, suggested that students demand to be served in train dining cars as they returned to college in the South:

If you have to raise sand to eat there, then raise sand. Be firm and logical about it. Don’t use bad language. Don’t threaten. Simply say you are an American.

Mike’s response?

That is some dam good sand poetry!


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Poems for the First 100 Days

January 21, 2009

Official portrait of President Obama by Pete Souza.

Check out Starting Today: poems for the first 100 days. Poets Arielle Greenberg (email) of Belfast, Maine and Rachel Zucker (email) of NYC are posting post a new poem by a contemporary American poet—a poem written for and during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

Wendell Berry: Speech Against the State Government (and MTR)

October 19, 2008

Portrait of Wendell Berry by Robert Shetterly for his project, Americans Who Tell the Truth.

Poet and essayist Wendell Berry was the big draw for a breakfast this morning at the Society of Environmental Journalist’s final day of conferencing at the Hotel Roanoke. He chose to read his “Speech Against the State Government” first delivered on February 14, 2008 at the “I Love Mountains” protest in Frankfort, Ky.

Mr. Berry said during the reading that it was okay to reprint it, so I give it to you here in full. Here, too, after you finish reading is Mark Engler’s piece from Grist on the occasion of Mr. Berry’s seventieth birthday, August 5, 2004.

*

Speech Against the State Government

In 1996, when Ellen Davis, a scholar of the Bible at Duke Divinity School, was taken to a mountaintop removal site in Kentucky, she remembered Jeremiah:

I have seen the mountains, and here, they are wavering, and all the hills palpitate. I have seen, and here, there is no human being, and all the birds of the heavens have fled. I have seen, and here, the garden-land is now the wasteland . . .

If you take seriously the knowledge that humans are capable of neighborliness and caretaking, are capable of caring well for the earth for the earth’s own sake and for the sake of their neighbors now and yet to come, and if you know that according to our greatest teachers this neighborliness is expected of us, then you will grieve in knowing that we humans are destroying the earth. You will be offended in knowing that we are doing so with governmental approval and with governmental encouragement. If you are at all a normal human, you will find that hard to swallow. You may find it, in fact, a putrid lump that will gag you somewhat before you can get it down.

And yet to Kentucky state government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the coal corporations and of any other corporations that bid high enough, earth destruction is a normal economic enterprise. Earth destruction by strip mining has been an officially accepted practice in the eastern Kentucky coal fields for nearly half a century. In the Knott County Court room on the night of July, 15, 1965, confronting, as he had and would, the already catastrophic damage of strip mining that was going to get worse, Harry Caudill spoke of “the gleeful yahoos who are destroying the world, and the mindless oafs who abet them.”

Forty-three years later, bad has come to worse, and worse has come to worst, the gleeful yahoos still reign supreme in the coal fields, and the mindless oafs who abet them still hold dominion in Frankfort. This is not because money talks, as Sen. Mitch McConnell seems to think. It is because money votes, and money buys people who vote. It is because might, with enough money, does not have to worry about right. It is because, in the magnetic field of money, the flags and crosses on certain political lapels turn into price tags.

I must hurry to say that I am not talking about all Kentucky politicians. There has always been in this capitol a “saving remnant” of women and men who are not for sale. It is because of those people that we, the powerless, have never yielded to despair, but have continued to come here with the hope that at last this government will see the truth and do its duty.

Over the last forty years, with other powerless people, I have been here many times. We have come, moneyless into the magnetic field of money, trying to stop the mindless destruction of the land and people of our state. We have made our protests and our arguments, presented our facts, appeared before committees, spoken to those willing to speak to us. And virtually always we have failed. The destruction has continued. Nothing has changed.

Newly reminded of our political nonentity, we have gone home to await another chance to try again. Meanwhile the destruction has gone on. When I return from one of these tours of the capitol, if the Kentucky River is raised and running, I can see the land of our mountain counties flowing past my house. And I know that that river, vital to the future of our state and its economy, is seriously impaired at its headwaters and degraded in all its length by pollutants, and that the most powerful among us simply do not care.

What are we to do? Well, to begin with, there is no “we” that I can confidently speak for. I have been speaking for myself so far, and I will continue to do so.

Human nature, which I fully share, tells me that in the face of great violence it is easy to think of retaliatory violence. I reject that entirely. I do not believe in violence as in any sense a solution to any problem. I am willing also to take the further step into Scripture and say that we should love our enemies – or at least act toward them as if we love them.

