Thursday, November 29, 2012
I write this as thousands of Americans have bought their Lotto ticket and await the winning numbers. One would have to be living under a rock not to hear all the hoopla and be tempted to go out and buy just one. However, like every one of them, I've entertained those fantasies of what I'd do with an over half a billion dollar jackpot. I did not yield to temptation and buy a Lotto ticket. However, in spite of those who would claim I'd do otherwise, should I stumble into such obscene wealth, here's what I'd do. Here's my fantasy:
First, quite naturally, I'd think about myself. I'd acquire a little more living space; only a few hundred more square feet to relieve those cramped conditions in which I live now. Believe it or not, I don't desire to buy a fleet of Rolls Royces, or even one sleek Porsche. Those who know me, know I'm a firm believer in public transportation. Even though I have an old car thanks to the good graces of a good friend, I consider that car as a back-up to our pathetic local public transportation system. Instead, I'd use the extra cash for taxi fare to supplement the gaps in our current woefully inadequate public transit. And of course, I would be able to go out and enjoy some quality time with my few closest friends.
Cutting to the chase, here's how I'd use the remainder: First, I'd build a recording studio, and a radio and television complex to make possible public access for all the talented musicians and media artists in our community. I'd set up a marketing mechanism so that these musicians could get paid for their work, and to disseminate their product, through the sale of recordings. I'd create more permanent spaces for local public visual artists, past and present, and subsidize the creative processes for those still working. I'd establish a local press to publish the entire local canon of past literary work by Delaware authors and poets, establish bookstores for their sale, and donate important past literary works to local schools and libraries. This same press would publish and pay current worthy literary artists as well. I'd help to establish and support local theaters that stage live performances, as well as to establish theaters for the screening of serious cinema, especially films in the interests of those minorities who've become the majority in Wilmington. I'd begin to preserve historic sites in Wilmington, and, for example, finish the work to restore the Sugar Bowl.
The important thing here is that doing all these things, through the graces of good fortune, would provide more wealth, first through the work necessary to get these kinds of projects off the ground, and later in the need to maintain them, and finally creating an enriched environment that could attract the need to bring necessary manufactures to the area, from bakeries to breweries, from a new and efficient public transportation system to repairing a crumbling urban infrastructure.
However, our local community would not need me winning millions of dollars to realize all these projects, to make this fantasy come true. This kind of money is already out there. It's there in the collective "old money" bank accounts of our local duPont clan, in the annual bonuses of those corporate and bank executives who live here, tucked away in those portfolios, and Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts of the Centreville jet set. The kind of money I'd never win, the half billion dollars I claim could miraculously transform our cultural environment, would never be missed by those in the local wealthy class who have it. With the click of fewer mouses than one realizes, that kind of money could make it all happen.
It won't happen, however, because an enriched cultural environment is not in the interest of the wealthy class. While they may throw chump change and tax write-off dollars to this or that cultural organization, they only do it to control the local cultural environment instead of liberating it. It is not in the interest of the local wealthy class to better engender an enriched cultural environment because it would serve to raise the social value of all those who live here, to allow people to feel as though they play a more valuable part in our community. If such were the case, they might have to pay more people a better wage and a larger salary, and that would not be good for profits. The value of greater social and cultural wealth challenges the cause of mere capital accumulation for a few. An enriched cultural environment creates greater value for larger numbers of people than those relative few who strive for mere greater capital accumulation, while shielding themselves by using chump change and tax write-off dollars in the cause of promoting cultural mediocrity. I know this from experience. I know there are some immensely talented and gifted artists of all kinds living among us who are struggling in poverty, with low paying jobs that serve to devalue their spirits, wear down their bodies, and blunts their desire to express themselves. I also know there are many more who live in or near poverty who are capable of appreciating, understanding and are open to being enriched by all those local gifted and talented artists. The truths embodied in our cultural potential could be the truths that set us all free, but the purse strings controlled by the wealthy are the chains that make us think that the only thing for which we can strive is mediocrity because the exceptional is out of the question.
With the money I could have used to buy a Lotto ticket, I bought a cup of soup instead.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
I’ve usually made it a policy not to talk about works of fiction that I'm writing while in progress, but since I’ve retired, or gone on strike, I’m talking. My workshop was the place where the written page was produced. Now I’m blabbing to whoever wants to know.
