Thursday, December 29, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Anniversary

I began this blog just over one year ago, and I want to say thanks to my 27 followers, all of whom I value. I trust I haven't tried your patience or lost your interest. A check of my blogging history shows that my posts have been infrequent. Even more infrequent have been comments, but a friend tells me that readers are generally too busy to leave one.

My small family has agreed once again to forego gift-giving at our Christmas gathering. Instead, as we did last year, we'll each make a donation to a charity we'll elect. So many Americans are doing without even necessities that it seems fitting for us not to receive more gifts in a long life that has left us pretty much without the need or desire for more possessions. We are in mind of Henry David Thoreau, whose mantra was "Simplify, simplify." And I am personally influenced by The Catholic Worker movement and its ascetic regimen. CW, which does good works for those in need (in NYC it has a house at 36 East 1st St.), has never sought tax-free status for the sake of its donors, who must give from the heart alone without the benefit of a deduction. In this, CW follows Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

When the King James Version was revised in the mid-twentieth century, the last of the three became "love." In an early novel, A CLERGYMAN'S DAUGHTER, George Orwell had already changed charity to "money," and written that charity kills friendship. When we give alms or donate to a charitable organization, it is probably good to have some understanding of why we do so.

Among my favorite Christmases were those on which I went with my friends Roz & James to a YMCA in Brooklyn to help serve turkey dinners to those in need. I also served as the distributor of used overcoats, helping to fit the poor and homeless with some warm garment to help them withstand winter's cold. I was especially glad to help a thin man put on a down-filled Eastern Mountain parka that some Manhattanite had owned. The thin man looked very pleased with himself in the mirror and smiled at me as he left the "Y."

Whatever solstice holiday you celebrate, I wish you well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Admirable Miranda July

Miranda July feels different. The 37-year-old performance artist, fiction writer, and film actress and director has made and starred in two admirable movies, the prize-winning Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), which is now playing at an art house cinema near you. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, among other places, and are collected in No one belongs here more than you. (Scribner, 2007). Yet despite these conventional signs of success, Miranda July, like many other artists,  feels different.

Born Miranda Jennifer Grossman, she changed her surname to July once she became a professional artist. The name change presumably expressed her sense that she was different, the daughter of hippie intellectuals, her father Jewish and her mother Protestant. She kept Miranda (from the Latin for “admirable”), probably taken by her parents from Shakespeare’s ingénue in The Tempest. The name Miranda July sets her off as distinctive, the way “George Orwell” submerged and improved on Eric Blair, who was also felt uncomfortably different from the lads he went to school with.

Though a blue-eyed, raven-haired beauty who can resemble the young Liz Taylor, July at times appears uncomfortable in her own skin. As Sophie, her character in The Future, says, “I wish I were one notch prettier.” This sense of personal unease contributes to the anxiety her protagonists feel about physical intimacy onscreen. In The Future, for instance, though Sophie and her androgynous boyfriend live together, sharing the same bed, it’s not clear that they are lovers. That might be why she has an affair with a conventional businessman with conventional lust for her. She seems bemused but not displeased by his attention.

July’s short-short story “The Moves” begins, “Before he died, my father gave me his finger moves. They were movements for getting a woman off. He said he didn’t know if they’d be of use to me, seeing as how I was a woman myself. . . .” Later he says, “You’re going to make some woman very, very happy. . . .” But the narrator doesn’t indicate that she is a lesbian and speculates that one day she’ll “have a daughter and I’ll teach her what he taught me.”

July’s sexual ambivalence or ambiguity probably explains why a lesbian group has petitioned Wikipedia to include in her bio a note that raises the issue of whether she is gay or bisexual. In any case, she is married to the artist and director Mike Mills, whose film Beginners (Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer) explores his father’s coming out at the age of 75.

One of the treats in The Future, which grew out of a performance piece, is a dance that July conjures up while wearing an expansible yellow t-shirt that has the power of self-animation before she picks it up off the floor and pulls it on. July has the body control of a modern dancer and has performed at such venues as The Kitchen and The Guggenheim Museum. She seems slightly more at ease when dancing, usually solo, than when acting.

Whatever her art, July remains compelling. She has a sly sense of humor and an intriguing persona that tests the line between innocence and knowingness, ambition and inertia, desire and ambivalence. I suggest you make her acquaintance by seeing her films and reading her stories. You, too, might feel she’s appealingly different and an admirable artist.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catch Me at Left Bank Books

If you can't attend my reading at 81 White St. on Thurs., I'll be one of 5 poets reading at Left Bank Books for rare books, with lots of signed first editions and a bookish atmosphere. A nice event for book and poetry lovers.

Friday 11/18: Friedman, La Prade, Held, Lisella and Torrence-Thompson Read Poetry at Left Bank Books in Greenwich Village NYC




New York, N.Y., October 18, 2011 -- On Friday, November 18th, Left Bank Books of New York invites book lovers and poetry lovers to celebrate the November birthdays of poets Stephen Crane (11/1), Marianne Moore (11/15), J.P. Dancing Bear (11/17), Sharon Olds (11/19), Paul Celan (11/20), William Blake (11/28), and Celia Lisset Alvarez (11/30) with a late evening poetry reading by five noted local poets.

