Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Festival of the Book
The Festival of the Book is starting tomorrow in Missoula, and will run for three days of literary delight. You can see the full schedule here.
In the spirit of this great event, I’m going to fill this post with goodies, including an original William Skink poems at the end.
Up first is Love, True Peace and Political Poetry, the final installment of a five part series called the Political Poetry series, written by Doug Valentine.
The featured poet is Sam Hamill, a poet I first became aware of when I picked up his anthology Poets Against the War, a collective poetic outcry against the building momentum of the impending Iraq war.
The Valentine article looks at a powerful poem Hamill wrote about self-immolation, which was strange to read last Friday right before the self-immolation on the National Mall, which apparently isn’t something our media is very interested in covering.
There is also an interview which is very worth reading. I will highlight two of the Q/A:
DV In January 2003, you founded “Poets Against War” online, and edited an anthology with the same name, “Poets Against the War” (Nation Books, 2003). There was quite an outpouring of political poems. And yet many people, even some poets, think of poetry as being above or separate from politics. Is there a line between the two? A way of balancing between political poetry and Zen?
SH Only in America could someone suggest that poetry be apolitical. There is no such tradition anywhere in the world. Zen was born in Vietnam, when most of Vietnam was under Chinese rule. “Engaged Zen Buddhism” is the only kind that interests me as a practitioner. The politics of the person becomes the politics of the family; family politics become community politics; community politics become state politics. That’s elementary Confucius, “The Great Learning” that has been essential to all my work. There’s no “balance between” Zen and poetry. They are not two things. They are two aspects of one’s practice, each informing the other, two threads in a fabric of many threads.
DV You taught for over a decade in prisons, and worked for many years with battered women and children. How did those experiences shape your world view and poetry? (Please cite a few lines from a poem that illustrates your comments.)
SH More like two decades. I was a battered child, so grew up with machismo values and was abusive toward those I loved: “family values” every battered child learns. An outsider, a lonely adopted child, a non-believer in Mormon Utah, alienation is my true home. But through the imagination, one can indeed transform family and cultural values and begin to inhabit a better world, a world of compassion and meaningful engagement with fellow revolutionaries.
Think of the revolutionary transformations of Malcolm X, who began reading seriously while in prison. They could not lock up that heart’s mind. He eventually transcended even his own innermost (and understandable) rage and came to embody nonviolence.
Think of how many men have struck their wives or children, but never for a moment considered themselves “batterers.’ But they are. If you want to change a violent world, true change begins within. You are the driver of the vehicle of the mind. You can make it a train wreck or a luxury liner. But you have to begin by “calling things (and emotions) by their proper names,” as Confucius says, “because all wisdom is rooted in calling things by their right names.”
Sherman Alexie is another writer who doesn’t shy away from the political, and Missoula is lucky to have him at the Festival of the Book. The Indy did a great interview, which you can read here. One thing Alexie supports is Independent Bookstores, because Amazon is evil and must be stopped. Couldn’t agree more.
When it comes to buying books, the most dangerous website that exists for me is AbeBooks; dangerous because you can find all kinds of rare, out of print books.
I have a book heading my way right now, a children’s book written by the poet Robert Duncan and illustrated by his partner, the artist Jess, called The Cat and the Blackbird. I liked the idea so much, the original William Skink poem employs a conversation between a cat and a blackbird.
There is another book a friend of mine recently told me about, and damn him, because now I’m obsessed and considering spending way too much money. The book, titled Codex Seraphinianus, is comprised of a made up language and full of strange, Bosch-esque pictures. Instead of $500 dollars, this bizarre book (the author is still alive, by the way) will be republished later this month for about $75 dollars.
Anyway, how about that poem. Enjoy!
kitty said to blackbird
I see you in that tree
wind and shifting weight
the wings of what will be
a swoop beneath the power lines
a dart, then bank, then dive
kitty said to blackbird
if you want to stay alive
be my eyes up in the air
while I prowl the ground
you won’t get a better deal
in this vulture-ridden town
blackbird said to kitty
I see you in the grass
twitching tail, and whiskers
ready for the grab
my jump will be toward the sun
a bank, then flapping rise
blackbird said to kitty
if you want to stop the lies
simply retract your claws
while I fly away
then maybe I will warn you
when trouble comes your way