Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Thursday, November 15, 2018


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Today in DC

Sunday, September 30, 6PM

2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC

Readers in addition to co-editors Silliman and Krick will include K. Lorraine Graham, Ryan Walker, Buck Downs & Rod Smith

Friday, September 28, 2018

Realized today that I have attended something like 4,000 poetry readings in my life. What a great gift that has been.

And, yes, the Bromige reading at Saint Marks, was probably the best of the entire bunch. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

David Bromige:
Posthumous World Tour

The tour continues.

We are celebrating the life and poetry of David Bromige (1933 - 2009), the London-born, Canadian-American poet who began as a star pupil of the Black Mountain poets, emerged as a major language writer, and evolved into a fiercely independent voice from deep within California’s wine country.

And we are introducing if wants to be the same as is: Essential Poems of David Bromigewith generous selections from each of his published books of poetry (including the complete My Poetry) plus the never published epic American Testament. Edited by Jack Krick, Bob Perelman & Ron Silliman with an introduction by George Bowering.  

Tuesday, September 25, 6 PM

3805 Locust Walk

Readers will include all three editors, plus Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Steve Dolph, Ryan Eckes, George Economou, Eli Goldblatt, Tom Mandel, Crhis McCreary, Jason Mitchell, Frank Sherlock, Charles Bernstein & Orchid Tierney

Wednesday, September 26, 8 PM
St. Marks Church
131 E. 10th Street
New York City

Readers will include all three editors, plus Bruce Andrews, Steve Benson, Charles Bernstein, Lee Ann Brown, Abigail Child, Brian Carpenter, Nada Gordon, Michael Gottlieb, Erica Hunt, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Stan Mir, Nick Piombino, & James Sherry

Sunday, September 30, 6PM

2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC

Readers in addition to co-editors Silliman and Krick will include K. Lorraine Graham, Ryan Walker, Buck Downs & Rod Smith

Friday, October 12
Details to be announced
Vancouver, BC

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


Where We Are Now

When I was a young man, I wrote law. I was not a lawyer, having no degree beyond my high school diploma, although I had attended a few colleges as a creative writing and/or English major before dropping out from UC Berkeley to perform “alternative” service as a Conscientious Objector to the military. That service I performed as a volunteer case worker for the Committee for Prisoner Humanity and Justice (CPHJ),  headquartered in San Rafael, California, a couple of miles from San Quentin State Prison. My “alternative” service obligation ended abruptly at the end of 1972 when Rep. Ron Dellums (D  - Berkeley) forced the Selective Service to concede that the induction of COs at a time when the army had stopped inducting draftees was illegal.

That determination had multiple consequences for me. The most important personally was that I was able to convince CPHJ to hire me as a full time employee, and that I be permitted to work on more substantial projects than just casework. I soon became the director of education at a lofty salary of $235 per month and spent the next four-plus years working to end the indeterminate sentence in California. I was one of a half-dozen or so active authors of the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act that then-governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 1977, the purpose of which was to render punishment less capricious, less political, less racist.

The other active participants in that legislation, which effectively rewrote the sentencing portion of some 3,000 felonies that you could commit in California, did include lawyers, most notably Michael Salerno, a staff member who worked for state senator John Nejedly (R – Contra Costa). Nejedly was a former district attorney of Contra Costa county who actively promoted his self-image as “Iron John Nejedly,” a bad-ass pro-law enforcement type who had come out against the existing law (in which every sentence for a felony in California was slotted into one of three categories: six-months to 50 years; one year to life; and the death penalty, which at that moment was on the books but not being carried out due to having been declared unconstitutional [temporarily] by the US Supreme Court). Nejedly conveyed what he thought of the existing law by always wearing a Mickey Mouse watch. He knew that the existing structure was racist and being used politically by the California Department of Corrections. He simply wanted the law to mean what it said. Radical notion, that.

It was Nejedly who sponsored the legislation, but it was a motley coalition of legislative staffers and outside volunteers from the prison movement who actually wrote it. One, Frank Smith of the Prisoners Union, was an ex-convict. Another, Clarence Williams, who worked for the speaker of the Assembly, Willie Brown (D – San Francisco), was intending to go to law school, but at the time his expertise was that he had the trust of the most powerful legislator in the state. Salerno himself was still attending UC Davis law school and had not yet passed the bar. Valmar Schaaf, a Marin County civil engineer who was the chair of the board at CPHJ, was another major contributor. Beyond this inner core were a large number of other commentators, ranging from Jan Marinissen of the American Friends Service Committee to Popeye Jackson of the United Prisoners Union, Fay Stender of the Prison Law Project (and better known as George Jackson’s attorney in the Soledad Brothers case), Eve Pell and Patty Roberts of the Prison Law Collective, Willie and Patty Holder of the Prisoners Union as well some of their attorneys, Jim Smith and Michael Snedecker.