Poets Wear Prada's founder and managing editor, Roxanne Hoffman, will host the poetry reading at Greenwich Village's Left Bank Books in New York City. Special guest, the prose poet David Joel Friedman, author of The Welcome (National Poetry Series, University of Illinois Press. 2006) will introduce Erik La Prade (Chelsea), George Held (Greenwich Village), Maria Lisella (Astoria), and Juanita Torrence-Thompson (Flushing). Each poet will each read work by a favorite November birthday poet, as well as from their own recent books and new work.

The reading will start at promptly at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a brief Q&A.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poetry Reading, NYC, Nov. 17

Poets-on-White, Thursday, November 17
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_KsvH4pwRYRM/TDaeL0DnEZI/AAAAAAAAARc/-PAEu7oa7IU/s1600/space+on+white.jpgPoets-on-White
George Held
Leigh Harrison
Katrinka Moore

read from their poetry

Thursday, November 17
7:00pm
$4 Admission
Open Mic
Hosted by
Jack Tricarico
Evie Ivy
Cindy Hochman
Space on White
81 White Street, @Bway
New York, NY 10013
(212) 227-8600
Subway: N/R/J/6 to Canal, 1 to Franklin

http://www.spaceonwhite.com/

Friday, November 11, 2011

There's Something about Jerry

 
            The outing of former Penn State football guru Jerry Sandusky reminds me of men who made sexual advances on me as a young boy. But they only scared me, because I was on to them fast and beat a hasty retreat. I was never as vulnerable as the typical “disadvantaged” target of men like Sandusky. I hesitate to call him “monster” or “predator” because such words dehumanize, and what we need now is to recognize Sandusky’s humanity: he is a man too much like other bullies and connivers (mostly “straight,” by the way) all of us encounter in our communities. But he is “sick,” if you like; he needs help, and his life in incarceration, where he seems to be headed, will be a nightmare.
            With all the negative labeling being heaped on Sandusky, I have yet to hear that Jerry is “queer.” But that is how I thought of every man who tried to molest me as a boy. And I believe that a good reason for Jerry’s immunity from gay slurs, which are unacceptable in any case, has to do with the culture he comes from, which is not gay culture, but football and sports culture, which breeds the notion that its ablest performers are immune from engaging in abnormal or illegal behavior. For Jerry to be labeled “a queer” would be to taint him with the ultimate male taboo—a “faggot” in the locker room.
            Statistics suggest that every major sports league, with hundreds of players on its rosters, must have athletes who are homosexual. There are probably Jerry Sanduskys who have played for or coached at Ohio State or USC, the Chicago Bears or Philadelphia Sixers, the Montreal Canadians or the New York Yankees. Back in the ’70s a pro running back named Dave Kopay, an All-American at the University of Washington, wrote a book about being gay in a game in which the taboo against homosexual behavior was ironclad. And while he named only a Redskins teammate with whom he’d had an affair, Kopay wrote that he knew of other gay men in other teams’ locker rooms. Yes, Dave’s sport was football, and 1964-65 Jerry Sandusky was playing it and then, by 1969, coaching it at Penn State.
            Imagine the stress on Dave and Jerry and other gay men among straight teammates in a culture that reviles homosexuals, and then imagine Jerry’s lust for boys’ bodies. And then imagine St. Joseph Paterno’s turning a blind eye on Jerry’s horrific abuse of local boys as he exploited his insider status at Penn State and his access to its football facilities, because Jerry’s skills as defensive coordinator had helped St. Joe win two national championships back in the ’80s. This is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, especially at the denouement, which we as a nation are witnessing: the mighty Joe and Jerry brought low through their own hubris.
            Joe Paterno’s greatest sin might have been his failure to get his friend Jerry help the first time—or the second or third—before his inevitable self-destruction brought down the temple in Happy Valley. And our greatest denial now would be to consider Jerry’s case an aberration and not a result of our exaggerated glorification of sports “programs,” from Little League to the majors, which carries with it a double standard for judging the most successful athletes and coaches and thus allowing the Jerry Sanduskys to commit crime after crime against helpless boys.
            The irony is that Penn State, a respectable academic institution, depended so much for its reputation on its football team and the success of St. Joe. In his seventies, when asked to resign, he told the university president to take a hike, that only he, Joe Paterno, would decide when he’d step down. And most Penn Staters sided with the coach. That’s why some loyalists still think Joe got a raw deal when he was fired by the board of trustees. But think of all the other areas of life besides education where our values are also topsy-turvy, and the inmates run the asylum. What has happened in State College, PA, is no aberration: Penn State and Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno are the pure products of America.

           


Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Poem

Sorry I've been so absent while such important events occur worldwide, but I'm spending time marketing my new book, AFTER SHAKESPEARE: SELECTED SONNETS (www.cervenabarvapress.com).

I'm posting now to tell you that I have a new (seasonal) poem online in MUDDY RIVER POETRY REVIEW:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prompted

“Every writer needs something to stimulate their writing. Let Poets & Writers provide just the jolt you need with our weekly writing exercises in The Time Is Now.”

That’s the (grammatically challenged) come-on I received in this morning’s email from Poets & Writers, the market magazine for, well, poets and writers. Why, I wondered, does any talented person need a prompt? Isn’t such a person overflowing with ideas to create art from? Isn’t an artist defined by his or her ability to conceive a subject and then to execute it in the best form?

Think of the great poets and their subjects. Did Keats, for instance, need a prompt to write “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” other than to have seen such an urn at the British Museum? Though he was often desperately ill and died at 26 of tuberculosis, Keats was ever bursting with ideas for his art, as his letters indicate.