Some time ago I told my friend Franetta about an idea for a fiction project based on the theme of turning something inside out. I began with the ideological concept and Franetta finished by saying that it sounded like it needed to be a novel.
With the Progressive Era and the Bolshevik Revolution contributing to form what is called the “left” in 20th century politics, there followed the reaction, or the formation of the ideological “right,” characterized by the Fascist march on Rome by Mussolini only a few years after the Russian Revolution. In the language of ideology, the former represented “the dictum of the proletariat,” while the latter, the reaction, represented “the dictum of the bourgeoisie.” Historically and geopolitically speaking, these dicta represented martial forms ostensively led by Stalin on behalf of the Bolsheviks, or Communists, and Hitler on behalf of the Fascists, or the virulent and racist variant called the Nazism. This is an oversimplified background for the idea for the novel.
In the United States this ideological conflict was not as acute as it had been in Europe, but existed nonetheless, in a “softer” form. In the United States during the 1930s, when Capitalism had been weakened by The Great Depression, President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which had been considered by right wingers to be a slippery slope toward Communism, was challenged by extremists who believed that Fascism was not only an antidote to a Communist threat perceived to be lurking within New Deal policies, but was also a martial form of Capitalism that had the potential for lifting us out of The Great Depression. Thus is the basis for my idea for the novel.
Cutting to the chase, the novel begins with the United States House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigating an attempted Fascist coup d’état of the United States government financed by elements of those in the corporate and banking sectors and led by a phalanx of disgruntled military veterans from the American Legion, Pinkerton thugs and other recruits to be led by an American military hero like General John J. Pershing, or Douglas MacArthur, or U.S. Marine General Smedley Butler. In this actual incident, after an attempt to recruit Butler was made, Butler blew the whistle on the plot, which led to an investigation by HUAC. However, after the first reelection of Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, the tone of HUAC’s investigations changed. Under the chairmanship of Congressman Martin Dies (D-Texas) the investigation turned toward suspected Communist influence within the Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), especially the Federal Writers’, Artists’, and Theatre Projects. A good depiction of this move by Congressional extremists can be found in the 1999 film Cradle Will Rock.
In my idea for a novel, which I would entitled Whitelisted, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) does not get taken over by paranoid extremists like Martin Dies and continues to investigate real Fascist and Nazi influences instead of suspected and alleged “Communist” influence.
In Whitelisted, after the war, HUAC continues its investigations, but instead of investigating persons with alleged “Communist” ties, it continues to investigate those with Fascist and Nazi sympathies. Instead of Alger Hiss being sent to prison, Charles Lindbergh, who had accepted the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from Hermann Goering on Hitler’s orders, found himself in hot water. Instead of the Hollywood 10 being “blacklisted,” others in Hollywood, like up and coming actors Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, found the best work they could get was in local community theatre. Instead of members in the leadership of the American Communist Party and a number of suspected labor union leaders being sent to prison, members of the John Birch Society were imprisoned. Political purges take place within the American Legion and Pinkerton Agency to sweep out Fascist and Nazi elements. Entertainers like Paul Robeson, Hope Foye, and the Weavers are never blacklisted and go on to have stellar careers. Theodore Bickel finally earns an Academy Award. The writer William F. Buckley can only get published in small community newspapers, while Dalton Trumbo earns a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Ayn Rand can only publish her fiction in boiled down versions in obscure pamphlets and Mickey Spillane is forced to self publish small mimeographed copies of his novels. The Ku Klux Klan is driven underground and many of its most vociferous spokesmen are driven into the woodwork like cockroaches when the lights are turned on.
It’s natural to think that such a scenario would have been improbable. Typically, liberals of the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal tradition have neither the stomach nor backbone for the kind of inquisition those conservatives have, especially those that range from the Joe McCarthy stripe to neo-conservative inquisitional tactics of today –– the Obama birth certificate paranoia being a good example. Yet, with the right kinds of circumstances, perhaps under the initiation of a strong personality, such an occurrence might be made possible through the crafty use of fiction.
