Monthly Archives: March 2012

the world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss – x

“No one is united and all things are untied…
who’s been telling lies…
the world’s a mess it’s in my kiss.”
 

X was the first band that made me realize women could be punks.

In the nineties I lived in train town usa.  Punk and grunge were big there, so were cowboys.  By the time we were in seventh grade we were dressing in our father’s old clothes, buying cheap funk from thrift stores and going to all-ages punk shows in downtown churches.  I learned to question mainstream society and wear studs.  Caring for the earth got me ostracized, but the punks were used to being outcasts and welcomed me in.

We were into hanging around the record store, and got into bands like the Misfits, the Clash, Ramones, Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols, plus locals like Boycott and Moral Crux; lots of these groups sing about the need for political change and have gothic-noir story lyrics.

It occurred to me early on that there weren’t many women in punk rock, and I was saddened.  Then I learned about X, and got the tape More Fun in the New World.

I had a little boombox next to my bed and listened to that X tape night after night as I fell asleep above the bridge.  Lead singer Exene became my dream maker and godmother.

Now we also look to women like Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal and Maureen Tucker as our poet-punk role models.

Punk rock gives an important platform for calling out the crooked ways of the world and expressing emotion in raw, fearlessly radical, ironic and avant-garde ways.  X trained our veins and their beat will always motivate us; we owe some strength of our roots to Exene’s righteous croon.

These days we like to transform our anger by not letting the mess get into our kiss.  We try to focus on the ways we are united, and on the ones who tell the truth.  Turning things around keeps our sights holy, our minds kind, and our spirits high.

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Androgynous, the Replacements

how could this song be so lushly beautiful?

I think it makes my pulse cascade so much because I’ve been mistaken for the opposite sex more times than I can count.

While I take pride in my gender, I’ve also learned to embrace androgyny.  As JD Salinger says in one of his novels, many writers are androgynous; it’s a gift to be able to see with two minds and recognize the beauty in everyone.

People have both female and male energies inside of them.  It’s good to be respectful of the multiple ways of being, and of the myriad identities of the universe.

It brings to mind one of my favorite Joy Harjo poems, the Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window, where the woman hanging thinks of all the women she has been, and of all the men, and of climbing back up to claim herself again.

“Androgynous” by the Replacements is a reclaiming song, and a defender of everyone who’s ever been bullied for not being masculine enough, or for not being feminine enough.  The song says, what’s the big deal if someone is androgynous? who cares what sexual orientation someone is, as long as there is love?  Let there be a same hair revolution.  “Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?” is a sweet vision for the world; we can switch sexes like we switch tenses like we switch songs.

Another song that protests being harassed because of towing the gender line is Androynous Mind by Sonic Youth.  It has a more hard-driven punk sound than the Replacements song, but still offers salvation for androgynous people with the repetition of, “hey hey it’s okay.”

Other key songs on this theme are Lola by the Kinks and Lola R for Ever with Marianne Faithfull.

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Saborami, Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña’s Saborami came to our doorstep on a magic feather.  It was serendipitous fortune, because we are admirers of Chilean literature, and will never forget the horrible injustice of the US led coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973; plus Saborami achieves our dream of making a multi-text, psychic art collage, poetic manifesto.

The 2011 version of Saborami is an enhanced reissue of the text that came out in 1973, just three months after the coup in Chile.  It includes the original Spanish with English translation, collage, found art, newspaper clippings, dream, paintings, poem, pieces of nature and journal entries – making up a remarkable testimony.  Saborami is profound evidence from a history of oppression, and it stimulates on several levels: visually, psychologically, physically, emotionally, philosophically – and if it could play sound and give us taste and smell, it surely would.

Vicuña introduces the book:

ABOUT THE OBJECTS

 
In June 1973 the C.I.A. and the Chilean right wing, together with the Army were openly conspiring to overthrow the Popular Unity government.  I decided to make an object every day in support of the chilean revolutionary process. 
            After the coup d’etat and Allendes’ assassination the objects changed.
            In the beginning I wanted to prevent the coup, now the objects intend to support armed struggle against the reactionary government.
 
