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Archive for the ‘Arts & Letters’ Category

Two Poems by Amy Susan Wilson

In Arts & Letters, Humanities, Poetry on July 12, 2021 at 10:14 am

Amy Susan Wilson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Red Dirt Press (www.reddirtpress.net). She is an Oklahoma native and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. A Pushcart nominee, her work has appeared in numerous publications, and she is the author of Fetish and Other Stories (Balkan Books) which was named December 2015 Read of the Month, Southern Literary Review. Her fiction and nonfiction currently chronicle the rural South in the Covid era and the 1980s punk era. (reddirtpressandforum@gmail.com)

The Retarded Boy

lived in a barn

his Daddy a DOC guard

women’s penitentiary.

Like those pictures

of Jews, Auschwitz,

the DHS worker said

when she found him

near-starved

hunkered over

his own skin and bone.

A salt block

for cows

bucket for water

shoved in a 4X4 space

that was caged

as if for chickens

not human boy. Four locks:

two key two combination.

Dark as night all day.

His mama snuck him beets

carrots, Payday candy bars.

II.

When the State came

he learned his name

age fourteen: Cameron.

Elk River Residential Home

tan linoleum floor,

central heat and air

a place where he learns

to eat with a spoon,

always has tube socks

orange Jell-O galore.

Twin bed

white sheets

Lysol-clean,

his Daddy, brother Wilfred

chase him in dreams

lock him back in the barn cage

his mama sneaking

cabbage, M & M’s

green ones.

May 1981

Dwayne Worley

struck by lightening

fishing at Lake Okataloa

in his cousin’s canoe.

His body never found.

Gators dumped

from Lincoln County

when they got too big

for baby pools and bath tubs.

Mrs. Stokely

Okataloa High School

physics, trig and calculus teacher

face frozen in not a frown

nor smile

not mean nor kind

giving out awards

in the new auditorium.

Posthumously

she announced

his name

Best mathematics student,

Young Scientist Award,

scholarship to M.I.T.

Voice cracking

a sniffle

glazed eyes

she called allergies

and apologized

as if the weight

of grief

could cause the dead

to rise.

Is Intellectualism Gone?

In Academia, American History, Arts & Letters, Books, higher education, Humanities, Liberalism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Western Philosophy on May 5, 2021 at 6:45 am

Three (More) Poems by Bruce Craven

In America, Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Poetry, Writing on April 29, 2021 at 10:09 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter was published by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

Bee Spears Talks Illicit Substances

No snow, no show.Seventies slang, but in ’69, rural

Tennessee was all about speed, weed, booze. “Peyton Place.

that’s what happens with whiskey & amphetamines.” Mural

of venues as the band burned miles. Spears, the bassist,

said the Ridgetop place was “wild as hell.” Mailbox read:

Willie Nelson and Many Others.” It was a commune,

before the honky-tonks heard the term hippy said

about locals. Bee learned to play the tunes

on a steep curve: twenty-eight gigs, twenty-eight nights.

“I snapped real quick that Willie plays bass lines

on his guitar.” Bee backed him low. Lucky Strikes

were still Will’s three-pack habit, and now weed. Nine-

teen, Bee was hired delivering mota to the band.

Then coke hit. Will: “You’re wired, you’re fired.” Shotgun’s drug stand.

Dred Scott

Part One:  SCOTUS & Freedom

Fred Douglass voted for a Republican,

John C. Fremont. His vote supported more

pragmatic views, like free soilism. Veteran

of the battle for freedom, Douglass knew war

might happen, also knew the Radical 

Abolitionist Party’s overly firm stance,

while right, could lose the 1856 Electoral

College struggle. He thought Fremont’s chance

against Buchanan, the Democrat, Slave

Power fan, might prevail. Fremont lost. Hope

cratered when the Supreme Court gave Dred Scott

and all black Americans up. The scope

of Chief Justice Taney’s ruling was clear:

blacks were inferior. Their future? Fear. 

Christian Property

Part Two — The Shape of a Heart

“My poor mother,” Douglass wrote, like many

other slave women: she had children,

but no family. She could be lawfully

sold off or raped, and not live within

a distance to visit or protect,

teach or love the child she created. Legal

sales could steal a husband. Owners select

to beat and abuse her. The child? Her meager

hope might be to walk all night once a year

and surprise her son with a small sweet cake.