Fiction enables conclusions to be ascertained, providing an ending to the novel, evoking and provoking subjects that may be discovered beneath the surface or in plain sight. One such conclusion that might surface is how those victims of these kinds of official inquisitions tend to be cultural figures such as writers, actors and entertainers, and how dangerous they are perceived to be. The next question to consider is why such is the case. Could the answers be suggested by the tendency for artists of all varieties to seek safe havens, such as retreating into the notion of art for art’s sake or poetry for poetry’s sake? Historically, could this help to explain, or even merely introduce the discussion about, the prevalence of abstract expressionism in art after World War II where form obscures content, or the prominence of imagist tinged poetry where appreciation of it is often the product of rigorous deconstruction, usually in an academic setting?
These kinds of issues could be fleshed out through the kind of novel I propose. The post war effort by the Central Intelligence Agency in collusion with a number of corporations and their foundations to influence and shape the post war cultural environment is already somewhat known. The proposed novel Whitelisted could bring these kinds of issues to the forefront, but I won’t be writing it. No one would publish it. I can’t afford to publish it myself. I’ve already written novels that sit on the shelves of a couple local libraries and are never taken out. I have small piles of my unsold novels in my cramped apartment. And I live in poverty and it’s a struggle to keep my head above water. Believe it or not, there are those who are glad of that. They keep the blacklists.
Monday, October 22, 2012
|Protester Ejected from UD Debate|
Innocence and Optimism
Tuesday morning October 16 began with a lesson on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what President Ronald Reagan called “a standard by which any humble person on Earth can stand in judgment of any government on Earth." Before the day was out, the lesson would be undermined by the University of Delaware-sponsored electoral debates.
I had asked my Freshman English class to select some favorite passages in the Declaration and tell why they spoke to them. I circled the room to see their work and to engage those innocent, optimistic youths in some dialogue. Among the most popular was Article 19:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Next in line was Article 21, paragraph 1:
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
I made some remarks that the debates to take place in the University’s Mitchel Hall that night were excluding Green, Libertarian, and Independent Party candidates and perhaps abridging their freedom of expression and participation in government. At the same time, I noted that rights were subject to limitation when necessary, as Article 29 prescribes, to secure “due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, [and] public order.”
A Train Wreck
What happened that night was a train wreck of rights in conflict, brought on by the University’s decision to limit the public discourse to those with the power of money. UD exacerbated the clash by overreacting to a Green Party and Occupy Delaware “mic check,” a brief, call-and-response demur endured with infinitely more patience at New Castle County sheriff’s sales, national rallies, and even at a speech by President Obama last November.
The stage was set for the clash by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication (DPC), which organized the debates. Headed by Ralph Begleiter, a former correspondent for CNN, the CPC demanded that candidates meet standards set by the Pew Debate Advisory Standards Project, which suggests that forums either require candidates to raise high sums of money or have the parties go to great expense on polls to prove the popularity of their candidates. Other than the two dominant party candidates, only unaffiliated Alex Pires, a wealthy businessman, was able to buy his way into the debate. Several other debates in Delaware, including those at Widener Law School and the Jewish Federation of Delaware (after some urging), welcomed all ballot-qualified candidates, but the publicly-funded UD imposed its own form of political correctness. As I argued in my Broken Turtle Column August 10, “[f]or UD to take part in this pseudo-debate is a violation of its educational mission.” Let us note that Sen. Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney both sit on the Advisory Committee of the Center for Political Communication that protected them from alternative views.
|The Palm of Information Control|
When Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Bernie August rose before the debate began to protest his exclusion with a mic check and invite the audience to an alternative debate outside of Mitchell Hall, the University let lose all the accoutrements of information control: Plainclothes cops descended on August and his supporters. Unidentified men in suits head-locked protestors out the doors. An usher in the Mitchell Hall lobby threw her hand over the camera snapping shots of someone in a suit and a uniformed UD cop ejecting a man they later charged with resisting arrest. UDaily, the University’s on-line newsletter, only mentions UD Police and says nothing about plainclothes private security, who, if they were involved, take the university into dangerous legal ground. While August says the police who held him at the Newark Police station were polite and professional, police were very slow to tell friends and family where he and the other arrestee were being held and waited until almost 1 a.m. to release them, pending trial.
