Friday, August 28, 2009

 

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

 

In 1973, the one prisoner with whom I worked whom I absolutely knew in my gut was railroaded was a North Carolina moonshiner by the name of Cecil Lovedahl. Part of a group of returning WW2 vets who had taken up the manufacture & distribution of hootch, which was not only illegal, but horning in on what an older coterie of politically connected moonshiners thought was their monopoly, Lovedahl found himself at the wrong end of a plot to break up his goup. He had been riding in the back seat of a car that was involved in a fatal accident, killing the driver. The local pols saw it as an opportunity to break up the newcomers and charged Lovedahl with murder, though nobody could say why anyone in the back seat of a car would murder the driver while speeding on a dark mountain road. To escape a worse fate, his attorney (I forget whether he was a public defender or court-appointed) pled Lovedahl guilty over his own protestations in court, and he received a life sentence. Inside, Lovedahl deteriorated & attempted suicide several times, up to & including swallowing a box of straight pins. He would have been quietly released a couple of years later except for the fact that the prosecutor had risen quite high in state politics, with some thoughts of going even higher.

In my job at the Committee for Prisoner Humanity & Justice, I managed to arrange an out-of-state parole plan for Lovedahl through the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, but I still had to persuade the North Carolina political establishment, and especially that pol, that putting Lovedahl on the streets 2,500 miles from home wasn’t going to come back to haunt him. There was only one person I knew who might be able to accomplish this, so I called Ted Kennedy’s office in Massachusetts. Without even once asking “What’s in it for me?” Kennedy made the call, and Lovedahl got his parole. That might have been the end of the story but Lovedahl broke parole – after 20 years in prison, he found Delancey Street’s restrictions hard to take – & headed to Nevada, where he was arrested as a parole violator. An extradition hearing was held, but it was easy for the Washoe County public defender to show that Lovedahl should never have been convicted in the first place. Free so long as he remained in Nevada, Lovedahl stayed there the rest of his life.

I’ve always wondered just how many times over 46 years in the U.S. Senate Kennedy made those kinds of phone calls. He was not only the one senator in 1973 who might have made that gesture, he was also the only one who could have gotten that result. I fear that the same may have been true as recently as last week.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 

KRCB-FM’s Tribute to David Bromige

August 26, 2009  
7:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time

Katherine Hastings presents a one-hour tribute to the late poet David Bromige. The author of dozens of books and the recipient of many literary honors, David Bromige was also a former Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, a professor at Sonoma State University, and a mentor to many. His experimental style and sharp wit translated to a large collection of work so varied that the poems could easily be mistaken as the work of many. Born in London in 1933, Bromige died in Sebastopol in June of this year. Participating in tonight's program will be his wife, Cecelia Belle, their daughter, Margaret, and others. Recordings of Bromige reading his work will also be featured.

 To listen to the program:

 1) Tune in to KRCB 91.1 FM

2) Stream live at www.krcb.org

3) iTunes:Go to Radio/Public/KRCB

4) Comcast Cable TV, Santa Rosa, Channel 961

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Monday, August 24, 2009

 

During his life, I knew Jason Shinder only by his anthologies – Eternal Light: Grandparent Poems, Divided Light: Father and Son Poems, First Light: Mother and Son Poems, The Poem I Turn To: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them, Birthday Poems: A Celebration – and by his work with the YMCA, a niche quietist writing program that likes to pretend it’s diverse & confuses pompous with prestigious. At least in conversation, I’ve used the anthologies to explain why I don’t contribute to theme-based collections, even when well intentioned.¹ These collections, which promise to foreground sentiment in the most mawkish manner, represent everything about the School of Quietude I find cringe-worthy. They remind me that underneath every Grant Wood-style heartwarming American portrait lies a Ted Nugent-esque wingnut with a semiautomatic in the gun rack. And they remind me why Clement Greenberg felt it so important to oppose kitsch in his critical writing – precisely because it represented fascism with a human face.

Which is to say that I was unaware that Shinder had been Allen Ginsberg’s assistant. When Howl: The Poem that Changed the World came out, edited by Shinder, I thumbed through it, didn’t think it was especially well done even if I half-subscribed to book’s basic premise, and didn’t buy it. It never occurred to me that its editor was this same Jason Shinder I had seen in these other contexts.

So that when I opened Stupid Hope, Shinder’s posthumous collection lovingly edited by four friends – Sophie Cabot Black, Lucie Brock-Broido, Tony Hoagland & Marie Howe – I was completely unprepared for what I was about to find:

Afterwards

I remember the shame I felt after the news

of the illness that I was not as lovable
as I thought. I must have done something

wrong. And then

I was content in my disappointment
which kept me alone. It was a kind of courage

that allowed me to go on without comfort.

It was a kind of beauty when there was no one
I wanted near.

Or

Poetry

What I am saying is not my true condition.

And what do I do if I am but am not?

I have my own life but it is not persuasive to me.

What she was doing, there was no way to remember it.

I can never find a color I love.

I believe I will love but get the day wrong.

I don’t do what my friends say I do.

These are spare, unflinching, brilliant poems, utterly without sentiment. Or maybe not without sentiment, but understanding it in a new way, as the tonal cover we extend to loss so that it is not too horrible to look at.

Winter

If I could stop hoping for a month,

stop praying for a month, I could be alone again
with God in the old way, in a room at the end

of a hall and ask why it gets late early now.

Shinder’s poems transcend their SoQ roots, I think, for the same reason that Rae Armantrout’s acts of linguistic vertigo can make it into The New Yorker. The poems are so pared down that readers who do not come to them with the same set of shared assumptions about poetry don’t get bogged down in the trappings of their larger social context. Would I feel the same way about Shinder’s earlier books, all published by houses like Indiana and Sheepmeadow, presses to which I pay almost no attention? I really have no idea. Facing one’s own death – especially as Shinder did in the poems – can have a profound impact on how one conducts one’s art. But Shinder suffered with the cancer that finally killed him for at least a dozen years. Possibly he’s one of those quietists – like Wendell Berry & Jack Gilbert – who has always been worth reading. I don’t know. But I intend to find out.

 

¹ Short version: it’s the wrong way to read poetry. It’s precisely where the “news” in poetry is not. Such anthologies always discredit whatever theme they seek to advance, whether it’s anti-war poetry or works about third cousins twice removed.

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