Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Interview and Featured Poems in The Bitter Oleander

The latest issue of
(Autumn 2017)
features an extensive interview,
along with twenty pages
of poems from 
three unpublished manuscripts.

There is an excerpt of the interview and a sample poem on The Bitter Oleander website (current feature page) that you can find here.

Many thanks to
Paul B. Roth
editor of The Bitter Oleander Press,
(the press that published 
All the Beautiful Dead)
for doing the interview
and publishing such a large cross-section 
of current poems.

I have posted the beginning of the interview 

PBR: Thank you so much for allowing us to speak with you about your work. For those of our readers who may not know much about you, would you tell us about your early years and those influences that brought you to where you are today as a

CG: My father was in the Navy, so I moved around a lot as a child. Both the swamps and woods of northern Florida (near Jacksonville) and the canals and fields and towns of southern Belgium (near Mons) had an immense impact on my writing. I now think of it as American wilderness and European civilization mingling in my mind and body. These two things can easily be mistaken as opposites — but I think they inform each other. Or, they inform each other inside me.

Death is pervasive in the wilderness. And this death is inextricably linked to life. They can't be separated. There are few words that can contain the wild. But what I can say about it is that I perceive it as beautiful. And, at the same time, I experience a terror within that beauty. Like life and death in a swamp, beauty and terror cannot be separated from each other. 

Because home was a rather tense place, sometimes frightening, I spent quite a bit of time wandering around and fishing in swamps alongside moccasins and alligators and the occasional wild dog pack (run!) and all manner of strange insects (so many that I imagine some of them had probably never even been named), and that beauty/terror feeling has stayed with me and is probably the main source of my work.

Being in the natural world, mostly alone, I would spontaneously perform rituals for no reason at all. Here's one: after I gutted a catfish, I'd cut the head off and place it in the crotch of a live oak*. The next day, when I returned, it would be gone (gone, gone, always gone). I think there was a sense that something mysterious — a spirit, a god, something I couldn't name or fathom — was taking my offering at night. At the same time, I knew it was probably a raccoon. But I held both of those things in my mind together — they didn't cancel each other out. The catfish head is part of some mysterious interaction with the invisible world and the catfish head is also food for a raccoon…


To read the entire interview 
and poems,
you'll need to buy the issue
($10.00, shipping free).

You can buy it at the BOP website

The issue also includes poetry by 
Stephanie Dickinson, Anthony Seidman, Anirban Acharya, Steve Barfield, Laurie Blauner, Lara Gularte...

Fiction by 

Jeanine Alberto, Ye Chun, Mitch Zigler...

And translations of work by 

Alberto Blanco (Mexico), Astrid Cabral (Brazil), Andres Ehin (Estonia), Siomara Espana (Ecuador), Ute von Funcke (Germany)...

among many others.

* I'd like to add here that I'm a vegan and the only thing I gut now is the occasional squash or pumpkin. 
If you want to know more about the consequences of eating meat, 
see Michaela's blog on the subject (it's short and sweet), 
called: Dead Zones 
(avec recipe for mashed potato enchilada casserole). 

And this:
Animal Feed Crop Feed Needs Destroying Planet (Guardian Article, October 5, 2017)



And this, from "Our Revolution":

"Right now, fifty Registered Nurse volunteers from National Nurses United's disaster relief program, the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), are on the ground in Puerto Rico delivering critical health care services to people who are in desperate need of help.

"The situation is dire. Hospitals are overwhelmed and local clinics and doctors' offices are still closed due to lack of electricity. The collapsed infrastructure is keeping patients with storm-related injuries and long-term health needs from receiving care. Without food, clean water, adequate shelter, medicine, or electricity, we may be facing a humanitarian calamity.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day: The Ludlow Massacre

Ludlow Massacre Memorial
This year, for Labor Day, a prose poem about a visit to the Ludlow Massacre Memorial sometime in the mid-noughties. The memorial is in southern Colorado, near Trinidad, a couple of miles off Route 25.

