Monday, April 30, 2012

Recommended: In Wonderland at LACMA

This past weekend, I finally got a chance to see "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States," which is on view at the LACMA only until May 6!  Ever since I read the description for this art exhibit I had been wanting to check it out.  In part it read:  "While their male counterparts usually cast women as objects for their delectation, female Surrealists delved into their own subconscious and dreams, creating extraordinary visual images. Their art was primarily about identity: portraits, double portraits, self-referential images, and masquerades that demonstrate their trials and pleasures."

The show has been very widely promoted on streets all over Los Angeles with large ad-banners featuring a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. (A detail of which is seen here on this blog). As I knew this was going to be group show featuring many artists, I was a bit worried that this show would only have one of Kahlo's pieces in the collection, but I was very happily surprised that they had seven of her paintings--including one of her most famous (and larger pieces), Los Dos Fridas, which is a real treat to see up close.

With over 170 paintings, sculptures, photographs in this exhibit, it was a great opportunity for me to discover new artists that I had never heard of before.  One of the artists that stood out the most to me was Remedios Varo, a Spanish-born artist, who worked in Paris before fleeing to Mexico during the Nazi Occupation.  She had a couple of beautiful paintings in the exhibit, including one titled, Papilla estelar (Celestial Pablum), which was very dreamy, but also evoked some sadness.

By the time some of you read this, it may already be too late to see this exhibit.  However, there is a companion book, and although it is pricey ($60) it is worth purchasing and is available in English, Spanish and French.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tom Morello & others Join Occupy Guitarmy

As many of you radicals know, this May first is International Workers Day, (also known as May Day), and the Occupy Movement is calling on people to participate in a General Strike (No work, no school, no business as usual). Over in New York, specific plans have been made for large protest marches that will include a "Guitarmy."

A call has been made for a 1000 musicians to enlist and other blogs have reported that The Nightwatchman, (AKA Tom Morello), will be leading this guitarmy to Union Square where he will be performing at 4 p.m. alongside artists like Immortal Technique, Ben Harper, Das Racist, and others. Morello has showed the Occupy Movement a lot of support; he's played some sets at a few of the Occupy encampments around the country, including in L.A., and even did a dance party for Occupy at SXSW earlier this year.

Here is what Pitchfork Media has said about the march route:
Morello will also lead a "Guitarmy" of 1,000 guitarists, string players, and singers that will march from New York's Bryant Park, through midtown Manhattan, down to Union Square, culminating in a performance at 4 p.m. An open rehearsal for the performance will begin at 12 p.m. in Bryant Park, to practice Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", Sergio Ortega's "El Pueblo Unido", Willie Nile's "One Guitar", the Nightwatchman's "World Wide Rebel Song", and the traditional protest song "We Shall Not Be Moved".
The song list seems pretty tame and lame to me, but this is still a pretty cool idea!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Juan Felipe Herrera; Poet Laureate of California

I'm late on this, but since it is still National Poetry Month, I wanted to acknowledge Juan Felipe Herrera, who was appointed the Poet Laureate of California last month. He becomes the first Chicano to ever hold this post.

It might be of importance to people who read this blog, as his work is very much influenced by the Beat Generation (writers like Allen Ginsberg), as well as the whole Chicano movement. In fact, Herrera was at the very first Festival de Flor y Canto (Festival of flower and song) at USC in 1973 where he shared the stage with some of the great Chicano/a writers of the time like Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, Alurista, Juan Gómez Quiñones, José Montoya, Ricardo Sánchez and many others. (In 2010, he was also present at USC for a new Flor Y Canto that included artists from the original festival, as well as representatives of a new generation of voices).

His most recent work, "Half of the World in Light" was a winner of that year's National Book Critics Circle award in poetry, but I'm more familiar with his 2007 collection, "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007." The title piece is perhaps his most known--and most hilarious--poem. A short excert below:
Because Lou Dobbs has been misusing the subjunctive again
Because our suitcases are made with biodegradable maguey fibers
Because we still resemble La Malinche
Because multiplication is our favorite sport
Because we’ll dig a tunnel to Seattle
Because Mexico needs us to keep the peso from sinking
Because the Berlin Wall is on the way to Veracruz
Because we just learned we are Huichol
Because someone made our IDs out of corn
Because our border thirst is insatiable
Because we're on peyote & Coca-Cola & Banamex
Because it's Indian land stolen from our mothers
Because we're too emotional when it comes to our mothers
Because we've been doing it for over five hundred years already...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ludlow: a Massacre, a Verse-Novel

Almost a century ago, on April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of 1,200 coal miners, and their families, who were on strike. As a result, there were between 19 and 25 deaths--including 13 women and children. The Ludlow Massacre, as this moment in history came to to be known, has been described by Historian Howard Zinn as "the culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history."

In 2007, Red Hen Press published a verse-novel called Ludlow, (think of it as a book-length poem), by the Poet David Mason (who years later was later named the Poet Laureate of Colorado). The author's note describes the poem as "a work of fiction, but certain characters and events have their origins set in historical fact..."

In 2010, when a 2nd edition of the book was released, the author was featured on the PBS News Hour where he talked about his book. He said, "To use all this language, all this history, all this knowledge about versification and put it all together in what I hope is a very compelling story about a very serious moment in American history that's still with us, because we still are a nation of immigrants. We still are a nation that struggles with issues of corporate power, corporate greed, the rights of individual people."

