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Fugue State: Double Food Stamp Day

Normally, my day would start at eight in the morning. I would often arrive early just so I could get some filing done, have some time to play on the computer, take a short walk and, for the most part, get nearly all of my work for the day done well prior to the first client showing up for their eight o’clock appointment. In this way my days were relatively easy and taken up with writing, listening to books on tape and bouncing a solid rubber ball incessantly against the wall. The only difficult part was actually seeing the clients (some of them were joys, really but, some were anything but) and dealing with the other workers and administration (never, ever a joy).

Today, however, I wanted to get there extra early. I started my day at home, in my small closet-office, sitting in front of my hobbled and cobbled computer with Publisher opened. Once I had finished my work with Publisher I got out my Exacto knife, cutting mat, straight edge and whiteout and went to work to further doctor the reason I was so much looking forward to getting to the office early on this one particular day. Today was going to be double foodstamp day.

My backpack on me, me on my black 86′ Honda Elite 250 and all of us on the road for the 5 miles to the office. The sun was not up, but the mist was, rising to obscure the road and cover my visor as I rode through the early October predawn.

Parking my bike in front of building D, I entered. Seldom was the building so silent. Wending down the hallway to my own personal 3×5, I dropped my backpack on the desk, unzipped it and pulled out a manila file folder and headed to the copy machine. Placing my creation on the glass, I made one copy. One copy only. If I did this right, one copy would be enough.

I placed the original Publisher/cut and paste model back in the folder, returned the folder to my backpack, took a thumbtack from my desk and headed back outside. Out of the front door, to the left, around the side of the building to where, in the next twenty minutes, lines would start to form. It was Tuesday and this was the first foodstamp pickup day of the month. I fully expected this day would not go as smoothly as they anticipated.

The door was locked and, while, when I arrived, my bike was the only vehicle in the lot, there were now more than a few cars, and all there was for me to do was to act as naturally and obviously as possible as I went to a locked door in an area I never visit earlier than I normally arrive while holding a sheet of paper and a tack.

Asimov, in the first Foundation book, in the character of Salvor Hardin, stated “obviousness is the best mode of concealment.” I took my thumbtack and did my best approximation of Martin Luther. With sweeping, quick and sure movements, I tacked at eye-level a sign stating today was double foodstamp day. All you have to do, the sign instructed, was to look at your cashier and say, “double double my food stamps please.”

The folks inside the foodstamp office would never know it was there. The door was always unlocked from the inside after the books of stamps were counted. In fifteen minutes clients would start to arrive for pickup and ask for double food stamps. It was 7:15. Time to head inside, roll up my sleeves and look busy.

Back in my office I checked the day’s appointments, printed out the schedule, threw away the memos I had grabbed as I passed my mailbox, put the few files together which I had not yet properly compiled, turned on my radio and put my feet up on the desk. My first appointment had not yet arrived and I had nothing to do.

7:32 came and I received a call that my eight o’clock was early. Excellent. I gathered the few papers I would need, placed them in order on my desk, and went out to get her. While in the lobby I saw there was a bit of a commotion. BeeBee, the building supervisor, the head of the Foodstamp, AFDC and Medicaid program for our area, was talking to a few clients. I called my client and headed back to my office to start the interview.

Under the sign above my door quoting John Ciardi from his poem, “In Place of a Curse” we passed. “Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing,/gave nothing, and could never receive enough.” I sat in my desk and placed her beside me. All the other workers sat their clients across from them separated by their desk. I took the more egalitarian position which allowed them to see the computer as we input their data and also allowed them to see the sign above it, a quote from Baruch De Spinoza. “In the receipt of benefits and in returning thanks, care altogether must be taken.” Above that a sign stating “Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part.” Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, stood on my computer. When I knew a client was lying, perhaps about a father supposedly not in the house or about a job supposedly not had, I would squeeze a bulb under my desk and The Shadow would raise his cape over his eyes. “Lamont says you are lying. Would you care to rethink what you just said?” Behind them a framed portrait of Daffy Duck, God of Frustration. From the ceiling hung a large rubber chicken.