The objects try to kill three birds with one stone: politically, magically and aesthetically.
 
            I conceived them as a journal.  Each day is an object (a chapter) all days make a novel.
 
I didn’t want to make it with many words since there is hardly any time left to live.
 
(12)
 

That last line, “I didn’t want to make it with many words since there is hardly any time left to live,” wets our eyes and evokes the sense of urgency to make art that transcends the pages of a book, an urgency which is present throughout Saborami.  Vicuña says, “people who are aware of their own death are more likely to be revolutionaries.”

Saborami is a diary of hope for revolution, as well as of dread and protest for the announced and attempted coup, a cry of despair for loss of life, and redemption thru re-membrance.  It’s a heart wrenching, yet inspiring chronicle of the 1973 Chilean experience.  Vicuña sees the wastefulness of war with such clarity, “With the coup we lost the memory of who we were.  Violence was done to our bodies, our language, our self image.  Terror reigned and thousands died, many thousands tortured and many thousands more were forced into exile.  Total censorship ruled while unarmed civilians and opponents were bing killed.  But the massacre was justified by a web of lies.  Lies that have never been lifted.  The dictatorship lasted 17 years.  (160).”   It is baffling to think that so much torture and murder was committed by the United States government against Chilean citizens, just because Chile voted for a socialist society in which this dream could have surged:

THE VICTORY OF LATIN AMERICA

Latin America should never become like Europe or the u.s.

Chile could be the first happy country in the world, a way of being constantly affectionate would grow from innocence and neolithic ecstasy (reappearing).  Suicide wouldn’t exist.  Socialism would achieve a cosmic consciousness, the sum of the wisdom of pre-Columbian Indians and of the many wisdoms of other places.  Socialism in Latinamerica would give birth to a culture in which “thinking with the belly” would reveal so much more than “thinking with the head.”  Thought, perception would grow with increasing joy.  There would be much dancing, much music, much friendship.  Socialism in Chile could give birth to a joyful way of living! 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           (36)

"Revolutionary violence is a nail hammered on a banana leaf. A rough movement to capture the delicate, an haiku or a leap of Tai chi."

Through despair, Vicuña reiterates the need to be joyous.  Being present in the moment, honed into intuition and music, able to concentrate and see art in every day moments, are essential to forming a new society, according to Vicuña.

Saborami includes a series of electrifying journal entries in which Vicuña talks about one of her art installations, where she and her family and friends filled a museum with autumn leaves:

this piece has no concern for the future.  it evolves within the present, the absolute joy of an instant can’t be perpetuated, any attempt to do so will kill this joy, that’s why i used such perishable things as autumn leaves. 

Vicuña declares that art should be done by everyone.  Art should evolve out of the present moment, with little concern for the future.  We can get turned on by reality, seeing the miracles all around us.  And when we worship our lives and our world, we are more likely to cry out when the preciousness is endangered by violence.

Those of us who are closest to the materials are more likely to speak out in defense for them.  Those of us closest to nature are the ones who want to protect the earth.  Vicuña says, “the workers are the avant-garde in defending the ecological balance, natural resources & fighting pollution.”  We take pride in our roles of kind protectors and alive artists.

“A decal from chile: revolutionary feminism shall give birth to a different relationship between men & women; neither power nor dependence nor oppression; the meeting of two complete universes.”

Saborami is an extremely powerful, important piece of art text and history.  It gives readers a visceral way of experiencing art and poem through the scope of several decades worth of memory, dream and hope, in the midst of horrific cold war attacks on life.  Cecilia Vicuña is a courageous hero and a visionary flower of now and always.

