Friday, October 23, 2015

President Obama: Public Intellectual

President Obama: Public Intellectual

The November 5 issue of The New York Review leads off with the first of a two-part conversation between Marilynne Robinson, the distinguished novelist and theologian, and President Obama. The setting is Des Moines, September 2015. The subject is American citizenship and the role of Christian thought in a democracy, now fraught subjects because of growing sectarianism and exclusiveness in this country. 

               As the President and Ms. Robinson converse, they sound earnest and thoughtful. Robinson speaks of “a terrible darkening of the national outlook” as a result of growing “in-group” distrust of “the other,” while Mr. Obama looks at the longer term: “I’m always trying to push a little more optimism,” and to allay her discouragement, he says, “Well, we go through these moments.” He shows an easy familiarity with Robinson’s writing, suggesting that the characters in her novels show that it’s not “easy for them to be good Christians.”

               Early in their conversation, it becomes clear that both the writer and the politician, who is also a good writer, share a Midwestern low-Protestant background, so that that when she describes her upbringing in Idaho, he says it “sounded really familiar to me when I think about my grandparents who grew up in Kansas.” They share a “sense of homespun virtues.” This Obama is one that is often obscured by the snide, bigoted rejection of him as nonnative, Muslim, and black. But he is after all half-white and a Protestant. When he reads Robinson’s novel Gilead, he recognizes that she is “thinking about American democracy, or, for that matter, Christianity …” and treating “the issue of ‘the other.’”

               I look forward to the continuation of this conversation in the next issue of The New York Review, and I heartily recommend this first part for two reasons. One is that it shows we have a President as conversant with the writing and ideas of his time as any president of France. Our Obama is an articulate public intellectual. And second, the conversational form allows him to be both professorial and empathic in talking with another prominent public intellectual, Marilynne Robinson. (Her initials, by the way, match those of Mrs. Obama, née Michelle Robinson.) As chief executive, President Obama sometimes falters by sounding too professorial, intellectually detached, pensive as Hamlet. But in conversation with an intellectual equal, President Obama reveals a compelling grasp of significant issues in our troubled republic and in doing so, deserves our attention.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

New Poems Online

If you are still following me, I apologize for a long absence from this blog. I have read, by the way, that the blog is obsolete, superseded by social media. Do you agree? In any case, a new poetry chapbook of mine, Bleak Splendor, is soon to be released by Muddy River Books, in Brookline, MA, and two of the poems included are now up at Five Willows Literary Review:

Another pair of poems is at Literary Matters: 

on pages 34 and 36 of this pdf publication. Please check them out.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The New Devil's Dictionary

Here's a link to new work of mine at Five Willows Literary Review:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Haiku Workshop

I'll be giving my fourth haiku workshop at the South Fork Natural History Museum, Bridgehampton, NY, on Saturday, 26 July, at 10 AM. If you can attend, that would be great. Here are the details:
Writing a Haiku Poem with George Held

7/26/2014 · 10 am - Saturday
Bridgehampton, SoFo
Leader: George Held

In this small group workshop George Held, who has published more than 100 haiku and 18 poetry books, will teach the philosophy and practice of the haiku, a concise Japanese form of verse that is written widely throughout the world today. Because the haiku focuses on an instant in nature, the SoFo Museum and adjacent field and woods will offer many opportunities for a "haiku moment": this occurs when the writer sees a natural object and has an insight into it that can be expressed in about 12-17 syllables. Only a pen or pencil, a small notepad, sharp eyes and a clear mind are needed. Limited enrollment.

Photo: Writing

To make a reservation for this program, please call the museum at 631-537-9735

377 Bridgehampton / Sag Harbor Turnpike
P.O. Box 455
Bridgehampton, NY 11932-0455


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Debby Mayer is a Hudson, NY, novelist and journalist, whose memoir, RIPTIDES & SOLACES UNFORESEEN, I have reviewed at I hope you'll check it out and consider reading this remarkable book about the death, from brain cancer, of her longtime partner, Dan Zinkus.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jeremy Lin Comes Out

Jeremy Lin Comes Out

Houston, May 2, 2013. In the wake of Jason Collins’ recent revelation in SI that he’s gay, Jeremy Lin told Houston sports radio KROK that “I’m tired of being in the closet and want the world to know that I am an NBA point guard, a Harvard man, and I’m Taiwanese.”

With these words Lin revealed that he is the first major-sport professional who is Taiwanese. So far, the response from other pro athletes has been positive. Charles Barkley, the former NBA All-Star, said, “I support the brother for his candor. It’s about time we had a new cause to lend our support to.”

Keyshawn Johnson, the NFL star who retired to become a sports commentator, added, “Jason who?”

Boomer Esiason, the NFL quarterback who is a professional Norwegian, chimed in: “Now Taiwanese boys and girls with athletic ambition will have a role model. But how long will it be before the NFL admits Taiwanese into the locker room?”

Lin’s announcement rocked Houston like a Roger Clemens fart, and the Texas sporting intelligentsia bombarded local talk radio with speculations about who might be the next jock to come out of what closet.

Among the nominees were Dallas QB Tony Romo who might reveal that his family name used to be Homo, NY Knicks marksman Carmelo Anthony who might admit he’s a secret member of Opus Dei, and Alabama coach Bear Bryant who might confess that he’s really alive.