The next temptation is to do as our enemies do, to say, “If they do it, so must we.” And I have in fact spent some time on the argument, which can be logically made, that Kentucky conservationists ought to start a fund drive and apply for grants in order to buy our fair share of state government. I reject that also. Even a good cause cannot justify dirty politics.

But thinking of that argument, I convinced myself of a proposition that is more difficult: If current governmental practice affords no apparent recourse but to become as corrupt as your opponents, you have got to become more radical.

Kentucky conservationists are not the first people to have to confront their own helplessness before an alien government. Others have done so, and you know some of their names. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are two of them; there have been many others. Their solution to the problem of powerlessness is to make of powerlessness a power. The name of this solution is non-violent resistance or insistence, including civil disobedience. If your government will not rise to the level of common decency, if it will not deal fairly, if it will not protect the land and the people, if it will not fully and openly debate the issues, then you have to get in the government’s way. You have to forbid it to ignore you. You have to provide it with two new choices: either it must grant you the consideration that it rightfully owes you, or it must expose itself openly as a government not representative of the people but owned by the privileged few.

And here yet another temptation asserts itself. Why not wait until our cause becomes vivid and urgent enough, and our side numerous enough, to vote our opponents out of office? Why not be patient?

My own answer is that while we are being patient, more mountains, forests, and streams, more people’s homes and lives, will be destroyed in the Appalachian coal fields. Are 400,000 acres of devastated land, and 1,200 miles of obliterated streams not enough? This needs to be stopped. It does not need to be “regulated.” As both federal and state governments have amply shown, you cannot regulate an abomination. You have got to stop it.

Speaking for myself still, I will say that I don’t like the idea of resorting to non-violent obstruction, and I don’t feel very brave about it. It involves more time and trouble than I want to donate; the penalties can be unpleasant, and they can be much worse than that. Furthermore, as I am now out of patience with useless protesting and lobbying, I have no interest in useless civil disobedience. You are not going to catch me making a merely symbolic gesture. But I began my opposition to strip mining on that July night in the Knott County court room in 1965. I have been patient for forty-three years. And there are now enough of us who are concerned – there are enough of us here today – to require our government either to accept its responsibility or, publicly, and to its everlasting disgrace, refuse to do so. Surely the members of this government who represent coal corporations will be impressed by the tenfold increase in our numbers from February 14, 2007. Surely they will notice, more to their dismay, that many of this increase are young people.

If this General Assembly and this Administration give notice as usual that they are blind by policy to the ongoing destruction of the land and the people they are sworn to protect – and if you, my friends, all other recourse having failed, are ready to stand in the way of this destruction until it is stopped – then I too am ready.

Sharon Olds

July 26, 2008

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe accompanied the July 26 Guardian article, “Olds’ worlds” by Marianne Macdonald.

I like Olds’s poems quite a lot, ever since reading the Gold Cell (Knopf, 1987), especially the chilling poem, “I Go Back to May 1937 which I’ve reprinted below. A measure of that poem’s impact can be found in the use of an image from that poem for the title of her collected works through 2002, Strike Sparks(Knopf, 2004).

You can find other of Olds’s poems online at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s terrific resource, Modern American Poetry, as well as at her exhibit at the Adademy of American Poets. Olds had wanted to come to Split This Rock Poetry Festival, but ill health at the time prevented her.

I was glad to see “Olds’ worlds” in The Guardian (see link accompanying her picture above) , but Mcdonald’s introduction strikes me as odd, starting with the hype that “many regard” Olds as “America’s greatest living poet.” Why let the knowledgeable reader debate the list of “greatest living” rather than concentrate on Olds. I’m not sure about which Marianne Macdonald wrote this piece, as it’s a common name and there might be several candidates.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Split This rock Poetry Festival Coming March 20-23

January 24, 2008


Today I was working on a program description for a poetry reading I’m organizing for Women’s month and that got me over to the site for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in DC, March 20-23 at a variety of venues in the U Street Neighborhood and at George Washington University in Foggy Bottom. The grand finale will feature a march to, and reading in front of, the White House.

Just think, four days of readings–and we’re talking about folks like Robert Bly, Grace Cavalieri, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Galway Kinnell, Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, and Sonia Sanchez, among the folks I’ve already read and heard read their work. I’m looking forward to discovering others to admire on the list of featured readers.

