Posts from — June 2011
and The Postmodern Narrative
The Reception of The Myth Maker
in Belgium and in London
By Miklós Horváth
While in 1889, Paul Gauguin received a negative reception from the Belgian audience, this year he was celebrated as a legend builder and a myth navigator at Tate Modern, London. The distinctive reception of his works raises the following questions: Why was Gauguin so disregarded in the 19th century, and why now is the exhibition of his painting being reported by The Times and The Guardian as “the show of the season” and as a “brilliant event”?
The Tate exhibition, which opened in September 2010 and closed in January 2011, presented Gauguin’s work by focusing on myth and the construction of narrative in his life and art. The work on display gave a glimpse into the artist’s methods, and into a lifestyle as dreadful, dark and bizarre as it was full of a revolutionary visual language. Revolutionary in that no other 19th century artist so uniquely intertwined Symbolism, Primitivism, Fauvism and Expressionism. Gauguin became a stylistic innovator, a fabulous story teller, and “a weaver of intimate psychological dramas that got under the skin and delved into the minds of his subjects”, as Richard Dorment wrote in The Telegraph.
The 20th century’s postmodern and postcolonial literatures were very much engaged with story-telling and myth-making. Novelists were interested in what made a narrative, what one’s private story stood for, and how it contributed to the history of a community or a nation. The stories of the protagonists of such novels are often handcuffed to their national history. The protagonists tell not only their own stories, but also narratives that almost always relate to the national ‘grand narrative’.
With this idea – that the protagonist of a novel with his or her own story is a representation of the history of a community or a nation – postmodern narrators and exhibition curators often derive their themes under such a banner, as the Tate Modern exhibition pronounced Gauguin a mediator and a myth-navigator who introduced the Western World to the beauties of unknown cultures and mythical traditions. As it is widely known today, our knowledge of Tahiti and its inhabitants is heavily influenced by Gauguin’s narrative and his paintings.
As mentioned above, myth-making is a narrative strategy. It is used in prominent contemporary literature, such as Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, and Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie. These novels are engaged with cultural representations and story-telling; and they will be used while discussing Gauguin as a myth maker. It is in the similarity between postmodern narrative techniques and Gauguin’s hybrid 19th century narration that they changed the way 21st century viewers receive Gauguin’s paintings.
Without an understanding of the postmodern narrative, which stands for otherness and promotes diversity, it would be difficult to discuss Gauguin as a Myth creator. It is also very important to note that in the late 19th century this postmodern narrative technique was unknown. Thus, Gauguin received a negative reception at Les Vingt in Belgium. The audiences, often with a peasant’s mentality for things outside their immediate environs, were unable to understand Gauguin’s worldly aesthetic. Their parochialism limited them to understand and accept only their own views, and they were unable to consider, let alone comprehend, other ‘ideologies’. In Silas Marner, George Eliot gives an enthralling description of such people. She says that the world outside the peasants’ own direct experiences was a region of vagueness and mystery: “… to their untraveled thoughts, a state of wandering was a conception as dim as the winter life of the swallows….”
The authors of postcolonial and postmodern books usually develop one or two distinctive interpretations of cultures and nations by one or two protagonists in their narratives. Wide Sargasso Sea, for example, provides two interpretations on the Caribbean culture. One is given by the protagonist Antoinette, a Creole girl who tells of her childhood in the Caribbean. The other is given through the lens of an Englishman, Rochester. In Midnight’s Children, the protagonist Saleem Sinai tells of the history of India after the British rule in 1947. He was born on the stroke of midnight when India became independent; therefore, his circumstances fulfilled a special position: he embodies the identity of his nation. He becomes the voice of his nation.
Gauguin is also known as a legend builder. He honed his reputation as a rebel and libertine, telling his own tale of a specific culture to his contemporary audience. He brings together the Tahitian religious belief and his own personal experiences. He conjures up the remote and exotic world of Tahiti for western ears.
Although Antoinette, Saleem Sinai and Gauguin all become mediators of specific cultures or nations, they all are also aware there are countless interpretations of cultures and nations. Antoinette knows she can only evoke fragmentations of the past, and that she cannot recall them in their plenitude. Saleem Sinai was born on the stroke of midnight when India became independent; therefore, in his own words, he is “mysteriously handcuffed to history, [his] destinies indissolubly chained to those of [his] country”. Later in the text, readers are informed that one thousand and one children were born within the frontiers of the state at the same time, which means that there are many personal histories contributing to the national narrative.
By the time he’d reached his mid-30s, Gauguin had set sail and circumnavigated the globe several times, leaving behind a lucrative financial career, and leaving his Danish wife and five children with her parents in Copenhagen. This man had experienced life in the Americas, Europe and Oceania, and had gathered data which was selectively used. He did not want to build a grand narrative, but to add a collection of fragmentations of varied histories and cultures, instead.
Gauguin knew that his narrative was only one possible fable among many. He felt he was a kind of alien mediator who incorporated unfamiliar words and expressions from the Tahitian language into his paintings, which preserved a definite distance between European views and the tropical scene.
In the late 19th century these narrative structures were not widely known or understood. For that very reason Gauguin received a negative reception at Les Vingt in Belgium in 1889. A fine arts critic, Elise Eckermann, wrote about Gauguin’s critical reception in Belgium in 1889 and 1891, saying that a cartoon published in Le Patriote illustré was mocking one of Gauguin’s paintings: Among the mangoes at Martinique.
More than a century later, Gauguin’s reception dramatically changed. In 2010, The Guardian termed the exhibition a “brilliant” event; The Times called it “the show of the season”. Thanks to our understanding of the postmodern narrative, which challenged attitudes towards “otherness”, including cultural and racial diversity, we can appreciate the Gauguin who gave us new perspectives on the value of understanding foreign cultures. Thanks to Gauguin, the eyes and imaginations of the Western World were opened to the power and beauty of other cultures, and to the so-called primitive arts.
About the author:
Miklós Horváth is an undergraduate student at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, and Leiden University, in The Netherlands, where he received an Erasmus Scholarship to study. His trip to England to see and research the Gauguin exhibit was underwritten by grants from: Pro Renovanda Cultura Hungariae: Students for Science, National Union of Students in Hungary, and the ELTE Student’s Union.
June 28, 2011 2 Comments
INTO THE NIGHT
Like the breaking of a bulb,
From our bodies is born
light that has grown already tired.
What is that spark that allows us to perceive
rejection in a down-turned eye?
The gentle foggy rubbing
of energy that gasps at the surface
each morning after playing dead for the night.
When the glass fissures
and babbles against the floor
and it grows very dark,
we say it has gone out, but something quietly lingers,
like a consciousness
orphaned by our dead bodies,
without locus of agency,
without physical purpose,
a weight no heavier than the origin of morning
Where the glass, stricken
with surprise, no longer
contained by a thin self,
joins the rest of the night
to search for a place
where it has been all along.
THINK OF HER IN GRAINS
She likes to buy the cheapest coffee.
She likes to breathe it in
with those who once sat at the table,
whose absences displace
more of the room
than their bodies ever could.
Perhaps they would offer you a seat.
Perhaps they would offer you a meal
each bite a scribble of the way
you wake up each morning
and wait for the sun
to erase you.
When the light gives back your eyes
and you accept them,
dry with becoming,
you’ll walk into a room.
There will be faces
the ones you remember.
But they are not.
You will wonder
if your own face
has that same uncanny
resemblance to itself.
Then, you forget
why you had come all this way.
She haunts your skin.
This time she is dressed
She says to hold her
or she’ll fall apart.
You think of her
in grains sifted by the mesh
of your hands.
She likes to buy the cheapest coffee
so it’s not a waste when it’s all been spilled.
About the poet:
June 28, 2011 1 Comment
I Admire Helen Dzik
The name of our team
said it all
Maybe that’s why
the softball committee
put a dress factory worker
and single broad
She was the Polish stock
who didn’t comb her hair
wore polyester pants
and probably drank
good potato vodka
when we’d lose again.
No one called her
an old maid, or old.
She played tough.
When she stood
on the first base line
and said to run,
you better damn well run.
This field was her joy.
This brief respite
from sewing hems
a softball flies
is not as predictable
as finding the perfect stitch.
I didn’t understand
made her smoke less,
No one on the bleachers
to wave to her or smile.
When the shortstop
that oh so easy line drive,
We gave the other team
so many chances to score.
The spectator might have thought
we were the farthest thing
I caught that ball
in the outfield
all that hard solitude
in my glove
before I even knew
what made Helen hurt
was outside the fence
as I threw toward home.
Pas De Deux
until you go
from 4 to 31
at McCann’s School of Dance
to the point
where you stand
toes turned five digits
counting to perfect
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…
This from a girl
who lasted one class
whose closest trip to Julliard
is watch the 8 o clock public TV version
of Swan Lake
by the New York City Ballet.
I think it was the fascination
with those ever so black leotards
scraping my skin
choreographing my skeleton
Into and not away from flesh.
not to learn
how to arabesque
standing at the tow bar
I only stayed
in Ms. McCann’s ballet
for one hour.
Maybe it was because
I couldn’t pull my hair
into a bun
like the other kindergarten prima donnas.
of having my long hair
severed by scissors.
My preschool teacher
said my curls
caught the wind
the wrong way.
If you ask me
about modern ballet
I’ll throw you some names
Make myself appear
as cultured as the pearls
who only throw a glare
inside the jewelry box
and forget the glow
around my neck.
I want to twirl for you
but I don’t know
never mind the step
French doesn‘t plie along these lips
and our mouths
don’t grace the tongue’s pirhouette.
Two muscles bend
to meet the other’s motion.
You don’t surrender
as a principal ballet dancer should
lifting me toward sky
requires too much precision
and our lips don’t drift
beyond this Slovak kitchen.
a replica of my grandmother’s.,
Gravy stains the stove
and the tablecloth
sleeps under the weight
of spoiled sour cream.
Butter erupts yellow volcanos
from its pink glass house.
Your Mom and Dad
waltz through air.
While Duke Ellington plays,
your parents are voyeurs
as you reach to kiss me
in the space in the kitchen
near the back door.
But this house
will never be a place for culture
or love of culture
Hookers posing as dancers
because this paid
the same as sex.
The prostitute always finds the right position
suspended in air
stretching toward flight.
I leap somewhere
between her azure blue
and your gray muscle
pulsing toward our Pas De Deux
struggling to fumble
For All The Girls Like Camille
I like the idea that you sculpt me into Camille Claudel
with all her honesty carved into stone.
I know that to chisel something real is not easy
and seldom without consequence.
You destroyed most of what you made.
She aborted her works of art with hammers
and all the slivers stick into my skin.
Yes, Rodin is in the Metropolitan.
What’s left of you lives in Paris.
Camille, I wish I could take you
to a diner in Moosic
where you could get a milkshake
and a smile.
You wouldn’t have to tell
the electricians or the truckers
your art was overlooked.
They’d appreciate your work ethic.
They’d appreciate the way
you made their faces,
tough but gentle.
It satisfies them
of a man and a woman together
is worthy enough
of a full plate of bacon and eggs.
No one knows Camille, though.
No one knows me, either.
They remember Brittany Spears.
who like to wear a work belt low
would screw you more than once.
In the meantime,
Rodin keeps on making and mating.
He uses the word copulation
as if a better vocabulary takes the act
to a higher level.
Whether you date a millionaire
or a bordello owner,
we take off our clothes
throw the socks to the ground
This getting on top of each other
is the cat coming back to the doorstep.
You want to keep feeding the animal
but you can’t let him in.
Camille thought about the guy at the Petro.
How nice it would be to get away from Paris.
To have a front porch.
A construction worker holding your hand.
About the poet:
Jennifer Diskin holds a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She loves poetry, all kinds of music and the fact the trees blossomed this spring despite our hard winter.
June 28, 2011 2 Comments
“…she is creating the narrative,
so why should she pretend otherwise?”
By Kristin Thiel
Kristin Thiel: That’s an interesting head shot of you for this book—did you want to connect your young-adult years to this book’s characters?
Cris Mazza: I wanted to connect to Hester’s line “College doesn’t play any role in her tale. To my chagrin, it does in mine.” I wanted to put it up front and “out there” that I was in part using some of my experiences and impressions from those years. I’d wanted to put on the cover “this novel is one third true” and let the reader discern which third. But, as it happens, a memoir will follow this novel, so the photo took care of the representation for the novel.