As you're turning off the highway, you can see the plains stretch out for hundreds of miles to the east (far out beyond the horizon, there's a memorial to another massacre: The Sand Creek Massacre). To get to the Ludlow site, you head west on a small road that takes you to a fenced-in enclosure. When I was there, the statue had been vandalized - the granite faces of the man, woman and child had been smashed off.

Ruins of Ludlow tent colony after massacre, 1914
The faceless statues were an appropriate symbol for the trials of labor over the last century and into this century. Since the Reagan era, the union movement and labor rights have been culturally demeaned and systematically taken apart. Workers are, for the most part, faceless in this economy...

At the Ludlow Massacre Memorial


No sound but wind through the trees that surround the small, fenced-in memorial. Vandals have come and gone. They broke off the hands and faces of the stone figures – a man (apparently, a miner) and a woman (apparently, a miner's wife), holding a child. She is holding the child close.


April 20, 1914: four women and eleven children hid in a pit beneath a tent when the National Guard raked the striking miner’s camp with machine gun fire. The National Guard eventually lit the camp on fire. Two of the women and all of the children suffocated to death in the pit.


The men who fired on the camp were working for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. They are always the same men, aren’t they? No matter the year, the place. They need direction from above. “Father, who shall I kill?” 50 years before Ludlow, these men killed and mutilated the bodies of over 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho, about 100 miles east of here, at Sand Creek. One soldier wore a woman’s vulva on his hat as he rode triumphantly back into Denver.


John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was a philanthropist. “Philanthropist: a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”


Bored teenagers probably tore the original stone faces off the monument sculptures. But Rockefeller, Jr. can’t be blamed if the kids these days have no respect for anything, treat everything as if it’s a commodity to be used, then tossed, can he? Rockefeller’s a ghost, ethereal, slipping and sliding around numbers in the NASDAQ. He has become brilliant, pure, above matter. Not far off, a truck passes on I-25, transporting cattle, lumber, milk, natural gas, pigs, coal…


The attack on the miner’s strike camp was launched while the inhabitants were attending a funeral for several infants. A few years ago, in Pakistan, a hellfire missile was fired into the funeral for hellfire missile victims. The one who ordered that missile strike is not the same as the men who opened fire on the Ludlow camp, not the same as the man who wore the vulva on his hat after the massacre at Sand Creek. The one who ordered the missile strike was pure thought, like Rockefeller’s ghost, working in a realm above this one.


Bodiless shadows cross and re-cross the continent, pure as numbers, attached to nothing. They slip in an out of streams, mountains, cows; slide into and out of the earth; wander seams of coal, shale, tapping, measuring. Driving down I-25 in the middle of the night, I can sometimes sense them. I pull to the shoulder, scan the darkness. They always appear at the corner of the eye. When I turn my head to look at them straight on, they instantly disappear.

Ludlow Strikers/Families

(previously published in The Bitter Oleander)


Has much changed since the massacre? Well, workers are no longer being massacred in this country anymore. There's no need. Quite a bit of significant work has been outsourced to other countries in the last forty years, to countries that have no problem assassinating labor leaders or murdering those who demand their rights or a living wage. So, yes, murder no longer takes place in the US. It has been outsourced.

The only power workers have is in solidarity, in joining together, and forming a union. But, because of the corporate and government assaults on labor rights, the percentage of wage and salary workers who are members of union dropped to 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage points from 2015. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data was available, union membership rate was at 20.1 percent. (US Department of Labor

St. Louis workers rally against preemption law
Across the US, Republican-controlled state legislatures have repeatedly struck down local government efforts to improve the working conditions of their residents. Just last week the minimum wage in St. Louis was lowered from $10 per hour back down to $7.70 per hour because of a preemption law passed in Missouri. Preemption laws allow state governments to supersede any city or county laws the state does not agree with. (How St. Louis Workers Won and then Lost a Minimum Wage Hike - The Atlantic)

And this is still happening - from Maria Flores, a grape worker in California (found on the United Farm Workers Site):

“Every summer, it gets very hot. Sometimes I have felt weak, dizzy, nauseous, even been afraid I would faint. The growers pressure us to work harder, faster and they discourage us from taking our shade breaks or drinking water. On some occasions, the foremen have not provided water for hours. When the union is around they are sure to meet all the legal requirements. When the organizers are not there, not so much. It gives me a new appreciation for the UFW. The UFW makes them follow the law.