Besides the readings, there will be workshops, panels, film, walking tours, activism. The whole shebang is only $75, if you register before March 10. If you procrastinate and miss that deadline, you only need toss in an additional sawbuck.

The goals of the festival are two:

  • To celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today; and
  • To call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.

Those of you who know my poetry and that of the rest of us in the Southern Appalachian Writers Coop know I support both of those goals. Here’s what the founders of the festival have to say about their motivation:

Poets have long played a central role in movements for social change. Today, at a critical juncture in our country’s history, poetry that gives voice to the voiceless, names the unnamable, and speaks directly from the individual and collective conscience is more important than ever. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.

As we head into the fifth year of war in Iraq, our country faces a crisis of imagination. Most Americans agree that we need dramatic change: to end the war, reorder our national priorities to meet human needs, save our planet. How we address these challenges is a question not just for policy makers and strategists. It is a question for all of us. We believe that poets have a unique role to play in social movements as innovators, visionaries, truth tellers, and restorers of language.

*

Check out “Statement by Robert Greenstein: Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions, 1/24/08” from th eCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities –

…the two most targeted and economically effective measures under consideration — a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary boost in food stamp benefits — were zeroed out, apparently at the insistence of House Republican leaders…. [Moody’s] Economy.com found that for each dollar spent on extended UI benefits, $1.64 in increased economic activity would be generated. For each dollar in increased food stamp benefits, $1.73 …..

Greenstein supports his judgment with evidence. Citing CBO, Moody’s, Nobel laureate Stiglitz and now-CBO director Orszagin (I’ve put up the links at Newstrust), he argues Congress elevated “ideology over sound economic reasoning,” deleting temporary unemployment insurance and food stamps increases, after Republican leaders argued ” inclusion…would derail the package.”

A lot to consider here, such as how business tax cuts “would cause states to lose at least $4 billion in state revenue, due to linkages between federal and state tax codes.” With no offsets, “many states will have to enact deeper and more painful budget cuts, likely hitting areas from health care and education to aid to local governments [which will]…act as a drag on the economy. ” He suggests that since “the working poor…will spend — rather than save — the largest share of their rebate dollars, the optimal design would be one under which working-poor families do not receive smaller rebates than people at higher income levels do.” His conclusion: “In the bipartisan negotiations over the stimulus package, an appropriate trade would have been to include the sizable (but not especially effective) business tax cuts in return for a rebate that extended to the working poor, but not to drop the unemployment insurance and food stamp provisions. It is unfortunate that those two provisions — the most targeted and effective measures under consideration — were removed, and that states facing deficits will be driven deeper into deficit and thus have to cut services or raise taxes more, rather than being provided some fiscal relief.”

Other reading from today:

  • The Kings English blog
  • “Of FlickR, the Library of Congress and the day Beth played hooky to read up on the Great Depression and the Communist Party” David Rothman over at Teleread riffs on my entry, “Library of Congress on Flicker but CIPA may ban it.”
  • Gnod now has a literature map and my friend John Dufresne is on it. But even more a sign he’s achieved fame is this offer to help you cheat on a term paper or even a dissertation on his work. And I thought he’d arrived when W.W. Norton published his first book, The Way that Water Enters Stone, in 1990. It may have taken another ten years, but
  • Since 2000, our John Dufresne experts have helped students worldwide by providing the most extensive, lowest-priced service for John Dufresne writing and research. Regardless of your deadline, budget, specifications, or academic level, we can provide immediate help for your John Dufresne essay, term paper, book report, research paper, dissertation, or thesis.

    Split This rock Poetry Festival Coming March 20-23

    January 24, 2008


    Today I was working on a program description for a poetry reading I’m organizing for Women’s month and that got me over to the site for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in DC, March 20-23 at a variety of venues in the U Street Neighborhood and at George Washington University in Foggy Bottom. The grand finale will feature a march to, and reading in front of, the White House.

    Just think, four days of readings–and we’re talking about folks like Robert Bly, Grace Cavalieri, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Galway Kinnell, Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Alicia Ostriker, and Sonia Sanchez, among the folks I’ve already read and heard read their work. I’m looking forward to discovering others to admire on the list of featured readers.

    Besides the readings, there will be workshops, panels, film, walking tours, activism. The whole shebang is only $75, if you register before March 10. If you procrastinate and miss that deadline, you only need toss in an additional sawbuck.

