Monday, April 09, 2012

Bennett On Corso/Rothenberg On KickStart/Vonnegut On Schoolbook Censorship/

Thanks to terrific Don Wentworth, editor of the Lilliput Review for the following from poet John Bennett on Issa's Untidy Hut

Rainy Day Rag Man
John Bennett

(for Gregory Corso 1930 - 2001)

He's barking at the moon. He's barking up the wrong tree. He's tangled up in blue. He's shoplifting dialects and dangling them with hangman's rope from his crash-pad ceiling. On come the black lights, the strobe lights, the bright lights, the stage lights--let there be light! he cries out, naked as a blue jay and flat-out on the shag rug, throwing darts at the ceiling.

He's seen rumors flying like wounded bats and false evidence stuck like gum to his shoe soles. He's seen dreams go up in smoke, grave conclusions dumped in body bags from hot-air balloons, fist-sized monkeys nailed to fence posts. He's grown gun-shy of false promise, mauled hope, pontifications and the fine-print of love. His soul is like an ironclad Merrimack sending volleys over the bow of a Nantucket schooner. The Lie is self--perpetrating, the dark stain is everywhere.

He's a rainy day rag man with a push-cart mind, a midnight tailor in the attic stitching pockets shut. He's the mutant love child of our unabashed sham.

He's the weather vane that tells how the wind blows, the dimpled vulva of the wicked queen, the death throe of our whacked self-importance as we prance around like wind-up toys with our chests puffed out. He's the last train to Brooklyn, the last prophet before Humpty-Dumpty takes the dive.

He has other names too if you're interested, but of course you're not, this being Sunday, a time for worship and contact sports.

-- John Bennett

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Check this out from Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion who spearheaded the recent 100,000 Poets For Change and who are continuing the literally earth shaking effort. Go to the link 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Event.

Watch the exciting video there. Consider giving anything you can!

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It kills me to read that morons in Texas who choose school text books make their decisions on the basis of non-science and religion. Were their malice restricted to the children of Texas alone, that in itself would be criminal However, the Texas choices, for some reason or other, are observed by school districts around the country. The following letter from Kurt Vonnegut on a similar subject was sent in 1973. I owe its discovery to the wonderful blog Letters of Note (correspondence deserving of a wider audience)

In October of 1973, Bruce Severy — a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School, North Dakota — decided to use Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, as a teaching aid in his classroom. The next month, on November 7th, the head of the school board, Charles McCarthy, demanded that all 32 copies be burned in the school's furnace as a result of its "obscene language." Other books soon met with the same fate.

On the 16th of November, Kurt Vonnegut sent McCarthy the following letter. He didn't receive a reply.

(Source: Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage; Image: Kurt Vonnegut, via Everything was Vonnegut.)

November 16, 1973

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.

I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes–but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the eduction of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

Kurt Vonnegut

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