Q: The cover photo, of two people, appears to be several photos but really is one image shifted slightly for each repetition. In all but one version, the full identity of both people is hidden—in that one distinct version, the woman is fully shown and the man’s head has been cropped out. I’m interested in that decision for a couple of reasons. One, it seems to refer to how women are usually the ones reduced to disparate body parts in media images.
CM: The photo has many kinds of illusions. One is that, quite accidentally, the “pose” (which wasn’t staged) looks a little like the way a hunter holds up his dead deer’s head for the trophy photo. It also is a reverse image of Hester’s “position” when she goes to talk to the Mexican prostitute. Lastly, the closed-eyed look on the female’s face is the same content way a dog might relax when it’s being stroked. Ironically, that illusion also evokes something in the book: the wistful longings of girls.
Q: Too, the title seems to emphasize the male characters—the title’s not something like, The Various Girls We’ve Been for Men.
CM: Ha! Maybe that’s my next novel.
Q: What can you say about the cover images and the title? (Especially on the former, I realize that’s often more of a publisher, than author, choice, but in this case, with such an indie press, I thought you likely had more involvement.)
CM: I chose the cover image and the title. The design of how to use the cover image was done by a professional designer. The title was one of those things that when you have it, the book “comes together” more in your mind. The affair with the sixteen-year-old, the would-be affair with the master-teacher, the experiences with her mentor and his nemesis, her husband and lover, and then the men who visit the girls in the field. They all only knew these women as girls . . . in whatever way you want to use the term girl.
Q: It’s strange to read any novel and then find out that parts of it were previously published elsewhere as stand-alone pieces, but this novel is particularly layered, and I’m wondering some things about that. How’d you choose what to excerpt?
CM: Whatever seemed to be able to be self-sufficient . . . so most often it’s something in the first third, or at least the first half. I also cobbled stuff together: one of the letters to Dan mixed with another scene. I do the same thing for readings, paste together two or three short sections that somehow make a whole.
Q: Was the novel already a novel, in your mind or in reality, when you published these individual sections, or did a longer piece develop out of these smaller parts?
CM: No, the book was already a novel when each of those excerpts were removed and published.
Q: I’d love to hear about your choice and execution of structure, or framework for this novel, your mix of the chronological and the narrative format.
You go back and forth in time – most specific events happen in the late 1970s and early 2000s – but there’s usually (except for Heather’s story) a clear awareness that the reader’s guide is the twenty-first-century adult Hester, as in the description of Tom Hoffman’s outfit: “He was 70s porn-star chic. But of course the first time I saw him was before anyone knew there was a porn-star look, a look everyone would recognize as such by the late 90s. [ . . . ] A guy who would have done his howling and making-out to The Dave Clark Five [ . . . ], and someday would be one of those who wore a slim grey ponytail [ . . . ] Later installed his Bronco with [ . . . ]” (15).
CM: That is a result of my using a very self-conscious first-person narrator—as I think they all should be! She is acutely aware of when (the present date) she is creating the narrative, so why should she pretend otherwise? When she describes a clothing style or piece of office equipment, of course she knows how outlandish or antiquated it is at the time she’s narrating, and of course the passage of time has affected her way of describing that kind of hair or clothing. She probably couldn’t describe a hairstyle the way she might have thirty years ago; I know I couldn’t, other than to say “we must have thought it looked cool.” Our view of things (and how we describe them) is always how we view it now, and “now” is developed by time-passage. To provide the way styles, etc. were viewed “back then” is a memory exercise. In first-person narrative, to pretend the narrator still has the same views and opinions, or remembers her former perspectives without them being warped or altered by time, would be fake. That’s why a first-person narrator who isn’t aware of (and narrating in) the present time — giving the narrative a palpable feel of whatever the time-distance is — is, to me, a misuse and misunderstanding of the technique.
I also tried to make this duality — how I saw it then versus how I see it now in my memory — have a tangibility. For example, when Hester goes back to visit her mentor and sees that George Bush calendar on his wall. Her memories would not have described him as a person who would have such a thing. So Hester as narrator now can’t quite just narrate him the way she perceived him twenty-five years ago.
Q: And your narrator, Hester, tells this book through a variety of forms: “standard” first-person narration, letters she’s writing in present day to the contemporary versions of teachers she knew in the ’70s; typed journal entries/notes she kept in the ’70s; real newspaper articles; imagined magazine features; and there are even pull quotes throughout the narration, from the narration, as though this whole book were a magazine article.
CM: The pull-quotes are my publisher’s idea. A brilliant touch, giving that journalistic feel to a “failed-journalist’s” book. Oh, and you forgot to list one: a third-person account, written by Hester, when she imagines the sixteen-year-old’s affair with the English teacher and puts herself in the far background as “the student-teacher.” I just use what seems organic at the time. The whole book started as a letter to my former master-teacher, which I never sent. I used the notes he kept for me when I was his student teacher, as well as the journal I kept. I made changes as necessary, but used them to capture the feel of how differently a written voice in a journal sounds – you rarely explain things completely in a journal, and twenty-five years later you might not know what you were talking about because only the emotions and reactions are recorded, not the actual scene, setting, or conflict.
Q: Hester gives a few clues about who her audience of readers is: “us,” “women”; people who were sitting “in a courtroom with that senseless, senile expression” (258). She calls what she’s writing “this document” (63). What more can you tell us about Hester’s audience and intention?
CM: Wait, the person in the courtroom with “that senseless, senile expression” is only Dan Wood!
As long as Hester is keenly aware that she’s working on “a document,” she is always aware that it may, someday, have readers. I suppose that’s as far as the specific audience goes. You can surely extend the “us” to mean any woman reading the book, but in my mind, and hers, being aware of writing a book is in and of itself an awareness that the words are directed toward an audience, some audience, someday, somewhere. Hester predicts “liberal protests” and tries to beat her critics to the punch . . . That’s the beauty of self-conscious first-person narration: it is free to digress and ponder itself.
Q: As a reader, I felt an anxiety/tension, as I would reading a thriller or murder mystery, at several times throughout the book, not just at the parts one might guess could provoke anticipation. What parts do that for you — as you were writing them and now as you reread them?
CM: I don’t suppose I provoke the same kind of anticipation in myself (even not knowing until two thirds into the book what might happen at the end). But if anticipation — or surprise, or some form of it — did happen, it was when I was writing Hester’s third-person rendition of the sixteen-year-old’s affair with the English teacher. Keeping that narrative under the purview of it being “from Hester” was not as much of a challenge by that point in the book, because I knew her, and could vicariously play her, including writing something as she would write it. But what would happen in that section — how it would be dramatic and yet not sensationalized, how I would show what I intended and yet keep both characters within some kind of “sympathetic” range, created a surprising outcome: I discovered how the situation could have damaged both characters, and it was beneath the stereotyped reasons society condemns it.
Q: You do link media exposure to, celebration/glorification of, sex with at least some level of the sexual anxiety or even dysfunction that a lot of people have. There is a debate around that, of course, outside this book, so I’d like you to share more thoughts on that.
CM: Simply this: People (especially women) who don’t or haven’t had the sublime sexual experiences that media / culture suggest that everybody has at their disposal carry this, alone, as a secret shame, wondering what is to blame. Some people blame others, many blame themselves. It can be an all-consuming anxiety. It affects how you value yourself, as well as how you perceive other human behavior, whether healthy, misguided, confused, or evil.
Q: One of the scenes that I could really picture as I read it was Hester’s first description of assisting Pryor, how she “recorded the kinds of notes Pryor needed to know later, prompted him in a nearly inaudible whisper when he forgot” (12). It got me to wondering about the times your role was “to listen to his asides, the things he wanted to say but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say,” of which you must have some — as a woman, and as a woman writer, in particular.
CM: As I was developing as a writer, in college, I did have employment as a clerical aide for a music professor. He was a fairly young man (although “older and wiser” than me) and new in the university, struggling with the mixture of egos and agendas that confuse collegiality among colleagues, especially in a performance-based field. I was someone he talked to, barely noticing that he was working things out himself. Years later, when I’d experienced that same kind of atmosphere myself, I could look back and see what he was encountering, what tools he had to deal with it that I took longer to develop. To this day I don’t know what made him confide in me as much as he did — sometimes in the guise of “teaching” me about how people work (he knew I was a developing writer). But it was a relationship that defied definition, which is why it belonged in this novel.
Q: At one point, Hester says the archived paper that she’s looking through “feels sweaty” (51). That’s a great description, and I see it meaning at least a couple of things, in Hester’s case. What documents have felt sweaty to you lately?
CM: When I first moved from California to the Midwest (it was in August), I remember how any paper felt wet to me, just because of the humidity. So I imagined someone’s emotions creating a feeling of “humidity,” which might make flipping through the pages of an old notebook feel damp. It seems opposite of what old, fragile paper might feel like. Sometimes the pages of my old journals feel thicker, not brittle, because of the abundance of smudgy pencil writing, so it looks as though it would have that humid feeling.
Q: How do you define feminism? It’s an oft-discussed question, but it’s also one that seems to have many answers, or at least many accepted answers, so that sometimes the answer is that the term is useless. (For what it’s worth, I disagree that there are many definitions and that the term is useless.) This book is feminist in ways that I think would surprise a lot of people, based on what they consider feminism. Would you talk about that a little?
CM: “I’m for women’s rights,” say college students, “but I’m not a feminist.” What does this mean? Is it like liberals who prefer to be called progressives because the former term started being used as a pejorative? Or is it like, “I’m for worker rights, but I don’t favor unions”? Feminism is a little like a union, in that it aims to protect women’s rights, status, and living conditions. But, unlike a union (or maybe I’m wrong about this), feminism works by educating. There may be feminist groups who will do the lawsuits and protests, but feminism itself, I think, seeks to educate. And one thing I hope feminism is interested in is not just “what is the problem?” but how women have contributed to the overall “problem.” How society and culture taught women to contribute to the problem, but how some women, no matter how smart, can’t break that cycle. Here’s feminism’s image problem: Ask a well-known political cartoonist to draw “a feminist.” If ninety out of one hundred people recognize what that person has drawn, then we need to do something to make sure we don’t all come in one stripe, that resentment and blame and playing-the-victim aren’t our only cry.
About the interviewer:
Kristin Thiel is senior editor and director of community engagement at Indigo Editing & Publications, reviews books regularly, and has fiction forthcoming in Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience (Other Voices Books/Dzanc Books), for which Cris Mazza wrote the introductory essay. (Jim Dorenkamp Photo, Copyright 2010.)
June 28, 2011 1 Comment
in the Intellectual Property Wars
Presented in the this month’s edition is a piece sent in by Leon Tan. It’s a twist on the integration of art, power and politics – a relationship not always complementary, and one with us as long as we humans have been entertaining any notions of society. The details and nuances of the relationship tend to tell us a significant amount about what is and isn’t happening in our times, and Tan’s submission is no exception. So take a read and let us know in your low or high brow opinion the thoughts that his piece evokes. And keep an eye toward the September/October edition, as we will be featuring another ‘art to politics’ article with a focus on the musical group, The Rooftop Revolutionaries.
— Jim Palombo, politics editor
by Leon Tan, Ph. D.
The painting, Darfunica, by Danish artist Nadia Plesner (based in the Netherlands) is conceived in homage to Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica. It is also an expression of political claims by the artist, who makes the point that the obsession with Hollywood celebrities in popular news media means that genocide in Darfur (or any number of places) could take place without even making the headlines. Plesner finds this situation unacceptable, explaining her painting as follows: “In Darfurnica I have mixed some of the horrible stories I have learned about Darfur over the past years with some of the Hollywood gossip stories which made headlines during the same time period.” The idea, it seems, is to juxtapose the luxury world of Hollywood celebrity with the horrors of Darfur’s ongoing civil war.
Darfurnica came to my attention only because of my interest in issues of copyright. As it happens, the artist and work are at the centre of a legal battle initiated by LouisVuitton, who objects to the bag being carried by the boy in the middle of the painting. Louis Vuitton alleges that the use of the LV pattern on the bag constitutes infringement of its intellectual property rights. On 27 January 2011, Louis Vuitton obtained an ex parte court order against Nadia Plesner from the Court of The Hague.
