The Wind People

Saturday, 2 April 2011, 12:20 | Category : Uncategorized
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I was typing out for a friend an old poem of mine from about 1970, in that prehistoric predigital era, and I liked it and thought I’d put it up on the blog. It was in Counter-Terra (Christopher’s Books, 1978).

The Wind People

Their faces are the skeins of air that we
sometimes perceive to finger across a flag or sheet;
their bodies, that which fills a tree
when it is wrought by their possession, throws
about its limbs as if distraught.

And they are like the catspaws of the fire,
and they are simple-minded in their time;
often their quarrels by coincidence
catch in the splinters of a human fate
and pull us willy-nilly to the grave or flame.

Lovers, quite often, capture by mistake
within a kiss, a wind-person by the hem
and then the breath that each one breathes
is the trapped and unknowing spirit of another being.
It’s this that scares a lover oftentime.

The wind people inhabit wars and shores.
It’s they who form the whistle of the shell,
for they are fascinated by all forms of spirals
and love to lie along the horns of shells.
They’re angered, though, by bangs and bells.

Especially in Fall the wind people come by.
They think that we are only swifter forms of trees. To them
the tender flesh of thigh and breast is hard as stone.
In these last months
I’ve become not much different from they.

A year ago I felt a ticking in my eye
whenever wind was round.
Investigating this phenomenon I found
A veil of colors in the air so faint it was
Not so much sight as sound.

At first I could not tell the boundary
Between one windperson and another. Now
I’ve even named them, though their names are secret.
I wondered whether they had anything to do with prayer:
But they come neither out of heaven nor hell.

–And now I know their shapes in whirling sand;
I’ve grown to recognize their smell
(like hills of bitter snow) and see
in turns of my own madness their many-fingered hand
weaving their versions of eternity.

Print Edition of THE NEW WORLD Now Available

Monday, 14 March 2011, 7:42 | Category : Uncategorized
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The Ilium Press says that the real physical book can now be obtained here.

The New World–25th Anniversary Edition

Sunday, 13 March 2011, 20:21 | Category : Uncategorized
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At last my epic poem THE NEW WORLD is in print again. Ilium Press has reprinted it in a beautiful edition, with a new foreword. The publisher is offering a free sample here. The book is available through Amazon here. It can be downloaded on Kindle now and will soon be available in physical print.

Ilium Press will also be reprinting my GENESIS: AN EPIC POEM in the next few weeks.

Philanthropy and the Gift Economy

Friday, 25 February 2011, 14:10 | Category : Uncategorized
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There is a myth that we as a species have moved from having an edenic and arcadian gift exchange economy to a cold and corrupt market economy. As a myth it has its uses; as a fact it will not fly. Archeologists and physical anthropologists now find trading practices among the earliest humans nearly 200,000 years ago; we were always buying, selling, hiring, trucking and bartering. And economists tell us that even in today’s advanced industrial economies the amount of value that is transferred by gift is greater than the amount transferred by market exchanges. This may sound counter-intuitive until we reflect that gift includes the free services rendered by parents to their children, husbands and wives to each other, friends to friends, hobbyists to their community, and the bequests of the dying to their heirs.

We have plenty of theory about markets, since Locke and Smith and their ilk. There is some theory about gift exchange in traditional tribal societies (Marcel Mauss, for instance), but very little until now about the economic, moral, social, political, ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual implications of today’s gift economy in advanced societies like the United States.

Until now. An interesting online publication, Conversations on Philanthropy, has just been launched. Take a look.

The New Nile

Saturday, 12 February 2011, 13:46 | Category : Uncategorized
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The New Nile
Homage to the Egyptian Revolution

When Egypt fed the world with corn,
It sucked the breast-milk of the Nile;
The Pharaoh’s power, the Roman guile
Drank from that plenteous horn.

The new Nile is a Nile of light,
The world’s bright screens, the cellphone’s glow;
The fertile information-flow
Makes fires in the night.

The new Nile is a Nile of tears,
Of mourning for her children who,
Dying in giving, overthrew
The tyranny of years.

The new Nile flows with liberty,
For today tyrants everywhere
Shake in their boots with doubt and fear
They will be swept to sea.

Julia Budenz

Thursday, 16 December 2010, 12:33 | Category : Uncategorized
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Coming immediately after the death of my friend Julius Fraser, the death last week of Julia Budenz, another dear friend, is almost too much for me.