A few minutes into the interview I heard sirens. I wouldn’t normally get up to see what the sirens were about and I did not get up then, just continued the interview. A few minutes later a worker came into my office to tell me there was apparently a riot at the pickup door and clients jamming the waiting room insisting they speak with supervisors. The police were there and handing out food stamps had been suspended. They were not sure what the problem was, but people seemed to be demanding double their food stamps and no one could quite figure out why.

It was barely 8 o’clock. Sometimes it’s just worth it to come into work a little early to get something done.

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Posted by on March 8, 2009 in Culture, Fugue State, Gainesville, Social

 

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My Poetry Dollars (not) at Work or How Elizabeth Alexander Destroyed Poetry in the United States

Where were my poetry tax dollars on inauguration day? I want to know what we’re paying a poet laureate for if we are not going to use him or her on important state occasions such as, but certainly not limited to, presidential inaugurations. If the job of Poet Laureate is “to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” then it is also his or her job to not allow actions which will decrease the appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Therefore, I must suggest it would have been an appropriate action by the poet laureate to have offered Ms. Alexander a stiffly spiked drink before her reading of the inaugural poem, just enough to send her sleeping silently while the poetic moment passed, so we may all have been spared the experience of everything poetry is at its worst and what people who do not like poetry are sure it always is: dreadful, banal, trite, pedestrian, boring and bad. And, in keeping with our expectations, Ms. Alexander read it badly as well. Ms. Ryan, where were you? Why did this happen on your watch? Why did you not protect poetry?

As I listened to her read the inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration,” (32 pages), the camera cut away to show the masses leaving in what appeared to be an exodus from tragedy. Within ten minutes this arrived in my email:

God, what an audible THUD to a great speech by Obama when that poet came out and started reading her poem “Deer in the Headlights” from her collection “I Am A Robot: Emotions are for Ethnic People.”

I was asked if I were moved by the poem. I answered, “Yes, indeed I was. I moved to the kitchen.”

The poet laureate is paid $35, 000 a year for his or her services. When I was paid less than that as a teacher, I was busy all the time. When the school needed English taught, which was, strangely, every school day, I was there doing my job. Where was Kay Ryan?

While I agree this is a terribly petty salary to pay a poet (though much more than most poets make as most are paid nothing at all) Ms. Ryan is, nevertheless, a public employee paid with my tax dollars and, on that special occasion I expected the Poet Laureate of the United States to offer her well-crafted professional artistic services. I paid for it. I want it. My tax dollars at work.

But I do not blame Ms. Ryan. I do not know if Mr. Obama chose Elizabeth Alexander or if the chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chose her or if having Alexander read was the result of someone calling in a marker, but surely, someone must take up the gauntlet of repairing the damage she has done to poetry. Someone must pay.

Kay, I’m sorry, but your job just got harder.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2009 in Culture, Education, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

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Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft

I have been asked by Craig Smith, he of “Notes from the Dreamtime” fame, to post my notes for a workshop I often teach.

He posted a blog entry called Poetry’s Power and thought of my workshop, which I am proud to say he has participated in twice.

These notes are designed not to be read at the workshop but as fodder for discussion. I tell participants that I am happy to read for an hour or two, but it is my desire I be interrupted at every turn with question, comments, poetry of their own. It is meant to create interaction and creative thought on the state of poetry, past and present. It is meant to open a few eyes and a few ears to the place of poetry in our culture.

So, imagine yourself in a group of ten, twenty or thirty people, all eager to listen and share.

These are the notes we never get through.

* * * * * * *

Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft
A workshop by Adam Byrn Tritt

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

(William Carlos Williams, from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”)

From as far back as there are records, poets have been by the side of the monarch in court and in battle. The words of the poet were known to be magic and an insult from the poet could sway a battle. This post was often called the Jester. He spoke the truth, did so without fear and did so in rhyme. His words had power.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But, sometimes, the rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

Prayers are in the form of poems and songs. A rabbi taught me . . . if you don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug

 

(Twain)

Poetry is just the right word, the right sound, the rhythm that conveys just the right feeling. In a spell, we want to create just the right vibration, at a state event, at a prayer, we want just the right meaning and to leave no room for a meaning other than what is intended. Poetry is meaning, sound distilled until there is no doubt left. Anything that is unsaid is as carefully crafted as what is said. Hence, poetry becomes powerful in its economy, its concentration and its intention and all of this is built on carefully constructed meaning and sound.