On her website (http://www.nadiaplesner.com/), Plesner counters Louis Vuitton’sclaim by asserting that the court order violates her rights to free speech and artistic freedom under Section 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). In this case, Plesner is correct, as Section 10 does in fact guarantee freedom of expression, which specifically includes non-interference by public authorities. In fact, the court order also violates Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to participation in cultural life specified in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Conveniently ignored until very recently in the contentious politics of intellectual property, the conflict between intellectual property legislation on one hand, and human and cultural rights legislation on the other, deserves greater scrutiny. For legal institutions have in the main apparently forgotten the existence of such rights and frameworks under continuous lobbying pressure from ruthless corporate oligopolies. A related case in Sweden involves the Swedish government prosecuting organizers behind The Pirate Bay, under direct pressure from the U.S. government and a predominantly American media oligopoly (Tan, 2010). At no time did the Swedish court pause to reflect on its own violations of international frameworks such as the UDHR and ICESCR, not to mention the ECHR.
As a matter of fact, ‘The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has previously recommended that every state conduct a general human rights impact assessment of their IP regimes.’ (Shaver and Sganga, 2009) No mention has yet been made by the courts in either the Netherlands or Sweden of any such assessment. It is timely therefore, for legal institutions to educate themselves concerning their own obligations under the aforementioned frameworks for human and cultural rights, and to cease delaying rigorous human rights impact assessments on national, regional and international intellectual property frameworks. In the meantime, it is encouraging to see that Plesner filed her own lawsuit against Louis Vuitton to have the order lifted.
Leon Tan, ‘The Pirate Bay: Countervailing power and the problem of state organized crime,” CTheory: Theory, Technology and Culture, 2010, 33(3).
Lea Shaver and Caterina Sganga, ‘The right to take part in cultural life: On copyrightand human rights,’ Wisconsin International Law Journal, 2009, 27.
About the author:
Leon Tan (PhD) is an Art Historian specializing in aesthetics, social theory, contemporary art, and the history of networked art and media. He previously lectured in Art History and Psychotherapy in New Zealand, before relocating for part of the year to Sweden in 2009.
June 28, 2011 Comments Off on Leon Tan/Politics, Art & Law
1 + 1 = 0
10 Musical partnerships that don’t add up
By Jeff Katz
Ever have someone you trust do something so stupid, show such obvious lack of judgment that your jaw drops and you scratch your head wondering if you were completely off-base in your assessment of that person? Sure, we all have. Sometimes these lapses come from our friends, spouses, children, political leaders, you name it. But I’m the Music Editor, so on to the topic at hand.
It’s easy to come up with a list of failed musical partnerships, but a tad more difficult if you stay away from the obvious: Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s dip into overly simplistic race relations in “Ebony and Ivory,” David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s psycho duet of “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth,” Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Something Stupid,” an innocent song that became a creepy celebration of incest, to name a few.
Here’s a smattering of epic fails by musical icons.
1 – Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple – “Father and Son”
Most of the pairings in the latter part of The Man in Black’s career worked. Producer Rick Rubin connected him with many, including Tom Petty, Carl Perkins and Willie Nelson. Those matches are the best matches since Dolly Gallagher-Levi’s heyday. Some are less successful. (Sad to say, Cash and Joe Strummer’s take on “Redemption Song” doesn’t cut it for me). But the team of Cash and Apple is perplexing at best. There’s the obvious: Fiona can’t be Johnny’s son; she’s got lady parts! That’s number one. Number two is that their voices are impossible to mesh. Now, I love Ms. Apple. Her When the Pawn… and Extraordinary Machine are two of my all time favorite records, but this endeavor is pretty worthless. Her wispy feyness weaves itself unsurely in and out and around Cash’s craggy old-man voice. Plus, I can’t stand Cat Stevens and this song sucks.
2 – Burt Ward and Frank Zappa – “Boy Wonder I Love You.”
This cut requires some explanation. It’s not really a song at all. Conceptually, it’s hysterical; TV Batman’s Robin reads fan letters over a wry early ‘60’s pop sound that Frank presents tongue firmly in hairy cheek. It’s all done for ridiculous effect, but the problem is in the execution; it’s a one-joke record that gets old in a hurry. And it’s only two minutes and ten seconds long! I take a back seat to no one in my adoration for the Batman TV series. Heck, I have a retro Batmobile sitting on the shelf to my left, still in box. It gives me hope and inspiration. But, Holy Hi-Fi, Batman, this record is a threat to the ears of all the good citizens of Gotham.
3 – R.E.M. and KRS-One – “Radio Song”
No band has been a greater disappointment to me than R.E.M. From the moment Chronic Town came out in 1982, at the same time I saw them open for The English Beat, I was madly in love. But I bailed after Out of Time and this opening track was the warning signal. KRS-One, influential rapper though he may have been, doesn’t go with Michael Stipe. It’s embarrassing and one wonders where their musical compass went awry. Lately, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the group and who they are, not what I wanted them to be, and were, from the first EP to Green, but, for me, “Radio Song” marked the beginning of the end.
4 – Cher and Beavis and Butthead – “I Got You Babe”
High camp can work. This one is painful; five minutes of painful. The back and forth of the two animated miscreants is a bit of a giggle, but nothing can wipe a smile off my face quicker than the opening strains of Sonny and Cher. Even the boys know this sucks; “wuss music!” they cry. When the song cranks into heavy metal mode, they shout with glee. It still sucks. I get the feeling when Cher sings “Butthead, I got you,” she may have once used that line on Sonny, or Gregg Allman. “I Got You Babe” is execrable in its original form. “Cougar” Cher is beneath contempt as she finds that underage human males are no longer good enough for her; now she’s after cartoon minors.
5 – John Lennon and Frank Zappa – “Scumbag”
At The Fillmore in 1971, two of the most creative minds in rock history jammed as The Plastic Ono Mother to a plodding, unmemorable tune. Lennon’s lyrical skills were never lower than in the Sometime in New York City period, but the puerile, political sloganeering that marked that album seem positively Shakespearean compared to the relentless shouting of “Scumbag.” Two legends (three if you count Yoko, which I don’t) at their worst. Zappa does take the piss out of Lennon’s ultra-serious posturing. One snide “Right On” from Frank deflates the sanctimonious balloon.
6 – Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello – “You Want Her Too”
I get it; it’s the evil flip side to “The Girl is Mine.” But that Macca/Michael Jackson ditty does work. This song, a product of the short-lived Paul and Elvis writing team of the Flowers in the Dirt (Paul) and Spike (Elvis) period is pure caricature. McCartney, as usual the sappy one, is at least true to form. Costello’s venom spitting is strictly faux. Much was made in the late ‘80’s that Elvis was the John to Paul’s Paul, but that year’s model of Elvis Costello was not the authentically mean prick of his first albums. It shows.
7 – Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel – “Born to Run”
At the end of the first night of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concerts at Madison Square Garden, Billy Joel came out as a surprise guest during The Boss’ set, creating in the flesh a Tri-State music fans’ wet dream. Though they are truly contemporaries, I never think of them together. Joel is Springsteen-lite. When Billy sings, it’s pretend toughness, a posture. Bruce is always the real deal. For “Born to Run,” Joel, searching for the balls needed for the Springsteen anthem, reached for a Bruce impersonation to do the trick. Weak, weak stuff. You may gather that I’m not a fan of Billy Joel.
8 – Elton John – Victim of Love
This entire album, released in October 1979 with disco past its peak, puts Elton’s voice over mindless throbbing beats. It’s terrible stuff; I defy anyone to listen to the whole record. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I simply can’t make it. I find myself wishing for the return of Kiki Dee.
9 – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “The Onion Song”
Less a problem of performance than choice. “The world is just a great big onion?” Really, that’s the best metaphor they could come up with? And why is Earth like the stinky Allium cepa? It’s because “hate and fear are the spices that make you cry.” That’s according to the songwriters of this dreck, Ashford and Simpson. Marvin and Tammi try hard, but I couldn’t help shed a tear in empathetic embarrassment.
10 – B.B. King and U2 – “When Love Comes to Town”
I love black and white cookies. The taste is sweet, the balance is perfect. Too much vanilla can ruin the entire experience. I’ll leave it at that.
June 28, 2011 1 Comment
By Racquel Goodison
One morning, as I was waking up from anxious dreams, I discovered that I was not in my room. I was, in fact, not at all in my home or the world that I went to sleep in.
The air was still and my breathing and heart beat was a muffled rhythm inside my head. My eyes seemed to both belong to me and not belong to me. They saw as if from a body I had come to inhabit, but that I did not feel was mine.
Inside this shell, I struggled first to get out from under a pile of blankets, blankets that were eerily familiar and yet not, definitely not what I knew I had curled up under the night before. These were pink and shiny, downy and satiny. I knew my sheets were orange and quilted. After these shiny foreign sheets, I struggled with my heavy legs. They were legs, but they seemed like rubbery attachments, things belonging to a giant or a heavy lumbering mass. I worked to get them on the ground and then to get a look at them and at my hands, at my body, any way I could.
But this is where it all goes wrong, even more wrong than waking up into a dream or, rather, an endless nightmare. Whenever I looked down at any part of myself, I saw something that looked like parts of a body – hands, thighs, feet, toes – but all parts of a body I could not understand. I was left with just the impression of something but nothing more real, more concrete. And when I touched my arms or legs or face or shoulders or any part at all, the same thing happened. I felt a body was there but I could not wrap my mind around it. All I knew was what I perceived or felt. Nothing more. I could not test this knowledge with my senses, my eyes, my touch. My perception was my only reality.
All the while I struggled to climb out of this fog, I heard the lungs in me working the air in and out. I felt the heart in me thumping, thumping, thumping… All as if inside a shell, a thing.
I pushed the body off the bed and away from its satiny sheets. I moved its heavy legs, one in front of the other. I looked out and around as I lumbered ahead. To my side I saw walls without windows. Ahead, I saw rooms that lead to other rooms that lead to other rooms – no end of rooms before me. The floor was a seamless flow of thick dark wooden planks. All pointed, all pointing toward the endless flow of rooms before me.
I knew that I could only walk ahead. I knew too that I would only meet one room after another. And still I lumbered forward, breathing inside, heart beating a steady thumping, eyes wondering where I was, where the I that I was was, when the dream would make way to the world I went to bed in, when reality would appear like the morning sun I felt was somewhere outside the rooms, breaking the day wide open.
About the author:
Racquel Simone (Goodison) was born and grew up in Kingston 20, Jamaica. She earned a doctorate in English at Binghamton University and is an assistant professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her stories can be found in literary journals including the Black Arts Quarterly, Proud Flesh Journal, Kweli Journal and Drunken Boat .
Beyond the Screen
Chuck Haupt is photo editor of Ragazine. You can visit his blog at www.chuckhaupt.com/blog.
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June 28, 2011 Comments Off on Racquel Goodison/Fiction
Threatened with extinction: The idyllic family farm
Our food, and what we can do about it
CNF Editor’s Introductory Notes:
Rebecca Young’s take on the current food production processes in the United States, and her personal quest to become informed about them and to make daily life choices based on that information, is a quest that many of us share. As Young writes, “I am not a scientist or a philosopher or a defined activist of the environment or animals. I am a conscientious consumer trying to educate herself. As such, I am working out a more coherent philosophy for myself about food.” While not strictly a literary piece, Young’s work fits in the non-fiction tradition represented by writers like Michael Polan and Barbara Kingsolver who have written convincingly and lyrically about our food and where it comes from and what the implications of our food practices are — for ourselves, for the environment, and for the animals we eat. Young’s piece represents her attempt to work out a “coherent philosophy,” and she takes us through the steps she has followed in doing so. Her sources, and the way she does this work, stand as a point of departure for the philosophies each of us must craft for ourselves. I have chosen to include Young’s list of sources so that readers wanting more information can go to the sources themselves.
— Leslie Heywood, CNF editor
I had to meet McLovin. Hearing about his affectionate antics for weeks had finally prompted the road trip to Bethel, NY. At Fairytale Farm, McLovin had earned quite a reputation and a fan club committed to telling his story. When I arrived, he welcomed me — this inquisitive intruder — with enthusiastic greeting. If a companion animal is part of your family, you know the greeting I mean: the ooh, where have you been, what’s that new smell, let’s play forever kind. I kneeled for a proper hello, committed already to learning what he offered.
This turkey had been purchased as a chick to be raised for Thanksgiving dinner. As I observed his behavior over the days of my visit, I learned why Jennifer, a hobby farmer of produce and poultry, had befriended him instead. McLovin had insisted on gaining her attentions. From the moment she stepped outside each day, he would follow her about her chores, content to amble along and watch. Occasionally, like a dog or a cat, he would rub against her leg or push his head into her hand, urging a pause in her work to give him some love. If Jennifer wasn’t around, McLovin was known to stroll up the hill and visit neighbors — ironically, the family of a retired NYC butcher — out working in their yard. That’s how this turkey earned his name — and his life.