Rewriting some 3,000 separate statutes in a democracy is a messy political process. One consequence of the too-many-cooks nature of drafting this legislation was that the bill as finally enacted misspelled “forcible” in the rape section of the law simply because Salerno was not a great speller. Although this was pointed out to him at the time, he refused to correct his preferred “forceable.” I believe the error was later amended in a “clean-up” bill that was passed long after I had left CPHJ for work at Hospitality House in San Francisco.

At Hospitality House, I worked first on an ethnography of the agency’s neighborhood, the Tenderloin, then cobbled together a job editing the community newspaper, the Tenderloin Times, running a writers workshop under the sponsorship of the California Arts Council, and worked on housing legislation to preserve the neighborhood’s stock of Single-Room Occupancy hotels. To this day, that housing, a good portion of it now owned by a series of neighborhood nonprofits, is the largest remaining stock of low-income affordable housing in San Francisco.

So these 40-year-old experiences are the background I carry with me when I read and think about the nomination of “originalist” Bret Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. When I was with CPHJ, Willie Brown actively tried to persuade me to attend Hastings School of Law where, he assured me, he could guarantee my acceptance as an ex-officio member of its Board of Regents. At the time, I thought that was a terrible idea. My commitment, as I kept telling anyone who would listen, was to poetry and the art of language. Forty years hence, not having been a lawyer is one of my major accomplishments.

But this background informs my sense of the willies (no pun intended, Mr. Brown) as I hear Kavanaugh depicted as an originalist. In theory, originalism is a legal framework put forward by reactionaries to justify their attempts to block, overturn and/or undo any progress made in the law since 1789. It has a narrow interpretation, in which language is presumed to be essentially unchanging in meaning, and a broader, looser one, in which justices ought merely to interpret any legislation as its authors originally intended. It is my understanding that Kavanaugh is being presented as an example of the latter tendency, but it is the entire notion of originalism that creeps me out. Underneath it, and far scarier, is what is being done now politically, by this administration and this Congress, to enact a fascist regime in the United States. I fear that the damage they doing may last until the end of time. Which, given their impact on the environment, may be around the year 2300, if not sooner. In short, I think that the women protestors who show up at events these days dressed as handmaids out of Margaret Attwood’s dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, are not guilty of hyperbole in the slightest. They are being true to their language and the language, which separates them out from originalists entirely.

The narrow interpretation of originalism is easily demonstrated as ahistorical to the point of illiteracy. One classic example of how language always changes meaning over time is that the “men” referenced in the Declaration of Independence in the phrase that “all men are created equal” is now taken to mean all human beings, whereas to Thomas Jefferson et al, it implied white men who owned property. Another good example is rapture, an offence for which Chaucer was once convicted. Today we don’t think of rape and rapture as synonymous, though perhaps we should.

More importantly here, all language is a system of difference, of differences, so that the meaning of any given word lies not inherit within it – this is the source of the humor within onomatopoeia – but only in reference to its position within the entire system. The system of 1789 included the active acceptance of slavery, with all that implies, including the separation of families, the rape of women and children, the disposal of property through murder. No reference to women appears in the Constitution until, in the 20th century, the 19th amendment states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Slavery is mentioned only in the 13th amendment, and note that it is specifically permitted “as a punishment for crime.” Mass incarceration, which got started during the Reagan years and really picked up steam during Bill Clinton’s presidency, needs to be understood as an attempt to overturn the fundamental result of the Civil War.

This is the duplicity underneath the looser interpretation of originalism. What it implies is that any statute or executive order ought to be interpreted in ways that best preserve the regime of white male privilege under which every law written has been enacted. Again, consider the language of the 19th Amendment: its presumption is that the rights of citizens may be denied or abridged, and that this is normal behavior. The Constitution only forbids this on the narrow grounds of sex, a term that is otherwise undefined.

