Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Vietnam War Memorial—The Monument Almost No One Wanted

The Wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in the gloaming with flags, photos, and mementos left daily by visitors.

On March 26, 1982 a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the hugely controversial Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Less than eight months later on November 13 it opened with recriminations still swirling around it. 

The idea for a memorial sprang from Jan Scruggs, who had served as a corporal in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and was attending college in Washington studying counseling and hoping to help the notoriously troubled veterans of an unpopular war.  He felt that a national memorial honor the Vietnam War dead would help with the healing.  Scruggs conceived of the project as one that would inscribe the names of all of the American dead in conflicts in Southeast Asia.  
The memorial was the brain child of Jan Scruggs who served as a corporal in the wat and was a student studying to help veterans when he began his campaign to make it a reality.
Congress refused to fund the project because it would “clutter up the National Mall,” and because there were no similar monuments to World War II or Korean veterans.  Some anti-war Democrats opposed “glorifying” the conflict, while some conservatives were loath to honor “the first American soldiers to lose a war.”

Undeterred, with $2,800 of his own money Scruggs began raising funds for the project. His effort touched a national nerve and with astonishing speed more than $8,000,000 was raised, almost all of it from private donors, many from veterans themselves.  He overcame objections and received permission from Congress to build a memorial in Constitution Gardens, just off the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.

As the money began to pour in a competition was held for the design of the monument.  The conditions were that it have room for the names of all of the war dead and that it have a low unobtrusive profile—a nod to a group of voracious opponents of the project—preservationists who loudly complained that it would destroy the esthetics of the Mall.  Many of the most distinguished sculptors, architects, and artists in the country submitted drawings.
21 year old Maya Lyn, seen at the dedication of the memorial, was surprise and controversial winner of the design competition for the wall--much of which was backlash that an Asian--or Gook--was selected.
To almost everyone’s surprise the winner of the competition was Maya Lin, then a 21 year old undergraduate at Yale.  Her conception was stunning in its simplicity—and in its dramatic rejection of the conventional forms of a monument or memorial.  She envisioned a “gash in the earth” to represent the wound of loss of all of those soldiers.  The entire monument was be below ground level—an elongated shallow v made up of two black granite walls tapering from 10.1 feet high where they meet eight inches at their ends.  One end would represent the beginning of the conflict and first deaths in 1959 and the other end the last of the combat deaths in Southeast Asia—the Marines who died in the rescue of the SS Mayaguez from the Khmer Rouge in 1975.  The two walls would meet at the deepest point of the war, which turned out to be May of 1968 when casualties were at their peak.  Names without rank, service, home town, or any other identifier would be inscribed in chronological order along the two walls.
The below ground level "gash" represented the national wound in need of healing.
Although praised by art and architecture critics, the design created a firestorm of bitter opposition.  Veterans’ groups were incensed calling it a black gash of shame.”  H. Ross Perot, the Texas millionaire and the future Virginia Senator Jim Webb, then a highly regarded Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration, both early public supporters of the project, now denounced it and tried to prevent the construction as envisioned by Lin.  Perot openly voiced contempt for Lin because she was Asian and many veterans did not want anything to do with, “that Gook.  Congress held hearings where Lin had to defend herself under very hostile questioning.  Secretary of the Interior James Watt tried to derail the project by withholding the necessary construction permits.

Organizers of the project, however, stood by Lin and her vision.  As a compromise they did agree to add a representational statue and a flag pole to one side of the monument.  The bronze Three Soldiers by sculptor Frederick Hart was installed in 1985, three years after Lin’s memorial opened.  In 1993 another representational statue of three female figures tending the wounded by sculptor Glenna Goodacre was added nearby as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial—the first war memorial for women from any war.  
To allay the criticism of traditionalist a representational statue of Three Soldiers was placed near the Memorial three years after its dedication.  A Vietnam Women's Memorial statue as added latter.
When The Wall, as the Monument came to be known, opened it had 58,175 entries.  Since then more than 200 more names have been added.  About thirty names turned out to belong to still living soldiers, a mistake attributed to clerical error at the Department of Defense, which provided the names of the war dead.