Julia came across my horizon in the mid-1980s when I was co-editing The Kenyon Review. I sometimes think she was one of America’s greatest poets of the time. She was an amazing luminous slender slightly ghostly presence, with a clarinetlike alto voice of great warmth and sadness and humor and power. She had been a nun. She knew more about Rome, ancient and onwards, than anyone I’ve known, translated fluently from Greek, Latin, and the Italian of Petrarch. Talked with the ghost of Tasso. A virtuoso of meter. I only saw her about 4 or 5 times in person, but we corresponded for decades, almost entirely about poetry and philosophical/spiritual matters. Her astonishing poem, The Gardens of Flora Baum, is going to be published in five volumes some time in the next year or so. I’ll give more details when I get them.

In Memoriam, J. T. Fraser

Monday, 22 November 2010, 8:50 | Category : Uncategorized
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Two days ago one of the great human beings of our time died quietly in Westport, Connecticut. For those who did not have the pleasure and the privilege of knowing Julius Fraser, perhaps you might imagine a sort of combination of Einstein, Yoda, Gandalf, Dr. Johnson, Socrates, the Old Testament God, and Groucho Marx. For me as for many others he came as close to being a guru or roshi as anyone can in this skeptical age.

I believe him to have been the most important philosopher of the last hundred years. He enormously expanded the grasp and writ of philosophy so as to incorporate science with philosophy, for the first time since the often disastrous attempts to do so in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to grow a live discipline of the humanities upon that newly fertile ground. He was as important an original scientist as scientist as he was a universal thinker. He was a prose stylist of great force and clarity in a language that was not his first, nor even, I believe, his second.

Beyond his astonishing learning in a whole range of disciplines, his almost impossibly ingenious gift for argument, his visionary imagination and his practical understanding of how things work, he possessed many characteristics not always found in great thinkers. He had a huge heart, an effective and genial sociability, a puckish charm (that saved his life many times as a young man hunted as a homeless fugitive through war-torn Europe) and a delightful sunny sense of humor that was not above deserved satire nor beneath tragic irony. He experienced at first hand the worst things that human civilization has ever done and never gave up hope and humanity.

Though his life was long, rich, and fully achieved, and he died surrounded by people who love him, most especially his dear wife Jane, we mourn him, not for his loss but for ours. The more reason to carry on his ideas and especially his spirit in our work.

Gold Sprayed Macaroni

Tuesday, 17 August 2010, 12:25 | Category : Uncategorized
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If anyone needed any more proof that the official world of the visual arts is in real trouble, the reality show Work Of Art: The Next Great Artist should settle all doubts. The young artists themselves are quite talented, but their mentors on and off the show are wrecking their native gifts and indoctrinating them with an empty ideology of novelty, stylishness, cheap social cynicism, silly “theory” and self concern. Craft and the meditative insight that comes with it are ignored or discouraged. Even the cleverness is now wretchedly hit or miss: it’s the cleverness of Ms. Brown who gets the fourth grade to make edgy PC Valentines. “Installations,” nude self photos, live cast “sculpture.” I suspect that some of these kids on the show could draw and paint and sculpt like angels if they were given a chance and real training. What a waste. Pardon the rant, but when there’s more art in 5 minutes of the average cooking–or modeling, or styling, or HAIRstyling–reality show than in a whole season of a series devoted to fine art, the wind has started blowing in a new direction.

Further note: actually the eventual winner, Abdi Farah, wasn’t bad. He seems to have survived his art education, and I hope he can keep his vision.

I’ve got to stop watching TV. But the semester–teaching a courses on beauty, epic, and poetry–should take care of that.

The Power of Conversation

Tuesday, 29 June 2010, 10:09 | Category : Uncategorized
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My old friend Charles Cameron has become involved with a very interesting conversation with an erstwhile al-Qaeda leader that has been going on in the blogosphere. Al-Masri’s reply to Charles was very interesting. Here is what I said to Charles:

This is an amazing correspondence. Bravo on being part of it.

For me the most significant thing, underlying all the others, is the
Richard/Saladin image. Basically the import of Al-Masri’s writing is
a desire for respect, to be treated as an honorable equal. That was
why he responded with such chivalry to Farrall and with such
enthusiasm to your own revelation of your warrior ancestry.

I think that the Ummah itself wants one symbolic victory, where it has
the moral advantage and the chance for magnanimous action in victory.
It was Egypt’s few days of success in the Yom Kippur war that gave it the
sense of self-respect to make peace with Israel.

[If we allowed] breathing room for the grand, generous, sexist, sentimental sense of
Muslim honor, all or most of our strategic objectives might be
achieved in negotiation.

China Photos

Tuesday, 15 June 2010, 10:44 | Category : Uncategorized
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Check out my China photos on Facebook.