How about Yeats? Did he need a prompt for “The Second Coming,” other than to reflect deeply on the harrowing condition of his world? What would his prompt have been, “Write about the image of the Sphinx in the desert”?

How about Emily Dickinson, who spent most of her life in her parents’ house, and who died at 55, leaving us about 1,789 poems as various and splendid as her dazzling imagination and her huge talent?  She was prompted daily by watching her garden, listening to birdsong, overhearing conversations about religion, the Civil War, and the great ideas of her time, and by reading— always the writer’s most significant source of ideas. And what great poems she wrote from the prompts of her experience.

I am thus prompted to say that you are either a writer, with the resources and drive to create art without synthetic prompts, or you are not.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CapPun

Those who debate the pros and cons of capital punishment ought to be familiar with Albert Camus’ essay “Reflections on the Guillotine” (1957), in which he argues, following De Sade, that licensing a government to commit premeditated murder is a grievous misuse of power. Maybe today this argument would be lost on Americans who relish the vigor with which our government has executed in battle tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis and other declared foes of American imperialism, and at a time when our military is committed to long-term lethal action around the world.
But Camus’ rejection of CapPun still bears on our moral selves, even after we have substituted for the brutal guillotine the sterile injection of lethal agents to kill a convict. The late Troy Davis is just the latest of a long line of death-row inmates whose legal efforts failed to save his life despite serious questions about his guilt or innocence. As Camus points out, it’s better to sentence a murderer to life at hard labor than to kill him in the event that evidence of innocence later emerges.
The U.S. is the only western-style democracy that still uses CapPun, France having joined the rest of death penalty-free Europe by abolishing it 1981. The Old Testament call for vengeance continues to motivate a majority of citizens in such states as Georgia, where Davis died on Sept. 21st, and Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has signed off on more executions than any other governor in history.  Only 13 states have banned CapPun. The old argument that it deters murder has neither statistical support, as Camus argued about 50 years ago, nor suasive value in a nation where murder continues to be a daily occurrence and many survivors demand a life for a life.
I personally feel disgust at the way the wheels of so-called justice, sanctioned at the highest level by the Supreme Court, inexorably produce justification for the state’s administrative will to commit premeditated murder in claustral chambers where sanitized technicians of death operate like corrupt doctors in surgical garb, latex gloves, and masks, wielding hypodermic needles to snuff out the life of another human being, whether the most heinous murderer or the possibly innocent, like Troy Davis.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Book

Cervena Barva Press Announces a New Book
"After Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets"
by George Held
George Held is a teacher, translator, writer, and poet whose work has appeared in such places as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Confrontation, Notre Dame Review, New York Quarterly, and Rattle, as well as on NPR and in two dozen anthologies. A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has published a book, ten chapbooks, and two e-books of poetry and edited Touched by Eros, an anthology of erotic verse. He holds a B.A. from Brown, an M.A. from University of Hawaii, and a Ph.D. from Rutgers, taught at Queens College for 37 years, was a Fulbright lecturer in Czechoslovakia (1973-76), and serves on the executive board of The South Fork Natural History Museum, Bridgehampton, NY. He lives in Greenwich Village, with his wife, Cheryl.

George Held's new collection of sonnets, After Shakespeare, is, at every turn, funny, surprising, and sharply observed. In poem after poem, Held follows Ezra Pound's injunction and "makes it new." Whether they are about Edmund Spenser on the E-train, painter Alice Neel or the Kennedy family, Held's poems delight with their music, and at the same time offer a deep wisdom. I love the way Held reinvents poetic tradition here and the way these poems, as he writes in "Discord," bring "joy beyond harmonic motion."
—Nicole Cooley
Beginning with his cheeky title (a chronological placement rather than a stylistic description) there is much to enjoy and admire in this new collection of sonnets from George Held. It is as though the awareness of his own belatedness is liberating to the poet, allowing him to explore all manner of interesting topics in a variety of sonnet forms and styles. Anyone interested in the vitality and accomplishment of the contemporary sonnet will want George Held's After Shakespeare.
—Charles Martin
To Hope
You're the thing with feathers, flying skyward
To inspire us when we lack the divine
Afflatus, lifting our spirits, like prime
Vintage or even swill like Thunderbird.
You're what springs eternal in the human
Breast, though eternity remains unproved,
Just hyperbole to cheer an unloved
One or fodder for some preacher's sermon.
But skeptical as we may be, inured
To loss of jobs and sinking stock prices,
Unfaithful friends and false mistresses,
Past the point where pride can still be injured,
Ears still prick up to your springtime twitter,
Unhibernating souls long in winter.
$15.00 | ISBN: 978-0-9831041-9-3 | 71 Pages

After Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets
$15.00
Shipping
$3.00
Total
$18.00
Send check or money order payable to:
Cervena Barva Press
P.O. Box 440357,
W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222

e-mail:
editor@cervenabarvapress.com
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Send me______copies of "After Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets "
Total enclosed: $________
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Admirable Miranda July


Miranda July feels different. The 37-year-old performance artist, fiction writer, film actress and director has made and starred in two admirable movies, the prize-winning Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), which is now playing at an art house cinema near you. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, among other places, and are collected in No one belongs here more than you. (Scribner, 2007). Yet despite these conventional signs of success, Miranda July, like many other artists,  feels different.