Thousands of veterans marched to the site of the Memorial on the day of its dedication.  After the ceremonies, they were as awed and moved as almost everyone else who has ever seen it.  The controversy over the design was soon washed away with the tears of veterans and their loved ones, who found an emotional connection that almost no one anticipated.  
A huge crowd made up mostly of veterans and their families attended the Memorial dedication ceremony.
Spontaneously, people began to make rubbings of the names of their loved ones and to leave gifts for the dead.  These items ranged from photographs, to packs of cigarette and bottles of beer, each representing something.  At first the National Park Service was unsure of how to deal with these offerings.  Eventually they were gathered daily and stored in an enormous warehouse. The items are now preserved and cataloged by date.  Exhibitions display samples from the collection.

More than two million visitors view the Wall annually, making it one of the most popular attractions in Washington.  In 2007 it was ranked tenth on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

Several quarter-size cardboard models of the Wall tour the country continuously bringing something of the experience to those who cannot get to the Capital.  

Maya Lyn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2016 in honor of her body of work including the Vietnam Memorial and the United States Civil Rights Museum.

Lyn has gone on to become a famous architect and designer.  Her many honors include the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by Barack Obama in 2016. Among her other projects is the United States Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Celebrate Spring at the Tree of Life Coffee House and Open Mic

The Ukulele Superheroes are a favorite at the Tree of Life Coffee House.

The Tree of Life Coffee House and Open Mic will return to the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry on Saturday, March 30 from 7 to 10 pm.
The coffee house is noted for showcasing a wide variety of performers and musicians across multiple genres.  
This spring edition will feature a mix of returning favorites and first time performers. Slated are singers and instrumentalists Amy Beth, Norm Siegae, Barbara Harmon, Jim Gary, and Ed Iwanski.  Spoken word performers include poets Carol Alfus, Lisa Campagnolo, Deon Jackson, and Julie Huddle as well as story tellers Bruce Preston and Gail Permenter.  House favorites the Ukulele Superheroes return to the stage.
Singer/guitarist  Norm Siegel has performed with the greats of the Chicago folk scene for four decades.
Lisa Campagnolo will host.
Light refreshments including coffee, soft drinks, and water will be available at no charge.  Admission is free to the public and there is no charge for admittance.  A free will offering will be taken to defray expenses.
For more information about the event, email office@treeoflifeuu.org, call Tree of Life at 815 322-2464, or visit the Facebook Event.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Ferlinghetti at 100—The Beat Goes On

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.

Born on March 24, 1919 Lawrence Ferlinghetti celebrates his 100th birthday today, still active and apparently in reasonably good health.  Can’t keep a good poet down.  And for my money Ferlinghetti is the super-nova in the constellation of Beat poets even including other bright spots like Alan Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth, and Gary Snyder—all of whom he befriended, mentored, and published.

The poet was born in Yonkers, New York.  His father was an Italian immigrant auctioneer who had shortened the family name to Ferlin.  Young Larry did not know his real family name until he entered the Navy in 1942.  His mother was of mixed French, Portuguese, and Sephardic Jewish extraction.  He only began using the original family name for his published work until 1955 when his first published collection, Pictures of the Gone World was published.

His father died before he was born and his mother when he was at an early age.  He was raised largely by a French aunt Emily who took her charge with her to France while she worked as a governess there for several years.  French became his first language.

Upon returning to the United States he was placed for a time in a Chappaqua, New York orphanage until his aunt could find a new position.  She was hired as governess to the daughter of Presley Eugene Bisland and Anna Lawrence Brisland, in Bronxville, New York.  Anna was the cultured daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence Academy.  The couple took a shine to the bright boy and eventually became virtual parents to him.  He stayed on their estate after Emily left.

The Bislands paid for his tuition at smart day and prep schools and at the University of North Carolina where the young man became interested in journalism and wrote for the college paper.