At the time of my visit to Fairytale Farm, I was engaged in personal research about animals we raise for food. My ultimate personal conclusions about eating meat are my own, and I do not ask you to share them. Your participation in the context with which I frame the decision process is what I ask in this paper. Before we go further, I should mention that I am not a scientist or a philosopher or a defined activist of the environment or animals. I am a conscientious consumer trying to educate herself. As such, I am working out a more coherent philosophy for myself about food. As Donna Harraway, professor in the History of Consciousness department at the University of California, remarks in When Species Meet, “outside Eden, eating means also killing, directly or indirectly, and killing well is an obligation akin to eating well. This applies to a vegan as much as to a human carnivore. The devil is, as usual, in the details” (296). The details, for me, come down to acknowledging and claiming all aspects of the process. This means taking ownership of our choices about eating food with honesty and self-awareness and responsibility.
What I wish to claim here and what I ultimately support represent two distinct food production paradigms occurring in our country: the agribusiness model and the ecological agropastoral model. I propose a shift from current industrial agribusiness practices to a modern approach that thrives on the artistry of responsible farming and food education; this shift is essential to reforming an ethos that has contaminated both our personal and social health.
What is our currently prevailing ethos? Relatively inexpensive, amazingly varied, and unbelievably abundant commodities exist for the typical American consumer. Food is cheap and plentiful. Advanced medical technologies and drugs are available for practically all ailments. In any media we desire, entertainment and information are immediately accessible. For a price, everything is ready and convenient: we are shamelessly spoiled. And the price of this luxury is detachment — consumers are so flooded by what we can have that we’ve lost sight of what we should have, or of what having means. We need to come to terms with and claim responsibility for our wonderful smorgasbord. In the United States we are losing control of our basic health care because we more often seek the remedy to illness rather than the means to health and well-being. Perhaps we’ve lost the knowledge to do so in our astonishing detachment from food sources and production methods. We do not need to know the nutrient value of our food because we can easily access what we need in conveniently packaged supplements. We no longer understand the function of the vitamin or mineral our body craves but we know where we can purchase it. Proponents of the current industrial paradigm call this progress. What we as a culture must acknowledge before we can change, is that America’s dominating large scale agricultural models for plant and animal based food sources have purposefully and successfully distanced consumers from the realities of their processes. Although we listen as they proudly tout the solution to the world’s food problems, the cure for hunger, the cushion for a population rapidly rising, we must also claim their consequences. Our reality is that these systems offer primarily chimerical solutions while existing under an industrial paradigm that condones systematic destruction of the natural environment and the rampant abuse of sentient beings that inhabit it. In truth, their version of progress comes with a price: the sacrifice of morality, decency, and sustainability.
The instructive nature of literature, as is often the case, frames this “price” best. Margaret Atwood’s cautionary tale Oryx and Crake presents a dystopian future built on a paradigm we recognize and practice today. Atwood’s vision of mindless consumption detached from individual responsibility exposes a frightening ultimate reality. Protagonist Jimmy finds himself alone, the only human survivor in a world that has been destroyed by human exceptionalism — a belief that supports unlimited human entitlement due to the unique moral and cognitive capacities characterizing the species. This world — eerily similar to our own — offers a pill or treatment solution for every problem. Satisfying human demand in their society leads to indiscriminate bioengineering of animals to support medical, nutritional, and emotional needs. We should recognize our own conscience in Atwood’s protagonist as he faces the consequences of a food system that mirrors our CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations):
At the bonfire Jimmy was anxious about the animals, because they were being burned and surely that would hurt them. No, his father told him. The animals were dead. They were like steaks and sausages, only they still had their skins on.
And their heads, thought Jimmy. Steaks didn’t have heads. The heads made a difference: he thought he could see the animals looking reproachfully out of their burning eyes. In some way all of this — the bonfire, the charred smell, but most of all the lit-up, suffering animals — was his fault, because he’d done nothing to rescue them. (18)
In fact, these animals are being destroyed because a threatening disease has infected the species (a very real threat to our own factory farms). Jimmy is a child and certainly not directly responsible. Nevertheless, by recognizing his role in the system that necessitated this slaughter, Jimmy feels guilty. His part is the same as yours and mine —consumer. Behind our smorgasbord of food and medicine and entertainment burns a bonfire of victims: animal, human, and environmental.
What follows from Jimmy’s recognition of this complicity is a story of humanity’s undoing. Now called Snowman, he is a human living among the Children of Crake who inhabit our devastated world. Crake, Jimmy’s once best friend responsible for his current fate, genetically engineered these “children” to survive in the aftermath of the human extinction he initiates. Snowman, who survived because Crake secretly selected him as their protector, is both annoyed and sympathetic toward their ignorant innocence. In the exposition of the novel, they are described as inquisitively presenting him with items they have collected: “‘Oh Snowman, what have we found?’ They lift out the objects, hold them up as if offering them for sale: a hubcap, a piano key, a chunk of pale-green pop bottle smoothed by the ocean. A plastic BlyssPluss container, empty; a ChickieNobs Bucket O’Nubbins, ditto” (7). Snowman’s response informs us of their complicated antecedents: “Snowman feels like weeping. What can he tell them? There’s no way of explaining to them what these curious items are, or were. But surely they’ve guessed what he’ll say, because it’s always the same. ‘These are things from before’” (7). The not-so-innocent items within their detritus illustrate ultimate outcomes of commodity-driven lifestyle, indicating that Snowman’s world is a futuristic vision of the reality toward which we are approaching.
One facet of this reality is the fast growing world-wide demand for meat. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) supply the majority of neatly packaged, affordably priced beef, veal, poultry, and pork in the United States. As the name implies, CAFOs are not traditional farms where animals enjoy pasture, fresh air, and animal companionship; they are factories, huge concrete and metal structures that confine thousands of animals at a time for the purpose of feeding and growing them as fast as possible and in as cheap a way as possible. Some capitalists might call this genius and, from a financial perspective, it may seem so. Ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall in Harvest for Hope describes them as farms of misery, relating the food production paradigm they represent to vending machines: “The Industrial model of factory farming simply doesn’t find it efficient or profitable to consider animals as sentient beings. Instead they are treated as mere machines, turning feed into meat or milk or eggs” (69). As animal scientist Temple Grandin reminds us in Animals Make Us Human, we “have to recognize that an animal is a conscious being that has feelings” (166). But our sensibilities cringe, so the live animal in our minds is forgotten as clean cellophane packets are casually tossed into our carts. We pile meat, not flesh, onto our plate.
Imagine the reality animals face in a factory setting that prohibits them from knowing grass or sunlight, fresh air or leisure. In Animals Make Us Human, Grandin bases her discussion of animal welfare and well-being on neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp’s work on core emotions and primary process systems (which he identifies in all capital letters). These systems are the same in humans and animals; Grandin explains them in effort to describe the behavior and emotions of animals we keep as pets, visit at zoos, raise for food. In her commentary on farms and slaughterhouses, she focuses on the importance of environment and the consequences for animals not permitted to perform their natural behaviors. She says “the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary” (3). Animals, like us, are motivated by SEEKING and PLAY; a proper environment, therefore, means that the pig should be offered stimulating toys and puzzles that entertain and challenge, cows should be given space to graze and be part of a herd, chickens and turkeys need earth in which to forage. None of this natural behavior is possible in factory farm conditions; instead, the animals endure PANIC and FEAR because of restrictive confinement, excessive crowding, and excruciating boredom (Grandin).
Another reality of factory farming is callous human behavior. Myriad cases document cruel abuse toward animals raised unnaturally in factory settings, often mirroring the horrible work conditions employees themselves suffer. In Animals In Translation, Grandin explains the cause of electric prod abuse in moving animals to slaughter: “Handing stockpeople an electric prod to carry around goes against everything scientists know about positive and negative reinforcement. . . . Every time a stockperson shocks an animal that’s not moving, something bad (a balking animal) goes away (the animal starts moving). The more a worker uses the prod, the more he will be reinforced for using the prod, and so his use of the prod escalates” (192). In one example of this tendency, Grandin describes how “workers had about a hundred pigs piled up squeeching and flipping over. Electric prods were being thrown into the squealing pile-up like harpoons, retrieved with an attached wire, and thrown again” (193). Public awareness of industry abuses, prompted by outrage at images of downed animals being dragged or electrically-prodded to the kill floor, has led to recent legal changes. Similarly, minimal improvements have been implemented due to several animal activist organizations’ exposure of cruel confinement systems for pregnant sows, veal calves, and chickens. However, the abuses that go undiscovered—abuses that are industry standards—are most disturbing. Take, for example, the report described in sanctuary founder Gene Baur’s book Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food: “. . . two employees quit their jobs at Smithfield’s Circle Four farm in Utah and related what they had seen there to the Salt Lake Tribune. The paper quoted the pair as saying that ‘if a piglet did not weigh at least five pounds after a week, it got ‘knocked,’ a euphemism for ‘beaten to death.’ . . .’ The most common ‘knocking’ method was to grab the animal by its hind legs and slam it into a wall or concrete floor” (133). The fate of baby chicks is very similar and for spent laying hens, Grandin describes shameful common kill practices: “Some of the farms were just throwing the hens, when they were old ladies, into the dumpster alive. Others get rid of their spent hens by sucking them up in a vacuum truck that is used to clean sewers” (211). These are not isolated examples but common practices perpetuated in the name of profit. Consider this final point from Grandin’s lifetime of work in the industry: “My last recommendation is that farms and slaughter plants should have glass walls. I tell executives, ‘There’s this wonderful technology you can use to improve animal welfare. It’s called glass. It’s called webcam.’ People need to see what’s happening on farms and inside plants” (228). Grandin argues for a more humane, symbiotic relationship with the animals we raise for food; she is not suggesting we adopt vegetarian diets. She supposes that there is a way to raise animals for meat that honors the emotions and behaviors science proves they have. Current practice is the industry’s response to a growing demand for meat. Treating animals like machines makes corporations rich and provides consumers with cheap meat. The unacknowledged price—the price confirmed and documented by numerous reputable sources—is much higher and I have to wonder if it is our lack of awareness to blame or the conscious, collective effort to ignore it.
The impact of factory farming on the environment and your health is alarming. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s memoir Eating Animals, this popular novelist describes the practical problem of factory farming apart from its aesthetics. As you might imagine, these “farms” are well-hidden for a reason — we sensitive types would probably never eat meat again if we had even a glimpse inside one of these operations. What they cannot hide, however, is the waste produced — waste that overwhelms and threatens our environment. As Foer explains:
The problem is quite simple: massive amounts of shit. So much shit, so poorly managed, that it seeps into rivers, lakes, and oceans — killing wildlife and polluting air, water, and land in ways devastating to human health. Today a typical pig factory farm will produce 7.2 million pounds of manure annually, a typical broiler facility will produce 6.6 million pounds, and a typical cattle feedlot 344 million pounds. . . . All told, farmed animals in the United States produce 130 times as much waste as the human population— roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second. The polluting strength of this shit is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage. (174)
* * *
Despite well-documented health and environmental impact, the industry continues to be irresponsible in its management of waste. Imagine one of these operations in your own neighborhood. Until the industry can no longer reap profit from its methods, they will proclaim CAFOs as sustainable and safe. Consumers enjoy the economic benefit at grocery stores but only delay the ultimate cost of conscience, health, and ecosystem.
Considering the hidden costs of meat consumption, what if we all became vegetarians? We cannot turn to produce to clear our conscience and improve our health and habitat; abstaining from meat only means support of another harmful industry. Since shifting to monocultures in this country, we have relied on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep up with production demands. If you’ve ever tended a vegetable or flower garden, you may be familiar with the happy results these toxins can provide, toxins to the tune of “three million tons” that have been inflicted on the earth (Goodall 41). Relying on monoculture and poison to grow our foods has obvious consequences, but most consider it progress because it allows farmers to focus on particular crops and yield high production. In fact, because this system is not natural for the environment, it leads to harmful dependence on a few main crops and depletes the natural nutrients of soil. Reliance on basic varieties of plants that grow well drives this model at the expense of losing varieties that are not immediately gainful. The result, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, is that “America’s principal crops are impressively uniform, and impressively vulnerable” (qtd. in Goodall 40). Without variety, we are susceptible to permanently losing particular seeds if they are not resistant to changing weather patterns or insects. Another variety of a crop, for example, may not grow as fast now but may fare better under future conditions than the crops we purposely limit ourselves to; because we are not valuing these other varieties, they are disappearing for good (Goodall). As with factory farm waste, the poisons required for current production rates within the monoculture system significantly affect the health of humans and animals as well as the environment. An alarming fact is that “farm chemicals kill off as many as 67 million American birds each year” (Goodall 42). If this does not alert your regard for bird species or the environment, consider the statistic in terms of what it might mean for human health.