Harriet dying at Holm Hill, the sheer

suffering to Fred. No chance to make

his way to visit. “No striking words of

hers treasured up.” He ached for her love.

Writers on Writing

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing on October 14, 2020 at 6:45 am

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Abraham Lincoln

In American History, Arts & Letters, History, Humanities, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on September 30, 2020 at 6:45 am

“Frederick’s Choice,” A Poem by Bruce Craven

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Poetry on September 16, 2020 at 6:45 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter will be published in 2019 by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

 

“Frederick’s Choice”

From my earliest recollection, I
date the entertainment of a deep
conviction… Douglass’s faith showed him why
he’d beat slavery’s foul embrace to meet
his dream of freedom. This good spirit? God.
…to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.
The young man trained with pain and hate’s rod,
confronted Covey with courage, raised
his fists, didn’t crumple. Sophia’s goodness?
A woman of the kindest heart. She takes
back her gift, stops her lessons, her promise
to help the young boy read. Fred’s hope shaken
as Hugh instructs his wife on slave-owning.
Quit? Fred swaps bread for letters the next morning.

“Civil War Nurses in D.C.,” A Poem by Bruce Craven

In American History, Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Poetry on September 2, 2020 at 6:45 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter will be published in 2019 by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

“There comes that odious Walt Whitman
to talk evil and unbelief to my boys.”
That nurse, writing her man, was not a fan
of the bearded, self-published journalist. Joy
riding the ferry from Brooklyn for beer at Pfaff’s
in Manhattan, shifted Walt from writing
to war. Forty two, Walt knew his soul’s map.
“I could never think of myself as firing
a gun or drawing a sword on another man.”
Why? “…the work of my life is making poems.”
He went to the federal city, planned
on a government job. Two years he roamed
hospitals. This soldier’s missionary
did six-hundred visits, all voluntary.

“Hunter S. Thompson,” Three Poems by Bruce Craven

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Poetry on August 26, 2020 at 6:45 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter will be published in 2019 by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

1971

“Never mind, I said, we’re responsible
people.” Hunter & his attorney tested
the Great Red Shark for stress factors. Rental
Man asked, “Are you fellas drinking?” Arrested
will be the fate for too many literal fans,
but our heroes “ride this strange torpedo
all the way out to the end.” Enraged, they stand
against the forces of Old and Evil. Gonzo
is the term: protagonist journalists
who make beasts of themselves to hide their pain.
But what is that high-water mark looking west?
Missing the sixties, Thompson’s typing blames
the American Dream for failing. He attacks
our leaders, ourselves, our hope broken, rolled back.

1975

My teenage bookstore? The Raven. The valley?
San Gabriel. Mid-Seventies. Our town?
La Canada, still in 213. This alley
Mom pointed at…solved her challenge. She found
how the super-market experience
could improve. Her son could go, pick a book:
Mom’s deal. I was delirious:
aisles of groceries swapped for books! I’d look
at sports, sci-fi, heroic, epic. “One paperback!
she insisted. Cool! But why didn’t Tolkien
write more? Skimmed fantasy, attacked
the Hunter S. Thompson books. McGovern
& the ’72 Election? I’d gone door-to-door
barely twelve for George: Stop the Vietnam War!

1980

“I remember saying something like: ‘I
feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should
drive…” Hunter’s novel won’t ever die.
His dream both truth and amped fiction. White hood
of Pete’s Camaro trembling at 120
miles per hour. Not yet twenty-one. Blast
of desert air. Huge bats shrieking: Freedom! Empty
highway pointing us towards Needles. Toss
sleeping bags on the sand beside the Colorado
River. We never had ether. Constraints
on cash tempered our decadence. Beer pillowed
us under kaleidoscopic stars. We baked;
found a Brit hitching, skin so red…so white.
Drove home to a party, where Pete started a fight.

The News Makes You Dumb

In America, Arts & Letters, Books, Communication, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, Writing on August 19, 2020 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in Public Discourse.

A pernicious notion seems to have settled into the minds of my generation (I’m 37) when we were little boys and girls. It’s now an unquestioned “fact” that “staying informed,” “staying engaged,” and “following the news” are the obligatory duties of sensible, responsible people.

They’re not.