While on summer vacation in 1940 he and two classmates lived on an island off the coast of Maine making a living lobstering, fishing, and beach combing.  The experience cemented a lifelong love of the sea and the seacoast.

Ferlinghetti in the Navy as Captain of a sub chaser off the coast of Normandy.

When World War II broke out, Larry naturally enlisted in the Navy and was educated as a Midshipman and first shipped out as a very junior officer on J.P. Morgan’s former yacht which had been fitted out for anti-submarine patrol along the East Coast when those waters were among the most dangerous in the world.  He advanced and later served on three larger anti-sub ships.  He was Captain of the sub chaser USS SC1308 which served in the fleet protecting the Normandy invasion.  Later he transferred to the Pacific where he was navigator on a troop ship.

After his ship moored in Japan and transferred its troops to occupation duty, the young officer took time to visit devastated Nagasaki.  He was shocked, even traumatized by what he saw only weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped on the civilian population.  He became a lifelong, committed pacifist.

After the war he enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University in New York City with the help of the GI Bill.  He read widely and deeply in the classics of English literature and was influenced by American poets like Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings.  He also devoured American novelists Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, and John Dos Passos.  He was searching for an authentically American, democratic voice.  Instructors at Columbia included a who’s who of the New York literatiBabette, Deutsch, Lionel Trilling, Jacques Barzun, and Mark Van Doren.  He earned his master’s degree in 1947.

Then it was off for further study at the Sorbonne in Paris.  He lived and studied in the City of Lights until getting his doctorate with honors in 1951.  One of his two main theses was on the city as symbolism in poetry, another recurring theme in future work.

 In 1953 Ferlinghetti and his wife, Selden Kirby-Smith who he had married after returning to the States from France, settled in San Francisco.  He taught and tutored French and spent most of his time painting and free lancing as an art critic.  
His first foray into poetry was as a translator of work in French published by Peter Martin in his City Lights magazine.  It was the beginning of a close collaboration that really blossomed when the two men joined forces to open City Lights Bookstore in the heart of the bohemian North Beach area.  It was the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S. and specialized in poetry, literary fiction, and a good supply of the latest European literature.
Ferlinghetti's first poetry collection  Number One in City Light Books Pocket Poetry series.

Martin opted out of the partnership in 1955 and Ferlinghetti expanded operations by launch its own publishing house.  The first volume in what would become the famous Pocket Poet series was Pictures of the Gone World.  It would be followed by volumes by Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levitov, William Carlos Williams, and Gregory Corso.

City Lights was never intended to be exclusively a Beat imprint—it issued work by  a number of European writers and Williams who represented an avante garde of an earlier era—but it became the most important publisher of the movement.  He also published prose by Charles Bukowski, Neil Cassady and others and leftist essays by Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, and Howard Zinn.  Under Ferlinghetti’s still active supervision, it continues to be an important source of culturally cutting edge work.

Ferlinghetti first heard New York based Alan Ginsburg read Howl at the famous Six Gallery Reading in October 1956 which was the formal introduction of the Beat movement to the San Francisco arts community.  The next day Ferlinghetti sent Ginsburg a wire that began, “I greet you at the beginning of an illustrious career.”  Howl became the fourth volume in the Pocket Poet series.  It also became a famous cause célèbre.
Ferlinghetti proudly and defiantly displaying copies of Alan Ginsberg's Howl.  His obscenity trial for publishing and selling the book became a key case in ending censorship in literature.

Ferlinghetti and his book store manager were arrested by San Francisco police and charged with obscenity for publishing and selling the book.  The case against the manager was dropped, but the city vigorously went after the publisher.  It was a long trial and Ferlinghetti was represented by an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.  Major literary and academic figures testified about the artistic merit of the book.  In the end judge Clayton Horn acquitted Ferlinghetti and ruled that Howl had significant artistic merit.  It was one of the cases that finally broke the back of censorship of literature.

