Saturday, April 30, 2022

Ending Not With a Whimper but With a Bang Content Warning—National Poetry Month 2022

 

So called Open Up America protestors had taken to the streets to claim their time in the lime light while progressives and true patriots others wouldn't or couldn't out of respect for pandemic protocols.  It was just the beginning of a movement that now terrorizes school boards and health care workers in the name of some kind of freedom to spit in everyone else's face.

I was preparing a final post for National Poetry Month when I rediscovered this ultimate post from 2000.  The Coronavirus was new, the whole nation was hunkered down.  We had no idea that would still be going on or that we would be so weary and jaded by the whole thing and we pretend it is over.  And we were still reeling from the aftermath of attempted coup d’etat and Siege of the Capitol.  We were beginning to adjust to the possibility of actual civil war.  Two years later scores of miscreants have gone to jail, mostly pathetic small fry while the powerful sponsors of treason remain uncharged and sit in Congress and in governor’s mansions.  Back then multiple folks shared this stunning poetic rant on Facebook and other social media.  It is raw with rage and grief, but it dared to speak to what many of us were feeling during the pandemic cum charnel house as yahoos, cult zombies, and outright fascists paraded around egged on by the White House and bankrolled by deep dark pockets demanding their rights to spit in the face of the rest of us, kill us and our loved ones.

Writer C.S.E. Cooney was one pissed off woman.

It seems as relevant today as when it erupted from C.S.E. Cooney who lives and writes in Queens, New York City, whose borders are water. According to her web site she is an audiobook narrator, the appears as the singer/songwriter Brimstone Rhine, and is the author of Desdemona and the Deep and the World Fantasy Award-winning Bone Swans: Stories.  Her work includes three albums: Alecto! Alecto!, The Headless Bride, and Corbeau Blanc, Corbeau Noir, and a poetry collection, How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes. The latter features her 2011 Rhysling Award-winning The Sea King’s Second Bride.

Note—this is not for the prissy, the weak of heart, or any knee jerk on-the-other-hand types.

Gun toting neo-fascists were a prominent part of the first open up rally at the Michigan capitol in Lancing.  Trump tweeted "Liberate Michigan!"  "Liberate Minnesota!"  "Liberate Virginia!"

Content Warning

if that is freedom, fuck it

i don’t want it

to walk bare as a genital wart in the mayo clinic

swollen with liberty, flying the colors of the flag

fuck it, fuck your freedoms

give me plexiglass prisons, given me wardens in hazmat

give me solitary confinement

give me an oubliette

so I can forget

you and your fanfaronade freedoms

 

to hold my dying elder’s hand in hospice

that is freedom

you, your ilk, you kick it to dust

you kick it to dust with your leather shoes

to meet at feast together, eat together

marry on the day we choose

let our doctors see their children again

such freedom

you crush with as much disgust as the snake

beneath your heel

 

my venom grows

every night, every morning

chokevine murderthoughts

thorn and strangle me:

the freedom to be kind, to forgive

to live and let live

all flayed away

I am a criminal in my own mind

I deserve my chains

 

I don’t know what you deserve

(to do time for war crimes is what you deserve)

I don’t know what you think you deserve

but you take it anyway

no matter what it takes away from

all the rest of us

 

my friend, swaddled like a sarcophagus in the morgue

for one last look at her sister’s face

my friend, in her lonely hotel room, decontaminating her scrubs

while she Skypes with her cat

my friend, who stares out the window as Washington Heights

bangs its pots and pans

so tired, too tired to join the humble ├ęclat, tired

from doing nothing, from staying inside, keeping the city safe

 

you spit in the face of my friends

you spit in the face of my friends

you little shit

you little shit

 

C.S.E. Cooney

Friday, April 29, 2022

John Paul Wright the Workingman Poet—National Poetry Month 2022

John Paul Wright--musician, poet, labor activist.

As we near the end of National Poetry Month and approach May Day, the true International Labor Day it is appropriate we turn to a representative of a truly overlooked demographicworking class white menJohn Paul Wright certainly fits the bill, but he also stretches and confounds all preconceptions and stereotypes.

Wright comes from a family of working class radicals and activists including his father and immigrant mother and a stepfather.   Mom came out as lesbian in a hostile border state Kentucky community and imbued her son with a love of music, verse, and a daring to explore.

An activist since high school, he self-educated himself on working people’s struggles including not only the work of Eugene Debs and the radical labor union he joined—the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), but less well known things like Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty In California (EPIC) program.  More recently he connected with farmer/eco-activist/poet Wendell Berry and Bernie Sanders’s democratic socialism.

John Paul Wright, second from right standing, and the Board of Railroad Workers United,

The Kentuckian has spent several years as an engineer on CSX—the former Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and the various lines it merged with or swallowed.  A dedicated union man he was a leading member and Co-chair of Railroad Workers United, a national organization of rail workers dedicated to promoting safety and justice on the job and was an active member of the old Brotherhood of Railway Locomotive Engineers, the United Transportation Union (UTU), the Teamsters and of rank-and-file groups in them.  But Wright, steeped in labor lore from a union household is also a Red card carrying member of the IWW—the radical industrial union co-founded by his hero Eugene V. Debs.

More recently he has been the fireman and watchman while in port of the Belle of Louisville, last surviving Western Rivers Paddlewheel Steamboat left operating in the United States.

The Bell of Louisville at dock in the evening.

But Wright’s interests and influences are surprisingly wide and deep.  Besides Appalachian folk and blues, he studied congas, West African Djembe drums, and tribal dancing while working with the Pigeon Nest Education Urban Ministry and Arts in the early ‘90’s.   

Wright playing the West African Djembe.