    The goals of the festival are two:

    • To celebrate the poetry of witness and provocation being written, published, and performed in the United States today; and
    • To call poets to a greater role in public life and to equip them with the tools they need to be effective advocates in their communities and in the nation.

    Those of you who know my poetry and that of the rest of us in the Southern Appalachian Writers Coop know I support both of those goals. Here’s what the founders of the festival have to say about their motivation:

    Poets have long played a central role in movements for social change. Today, at a critical juncture in our country’s history, poetry that gives voice to the voiceless, names the unnamable, and speaks directly from the individual and collective conscience is more important than ever. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.

    As we head into the fifth year of war in Iraq, our country faces a crisis of imagination. Most Americans agree that we need dramatic change: to end the war, reorder our national priorities to meet human needs, save our planet. How we address these challenges is a question not just for policy makers and strategists. It is a question for all of us. We believe that poets have a unique role to play in social movements as innovators, visionaries, truth tellers, and restorers of language.

    *

    Check out “Statement by Robert Greenstein: Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions, 1/24/08” from th eCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities –

    …the two most targeted and economically effective measures under consideration — a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary boost in food stamp benefits — were zeroed out, apparently at the insistence of House Republican leaders…. [Moody’s] Economy.com found that for each dollar spent on extended UI benefits, $1.64 in increased economic activity would be generated. For each dollar in increased food stamp benefits, $1.73 …..

    Greenstein supports his judgment with evidence. Citing CBO, Moody’s, Nobel laureate Stiglitz and now-CBO director Orszagin (I’ve put up the links at Newstrust), he argues Congress elevated “ideology over sound economic reasoning,” deleting temporary unemployment insurance and food stamps increases, after Republican leaders argued ” inclusion…would derail the package.”

    A lot to consider here, such as how business tax cuts “would cause states to lose at least $4 billion in state revenue, due to linkages between federal and state tax codes.” With no offsets, “many states will have to enact deeper and more painful budget cuts, likely hitting areas from health care and education to aid to local governments [which will]…act as a drag on the economy. ” He suggests that since “the working poor…will spend — rather than save — the largest share of their rebate dollars, the optimal design would be one under which working-poor families do not receive smaller rebates than people at higher income levels do.” His conclusion: “In the bipartisan negotiations over the stimulus package, an appropriate trade would have been to include the sizable (but not especially effective) business tax cuts in return for a rebate that extended to the working poor, but not to drop the unemployment insurance and food stamp provisions. It is unfortunate that those two provisions — the most targeted and effective measures under consideration — were removed, and that states facing deficits will be driven deeper into deficit and thus have to cut services or raise taxes more, rather than being provided some fiscal relief.”

    Other reading from today:

  • The Kings English blog
  • “Of FlickR, the Library of Congress and the day Beth played hooky to read up on the Great Depression and the Communist Party” David Rothman over at Teleread riffs on my entry, “Library of Congress on Flicker but CIPA may ban it.”
  • Gnod now has a literature map and my friend John Dufresne is on it. But even more a sign he’s achieved fame is this offer to help you cheat on a term paper or even a dissertation on his work. And I thought he’d arrived when W.W. Norton published his first book, The Way that Water Enters Stone, in 1990. It may have taken another ten years, but
  • Since 2000, our John Dufresne experts have helped students worldwide by providing the most extensive, lowest-priced service for John Dufresne writing and research. Regardless of your deadline, budget, specifications, or academic level, we can provide immediate help for your John Dufresne essay, term paper, book report, research paper, dissertation, or thesis.

    APPALACHIAN NIGHTMARE (07/30/07)

    July 31, 2007

    Photo of flyrock damage accompanies Jerry’s (no last name listed) article on mountaintop removal at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s Canary Project. (email)

    Appalachian NightmareFor Mary Ellen Kelley (c. 2007 by the author. All rights reserved.)

    The dream comes over
    and over, facts off, not how
    it happened, when at

    seventeen, I stood
    on crutches, not able to
    run, not just crippled

    but doomed, transfixed by
    some subliminal signal
    understood too late:

    a half-ton boulder
    hurled towards our cabin’s kitchen.
    Then, otherworldly,

    the flyrock stopped short,
    rived by a sharp stone standing
    sentry in the yard.