Below is a short excerpt that describes working-life in the mines:
The mines made windows too, when timbermen
or diggers deep inside the earth cut through
to gas and lanterns set it off, or when
the pillared chambers fell. You heard a slump
within, and some poor digger ran out choking
there was thirty boys still trapped in the seam.
And some days all you'd see was bodies carted
down the hill and bosses counting heads.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Things to Learn from the Günter Grass Poem

A few weeks ago, the German Writer, (1999 Nobel Prize in Literature winner), Günter Grass published a poem called “What Must Be Said.” In this poem, Grass denounced the state of Israel for its nuclear weapons program and its recent aggression towards Iran, which he feels endangers world peace. A few stanzas of it here:
Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound,
From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we--as Germans burdened enough--
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

As Mr. Grass, is a very public and well-known literary figure, it did not take long for the government of Israel to respond and condemn the poet, calling him anti-Semitic and barring him from ever entering the country by declaring him a persona non grata.

There are two lessons to learn right away from all this: 1) Poetry is still very fuck’n powerful! 2) If you dare to criticize Israel, you will automatically be declared anti-Semitic. (This is actually brought up very sharply—and in a humorous way—by Michael Robbins in one of his poems from Alien vs. Predator.

Unfortunately, too many people let Israel get away with what it’s doing. (Not just for its nuclear weapon threats, but for the occupation of the Palestinian people every day since its existence). Even Dave Eggers, author of the book, Zeitoun, refused to accept a literary award from the Günter Grass Foundation last week, most likely for fear of being associated with Grass.

This reminds me of the way that Revolution newspaper Writer Alan Goodman ended a short article he once wrote about the lack of criticism of Israel for its war crimes. He wrote: In this light, this statement by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA is something that needs to be confronted by everyone, and poses a critical moral challenge: “After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Recommended: Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins

Much has been said about Michael Robbins and the way his poems are deliciously drenched in pop-culture references. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it was this particular style (milkshake, if you will) that brought me to his Alien vs. Predator yard. His choice of words, not only brings much humor to his poems, but also makes them feel very timely—not just contemporary.

Once you look past the pop-culture references you will see Robbins’ real love for the poetic tradition of rhyme. For instance, in Welfare Mothers, “Little Bo Mercy in heels and hose,/ just under the water she usually goes./ She moves grams and ounces, prays for war./ She’s not the droid you’re looking for.”

And these two great final lines for the poem, Dig Dug: “Memory is the bended grass where deer have lain./ It’s hard to hold a candle to the cold November rain.” Throughout the book, you’ll find rhymes like these that make the reading experience enjoyable.

There are a lot of themes in the book, including some very serious political stuff. The poem, Remain In Light, gets into the struggle of the Palestinian people—in a very different and unique way: “This is a poem for the Caterpillar D9./ I, Rachel Corrie, one of the rough, a kosmos./ This must be nasty anti-Semitic poem!”

Some readers might have a difficult time finding out the meaning to these poems, as it will almost never be obvious. Truth be told, most of these poems went over my head. But I’ve only done one quick reading of the book, and I know reading this collection over and over again and really studying these poems will never be boring.

Have I sold you on buying this book? Well, here’s one last thing: You know how you’ll be at a bookstore flipping through poetry books, and in the last page there’s usually a photo of the poet—which is usually some old professor guy in a nice button shirt or sweater who looks like he’s spent too much time in the library studying the meaning of a Shakespearean sonnet? Well, in the last page of this book, there’s just a picture of some dude…in a Slayer t-shirt!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From the Back Issue Bin- Punisher: Going Out West

Recently, while I was at Emerald City Comic Con, I was able to talk to one of my favorite comic-book writers, Matt Fraction. I was happy that he autographed a few of my Punisher War Journal books that he penned back in 2007. These particular books were special to me because they were part of a storyline called, "Goin' Out West." I enjoyed this storyline a lot because it was a very political story that dealt with the issue of immigration.

The villain here was the Hate-Monger, who was leading a group of high technology-powered Nazis that were killing immigrants, (or would-be immigrants), near the U.S./Mexico border in the Sonoran desert. This was very important because, around the same time, there was a lot of controversy at the Arizona border due to "The Minutemen," armed militia groups who had taken it upon themselves to "patrol" the U.S./Mexico border.

In the story, instead of Minutemen, they are Nazis, which is essentially what they are, and exactly why I like the story so much--because they truly are villains! (Not heroes, or patriots, or whatever someone else might come up with to dress it up).

Frank Castle, the Punisher, does not like what these Nazis are doing. And although he usually spends his time taking out mob bosses or super-villains, he decides to infiltrate them so to best kill them. Although most of the story is about how Frank goes about infiltrating the Nazi camp and the repercussions of that, the beginning of the story does shed some light on some of the reasons why people go come to the U.S. from Mexico. In one whole page, Staurt, (a sort of sidekick to Frank), reads him some information, including this passage:

"Maquilas or maquiladoras, depending on your grasp of Spanish, exist throughout Mexico and Latin America in these--these special zones. No tariffs or taxes. They bring raw goods in and ship finished crap out. They're...dictatorial sweatshops, basically. NAFTA-sanctioned sweatshops."

I like this story so much that I even went ahead and bought a hardcover collected trade and recommend the same to anybody who is looking for a good story. As long as you don't mind a little violence.