Kevin Hughes on Free Verse
Poems of Witness by James K. Zimmerman
Creation - a poem by Gabriel Guerra
Meteor Shower by Anne Whitehouse - a Review
Tribute to Omer Hadžiselimović by MiloradPejić
Protest Series - David H. Rommereim
Opinion Essay by Ryan Ritchie
It took me less than a minute to find a picture of South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace standing behind a dead fish. The shot was posted July 25 on Facebook and shows the recently elected United States Representative smiling as she looks into the camera standing behind what moments earlier was a sentient being.
This photograph matters because it proves Mace is a hypocrite, the kind who bends rules for political gain. We shouldn’t be surprised. She’s a politician.
Mace isn’t alone. The hashtag “ArrestFauci” trended Sunday on Twitter after multiple media outlets reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institutes of Health provided a grant to a Tunisian lab where dogs were reportedly tortured and killed — some had their vocal cords removed so they wouldn’t bark during the testing. According to some outlets, the supposed research involved injecting beagles with parasites that cause diseases.
If you are like Mace and the thought of dogs being tortured bothers you — good. It should. But where is Mace’s consistency? Why is she smiling in a picture of a dead fish yet killing dogs is an act that caused her and 23 colleagues to pen a letter to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases? That fish didn’t want to be pulled from the water to sit for a photograph just like those beagles never volunteered to participate in something posing as scientific experimentation.
The answer to those questions is, of course, money. Specifically, the fact that American taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this supposed “research.”
Mace is correct. No government and no person should ever torture animals. The countless others who made “ArrestFauci” trend are also correct. If the allegations are true, Fauci should face serious consequences if he knew animals would be tortured (and if he didn’t know? That’s an equally serious offense.)
But Mace, her 23 colleagues and anyone else who made “ArrestFauci” trend have some explaining to do. What did Mace, her colleagues and those social media users have for Sunday breakfast? And for lunch? A snack? Dinner?
I’d love to think everyone involved in “ArrestFauci” is vegan, but they’re not. I know this because I’ve been vegan for approximately 18 years (vegetarian since Thanksgiving 1997) and can count on both hands — not including the thumbs — the amount of ethical plant-based eaters I consider close friends. I know plenty of pescatarians, vegetarians and whatever-atarians, but the number of people who intentionally forgo animal products because they know (emphasis on “know”) animal cruelty in all of its heinous forms is wrong is infinitesimal.
For years, research has suggested that one percent of the world’s population is vegan. It’s a start, but imagine would what happen if everyone upset about Fauci’s allegations today woke tomorrow and eschewed all animal products forever. Imagine if those same people tweeted about the well-known brands in their cabinets, dresser drawers and linen closets (do people still have those?) that do the exact horrible thing about which they are tweeting in regard to Fauci.
One good thing about “ArrestFauci” is that the hashtag has created a discussion regarding an often-overlooked part of the animal rights conversation. Last week Los Angeles Times ran eight stories about fake meats and how they are changing what’s on our plates. I’ve yet to find a vegan who doesn’t ethically support these food innovations, but anyone who tweeted “ArrestFauci” should be as upset about Clearasil, Clinique, Clorox and Comet are tested on animals — and that’s just a portion of the “C” category from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “Beauty Without Bunnies” website — as they are about Fauci.
You want more? Try Kiehl’s, L’Oreál, Listerine, Pine-Sol, Prada, Revlon and Swiffer. And there are, sadly, plenty of other recognizable brands that do what Fauci is accused of doing.
This argument isn’t a what-aboutism. Instead, let’s ask ourselves how some people can get so upset when dogs are tortured yet days later sit in a too-long-for-fast-food In-N-Out Burger drive-thru. If you’re mad about Fauci and the dogs, be mad about all animal suffering. Tweet about the horrific ways in which cows, chickens, fish, pigs and other living creatures are exploited for human consumption, “enjoyment” and science. Look at Mace’s fish photo and stare into the dead eyes. Now look down at your plate and envision the eyes that used to be attached to whatever you’re calling a meal.
