Sunday, October 18, 2009
(click on photos for photo details)
FRANK: We're in my apartment a couple of weeks after a Northwest gathering of artists, activists, economists and philosophers in Portland, Oregon. We got together to address the ecological and/or economic collapses. It was a series of “where did we go/ where are we going” sessions that pointed not only to the rather obvious (but complicated) problems, but also a direction, or directions to move ahead as we all went home to our respective cities & towns.
CONRAD: This laptop is propped on top of Allen Ginsberg's COLLECTED POEMS, a terrific place to be writing about this.
MANY THANKS to everyone out there in Portland for making it possible for Frank and I to participate, including Kaia Sand, Jules Boykoff, Jake Buffy, and to Jennifer Coleman and Allison Cobb for also putting us up.
PLUNDER! The film by Danny Schechter (aka The News Dissector) was our first jaunt into the EcoNvergence weekend, and now that I've had a chance to also see the Michael Moore film constantly being compared and contrasted against PLUNDER, folks, especially the ones who said they WON'T go see Moore's film, SHUT UP AND SEE IT! Danny's PLUNDER is incredible, in fact I love it for it's courage on many levels, like using the twin towers one and a half seconds after using the word EXPLODE for the “free market,” but I'm tired of Moore being pitted against the Left as though he's clearly NOT the Left. Anyway, Danny's film deserves as much coverage as Moore's film, that I'll agree with, but both are actually quite different and allude to many different facts, which is why they might even been seen as the two great films – so far – about our global slide into the abyss.
FRANK: Danny's film is a must-see if you want to get down to the nitty gritty of the Wall Street collapse. I also appreciate that he's got a great sense of humor, which is all-too-rare from Lefties. And it's absolutely necessary to survive the climate we're facing. Yeah, I said climate. Haha. An overall impression I got from the weekend was that the heady days of believing in the fun and creative protest methods of Seattle '99 have faded into memory. There seemed to be a more militant current throughout the conference. Not so much from the presenters or panelists (excepting Derrick Jensen, of course), but more from the attendees. Maybe this is because it has become more apparent that we're running out of time. Chomsky didn't go there, though. He seemed less desperate and much more optimistic (and even congratulatory) for the progressive efforts that bring us into the future.
CONRAD: The first thing I attended the next day (10/02), was the “Water: Private Commodity or Common Good” panel, which turned into us talking about the Jason Wallach documentary about the situations concerning public water in El Salvador. The description says “...the documentary will provide insight into the challenges faced by the people of El Salvador,” when really it should be saying “insight into challenges faced by American corporate interests,” as it's the AMAZING FIGHT the people of El Salvador have put up in many local districts throughout the country which has made it clear to American companies that it's just TOO MUCH work to try to sell these people their own water. The people in the film were SO BRAVE going fist to fist with police and local government officials, blocking the roads, refusing to settle for anything less than their right to the water under their feet!
The documentary was INCREDIBLE, and I highly recommend it, but, I REALLY WISH that Jason Wallach had NOT said at the end of the screening that he used it for his PhD thesis. OY! I felt filthy after that, FILTHY! Tell me I'm wrong, I can't help it! It made me rethink most of what I had been thinking while watching the film about the filmmaker, that he was a dedicated soul using all of his resources to make this film, when really it was a fully funded college degree. Anyway, in the end I still have to say that the film is an invaluable resource. Also with Jason on the panel were Glenn Montgomery and Frank Fromherz, members of The Pacific Center for Global Justice. Their description of their goals as an organization made me curious about how such a group could be formed for the East Coast activists, bringing a solid sense of bridging all different crises and organizations into a single body, the same as, but reverse of Homeland Security.
FRANK: Well, it's tough to get away from the academic and academicians when these types of gatherings are assembled. I will say that it seemed that the intent of EcoNvergence was to accent activism instead of scholarship. Which I think they did a pretty good job of doing. Their interest in a conference PACE action underscores this. And I was also happy about the prominent place poetry had in the multiple events throughout the weekend. I'm just not used to it. The kickoff poetry reading post-Chomsky was an incredible gathering of poets from the Bay Area, Olympia, Seattle, Philly, Maine, and of course Portland. This makes sense though, since Kaia and Jules were involved.
CONRAD: I guess the thing I object to about Wallach is that no where in the documentary does he point out his use of the situation in El Salvador for his degree. It made me feel the way it did, and there's nothing I can do about, expect be honest about how I feel, or hide it. In the end the documentary remains an important source of information regardless of my feelings.
While I'm on the subject of things which annoy me, just to get it off my chest, one thing I've despised for many years with the Left was very apparent at this conference, and that is the snobbish of information. For instance, these two very brave activists were discussing AT THEIR OWN PANEL what it meant to them for their political actions to be infiltrated by the Department of Defense. This DUDE in the audience said, “Yeah yeah yeah, we all know about infiltration, can we get on with it!” I said to him, “Ah FIRST, this isn't YOUR PANEL, so maybe you might want to attend a DIFFERENT ONE if what's being said BORES YOU!” Anyway, BOTH THUMBS UP to these activists.