Referenced:
Saborami by Cecilia Vicuña, ChainLinks 2011

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i shall not be moved, mississippi john hurt

dear mississippi john hurt,

our souls actually lift out of our skin because you feed them so much.  then we can hear the plants talking to each other and our bodies become like the roots dipping into the river.  a sparrow comes to listen to you too, a little god shivering in the rain.  “I shall not be moved, just like a tree planted by the water.”  smell of sweetgrass and seeds erupting.  and mourning doves, cardinals, yellow feather, crow voice all come to sing with you.  we think this is the greatest version of this song we’ve ever heard, and we know how you like us to sing it with you.  when we feel so cold and weak and on our own, you make us feel proud to be ourselves, all big heart circulating sweet sap, firmly planted in goodness and love for our fellow bird.  thank you.

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Nina Simone says take these laurels & summit the universe

Nina Simone dreams us as we dream her.  She puts a spell on us and we like it.  She asks, “Must we kill at every turn?”  She moves our blood and bones and soul to resist the violence.

Her piano rolls us and makes our eyes the black keys and our hearts the smooth ivory ecstasy.

If we want to be protest singers, it’s important to look to Nina Simone for a sublime example of how it’s done.  She articulates our pain, joy, loneliness, love, outrage, and demand for change, and teaches us that feeling is the most essential aspect of creating, “Don’t put nothing in it unless you feel it.”

Nina Simone’s songs played a crucial role in the momentum of the civil rights movement.  Her intoxicatingly gorgeous voice speaking out for social justice and treating all people with dignity and equality has resonated with thousands of people around the world.

The posthumous, 2008 compilation of Nina Simone songs and interview clips, Protest Anthology, gives a compelling look at Simone’s resistance classics – and a soundtrack for revolution that is highly relevant today.  The interview excerpts in Anthology are weaved in well with the songs, and give us insights into Simone’s thoughts on her music and social engagement.  In commenting on her song, “Backlash Blues,” Simone explains how whites control the economic structure of the country, and use their backlash like a backhand slap to keep people of color in check; if blacks showed resistance for injustice such as their churches being burnt down, whites took away their jobs or abducted them into the army.

In addition to the evils that Nina Simone was protesting, one of the sad things about Protest Anthology is how many of the interviews were done by stuffy guys who posed trite questions and statements to Simone, such as, “Can you comment on your music,” and, “I don’t think artists should get involved in these things [politics, fighting injustice], I think artists should be artists.”

To which Nina Simone responds poignantly with intelligence, respect and passion each time, like this:

My music is the very essence of my being…

&

An artist’s duty is to reflect the times, and I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians – as far as I’m concerned it’s their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself, that to me is my duty, and at this crucial time, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved, young people black and white [and brown and red] know this, that’s why they’re so involved in politics.  We will shape and mold this country or it will not be shaped and molded at all.  So I don’t think you have a choice, how can you be an artist and not reflect the times?  That to me is the definition of an artist. 

Simone adamantly joined the civil rights movement in the early sixties after the Alabama church bombing that killed four young black children, which received little media attention or consequence for the perpetrators.  In Protest Anthology, Simone explains that after days of “pacing the floor” in outrage, she knew she had to use her songs to speak out against such injustice, and that’s when she wrote “Mississippi Goddam.”

Nina Simone was friends with some of the most important leaders of the time such as Stokely Carmichael, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Miriam Makeba, and Odetta.  From 1963 on she wrote many pivotal protest songs, including “Backlash Blues,” “Why (the King of Love is Dead),” “To Be Young Gifted and Black,” and “Revolution;” Protest Anthology includes versions of each of these.  The murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr. were horribly disillusioning to Nina Simone and all who sought justice.  By 1968, Simone felt the civil rights movement had been repressed to the point of losing all its leaders, who were constantly being investigated and killed by the FBI.  She felt betrayed by white America, and exiled herself to African and European countries for the majority of her adult life.