The book that cemented Ferlinghetti’s own reputation as a poet was not published by City Lights.   A Coney Island of the Mind was issued by New Directions, a prestigious New York publisher in 1958.   It was both a critical and a popular success.  In a country that has largely rejected poetry as a popular medium, it has sold over a million copies over the last sixty plus years and has never gone out of print.
I nearly wore out my copy of Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind

Ferlinghetti’s masterpiece, one of my own favorite books of poetry, was unlike the work of most of the Beats.  It was lyrical and often told a story.  But then the poet often said he didn’t personally consider himself a Beat, despite his fondness for them, but considered himself a bohemian in the tradition of Williams, E.E. Cummings, and Ezra Pound.

50 Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 50 Images by Armando Milani was published in 2010. The following year Ferlinghetti contributed two of his poems to the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Italian unificationSongs of the Third World War and Old Italians Dying inspired the artists of the exhibition Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Italy 150 held in Turin, Italy.

Ferlinghetti always considered his art an extension of his personal anarcho-pacifist philosophy and socialist politics.  He echoed one of his heroes, Vachel Lyndsay in his Populist Manifesto, “Poets, come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors, You have been holed up too long in your closed worlds…Poetry should transport the public to higher places, than other wheels can carry it.”
Ferlinghetti's brand new novel/memoir.

Meaning what he wrote, he has often brought his poetry to the forefront of the struggle for peace and disarmament, civil rights, and justice. Most recently Ferlinghetti has published I Greet You At The Beginning Of A Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg 1955–1997 in 2015 and Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals, 1960-2010 the same year. Barely a week before his centennial his new novel/memoir/stream of consciousness screed Little Boy was launched.

The rise of the Age of Trump has spurred scathing poems that show none of the old fire has been quelled.

Ferlinghetti still lives above the Bookstore.  He travels as widely as he is able.  He continues to paint and in 2012 had a 50 year retrospective exhibit of his works on canvas. 
Ferlinghetti has always been an artist as well as a painter.  Liberty on Earth, 1992, mixed media.

His birthday will be celebrated with an open house party at City Lights Bookstore and neighboring cafés, bars, and galleries.  San Francisco Mayor London Breed has proclaimed March 24 Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day and several other events will be held across the city including a new solo exhibition of his paintings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti: 100 Years Without a Net at the Rena Branstein Gallery and a special screening of the documentary film Ferlinghetti by director Chris Felver at the Roxie Theater.

Way to go, master.  May we all live so long and so well.
Ferlinghetti at a jazz reading in the 1950's

Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

Constantly risking absurdity

                                             and death

            whenever he performs

                                        above the heads

                                                            of his audience

   the poet like an acrobat

                                 climbs on rime

                                          to a high wire of his own making

and balancing on eyebeams

                                     above a sea of faces

             paces his way

                               to the other side of day

    performing entrechats

                               and sleight-of-foot tricks

and other high theatrics

                               and all without mistaking

                     any thing

                               for what it may not be

       For he's the super realist

                                     who must perforce perceive

                   taut truth

                                 before the taking of each stance or step

in his supposed advance

                                  toward that still higher perch

where Beauty stands and waits

                                     with gravity

                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he

             a little charleychaplin man

                                           who may or may not catch

               her fair eternal form

                                     spreadeagled in the empty air

                  of existence

        Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind 

A gathering of Beat poets in 1971.  Ferlinghetti top row center with Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, , Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, Peter Orlovsky, and others.

Pity the Nation

After Khalil Gibran

Pity the nation whose people are sheep

And whose shepherds mislead them

Pity the nation whose leaders are liars

Whose sages are silenced

And whose bigots haunt the airwaves

Pity the nation that raises not its voice

Except to praise conquerers

And acclaim the bully as hero

And aims to rule the world

By force and by torture

Pity the nation that knows

No other language but its own

And no other culture but its own

Pity the nation whose breath is money

And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed

Pity the nation oh pity the people

who allow their rights to erode

and their freedoms to be washed away

My country, tears of thee

Sweet land of liberty!

—Lawrence Ferlinghetti  from A Coney Island of the Mind 

Ferlinghetti reading Trump's Trojan Horse.