The problem here is not that originalism is a silly notion whose seriousness is plausible only in the beer-soaked environs of a man cave, but that it is being proposed with a straight face (pun intended) by the Federalist Society as an approach to governing. The reasons for this are transparent enough. White males make up something like 31 percent of the American population. Anyone can see the handwriting on the wall if the increasing diversity of the American population is accompanied with increasing power shared by groups that were not conceived by Thomas Jefferson some 242 years ago under the category of “men.” The goal of originalism is to afford a mantle of legal respectability to a regime of rights suppression that will keep white males firmly in charge for as long as possible.

Of course, if originalists meant what they claimed for the law, the Second Amendment would be read as interpreting that the constitution allows for the possession of arms as that term was understood in 1789: single round, buckshot rifles and blunderbuss pistols.

It was both technical innovation and the preservation of slavery that gave rise to the Colt 45 revolver, a gun that would enable a slave holder to outgun any rebellion of servants. The test of originalism as I see it turns precisely on what its proponents say about the Second Amendment. If, as seems to be the case with the GOP today, it means that any psychotic has the right to an AR-15, then you are not an originalist. But if you say you are in spite of all evidence, what does that mean precisely?

If ever there were an administration of the unreconstructed white male it is the Trump presidency, a small potatoes crime family posing as a government. But if white male rage at increasing political impotence is the fuel of this process, just as originalism might be its legal figleaf, it is capital that benefits, which gets us around to the architect of this whole shebang, the biggest capitalist on the planet, the one whose wealth is so great that he is not included in any of Forbes lists of billionaires, our good friend Vladimir Putin. I think Putin understands full well the pressures and strains on American society that having a government that is out of touch with its people can bring. And even if he does not – Russia is no paragon of anything, even kleptocracy – clearly he benefits from a US that looks increasingly like Russia. Further, capitalism itself benefits from a less progressive United States. Which is why the Republican Party, that cabal of white males, is so eagerly looking the other way.

The Brett Kavanaugh nomination is merely an important chess move in a very large game in which the legal system of  the US is a crucial part. From Putin’s perspective, having the US thrashing about in social turmoil under an incompetent boob is itself the victory. I doubt that any Russian official expected too much in the way of obedience from its abused puppy of a politician. Russia merely wants incompetence and boy howdy has that effort been a success.

This means that I think that Mueller will find that the amount of real collusion between Russia and the US was minimal, even if the Trumponauts tried mightily to make it so during the election and are still willing to go after a Bruce Ohr to make Moscow happy. I just don’t think the Russians are stupid enough to think that Donald Trump is a reliable anything. But, yes, they hacked and they used social media and the inherent anti-democratic nature of the electoral college to put their pawn into play at the White House.

What this means to you and me is all bad news. We are in for a period in which the courts become a major blocking point preventing the US from reaching its potential as a diverse modern democracy, because to do so would mean having to curtail the white male privilege that is being so profoundly defended. I would not be surprised to see the Trump administration operating more and more like the Nazis or the reaction in the streets to be an even more violent replay of 1968 than the original, complete with assassinations, riots and tanks in the streets. The handmaids are right on target with this, and that makes me fear, especially for the fragments of a world that my children will have to deal with.

All the while, global capital gets a pass. The one rule is that capital always accumulates – it’s a logic by which someday one guy (probably not Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Vladimir Putin) has all the money and the rest of the planet lives in one giant favela. In the past 30 years we have seen the richest men on the planet go from $30 billion to over $100 billion and some people estimate Putin’s personal wealth at twice that. We already have two corporations worth one trillion dollars. The gross domestic product of this entire planet is under 300 trillion. And we are seeing the likes of Elon Musk buying their own personal islands as escapes in case the locals make too much noise about the unfairness of it all.

Crippling the best parts of the American experiment serves a lot of agendas, and borders, white nationalism, the use of carbon-based energy and the notion of originalism all contribute to this crippling. As a member of the New American Movement when it merged with Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form the Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), I am heartened by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Ayanna Pressley coming to the fore of political life in this country. Organization is essential. No battle is too small, no group too marginal to matter. It all matters. But the battle that lies ahead of us will prove to be much more difficult than merely stopping an unjust war in Vietnam, and we can expect to experience horrific defeats along the way.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Incremental Windows, James Garrahan's documentary of David Bromige, available for viewing NOW on YouTube. Don't forget to come to the Posthumous World Tour -- next stop, Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia. 

