Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Festival of the Book

by lizard

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.”

Here are the other installments in Doug Valentine’s Political Poetry series: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

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

—William Skink

  1. I contacted the Festival of the Book organizers soon after I moved back to Missoula a month or two ago. I inquired whether they had anything in regard to self-publishing, but they said no.

    I was a bit surprised by this, and a little disappointed; after all, I’ve got 15 self-published books under my own name, 4 under a pen name, and countless others that I’ve written for other people. I was hoping to get some useful advice from others, but that looked not to be the case.

    Then I read the opinions toward self-published books on Amazon in the Independent. I also think the festival gets most of its backing from traditional publishing, so they wouldn’t want to highlight self-publishing too much.

    It’s kind of funny though; a search of their presenters on Amazon last night showed that many had books selling on the site, and only in eBook format.

    I can’t help but think many of those tooting their own horns over the next couple of days are losing a lot of money, especially if they don’t have an eBook version of their print books. I mean, c’mon; any search of Montana on Amazon will bring up a romance series, and can you guess what format?

  2. I’ve thought about writing a book which could be marketed in both print and e-book form.

    The comments about Duncan brought me back to many years ago in San Francisco. Provoked, I looked up Gary Snyder and Lew Welch, whom I knew slightly back in those days, and found a couple of oblique references to Welch’s death/disappearance back in the ’70s.

    I read a book by Welch, 40 years ago, in which he’d inscribed a note and essentially predicted the means and circumstances of his death. I should look up the friend who had it who lived in Lou’s place in Marin City, back then, but I expect he’s passed on as well.

    I visited with a friend who was a core player from that era a few years ago in Tucson. Knute Stiles of East West House and who lived his final years in Bisbee wrote poetry but was best known for his painting, teaching and writing for Art in America and Artforum. Knute died about a year later. Like Duncan, who passed 25 years ago, Knute was one of the originals from Black Mountain College who attended after WWII.

    I just heard this week from a friend from the 50’s S.F. Renaissance, Bob Branaman, who is better known as a painter, comic’s artist and filmmaker. His son Rustam will be directing a feature film shortly.

    • lizard19

      one of the poet’s I feel most influenced by is Jack Spicer. I think it was his biography—Poet, Be Like God—where I read the seemingly innocuous factoid that Spicer lived, for a short time, in the same building as the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, another writer who has made a serious impact on my psyche.

      • I neglected to mention earlier that my old buddy, Knute Stiles, was the co-owner, with Leo Krikorian, of The Place, the watering hole that hosted “Blabbermouth Night,” where in the mid-’50s Spicer read, as did many other of the S.F./Berkeley poets, such as Jack Gilbert, Lenore Kandel (with whom Knute lived at East West House), Rexford, etc., etc. I first met Knute there in ’57, then not long afterward at the Cedar Bar in the East Village where the crème of America’s painters and poets congregated, back to S.F. in the ’60s and ’70, then to Oaxaca and finally Bisbee, AZ. Knute was also a WW II vet and union organizer in Alaska and S.F.

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Festival of the Book […]

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