The effects of pesticides and fertilizers are more difficult to document in humans because they occur over a longer period of time, yet chemical pesticide exposure has been linked to “various forms of cancer, as well as Parkinson’s disease, miscarriages, and birth defects” (Goodall 42). Negative effects on cognitive processes, particularly in children, have also been documented including “poorer memory skills and stamina,” tendencies toward “physical aggression and angry outbursts” and “less sociable and creative” play (43). Although journalist Tom Standage discusses the benefits of chemicals in the ironically termed “green revolution,” of the 1960s and 1970s, he also acknowledges in An Edible History of Humanity the price humans have paid for higher crop yields due to artificial fertilizers and pesticides: “According to the World Health Organization, pesticides cause around one million cases of acute unintentional poisoning a year and are also involved in around two million suicide attempts, leading to some 220,000 deaths a year” (230). Fertilizers and pesticides have had their place in our agricultural history. Indeed they have contributed to higher produce production in many parts of the world. However, we are now more aware of the long term effects of these short term gains. As with any public health issue, when we have the knowledge and data necessary to reevaluate our processes, survival obligates us to do so. The research is overwhelmingly available but no one should have to convince you that poison in our food might be a bad thing; would you knowingly ingest even a teaspoon of the stuff?
Directly or indirectly we are responsible for the food system because, like it or not, we are its patrons. It is a simple connection, really: buying equals culpability. If we don’t want to find ourselves as Atwood’s Snowman did, helplessly thinking back on our own complicity, we must reform attitudes driving the current industrial food model in this country. A transformative ideological shift can be accomplished in two bold steps: First, as a nation we must give farmers a make-over. Essentially, this means valuing farmers (and not corporations) for the important position they hold as stewards of our environment and providers of our food. Second, we must reestablish for our youth the physical connection between land and food as well as animals and food through targeted education programs. That’s it. What seems boldly radical is basic and essential. In light of what we now know about factory farming and chemically manipulated land and food, maintaining the status quo is radically irresponsible.
Reinventing the farmer means just that; we are not returning to traditional farming practices as a way to combat industrial ones. Obviously, we must do more than suggest going backwards if we hope to compete with current production. This reinvention, however, starts with farmers who recognize the potential of the natural environment to sustain itself and produce food without toxins. It starts with farmers who recognize the inherent threat of current practices to our personal health, the health of our environment, and the welfare of our animals. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface, Incorporated’s “Farm of Many Faces” in Swoope, Virginia, is one such farmer. He introduces his most recent book, The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer, with this important call to action:
As the industrial food system lashes back with innuendo and pseudo-science against the ecologically based food system, I think it behooves all of us to examine the differences between these two camps. People wonder how I can be such a happy farmer. The stereo-typical, unhappy farmer unfortunately is true much of the time. I hope this book will put in clear detail the depth and breadth of the difference between the chemical/industrial/ global approach and the local/biological/ecological approach. (xvi)
Throughout this book that reads like a best-selling page turner, Salatin documents the ways we can heal land devastated by generations of improper farming practices and use ecologically-friendly, sustainable methods to grow an abundance of natural food and raise happier, healthier animals (who do not require abusive regimes of antibiotics, as in the factory system). He promotes his farming model which thrives on the interaction of plant and animal species to nurture production while making a profit. Yes, a profit. Apparently farmers like him can live off the land and still sleep at night. They can bring integrity to farming.
Importantly, they can also reintroduce this country’s animals to pasture. As I said, I am not a farmer so I will not attempt to explain Salatin’s processes in this short space. Put simply and briefly, the system of farming at Polyface relies on the symbiotic relationship between land and animals. Each animal on the farm benefits from the land and from each other; in turn, the soil and grass benefit from the cyclical pasturing of animals raised: cows, chickens, and pigs in this case. Ultimately, humans — who have cared for the land and animals or supported those who do — benefit in the form of healthily, environ-mentally and humanely produced food (Salatin). As I read about these idyllic and quite natural relationships, I wondered if this system could sustain current demands for food, specifically meat. As Salatin asserts, the answer is yes:
Everyone needs to understand that radiating out from every single confinement animal operation, whether it be poultry, pork, beef, dairy, or guinea pig, an entire unseen land base supports it. You don’t see the corn fields. You don’t see the corporate offices. You don’t see the manure hauling trucks and the acres on which the manure is spread. Our pasture based model actually takes less land than the industrial model. (41)
In the memoir Righteous Pork: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms, environmental activist and former attorney Nicolette Hahn Niman confirms this in her description of Iowan hog farmer Paul Willis:
. . . Paul has eagerly sought the latest research on the care and feeding of pigs. But he was never interested in putting them in metal buildings or funneling their manure into cesspools. His animals have always lived on pasture, eaten a drug-free daily ration, and have never spent time in metal crates. Paul grew his own feed corn and soy, rotating his pigs and crops yearly on various fields, which benefitted from the nutrients in the pig manure. Paul’s decision to stick with the traditional methods of raising pigs has allowed him to keep his costs low and be profitable. He never had to take out the large loans needed by confinement operators for capital-intensive structures. (120)
Now a cattle rancher married to Bill Niman, owner of the famous “all natural meat” Niman Ranch, Nicolette also has asserted the viability of living off the land’s natural resources:
. . . Other than that bit of hay, our cattle live entirely off this land. They simply eat the vegetation that occurs here naturally. We do no plowing, planting, irrigating, or harvesting. We use no fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Our only manipulation of the land is the way we manage the grazing of our cattle and some limited, targeted mowing. The cattle drink water that comes from our reservoir, which is a catch basin for rainwater we collect and store year-round. (170)
Part of the problem is that farmers like this are not popular with predominant agribusiness. Threats to profitability, they are often shunned by corporations and made out to be “lunatics” (hence the title of Salatin’s book). How did we get to a place in our society where people who respect the land and its creatures are seen as lunatics and corporations that comprehensively destroy every living thing they touch are financially supported by the general populace?
In The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, philosopher Peter Singer and writer Jim Mason explore underlying issues of the eating habits we have created. In their complex review of food and ethics, these environmental and animal advocates question the ideologies that drive consumption and ask probing questions about past, present, and future practices. One of their closing arguments considers the philosophical argument over meat consumption and our sense of entitlement regarding it:
It might be argued that food from animals is a central part of the standard Western diet, and important, if not always central, to what people eat in many other cultures as well. Because animal products are so significant to us, and because we could not buy them as cheaply as we can now without factory farming, factory farming is justifiable despite the suffering it inflicts on animals. But when cultural practices are harmful, they should not be allowed to go unchallenged. (244)
For example, Frank Reese, the “first and only rancher authorized by the USDA to call his birds ‘heritage’” (qtd. in Foer 234), is perhaps the last poultry farmer raising turkeys that have not been genetically modified to grow bigger and faster. He speaks out strongly against “unchallenged” practices in our system and makes clear our consumer responsibility: “Most of the folks who buy my turkeys are not rich by any means; they’re struggling on fixed incomes. But they’re willing to pay the real price. And to those who say it’s just too much to pay for a turkey, I always say to them, ‘Don’t eat turkey.’ It’s possible you can’t afford to care, but it’s certain you can’t afford not to care” (qtd. in Foer). Cheap meat for human consumption does not justify the suffering of sentient beings. Acknowledging this truth requires that we transform current culture that supports it by making more informed choices.
As Salatin explores in a chapter called “Relationships,” there is a fundamental reason why we should care about choices regarding the origin of our food: “When people know their farmer, they connect viscerally with what is before them on the plate. After all, dining is a fairly intimate experience. Next to the act of marriage, eating is one of the more intimate things we do as humans. We take in this food, right into our bodies, and it becomes us. Flesh. Blood. Being. Mind” (253). His point is well-taken on multiple levels. Knowing our farmer attributes a recognition and respect of the important role they play in our lives. We should care about how they feed us. We appreciate their work by valuing the food we purchase and paying a fair price for it. How wonderful it would be if through “our” farmer we supported local agriculture, humane, and environmental consciousness all at once. This food, as Salatin points out, “becomes us.” It becomes us in a way that defines our physical, social and moral health. It defines us perhaps more than any other choice we make. Salatin’s sentiment echoes important conclusions in Donna Harraway’s When Species Meet: “there is no way to eat and not to kill, no way to eat and not become with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to pretend innocence and transcendence or a final peace” (295). Wherever or however we view ourselves in the chain of being, we cannot deny our fundamental responsibility to protect the welfare of each other, of other species, and of the environment.
Elevating agropastoral farming to a respected profession demands that we also reeducate youth about food issues, our second bold step. In Why Our Health Matters: A Vision Of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future, Andrew Weil, M.D., reports that “America’s obesity rate is the worst in the world and is almost universally believed to be a major predictor of future illness, particularly diseases that are most difficult and costly to manage: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer” (15). Weil makes an interesting comparison of American crowds in images of the 1930s and 1940s to now. Despite limited knowledge of nutrition, people simply weren’t fat then. There are obviously several possible reasons for this, but a glaring factor of guilt lies squarely on our dinner plate (if dinner plate is even a term we readily use in this fast-food grab and go culture).
As Weil notes:
The most significant change in our eating patterns since World War II is our greatly increased consumption of the processed, refined, and manufactured food that has displaced whole, natural food in our diet. . . . Instead [families] mostly buy and consume manufactured food, much of it made with ingredients that are new to human diets, such as highly refined vegetable oils and starches, high-fructose corn syrup, and innumerable additives. Modern food technology has drastically altered the foods that nature provides, all too often reducing their nutritive qualities and increasing their potential for harm. (154)
Incidentally, we need not rely only on images from history. If you’ve ever traveled abroad (and I mean pretty much anywhere outside the U.S.), you’re sure to have noticed a distinct lack of fatness. Indeed, I’d venture to guess that most obesity you did witness presented itself in the form of American travelers. It’s quite embarrassing and not a little shameful considering one avowed goal of big industry: to fight hunger and poverty.
This leads us to transforming America’s understanding about food. In particular, we must promote an improved food production paradigm by fostering food awareness among our youth. This effort must include information specific to nutrition and health as well as ecological and animal welfare issues. In the chapter “Called Home” of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life author Barbara Kingsolver considers how agricultural knowledge has essentially disappeared from our culture, noting that “we also have largely convinced ourselves it wasn’t too important. Consider how Americans might respond to a proposal that agriculture was to become a mandatory subject in all schools, alongside reading and mathematics” (9). This is a fair question which reveals the priorities of our culture. In our effort to move from rural, labor-dependent agricultural models, we have lost very basic knowledge about food production. Worse, we have lost respect for those who seek it.
On reflection of Kingsolver’s question about agricultural education, I cannot think of a more pertinent subject for our youth to study. Certainly we are not all going to be farmers, but agricultural education would inform our daily eating decisions—arguably our most important ones. As pointed out in Why Our Health Matters, other countries are way ahead of us on this. Weil notes that “Germany, for one, is starting a $47 million dollar program to encourage healthy eating, including improvements in school lunches, and is urging makers of unhealthy foods to curtail marketing to children, in part because studies indicate that banning fast-food advertising to children could reduce the number of overweight kids by as much as 18 percent” (193). With public funding cuts to schools all over our country, physical education courses are rapidly dropping from school programs. A mandatory course of study in food nutrition could help curtail the consequences of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle by improving awareness about healthful food and lifestyle choices. In the introduction of Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals, author and chef Jamie Oliver gives us an excellent reason why we should get involved with his movement — Pass It On — and begin sharing healthy recipes and nutrition information with each other:
The reality is that we are in the midst of one of the worst food-related epidemics that this country has seen. And I can assure you it’s not through lack of food this time, but because we’re consuming far too much of the wrong stuff. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, Americans spent more money on fast food in 2007 than they did on education. We’re not talking about gourmet French cheese and expensive cuts of meat here. . . we’re talking about French fries, pizzas, burgers, and other food that is absolute garbage. (14)
Nothing could be more relevant than an educational program that empowers Americans to eat well. Nothing could be as impressive as children who believe that, as Alice Waters— famed creator of California’s Chez Panisse — asserts, “How we eat can change the world” (qtd. in McNamee xiv).