UD could of course argue that the rights of the candidates to speak and of the audience to hear were disrupted by the boisterous mic check, even though the University had used its less boisterous power to silence views the audience would surely have welcomed. These views include what the Greens say about environmental issues and national single-payer health care and what the Libertarians say about the war on drugs and the anti-teacher provisions of Race to the Top. Indeed, writing in The Delaware Libertarian blog, Steve Newton reports that the same Pew Study that recommended the restrictive guidelines also noted that 53 percent of voters wanted third-party candidates included in debates. Had the Center for Political Communication given the citizens the debate they wanted, maybe they would have filled the considerable number of empty seats at Mitchel Hall and avoided a bumbling demonstration of arbitrary power.
When President Obama was similarly mic checked by Occupy Wall Street on November 22 of last year, he responded, “"I'm going to be talking about a whole range of things today, and I appreciate you guys making your point, let me go ahead and make mine, all right? And I'll listen to you, you listen to me." The University can redeem itself by dropping all charges against the two arrestees. UDaily reported only that the protesters were removed, apparently finding the arrests too embarrassing to mention. Or they can double down on this disgrace and throw their weight around, the way they did when they intimidated investors from bidding on the old Chrysler site by threatening to seize it through eminent domain, something I learned from Left Behind, a film produced by Ralph Begleiter and his students.
In an academic environment, taboos must be broken and assumptions subjected to challenge. This debate bolstered received wisdom, gave the entrenched a free pass, and suppressed the predictable reaction.
Competing Honors and Competing Rights: Drop the Charges
Recently Ralph Begleiter was honored by Common Cause of Delaware for his role in breaking the taboo against exposing the flag-draped coffins of American war dead. Almost simultaneously, Occupy Delaware was honored by Delaware Pacem in Terris as “Peacemakers Among Us” for breaking the two-party taboo against exposing the plutocratic one percent. I hope Ralph Begleiter will join me in urging the University of Delaware to drop all charges against those arrested and disclose if private security agents were involved.
My students demonstrate a fairly broad spectrum of views and I try to let them sort it out themselves as they contemplate competing rights. However, everything we do at the university is part of the learning environment. What will students take away concerning freedom of expression, participation in government, and Human Rights in general from this truncated debate?
PS: The Complete Mic Check
I am Bernie August and I am the Green Party candidate for the US House of Representatives. My voice, and the people's voices that I hope to represent, are being silenced with this debate. Because I am not a member of one of the entrenched parties, because I am not independently wealthy, and because I refuse to take corporate donations, I am not allowed to participate, even though I am a ballot qualified candidate.
As a result, I am protesting this partisan and farcical mockery of a debate and ask that you join me at THE REAL DEBATE to be held outside this hall and right after this message, where I and other 3rd party candidates will answer your questions. I urge you ALL, audience members and candidates on the stage, to join me so that we can have a truly free and open debate. All of our voices matter.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Somehow I've managed to become the one who keeps the record of Delaware's literary history. There are two reasons for this, one is a rather oversized propensity for curiosity, and the other is to get some idea of the scope and composition of Delaware's literary community from the time we became "The First State" up to today. Not everyone appreciates my effort and my best indication of that is when those who attempt to refer to our literary history get it wrong. Some of it may be some fault of my own because I've not emphasized it in the right places, or failed to repeat certain features of it over and over again. Certainly, the failure by others to pay attention or to remember correctly shares that blame. Recently there was some confusion regarding the history of live poetry readings, especially in and around Wilmington and Newark.
The history of public poetry readings is a relatively short one. Before the early 1980s public poetry readings were rare and sometimes exclusive events. They may have been limited to well known poets giving a reading in an academic setting, or during a commemorative event connected to something of historic significance.
Today's public poetry readings largely grew out of the counter cultural movement of the late 1960s. Nearly every local counter cultural periodical since The Heterodoxical Voice published occasional poetry. It demonstrated to us that poetry could be appreciated by a general readership. During this period, local poets began to gather, in salon fashion, to privately read their poems to one another. This led to the next step toward staging public readings.
Yours truly reading at that 1982 reading in the Collins Room.Phillip Bannowsky waits to read next.
