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Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review by Off the Coast

Book Review by Off the Coast


Common Excellence

Itching for Combat by Gary Hicks (Venice, CA: Vagabond, 2013), paper, 55 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9885023-2-1. $12.
"All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare." –Spinoza.
Marc Smith, one of founders of slam, stated that if there were a true contribution to the art of poetry it lay in developing group presentations. But many slam poets have learned that adding performance to poetry presentations doubled the difficulty. Those who thought they could cadge the judges learned that in the long run the collective wisdom was superior to individual ego. Adding music to performance or searching out arcane or repetitive forms merely demonstrated that repeated elements had a negative effect. So it is refreshing to read the work of political poets who not only understand the economy of poetry but are (so to speak) well-versed also in the economics of politics.
According to Gary Hicks:
a spectre is haunting communism
the arrival of the new communism
awaiting the shaping both by the
young who shape the clay and by
those of us who know at what
temperature to heat the kiln
No competition among generations there. Not since the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) on the far left and the centrist coalition of the US Civil Rights leadership has there been such humanist collaboration. A cadre of politically astute politicals with a thorough understanding of the codes and contrasts of the two hundred years of world history stands ready to teach and organize those who have no insight into the capitalist mess.
In the 1960's and 70's a whole middleclass had to learn that cops are not our friends, businesses are not organized for our benefit, and the generation of hope is led by the hopeless. Those lessons were blotted out by imprisoning poets, putting African American and American Indian Movement leaders in solitary, sacking real teachers, and demeaning women in general. How long will it take till the general populace listens to those released after thirty years in prison?
They are here again, and their brief, incisive verses recall, update, and urge forward movement. It may seem fashionable to point to political poetry as plain or merely polemic. But reading the best, like the best haiku, should make us think. Again from Hicks:
swine flu
original bug
came with the founding fathers
has been with us since

The Dirt of Despair / Herrumbre de la Desesperanza by Mark Lipman, translated by Antonieta Villamil (Los Angeles, CA: Casa de Poesia, 2010), paper, 60 pages. ISBN: 978-1-936293-23-0. $15.

Mark Lipman's dual-language book, like many political books of the last half century, entwines the dirt-poor lives of Hispanic people with the world-wide political economic philosophy of the last two centuries:
At a hundred degrees they burn
Like the children of the poor.
Trapped in the fires of neglect
In the smoke of bureaucracy.
Again, there is the simplicity of the sparse language and the political truth:
Total Debt Forgiveness
Zero homelessness in one day.
The Power of Pardon
It is difficult for many of us to read such lines without hearing echoes of the imprisoned voices of Black Panthers, Leonard Peltier, or Chilean activists lost since 1972. We honor the dead and deplore the Gulags of all the national powers. For us, Edward Snowden's revelations are only the latest in a long succession of Palmer subpoenas, HUAC hearings, illegal wiretaps, commission cover-ups, and Pentagon Papers. Our pantheon consists of actors, singers, and poets. As someone once remarked, Gamble Rogers spent his spare time polishing words. Utah Phillips carried his IWW card till the day he died. Rosalie Sorrels learned everything the hard way, so she never forgot. Studs Terkel captured the ordinary language of extraordinary people and made us feel special. They all learned from each other and we all learned from them. It takes listening and reading to get that, but those are possible for all of us.
—George Magoon


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