Louis Simpson [1923- ], one of the last survivors of the generation which went to war in 1941, began as a formalist poet [The Arrivistes, 1949], but developed into a free verse "deep image" poet during the 1960's, and continued in this vein throughout the next 40 years; insofar as I'm aware, he's still writing and publishing. I have no idea what Simpson is like in person: He taught at Berkeley in the 1960's, but was gone before I arrived there as an undergraduate in the late Sixties. I can only guess from his work, what his personality is like. Simpson served in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army during the Second World War; those interested in what this might have meant, are directed to the 12 part miniseries Band of Brothers [Dreamworks SKG, 2001], which documents in some detail the difficult engagements this division participated in in the European Theater (i.e., Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge, etc.).
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Too often these days, we tend to think of the American poet Robert Frost [1874-1963] as a grand old man, white-haired and crotchety, conjuring gnomes and twinkling amusedly under the glare of his public's admiration (and four Pulitzers), durably living far beyond his time, a throwback to an earlier age of crusty stubborn Yankee practicality and tested country wisdom.
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.
Edward Abbey [1927-1989], the late novelist, essayist, and environmental activist, was a confirmed political "liberal" (perhaps even an extremist), who believed that the degradation of the land and culture of the American Southwest was a crime against nature, and that the least any one of us could do was to try to defend it from the resource exploiters and population pressures which endangered it.
In the American Southwest, where I happen to live, only sixty miles north of the Mexican border, the subject of illegal aliens is a touchy one. Even the terminology is dangerous: the old word wetback is now considered a racist insult by all good liberals; and the perfectly correct terms illegal alien and illegal immigrant can set off charges of xenophobia, elitism, fascism, and the ever-popular genocide against anyone careless enough to use them. The only acceptable euphemism, it now appears, is something called undocumented worker. Thus the pregnant Mexican woman who appears, in the final stages of labor, at the doors of the emergency ward of an El Paso or San Diego hospital, demanding care for herself and the child she's about to deliver, becomes an "undocumented worker." The child becomes an automatic American citizen by virtue of its place of birth, eligible at once for all of the usual public welfare benefits. And with the child comes not only the mother but the child's family. And the mother's family. And the father's family. Can't break up families can we? They come to stay and they stay to multiply.
What of it? say the documented liberals; ours is a rich and generous nation, we have room for all, let them come. And let them stay, say the conservatives; a large, cheap, frightened, docile, surplus labor force is exactly what the economy needs. Put some fear into the unions: tighten discipline, spur productivity, whip up the competition for jobs. The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause. (Neither group, you will notice, ever invites the immigrants to move into their homes. Not into their homes!) Both factions are supported by the cornucopia economists of the ever-expanding economy, who actually continue to believe that our basic resource is not land, air, water, but human bodies, more and more of them, the more the better in hive upon hive, world without end - ignoring the clear fact that those nations which most avidly practice this belief, such as Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, to name only three, don't seem to be doing well. They look more like explosive slow-motion disasters, in fact, volcanic anthills, than functioning human societies. But that which our academic economists will not see and will not acknowledge is painfully obvious to los latinos: they stream north in ever-growing numbers.
Meanwhile, here at home in the land of endless plenty, we seem still unable to solve our traditional and nagging difficulties. After forty years of the most fantastic economic growth in the history of mankind, the United States remains burdened with mass unemployment, permanent poverty, an overloaded welfare system, violent crime, clogged courts, jam-packed prisons, commercial ("white-collar") crime, rotting cities and a poisoned environment, eroding farmlands and the disappearing family farm all of the usual forms of racial ethnic and sexual conflict (which immigration further intensifies), plus the ongoing destruction of what remains of our forests, fields, mountains, lakes, rivers, and seashores, accompanied by the extermination of whole specie's of plants and animals. To name but a few of our little nagging difficulties.
Yes, I know, if the American Indians had enforced such a policy none of us pale-faced honkies would be here. But the Indians were foolish, and divided, and failed to keep our WASP ancestors out. They've regretted it ever since.
To everything there is a season, to every wave a limit, to every range an optimum capacity. The United States has been fully settled, and more than full, for at least a century. We have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by allowing the old boat to be swamped. How many of us, truthfully, would prefer to be submerged in the Caribbean-Latin version of civilization? (Howls of "Racism! Elitism! Xenophobia!" from the Marx brothers and the documented liberals.) Harsh words: but somebody has to say them. We cannot play "let's pretend" much longer, not in the present world.
Therefore-let us close our national borders to any further mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, as does every other nation on earth. The means are available, it's a simple technical-military problem. Even our Pentagon should be able to handle it. We've got an army somewhere on this planet, let's bring our soldiers home and station them where they can be of some actual and immediate benefit to the taxpayers who support them. That done, we can begin to concentrate attention on badly neglected internal affairs. Our internal affairs. Everyone would benefit, including the neighbors. Especially the neighbors. Ah yes. But what about those hungry hundreds of millions, those anxious billions, yearning toward the United States from every dark and desperate corner of the world? Shall we simply ignore them? Reject them? Is such a course possible?
"Poverty," said Samuel Johnson, "is the great enemy of human happiness. It certainly destroys liberty, makes some virtues impracticable, and all virtues extremely difficult."
You can say that again, Sam.
Poverty, injustice, over breeding, overpopulation, suffering, oppression, military rule, squalor, torture, terror, massacre: these ancient evils feed and breed on one another in synergistic symbiosis. To break the cycles of pain at least two new forces are required: social equity - and birth control. Population control. Our Hispanic neighbors are groping toward this discovery. If we truly wish to help them we must stop meddling in their domestic troubles and permit them to carry out the social, political, and moral revolution which is both necessary and inevitable.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The poet Paul Blackburn liked to use simple codes and schedules in his poetry, to mark the quotidian signs and transfer points of daily life. He may have helped create the "itinerary" poem, which later poets have used (viz, Ted Berrigan in his Train Ride).
Monday, October 26, 2009
Last Sunday, the 49ers, after a thoroughly lackluster first half against the Houston Texans, in which they fell behind 21-0, made a comeback in the second half, resorting to Alex Smith, the spurned casualty of the Nolan coaching years, over Sean Hill, who is the designated first string starting quarterback. since Mike Singletary took over the team last year when Nolan was fired.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
when she comes
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
As his literary inferior, from our earlier days as undergraduates, I mourned the loss of a considerable talent, even as I envied his potential. But nothing had come of it: The best contemporary of my undergraduate days had fallen into a sand-trap and seemed unable to find his way out. I didn't know what to suggest, and Patrick seemed uninterested in cultivating our friendship further.
I lost track of him about 1979, as our lives diverged, in my case to a 9 to 5 job and the duties of fatherhood and paying a mortgage. Over the years I wondered what might have become of him. Had he resumed writing, or found his way into some kind of stable life?