Tuesday Poem

My Mother

My mother writes from Trenton,
a comedian to the bone
but underneath serious
and all heart. “Honey,” she says,
“be a mensch and Mary too,
its no good, to worry, you
are doing the best you can
your Dad and everyone
thinks you turned out very well
as long as you pay your bills
nobody can say a word
you can tell them, to drop dead
so save a dollar it can’t
hurt—remember Frank you went
to highschool with? he still lives
with his wife’s mother, his wife
works while he writes his books and
did he ever sell a one
the four kids run around naked
36, and he’s never had,
you’ll forgive my expression
even a pot to piss in
or a window to throw it,
such a smart boy he couldn't
read the footprints on the wall
honey you think you know all
the answers you dont, please, try
to put some money away
believe me it wouldn’t hurt
artist schmartist life’s too short
for that kind of, forgive me,
horseshit, I know what you want
better than you, all that counts
is to make a good living
and the best of everything,
as Sholem Aleichem said,
he was a great writer did
you ever read his books dear,
you should make what he makes a year
anyway he says some place
Poverty is no disgrace
but its no honor either
that’s what I say,
……………….. love,
……………………… Mother”

by Robert Mezey
from Strong Measures
Harper Collins,1986

The Different Dialects of Serial Murder

David-berkowitz

by James McGirk

I do not follow contemporary cinema, but with the Oscars looming, I felt obliged to weigh in on the moving image as I experience it. Since I do not own a television and lack the sophistication and desire to sift through darknets and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks hunting for shows to download, I have resorted to Youtube’s never-ending supply of serial killer documentaries. Most are grainy and since the channels tend to abruptly disappear, are more than likely illegally uploaded. With any other genre this would be unbearable, but the crappiness of the viewing experience adds grit to these shows, which are usually collages of old photos and interviews, and the experience of watching a psychopathic killer delivered to justice becomes all the more deliciously unsettling.

After watching hundreds of these shows from all over the English-speaking world, I have begun to autopsy the peculiar relationship between the police, the bereaved, the media, and the public. There are remarkable differences between an Australian, an American, an English or even the rare Canadian depiction of society’s most heinous crime.

A serial killer is a murderer who has killed at least three people, with a refractory period, that is a length of time, between killings. There tends to also be a psychological motive, though many plunder their victims’ possessions, deep down serial killers kill because they want to or have to. The really famous ones often have a prurient interest in killing, and some of the most frenzied do horrific damage to their victims' bodies. These cases are full of sex, violence and vivid characters, and almost always have a thrilling conclusion in the form of a detective solving an increasingly violent series of murders. In other words, serial killers are the perfect fodder for television shows, or at least they would be if it weren’t for the fact that they must always balance on the narrow ledge between good taste, respect for the killers’ victims and the salacious detail their viewers crave; the latter element varies dramatically from country to country.

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The Last Novel

by Haider Shahbaz

Kashif is a novelist who is afraid of novels: they all remind him of his failure at love. Novels, with the futility of each word, with the reflection of each phrase, with the silent spaces between sounds, remind him of nothing but loss. His novels are nothing but bloody fights with the memories of lost paradises and lost homes and lost loves.

Now that he is eighty and has a pearly beard and a semi-bald head, Kashif is writing The Last Novel. He is writing his last novel on his first love: Monika. He wants to be done, for ever and ever, with memories of Monika. Once finished, he has decided, he will spend the rest of his days watching television. Or doing anything that will not remind him of his failure at love. And if everything, really everything everything, still reminded him of nothing but his failure at love, he will commit suicide. And be done with it.

One thing is certain: this novel– the one he is writing now – will be his last one, if he ever manages to finish it. Despite the tremendous success of his previous novels, this novel is to be the one that will complete all he wants to say about fear and beauty and memory. But before we talk of novels and suicides, we must talk of love. Kashif is thinking of love because his son, Rashid, is coming to visit him. Without admitting it to himself, Kashif has decided that his son is his last chance at succeeding in love. His last chance, in other words, of getting over his memories of failed love and finishing The Last Novel.

