Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Spain in Our Hearts/Espana en el corazon (New Directions Bibelots)
One of the things I didn't mention in yesterday's post about the SPANISH CIVIL WAR entry in the Simple History Series is the effort Gerlach makes to maintain a perspective that doesn't favor either side. It's difficult to do that in any account of war, and probably especially difficult for this war in particular. While I certainly appreciate the objective viewpoint in most informative writing, for this particular topic there's a lot to be learned by going beyond the objective. And while that might not be appropriate in the scheme of Gerlach's Simple History Series, the interested reader has a wealth of subjective information to explore, assuming they want to transcend the very simple.

A good place to start, in my mind, is Pablo Neruda's poetry collection ESPAÑA EN EL CORAZÓN. Written and printed while the war was still going on, Neruda's work captures some of the passion felt by those defending the Spanish Republic, and some of the atrociousness of the actions committed by Franco's forces. To those who prefer their poetry jaded and blasé in tone, Neruda's collection might come across as excessive. He seemed to recognize that himself, and addresses it in the closing stanzas of his poem Explico Algunas Cosas (I Explain a Few Things):

Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?

Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!

(here's a translation:)

You all will ask why my poems
don't talk of sleep, of leaves,
of the large volcanoes of my native country.

Come and look at the blood in the streets,
come and look
at the blood in the streets,
come and look at the blood
in the streets!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simple History Series: the Spanish Civil War

Microcosm has taken over the publishing of John Gerlach's Simple History Series, with the volume covering the Spanish Civil War being the second they've printed. I picked up a copy on Sunday, and read through it that afternoon.

One of the first questions that came to mind, while reading this zine, was: how simple is too simple? Gerlach has stripped the topic down to the point where it offers less information than you'd find in the Wikipedia article on the same subject (I'm obliged to mention here that I found Gerlach's work easier to read than the Wikipedia article, and simplification might be part of why). At what point do the benefits of simplification founder under the weight of its drawbacks?

Another question: can the potential benefit of covering this topic in Gerlach's series be quantified? I've got the feeling that a fair amount of the people who pick up this zine might have never read anything about the Spanish Civil War otherwise. Sure, the topic has a special place in the hearts of a lot of revolutionary-minded people because of the radical political forces involved (conservatives/fascists vs. communists/anarchists/progressives), but for all of those 'revolutionaries' who identify as intellectual and love diving into books and articles, you've got plenty more who wouldn't touch a thick tome with a ten-foot pole, but might actually read a zine (especially if that zine is promoted by Microcosm, which has a pretty large audience).

A third question, less about this title itself and more about the topic covered: what would it take for a similar war to take place here in the United States? The Spanish Civil War came about because of the failure of Spain's political system to satisfy the demands of a people that had been dramatically polarized into the haves and the have-nots (to boil things down to even simpler terms than those found in Gerlach's zine). With the outrageous disparity of wealth in this country (1, 2), and with the dissatisfaction felt by so many people here (as evidenced by the Occupy movement, amongst other things), today's USA has a lot in common with Spain in the 1930s. And yet, it's pretty hard for me to imagine our populace actually taking up arms.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FINE ABSENCE, by Anne Bauer

Just finished reading FINE ABSENCE, a poetry chapbook by Anne Bauer. It is excellent, nearly every poem a knockout. But what it leaves me ruminating on now, in these moments following two consecutive read-throughs, is the question of Writing About Personal Topics, and especially Intending for Those Topics to be Read by an Audience.

FINE ABSENCE takes as its general theme the gap that death creates in the lives of those left living. More specifically, many of the poems Bauer includes in this collection are written about, and in the wake of, her father's passing. They are beautiful poems, remarkable for the intimacy of emotion they reveal. And that's what makes me wonder, now, what it means to write of a real, specific, intimate relationship in a forum meant for the public, for an amorphous mass of people you'll never know personally.

I suppose it's possible that the publication of FINE ABSENCE was a sort of accident, that it entailed no effort on the part of Bauer, that she submitted the collection to the Pavement Saw Press chapbook competition (which she won, which is why the collection was published) merely on a whim, that it was accepted and published so quickly and smoothly that Bauer never really had the time or inclination to consider the concept of an audience. Or, I suppose, it's also possible that someone else submitted the collection on her behalf, that it was accepted and published without any effort or desire on her part (that's what happened with Emily Dickinson, after all). But from what I know about poetry publication, these hypothetical scenarios are pretty unlikely. In almost every case, getting a collection of poetry published demands a significant level of committed effort from the author.

Of course, in this particular case I am grateful that Bauer made the effort, because otherwise I'd never have had a chance to read it. But still I wonder: what does it mean to write about the intimately personal and then make efforts to share that writing with an impersonal mass of people you'll never know?

And of course, I write poetry too, and until the last year I worked at getting my poetry published. Even now that I've lost interest in the submission process, when I write poems there is always, at some level, the idea that the poem is an effort to communicate with other people. I'm not just jotting down thoughts for my edification--there is always, to some extent, the goal to produce something with potential value to a greater audience than just my own self.

Why? Why do poets mine their personal lives for material to be presented to a public (a public which, it must be said, really isn't actually clamoring for poetry)? Why are poets driven to present their private selves to an anonymous crowd? Does it boil down to needy egos?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

whatever happened to the outrage?

Remember a while back, maybe ten years, when sweatshops were a big topic? People were protesting Nike, the GAP, and other big brands; Kathie Lee Gifford broke down in tears when her clothing company was exposed as relying on child labor; 60 Minutes and 20/20 and Hard Copy were running exposes on human-rights violations in third world production factories. Sweatshops were utterly gruesome, and people were outraged to learn they were supporting sweatshop labor by buying overpriced Levis.

Ten years later, the sweatshop situation is even worse, and yet you don't seem to hear much about it. The big brands are more profitable than ever, and the smaller brands that sprang up specifically to offer sweatshop free clothing are struggling, or going out of business (SweatX and Just Garments shut down; No Sweat seems like its on the ropes; even American Apparel--which owed its initial popularity in large part to the anti-sweatshop movement--is starting to look like a short-lived fad, with stock prices that peaked at $15 a share currently trading for 75 cents).

So what's up? Does the public not care anymore? Has their horror been lacquered over by the gloss of a decade's worth of billion-dollar big-brand ad campaigns?

Well, one dude who's still outraged is Charles Kernaghan. Here's a speech he gave last year at the International Association of Fire Fighters. It starts with the American economy and then segues into sweatshops, and it goes on for more than 30 minutes, but if you watch even ten minutes you'll probably start to feel outraged about sweatshops all over again. So watch it.

leaving banks behind

World's fucked up today, and banks are a big part of why. I'd opened up a credit union account almost a year ago, but it's only recently that I decided to take all my money out of for-profit banks and shut down those accounts. It's an idea that's been gaining attention recently, and there's lots of good reasons for it. I won't bother to list those reasons here, as they're already all over the net, but if you haven't considered switching, I recommend that you do.