There may be those who wish to differ, but I usually associate the advent of the current public poetry readings with one held sometime in the autumn of 1982 at the University of Delaware, in the Collins Room at the Perkins Student Center. The actual date is obscured because no one could have predicted the reading would launch a movement. The event was organized by former University of Delaware English Professor Gloria Hull with the intent to include academic poets as well as those from the community. On August 13, 1983, a poetry reading was held in the backyard of then Delaware Poet Laureate e. jean lanyon's home at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and North College Avenue in Newark, which was also open to the public. This reading was a kind of test run for the first fully public reading promoted by the literary group that called itself the Eschaton Writers, along with many of the same people who had been involved in the Dreamstreets project. That first real public reading was held at the Wilmington Public Library on August 31, 1983. Reading at that first event were Robert Bohm, Patricia E. Eagan, Douglas Morea, e. jean lanyon, Mafundi, and myself. On September 30, 1983, the same poets read at the Newark Public Library with the addition of poets Lew Bennett, Bob Chartowich, Jameelah and Suzanne Michelle. On October 15, 1983, two literary groups, The First State Writers and the Eschaton Writers, came together and held a joint poetry reading at O'Friel's Irish Pub in Wilmington. Reading at that event were Samuel Borton, Elizabeth Cory, Douglas Morea, Mafundi, Robert Bohm, Jameelah, Suzanne Michelle, Patricia E. Eagan, e. jean lanyon, and myself. This was a significant reading because Kevin Freel, the owner of O'Friel's invited us back for the next second Saturday, on November 12, 1983, thus launching the regular 2nd Saturday Readings, which prevail to this day.
Additional readings continued to be held. On November 3, 1983, the Eschaton Writers held a reading at the Concord Pike Public Library, north of Wilmington, with many of the same poets cited above. There was a short series of regular poetry readings at The Hen's Teeth Bookstore on East 7th Street in Wilmington and in October a poetry reading, held in observance of the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, was held at the Walnut Street YMCA. On December 3, 1983, a reading commemorating the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe was held at the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, thus rounding out that year of successfully launching the poetry reading movement in the area.
In October 1990, Dreamstreets launched regular readings in Newark on the 3rd Saturday and later on the 3rd Sunday. The record for these readings, which lasted until May 1994, can be found on the website dreamstreetsarchive.com. It was around the time these Dreamstreets readings ended that the "poetry slam" movement began. Before the end of the millennium, new readings emerged at the Newark Arts Alliance's Art House in Newark and at Saints Andrew and Matthew Church in Wilmington.
There may be public poetry readings that are not known by me currently happening regularly in the area. I do know that the 2nd Saturday Readings still occur just outside the city limits in Wilmington at the Jackson Inn on Lancaster Pike. In Newark, the Mocha, Music & More event, currently held at Central Perk on Main Street, features regular poetry readings.
The history of public poetry readings in northern New Castle County is now 30 years old, a record that should be relished by local literary artists.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
For the past several years I have tried to stop writing prose fiction. It's been more than 50 years since I began writing literature. I've been most recently commemorating that time in 1962, just after graduating from high school, that I plunked my old Underwood on the kitchen table of my parents' house and started banging out short stories. Before the end of that year I wrote about a half dozen of them and launched my literary career, such as it would turn out to be, by sending them to The New Yorker. One of those stories became my first published story in 1966 in a small college literary magazine that's not worth mentioning.
Almost a decade later, in 1973, slowed by war, getting immersed in the counter culture movement, and kicking around the country, I renewed my aspirations by writing my first novel, The Afternoon Detective Agency. Except for a chapter published in Expresso Tilt in 1984 and part of a chapter published in Dreamstreets 3, the novel remains unpublished. What ensued during the next 39 years is a matter of record. My published work can be found on every floor of the University of Delaware library. Whoopee do! The greater remaining amount is unpublished.
Today as I grapple with the certainty that I will be living in the same poverty as I'm living now for the rest of my life, I don't see any reason for continuing to waste my time trying to be a literary artist. The problem is that writing ideas keep coming. My final challenge is to keep from being tempted to write. While I might give in to this impulse, I will not share the results. No one will ever know. I'm convinced, with the exception of a few, that no one is interested, cares, or even curious about what I write.