Spells are often placed in the form of rhymes. Poetry has power in the natural and supernatural realm. But as important as the poetry is, the poet is a position of even greater mystery. Our Monarchs and presidents have poet laureates. Chaucer was paid in wine. Our own national poet laureate is paid less than a beginning school teacher but is expected to compose and appear at affairs of state and the position so contentious an anti-laureate is voted upon as well. Only three US poets, Piercy, Walker and Angelou, make a living from their art. Yet, despite this, poets have honours of which other artists can only dream.

We will explore the power and place of poetry and rhyme in ancient and modern culture and religion and leave you exploring for yourself how we can use poetry in both our magical and ordinary lives, as though we should be able to tell them apart.

Poetry has power. I once taught at a public high school where poetry could not be taught without permission slips being signed. One child became upset about one poem. One parent called.

I was asked to head up a poetry reading at a book night at Barnes and Noble to benefit the school. I wrote this and dedicated it to our Principal.

Gather your permission slips, parents, teachers,
All school activities possess the possibility of danger, always
An unsuspecting student may come back broken,
Different, changed or
Not come back at all. Some tender child
May come back
Not a child at all.

Children know some activities possess danger,
We cannot wholly shield them. These are undertaken by
Brave students must have permission slips during
Such activities may result in loss, or gain
Unknown results.

Read the fine-print
Parents, your children may not come back
The same tender child may not return to you
As you remember.
Sign to state your contrition
Your baby might grow up different
Than you had anticipated. Beware.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Poetry is not to be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart.

Obviously, poetry is political.

The Chinese word for poetry, shih (詩), is composed of two idiograms. One, yan (言), means “word; language” & the other, szu (寺), means “temple, monastery.” Hence, poetry is a “temple of words.” Yan itself is composed of t’ou (頭) “above” (heaven, Tao), erh (二) “two” (earth, duality), & k’ou (口) “mouth” (pass). The mouth, the sound that connects Heaven and Earth. Poetry, The Temple of Words, the Great Connector. Shakespeare must have intuited the Chinese ideogram for poetry in A Midsummer Night’s Dream V.1.12 (1595):

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

The Chinese words for culture is wen hua (文化) meaning “literary” or “transformation.” We see the Chinese looked at words, at poetry, as a definer of culture and civilization. They connected poetry to change, transformation and alchemy.

Muriel Rukeyser spoke of this as well, in her writing about the two different kinds of poetry: the poetry of the unverifiable fact, love, art, feelings, and the poetry of documentary fact, literal accounts of strikes, wars, barbaries. She said, in 1974:

The poet today must be twice born. She must have begun as a poet, she must have understood the suffering of the world as political, and have gone through politics, and on the other side of politics she must be reborn again as a poet.

And so, we have a calling. We have an art and talent with which one is born, a born magic, a way of seeing the world and words which is shaped—forged and tempered—by the world and then set out again. A natural skill honed. It is a synthesis of the gift of the gods, heaven, and the practices of men, of Earth. It is an alchemy.

As for alchemy, the poet Gary Snyder tells us:

As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won’t flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
Sleeps.
No end to the sky—
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
Everywhere,
At once.

Power has often been associated not with words, certainly not with Poetry, but with physical might and control over others. Again, Snyder tells us:

We all know that the power of a great poem is not that we felt that person expressed himself well. We don’t think that. What we think is, “How deeply I am touched.” That’s our level of response. And so a great poet does not express his or her self, he expresses all of our selves. And to express all of ourselves you have to go beyond your own self. The Zen master Dogen said, “We study the self to forget the self. And when you forget the self, you become one with all things.” And that’s why poetry’s not self-expression in those small self terms.

A poet is indeed a priest in a temple of words, that power is a voice linking heaven with earth. That is a poet’s real work. A poet’s work is to show us the ordinary in a way that makes it new and fresh, perhaps, even alien and to take the alien and show us how it is familiar.

Poem
by William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

And we value this. We value this after it is done, though we neither value the effort of the poet him or herself. How may poets make a living from poetry?

Williams still had to practice medicine. Most poets teach, or work at drug stores, newpapers. Few even work in the arts. E.E. Cummings, a staple in the cannon of American poetry, could not get his work published even. His mother had to self publish his first collection.

We honor poetry after the fact.