The ecological impact of food choices should be a focus of such education and would therefore include information about local, humane, and organic food movements. Al Gore’s conclusions in Earth in the Balance: Ecology And The Human Spirit reinforce Salatin’s and Harraway’s points about relationship to our choices and indicate the importance of understanding these relationships — in this case, to food, animals, health, and environment:
I believe also that — for all of us — there is an often poorly understood link between ethical choices that seem quite small in scale and those whose apparent consequences are very large, and that a conscious effort to adhere to just principles in all our choices — however small — is a choice in favor of justice in the world. . . . Both in our personal lives and in our political decisions, we have an ethical duty to pay attention, resist distraction, be honest with one another and accept responsibility for what we do — whether as individuals or together. (368)
Imagine a mandatory education course specifically designed to inform students about the ecological and health choices they make every day. Imagine age-specific programs that empower children and teenagers to make better decisions for themselves, their community, and their environment. Even more exciting, imagine an education that invites stakeholders from individual communities—from farmers to chefs to scientists, engineers, and health professionals — to participate in the development of programs specifically targeted at ecological sustainability methods for their own community issues. I want to take these courses. I want to understand how my choices affect the location I call home, and to appreciate how those choices translate for the environment as a whole.
Through education we must redefine farming as a professional career so that young people see value in pursuing it. According to researchers reporting on The Role of Economists in Animal Law, “There is increasing urgency to chart a new course. Our energy, water, and climate resources are undergoing dramatic changes that, in the judgment of the Commissioners, will require agriculture to transition to much more biologically diverse systems, organized into biological synergies that exchange energy, improve soil quality, and conserve water and other resources” (23).
In other words, our new education program should and must encourage the type of farming Joel Salatin, Paul Willis, Bill Niman, and Frank Reese practice and advocate. I’m not suggesting their methods are perfect; indeed, there are criticisms to be made of each. They face enormous obstacles in fighting industry practices, and we can learn from both their missteps and successes. To support them, we can develop education reform that inspires innovation. Our communities need educated, thoughtful people who understand the complexities of modern ecological farming practices.
Another crucial aspect of education reform will be the hands-on application of skills that support modern ecological practices. As a community service, this program would involve students in efforts that support local food production (food preparation where or when production may not be possible). A student’s participation would be driven both by personal interest and available community resources. For example, students might help to raise and harvest crops or learn the basics of farm animal care. They might work with nutritionists to determine healthy meals that rely on local food sources or learn to cook with area chefs willing to promote healthy food options. Students could study with scientists to determine environmental impacts of food production in their area or consider the efficacy and economy of local farms; they might be asked to develop recommendations for sustainability or profitability. Still others might become involved with marketing of local food sources or nutrition information. Working together based on talent and interest, students would share knowledge and experience of various food-related issues. Community members and area businesses would benefit from student services and would be contributing in meaningful ways to education.
Perhaps the most beneficial outcome of these partnerships and long term educational goals will be the improvement of social communities. Through cooperation with each other, reconnecting to our food sources — land and animal — will impact the way we interact with one another in very positive ways. In Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond, documentary writer and producer Meg Daley Olmert explores the history and biology of human and animal interactions as well as the evolutionary and social benefits that came of them. In reference to agropastoral practices of the past, she notes that “the care of plants and animals once caused us to settle down, learn to live together, and think of ourselves as caretakers and citizens. For twelve thousand years, we sacrificed self-interests to the care of each other, our crops, and our animals” (198). In a society where “self-interests” have become paramount, we ought to take note of the cultural changes that allowed this shift in priorities from social to individual welfare. As Olmert explains, the reality of this transformation can be found in our unprecedented abandonment of animal agriculture:
In 1920 a third of all Americans—32 million of us—still farmed the land. By 1950 that number had slipped to 23 million. Forty years later it was down to 4.6 million—less than two percent—and a third of those farmers didn’t even live on the land they were farming. By 1993 farmers were so rare that the United States Census Bureau stopped counting. The family farm was extinct. (198)
With this extinction we sacrificed not only agricultural knowledge but also the bonds created through farming with animals and each other. Industrial factory farmers cannot bond with their thousands of confined animals. And indeed, working conditions more often promote hostilities between employees rather than cooperation. In her book Olmert asks important questions about humans trying to live without animals and points to serious implications in the loss of our bonds with them. I suggest that it is even more dangerously complex: we are not only trying to live without animals, we are trying to live within a system that marks animals as unfeeling machines. We may not agree with this philosophy, but when we fail to consider consequences our food choices create, it is the one we support.
A return to more traditional land and animal care practices indicates positive outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. Exploring the consequences of America’s farming transformation, psychiatrist Aaron Katcher fears that “we broke the bond with animals that had helped to make us civilized human beings. Katcher sees the fallout from this sudden interspecies divorce every day in children who are too wild to participate in polite society” (qtd. in Olmert 180). His research about children with ADHD, the most common behavioral disorder in America, promotes the success of animal therapy in place of drugs to treat the condition (181). In Animals In Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, scientist Temple Grandin asserts biological similarities shared by humans and animals as explanation for various behaviors (ours and theirs). As part of a fascinating discussion about the co-evolution of wolves and humans, Grandin refers to research scientist Robert K. Wayne who explores social behaviors humans learned by interacting with wolves. Unlike early humans, wolves “had complex social structures” and “loyal same-sex and non-kin friendships” (304). As Grandin concludes, “all animals make us human” (306). Biological and evolutionary evidence suggests the wisdom of our continuing to learn from them.
Horticulturalist Charles Lewis’ work revealed similar cooperative benefits through “the palliative and socializing effect of tending plants” (Olmert 153). As Olmert describes in Made for Each Other: “In the 1960s [he] used it to ignite a sense of community in the midst of poverty and rubble. He helped clear patches of NYC’s Spanish Harlem to create neighborhood gardens. In precincts rife with crime, the police were amazed when these gardens were respected and allowed to grow. They were even more amazed to learn the vandals had become guardians of these tiny Edens” (153). Interestingly, his work in Chicago demonstrated the aesthetic concern adopted by people caring for these neighborhood gardens. As a result of their project, building appearance improved as people painted and cleaned surrounding areas: “Lewis concluded that gardens make good neighbors. Growing beautiful and delicious things where nothing existed before brings people together and gives them a sense of control in their lives” (153). Imagine the combined result, therefore, of school to community programs that encourage student involvement with both animals and the land. Imagine the bonds developing between young people who feel a sense of accomplishment for improving the way their community interacts with each other and contributing to better food production and preparation practices. Feel their sense of pride for educating others based on these experiences.
As ethologist Marc Bekoff asserts in The Emotional Lives of Animals, “the phenomenon to which “morality” refers is a wide-ranging biological necessity for social living. Just as emotions are a gift of our ancestors, so too are the basic ingredients of morality: namely, cooperation, empathy, fairness, justice, and trust” (87-88). To acknowledge and claim food choices, Americans must come to terms with what we take for granted. We must understand the moral issues that underpin our everyday choices concerning what we put on our grocery lists and what we put in our mouths. We must recognize the complexity of consequences that exist behind these decisions, decide to what extent we are responsible, and act to affect positive change. The outcome, if we don’t, might remind of us of Jimmy’s reality soon before humanity is destroyed in Oryx and Crake: “Next they went to NeoAgriculturals. AgriCouture was its nickname among the students. They had to put on biosuits before they entered the facility, and scrub their hands and wear nose-cone filters, because what they were about to see hadn’t been bioform-proofed, or not completely” (202). Ironically, this is pretty much what it takes to visit one of today’s CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). We know what happens to the animals of Jimmy’s youth but the animals he visits in this description are not really animals at all. They are chickens (remember the ChickieNobs Bucket the children of Crake find?), but in Jimmy’s adult world, chickens have been engineered to grow popular food parts without developing into a whole chicken. This eliminates controversy over animal emotions since, as Jimmy is told, chickens with no heads cannot think or feel. In our world, we’ve successfully engineered what scientists call the “Enviropig” because the waste of our pork consumption is too much for the environment to handle. In our world, we’ve created turkeys like McLovin, who happened to find sanctuary at Fairytale Farm. In the industry, under our support, this would have been his fate:
Today’s domesticated turkeys are anatomically manipulated to be so heavy and large-breasted, because breast meat is the most desirable and therefore commands the best price, that they are now incapable of breeding naturally. Practically all of the turkeys raised commercially in the United States are the result of artificial insemination (AI). Their abnormally configured bodies, as well as their intensive confinement, result in health problems, including painful leg and joint disorders, lameness, heart disease, and weakened immune systems. (Unnatural Breeding Techniques and Results in Modern Turkey Production)
If we permit this because we want more breast meat, are we really so different from Atwood’s description of a culture that breeds chickens with no heads? After a brief but beloved presence on Jennifer’s farm, McLovin died because his body and heart could not support his unnatural weight gain. Is this what we want?
Bekoff’s concluding argument advocates our improved treatment of animals, sentient beings that deserve our compassion and protection: “We know that the results of scientific research (all those facts) should influence how we act in the world; otherwise science becomes a meaningless exercise. And we also know animals feel emotions and suffer at our hands, and they do so globally. Ethics, with a capital E, needs to have a place in our ongoing deliberations about how we interact with other animals” (135). Our environmental and social well-being, as well as our individual health, deserves the same deliberations. I argue that we become a culture that validates ethical and ecological farming and supports, through education reform, a youth prepared to confront our current food crises.
It really is as simple as that. And everywhere animals like McLovin, cognizant and full of feeling from the day they are born, will thank you.
About the author:
Rebecca Young is a native of Sullivan County, a stronghold of the local food movement in the heart of the Catskills. She currently resides in Elmira, New York, and is an International Baccalaureate Language A (English) instructor and examiner. As a teacher, her interests include education reform that fosters individual responsibility and promotes social activism. She is pursuing a PhD in World Literature studies at Binghamton University.
Sources for Further Reading:
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. United States of America, 2003. Print.
Bauer, Gene. Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Print.
Bekoff, Marc. The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy—and Why They Matter. Novato: New World Library, 2007. Print.
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources. Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States. The National Academies Press. Web. 5/1/11.
Dougherty, Charlotte P., Sarah Henricks Holtz, Joseph C. Reinert, Lily Panyacosit, Daniel A. Axelrad, and Tracey J. Woodruff. Dietary Exposures to Food Contaminants across the United States. Environmental Research Section A 84, 170}185 (2000). Web. 5.1.11.
Fearing, Jennifer and Martin, Robert and Newman, Mathew. The Role of Economists in Animal Law: A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2009. Web. 5.1.11.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.
Gay, Kathlyn. Superfood or Superthreat: The Issue of Genetically Engineered Food. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2008. Print.
Goodall, Jane. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating. New York: Warner Wellness, 2005. Print.
Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. New York: Rodale, Inc., 2006. Print.
Grandin, Temple. Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. New York: Houghton Miffline Harcourt, 2009. Print.
Grandin, Temple and Johnson, Catherine. Animals In Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.
Harraway, Donna J. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.
Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. Print.
McNamee, Thomas. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.
Niman, Nicolette Hahn. Righteous Porkchop: Finding A Life And Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 2009. Print.
Oliver, Jamie. Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Print.
Olmert, Meg Daley. Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond. Da Capo Press, 2009. Print.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.
Research Reports: Unnatural Breeding Techniques and Results in Modern Turkey Production. Farm Sanctuary. Web. 5/1/11.
Salatin, Joel. The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green, 2010. Print.
Singer, Peter and Mason, Jim. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choice Matter. USA: Rodale, Inc. 2006. Print.
Standage, Tom. An Edible History of Humanity. New York: Walker & Company, 2009. Print.
Weil, Andrew, M.D. Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future. Hudson Street Press, 2009. Print.
Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff and McCarthy, Susan. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. New York: Dell Publishing, 1995.
Salatin, Joel. You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea, 1998.
Panksepp, Jaak. Affective Consciousness: Core Emotional Feelings in Animals and Humans. Science Direct, 2005.