********************

Kashif lives alone, ridiculously alone, in his comfortable house in the countryside of Wales. Countless years ago, fifteen to be exact, on June 8th, Kashif came here to write The Last Novel. He lives with nothing but books. Or should we say: memories and fear. They are strewn all over the place. They stack up against whole walls. They litter the floors of all the rooms. They sleep with him and eat with him and bathe with him and sit outside on the open porch with him. They are, in a word, everywhere.

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perceptions

Hands
Rula Halawani. Intimacy. 2006.

“These series of photographs were taken at the Qalandia checkpoint. This body of work examines and captures the experience of the checkpoint which has become a hallmark of the current Israeli occupation. There are very few faces among the collection of images; rather we are invited to view a multitude of close-ups of encounters between soldiers and Palestinians wanting to cross the border.”

More here and here.

Oil and Plume: On Habitat

by Mara Jebsen

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It came to me at the hairdresser’s. A sort of image-idea about birds and goodness. Karen had me in one of those retro-space-age bubble-things and the air was roaring around my ears, drying. “I grow blonder as I speak,” I kept thinking, though I wasn't speaking. Just thinking loudly through the rarified air.

Over by the window, Karen, all wrist, was erasing wings of silver-black from the temples of her client. The client’s beautiful beak-like nose grew ever more defined in the sun of the windowpane; the tufts drifting like feathers to the linoleum floor, mixing as they fell. They landed silver-brown in sunlight, like tree-bark in winter, like strokes of pencil-lead . . .

There were many women in the room: another client with hair like my sister’s (dry clouds springing from the skull; tall as an outstretched hand). I saw the hairdresser press a little piece between the knuckles of two outstretched fingers, and scissor a bit off. The girl’s eyes gleamed joyfully towards themselves in the mirror. Her hairdresser's own hair was similar, but oiled down to shaped curls. The women seemed ambivalent about this act of 'taming’; were more intent on the power of the raw material. And in its cutting, the space between them filled with camaraderie so palpable, it was nearly communion.

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Poem

On Seeing Bahadur Shah Zafar
The Last Mughal Emperor
1775 – 1862

ScreenHunter_20 Feb. 27 11.16The king is a subject—
A world
Reversed

Son of a pig—
A viceroy will take pleasure
In a king exposed

Bolstered on a charpoy
Gaunt in white kurta;
Block-printed pajamas?

Long stem of a hookah—
A humid verandah
A garrison in Rangoon

EScreenHunter_21 Feb. 27 11.16xiled—
O, Delhi,
The Red Fort

Yesterday –seems ages ago–
Court painters painted
His portrait for posterity

Slithers of their brush—
A halo “God’s Shadow”
Honorifics

Cross-legged regalia—
Woven gardens
Blooming beneath his feet

Subjects trembling—
In front of him as they had
In front of his father and his

The garden ravaged—
Zafar, a memory of his splendor
Restraint of his sigh, itself a sigh

Rafiq Kathwari is a Monday poet at 3Quarks Daily.

Red Moon Rising

Redmoon

by Maniza Naqvi

“Life, Madam is full of little, little inconveniences.” The receptionist, in a soothing tone, wearing the uniform of a friendly welcoming smile had said. “I do apologize for the delay but please give us half an hour and your room will be ready. In the meantime please enjoy our hotel lobby café and complimentary welcoming tea.” He suggested, with a wave of his hand towards a space behind her. “It will only be a half hour.”

The white noise of the in house music tinkled in the background and beckoned her to be understanding and on good behavior. There was nothing to be done but wait. Her room wasn’t ready, her predecessor had left it in a mess apparently—hence the delay—and by the explanation given, she imagined that, floors had to be disinfected and so on.

Sleep deprived, she sits nursing her second cup of jasmine tea, struggling not to fall asleep in the armchair which was placed near a large potted fern.

“I thought it was you! What are you doing here?”

She starts and looks up, she hasn’t seen him in over a year—he looks the same—bloated belly, bloated face–too much whiskey. His mane of once, grey hair now white and thinning. The trade mark denim shirt still in place, the urban legend, himself.

