Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Walid Raad, video artist and founder of the Atlas Collective, is currently in Lebanon and sent out the following email:

Yet another day of bombing all over the place. In the mountain here, we were subject to about three different bombing runs: 1 to continue destroying the Beirut to Damascus road; another to destroy the cell phone antennas; and another to again hit the Beirut to Damascus road. Just a few minutes ago, the house was shaking again, and I only assume the Israelis are pounding the same area. The safe areas are much further to the north, the northeastern enclave, an area traditionally christian. Listening to Nasrallah's speech tonight was not reassuring one bit. After pleading with the Lebanese to stand firm, and after denouncing Arab government leaving Lebanon cannot imagine this going on for months, despite what some officials up high are stating. I assume that the regional ploy is to disarm hizbAllah. This will only happen is Syria and Iran get something in return. What is the U.S. willing to grant them? Also, they have to find a way out for HizbAllah. Which means that their position inside the Lebanese government will have to be negotiated. They may disarm them, but they have to give them a way out as well. After all, HizbAllah represents 1 million folks here. Israel and the U.S cannot kill them all.

Rumors aplenty, every ten minutes. The news, all of it, Arab and international, makes me sick. We are stuck with a false choice: Support HizbAllah, or be an Israeli agent. That is at least what HizbAllah and their Syrian allies are saying. The Christian right's position is equally naive. They want to assume that HizbAllah will just go away. they are wishing it at least. That wont happen, no matter what. Everyone is miscalculating it seems: HizbAllah, the Americans, the Israelis, The Saudis, the Palestinians, The French, The Russians, The Chinese. You name it.Effects on the ground will remain once this crisis is resolved, and has already generated enough antagonism to last us another decade.

We are trying to think of what to do. To leave,and be stuck in the U.S glued to the TV trying to figure out what is happening will be maddening. This will clearly get worse before it gets better, and we have not seen the worse yet. Now, all parties are slowly revealing their cards.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A couple months ago, there was uproar over Flarfist Michael Magee’s ill-conceived Orientalist poem "Their Asian Glittering Guys. I haven’t the energy to summarize the debacle but you can read Tim Yu’s eloquent reaming of Magee’s piece here.

Since then, minority poets and theorists in the Bay area have galvanized to begin a discussion group on the buried yet tense intersections between the primarily white practitioners of the avant-garde and race. Now, much criticism has been devoted to the exclusionary tactics of official verse culture but little ink has been spilled on how the historical Avant-Garde and its present torch carriers are not exactly progressive minded themselves. Case in point is how Flarf defenders of Magee’s poem have used Postmodern rhetoric (roving subjectivity, pastiche, lack of authorship and the old-fashioned “some of my best friends are Asian poets!”) to deflect responsibility in owning up to the poem’s Orientalist content. Again much of this is deeply explored in Yu’s blog and responses by Chris Chen, Pamelu Lu, Arif Khan and others.

I also hate to point out the cheatingly obvious, but poets of color are as much in the fringes of post avant-garde culture as much as they are in official verse culture,* perhaps more so. Harryette Mullen, whose work I actually adore, is one of few minority poets who receives the most Langpo PR and I wonder how it’s any different from Academy of American Poetry embracing Yusef Komunyakaa to legitimize their institution as multicultural. I’m also tired of conversations where experimental minority poets are often demoted to being ethnic derivations of their white peers (the true formal innovators)—for instance, Myung Mi Kim being the Korean Susan Howe. Although white experimental poets exile themselves to the margins, they reproduce a hierarchicalizing infrastructure that’s not so different from the machine they are rebelling from.

Of course, it’s all up to poets themselves to begin communities, much like the Bay area listserv. And to contradict myself, I do think these are exciting times. Groups are popping up who do not identify themselves by strict identity politicky markers, nor who are straight white males who use theory to bulwark their experimental poetics, but who fuse formal invention, theory, with global politics, history and ethnicity--poets of diverse backgrounds who hammer out their own explosive aesthetics. The excellent Black Took Collective, an experimental offshoot of Cave Canem poets, is one. Action, Yes, integrates formal innovation with internationalism and translations. There are the Russians at Ugly Duckling. There are individual poets like Cecilia Vicuna, Ed Roberson, Tyrone Williams, Barbara Jane Reyes, etc and etc. They are scattered but out there, and I only expect there will be more.

*A caveat: I realize that official verse culture and the experimental camps are often bed partners and that poetry as a whole is one cramped, labyrinthine, incestuous muddle of quibbling groups.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

My roommate Ghita referred me to a fascinating obituary article about an Ex-Sandinista, Herty Lewites. His life is unalloyed fodder for an epic Rushdian novel. Some highlights of his life:

Herty Lewites was born in the Nicaraguan province of Jinotepe, the son of a Jewish Polish candy manufacturer who left New York and settled in Jinotepe after falling in love with a Nicaraguan woman.

Herty Lewites joined the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Herty Lewites smuggled guns from California to Nicaragua in the 70s. After several successful runs, carrying weapons concealed in trucks, he was arrested and spent six months in federal prison.

Herty Lewites was appointed the minister of tourism after the Sandinistas won the Revolutionary war in 1979.

Herty Lewites won fame and fortune opening “dollar stores” where diplomats could buy imported goods otherwise unavailable in Nicaragua.

Herty Lewites won even more fame and fortune opening up an amusement park named "Hertylandia."

Herty Lewites was a contender in the race for the next Nicaraguan presidency, under a new party that he formed, the Movement for Sandinista Renewal.

Herty Lewites died of a heart attack mid-campaign.

Read the rest here.