Born Miranda Jennifer Grossman, she changed her surname to July once she became a professional artist. The name change presumably expressed her sense that she is different, the daughter of hippie intellectuals, her father Jewish and her mother Protestant. She kept Miranda (from the Latin for “admirable”), probably taken by her parents from Shakespeare’s ingénue in The Tempest, the character who exclaims, "O brave new world!" The name Miranda July sets her off as distinctive, the way “George Orwell” submerged and improved on Eric Blair, who was also felt uncomfortably different from the lads he went to school with.

Though a blue-eyed, raven-haired beauty who can resemble the young Liz Taylor, July at times appears uncomfortable in her own skin. As Sophie, her character in The Future, says, “I wish I were one notch prettier.” This sense of personal unease contributes to the anxiety her protagonists feel about physical intimacy onscreen. In The Future, for instance, though Sophie and her androgynous boyfriend live together, sharing the same bed, it’s not clear that they are lovers. That might be why she has an affair with a conventional businessman with conventional lust for her. She seems bemused but not displeased by his attention.

July’s short-short story “The Moves” begins, “Before he died, my father gave me his finger moves. They were movements for getting a woman off. He said he didn’t know if they’d be of use to me, seeing as how I was a woman myself. . . .” Later he says, “You’re going to make some woman very, very happy. . . .” But the narrator doesn’t indicate that she is a lesbian and speculates that one day she’ll “have a daughter and I’ll teach her what he taught me.”

July’s sexual ambivalence or ambiguity probably explains why a lesbian group has petitioned Wikipedia to include in her bio a note that raises the issue of whether she is gay or bisexual. In any case, she is married to the artist and director Mike Mills, whose film Beginners (Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer) explores his father’s coming out at the age of 75.

One of the treats in The Future, which grew out of a performance piece, is a dance that July conjures up while wearing an expansible yellow t-shirt that has the power of self-animation before she picks it up off the floor and pulls it on. July has the body control of a modern dancer and has performed at such venues as The Kitchen and The Guggenheim Museum. She seems slightly more at ease when dancing, usually solo, than when acting.

Whatever her art, July remains compelling. She has a sly sense of humor and an intriguing persona that tests the line between innocence and knowingness, ambition and retreat, desire and ambivalence. I suggest you make her acquaintance by seeing her films and reading her stories. You, too, might feel she’s appealingly different and an admirable artist.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weather Porn


Isn’t it astonishing the amount of coverage a “weather event” receives these days? All the networks and cable news channels in NYC invested heavily in televising Hurricane Irene (HI), with the 3 major networks bringing in their veteran anchors for the weekend coverage. Part of the broadcasters’ strategy was early on to call HI “devastating,” “major” and “historic” and to stick to this gigantism even when the hurricane became just a tropical storm by the time it reached NYC.

Even now as I write, at 7:15 AM, the highest recorded wind today in Central Park is 25 mph, not even a gale. But the broadcasters are committed to full coverage for the rest of the day. Of course, with the cancellation of golf tournaments, baseball & football games, and car races, they need substitute programming to attract watchers.

Storm chasers are performing live from the eye of HI, reporters are out in local spots to highlight the damage from wind and flooding, deaths (10 so far) are solemnly recounted, and the focus is on the most ghastly scenes, so some footage is repeated over and over to titillate the TV audience with what is now called “weather porn.” But no context is provided for the sort of routine storm damage done so far by HI. No channel is showing comparative footage of the immense wall of water that only last March obliterated several towns near Fukushima, Japan, causing damage to a nuclear plant that is still threatening the area.

How about our own disaster in New Orleans caused in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina? That was truly “devastating,” “major,” and “historic.” We in the Northeast will soon recover. New Orleans today has a population about one-third smaller than before HK hit. Katrina, which caused almost 2,000 deaths, remains the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States (Wikipedia).

Have a nice day. J

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Congressman Nadler

I have praised Jerry Nadler, my Congressman on the West Side of Manhattan, and if you'd like to see evidence of why he is probably the truest progressive voice in the House, please read this interview at today's Truthout: http://www.truth-out.org/one-one-jerrold-nadler/1314046483.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Recommended Reading & Viewing