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Pakistan Predictions 2012

by Omar Ali

Punditry without predictions is like a fish without a bicycle and who would ever want that? But if one does make predictions, one’s predictions can be checked. That, perhaps, is why no paid pundit makes too many predictions. But, with nothing at stake, I will not only make predictions, I will also recall predictions from 3 years ago for criticism. And dear socialist friends, please remember these are not prescriptions, they are predictions. I don’t like them much either. Reiki-crystal-ball1

In March of 2009 I took a road trip across the Eastern United States and asked several generally well informed Pakistani friends what they thought was likely to happen in Pakistan in the days to come. I am reproducing that article unchanged below; the first few theories are what my friends proposed would happen, followed by my own predictions from 2009. I consulted two of the same friends again this week and their current predictions and my own 2012 predictions follow. It is, of course, a very small and unrepresentative sample, biased towards liberals, infidels and leftists with no other input. And it is not expressed in University-Speak. So please, be gentle.

The 2009 scenarios:

1. Things fall apart: This theory holds that all the various chickens have finally come home to roost. The elite has robbed the country blind and provided neither governance nor sustenance and now the revolution is upon us: the jihadis have a plan and the will to enforce it and the government has neither. The jihadis have already captured FATA and most of Malakand (a good 20% of NWFP) and are inevitably going to march onwards to Punjab and Sindh. The army is incapable of fighting these people (and parts of it are actively in cahoots with the jihadis) and no other armed force can match these people. The public has been mentally prepared for Islamic rule by 62 years of Pakistani education and those who do resist will be labeled heretics and apostates and ruthlessly killed. The majority will go along in the interest of peace and security. America will throw more good money after bad, but in the end the Viceroy and her staff will be climbing rope ladders onto helicopters and those members of the elite who are not smart enough to get out in time will be hanging from the end of the ladder as the last chopper pulls away from the embassy. Those left behind will brush up their kalimas and shorten their shalwars and life will go on. The Taliban will run the country and all institutions will be cleansed and remodeled in their image.

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Vienna and The Modern World

Snowy-benches-along-a-bou-007William Boyd in The Guardian (Photograph: Irene Lamprakou/Getty Images/Flickr RM):

Why do certain cities haunt the imagination? Not just the city itself but the city in a particular historical period. In my own case I can identify four such cities – Los Angeles in the 1970s, Lisbon in the 1930s, Berlin in the 1920s and Vienna in the years just before the first world war. Thus captivated, I wrote fiction – short stories, chapters of novels – set in each of these cities long before I ever visited them. This is the mark and measure, I suppose, of their allure – it's vicarious, it works at a great distance – but it must be some conveyed sense of atmosphere, the spirit of place, that prompts the fascination. Perhaps the most telling factor is a powerful feeling that you would like to have lived there yourself.

One of the amazing aspects of Vienna – or certainly the central city, the Inner Stadt bounded by the great circling boulevard of the Ring, is how easy it is to imagine living there – not just in the early years of the 20th century but in the 19th or even 18th century as well. It's so beautifully preserved and maintained that you can turn a corner and draw up with a shock, imagining that Mozart or Brahms could have seen the identical view. But Vienna in its fading pomp, in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian empire (1867-1918), is present before you in almost every street scene or vista. Freud's Vienna, Wittgenstein's Vienna, Egon Schiele's Vienna.

It was Egon Schiele who started my Vienna obsession. Schiele and Klimt. Up until the 1970s – when Rudolf Leopold's catalogue raisonné of Schiele's paintings and drawings appeared – Schiele was a virtual unknown. I can remember while I was at university in the 70s the sudden outpouring of postcards and posters, books or reproductions that occurred. Suddenly everyone loved Schiele and was enthralled by his short, tormented life. Schiele's angular, mannered, brilliant draughtsmanship, the blatant near-pornography of his nudes, male and female, were a thrilling revelation. I went to Vienna for the first time to write a piece about Schiele, or to be more precise to write a piece about the Leopold Museum that contains the world's biggest collection of his work. Even after decades of familiarity the actual canvases and drawings retain their power to shock and disturb. In some ways, Schiele is the perfect symbol of the Viennese antithesis – namely that this small, safe, solid, beautiful, bourgeois capital city should have housed in the early years of the 20th century such a contrapuntal, boiling ferment of modernism in every art form.