    *

    Each time I dream, though,
    the huge boulder plunders on.
    How can I feel cold

    while fear smolders? The
    flyrock navigates a path,
    careens through some hole,

    comes to rest beside
    a small bed. In a flashlight’s
    beam, a toddler’s dead.

    This makes no sense since
    it was daytime, I survived,
    I was seventeen.

    For months I try to
    cipher hole, light, bed. Nights I
    lie awake—this lacks

    logic, but I think
    if I can avoid sleep I’ll
    somehow save the child:

    if I can keep out
    dreams, I’ll invalidate fate,
    somehow stop the stone.

    *
    I finally drag
    to my doctor for drugged rest
    then referral to

    a shrink who tells me
    I’m not at all crazy: real
    life alters in dreams.

    I can’t help wonder
    why details would be so wrong–
    why now, after years?

    I stare up behind
    our homes: A&G plans mines
    stolen with faked maps.

    I can’t help but think
    the nightmare’s not my past; it’s
    other folks’ future.

    *

    Author’s note: Since participating in the West Virginia Writers Mountaintop Removal Tour, readers of this blog know I’ve been doing a lot on that issue and the related one of liquid coal (a bad idea.) Bob Henry Baber and I have been in contact, and he’s informed me that a WV lowku should have anything but 17 syllables. (He sent me a book with one of his lowkus, which is actually longer than I remembered.)

    Despite this, I’m still working on meta-lowkus which I guess qualify because they have 17 squared syllables: 5-7-5 stanzas of 5-7-5 syllable lines. My concept is to do a whole manuscript which will be a meta-meta lowku: 5 on this series about Jeremy Davidson’s slaughter in Wise County, VA. This first one is about my friend’s recurring nightmare that predicted Jeremy’s death, a nightmare everyone thought reflected PTSD from her own near- miss from a flyrock, Another will be about the mining that cause the death, one about the actual death, one about the town’s reaction and one set two or possibly three years later which would be now.

    If I finish this, there will be seven on deep mining, including the Pittston strike, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and disasters including Sago and Buffalo Creek. The last section is five poems on Coal River Valley in WV, including the poem I already posted, which has now been published in the Summer 2007 issue of Appalachian Voices.

    Comments welcomed!

    *

    Spent today at the New Media Center learning how to upload pictures and manipulate them in Adobe Photoshop. There’s now an online bio and picture (Greg Moneyhun took of my before we tore down the NRFP office) at Campaign Trail’s wiki.

    Mary Hill and I met to go over poems at lunch.

    Finished the above poem and then didn’t save it correctly, so ended up at Mike’s to rewrite it from my last saved draft.

    LOOKING OUT OVER AN ABYSS IN BOONE COUNTY

    December 2, 2006

    Photo by Antrim Caskey, copyright used by permission.

    This poem was inspired by my visit with Larry Gibson at Kayford Mountain. I was fortunate to listen to Larry and Maria Gunoe’s stories at the West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Writer’s Tour. The following is the first of a series of poems I’m working on.You can hear Larry and Maria talking with Steve Mellon of the Pittsburg Post Gazette in the February 26, 2006 slideshow, Mountain Trouble.

    *

    from APPALACHIA’S LAST STAND by Beth Wellington

    LOOKING OUT OVER AN ABYSS IN BOONE COUNTY

    Picture our fifty
    acres, just one family’s piece
    of Kayford Mountain.

    That metal farm gate
    used to mark our line, the steep
    farm road wound, benign,

    though old growth hardwoods,
    song birds in flight, both sides a
    blessed continuum

    of Almost Heaven
    West Virginia. Our farm gate’s
    now The Gates of Hell.

    The smell’s not brimstone
    but ANFO, ammonium
    nitrate and fuel oil.

    *

    The same Devil’s brew
    at Oklahoma City
    Belfast, Gaza Strip:

    terrorists, they call
    truck bombers, but Blankenship’s
    “a big employer.”

    Such liars, he hires
    so few to drive the drag lines:
    maggots chewing up

    our hills to rubble,
    burying headwater streams
    that sang us to sleep.

    We keep thinking we’ll
    wake and the knobs will be there.
    We keep thinking no

    family photos
    need be bolted to our walls
    to withstand the blasts.

    Big Coal has its way
    they will blow up Blair Mountain.
    Permits are pending.

    *

    Eighty years ago
    10,000 miners rose up
    ten days at Spruce Run

    while federal troops
    fired: civil war to keep
    us company slaves.