And Metodio Cantoriano, on pesticides sprayed while working: “During the pruning season of this year, my [grown] children and I were working like any normal day. One of my sons told me on the next field they are spraying pesticides. We confirmed it was true because of the strong odor surrounding us...I went to speak with the foreman about the spraying in the next field, and he told me that nothing will happen to us. I insisted that he should move us to another field because of the toxic pesticides that are being sprayed. The foreman then told us that if we can’t stand the odor then we should go home because he is not going to move us to another field...I felt sad because he showed us that he does not care about us or our health.”



Research & Ideas for Shared Prosperity

Nursing home workers, Illinois, 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Andres Rojas: From the Lost Letters to Matias Perez, Aeronaut

This is another episode of  "Poetry? I just don't get it..." A series where I post a poem or group of poems by one author, followed by anything the author wants to say about the work. This time around it's a poem by Andres Rojas. (Other poets in the series can be found on the tab above.)

Last spring, I was surfing the net, looking for poems of a friend of mine, as you do (see the last post of "Poetry? I just don't get it..."), and found a few at Compose. I clicked to the staff page, to see who the poetry editor was, and was stunned to see the face of a friend I hadn't seen in thirty years: Andres Rojas!

In the late 80's I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and during that time I was lucky enough to hang out with several wonderful poets and artists. One of those artists was Andres. He was born in Cuba and came to the US at the age of 13 (on the Mariel Boatlift). He is poet, essayist, editor, philosopher, singer/songwriter (watching him play his songs back then encouraged me to start writing my own)... 

I followed a link on Compose to his blogsite and began reading his published poems and immediately wanted to post one here. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and Notre Dame Review, among many others. For more of his poetry, go to his site at: https://teoppoet.wordpress.com/.

It is how Andy speaks of loss, and its connection to absence, that draws me in. Read the poem, then read the essay, then read the poem again. So many connections in such a short span of time. Illumination awaits.



I imagine what you saw—a boulevard
of moonlight on water, waves

like names on a chart,
your absence, like weather, a given.

My father disappeared
into another country

when I was five—why
not you, a hundred years before?

My first memory is him.
He carries me against his neck,

the beach receding as he walks us
into a life I don’t yet see.

Sometimes I wish
that were the last of him

I kept. Of what’s beyond us,
we know nothing, or we know

enough, the particulars of loss:
sand, the westering sun,

a wind-seized balloon,
the sea.

(Previously published in AGNI)


Of What’s To Come

                                                Being dead means being left behind.
                                                                        And being alive comes to the same.

                                                                                    --Gjertrude Schnackenberg

Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie died on January 10th, 2016, on my sister's birthday. Ziggy Stardust is one of the few albums I've never gotten over; "Rock and Roll Suicide" nails it: "and the clock waits so patiently on your song." I've tried to cover it, but I don't have the range. Reach and grasp, and so on. Bowie’s death on my sister’s birthday was a reminder of what we really celebrate when we celebrate one more year of someone’s life.
Seventeen days later, my friend Shelbey emailed me a writing prompt she had ran into, "You are an astronaut. Describe your perfect day." Her piece began, "It takes ninety-two minutes to circle the earth." That's the International Space Station's orbital time. The ISS is 236 miles high, but closer to Earth than my home in Jacksonville, Florida, is to, say, Atlanta. Moving at the ISS's speed, I'd get there in 50 seconds. My friends in south Florida are hours farther. Of course, these things are relative: the higher you are, the slower you go, and the longer it takes to go around the earth back to where you started from.
I answered Shelbey with a quick, 11-line poem (all of 56 syllables) riffing off Bowie, "We Know Major Tom's a Junkie," imagining each orbit as a life-cycle: a quick life, a quick death, followed by another, and another, and another. (I write about death often; it’s my go-to metaphor for loss.) 