June 28, 2011 2 Comments
by Pedro Ponce
[Editor’s Note: The May 2010 disappearance of Ernesto D. Elbianco, an adjunct instructor of Life Competencies at Medina College, continues to baffle authorities and concerned colleagues. Among the possessions recovered from Elbianco’s apartment by investigators was The Art of Fiction, or The Death of the Author, a textbook in manuscript purportedly intended for use in college-level creative writing classes. The project, begun in earnest, eventually devolved into a diary of sorts, alternating entries of a more personal nature with bizarre fulminations alleging a conspiracy between the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and an interdisciplinary consortium of administrators and faculty comprising PHUCO—Professionals in the Humanities Collective. Elbianco is known to have been taking Euxorin for anxiety and depression; the paranoia and extreme moods reported by those encountering Elbianco in the days before his disappearance is consistent with symptoms of Euxorin withdrawal. The family of Ernesto Elbianco has granted permission to disseminate The Art of Fiction, hopeful that doing so will revive the stalled investigation. I’m grateful for their allowing access to the Elbianco papers, and for their cooperation in authenticating the following edited excerpt. — PP]
Where Do Ideas Come From?
The story is told of an emerging sculptor who, lacking inspiration, learns of a sale at her local hardware store. Hoping to salvage her unproductive day, she decides to stock up on necessities for her work space. But she has already frittered away the morning and most of the afternoon dabbing at her sketchpad, napping, or staring into the depths of her perplexity. By the time she arrives, the only sale items remaining are shelf brackets and a box of rusting casters.
The first lesson to emerge from this anecdote is certainly the danger of napping. It is doubtless the nap that refreshes the artist in question sufficiently to inspire her redoubled efforts. Had she extended her nap with alcohol or sleeping pills, the comfort of oblivion might have made her more amenable to the ineluctable void that consumes all human endeavors, artistic or otherwise.
The second lesson of course is illustrated in the artist’s pluck as she purchases the brackets and casters and returns to her studio. She sets to work with sheet metal cutters, pliers, steel wool, and lubricant spray. The constraint of her materials requires not only the exercise of her existing faculties, but the discovery of unprecedented new ones. She emerges from her trials with the most innovative work of her career. She sells every piece in her latest group, affording the financial independence to pursue her art indefinitely.
And so, as shown in the foregoing tale, people will really buy anything. And lubricant spray really has 1,001 uses.
Write What You Know
Tonight we gather to dedicate the Wyatt Reading Room, honoring emeritus professor Henry Wyatt. Wyatt retired in 1999, but his scholarly output has only accelerated in his later years with the advent of services like YouPublish and Author Author. For his latest doorstop, Wyatt has apparently gone with the $700 Classic Minimalism package: A pine green card stock cover with white tissue-thin pages. A line extends from Wyatt’s desk — pierced with an explanatory gold-plated placard — to the buffet table. I nod thoughtfully over the gilt letters of the volume’s spine until the nearest conversational circle closes in on itself. Then I set it aside and shovel more cold cuts and cheese onto my plate.
Speech! Speech! That can only be Nathaniel Dreyfus, already buzzed on Blue Heron Port and possession of the room’s youngest spouse, Dora, nee Bloom, tennis team captain during Dreyfus’ brief tenure as team liaison. It was Dreyfus who started Medina’s Faculty-Athletics Liaison program, which he proposed in an impassioned speech on the floor of the Faculty Assembly several years ago. The speech was later reprinted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dreyfus’ visionary plea for integrating physical well-being more proactively into the liberal arts coincided with Dora Bloom’s enrollment in Dreyfus’ English Literature to 1800 survey. Bloom, an accomplished student-athlete, would often arrive to her afternoon class already dressed for practice in order to expedite her arrival on court. Dreyfus would never tire of remarking how fate — or Fortuna, as it’s known to medievalists — intervened to make a match of him and DD, a term of endearment modified to Double D depending on his audience.
The Department Assessor seems to appear from nowhere with a steaming mug that reads STATISTICIANS DO IT BY THE NUMBERS. Nice to see you out and about, she says, especially during a Code Lavender.
A what? I ask.
She waves a hand dismissively. Guess you haven’t checked your mailbox today.
Her remark suggests that I have my own mailbox, but mine is actually shared with four other adjuncts, the Dixon Hall Ride Board, and notes to maintenance and janitorial staff. I had in fact seen a thick memo from Central Assessment printed with my name, but I had tossed it into the nearest recycling bin as soon as I saw the telltale owl and beaver letterhead (“PRUDENTIA VIA DILIGENTIA”).
Completely slipped my mind, I say.
The memo is self-explanatory, which the Assessor demonstrates by way of explanation. The digital drop boxes for all Life Competencies courses are linked to a central monitoring program. The data collected by this program includes how many assignments are given each semester, when they are due, and when grades and comments are returned to each student. Using reasonable efficiency templates, the program establishes zones of turnaround that correspond with degrees of Learning Reinforcement (LR). The quickest turnaround for grading, the next calendar day, has been shown to promote Maximum Learning Reinforcement for the skills practiced in a given assignment. After this threshold, the program assigns a color code to the dwindling efficacy of delayed assessment. The interval between the next calendar day and the next class meeting is designated Code Goldenrod (Exemplary LR); between the next class meeting and the Saturday ending that calendar week is designated Code Umber (Acceptable LR); and so on. The color code ensures that instructors reading the correspondingly backlit warning e-mails are subjected to minimal eye strain.
Currently, we are at Code Lavender (Minimal LR) for assignments administered the previous week. You’ve been steadily improving, says the Assessor wistfully. It would be a shame to spoil it all with a Periwinkle [Poor LR] or a Lime [Unacceptable LR]. She takes another sip from her mug and leaves with a concerned nod.
Many Muses, One Art
If I cut behind campus instead of taking Main Street, I can be home in a matter of minutes with a good two-and-a-half hours of grading before the next assessment alert. This is the plan until I hear my name called from one of the darkened porches on Galloway. I turn reluctantly in the direction of the voice, tracing its source to a glowing orange dot hovering over a white banister. I recognize my office mate Liam. He breathes blue smoke in my direction and waves me over.
I watch him lean forward, releasing the slim butt to the shadows. In the light from her long toke is Dora Bloom.
You look like you could use this, she says.
I accept without hesitation.
What’d you think of the ceremony? I ask.
Dora shakes her head as she tweezes the joint between her thumb and forefinger. That was on campus. Now I’m off campus. I don’t have to think anything. She stifles a yawn as she pulls the sleeves of her sweatshirt over her hands. She’s changed her clothes and wears her hair down, looking more like the undergraduate she was three years ago.
I was just about to tell Dora about my recent windfall, Liam says.
The turd money? Dora fixes me with an indignant glare that quickly turns to giggling.
Last spring, Liam was just another underpaid adjunct struggling to pay his bills. On top of teaching two sections of Numeracy for Living and one section of Digital Research/Digital Discovery, he was also offered the chance to host the reception following the Prentice Reading, which invites an esteemed poet to campus every year. A logistical oversight had led the Alumni House to be reserved for another group. The apartment Liam shared with his cat was the site of the Old Library, which used to be where Medina held its literary gatherings; with a fortunate run of renters, it had not fallen into disrepair to the same extent as other campus buildings converted to housing.
Liam was given a pittance for refreshments and a detachment of janitorial staff, who scrubbed, steamed, and unpacked long stored memorabilia for display. He exhausted his refreshment allowance and most of his grocery funds for the month with imported sesame crackers, exotic cheeses, crudités, and two bottles of the guest writer’s favorite scotch. After passing inspection by the Dean of Academic Affairs, the Director of the Physical Plant, and the head of Alumni Development, there was nothing to do but await the arrival of Pulitzer Prize winner and current Tri-State Poet Laureate, Arthur Beech.
Beech was at his most charming during his visit, which is to say that he only brought two students to tears during his guest workshop and limited his sexual overtures to juniors and seniors. He was sober enough during his reading to school his audience on their collective ignorance of great Literature, worthy of capitalization by virtue of its humanity and universal relevance, which could only be found among certain poets of his generation. Those still awake applauded their abuse and took their time perusing thoughtfully at the bookseller’s table, ultimately deciding that a free library copy was just as edifying.
Liam looked forward to having at least one bottle of scotch left over to help him through the rationing it would take to get him to his next paycheck. But somehow, in the course of the subsequent reception, Beech and a handful of sycophants left him with only two fingers, plus a dollop of Livarot. While his host contemplated the shambles of his larder, the guest of honor requested directions to the water closet. Liam pointed the way, wordlessly.
The party adjourned to the bar of Beech’s hotel. Liam turned down the invitation half-heartedly extended by Medina’s tenured resident poet and was looking forward to a few hours of sleep before rising at six to prepare for his morning class. He made his way down the hall and nearly collided with a bolt of gray fur shooting from the opposite direction. Rudy, he admonished feebly. Liam followed a trail of litter into the bathroom, where Rudy’s litter box shared cramped space with the sink, toilet, and stand-up shower. He had just begun to brush his teeth when he noticed something in the periphery of his vision.
The turd measured 11 inches long, with a diameter of one and 7/8 inches at its thickest point. Rudy, a six-year-old Russian blue, measures 14 inches (excluding tail) and weighs just under 10 pounds. An avid omnivore—the primary reason he had been sequestered during the reception—he was on a prophylactic diet to ensure no health problems now that he had reached middle age. But not even feline agility would allow an organism to defecate nearly the full length of its body. In short, someone else had to be full of shit. Liam remembered the visiting poet’s rumpled blazer as he stumbled to relieve himself towards the end of the night.
Rudy consented to a brief examination—revealing nothing out of the ordinary—as Liam trolled online for a site he had discovered several months ago. Completist.com is essentially no different from any other trade and auction website, but it specializes in artifacts of fairly recent and often dubious provenance: “FOR THE COLLECTOR WITH EVERYTHING BUT.” He considered posting to the Celebrity pages, but it was doubtful anyone looking for Trey Seacourt’s yogurt spoon or Mia Clark’s used panties would know or care about the unexpurgated work of a prominent American poet. He settled on a page devoted to “Literary Curiosities.”
Within minutes of his upload, a potential buyer was corresponding with him via Completist Chat. IS THE SPECIMEN WHOLE? asked PapaLives1962. Liam pondered whether his exhaustion had gotten the better of him as he typed that it was. IS THE SPECIMEN PRESERVED? Liam wasn’t sure how to respond. He settled, finally, on KEPT WHERE I FOUND IT. KEEP SEALED IN COOL DRY PLACE, responded PapaLives. LOOK FOR AUTHENTICATION PACKET BY EXPRESS POST.
The following evening, Liam received an expedited package containing three cotton swabs, a zippered plastic sleeve, and an expedited return envelope addressed to a post office box in Nestling Grove, Montana. The sender provided careful instructions for collecting samples from three different spots along the specimen’s surface.
Thirty-six hours later, Liam received a message from the buyer, offering $10,000, plus shipping and insurance. Liam got him up to $15,000 after sending pictures. He deposited the check just in time for Commencement, which he skipped for a weekend bender in New Orleans.
Liam hoists a beer from the cooler under his chair.
Any of it left?
Liam nods at my question, drinking from an ornate brown bottle. I’ve got to count my pennies. Not all us part-timers have the same perks. He looks briefly at Dora before giving me a conspiratorial wink.
I should go, Dora says. I hear the slap of her flip-flops against the cold porch.
Already? Liam asks. We just got this party started.
Fuck you, Dora says. She takes the porch steps two at a time and heads east toward the neighborhood known as Faculty Manor.
I better head out, too, I say.
Nice, whispers Liam. I bet she’s really hot when she’s pissed.
I give him a look before calling Dora from the darkened steps.
She stops and is about to say something, but I interrupt. I can walk with you if you’d like.
It’s only two blocks. Anyway, aren’t you in the other direction?
Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I head towards Main. By the time I pass Liam’s house again, the porch is empty.
I’m at the corner of Main and Kyloe when I hear the chimes of the campus chapel. More hours toll the longer I wait at the intersection. Nine. Ten. Eleven. I check the clock on the side of Niagara Savings.
About the author:
Pedro Ponce is the author of Homeland: A Panorama in 50 States (Seven Kitchens Press), the story collection Alien Autopsy (Cow Heavy Books), and Superstitions of Apartment Life (Burnside Review Press). His recent fiction can be viewed at the Sonora Review blog (http://sonorareview.com/2011/05/25/short-short-fiction-by-pedro-ponce/) and PANK Magazine (http://www.pankmagazine.com/the-church-of-best-guesses/).
June 20, 2011 Comments Off on Pedro Ponce/Fiction
©2011 Shawn Huckins
Portrait of An American Family
“An American Revolution Revolution”:
What would George post?