Reading and watching the news isn’t just unhelpful or uninstructive; it inhibits real learning, true education, and the rigorous cultivation of serious intellectual curiosity.

Simply Gathering Information Is Not Educational

When I was a child, my parents, quite rightly, restricted my television viewing. I could not, for instance, watch television after 5:00 p.m. or for more than an hour on weekdays. (Saturday morning cartoons ran for a permissible two hours, before my parents arose from bed.)

The glaring exception to these rules was “the news.” Watching the evening news was for my family a ritual in information gathering, the necessary means of understanding “current events.” Whatever else people said of it, the news was, by all accounts, educational.

Was it, though? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously refused to read newspapers. In The Theory of Education in the United States, Albert Jay Nock bemoaned “the colossal, the unconscionable, volume of garbage annually shot upon the public from the presses of the country, largely in the form of newspapers and periodicals.” His point was that a societal emphasis on literacy was by and large ineffectual if the material that most people read was stupid and unserious. Does one actually learn by reading the cant and carping insolence of the noisy commentariat?

“Surely everything depends on what he reads,” Nock said of the average person, “and upon the purpose that guides him in reading it.” What matters is not that one reads but what and how one reads. “You can read merely to pass the time,” the great Harold Bloom remarked, “or you can read with an overt urgency, but eventually you will read against the clock.”

The heart beats only so many beats; in one life, a person can read only so much. Why squander away precious minutes reading mediocre scribbling or watching rude, crude talking heads debate transitory political matters of ultimately insignificant import, when instead, in perfect solitude, you could expand your imagination, nurture your judgment and discernment, refine your logic and reasoning, and purge yourself of ignorance, by pursuing wisdom and objective knowledge, through the canon of great literature, with a magnanimous spirit of openness and humility?

Why let obsequious, unlettered journalists on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC shape your conscience, determine your beliefs, or develop your dependency on allegedly expert opinion, as if you were a docile creature lacking the courage to formulate your own ideas, when you could, instead, empower yourself through laborious study, exert your own understanding, and free yourself from the cramped cage of contemporary culture by analyzing past cultures, foreign places, difficult texts, and profound ideas?

The Demise of Journalism

When I was in college, not so long ago, you could still find semicolons in The New York Times. I’m told they surface there every now and then, but journalistic writing, as a whole, across the industry, is not what it once was. I’m being hyperbolic, of course, and am not so pedantic as to link semicolon usage with across-the-board journalistic standards. Besides, the Kurt Vonneguts of the world would have been pleased to be rid of semicolons. All I’m saying is that popular media should be more challenging if it’s to have far-reaching, salubrious effects. Newspaper writing, print or online, seems to have dumbed down to the point of harming rather than helping society writ large, and the opinions aired on television and radio seem to have attached themselves to one political party or another rather than liberating themselves from groupthink and stodgy consensus.

Reading as an activity should lift of us up, not drag us down. It should inspire and require us to improve our cognitive habits and performance. The same goes for listening: how we listen and what we listen to affects our basic competency and awareness.

Not only have the grammar, vocabulary, and syntax displayed in “the news” diminished in sophistication, both in print and on television and radio, but also more generally the principal subject matter has moved from the complex and the challenging to the easy and simplistic. Media coverage focuses predominantly on contemporary partisan politics that occasion minimal cognitive energy.

There’s a reason why so many people pay attention to politics: it just isn’t that difficult to think about or discuss. It doesn’t demand rational labor or arduous engagement. It can be passively absorbed. Ratings of television news would not be so high if its content weren’t so simplistic and easy to process. People watch the news to take a break or relax, or to get a rise out of eye-catching scandals and circumstances. The distinction between journalism and tabloid journalism has blurred beyond recognition. In short, journalism is a dying art.

Dangers of a Digital Age

Smart phones and social media are part of the problem. Every age has anxieties about technology. We shouldn’t blame smart phones and social media for human sins. The discourse, not the medium through which it circulates, ultimately is the problem. Yet it’s a problem that smart phones and social media have enabled in a way that past technologies could not. To air an opinion, anyone anywhere can simply tweet or post on Facebook without channeling the message through editors or other mediators.

Digital and smart devices have accelerated editorial processes. The never-ending race to publish “breaking” news results in slipshod work. Online reporting is full of typos and errors. A few clever reporters employ terms like Orwellian, Kafkaesque, Machiavellian, or Dickensian to give the impression of literacy, but the truly literate aren’t fooled.