Over the next few days I drafted and redrafted the poem, but I felt it had stalled. On February 8, 2016, I happened to read (and copied into my journal) Soren Stockman's "Morning in Wyoming," which had been published almost a year earlier in The Literary Review and which I'd belatedly found via Twitter: "Death will be gorgeous. There is no love / when there is nothing but love." What do we, the living, know about death? Maybe not much, but more than the dead, who don't even know they are dead: there is no death when there is nothing but death, but there’s not much else either. 

I turned Stockman's words to my own use: "Death / will not lack beauty / altogether, nor that love / which never takes us with it." Then, on February 16, 2016, I hand wrote a few lines on the latest draft: "I can't tell what you see right now." On the 18th, the 13th anniversary of my father's death (of hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver, but more on that later), I wrote, "I imagine what you saw." I'd gone from observing my own limitations to empathy, and I felt the writing shift under me.
Matias Perez
Five days later, the first draft of a new poem launched by my father and that new line arrived in the person of Matías Pérez, Cuba's legendary (lost) balloonist. Pérez was an early ballooning enthusiast who became a folkloric figure: on his second flight out of Havana, he vanished, never to be found except in the popular saying that still endures: "He flew off like Matías Pérez." What happened is easily surmised: after a long day of waiting for strong winds to subside, Pérez took off from Old Havana on what he imagined would be a short flight to the west. Instead, the wind carried him north into the Florida Straits, where he came down that night with no hope of rescue. He was not the first, and certainly not the last, Cuban to die in those waters.
I was, of course, using the new poem to address my father in all his absences: when I was five, he left for the United States; as far as I knew, he had disappeared, vanished. He thought my mother (pregnant with my sister) and I would get our exit visas in a matter of days and follow him to the U.S. shortly; I didn't see him again for eight years. He was 90 miles and a universe away. I wrote him a few times, and he answered once, but he was not one for writing: I think he coped with his loss by not thinking about us after a while.

Mariel Boat lift, 1980
By the time we reunited in Miami, via the Mariel boat lift, he had become addicted to heroin and had kicked the habit, taken up quaaludes and alcohol (he was not a good drunk), and made and spent a significant amount of money as a small-time drug runner in South Florida. He had a void somewhere in him that could not be filled, but he did not fail to try: power over my mother, my sister, and me, in various manifestations; prostitutes; casual drug use over the years; God before, during, and after both the prostitutes and the drugs, until he was too ill and had only God left. He could be friendly and entertaining if he didn't feel threatened, but being around him was like living with a wild bear who could go into a dark rage at the slightest perceived provocation. 

After almost a decade of trying to have any real connection with him, I finally removed myself as much as I could and kept him at bay for the last 14 years of his life. This time I was the one who did the leaving; his death simply confirmed what I had already accomplished. I had mourned his loss already, years earlier. There is no loss, I suppose, where there is nothing but loss, but there's not much of anything else either. Thankfully, I have never been in such a desolation, except through my father.
Ironically, I find myself working on this piece over Father’s Day weekend – ironically because “From the Lost Letters to Matias Perez, Aeronaut” is not about my father any more than it is about Matias Perez or Bowie’s Major Tom. While writing the poem, I was accompanying my mother to her radiation appointments following a cancer diagnosis and a (successful) partial mastectomy. For several years I had been preparing myself for the inevitable (I have loss issues, yes; I do these things), and yet when the time came, I found myself wholly unprepared for the possibility of her loss. She is in the poem, too, but no one would know it. 

At the same time, I was coming to accept that my last six years of work had not produced a publishable manuscript: despite dozens of queries and contest submissions, despite hundreds of dollars on manuscript consultation fees and entry fees, I was still bookless (and still am, though I now have a nifty phrase to show for my efforts: “It will not be for lack of trying”). I was, though not literally (not even literarily, though there’s hope there), letting go of the expectation I would soon have a first book out and instead girding for the reality of a long, grinding process still ahead, with no guarantees.
Of what’s to come, I know nothing or I know enough. I think I know enough. Most of us do, of course. There is no wisdom where there is nothing but wisdom. Randall Jarrell called it pain; I prefer to call it life. And there is no life where there is nothing but life. Or, as Jarrell also put it, the ways we miss our lives are life.