He has also seen some bleak times, especially after the break-up of his long-time marriage to his wife and sometime musical collaborator Donna Wright Brown.  He remained close to his son Jonah William-Malik Wright who recently moved to the West Coast.  Wright has suffered from periods of depression and near homelessness.

But he has been artistically productive.  Through his own Railroadmusic label he has released three CDs of cover and original materialMusic for Modern Railroaders in 2007, Born Union in 2011, and Singing to the Choir in 2013.  On his Long Steel Rail Press imprint, he has published four books of poetry—Reading the Rails and The Table both in 2017, Even Further: Collected Poems 2015-2017 the next year, and Sabbatical of the Belle in 2019.

In addition, Wright often posts songs, storytelling, and observations in video clips on his Facebook page.  His work can also be found on his website The Thread in the Quilt.


Wright recently told something of his own story in this Facebook post.

04/25/22

 

This body of work. This folder of well worn

papers-dog eared, active real folk songs about

union organizing, some of this body on a

hard drive or some post off Instagram,

digitally stored for later—agony filled edits

copy and pasted. This work that inspires

long nights alone - river walking ghosts

whisper metaphoric renderings of reality

lost and found. This body half broken—

worn down from a past job that found me

gone five hundred miles when the day was.

And was now, is many songs about pride

in work, traditions lost forever, workplace

injury, hardship, families broken, union

battles won, lost, a real life railroad blues.

A body of work self published under stress

from cover to cover about going to the

source, till death did us part, a blues of

impermanence that transformed into

downstream river lore, alone again,

growing harder and on the verge of tears

with age bonded like father and son.

Laughing inside every time I hear another

college educated writer talk about the stale

academic—inside the box problem, however

hard it is to accredit the darkness of a

mental breakdown. Can’t we all agree that

shit rises to the top? But don’t take me

ungrateful. Don’t think me on’ry and mean.

My heroes have always been outlaws,

like Debs, jailed, his union smashed by the

state, or Anne and Carl, white folks willing

to trade their lives over to the cause. My

Father and Mother, Step-Father, radical

working people, Dad married an immigrant's

kid, Mom came out when being Gay was

not all rainbows and an alphabet maze of

community, step-father, and mother union

retirees now raising grand-babies. This

body of work electric like the fair trade

of a good day’s work—for all wealth is made

by labor! This body is creative and tired ...

Jesus,

sometimes I just wanna lay down and

die, but what would be the point of that

when a new love is so delicious and fine!

 

John Paul Wright

 

In December 2020 Wright explained his mission.

 

I Am Not An Influencer . . .

 

I am not an Influencer . . .

only here on the take.

I am not here to play a gig—a

Because—

we are the frogs in that e-conomy.

Share,

because that is what

we were taught as children.

Like,

because good work deserves

attention and praise.

Subscribe,

because it is

an open invitation.

As desperate as it may seem—a

to live a quiet life goes against

inner workings instilled.

This is my orchard.

I offer these words like

apples, pears and wild flowers.

This music – my peaches.

These images collected were born

of many a harvest.

You are the bee to this creative

fire . . . I grow from your consumption.

Enjoy . . .

like our

lives depend

on it.

You are the thread in

the quilt that holds together

The Folk Tradition.

 

John Paul Wright

 

Finally, consider this one:

Ode to a Simple Man

 

Honey Nut toasted oats late at night

work boots under the desk, no reason

to get all worked up about nothing anymore.

This is an ode to all the things I did not say.

All the things I knew, but better not contradict

the stone throwers in these so-called times.

Coming straight home and going to bed with

time well spent doing something, anything

productive other than having nothing to say.

In crazy love with the analog moon tonight!

How the thin clouds covered her like a see-

through nightgown full-bodied and bright.

 

John Paul Wright


Thursday, April 28, 2022

An Out of Season Christmas Carol from Billy Collins—National Poetry Month 2022

 

Billy Collins reading in 2008.

Billy Collins is one of the best loved and most widely read contemporary American poets.  He was an exceptionally high profile United States Poet Laureate from 2001-03.  He disdains obscurity and embraces a plain spoken, conversational style.  To read, or better yet listen to him read one of his pieces is to feel that you are engaged in a wonderful conversation with a witty friend. His topics are often seemingly mundane, reflecting on ordinary life and its sometimes surprises.  He stands outside any literary movement.  All of this has made him suspect to many academics, some of whom seem to regard widespread popularity with general readers as proof of shallowness.

A Christmas Eve flight over West Texas inspired these musings which would surprise the mostly conservative Christians below him and many of his progressive and sophisticate readers who suspect that the locals are red neck racists.  Thus does a mostly apolitical poet engage both our communal divisions and challenge our smug assumptions.  This verse appeared in Collins’s 2013 Random House collection Aimless Love.

An East Texas Bethlehem from the air.

Flying Over West Texas at Christmas

Oh, little town far below
with a ruler line of a road running through you,
you anonymous cluster of houses and barns,
miniaturized by this altitude
in a land as parched as Bethlehem
might have been somewhere around the year zero—

a beautiful song should be written about you
which choirs could sing in their lofts
and carolers standing in a semicircle
could carol in front of houses topped with snow.

For surely some admirable person was born
within the waffle-iron grid of your streets,
who then went on to perform some small miracles,
placing a hand on the head of a child
or shaking a cigarette out of the pack for a stranger.

But maybe it is best not to compose a hymn
or chisel into tablets the code of his behavior
or convene a tribunal of men in robes to explain his words.

Let us not press the gold leaf of his name
onto a page of vellum or hang his image from a nail.
Better to fly over this little town with nothing
but the hope that someone visits his grave

once a year, pushing open the low iron gate
then making her way toward him
through the rows of the others

before bending to prop up some flowers before the stone.

 

—Billy Collins