I have recently finished Hans Fallada’s novel Every Man Dies Alone, densely printed on 509 pages by Melville House, which I began last fall. If you like long realist fiction, I recommend this book as one of the best novels I’m familiar with. It deserves comparison with Dickens, Dostoevsky, and Dos Passos.
What struck me most strongly about Every Man Dies Alone is how much his picture of Nazi Germany resonates with our own time, when a fascistic nationalist political party is working fanatically to destroy our republic. As one of the few decent characters in the novel says about the Third Reich, it is “vile beyond all vileness.” So far, we Americans have been lucky that such vileness has not yet overtaken us, though elements of the far right try to sow the seeds of it.
But even a conservative would appreciate Fallada’s depiction of the ways the Nazis succeeded in subverting decency and supplanting it with a dog-eat-dog mentality that allowed the survival of the fittest at exploiting fascist immorality and brute force. Thus one of the young strivers in the Nazi Party, when confronted with possible arrest for a break-in, formulates his behavior during an interrogation this way: “For an instant, Baldur Persicke thought the game was up. But then he remembered one of his maxims, Shamelessness wins out,” and he proceeds to lie his way out of his predicament by putting the blame on others.
“Shamelessness wins out” strikes me as the rationale of the executives at Enron and on Wall Street, of many politicians and their “strategists,” of too many Americans who today manipulate our own immoral, broken system. But leaving out any comparisons to contemporary topics, Every Man Dies Alone is a powerful fiction that lays bare a rotten time and shows how two principled people try to bring down Hitler and pay with their lives.
Fallada, the pen name of Rudolf Ditzen, survived the Nazis but not his own abuse of alcohol and other drugs: he died, at 53, a few days before this, his last, novel was published in 1947.
I’ve also recently finished Spies of the Balkans, the latest of Alan Furth’s eleven novels about the origins of World War II in central and eastern Europe. While I can recommend the three previous Furst books I’ve read—Dark Voyage, The Polish Officer, and, especially, The Foreign Correspondent—the new one is too generic, with sterotyped characters (always a problem with Furst) and clichéd language, for me to endorse. Furst, by the way, provides a blurb for the Melville House edition of Every Man Dies Alone.
Two outstanding films are now playing the art houses in Manhattan, and my wife and I loved them. One is a documentary on the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, who is best known for Fiddler on the Roof, the musical comedy based on his stories about Tevye the Milkman.  The film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness offers not only a biography of the writer but a history of shtetl life and Jewish culture in the 19th-century in what is today called Ukraine. Sholem Aleichem, by the way, lived in New York for the last few years of his life and is buried in Queens.
The other terrific movie is also a documentary of sorts, Passione: A Musical Adventure, a musical history of Naples, directed by John Turturro. This is a thrilling movie, because the music of Naples, influenced by opera, jazz, pop, folk, and North Africa, is so thrilling as performed by local singers and musicians. Anyone who is of Italian descent or an Italophile or a music lover should find Passione wildly entertaining.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Class Consciousness at Brown

The July/August 2011 issue of the Brown Alumni Magazine carries obituaries of two men who strongly influenced me as an undergraduate. Both Charles J. Lynch, a dorm mate, and Elmer E. Cornwell, Jr., a professor of political science, raised my hitherto minimal class consciousness, one through his experience and the other based on theory.
Charlie Lynch was a lean, working-class Irish Catholic from Springfield, Mass., with the ascetic look of a priest; his speech was close to a brogue. He and I both lived in Hegeman B, one of the older dorms at Brown, a Victorian dark-brick and stone affair, and we both majored in English and became English teachers following our graduation in 1958.

More important, Charlie and I both had “grant-in-aid” jobs to help us afford our room and board. While I waited tables in the dining hall, he cleaned rooms in a fraternity where looking “shoe” was primary. When he came by to talk in the suite I shared with three upwardly mobile students, he would often bitterly recount the snubs he had received from members of that fraternity. I’d gripe that a snob in the wealthy fraternity where I waited on tables would call me, “Waiter!” although we had lived on the same floor of a dormitory for a semester.

Charlie also marveled at the affluence of the fraternity brothers, one of whose closets, he told me, contained “about 30 Brooks Brothers sport jackets.” Charlie and I each had one “lunchy” (from “out to lunch,” meaning “unstylish”) sport coat from high school. “Come the revolution,” he would jest, but he did not mean a revolution that would bring equal distribution of tweed jackets.

Elmer Cornwell, a native of Holyoke with a Harvard Ph.D., taught the only poli sci class I ever took, on Presidential politics. We met in a large, dimly lighted hall in an antique building on the quad, about a hundred seated students and one tall, pencil-slim instructor standing at a lectern on a podium. Cornwell, seemingly immune to the allure of tweed, was clad in pastel polyester coat and slacks and wore his wavy hair unfashionably long. He looked owlish in rimless spectacles, and he spoke in what today would be called a laid-back manner, even when he was pressing an important point.

The moment I remember best occurred when he was analyzing the connection between voting patterns and socioeconomic class, arguing that the more affluent the citizen, the more likely he was to vote Republican. A few of his listeners demurred. To prove his point, the professor asked for a show of hands to signify each student’s class affiliation. He would eliminate the upper and the lower class, he said, to avoid putting anyone on the spot. He then began at the top, asking how many identified with the upper middle class, and most of the students raised their hands. Those who thought of themselves as middle class made a lesser showing. And when he asked how many identified as lower middle class, only four hands went up, tentatively. One was mine.

Charlie Lynch went on to chair the English Department at a Bay Area high school, and Professor Cornwell not only wrote many books and articles but also applied his expertise in service to Rhode Island state and local government. Though Charlie and I rarely saw each other after I’d switched dorms and I never spoke with Professor Cornwell after I took that class, I mourn their death and remember each of them fondly and gratefully.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Haiku Moments

This year I’ve had a renewed interest in haiku. While I have published well over a hundred haiku in the past twenty years, I usually resort to haiku when I feel stymied in writing other kinds of poems. I find that its brevity and simplicity of style can restore my muse.
This year, however, I have made a concerted effort to write haiku more regularly and have made frequent use of the small Modo leather-bound notebook, a gift from my wife, that I always carry in my backpack. One stimulus has been giving a haiku workshop at the South Fork Natural History Museum, in Bridgehampton. I did this first last August, but thought it would be a one-time affair. When asked to repeat it this July, I wrote 30 haiku in the 2 weeks beforehand, as a sort of warm-up.
I also read some marvelous books, including Japanese Death Poems (Tuttle), The Poetry of Zen (Shambhala), and, especially, Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems (Shambhala). This last book all people with an interest in haiku should treat themselves to.
I was also asked by the Sag Harbor Express to write a haiku for its summer-supplement  magazine, to accompany a beautiful color photograph of the moon rising over the Atlantic as seen from Sagg Pond:
                                       Deep blue where Sagg Pond
meets the sea – the peach disc
   of the full Hay Moon