 

For the Young Who Want To

by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Part of this is because we forget how powerful words are. People only faintly recall the worth and power words once possessed. Words gave order and shape to reality: To know the name of a thing was to perceive its essence and therefore to master it. To name a thing not present was to summon it into being, so that the thing itself existed in the words for it.

“I was many things before I was released, ” sang Taliesin, a man thought by many to be the Merlin of lore. “I was a word in letters.” A name could be moved and manipulated and placed in new arrangements, and all of these activities would affect the object named.

The outward sign of the inner powers of a wise woman or man was the knowledge of words and names and the songs made from them. This was true of the celts and of the native American. That is why so many shamans and workers of magic prefaced their spells with transformation songs—verses that claimed they had taken the shape of everything in creation, from raindrops and starlight to bubbles in beer, and thereby had gained infinite understanding. Words were the bricks of all charms and incantations, all spells, riddles and conjurations. Look at the words we use. Spell from the German Speilan, or story. And Incantation from the word chant. In Hebrew, the one who says the prayers is the cantor, the singer the enchanter, the one with the incantations. He binds us to god with words even if the words are unknown to us.

Our own King Authur, JFK, had this to say about poetry and the Poet Laureate at his inauguration:

Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

Poets have had the power to affect culture even while they are outside of culture and even when part of a despised minority.

Pope. Swift. Catholic, diminutive, sickly.

Mr. Pope

Mr. Pope did not demur
To attack a poet he’d scarce endure.
His whetted wit exposing flaws
With metric feet and raptor’s claws.
This wasp would sting at authors dim
Even those who feared not God, feared him.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Not respected. Not paid even when feared.

Not paid. But certainly valued even when reviled. Right up to, but, it may seem, no including present time, poets were outside rebuke. It was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sasoon that helped bring what WWII was really like home to the masses and was as instrumental doing so as the verse of Phil Ochs was during Vietnam.

Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sasoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Disabled
by Wilfred Owen
(First and last verses)

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join.—He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Owen
(Last verse)

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” by Randall Jarrell, was published in 1945. What did it do? Listen.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Prior to this, most people actually did not know how the B-17s and 24s fought and protected themselves. Jarrell, himself, thought it was necessary, but also that the people in the war with the shortest life expectancy deserved to have their fates understood by the people for whom they fought. He did this in an obvious, yet amazingly poetic and political way. It was widely distributed. Poets enjoyed an immunity.

That immunity seems to be waning. In 2003 First Lady Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry symposium in fear of finding poetry and poets critical of the administration and its policies. She feared the invited poets would recite poetry against war. Laura Bush defended her actions citing her freedom of speech. A spokesperson for the First Lady said, “While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she too has opinions and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum.”

Poets around the world have cried foul. Two former U.S. poets laureate, Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove, have criticized the cancellation. The result was, instead of a symposium at the White House with one hundred poets, a backlash, anti-war symposium with over 3,600 and a collection of poetry assembled on the topic of which I am delighted to be a part.

Far from showing a waning power, this demonstrates the power of poetry is still quite understood and, in some cases, feared. Kings, and would be kings, know what a poem can do.

“What are big girls made of?”
by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.
She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Culture, History, philosophy, Religion, Social, Writing

 

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Fugue State: Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks


Long ago, in another lifetime, in a land called Gainesville, Florida, in a time called the mid to late nineties, I worked for HRS (Health and Rehabilitative Services, not the House Rabbit Society). During my tenure as a social worker (food stamps, AFDC, Medicaid), it became DCF (Department of Children and Families, which we called Decaf, same lousy service but half the caffeine), bosses came and bosses went. My caseload grew, diminished, morphed into other caseloads, but no matter what changes, the job remained the same. I swear, one of these days, I will write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll stop paying your taxes.

Once, my supervision (I was a Public Assistance Service Specialist, or PASS, and my supervisor was a Public Assistance Service Specialist Supervisor or PASS II) went from Susan Einman, a woman any of us in her “unit” would have killed for, to a fellow whose name I cannot remember and any of us would have killed. My boss went from a literate polyglot who manifested the very essence of understanding and compassion to an obsequious, smarmy, condescending chimpesque proto-human pencil pusher. There was little to do but retaliate. For the next five years that is exactly what we did, myself, W.D. and A.C., (no, you can’t know their names yet) in prank after prank of falsity, forgery and fun.