An interview with Shawn Huckins
By Mike Foldes
The following interview took place by e-mail exchanges in June 2011.
Q: What initially prompted your series of “Revolution” paintings?
Shawn Huckins: I’ve always had a fascination with the American Revolution, ever since learning about it in elementary school. Not just the political aspect, but the way of life, the architecture, the food, the clothes, the fife and drums, and of course the art. So their way of living has always been in the back of my mind. I always wonder to myself what it must have been like to not worry about computers, cell phones, cars, and the list can go on and on — So this initially prompted the series, combining two different worlds. You are constantly bombarded with modern technology that at first it may seem wonderful and beneficial, but in the long run, makes us drift apart and makes us set our priorities in different places. I wanted a comical aspect to my work, but also make a statement.
A: All of my work is acrylic. Some are on canvas, some panel.
Q: How did you select the subject paintings that you eventually metamorphosed?
A: There are numerous factors when choosing a painting that I will eventually replicate. Some things of concern are picture quality … normally, I would photograph the painting myself with a series a detail shots, just so I can retain the original artist’s work as closely as possible. Second, if I myself think the work is of good composition/color. Some portraits just speak to me more than others. I find the work of Copley very inspiring because I work in a very meticulous manner, trying to create an almost photorealistic quality to my work. My early work borders on realism, so portraits that have a realistic quality to them, I tend to lean toward.
Q: Do you identify at all with Marcel Duchamp, and what do you think Duchamp would say of your work?
A: Duchamp never really inspired me. I remember learning about his work at college art history courses, but was never drawn to them. Duchamp made a statement about the art world and the work itself, creating works of art that wouldn’t seem like art at that time. My work, more or less, contrasts two ways of life and how it dramatically changed over just a few hundred years. I would think Duchamp would be drawn to my work because some would say I’m “defacing” the original portraits and the prominent people that helped create this country that we live in today.
Q: Out of curiousity, how much are the paintings in this series? Do you have a gallery?
A: No gallery, but I’m in the process of finding gallery representation. My work goes from $1500 to $4000.
A: Yes, Ed Ruscha is very influential on me. I discovered his work in school and never turned back. I wrote him a “fan letter” awhile back, not hoping to get anything in return, but a few weeks later, he sent me a postcard with one of his works on front and on the back with his signature. But to top of the story, a few weeks from that day, I got a package with a return address of “Ruscha Studio.” My heart started racing…he sent me his autographical book with a little note inside stating “Shawn, thanks for the kind letter. Best Wishes, Ed Ruscha.” Not many big time artists would do that for some rinky dink artist, but that gesture shows he’s a really a great guy…and not to mention his amazing work! His text paintings are very apparent in my work, I think having that kind of bold text makes it easier to make whatever statement your making more clear. Ed Ruscha’s gorgeous backgrounds mixed with the text have no (in most) apparent relationship, that’s the reason why they are so great…it’s almost so random and the juxtaposition of the two subjects makes the paintings work in some strange way. For example, he’ll have the word HISTORY going behind a mountain scape. Ruscha’s work also has a very west coast presence about it. My work, however, I try to make a statement by contrasting the two words…the world of a “civil” society against the world of modern technology and its distractions. I also like the fact that I’m recording the language used today in my work. It dates my work, but it also makes the record of how our language is being cut down/abbreviated, etc. just like how the egyptians recorded their hieroglyphics and the early caveman recorded their language of using symbols and icons.
Q: What you see as a trend in art among working artists of your age/generation?
A: As I see a lot of artists working along different mediums rather the traditional mediums like oils, acrylics, canvas, etc. I feel artists try very hard to find that one unique medium that makes their work theirs. Art Work today also seems to have a more an anime/cartoon look, like urban or street art … along the lines of Shepard Fairey. I like to retain the old traditions of painting, but add and combine popular culture lexicons to contrast the two.
Q: Do you see yourself moving in other directions, and if so, where?
A: I like the direction that I am currently moving in right now. For once, I feel like I’m making a statement about my work that people can relate to, in contrast to my other work which may seem cool and technically well done, but didn’t really say anything. There was no gusto behind it. For example, my last series, The Paint Chips … I had a great time with those … they were fun, colorful, and able to retain my realistic, crisp quality of my work … but they didn’t really mean anything… I was merely trying to make a cool looking image … that’s it. Although I still like the way they look and enjoyed working on them. I got dried up fast with them and felt constrained. I feel like I was limited with what I could do with them. My future work, is going to be along the same lines I’m (working in) now … I would like to do large scale diptychs and triptychs with more of a longer statement/facebook status/tweet. Overall, I’m a very pleased with how the series is turning out, the statements that it says, the comical tone of some, and plan on continuing contrasting the two worlds in some way or another.
Q: Do you plan on staying in Connecticut, or will you be moving to NY anytime soon?
A: Connecticut definitely is not my first choice of which state to live in. My partner and I have discussed moving out west for a few years just to experience something completely different and get away from the fast paced east coast. San Fran or Portland. I feel further down the road settling down in New England, but have no plans to be in the Big City. I’m perfectly happy with being only 1.5 hrs from the city…. easily accessible, but far enough from the congestion.
An American Revolution Revolution:What would George post?
General Winfield Scott: Laughing Out Loud<br />2010<br />acrylic on canvas with found frame<br />25 in / 63.5 cm diameter[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_gws-comment_rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-web.jpg]60
GW's Comment: Rolling On The Floor Laughing<br />2011<br />acrylic + pencil on canvas<br />36 x 33 in / 91.44 x 83.82 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_ingres-laughing-my-fucking-ass-off.jpg]50
INGRES: Laughing My Fucking Ass Off<br />2010<br />acrylic on panel with found frame<br />17.5 x 15.5 in / 44.45 x 39.37 cm<br />[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_vanderlyns-secret-obsession-talk-dirty-to-me-web.jpg]60
Vanderlyn's Secret Obsession, (Talk Dirty To Me)<br />2011<br />acrylic + pencil on canvas<br />36 x 30 in / 91.44 x 76.2 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_chivers-my-eyes-glaze-over-web.jpg]50
Chivers: My Eyes Glaze Over<br />2011<br />acrylic on canvas<br />32 x 30 in / 81.28 x 76.2 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_josef-and-the-great-stuff-insulation-foam-wig.jpg]40
Josef + The Great Stuff Insulation Foam Wig<br />2010<br />acrylic + insulating spray foam on panel<br />20 x 16 x 4 in / 50.8 x 40.64 x 10.16 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_mr-rider.jpg]100
Mr. Rider<br />2010<br />acrylic on panel<br />12.25 x 10.25 in / 31.12 x 26.04 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_montresor_for-crying-out-loud-im-so-bored-web.jpg]70
Montresor: For Crying Out Loud, I'm So Bored<br />2011<br />acrylic on canvas<br />36 x 28 in / 91.44 x 71.12 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_mr-mifflins-21st-century-ultra-smooth-pick-up-line-lets-hook-up-web.jpg]50
Mr. Mifflin's 21st Century Ultra Smooth Pick-Up Line, (Let's Hook Up)<br />2010<br />acrylic + pencil on canvas<br />29 x 23.75 in / 73.66 x 60.33 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_portrait-of-the-american-gentleman.jpg]120
Portrait of The American Gentleman<br />2010<br />acrylic on panel with found frame<br />26.75 x 22.75 in / 67.95 x 57.79 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_the-wig-makers-re-post-to-fat-taxation-um-and-youre-telling-me-this-because-web.jpg]60
The Wig Maker's Re-Post To Fat Taxation, (Um, And You're Telling Me This Because?)<br />2011<br />acrylic on canvas<br />40 x 33 in / 101.6 x 83.82 cm[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/shawn-huckins/thumbs/thumbs_verplancks-post-on-american-moralism-like-duh-obviously-its-a-complete-waste-of-time-web.jpg]70
Verplanck's Post on American Moralism, (Like Duh Obviously, It's A Complete Waste Of Time)<br />2011<br />acrylic on canvas<br />53 x 40 in / 134.62 x 101.6 cm
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
June 20, 2011 Comments Off on Shawn Huckins, Artist/Interview
“Well,” my grandmother Della says
Those are her two words.
One used to answer the door.
for no judgment.
Only one friend: the Watchtower Lady.
an African missionary in reverse, she
ministers to poor whites,
saving Midwesterners in South Tucson
from the bloody quicksand of Mexican Catholicism.
Alice, my grandmother’s strong coffee double
mirrors Della’s dense lard silence.
Twins, they wear imitation ruby
and emerald brooches, gold hands and starbursts
to clasp shut their slippery rayon dresses
over the deep valley’s of their breasts, and
a suffocating cotton candy of Woolworth’s perfumes,
“My Sin” and “Emeraud.”
Brace their ankles
against their great bulk,
heaped up like mashed potatoes.
Language comes out
Of ( their ) soft gorilla eyes, their
eyes lace together like fingers.
Every week Alice knocks.
Della opens the screen door.
She takes the pamphlet
with the cartoon colored pictures of hell
and puts it on the oak-painted-green kitchen table.
“Well,’’ my grandmother says,
and gets out the dominoes.
White cakes with black dots.
Ice melts in their RC Cola.
The only sounds:
the refrigerator hum,
my grandmother’s asthmatic breathing, the shifting sighs
of our oak-backed chairs.
Then, some silent call prompting her,
solid, yet in motion, an iron bell
of reckoning rings out
opens her umbrella
against shimmering sun.
My grandmother smiles at her one friend,
Their waves good-bye
fade into our swamp-cooled darkness.
Today, two Jehovah’s Witnesses
make their pale, dark-suited way
to my home in the prickly desert.
“Too busy,” I say, and
shut the door on their glittery-eyed, sunstruck faces
but take, for Della’s sake,
for her Alice,
their Easter egg colored pamphlet.
I Dream You Died And You Did
This nightgown binds me into sleep, lashes me to the bed, eyes
closed, into a blindness that leaps boulder to boulder.
Sleep is a small town full of strangers, one gas station and bad directions. Sleep is blankets under your chin, your pelvis/his butt welded like spoons. Rest,
you are so tired. No one has slept for so long, listening for car sounds, home
arriving. Where is your breast, my pillow? I can’t go on
dreaming the arrest, my husband pulling the paintings off the wall, threats to
call the police. Sleep is where we go
to be alone together. Sleep is peace in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda. My
grandmother had a great big sleepiness to her my grandfather
couldn’t get enough of. You, love, draw a picture of
our hearts barely breathing. Please, give me your eyes,
I will take them in my arms, kiss them, kiss and,
The Magician’s Assistant
People turn their heads like spools to watch him
Pound the thick wood thin, his neck stretched up
In a swan’s arch, as his fist comes down, down.
Each day more boards are suspended in the air. Only by
The sadness in his eyes, the top hat stuffed in his back pocket,
Can you tell he’s a magician.
I expect he’ll climb the ladder again
And again. Others tell me stories of men who fell
Helpless on their backs like turtles, or of the whirring
Saw that jumped up and sliced its master’s head
In two halves. I just sing louder.
Tonight I turn your bed down. You’ve finished another
House of cards. You hold your ruined hands out to me, too tired
To take down your own pants. I lift your legs, heavy as fallen trees,
Up and lay you out like a dead man. I get in the box where you slice me
In half, trust is my nightgown. We dream of applause.
You were so lovely in your red dress,
red mouth, red claw nails,
playing golf with men’s red heads.
You gave me a small putter
with a red handle.
To love you
is to drown in the Red Sea.
Your anger is
illuminated, raging Hell.
You are the fire
we were always racing to;
fire is called red
You taught me all my reds:
blue-red is cold
alone at night.
Did my father
have any redness in him?
Was it hard to be red, red, red
in the family’s soft, yielding
of biscuits and potatoes?
Our lives were anemic without you.
They dressed me mainly
in navy blue.
Mama, did you know that most drivers
who have accidents
have red cars?
but other people hit them.
About the poet:
Charlotte Lowe is a poet who lives in Patagonia, Arizona, near the Nogales, Mexico border. Previously she has published in American Poetry Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, among other literary reviews. She has a poem coming out in the summer issue of Hobo Camp Review. She has worked for poet in the schools programs for 15 years in both Arizona and Texas. Her happiest achievements are reading her work in Paris and Prague. Most recently she has studied at Naropa Summer Creative Writing Program.
June 20, 2011 Comments Off on Charlotte Lowe/Poetry