If you’re one of those people, it’s time to face a harsh reality — animal cruelty is always wrong. The good news is that you have an opportunity to stop engaging in deadly acts. Animal testing should bother you enough to take to social media and post about the horrors, but don’t be a hypocrite. There is a way to avoid these products. That way?
- Ryan Ritchie is a writer from Lomita, CA. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, Vice and Los Angeles Times. He went vegetarian on Thanksgiving 1997 and has been vegan for approximately 18 years. Follow him at https://twitter.com/RyanLRitchie
Ghosts of America by Caroline Hagood. Hanging Loose Press, 2021. ISBN: 978-1934909713. $18.00. 200 pages
Reviewed by Mitch Levenberg
Caroline Hagood’s Ghosts of America is profound, witty and entertaining. I’d call it a page turner except I never wanted to turn the page. The narrator of the novel is Norman Roth III, Herzog to his friends, great American novelist, masturbator, voyeur, writer of “literary academia, the “overweight ugly balding white guy’s tenured ticket to young tail.” Herzog represents a long line of male writers, writers like the country itself, “formed from the dusk of masculine language, language that has skewered and slighted, misrepresented and misconstrued the role and importance of women since this country’s inception. Who better then to be visited one night, a la Ebenezer Scrooge, by the ghosts of Jackie Kennedy and Valerie Solanas? Herzog himself is a contradiction. He will gladly “jack off” to Marilyn Monroe but at the same time see something greater than the whole, greater than, as Jackie Kennedy later observes, the “blonde-haired breasts that launched American cinematic romance, but also “as complete as the end of something,” someone the “universe might transfigure her at any time.” Herzog can think about “the fluidity of existence” yet, at the same time admit “how solid it can get in the pants region.”
Herzog’s first visitor is Jackie Kennedy, his muse, his “pixie dream girl,” wife of JFK, president, Womanizer Laureate of the U.S., the man who, in his own words, “accompanied Jacquelyn Kennedy to Paris,” and later, of course, to his own assassination. Indeed, it is Jackie’s powerful narration of JFK’s assassination that sticks with me the most, that twists my own gut memory, that is rendered so terrifyingly beautiful, so painful yet poetic. The scene explodes in our minds like JFK’s own glorious mind “exploding onto Jackie’s skin.”
The writing here is truly “blood writing” at its best. According to Herzog, it’s the writer Denis Johnson, who believes that all writers should write in blood and that the more blood you write in, the more you put your life on the line. “What better way to build sentences,” Herzog states earlier, “than with our own “jets of blood,” again not his own idea, but one taken from Sylvia Plath, one of the greatest blood writers ever.
It’s truly amazing how in this gut-wrenching scene, one of the most beautifully gut-wrenching scenes I have ever read, Caroline Hagood becomes Jackie Kennedy, in both mind and body, as if she herself were in that car, as if her own life were on the line, her words, her incredible imagination evoking both the horrible and the exquisite. Here, Jackie Kennedy becomes the poet laureate of the great American Tragedy, the symbol of the blood-soaked American Dream, of Camelot, not only “deconstructed, (see the title of Herzog’s book on the Kennedys) but destroyed. JFK is Lancelot, his brain bleeding out in the back of that “midnight blue” limo, dripping on a pink dress which only a few hours earlier glittered with hope and promise in, of all places, Love Field. As Jackie says, “That part of his head that wasn’t blown away was so exquisite. I tried to hold it all together. If I could just reclaim the bits of him, all would suddenly be whole.”
Herzog’s next visitor is the ghost of Valerie Solanas, famous for shooting Andy Warhol, but not for killing him. “I’m going to teach you,” she says to Herzog, “how to write a woman.” For sure she is the scarier of the two ghosts, the bad one as in good ghost, bad ghost: loud, brash, unapologetic, wild-eyed, sloppy, soiled, hungry, (she raids Herzog’s fridge) a “crazy pants,” a “bimbo psychopath,” and in Norman Mailer’s words (see “Norman” as in Norman Roth III) “The Robespierre of Feminism.” She’s also the author of the SCUM Manifesto and the play “Up Your Ass,” titles that don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but who needs tongues? Solanas tells Herzog Ovid’s story of Philomela, imprisoned, raped and tortured by King Tereus who rips out her tongue so she can never tell her story, yet she does anyway by weaving it with purple yarn into a tapestry. She becomes the artist weaving her words, her actions, her very existence into the world. Tongue or no tongue, she cannot and will not be silenced.