Nina Simone’s weapons are her voice and the beat of her keys.  She is a poet of rhythm.  She wrote numerous songs with quick freestyle genius out of profound sorrow and rage for the injustice she saw around her, and from love for people too.  Simone captured the historical and cultural climate of her time, giving voice to the suffering of women, people of color, and youth.  She conjured the spirits of people she wrote about—and you can see her invoking them in live performances such as of Four Women.

Nina Simone was particularly interested in helping black youth find their voice and their beauty.  She points out that many white kids have money, parents and easy living to help them along, but “my folks got nothing and they need inspiration twenty-four hours a day, that’s why I’m here.”

We recommend listening to Nina Simone twenty-four hours a day to gain magical rhythm and be lifted, moved, enveloped in beauty and empowered.  Nina Simone’s virtuoso repertoire transcends the protest genre – she invented her own blend of classical, folk, blues, gospel, pop, jazz, children’s music and poetic interplanetary crescendo – and all of her albums are worth checking out.

Here’s an interview Nina Simone did later in her career, in which she talks about politics in her music and flirts with the camera man:

Referenced:
Protest Anthology, Nina Simone
I Put a Spell on You: the Autobiography of Nina Simone

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two poems by Nanao Sakaki

Nanao Sakaki was the original dharma bum, who stayed young, lived outside society in the stars, and saved the world.  Now it is believed he is on the isle of mars planting trees.  Sakaki rooted for the underdog.  He rooted for love.  He rooted for the animals and the ancient ways, and simplicity.  He was against nuclear power plants and weapons, violence, materialism and wastefulness.  He was for the unity of the cosmos and the wisdom of the soil.

Let’s Play Together Tomorrow
 
In a beautiful time
There was a shallow sea
With bountiful fish, shells, coral reef and dragon palaces.
 
Then the sea retreated
And Sugar Loaf was left to rise up on the plain
 
Man came to the island and lived in peace quite long
 
One day darkness came to the island
With two monstrous armies from north and east
And a crazy war started.
 
            Thousands of people were killed.
            Thousands of people were wounded.
            Thousands of people became insane.
 
Finally the war ended
And forty-one years passed like a wind.
 
Today there are still jet fighters in the sky.
Battle ships in the sea, military tanks on the hills.
How long must we live in such a narrow chasm of war?
 
            Chilly autumn wind.
            Far away shiny ocean waves, and setting sun.
 
Here on Sugar loaf
Where once tremendous blood and tears ran down in the war
Now stand side by side
A Buddhist temple and a Catholic church.
 
            Chilly autumn wind.
            Far away shiny ocean waves, and setting sun.
 
When I walk down the hill
Where Shakyamuni and Jesus Christ stand side by side
Two little boys shout to me
 
            “Going home now?”
            “Yes.”
            “Let’s play together tomorrow!”
 
Here on Sugar Loaf
Where once tremendous blood and tears ran down in the war
Little Shakyamuni and little Jesus Christ shout,
 
            “let’s play together tomorrow!”
 
*Sugar Loaf is a hill situated in the northeast part of Naha, Okinawa, fifty meters above sea level.  At the end of WWII the battle fought there cost 2662 American Marine lives, and left 1289 insane.  The number of Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians killed is unknown.
 
-Nanao Sakaki

 

“Let’s Play together tomorrow,” is one of the most beautiful, eternal anti-war poems we know.  In it, Sakaki elegantly gives voice to the rhythmic bendingness of earth – the mountains, sea, waves, sun and wind that keep coming back no matter what is done to them, no matter what bloodshed is spread over them.  To say, “thousands of people were killed, thousands of people were wounded, thousands of people became insane,” gives a visceral sense of war’s impact.  Death, wounds and insanity are a high cost to pay so that opposing armies can fight each other, for what?  Parallel with wondrous nature, the past scene of people coming to the island to live in peace, two opposing religions now standing side by side, and two little boys simply wanting to play innocently and lovingly – we see how truly insane war is.  What is worth the price of damaging children, love, and the earth?  The battle ships in the ocean and the tanks on the hill and the jets in the sky are obscene monsters.  The poem ends on a hopeful note from the children, “Let’s play together tomorrow!” let’s get along.  If that simplicity, love and innocence could be kept strong and alive, maybe there’s a chance that men will stop wanting to blow things up, maim each other’s bodies, and scramble each other’s precious minds.

We like manifestos.  Here’s a mesmerizing one by Nanao Sakaki, in which he reclaims and revises the war-torn islands of the previous poem:

Manifesto
 
Hokkaido island will be an independent country.
Because the sea of Okhotsk, the mother ocean
dyes your heart pure indigo.
Because the primeval forest of Shretoko peninsula
dyes your heart pure green.
Because the snow-covered Sarobetsu wasteland
dyes your heart pure white.
 
Hokkaido island will be an independent country.
Because yeddo spruces soar in clouds.
Because giant angelica flowers flame up in summer.
Because there are countless edible plants and mushrooms.
 
Hokkaido island will be an independent country.
Because you could see irreplaceable wild beings—
            grizzly bears, Blakiston’s fish owls,
                        black woodpeckers and Parnassus butterflies.
 
Hokkaido island will be an independent country
Because you can meet wonderful human animals—
            fishermen, farmers, mountain men, hobos,
                        musicians, artists and poets.
 
Hokkaido island will be an independent country.
Because you can love delightful birds—
kids, women and men.
 
                                    This island is made as a garland
                                    No nuclear power plants
                                    No agri-chemicals
 
                                    No big coporations
                                    No authorities
                                    No arms.
We call this island Moshiri, the Peaceful Land—
                                                            after the Ainu’s name
 
Now together with
Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, New Guinea, Yunnan and Siberia
let’s start a Pacific Basin union.
 
And together with
Andromeda nebula, Orion constellation and
                                                            Magellanic clouds
let’s start a Federation
                        for the Universe.
 
-Nanao Sakaki
 

This is a cleansing poem.  Declaring alternative reality in Sakaki style is empowering.  It shifts our energy from dismal, corporate controlled life, to the hopeful utopia of “a Federation for the Universe,” in which our allegiance is to mother universe and we revel in goodness.  We will be renewed and independent when our hearts are aligned with the original source of beauty.  It’s therapeutic and eye-balming to read these prayer words, such as, because your heart is dyed indigo of the ocean, green of the forest, white of the snow, and because you can love delightful birds and human animals – we will be free.  In this state there is no room for destructive nightmares like power plants, corporations, chemicals and authorities – there is enough for everyone to eat and be harmonious thanks to the generosity of the earth.  These chant repetitions of alive images make us new – birth us into a new society of peace and togetherness, bring us to peaceful valley to sit by the river current under the bridge and wash our minds away.  We will use political will of poetic imagination and ancient human-divinity to insure sovereignty of humans and all life.

 
Referenced:
Break the Mirror by Nanao Sakaki, Blackberry Books 1996
Gary Lawless

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A Human Eye – Essays on Art in Society, Adrienne Rich

A Human Eye, Essays on Art in Society by Adrienne Rich is a wide-ranging collection of discussions on using art for engaged-citizenship.  Rich says that poets tend to see the world with greater clarity than others, and so, have a duty to use their art to defend truth and justice.  As Rich explains at the beginning of the book, “Amid profiteering language, commoditizing of intimate emotions, and public misery, I want poems that embody—make into flesh—another principle.  A complex, dialogic, coherent poetry to dissolve both complacency and despair (2).”  In her hopeful wish for poetry – Adrienne Rich explains that we need art in order to resist mental colonization by the dominant culture.  The white supremacist society many of us are forced to live in doesn’t want us mixing art with politics, yet we must make art that engages with the world in order to live with integrity – we must believe in poetry of longing and necessity – of art as a way of melting through one’s own skin for the common good.  Rich says that the solution to problems of society is only conceivable in poetic terms.