    Blow up Blair Mountain?
    Feature Vicksburg, Bull Run gone
    for thirty year’s coal.

    Mountains should abide
    but Massey plays God
    scattering our peaks.

    How can we be the
    Mountain State without mountains,
    our home, a war zone?

    *

    When I sent the poem out yesterday for Verbal Events, I also sent a copy to John Dufresne (blog), who respond:

    Terrific work about a depressing situation. Damn. Time to to John Prine’s Muhlenburg County . “Mr. Peabosy’s coal train has hauled it away.”

    It’s always good to listen to Prine. It’s also good to let Congress know we want the Clean Water Protection Act passed. Last night, I asked Cindy Rank, (email), chair of the Mining Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy what single thing about Mountaintop Removal should be broadcast. The Clean Water Protection Act was her vote.

    As I wrote for November’s LLRX.com essay, “Mountaintop Removal Sites – “Strip Mining on Steroids”

    One of the casualties of the Republican-led House of Representatives was H.R. 2719, the Clean Water Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on May 26, 2005. Although the bill boasted a bipartisan co-sponsorship with Rep. Christopher Shays, (R-CT) and gained 74 additional co-sponsors, it never made it out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. This is the third time such legislation has been submitted. Pallone introduced the measure as H.R. 4683 on 5/8/2002 (gaining 36 co-sponsors) and as H.R. 738 on 2//2003, (gaining 64 co-sponsors).

    I don’t know that the lame ducks will pass this, but it’s good to write now to your members of Congress and then write again, if the item has to be re-introduced in the 110th session. You can find a model letter at the Appalachian Voices campaign. I suggest you generate your own letter from your own email or fax, in order for it to have the most weight. (I hear tell that the anthrax scare still slows the snail mail.)

    I hear there’s talk of organizing a national op-ed and letter to the editor campaign. I’ll fill you in on the coordination, if I can get more details. In the meantime, be thinking of what you might write.

    *

    For another striking photograph of Larry on his land, see “New Coal Isn’t Old Coal” by 2001 Alicia Patterson fellow, Rudy Abramson for his project ““The Latter Days of King Coal: Wealth, Poverty & Public Policy in Appalachia”. Abramson (email) is the co-editor with my friend Jean Haskell (email) of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (UT Press, 2006). He also chairs the advisory committee of the Insitute for Rural Journalism and Social Issues.

    *

    I know I promised more on the American Petroleum Institute, et. al, but that will have to wait for later.

    *

    An interesting story:

    from the Wall Street Journal on November 15, “One More Time for Judicial Nominees.” It’s not only Strickler the Bush keeps on pushing. What happened to his promised bi-partisanship? For more info on the environmental records of his nominees, see Judging the Environment, a joint project of Earthjustice and the Community Rights Counsel, two public service law firms.

    *

    Join my friend Barry and me tomorrow at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s Social Justice U if you’re in Roanoke. For details (and to preregister before five today), click here.

    Diane Gilliam Fisher

    January 7, 2006

    Diane Guilliam Fisher, author of Kettle Bottom

    Let me share with you my latest discovery, poet Diane Gilliam Fisher, whose book Kettle Bottom was published by Perugia Press in 2004. I’ve got a request in for an interlibrary loan, as our system doesn’t have the book, but I’ve been reading her poems on-line.

    The recommendation comes from my my friend, the wonderful Minnesota poet Francine Sterle, with whom I have been having a flurry of emails since she wrote Wednesday to let me know she had broadband and a new email address.

    Francine is editing this January’s Verbal Events, an exchange of poems in progress by those of us who studied with Bill Stafford at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in November 1985. The title comes from Bill’s theory he shared with us that poems should be filled with early and frequent verbal events.  He expressed the same idea in a Febrary 1991 Interview with R. B. Strom.

    Anyway, I told Francine that I was working on a poem on the Sago mine disaster and she wrote today to tell me about Fisher, who, like Francine went to Warren Wilson.
    If I had attended the Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Radford University last March, I might have already known about Fisher, as she gave a reading, from One of Everything and Kettle Bottom, along with Jean Jeanne Bryner, Newton Falls, OH, who read from  Eclipse and Blind Horse: Jeanne Bryner, Newton Falls, OH, and Sherry Robinson, Eastern Kentucky University, who read from Clean Getaway. The 2006 conference is in Dayton.  I think someone from Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative will put me up, if I ask.