This is not a linear book; it is not plot, but premise. It is a tapestry of plots and subplots, a concentric circle of stories within stories. Valerie Solana telling Herzog her story vis a vis Ovid’s story of Philomela and Tereus so flawlessly weaved by the author into this crazy quilt of a novel, “crazy” in this case meaning parts or isolated fragments of things comprising the whole of something. Indeed, this novel reflects the mind itself broken up into many minds. I often felt as if I were not only experiencing what was happening outside a character’s mind, that is by words and actions, but inside it as well. In Jackie’s mind, I am tormented; my heart breaks, I feel the burden of history, its violence and brutality, its poetry and beauty, its possibilities for redemption. I feel sad and frustrated. I feel beautiful and bloody. I like the feeling of haunting Herzog with dignity and class. I like this mind and want to stay for a while. I want to keep trying, haunted still by childhood memories of Humpty Dumpty, to put JFK’s brain back together again.
Inside Valerie Solanas’ mind, I feel pissed and anxious and vengeful but knowing I’m a bad shot, instead of a bullet, I try out my poor swollen tongue, my against that bastard Herzog. As for Herzog’s mind, I am in it from the very beginning of the novel. At first, I must step over empty whiskey bottles and look lustfully through women’s legs; mirrors are only to look at bodies, to pleasure myself, my mind is only to misconstrue and degrade others, especially women, my heart is to deceive, to hide, to secretly despise myself and others. I enter a room where the floors and walls are sticky, filthy and dark. There is loud, cacophonous music piercing my ear drums. There are shelves lined with decaying books, all containing distorted, misleading words about women. Then, suddenly I turn into another room, clean and bright and filled with blank canvases, with art waiting to be created, with empty shelves waiting to be lined with books dripping with truth and historical accuracy. Finally, and most refreshingly, there are new, blank notebooks waiting to be filled. I feel hopeful. I sense change, redemption.
Herzog’s is the representative mind, the Motherboard where in the end all the other minds will merge to form a new and enlightened mind. We can’t help wonder if he’s willing to take in all these other minds, to change, to experience a metamorphosis. He certainly has a long way to go but he’s willing to do it, to plunge finally into a woman’s mind rather than her body. Now in this new incarnation of his mind he has wild, uncertain dreams. He speeds through women’s bodies turned into tunnels. He goes on a Mecca to Coney Island where he rides the Wonder Wheel and observes a hungry three-legged dog, a final, symbolic descent into the underworld, perhaps before his ultimate transcendence.
For Herzog, this is not just a physical Metamorphosis where he wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect, or a butterfly and still thinks like a man or a caterpillar, but it is a Metamorphosis of the mind and spirit, where Herzog must turn the world upside down, as Jove does in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, where” the Dolphins climb trees, and mermaids stare in wonder at cities now underwater.”
Indeed, Caroline Hagood’s ability to merge the real and the imagined is remarkable. This novel is so well balanced, so flawlessly navigated in what seems to be an unbalanceable, unnavigable world. It is rich in language, in metaphor, it blends, mixes, merges almost everything, the living and the dead, mythology, history, and contemporary culture. At times it can be heavy and dark, but just as often can be funny and satirical. And then there are the ghosts, wonderful, enlightened, beautiful ghosts I can listen to forever. And as for the novel ending in a bang or a whimper, there is neither, but instead there is a “sharp inhale, the heart flutter, then a shot of warmth, then some kind of quiet.”
Skaidrite Stelzer, Digging a Moose from the Snow. Finishing Line Press, 2021. $14.99 U.S. 38 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-1646624553
Reviewed by Tija Spitsberg
In the poetry collection Digging a Moose from the Snow by Skaidrite Stelzer, the speaker ultimately draws the conclusion that we are all animals participating in shaping our shared landscape and seeking solutions to secure our survival. The opening poem serves as a preamble introducing the speaker of the poems by recalling a warning she receives from the “Pirushke lady” – a wise old sage who predicts the “fatal decline, spiraling toward death...In a few years your arches will fall/your feet grow hooved/toes become turtles/your husband will leave.”