Andres Rojas


Some Links

The Perils of Poetry/Tedx talk with Andres

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Original Child Bomb: What We Talk About When We Talk About The Bomb (Part 6)

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. This is the last post in the series. For now. The other posts can be found here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5

Nagasaki, August 1945
There are still so many issues to explore: how the collusion between science and big money (The Manhattan Project) created a legacy of how science is done to this day; the Dr. Strangelove-ian aestheticism that some feel toward the god-like power and extreme violence of these weapons; how the US government censored much of the information and imagery about the bombings from the US public and how that legacy of being treated as children has shaped how the US public sees itself in terms of each new war that has followed (as innocent children, willfully ignorant of atrocities committed in their name); and a look at nuclear weapons proliferation and the lack of interest on the part of any nuclear power to begin talking about disarmament.

Nagasaki Peace Park, 2017

Right now, today, the nuclear missile saber rattling is still going on between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump. Two narcissistic leaders, consumed with their own power; showing the world, through their reckless rhetoric, what deep insecurities they have about their manhood. It would be almost funny…but mostly sad…if you saw this threat and counter-threat going on in a bar…but we're talking about nuclear weapons. Too many lives are at stake. As I've said a few times in this series: NO ONE should have this kind of power. Not the US, not North Korea, not Russia, not China, or any other countries possessing a nuclear arsenal. No one is capable of handling it.

A Shadow Etched in Stone

Nagasaki, 1945
As I explored different aspects of the nuclear weapons debate, specifically taking a good, long look at the strategy of bombing civilians in general, the image of the shadow etched in stone on the steps of a bank in Hiroshima kept coming back to me. The shadow without body, an image of a person who is not there, anonymous, became etched deep into my mind, and, for a time, I couldn't shake it. It appeared in my mind's eye before sleep, and returned when I woke up. Who was that? Why were they waiting in front of the bank? Did they have money worries? What did they hear that morning before the blast? Birds? Trolleys?

Nagasaki, 1945
I began to see the image of the shadow on the stone steps as a symbol for all those who have ever died, or suffered terrible loss, from falling bombs - not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims - but all the dead everywhere. When bombs begin falling, civilians become shadows without bodies. No one considers all those bodies in their decision-making process. Which leads me to a conclusion about the nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities in 1945: it is my belief that once war is declared and the fighting begins - a hideous and morally indefensible decision like that is bound to be made.

Shadow Poem

Mother & Child/Hiroshima, August 1945
During the weeks when I could not shake the image of the shadow in stone, a poem began to form. The subject matter called to mind the writing of Paul Celan - creating a balance between the desperate urge to give something so terrible a voice and the desire to remain silent as an appropriate form of reverence to the magnitude of the pain and loss suffered. I started reading Celan again. After I finished the poem, I realized that the last half of the last line is from one of Celan's later, more fragmentary poems. So, a gassho to Celan for helping me finish it.

Absence: Shadow


What is always there
is what is not there.


A lifted leg, deep in stone.
Running, deeper into stone.


No tongue, can't say the word.
Take it, please take it, my word.


Money worries. Morning heat.
The heart. A bird.


No skin. No sense.
Take it, take it, my cheek against stone.


At what temperature
does love burn?


No lifted hand, gesturing for water.
Take it, please take it, drink from my mouth.

(for all the dead from falling bombs)

Hiroshima Peace March, 2017

 Other resources:

Nagasaki: the forgotten victim of nuclear terror (article about Southard's book)

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Peace crane offerings at the Children's Peace Memorial, Hiroshima


ICAN: international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons: http://www.icanw.org/

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: https://www.wagingpeace.org/

Nukewatch: https://nukewatch.org/  

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: http://www.cnduk.org/