In preparation for the workshop, Roxanne Hoffman, the sterling publisher of Poets Wear Prada, which published my chapbook of moon poems, Phased, wrote a press release in which she included a haiku of mine that last spring won honorable mention in the Off the Coast national haiku contest: entries had to comment on a haikuist who took 5 minutes to introduce his haiku at a poetry reading. Here’s mine:
                                                   Five-minute intro—
much ado
   for one haiku
On July 19th, the Performance Poets Association of Long Island announced that a haiku of mine was selected as one of 8 winners of its haiku contest:
                                                   Great blue heron
                                                at dawn on the horizon
                                                   drawing up the sun
If you feel so inclined, please post a haiku in a comment on this blog.




Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Satire

I once called Pres. Obama a pragmatist here, and now he's made his most pragmatic move:

http://infauxtainment.com/?p=8216

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Haiku Workshop

I'll be offering a haiku workshop at the South Fork Natural History Museum, in Bridgehampton, on Sun., July 17, from 10 AM-12 noon. Here is the announcement on the museum website, www.sofo.com:

Haiku Workshop

7/17/2011 · 10 am - Saturday
Bridgehampton
Leader: George Held, SoFo Board of Directors

George Held, a widely published poet, will teach the philosophy and practice of the haiku, a concise Japanese verse form that focuses on an instant in nature. The SoFo Museum and outdoor surroundings offer many opportunities for a “haiku moment,” when the writer has an insight into a natural object that can be expressed in about 12-17 syllables. Only a pen or pencil and a small notepad are needed. For adults and youngsters 16 and older. Limited enrollment, reserve now!

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

Photo: Haiku master Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)


If you can make it, that would be cool. Please share with anyone who might be interested.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Comment on "Barter"

"Barter" has evoked some valuable memories, none more telling than this by my friend Priscilla in Sag Harbor:

     Each summer I stayed with my grandparents in Freeland, Michigan. It was a working farm and one of the old fashioned kind. We had thrashing in late summer, with the straw, wheat and oats separated by this huge dinosaur-like machine - ending up with a huge strawstack. All the farmers around would contribute a team, a man, etc., which would be returned in kind. After work in the field gathering up the bundles of wheat, etc., before a late lunch, they would wash off in the big laundry tub - outside under the big maple tree - with their sunburned faces except where their hair had hung down, or the straw hats had covered - this with their sweaty, blue work shirts, and huge brown arms.with rolled up sleeves, The dining room table would hold some 15 "men" and the kids would stand around waiting for their turn to eat - expecting all to be gone - this while the women fussed around in the kitchen and served when necessary. Of course there was food to spare. Yes, this was the mid-west American in the 1930s. Similar to the spirit to a Brueghel painting. Priscilla   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Poem online

Please check out a new poem of mine at

http://www.muddyriverpoetryreview.com//George%20Held.pdf

This poem is included in a chapbook manuscript called "Dog Hill Poems."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Work

For my poem "The rage in you," in the online journal FIRST LITERARY REVIEW - EAST, please click on http://www.rulrul.4mg.com/.

Another poem of mine, "Ernest," is in the current issue of BARBARIC YAWP, which is published in Russell, NY, way upstate. Since the '90s, the YAWP has published other poems by me, as well as an interview, a column on NYC poetry readings, and my elegy on underground fixture Dave Church. Church was a regular in the YAWP, which is the baby of John Berbrich, poet & writer, and his wife, Nancy, artist & writer. A single copy of this always provocative little magazine is only $4.00:  3700 County Route 24, Russell, NY 13684.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Revenge of Gaia

When the Gaia hypothesis was first broached in the 1970s, it was met with scorn and hostility by several noted scientists. The theory, named after Gaia, the Greek goddess of the earth, holds that the major life-sustaining elements of the earth constitute a unified self-sustaining, self-regulating system. Thus, for example, the sea maintains a 3.4% rate of salinity and the atmosphere contains 20.95% oxygen. If any part of the system is threatened, as by pollution, the rest of the Gaia mechanism adjusts accordingly to retain the status quo to support life.
Some cosmologists welcomed the Gaia theory as a tool to help persuade the public that if it mistreated the earth, by polluting fresh water and the air we breathe, the earth would defend itself as it could. One form by which Gaia would readjust its homeostatic balance, some scientists predicted, would be violent weather. Thus if farms and cities along the banks of the Mississippi  violated its flood plain and polluted its waters and added too much carbon dioxide and methane gas to the atmosphere, excessive snowmelt and powerful rainstorms would send the river over its banks to reclaim its flood plain and interrupt human activity harmful to it.
The past few years, just in the United States, have brought record heat, snowfall, rain, hurricanes, and tornados to the land, causing massive destruction and in some cases remaking the map along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi delta. In the wake of the enormous earthquake and tsunami in Japan last winter, seismologists have warned that one of the most likely areas for a similar catastrophe lies in the Pacific Northwest. And along the East Coast, weather forecasters think that twice as many as normal the number of severe tropical storms, including hurricanes, are likely to occur this summer. Proponents of the Gaia theory, then, speculate that the more we tax the environment with pollutants—think of BP oil stressing natural systems in the Gulf of Mexico—the more we bring about the devastating weather now common throughout the U.S. and worldwide.
I saw firsthand the mind-boggling destruction wreaked on trees and houses in a section of Forest Hills, Queens, last year by a 150-mile-an-hour wind shear, and you can see on the Internet and TV the flattening of Joplin, MO, by severed tornados over the weekend, leaving almost 100 people dead.
Irrespective of the Gaia hypothesis, a group of Norwegian scientists in the early 1990s conducted experiments that showed that if pollution of sea, land, and air continued unabated, in twenty years’ time unprecedentedly severe storms would buffet the earth. Twenty years later is now.
If indeed there is a connection between our mistreatment of the earth and the severity of current weather, what is each of us ready to do to return the environment to a state of balance?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Article on the legality of the Usama bin Laden execution