What follows is a series of poems, each describing the trajectory from birth to death, linking our demise to the universal experience of all creatures; but there are glimmers of hope, especially for our children who approach the world with optimism. In “Cicada Shells,” “the granddaughters string them into long necklaces before they learn their fear of bugs, predicting the inevitable end of innocence.” The closing poem, “The First to Die,” suggests that we are losing the battle, yet also clings to possible redemption in the next generation, our children. “The forest now a pile of tender sticks/All color lost, white bone beneath the sea/Still children look for stars within the rifts/The first to die will be the coral reef.” This, however, is undercut by the final line, dictated by its form, the Villanelle, where the repetition of the final line is determined by its form: “The first to die will be the coral reef.”
Death comes to all of us, but we struggle to evade and delay its reality. In the title poem “Digging a moose from the snow” the struggle for survival is explored through the personification of the moose who “now knows we are animal/surviving/all of us/as best we can.” A “moose in a snowbank” emerges as the central symbol for our struggle to survive. This image solidifies the position the speaker of the poem takes in regard to the human condition: “the world is cruel/a world that will kill us (it’s true.)” But like the moose, “we must move against the snow banks/dig deeper than we believe…surviving all of us as best we can.”
These poems contemplate death and loss, as well as displacement and the salvation and pain of memory. Stelzer nimbly navigates this terrain as she explores these challenges through the use of fantasy, humor and sudden bursts of surrealism to deftly explore the natural world.
Copyright©2021 by Tija Spitsberg All Rights Reserved.
“I have known Kriben Pillay my entire life. He was a storyteller through his writing and teaching, an avid seeker through his study, research and spiritual quest for understanding and self-mastery. He is my mother’s eldest brother and I have watched him since my own childhood in the 70’s, when South Africa was a battleground, as a student, as a teacher, as an activist, as a rebel. The rules seemed to stretch to fit where he was headed. He travelled the world, met with luminaries such as J. Krishnamurti, wrote books and songs, mounted plays and productions, mentored artists and academics.
When days were darkest, with violence in our home, uncle Kriben made it his responsibility to be present. He was a family man and a connector of people and stories, which became apparent at any of the gatherings that he would orchestrate or preside over, a master of ceremony and a Joker extraordinaire.
Articulate and intelligent, his wit belied his consummate readiness to be silly
and to enjoy above all the company of children (I was the first, and my own
daughter the last in the family to know this)
We riffed together on many ideas and worked together on writing and productions and performances, and I feel that I had a glimpse into every facet of his diamond personality – vast, containing multitudes. He pointed me to Whitman, amongst many things.
Let me point you to him now, his award-winning poetry and writings, his legacy as a teacher and learner, his indelible influence as a father, son, brother, uncle...friend.”
“Owed to uncle Kriben”
you were always there
like how the moon is
together we did not grow up
though you could play the part quite convincingly
you always let me inside the story
I feel we were always in mid-conversation, few conversations at a time
sometimes few words
looking for a laugh with no excuse
- that irresistible one -
like when a plastic patio chair breaks in super slowmo, delivering a chunky challenger to the ground
or a piece of snot pokes impertinently out of a sincere testimonial’s nose
or, indeed, when a man of esteemed physical prowess trippingly flails his arms at the edge of a wedding stage like the Warner Bros coyote, very nearly almost regaining balance
before taking an almighty backward swan-dive into the grassy deck below, feet in the air.
I wish I could see you watch that moment, because watching you really laugh was a pleasure of the most involuntary proportions and the definition of giddy
We all laughed when you laughed.
by the way, everyone is still amazed by you.