Race Finished: The Debunking of a Scientific Myth

Jan Sapp in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_18 Feb. 26 19.36Few concepts are as emotionally charged as that of race. The word conjures up a mixture of associations—culture, ethnicity, genetics, subjugation, exclusion and persecution. But is the tragic history of efforts to define groups of people by race really a matter of the misuse of science, the abuse of a valid biological concept? Is race nevertheless a fundamental reality of human nature? Or is the notion of human “races” in fact a folkloric myth? Although biologists and cultural anthropologists long supposed that human races—genetically distinct populations within the same species—have a true existence in nature, many social scientists and geneticists maintain today that there simply is no valid biological basis for the concept.

The consensus among Western researchers today is that human races are sociocultural constructs. Still, the concept of human race as an objective biological reality persists in science and in society. It is high time that policy makers, educators and those in the medical-industrial complex rid themselves of the misconception of race as type or as genetic population. This is the message of two recent books: Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. Both volumes are important and timely. Both put race in the context of the history of science and society, relating how the ill-defined word has been given different meanings by different people to refer to groups they deem to be inferior or superior in some way.

Before we turn to the books themselves, a little background is necessary. A turning point in debates on race was marked in 1972 when, in a paper titled “The Apportionment of Human Diversity,” Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin showed that human populations, then held to be races, were far more genetically diverse than anyone had imagined.

More here.

A Scorsese in Lagos: The Making of Nigeria’s Film Industry

Andrew Rice in the New York Times Magazine:

ScreenHunter_17 Feb. 26 19.26Kunle Afolayan wants to scare you, he wants thrill you, he wants to make you laugh, but most of all, he would like you to suspend your disbelief — in his plots, yes, which tend to be over the top, but also about what is possible in Africa. He bristles if you call him an “African filmmaker” — a phrase redolent of art-house cinema, which his work assuredly is not. He wants to make huge, explosive, American-style blockbusters, and he wants to make them where he lives — in Nigeria. His ambitions may sound implausible. Nigeria lacks even a reliable supply of electricity. But it does contain a chaotic creative energy that has made it the world’s most prolific producer of films.

Twenty years after bursting from the grungy street markets of Lagos, the $500 million Nigerian movie business churns out more than a thousand titles a year on average, and trails only Hollywood and Bollywood in terms of revenues. The films are hastily shot and then burned onto video CDs, a cheap alternative to DVDs. They are seldom seen in the developed world, but all over Africa consumers snap up the latest releases from video peddlers for a dollar or two. And so while Afolayan’s name is unknown outside Africa, at home, the actor-director is one of the most famous faces in the exploding entertainment scene known — inevitably — as “Nollywood.”

More here.

“The candy was seized by the FBI” — Daisy Rockwell’s Little Book of Terror

Richard Booth in his blog:

6074351550_23485aacf0First, go pick up Daisy Rockwell‘s Little Book of Terror. Here. Or at least spend an inordinate amount of time getting lost in her Flickr photos.

Daisy is the granddaughter of Norman Rockwell, and although that’s largely an irrelevant fact, I find something satisfying in the inter-generational dialectic occurring here: my Mormon, Midwestern family adored Norman Rockwell, and had hosts of folksy, wholesome prints of his work adorning the walls of their homes…

…not that Norman Rockwell’s work is bad; in fact, I don’t have any well-formed opinion on the stuff. But in my life it has represented a strange fantasy of pre-1960s American folk, “simpler times,” the kind of “real America” Republican politicians are always going on about, America before The Fall.

So I find great pleasure in thinking that my generation has a Rockwell too, but ours is ironic and twisted, exhibiting simultaneously a kind of melancholy wisdom and carefree cartoon wonder.

More here.

Why are Pakistanis so vulnerable to conspiracy theories?

Omar Ali in Viewpoint:

LazyconspiracytheoristI am saying that people in Pakistan do not just believe in wild conspiracy theories because they are un-informed or illiterate (in fact, that last chestnut is clearly false, the biggest believers are all literate). Neither do they do so just because they are powerless or because their traditional worldview is collapsing in front of their eyes or because they already believe in an all-powerful deity. All those may be factors, but let us not forget one more reason they believe in wild conspiracy theories: because their leaders of public opinion tell them it is so. In other words, the widespread belief in conspiracy theories is itself a conspiracy; a small group of men (it is always men) pick up the juiciest theories from some idiot American website (usually a White supremacist or paranoid brain-dead Leftie website) and spread them far and wide in the land of the pure. They plant them as stories on their websites. Then they get their own “news” outlets to pick up these stories, quoting their own websites as sources. Then they get their opinion leaders to repeat these conspiracies, using the media and the websites as sources if needed. There is, in short, a conspiracy to spread these conspiracy theories.