But I did get a warm feeling in my shorts seeing Noam Chomsky! He's the hottest man alive!
FRANK: You say that about a lot of guys. You're getting like Bono. When Joe Strummer died, he said “The Clash were the greatest rock-n-roll band in the world.” Then Joey Ramone died & he said “The Ramones were the greatest rock-n-roll band in the world.” But it's okay, because I believe he meant both of those statements at the time, just like you & Chomsky, so... Speaking of this, I had a good time talking to Jake Buffy, & I'm not just saying that because he let us stay at his house. I was very interested in his perspective on the placement and punk rock & hiphop in young activist communities. He's also a hiphop artist. His mic name is PsiOtic, and he played us his demo that includes a sample of old Black Panther chants. Speaking of the Panthers, it was also good to meet a friend of Jules' and founder of the BPP in Portland, Trent Ford. We met him while we were waiting in line for Chomsky's limo to arrive. He was getting the word out about his son, Patrice Lumumba Ford, who is currently incarcerated as a member of the Portland 7. Regrettably, I don't know much about his case though, even after I read the flier.
CONRAD: LIKE BONO???? HAHAHA! No, Chomsky IS IT FOR ME! I sat in that front row with my MOST impure thoughts throughout his brilliant, heavy chat with us about the destroyed world.
Jake Buffy and his friends are making some amazing music! Jake's reading after the Chomsky event was marvelous, in fact that whole after-Chomsky poetry reading party was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend! Getting to hear Kaia and Jules again was a thrill, and Jen and Allison, Alicia Cohen, CE Putnam (wish he had worn his MOUNTY uniform that I heard he wore at a Seattle reading!), Aaron Vidaver (I like his book PILLS), David Buuck, Katheryn Brooks, Dan Raphael, Jonathan Skinner (his new chapbook WITH NAKED FOOT ROCKS), David Wolach. FINALLY getting to see / hear some of these poets, like David Wolach. The gallery we read in, SEA CHANGE GALLERY, had us read on the second landing like we were each giving speeches like Chavez from a balcony. But below us on the wall was a beautiful fucking painting of a lion which I wish I had a photo of, so nice!
FRANK: Yeah, I liked the balcony. And the lion. There were times when I leaned over just a bit too much & felt like I was going to fall into the audience. And it didn't seem a crowd-surfing friendly venue. Plus, I don't think a bunch of poets would have thought to catch me anyway. Ouch. But let me not contemplate the pain that never happened. That was a great reading. The next day I also had the honor of reading the Elegy for Rachel Corrie I wrote during the days after her murder in 2003. The poem opened the Ecocide in Gaza panel presented by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, including Rachel Corrie's mother. It was an intense experience to read the piece for her (& the packed auditorium). Things were so hectic just before I took the stage, since our PACE/BARGE presentation was happening at the same exact time two floors up & on the other side of the building! I signed some release in a hurry to be filmed for Free Speech TV or Al Jazeera or whatever the hell it was. But then it was time to read the poem, & I haven't read it in public in years. It gave me chills to deliver it in that environment. & then I had to leave for our talk.
CONRAD: Wish I had been able to be at your reading of the Rachel Corrie poem. Also wish that I had made it to the earlier event that day with Jules Boykoff, Danny Schechter and others, one of my biggest regrets of the weekend frankly.
Our event with David Buuck made me NOTHING BUT HAPPY! WOW! AH, and David DID IT I KNEW HE WAS GOING TO FUCKING DO IT TOO, HE ATE THAT POISONED FUCKING DIRT oh my god I want him to stop doing that. It's terrible. I could FEEL IT when he ate it FEEL IT! Dirt he brought with him from the BARGE Project, the toxic dirt on Treasure Island. I squirmed and moaned in my seat, AH!
FRANK: David was great. I totally forgot what I was supposed to be talking about when he finished, because I was so into his talk. He might be a little crazy for eating that dirt though. But I totally appreciate his spirit of solidarity w/ the residents of Treasure Island. I talked a bit about the beginnings of PACE in Philadelphia & the initial action on Christmas Eve. I also spoke about how my time in New Orleans informed my ideas about poetry in public space. I explained the reasoning behind launching a PACE action in the streets of Portland, & turned the show over to you. I liked what you had to say about pamphleting.
CONRAD: Thanks, I feel the PACE panel with David's BARGE was a good combination. To recap a little bit about my part of talking, I spoke about INSIGHT TO RIOT Press Collective that I was a member of in 1990, Philadelphia. Pre-Internet, so I was spending a lot of time in the library researching about the process of making books, and in this reading was a lot of unexpected, fascinating history. It's where I first learned about French Resistance poet Charlotte Delbo, making pamphlets (chapbooks) in the basement with her husband and others, telling people how to rise up against the Nazis. Also discovered info about the anti-government pamphlets Samuel Coleridge and friends were publishing in the 18th century, giving me yet another chance to share my hatred for government spy Wordsworth. All of this though was to talk about the rich history of broadsides and chapbooks to present to people out on the streets, to BE THE NEWS, as poets, as activists.