Some day, I swear, I’ll write about it. Maybe a book. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. You’ll be glad you paid my salary.

One day, a memo, one I did not forge (I really should check the statute of limitations on the falsifying of federal documents before I publish this) came across my desk. It was from my new boss, the obsequious, smarmy, condescending little proto-human pencil pusher we called Monkey Boy for his habit of hanging bright red Eisenhower jackets on his bony bod—a vestment that would have been more at home on an eighties dance floor under a flashing disco ball but still a bit over the edge even for Disco Duck. He looked like an organ grinder’s monkey. Monkey Boy.

Susan was always afraid I would call him that to his face. I think she almost did once. I hope so.

The memo was horrible in all the ways writing can be: awful, terrible, atrocious, worse. It was badly worded and those same badly worded bits were repeated again and again and again. It pressed a point Monkey Boy didn’t need to make to already disempowered, demoralized “workers” (that was what we were called) who didn’t need the point pressed.

I was, at the time, studying fugues. The musical kind. Not the kind where one realizes, after twenty years in St. Louis, raising a family and having a meaningful life, that one is really from Des Moines and has (or, to be fair, had) an entire other family, life, job and name. Not that kind. But, for longer fugues, one can see the relation.

The memo passed my desk. The pattern of repetition looked like a fugue to me. I was caught up with my work, as usual, and had nothing better to do. Even if I had, art called and it was time to write. The memo was deconstructed and reconstructed. Barely re-written.

A fugue is meant to be performed and this was no different. After a few readings, it was set. It was scheduled for the Gainesville Spring Arts Festival. Time to get cracking. We had a fugue to perform. But we was still me. I needed people. Four of them. I needed a clock. One of them. I needed a dog.

I had none of these things but I did have Moon Goddess Books, my own store. A book store with lots of unconventional arty types. A Pagan store with folks who would be delighted to do something to slam The Man. A café where people got buzzed on caffeine and, in their mania, could be convinced to take on nearly any manner of whacked-out project. A fugue of a government memo. A fugue of clocks and dogs. Yes, this fit.

We found our folk and set about arranging the vocals. We had a month to prepare and rehearsed as often as bi-weekly. Grueling.

Four voices. Some parts were done together and some parts separately. Some by two and some by four. How did we choose? The performers did so by how it felt. One German Shepherd, whose bark was downloaded from a sound effects recording, barking randomly, or so it seemed. I wanted the barks to stand out as jagged jolting. A recorded clock getting louder and louder as the fugue progressed, the voices getting softer as the fugue came to an end, the barks harder to hear through.

The performance time came and I am gratified, still, that it went without a hitch—or at least none that anyone but myself and our four performers, two guys and two gals, would have noticed. At the end the applause hesitated. Perhaps because the audience was stunned silent or perhaps they were confused. I was happy, and still am—either or both being a desired result of the piece.

Strangely, wonderfully, the person who wrote the memo, Monkey Boy himself, was there, and did not talk to me for quite a while. Those were a great few weeks. Eventually he had to speak to me though. But never was the fugue mentioned.

No recording exists. Not yet.

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Fugue on a State Memo for Four Voices and Dog Barks

Most of you already do this, and I thank you. Customer service is the key and one of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this matter and see me if you have any questions.

Most of you do this. Customer service is the key. One of our values is PEOPLE. Thank you for your assistance in this question.

Most of you do customer service. One of our key values is PEOPLE. Thank you for this question.

Most of you do this key value. PEOPLE thank you for this.

Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service.
Customer service.
Most of you do this customer service.
Customer service
Customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you do this.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you matter.
Most of you question.
Most of you question customer service.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
Customer service is the key.
This matters.
This matters.
Customer service is they key.
The value is the key.
They key matters.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE matter.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
PEOPLE are one of our values.
The key is the value.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question.
We value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Value the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
Question the key.
We value the question.
Value the question.
Value the question
Value the question.
Key question.
Key question.
Key question.
We question the value.
We question the value.
We question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the value.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question the PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Question PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key PEOPLE.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.
Key.

Values

PEOPLE


 
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Posted by on September 23, 2008 in Culture, Fugue State, Gainesville, Poetry, Social, Writing

 

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