http://www.truthout.org/targeted-assassination-osama-bin-laden/1305051197


I hope those interested in my article on this topic, especially the majority who disagree with me, will read the article linked above. I offer it in the spirit of our ongoing discussion of issues raised by the manner of the US killing of bin Laden.

GH

Monday, May 9, 2011

Undue Process?


True, Obama succeeded where W failed when it came to killing Osama. But is anyone else troubled by the disregard Obama showed for due process? We became used to Buscheney’s contempt for due process or law or any other perceived impediment to achieving their (even nefarious) ends, but we suspected that former law professor Obama respected due process most of the time, except, say, when it comes to Gitmo internees. But approving the SEAL kill mission near Islamabad (Obama + Osama + Islama), with its cold-blooded assassination, clandestine burial, and withheld evidence shows how far we as a nation have come from the days of the Founders or even of Joseph Welch, who stood up to McCarthy, or Judge John Sirica (a Republican who ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes) at the Watergate hearings. Because of decades of Republican expediency at the expense of the law & the Constitution, the “homeland” now wants results without the exceedingly small grinding of the stones of justice.
Would the capture and trial of Osama have been too stressful for our nation to handle? Don’t we any longer have the patience and fortitude to bear the strains and threats that come with following the law and putting the perps on trial, as occurred with Nazis at Nuremberg, Eichmann in Jerusalem, and Milosevic at The Hague? Would the satisfaction of a guilty verdict for Osama, and his execution, after a trial have been too pallid for the cheerleaders of expedient violence who celebrate the NCIS-style death he met at the compound in Abbottabad? Reminds me of another CIA-authored killing, in Chile in 1973, though Allende was a hero of the Left, not a purveyor of death like Osama. In any case, his violent death will be no deterrent to any other radical leader whose cause is to damage the US. And as the widow of a 9/11 victim said to me the other day, “The celebrations are out of place. There are a lot of other Osamas out there.”
Still, this argument is healthy and necessary in a world in which haves like the US can use force to keep the have-nots at bay and to carry out military actions its leaders deem necessary for security and even survival. If we have sufficient armed force to invade poor countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, to track and kill enemy leaders like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, there will always be politicians and generals eager to employ that power. So far, they have the media and a majority of the voters on their side. But as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero said, he would have preferred [that] bin Laden stand trial. On Wednesday, Zapatero told Spanish Parliament, "Any democrat would have preferred to see him stand trial," according to the Telegraph.

I find myself still grappling to retain my belief in due process in an age when its time-consuming orderliness is easy to ridicule and cast aside in favor of more expedient means. At the root of this argument is how to achieve justice and even what justice might mean in a threatening time increasingly affected by contingency and realpolitik. For now, however, to the victor belong the spoils, including the power to make judgments, and as President Obama told “60 Minutes,” in the bin Laden case “Justice was done.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Leadership

Many of us feel that President Obama has substituted compromise for leadership. One area that he has rarely concerned himself with is the environment. This morning I read some quotable commentary on the President’s ineffectual leadership in facing the current nuclear and environmental crisis:

“Happy talk” was not the approach taken by Lincoln confronting slavery, or by Franklin Roosevelt facing the grim realities after Pearl Harbor. Nor was it Winston Churchill’s message to the British people at the height of the London blitz. Instead, in these and similar cases transformative leaders told the truth honestly, with conviction and eloquence.

--David Orr, Down to the Wire [Orr is the Distinguished Professor of Environmental Sciene and Politics at Oberlin.]

If only we had the necessary leadership to address "honestly, with conviction and eloquence," the truth about our economic, infrastructure, health, foreign affairs, and environmental crises.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Drug on the Market

We used to call something "a drug on the market" when an item was so common that there were no takers for it. The expression implies that the item induces inertia in buyers, as some drugs do. I thought of this phrase yesterday as I was leaving the Rosenthal Library at Queens College. For over a decade Rosenthal has been the beneficiary of my efforts to reduce the large number of books I own. Every few months, I bring the library 30-40 books, whatever I can carry, like a pack mule; the librarians smile and chat me up, and some weeks later I receive a thank-you letter that I can use as proof of a charitable donation for my tax deductions.

Yesterday, however, I found Rosenthal unreceptive. The librarian explained to me that budget cuts (courtesy of Messirs Bloomberg & Cuomo) had reduced its staff and led to a cutback in operations so that the library no longer accepts book donations, nor does it hold its seasonal book sales, at which many of my old books no doubt found new owners. The acquisitions librarian, however, told me that he would make an exception for my used poetry books, because the library has no budget to buy new poetry books. As a reviewer, I often receive review copies of such books, so I'll continue to unload them at Rosenthal. My other old books are unwelcome.