Have journalistic practices and standards declined as literacy rates have risen? Does an increase in readership necessitate a reduction in quality? Do editors and publishers compete for the lowest common denominator, forgoing excellence and difficulty in order to achieve broad appeal?

Demanding stories and accounts that enrich reading habits and exercise mental faculties aren’t merely salacious or sensationalized clickbait. So they’re difficult, these days, to find, unless you already know where to look.

In the 1980s, E. D. Hirsch, Jr. could write with confidence that newspapers assumed a common reader, i.e., “a person who knows the things known by other literate persons in the culture.” Neither journalists nor their readers today, however, seem literate in the traditional sense of that term. The culture of literacy—true literacy, again in the traditional sense of that term—has come under attack by the very scholars and professors who should be its eager champions.

Our popular pundits, mostly hired guns, supply unqualified, cookie-cutter answers to often manufactured problems; their job is not to inform but to entertain a daft and credulous public. “The liberally educated person,” by contrast, is, according to Allan Bloom, “one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration.”

Seek Wisdom and Discernment over Politics and Personal Preference

If we wish to consume the news, we should treat it as junk food. The human body cannot healthily sustain itself on candy bars alone. It requires a balanced diet, nutrition, and exercise. So it is with the mind. Fed only junk, it’s malnourished.

Every now and then we may indulge the vice of chocolate or soda without impairing our overall, long-term health. Likewise we may watch without permanent or severe detriment the screeching cacophonies of semiliterate blatherskites like Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer, Chris Wallace, Anderson Cooper, Tucker Carlson, Jake Tapper, or, heaven help us, the worst of the worst, Chris Cuomo.

Just know that during the hour spent watching these prattling performers present tendentious interpretations of fresh facts, militantly employing tedious details to service ideological narratives, you could have read an informative book that placed the applicable subject matter into illuminating historical and philosophical context. The facts may be simple and quick, but interpreting them requires knowledge of the past, including the complexities and contingencies of the relevant religious movements, geographies, anthropologies, governments, literatures, and cultures. Devouring ephemeral media segments and sound bites in rapid succession is not learning. It is gluttonous distraction.

Do not misunderstand me: I do not advocate a Luddite lifestyle or a withdrawal from society and the workaday world. I just mean that too many of us, too much of the time, are enthralled by fleeting media trifles and trivialities, and ensnared in the trap of mindless entertainment disguised as vigorous edification.

Let’s stop telling little children what my generation heard when we were kids. They should stay away from the news lest they fall prey to its mania, foolishness, and stupidity. They should read books—difficult books—and be challenged to improve themselves and refine their techniques. Rather than settling on easy, preferred answers, they should accept tensions and contingencies, suspending judgment until all angles have been pursued and all perspectives have been considered. Let’s teach them to become, not activists or engaged citizens necessarily, but intelligent human beings who love knowledge and learning, and who pursue wisdom and discernment before mundane politics.

“Christian Property — 1838,” A Poem by Bruce Craven

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Poetry on August 12, 2020 at 6:45 am

Bruce Craven is a member of the Columbia Business School Executive Education faculty in New York City. In addition to directing and teaching in a variety of executive programs, he teaches graduate business students his popular elective Leadership Through Fiction.  His book Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones, was published in March 2019 by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.  The book is currently being translated into Russian and Turkish. He wrote the novel Fast Sofa (1993) which was published in Japanese and German. He also co-wrote the script for the film adaptation, starring Jennifer Tilly, Jake Busey and Crispin Glover. His collection of poetry, Buena Suerte in Red Glitter will be published in 2019 by Red Dirt Press. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.

 

Christian Property — 1838

“Waking amid the hurrying throng, and
gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway.”
Harriet’s orphaned son, Fred, left the Hudson
River Ferry, stepped onto Chambers street. Day?
Tuesday, September fourth, on the night-train
from Philadelphia. Fred’s first steps free
of bondage, but Hugh Auld didn’t refrain
from efforts to regain his property.
This contraband in New York, at last away
from chains! “I was a FREEMAN…” But free land
north was the same nation. Auld wanted pay
due to owning the caulker with skilled hands.
Baltimore shipyards had paid Fred spondulix,
good cash, but Hugh took it all, that Methodist.

 

 

 

 

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