Monday, August 06, 2018


David Bromige:
Posthumous World Tour

There will be a series of readings on both coasts to celebrate the life and poetry of David Bromige (1933 – 2009), the London-born, Canadian-American poet. In addition to the three editors of if wants to be the same as is: Essential Poems of David Bromige, Jack Krick, Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman, plus a host of David’s friends, the opening event in Sebastopol will also feature the world premiere of James Garrahan’s documentary Incremental Windows, based on a series of interviews with Bromige. Books will be available.

Friday, August 17, 6 PM
Sebastopol Center for the Arts
282 High Street
Sebastopol, CA

Saturday, August 18, 6 PM
Alley Cat Books,
3036 24th Street
San Francisco

Tuesday, September 25, 6 PM
Kelly Writers House
3805 Locust Walk

Wednesday, September 26, 8 PM
St. Marks Church,
131 E. 10th Street
New York City

Sunday, September 30, 6PM
Bridge Street Books
2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC

Friday, October 12
Details to be determined
Vancouver, BC

Sunday, October 14
Details to be determined
Seattle, WA

Monday, January 22, 2018


Writing Across Borders

Penn Students: I still have a few seats available in my Writing Across Borders class that meets on Wednesdays from 2 until 5 in Kelly Writers House (upstairs in room 203). Feel free to join the class.

Writing Across Borders, English 127.301

Butterflies and hurricanes pay no heed to borders, but humans will risk their lives to cross them, build walls to mark them and kill to defend them. At a moment when the number of displaced persons is just under one percent of the human race, more than at any time since the Second World War, and is projected to rise steeply over the next 30 years, questions of borders and identities are inescapable in our writing. This topic will define the next century. What does it mean to talk of American poetry?  How do our heritage(s) as citizen, resident, explorer, refugee, immigrant, tourist, trader, slave or raider condition the present and future of writing. How do race, class and gender enter in? This class will examine recent texts that explore these questions as well as look to the future. Authors under consideration will include (among many others) Caroline Bergvall, Amiri Baraka, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Aimé Césaire, Habib Tengour, M. NourbeSe Philip, Divya Victor and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We will watch films by Nikita Mikhalov and Ousmane Sembene. There will be opportunities to look at some of the theoretical and historical backgrounds of these issues if a student should so wish.

Required texts (not otherwise online)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Americanah
Caroline Bergvall, Drift
Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Landtranslated & edited by Clayton Eshleman & Annette Smith with an introduction by André Breton
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong!
Habib TengourExile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Readeredited and translated by Pierre Joris
Divya Victor, Kith

     Major online resources
Poetry Foundation’s collection: Poems on Immigration
Eclipse Archive: The Black Radical Tradition
Leonard Schwartz: Cross Cultural Poetics

Recommended works
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty
Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism,
C.S. Giscombe, Border Towns
Pierre Joris, A Nomad Poetics
Claudia Rankine et al, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind
Ousman Sembene, any of his films, but especially 
CeddoBlack GirlXala and Moolaadé
TC Tolbert & Tim Trace Peterson, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Heriberto Yépez
Transnational Battle Field (the strikethrough is intentional)

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Saturday, November 04, 2017


Reading Tonight


Peter Manson

fresh from the symposium

on the man & his work

at the University of Glasgow


The Hiding Place

in the Bok Building
1901 S. 9th Street

Room 306


7 to 10 PM


Wednesday, October 25, 2017


My nephew, Luke, turns 18 today. His plan in life is to become a filmmaker. This past August, he spent most of the month at our house and we got to go together to Manhattan, to Philly and to DC -- watching him explore is itself an education, and a good operational definition for me of the meaning of happiness.

Luke had just started at Columbia College in Chicago this month when he fell from a bridge, a 30-foot drop, breaking his leg, hip and pelvis as well as cracking his spine. He has a long, hard recovery ahead of him. He's a great, brilliant kid and strong enough to do everything he will need to do, but in the nation of capitalist healthcare with just out-of-state Medicaid, he needs all the support he can get just to make it through the basics of recovery the next few months. More details on his sister's GoFundMe page, raising funds to help him stay in school as he heels. Anything you can do will be appreciated!!


Sunday, September 03, 2017


The Worldwide Reading
of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights on September 6, 2017


Presented by
Poetry In Common, Peace / Works,
Leonard Gontarek and Alicia Askenase

With Poets And Writers including:

The Event Will Include A Reading Of The 30 Articles Of The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights By The Poets And Writers, As Well As A Reading Of Their Own Work And Others.