Within the past few weeks I wrote my final two short stories, which I sent to The New Yorker so they could reject them, as a means to commemorate my original gesture 50 years ago, as well as to ascertain some measure of progress. Well, I've got my measure. I know who to blame, and it's not myself, and that's why I'm so bitter.
|My final novel. Only 6 copies exist.|
The first of those two recent short stories, entitled "Chasing Sugar," picks up where The Afternoon Detective Agency ends. Wences Minion finds himself chasing Sugar Heartstraps through the subways of New York City. It is a world where all the conspiracy theories have turned out to be true, from a Kenyan born Muslim who had been sent packing, to chem trails and HAARP really being used to control the weather and used for mind control respectively. Minion finds himself in a United States flagrantly run by a new breed of Nazis. He is chasing Sugar because she has his dossier containing some vital information these new Nazis, the Archon Falange and their Secrepo agents, want. As for what happens, you'll never know until some one pays me to publish it. It's not likely to happen.
The second story is entitled "Christmas at Collinswood." In this story, Mark Lucas wakes from a coma. He's in the hospital and the first person he sees is Dr. Julia Hoffman. She's just finished up her studies to be a doctor at the New York School of Medicine. It's Christmas of 1945. Lucas had returned from the service during World War II and Dr. Hoffman helps him through that first post war Christmas. Shortly afterward, Dr. Hoffman gets an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The two lose touch. Living in New York, Lucas eventually gets a job as a stagehand with the help of a new neighbor named Fred Mertz, who lives in an apartment building in Manhattan with his wife Ethel. The other neighbors are Ricky Ricardo and his wife Lucy. Lucas later moves to an apartment building in Brooklyn. His new neighbors are Ralph and Alice Kramden on the second floor, and Ed and Trixie Norton up on the third floor. Not long after, Lucas runs into Fred Mertz and his friend, comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, who hooks Lucas up with his co-employee Sally Rogers. Lucas and Sally have a brief fling and just as it sours, he learns about Dr. Julia Hoffman. She has gone to Maine to help a man named Barnabas Collins, who has a rare and ancient blood disease. It's 1966 and things come to a head during the Christmas season. What happens? You'll never know until some one pays me to publish it. Not likely.
Sorry, I just can't afford to give it away anymore.
|My Vietnam War novel. Only 6 copies exist.|
As I declared at the beginning of this article, writing ideas keep coming to me. For a while I'll used this Brokenturtle blogspot to provide quick synopses of fiction ideas that occur to me but which I will never write. I'll give that much. It only takes an hour to whack out these blog articles, but I'll also write these synopses to get it out of my system, to purge the poison of wasted creativity from my life.
By the way, a few articles ago, I suggested that I might be deleting the file on Valdemar's Corpse, my non-fiction book about Delaware's past literary artists. The verdict is still out. The book is still hanging by a couple of threads. One of those is a query to a publisher for which I'm still awaiting a response. There is another publisher who wants to publish it, but there are issues, mostly having to do with printing costs. There are those who are rooting for Valdemar's Corpse never seeing the light of print. Perhaps they'll get their wish and like the corpse of Valdemar in Poe's story, after the link has been broken, my book will rapidly decompose never to be heard, or in my case, read forever.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Dear friends in arts, factories, and politics,
Daniels seemed to be living my
dream. While I dropped out of UD in 1965 and hired on at Chrysler in 69, Daniels
escaped early on from Ford to work at Carnegie Mellon University, where he has
taught creative writing since 1981. Now he has written, edited, and produced
over thirty works of poetry, fiction, and film, and he has won numerous awards.
By the way, he wrote a generous blurb for the back cover of my Autoplant: a Poetic Monologue. He has
read in countless union halls, universities, libraries, bars, and bookstores
since 1978. One of his poems, “Factory Love,” from Places/Everyone, is decaled on the roof of race car driver Alex
Gabau’s sports car: “Machine, I come to you 800 times a day/like a crazy monkey
We are carp swimming up river, Mama,
About twenty-five years ago, when I was a rank-and-file activist in the UAW and humping the assembly line at Chrysler, I discovered a rare young poet, Jim Daniels, who seemed to understand the dreams and difficulties of us autoworkers. Now he is coming to Delaware, and I hope all my friends and union brothers and sisters will come out to see him when he reads at 5 p.m. October 11th at UD’s Gore Hall in Room 116. Also, he will be joining my old friend and long serving former Delaware Poet Laureate, e. jean lanyon at the 30th Anniversary Celebration of 2nd Saturday Poets, 5 p.m., October 13th, at the Jackson Inn, 101 N. DuPont Road in Wilmington. Both events are open to the public. UD is free; 2nd Saturday requests a $5 donation, and the Jackson Inn, as a tavern, serves only over 21.