Also I used the opportunity to quote Paul Hawken's commencement address to the 2009 graduating class of Portland University where he says, “Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.” This quote followed a remark about Coleridge coining the phrase, “suspension of disbelief,” a phrase whose original meaning had nothing to do with dealing with bad special effects in the movies like we use it for today, but instead with the very real FACTS of having to face down the brute forces of governmental muscle and law. To get done what you MUST get done, to feverishly work at ignoring the facts when you KNOW the truth to be in opposition to the governing voices in front of you.
AH, THEN WE WENT OUT ONTO THE STREET. How many people were with us Frank? 50?
FRANK: I would say so, but I really don't have an accurate idea. I used to have the curator's disease, where it was automatic to do a head-count to clock how many people came out for an event. I'm pretty surprised that I've been cured. So yeah, there was a good amount of folks. We read on corners, in front of the Portland Public Library, reading for public transit commuters, immigrants who had trouble reading English & even a Dick Cheney-looking guy who hated your poem. Well, I hope it ruined his day. The PACE action culminated w/ a parking garage occupation where poems were read from each of the five levels of the building down to the street. That hippie climbed out on the ledge of the fifth floor to scream my poem to the world. I guess I should be flattered, but I couldn't help but think he was going to die reading it. I didn't want that to happen. It would have ruined the poem for me. & I didn't want him to go splat of course! He was a really nice guy & everything ended well. He's still alive as far as we know, right?
CONRAD: I hope so, that hippie's name is Mark, I think. Mark also did this memorable thing where he would use green chalk to outline our shadows on the sidewalk, then write inside: POETRY WAS READ HERE! Things like that, he was great! This PACE Action, well, the whole weekend for that matter, gives me new vigor for being angry at the term POST AVANT, that nasty term that, in my opinion is being slung like flithy pork hash all over the poetry world to mean, POST THOUGHTFULNESS, POST CARING. Mostly said it seems by those older poets who want to protect their poetry legacy as THEIR group being THE LAST GREAT FACTION!
Anyway, all that aside, RENEWED, I came home feeling renewed! And I LOVED the early morning panels on the last day, with Jonathan Skinner, who said so sharply, pointedly of the Derrick Jensen talk from the night before, “If that's the movement I don't want to be part of it.” Kaia, Alicia Cohen, Allison Cobb, Andrea Murray, and other amazing folks in those first two sets of panels Sunday morning gave me MUCH to chew on, continue to chew on.
FRANK: Jensen's a pistol, or I guess he would prefer an AK47. But I'm happy that he turned me on to the Pink Sari Gang, a group of women who rove Northern India from village to village. They carry big sticks & they're trained in martial arts. When they hear news of an abusive husband terrorizing his wife, or a corrupt public official who withholds grain from the poor, they beat these men and/or publicly shame them. They're my new favorite vigilante gang. So thanks, Derrick! It was a great way to end the weekend, w/ a meal back at Kaia & Jules' & Jessica's house. Over food & wine, we got the chance to discuss the weekend & share in the friendships w/ the folks you just mentioned. I feel lucky to be part of their tribe.
CONRAD: That dinner was great! Hanging with amazing friends I've been missing. And meeting new friends, like Tasha Glen, student of David Wolach's from Evergreen.
And another young woman (WISH I COULD REMEMBER HER NAME) who had a T-shirt with Majid Kavousifar's face on it. Majid killed judge Hassan Moghaddas in Tehran, and was later executed for doing so, but Majid is considered a hero by many. The judge was known for passing speedy executions of homosexuals for being homosexual, and GET THIS, executing young women who “violated” standing chastity laws for being raped. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP! But anyway, it was so strange to see Majid's face on a T-shirt, and of course I HAD TO TALK TO HER! My old boyfriend Marwan's sister (she doesn't like her name to be used, so she's Marwan's sister here) thinks Majid was queer, but I don't know.
It was also GREAT to talk to one man from Venezuela (WISH I COULD REMEMBER HIS NAME) who updated me on the Gay Revolution within the revolution in his country. I told him of my friends in the Global Women's Strike (he knew who they were right away) coming back from the 2006 World Social Forum in Caracas with a video interview with members of the Gay Revolution, and how their NUMBER ONE GOAL was to help those in need the most, and that being African descent transwomen, who have the highest rate of suicide and murder. In the USA the statics are the same with the trans community having the highest rate of suicide and murder, but our priorities are gay marriage and OF COURSE gays in the military. In fact the editor / publisher of PGN Philadelphia Gay News just said about the gays in the military this week, “If every one were discharged, that's 135,000 possible casualties of the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.” CASUALTIES, he says! AH, the language, THE IRONY, it disgusts me so deeply! Never mind the fact that gay men are being hunted down and beheaded and WORSE tortured for days in Iraq right now as a result of the military, gay or straight, or whatever! I'm SICKENED by the priorities of US queers!
But the EcoNvergence Conference gave me a sense of the reset button, recharged, reLOVED, and I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend!