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Monday, November 28, 2016

Guest Post by Andrew Shields: Who Played at the Bataclan Tonight?

Photo by Elizabeth De Witt

The morning after the Paris attacks on Friday, 13 November 2015, I kept trying to imagine my way into the events, especially into the Bataclan concert hall: how might one of the musicians have experienced it all from the stage? Or the bartender? Or someone who was in the bathroom when the attack started? Or even one of the attackers? When I stopped imagining the event itself and began to imagine someone visiting Paris that day instead, I began to find my way into a poem in which, at the end of a day of tourism, someone wonders, "Who's playing at Bataclan tonight?"

I posted the poem on Facebook late that Saturday morning, and comments began pouring in. But at first I didn't notice them, because writing the poem had not been enough – I wanted to write music for it. By about two hours later, I had the song finished and had recorded a rough demo of it to post on Facebook – and then I saw that my poem was getting attention.

What I didn't know is that my friend Roli Frei, a well-known singer-songwriter in the Basel music scene, had read the poem and set it to music as well. And now, in November 2016, both songs based on the poem are available: Roli's on his new CD "Strong Is Not Enough," and my song on "Défense de jouer", a two-song EP for download by my band Human Shields. And the poem is available in an anthology, #noussommesparis, edited by Oliver Jones and published by Eyewear Publishing in London.

On the eve of the anniversary of the attacks, the Bataclan reopened with a concert by Sting.

Human Shields

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Charles Reznikoff's Holocaust vs. a Trivializing Holocaust-Themed Ice Skating Routine

Charles Reznikoff, photo by Gerard Malanga
I read this morning about Tatiana Navka, wife of Vladimir Putin's chief spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who with her partner performed an ice skating routine in concentration camp striped uniforms, explaining that children should know about the Holocaust. Yes, they should know about it, but they should not be taught about it through propagandistic trivializations. In his book-length poem, Holocaust, the Objectivist Poet, Charles Reznikoff, selects and lineates  The Trials of the Major War Criminals at Nuremburg and The Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem. You can find photos of Reznikoff and links to his reading Holocaust hereFrom the Modern American Poetry website's section "On Holocaust" (with excepts from various critics about the book about the problems and ethical quandary that the poem presents), offer you one small section, which presents just one instance of the real horror of the death camps:

Women guards at the women's section of the
        concentration camp
were putting little children into trucks
to be taken away to the gas chambers
and the children were screaming and crying, "Mamma, Mamma,"
even though the guards were trying to give them
        pieces of candy to quiet them. 

There are ways in which I, personally, wrestle with Charles Reznikoff's method in Holocaust. However, in response to this ice skating routine's appalling and offensive trivialization of the Holocaust, Reznikoff's Holocaust seemed a most powerful answer. It is as if the poem were prophetically written just to denounce this kind of news item. Reznikoff's poetic voice is varied, and I deeply admire his work and am influenced by it. I encourage you to read his other poems, as well; here is a selection on The Poetry Foundation's website.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Guest Post: Cornelius Eady's "Tearing Down the Master's House" & Michael Brown

Cornelius Eady, Distinguished Poet and Playwright, Co-Founder of Cave Canem.
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Cornelius Eady
offers his song, "Tearing Down the Master's House" (which you can hear here; lyrics below photograph), the The New York Times timeline "Michael Brown's Shooting and its Immediate Aftermath in Ferguson," and the following statement: 

“Tearing Down The Master's House” was written in response to the shooting by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the protest which followed. It is less about violent response than the belief that the true solution to a racist society is a dismantling of the system that feeds it. Despite the results of the 2016 election, I still firmly believe that progress moves forward, however messy, not back. From the streets of Ferguson came “don’t shoot,’ then “Black Lives Matter.” This is what happens when people decide to rewrite the script.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie

Tearing Down The Master’s House

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

A half-loaf is better than no loaf
You do you think you are?
A bad attitude and a frank opinion
Won’t get you very far
The Nat’l guard wants you off their yard
But I was too busy
Tearing down the master’s house

There’s two sides to every riot
Whom do you think you are?
If you don’t believe it, come down and try it
They’ll kiss your hair with stars.
The Pastor said to keep a cool head
But we were too busy
Tearing down the master’s house.

Summertime and the living is cryptic.
Where do you think you are?
The streets are broken but they never fixed it
The old crow didn’t fly far.
The men at the gate will ask you to wait
But we’re all too busy
Tearing down the master’s house.

CE: Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Beats, Vocals
Robin Messing: Vocal
Charlie Rauh: Electric Guitars
Concetta Abbate: Violin

With: Max Abrams, Saxes
Saxes arranged by Max Abrams    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

John Lewis Wins the National Book Award for March: Three

Image from "March: Three" by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. 
The Nation reports that Jeff Sessions, whom #NotMyPresident will nominate for Attorney General of the United States, has a long record of wrongly prosecuting civil rights activists and making overtly racist (and misogynist) statements. Ari Berman writes, when he was nominated to be a Federal Judge: "Gerry Hebert, who worked in the Department of Justices Voting Section, told Congress that Sessions had called the NAACP and ACLU 'Communist-inspired' and 'un-American,' and labeled the white civil-rights lawyer Jim Blacksher 'a disgrace to his race.' Thomas Figures, a black assistant US Attorney in Mobile, said that Sessions had repeatedly referred to him as “boy.” Figures said he heard from colleagues that Sessions 'used to think [the KKK] were OK' until he learned that were 'pot smokers.' Sessions admitted to calling the [Voting Rights Act] a “piece of intrusive legislation.

The alt right, white supremacists #NotMyPresident has surrounded himself with know that Sessions will roll back civil right and civil liberties and further attentuate the Voting Rights Act. 

Meanwhile, the hallowed Rep. John Lewis, along with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, was awarded the National Book Award for March, Lewis's graphic memoir of fighting for voting rights and civil rights that Sessions undermined with his legal authority. I offer you Lewis's moving acceptance speech:

You can listen to Rep. John Lewis interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show and read an excerpt of March: Three here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

C.P. Cavafy vs. Homophobes

C.P. Cavafy, 1900

Gay Star News reports that William H. Pryor, Jr., whom (not my President-elect) Trump wishes to nominate to the Supreme Court, seeks to criminalize all sex that is not between heterosexual married couples, that is, to jail homosexuals for having sex at home. Yet Trump says that marriage equality is settled. Each new man (and they are men) he has selected for a post is a bigot whose goal it is to a violate a group's civil and human rights. 

I offer you my translation of C.P. Cavafy's "Hidden Things," which appears in The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy: A New Translation (W.W. Norton, 2016).  


From all I did and all I said
Let them not find out who I was.
An obstacle stood before me and transformed
my acts and my way of life.
An obstacle stood before me and stopped me
so often from what I was going to say.
My most unnoticed acts
and my most veiled writings—
only from these will they know me.
But maybe it’s not worth it to devote
so much care and effort to knowing me.
Later—in a more perfect society—
someone made like me
will certainly appear and act freely.


The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy:A New Translation

Lucille Clifton vs. White Supremacists

The Huffington Post reports that Jeff Sessions, the man #NotMyPresident "Trump will nominate as the 84th attorney general of the United States was once rejected as a federal judge over allegations he called a black attorney 'boy,' suggested a white lawyer working for black clients was a race traitor, joked that the only issue he had with the Ku Klux Klan was their drug use, and referred to civil rights groups as “un-American” organizations trying to 'force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.'"

The KKK is a hate group, whose drug use is the least of their evil. They are killers, who wish to deprive civil and human rights to anyone who is not what they deem "white," heterosexual, and Christian.

In these darkening days of 2016, one of the poets who has been singing most loudly and profoundly in my soul is esteemed poet, Lucille Clifton. In love and in common cause, I offer this poem, "won't you celebrate with me," that sustains me, and hope will give you the courage to fight hate.