So it is that we find that large sections of the Pakistani middle class believe that everything that is wrong with Pakistan is due to a Hinjew conspiracy against Pakistan.

More here.

Gwendolyn Brooks: 1917-2000

From Poetry Foundation:

BrooksGwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded, much-honored poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks's works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her body of work gave her, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, but her family moved to Chicago when she was young. Her father was a janitor who had hoped to become a doctor; her mother was a schoolteacher and classically trained pianist. They were supportive of their daughter's passion for reading and writing. Brooks was thirteen when her first published poem, “Eventide,” appeared in American Childhood; by the time she was seventeen she was publishing poems frequently in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago's black population. After such formative experiences as attending junior college and working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she developed her craft in poetry workshops and began writing the poems, focusing on urban blacks, that would be published in her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville.

“An Interview with Gwendolyn Brooks” in Contemporary Literature 11:1 (Winter 1970).

Q. How about the seven pool players in the poem “We Real Cool”?

A. They have no pretensions to any glamor. They are supposedly dropouts, or at least they're in the poolroom when they should possibly be in school, since they're probably young enough, or at least those I saw were when I looked in a poolroom, and they. . . . First of all, let me tell you how that's supposed to be said, because there's a reason why I set it out as I did. These are people who are essentially saying, “Kilroy is here. We are.” But they're a little uncertain of the strength of their identity. [Reads:]

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The “We”—you're supposed to stop after the “We” and think about their validity, and of course there's no way for you to tell whether it should be said softly or not, I suppose, but I say it rather softly because I want to represent their basic uncertainty, which they don't bother to question every day, of course.

Q. Are you saying that the form of this poem, then, was determined by the colloquial rhythm you were trying to catch?

A. No, determined by my feeling about these boys, these young men.

Q. These short lines, then, are your own invention at this point? You don't have any literary model in mind; you're not thinking of Eliot or Pound or anybody in particular . . . ?

A. My gosh, no! I don't even admire Pound, but I do like, for instance, Eliot's “Prufrock” and The Waste Land, “Portrait of a Lady,” and some others of those earlier poems. But nothing of the sort ever entered my mind. When I start writing a poem, I don't think about models or about what anybody else in the world has done.

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we will be linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).

A Page in the Life: Adonis

From The Telegraph:

Rahim_main_2141044bWe are in the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington, where Adonis – who is annually suggested as a favourite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – has been reading his poems and exhibiting his paintings. Born near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia in 1930, Adonis learnt both the Koran and classical Arab poetry as a child before studying philosophy at Damascus University. He was jailed for supporting a socialist party and in 1956 left for Beirut, where he founded an influential poetry magazine and wrote his own experimental verse. For the past 30 years he has lived in Paris from where he has continued to write poetry and prose (now more than 50 books altogether) and often makes forceful comments on the state of the Middle East. In person he is small and dapper, with a playful sense of humour. I tell him that in 2006 I spent six months studying Arabic at Damascus University. When I heard him reading at the Mosaic Rooms, I missed a lot but some phrases rang out clearly. Although his work avoids rhyme and logical narrative progression, he still writes in the classical language I studied rather than the Syrian colloquial.

Some have suggested that one reason the Arab world remains so rigidly hierarchical is the huge gap between the formal language used in literature and politics, and ordinary speech. “The colloquial language is still poor by comparison,” he says, adding that using the classical gives the entire Arab world a universal language. Is it relevant that the Koran is the founding text of classical Arabic? Mention of Islam’s holy book brings a glint to his eye. “People talk a lot about the Koran but I doubt very much whether many Muslims read the book at all. I mean the fundamentalists but also most Muslims. In fact, Muslims are now throttling Arabic because of censorship – both social and political.”

More here.