The date is Wednesday, September 6, 2017, 4 PM.
The time is 4-6 PM.
The location is The Plateau,
a sculpture located on 40th Street in West Philadelphia,
next to the Walnut Street West Library,
which is on the Southeast corner of 40th & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia PA, USA.
The event is outdoors – and free

Saturday, July 22, 2017


My reading at the University of Paris Diderot

with translations by Martin Richet

March 7, 2017

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 22, 2017


Within the past year, there have been three major motion pictures built around poets and poetry – Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson,  Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, and Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion, a biopic of Emily Dickinson played by Cynthia Nixon. Only in the first of these is the poetry – penned by Ron Padgett but assigned in the film to a Paterson, NJ bus driver likewise named Paterson – really what the film is about. In each, the question of the writer’s relationships is central to the film’s scope and development, and to some degree one could read these films as different studies in what happens when a human being takes on this mysterious second skin as a writer of verse.

Paterson, which is about a fictional writer in the downscale industrial suburb of New York that looks nostalgically to its poetic heritage (as well as to comic Lou Costello) for a last, lingering sense of worth, is constructed around one of the sweetest relationships in recent film, between Adam Driver’s quietly brooding Paterson, a meditative-to-depressive soul who doesn’t say a lot, and his perpetually optimistic starter-of-a-million-creative-projects girlfriend, Laura (Goldshiftah Farahani), a gal who comes with her own color scheme. This may well be Adam Driver’s best film performance, and you can see and sense him writing as he overhears conversations in the course of daily life. 

The relationship in Neruda is less between the poet and his partner Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) than between Pablo and Óscar Peluchonneau, the Director General of Police Investigations charged with bringing Neruda in during one of Chile’s periodic neo-fascist periods in the 1940s. Played by Gael García Bernal as a noir cop – more a wannabe Bogart than a Broderick Crawford – Peluchonneau becomes obsessed with his target, who rouses opposition to the crackdown by refusing to escape the country, preferring instead to visit the brothels that are portrayed here more as nightclubs for intellectuals with half-naked ladies there for the fucking. Pointedly, when Carril suggests getting pregnant as a means of defying the regime, Neruda (who in “real life” had one son he didn’t see after his Dutch first wife went back to Europe) heads straight to the brothel where everyone interrupts what they’re doing to watch him read. 

A Quiet Passion is more disciplined in its treatment of its poet, but not a lot. The screen play with its consciously stilted dialog presents the role of 19th century bourgeois women as nearly as constrained as that of  The Handmaid’s Tale, which it suggests is very much the way Dickinson herself wanted it. Gradually the poet reduces her contact with men to her brother Austen, whose affair with Mabel Loomis Todd is treated entirely from the perspective of Dickinson’s negative reaction. Notably absent is her most important male relationship, with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who is not mentioned once. A viewer can be forgiven for not suspecting that Higginson and Todd were the editors who first made Dickinson famous. In standard Hollywood cliché, we see Dickinson writing with Nixon’s off-screen voice-over augmented by music to signal its quality. 

Were it not for Nixon’s superb performance playing a prickly, brittle personality who is becoming just a little crazier by the year, but who dies of Bright’s Disease before she can get to mad-woman-in-the-attic status, there wouldn’t be much to see in A Quiet Passion. Neruda is not García Bernal’s best work and there is not enough focus on Luis Gnecco’s Neruda, period. But I could watch a nine-hour version of Driver guiding his bus, going to the local tavern, straightening his mailbox, sleeping beside Laura, penning patient little poems one word at a time. Oddly enough, the fate of Driver’s poems is more of an issue in the Jarmusch film than Dickinson’s in Passion. But then, for Jarmusch, they’re real poems. And that makes all the difference. 

In each case, the film’s tension is at least in part between a figure and this other thing they are involved with beyond any relationship, as if poetry were a code for any kind of interest in a serious pursuit outside of the conjugal bed. Paterson could be making whirligigs for all it matters: his interest in the poem doesn’t compete with his love for Laura any more than her painting the shower curtains competes with hers. Neruda as played by Gnecco is self-important, far more readily a politician than a poet, but also an inspiration to the popular resistance. His partner’s self-abnegation is an effect of a cruelty he’s not even conscious of. But tellingly this is not a film about the poet and his partner so much as it is about Bernal’s unrequited desire for his suspect, the homoerotics of detective work. Dickinson on the other hand makes a point, repeatedly, of turning away from relationships, to the point that she stops seeing outsiders at all. You wouldn’t know from this film that two-thirds of her poetry was written before she was thirty-six, and that her final two decades were much less about her writing than the decades before.


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