Coincidentally, the neighborhood used-book store is also refusing book contributions. The store will still deal for signed first editions and other rareties in good condition, but it will no longer take used books for its $1 tables. Too many old folks are cleaning out their libraries and lugging faded tattered shopping bags full of faded tattered books to used-book stores and libraries, where the demand has diminished sharply. Every time you see people on their smart phones, tablets, or e-readers, you understand where book buyers have gone. The wonderful old books from Modern Library and Penguin that contributed so much to the education of generations of readers will fade away, like their beneficiaries, and few such books will be retrievable in digital form.

As a reader and a writer, and as a library donor, I am disheartened, while as an observer of the passing scene, I am unsurprised.

Oh, yes...if you'd like a grab bag of old books, please let me know.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Blogging Along

The TIMES reported the other day that blogs are losing out to social network sites like Facebook & Twitter, largely because Internet users prefer the brevity of the latter. Why write or read a blog post when you can tweet in a max of 140 characters—a limit I’ve probably already exceeded here.

Regardless, I’d like to say that I attended the pro-union rally at City Hall Park on Saturday, Feb. 26, along with about 2,000 others who looked familiar from the anti-war rallies of the past decade. These folks, mostly middle class, are in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and we have all benefited from belonging to a union. We are fed up with the union-bashing led by current state governors and with the transfer of wealth upward led by some of the richest Americans and their running dogs in political office. So we vented on Saturday along with thousands of others across the country, and it felt good even though we realize that we are likely fighting a losing battle in these conservative times.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Satire

I have a new satire up at CLOCKWISE CAT: http://clockwisecat.blogspot.com/2011/01/waiting-for-godama-by-george-held.html. It's about the renaming of a popular market magazine for writers & poets. Please check it out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Poetry Reading Cancelled

The reading with Claudia Serea that I posted word of here on Feb. 14 has been cancelled because the venue, Bengal Curry,  will close this Friday. Like many other small businesses in gentrifying areas of the city, Bengal Curry can't afford the increased rent for its space. But Mike Graves, founding host of the peripatetic Phoenix reading series, will no doubt find a new place for poets to read.

Speaking of poets, in an interview with Galway Kinnell (The American Poetry Review, Jan/Feb 2011, p. 7), Chard deNiord asks why he’s reluctant to call himself a poet. Kinnell replies, “A poet should not call himself a poet . . . it’s better all around if someone else declares it” ). Kinnell, who turned 84 on Feb. 1st, represents an old tradition of modesty in self-appellation that has for the most part been abandoned by younger poets. For instance, how many poets do you know who identify themselves foremost as “poet,” though they might have important day jobs? Many have even incorporated “poet” in their email addresses and business cards.

To give him his due, Kinnell, a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner, explains his modesty by saying that “being a poet is so marvelous an achievement” that to call oneself a poet is “boasting.” But there are so many more poets per capita than when Kinnell began writing, in the 1940’s, and the various social networks afford such ample ways to advertise oneself as a “poet,” that poet has become a vocation that multitudes, unwilling to wait for someone else to declare it, claim for themselves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Poetry Reading on Sunday, Feb. 27th

George Held & Claudia Serea read on Sunday, February 27, 2011,

@ Bengal Curry, 65 West Broadway, New York, NY 10007-2292 / 212.571.1122,
between Murray and Warren, 1 1⁄2 blocks below Chambers St. Take the 1, 2, 3,
A, C or E train to
Chambers Street
.

Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Her poems and translations have appeared in Meridian, Mudfish,
Main Street
Rag, Harpur Palate, Exquisite Corpse, The Fourth River, The Red Wheelbarrow, among others. She is the author of two poetry collections: Eternity’s Orthography (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and To Part Is to Die a Little, forthcoming from Červená Barva Press. She also writes creative nonfiction, published by The Rambler and The Writers’ Workshop Review. Claudia lives in New Jersey and works in New York
for a major publishing company.for a major publishing company.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt on My Mind

Egypt on My Mind

With reports today that police fired into a gathering of protestors in downtown Cairo, and several people were killed, the uprising in Egypt puts even greater pressure on the U.S. government to act decisively—to push its client Mubarak out and to make peace with whatever leaders emerge from this revolution.

President Obama is in a position comparable to that of LBJ with Vietnam, where a leftist revolt sought to take power from our client, a corrupt corporate-friendly postcolonial establishment. In the end, the leftists won and today we have stable, friendly, profitable relations with Vietnam.

In a way, Americans who side with Mubarak are like the Tories who sided with King George III during the American Revolution.  The forces of repression, fearing the unleashing of popular revolt, usually take the part of the establishment.

In Egypt today the protestors come from a wide range of interests. Among their leaders is Mohamed ElBaradei, 68, a Nobel Prize winner, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister. You might remember that ElBaradei inspected Iraq for WMD and reported it had none; he also disputed the American canard that Iraq had purchased Nigerian yellowcake for building nukes. He is, as far as I can determine, an honest broker, and this is what he said about his homeland the other day:  "The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day. Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?"

So will our government heed ElBaradei’s call to support the voice of protest against our repressive client state or will it hope that Mubarak can somehow save his sclerotic police state and continue to do America’s bidding in strategically located Egypt? After Tunisia, and with protests in Yemen and Jordan, the old order in north Africa and the Middle East is changing in a way that will cost the U.S. many of its client states and demand the utmost in diplomacy to maintain its interests in the area. How long till our Barack must desert our Mubarak?