Subjects in A Human Eye range from Iraqi poetry, Muriel Rukeyeser, James Baldwin, the correspondence of Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan, and LeRoi Jones.

The book contains the essay, “Three Classics for New Readers: Karl Marx, Rose Luxemburg, Che Guevara,” which discusses how these three young intellectuals “shared an energy of hope, an engagement with society, a belief that critical thinking must accompany action, and a passion for the human world and its possibilities (57-58).”  Rich explains how the writing of Marx, Luxemburg and Guevara expresses the belief that society has to undergo radical change before artistic possibilities can be realized.  The three writers felt that revolution was necessary because it was the only way to bring release from numbed senses.  A recurring theme in their work is passion for the human world and its possibilities – and urgency.  The world is facing cataclysmic changes and life robbing violence and destruction – this is why we have the immediate need to use our creative work as resistance to the horror.

“That the working people who brought forth the raw and manufactured resources of the world could move toward political and economic emancipation these writers saw as a necessary (if not inevitable) evolution in human history.  Revolutions were all around them, mass movements, strikes, international organizing.  But it was not just the temper of their times that drew them into activity…they observed around them the accelerating relationship between private ownership and massive suffering, capital’s devouring appetite for expansion of its markets at whatever human cost—not least its wars.  In that awareness they also saw the meaning of their lives (58).”

People around us are dying at the hands of evil industries.  How can we stand it?

Guevara, Luxemburg and Marx believed that freedom expanded to all would expand societal imagination and spirit.  In bourgeois society, artists have to be part of the market – and to sell themselves requires them to be censored.  If artists didn’t have to seek profit – we could be much freer and truer in creating.  In capitalism, the means of using art as protest is crushed because only the privileged can do it – uneducated masses have their time consumed by labor – and are conditioned to embrace numbing amusements in their free time – like boozing and guns.

“Che envisioned that society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school.  Those who hope to educate must be in constant and responsive touch with those who are learning; teachers must also be learners.”  -65

We all have something to learn from others, and the ones higher along in learning must be selfless in sharing their knowledge, and humble in realizing they still have more to learn.

It brings to mind the song cut from the cloth by the incredible indie punk duo the Evens:

Cut from the cloth, and cut quite severely
Is this my world I no longer recognize
I’m hearing common words, common expressions
But nothing is common in my eyes
 
How do people sleep amidst the slaughter
Why would they vote in favor of their own defeat
Get out to the well and check the water
Results were incomplete
 
Cut from the cloth
 
Cut from the cloth, and dead to the masses
Just another case to be eulogized
But I’m breathing, breathing with no assistance
And responding to stimuli
 
Can anyone explain these new laws of nature
Why would they rule in favor of their own defeat
Cynics are excused from standing up to problems
Because they can’t get out of their seats
 
Cut from the cloth, ran out screaming
I hope that none of this will stick to me
Everyone is nice, everyone is kind now
At least they’re nice and kind to me
 
Why would they fold up something so precious
Why would they sing in favor of their own defeat
Maybe they found their voice while out shopping
The price was hard to beat
 
Cut from the cloth..

 

This song is urgent in a Marx, Luxemburg and Guevara way – seeing clearly how inside out the world is – the earth that our lives depend on is being killed – thus we’re killing each other.  The song declares independence from the destructive, materialistic mode of being.  Saying I’m dead to this country whose cloth I’m cut from – I’m outside society – I don’t want the wrongs and horrors of society to stick to me.  “Cut from the cloth,” is an excellent example of a modern protest song.  The lyrics are poem and performed in such a cool, mind tingling way  – the song cuts straight to the point, and is earnest and not cliché.  This fear and confusion and feeling powerless below the corporate war machine looms big today.

 

Raising consciousness is never easy.  It always takes an unpopular avant-garde ready to risk imprisonment.  -Adrienne Rich

 
 
References:
A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008, Adrienne Rich, 2010
“Blood, Bread and Poetry: The Location of the Poet,” Adrienne Rich, The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 521-540Published

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