Even if they think they knew the punchline. It hasn’t quite stuck yet that you are light years inside of us now
you always hinted at that
times are hard and the chocolates have gotten smaller
and we saw some of the very worst together, arm in arm
father and son sometimes brothers sometimes
but you snuck magic into the jail and it disappeared in the most impossible times
but now is a time for gratitude
as the Phoenix durga rides her tiger into victorious battle against the demon lord and all odds
as the Twofold Tamil Rule in a just world mind rises
as the Cosmic Koeksuster improbably holds to its celestial choreography
and we realise our captaincy
you introduced me to the harmonica and telling stories and mastering the Forces
I do these things now, singing my song
they call me uncle someplaces
I was once the apprentice to your sorcery, sir
seeking and taste for truth we shared
that blossoms in me and I’m addicted to its fragrance
you still learn me to see
Like the moon
you are still here even when the sun is out, besieging
dispelling the darkness
when the cool night comes
aum namah shivaya, you’re in our songs
aum namah shivaya, you’re on your way
aum namah shivaya, your turn to play
Cherish the Invisible Mind: A Plan to Heal Humanity by Defeating Narcissism andNeurosis. Damian B. Kim, M.D. Braugler Books. ISBN: 978-1970063837. $19.99US. Paper. 142 pages.
Dr. Damian B. Kim is a healer, and his words of wisdom in his new book Cherish the Invisible Mind offer sound guidance in our age of mental health crises. The book is excellently written, engaging, and well organized. Drawing on a number of scientific studies and psychological theories, as well as his own vast clinical experience, Dr. Kim tackles a range of problems and offers a number of solutions. For instance, narcissism and ego-centrism found among many younger Americans is leading to high expectations unfulfilled, competitiveness, and hence loneliness, depression, and even acts of suicide. Overall, Dr. Kim’s book is a succinct but commanding appraisal of and relevant response to a host of mental health disorders, ranging from anxiety and depression to drug abuse and violence, plaguing the American mind today.
As a highly-trained psychiatrist, Dr. Kim sees that some neuroses can be cultural; that is, mental health can be negatively affected or triggered by social conditions immersing people, often unwittingly, in a materialistic and power oriented society. This predicament is then compounded, Dr. Kim goes on, by professionally trained counselors who miss the cues or provide a failing treatment. With a focus on millennials, Dr. Kim’s head and heart are in the right place: he cares about the future of Americans and the U.S. This honest approach has not, of course, been embraced by all his peers, as he is the first to admit.
In an age of rampant psychiatric medications, Dr. Kim believes the source of people’s problems should be treated using psychotherapy whenever possible. A major concern of Dr. Kim is the rise of suicide rates in the U.S., perhaps because, not to oversimplify, the comfort of the body (using medicines and technology) has taken pride of place over the health of mind (using talk therapy). So Dr. Kim, as implied in the title of his book, seeks to penetrate and renew the unconscious mind which can often take a pernicious grip on one’s life with baneful results. This is more of a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach and hence, today, often ignored by many professionals though quite useful. At the same time, the unconscious mind can be a wellspring of sustenance if properly recognized, gently cared for, and ably negotiated. That’s the area of Dr. Kim’s expertise.
Dr. Kim rightly draws an analogy between the deteriorating and widespread harms of neuroses to a pandemic virus spiraling out of control, also unseen and destructive. Oddly, part of the cause for the spread of neuroses, he suggests, is capitalistic technology meant to make life easy and enjoyable, since it draws people apart and distracts them away from mindfulness and empathy. This book is a profound assessment of the current and at times superficial practices of psychiatry and yet an eloquent antidote to this profession’s shortcomings. Dr. Kim’s emphasis on character (using theory from Karen Horney) and interpersonal relationships correctly asks that contemporary people, especially the younger generations who will eventually be in control of government and the economy, engage in self-discovery. Some people might require professional therapy to do so, but the investment in self-understanding in a community of others is of paramount importance to Dr. Kim.
How do we solve these individual and social problems? There are some remedies that don’t require medication: education to increase knowledge of neuroses; meditation to help one come to grips with the self and comprehend the inner experience; psychotherapy, if required. In other words, answers to these problems are not necessarily in technology, more possessions, or competition among others but in acceptance and understanding of the unconscious mind. I found this book easy to read, enjoyable, and informative; it provides valuable guideposts to the future, and I recommend it to all students of psychology.
- Gregory F. Tague, Ph.D., professor, departments of Literature, Writing and Publishing / Interdisciplinary Studies, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y.