I stayed at Chrysler, (except for 1992-95 on leave to teach in Ecuador) until I retired in 2001, and now I teach at the University of Delaware. I am proud to say I have had a role in bringing my old favorite to Newark and Wilmington. A big thanks is due for funding to UD’s English Department, the Faculty Senate, and the Delaware Humanities Forum. But it is not only pride that a feel, but a sort of vindication.
You see, my present employer, the University of Delaware, purchased the Chrysler Newark Assembly Plant (N.A.P.) site to use for its new Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus and for Bloom Energy. Ironically, UD had featured prominently in my Autoplant as the dream “gymnasium” from which I wandered in the late 60s across South College Avenue to Chrysler’s assembly line.
What had been hometown to so many Chrysler workers is now history. Now, history can either be a corpse treated to an academic post mortem or a living memory recounted in the poet’s imagination. Chrysler N.A.P wasn’t just so much private property; it was the site of our human drama and the embodiment of our creativity and sweat.
|Photo by Harry Rohrer: Chrysler N.A.P Body-In-White|
That’s how worklife appears in Jim Daniel’s poetic world: human and sweaty. Sometimes it highlights the inherent dignity in a bottom job. In “Short-order Cook,” for example, from Places/Everyone, when the narrator gets an order for “thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries,” he deftly if frantically crowds thirty patties onto the grill, flips them, ads the cheese, builds them on buns, cooks two buckets of fries, wraps them all, bags the order, wipes his sweat, smiles at the counter girls, eats a handful of ice, and proceeds to
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.
Other times the dignity comes harder. Digger is an autoworker whose troubles Daniels writes about in dozens of poems published across three decades. In “Digger Thinks About Numbers,” also from Places, our hero contemplates his contribution to the tally of cars built in Detroit on a big sign above the freeway. The poet speaks to Digger, noting how he wishes the sign said,
“Digger made 160,000 parts so far this year.”
You want your neighbor to come over
and congratulate you. But
he ties brake cables—he’d want a sign too.
|Diego Rivera, 1927, Detroit Institute of Arts.|
Daniels’ heroes aren’t just working out their place in the work place, but in their homes and in the spiritual order as well. Niagara Falls is a longer poem about a man on vacation with his family at the famous site. His mind drifts back to the hardscrabble existence of his parents, his Catholic upbringing, the prayers he learned and forgot, the perverted priest and the one who smoked pot, a shrunken head at Ripley’s Museum, Elvis, St. Francis of Assisi, feeding bread to an insatiable multitude of carp, and a recurring motif about a restaurant called Mama Something’s, where he got a bad case of heartburn. The poem ends by evoking that glimpse of grace that may be the best we can pray for:
We are carp swimming up river, Mama,
all of us, even you. I hold the steering wheel
in one hand. The other rests
on my wife’s knee. My wallet against my ass
tells me little about who I am.
It is the prayer book this world insists on.
The sound of the tires hisses in my ears
like rushing water.
If I was a saint, I might
scoop out my dashboard full of change
and toss it to the wind.
But I am counting it out
to pay my toll.
One of the most tragic poems is “Abandoned, Detroit,” from In Line for the Exterminator. The narrator and his dad take a ride to see if the house they and his great-grandfather lived in was still standing. They
Benitau, slowing to look for the crumbling heap
of recognizable memory, then blowing through
stop signs back to the freeway.
He reminisces about the Great Flood of Detroit, with
pitching in to clean up the sewage in each other’s basement,
nobody talking about whose shit it was.
And Daniels leaves us with a final image of Motor City grief:
Ragged Flakes of lead paint, yellow and brown,
seeping into the hallowed ground where our dead
were laid out, then carried across the street
to the church that is also no more. My heart’s
a wrecking ball, okay? I’m swinging away
at my holy places of abandonment.
I’m thinking about bricks as seeds.
I’m dreaming the dull sad eye
of the streetlight.
Jim Daniels shares many of our values of working class dignity, art for the people, and human rights. I hope to see you at the University, October 11 or at 2nd Saturday’s on October 13.
Jim Daniels Amazon Page is at http://www.amazon.com/Jim-Daniels/e/B001HMMC8S/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1348867102&sr=1-2-ent
This program is partially funded by a grant from the Delaware Humanities Forum, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.