Trump’s Trojan Horse

Homer didn’t live long enough
To tell of Trump’s White House
Which is his Trojan horse
From which all the president’s men
Burst out to destroy democracy
And install corporations
As absolute rulers of the world
Ever more powerful than nations
And it’s happening as we sleep
Bow down, oh Common Man
Bow down!

—Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

What Did Patrick Henry Really Say?

A particularly heroic rendition of Patrick Henry's Liberty or Death speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1775.

On March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry rose before the Virginia House of Burgesses meeting in Richmond to speak in support of mobilizing the Militia to oppose British military moves.  The speaker had a reputation as a firebrand.  He was reported to have said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”  The cheering House, already ousted from meeting in Williamsburg by edict of the Royal Governor and sitting illegally, was moved to opt for mobilization. 

Or so the story goes, as it was reconstructed by Henry’s biographer William Wirt in 1817.  No official record of the meeting reported the contents of the speech.  Only one contemporaneous written description survives.  In it Henry was quoted as alluding to the failure of the Crown to protect the colony from Indians and slave uprisings and was quoted as using some very intemperate and probably profane descriptions of the Governor, but no mention of famous phrase.

Wirt claimed to have reconstructed the speech form the fading memories of the few surviving members.  Whatever Henry said, however, if must have been a hell of a speech, for he was credited for calling Virginia to arms.  

Patrick Henry by Daniel Lynch

It was not Henry’s first famous speech, nor the first one whose exact wording is in doubt.  Ten years earlier as a freshman in House, He had introduced a resolution in opposition to the Stamp Act in terms so incendiary it brought charges of treason.  He was quoted as saying, Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!”  In fact the only eye witness account claims that Henry apologized to the body if they mistook his words for treason and asserted that he was a loyal subject of the King. 

Whatever he said worked, largely because he chose to introduce his resolution when a bare quorum of the House was present and the most ardent Crown loyalists were absent.

Henry was born to the middling level of Virginia planter society in 1736, the son of an educated Scottish emigrant.  His early career was rocky.  He twice failed as a planter before taking up the law.   
Henry rose to fame for "arguing the Parson's case
He made a name for himself by defending Louisa County, in a case about limiting the price of the tobacco paid in support of the Anglican Clergy. The British Parliament had overturned Virginia’s Two Penny Act and a local clergyman sued the county for back wages.  Henry simply ignored the law in the case and attacked clergy as “enemies of the community,” accused the King of tyranny for annulling the law, and said such a tyrant, “forfeits all right of obedience from his subject.”  The humiliated Padre was awarded 1 penny and Henry’s political career launched. 

Although an early ally of Thomas Jefferson, their temperaments, and ambitions were quite different and they soon found themselves often bitter rivals.  In 1776 Henry was elected the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia.  

The main theaters of the Revolution were far away in his term and he spent a lot of effort planning and executing an invasion of Cherokee lands, where he had land speculations. In 1789 he was succeeded by Jefferson just as the war began to heat up. 
After the Revolution, Henry was again served as Governor in 1784-86.  He refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787 because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”  Parting bitterly from his previous political ally and personal friend James Madison, Henry became one of the most vocal and extreme Anti-Federalists.  He voted against ratification in the Virginia convention of 1788, but Madison carried the day. 

Despite his views, George Washington, on the advice of Alexander Hamilton, first offered him the post of Secretary of State before turning to Jefferson. 

A 1955 U.S. Post office commemorative stamp in the Patriots series.

Henry’s politics took a sharp turn in the 1790’s after the outbreak of the French Revolution.  Over the years His personal fortunes had grown, thanks to a couple of fortuitous and strategic marriages, and he had become a wealthy large scale planter with hundreds of slaves.  With significant property to protect, he developed a fear and loathing of the same “rabble” to which he had been a popular hero.  With John Marshall he rallied Virginia Federalists and was elected to the House of Delegates. 

Three months before he could take his seat he died of stomach cancer at his plantation Red Hill on June 6, 1799.  Some biographers believe that the pain was so great that he poisoned himself.