12 February 2011

Voices and Soul

11 February 2011

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

I purchased and built my first crystal radio with an ear-set with funds gifted to me on my birthday in March of 1963. I was eight years old. It took a couple of weeks before the components arrived in the mail; and I set out to put the thing together. The radio was small and fit in the pocket of my coveralls, while a thin cord snaked its way to my left ear. We lived on the farm in Philomouth outside of Corvallis; and I had many chores to do before the bus picked me up for school. That radio kept me linked to the world while I milked the farm's only cow, slopped slop for the pigs, fed the geese and chickens, collected eggs and churned butter from the cream of that only cow.

The strongest frequency the radio picked up during those early morning duties was a station that broadcast local news, early morning weather and farm reports; and the conservative, baritone intonations of Paul Harvey ("... this is Paul Harvey... good day!"). I attended Saint Mary's Catholic School in Corvallis; and like many Catholics of the day ( and even now, not so surprisingly), photographs of JFK were prominent at home and school.

There was something about Harvey that bugged me as an eight year old. His halting, yet dulcet vocal delivery were pleasant enough, but the content of his broadcasts grated. Later that year, after the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young school girls; Harvey attempted to diminish the tragedy by explaining that no matter how brutal the murders were, they were to be expected.

Murdering four black school girls was an expectation in America? Even as an eight year old, I knew that wasn't and shouldn't be correct.

A year later, a Great Uncle helped install the antennae for the short wave radio he gave me. I could now listen to the BBC, music from Paris and New York; and I discovered Studs Terkel in Chicago.

Though both Terkel and Harvey broadcast from Chicago, they were worlds apart. Terkel's interviews with Bob Dylan and Mahalia Jackson still resonate in a deep seated radio tape loop in the middle of my cerebelum.

We never owned a television in Oregon, reception being poor or non-existent where we lived. When we moved to Southern California in the summer of 1965, when my father began a 35 year professorship at Cal State Fullerton, we purchased a television shortly after settling in. Later, we purchased one of the first generations of color televisions. I would match the news from the three broadcast networks with that of the BBC, that I listened to on the short wave radio, (it was a big argument about dismantling and moving the antennae from Oregon to California, but my dad prevailed on my mom that is was a good idea). I began to triangulate information before I even knew the word. It just seemed the prudent thing to do.

As a child, I couldn't get enough information. It remains the same today. With each new technological advancement, the ability to gather info increases; and I anticipate it strongly. With events unfolding in Egypt and elsewhere, with social networks in the forefront of a revolution; it is proved that change need not be exacted by the barrel of a gun, but by the wide distribution of information.

DK4 begins officially tomorrow. Rather than smashing an old technology and leaving myself and many others behind, I anticipate yet another growth in my life long quest for knowledge. Difficulties are always prevalent when a new system of dissemination is put in place; but we don't need a hotel heiress or government lackey to set the tone for when and how we get our information.

All we need is the ability of the word to travel the ether.

Total Information Awareness

“This bubble had to be burst, & the only way to do it was
to go right into the heart of the Arab world
& smash something.” The hotel heiress, snapped
flashing her bum in a Bahamas club.

To go right into the heart of the Arab world,
they claim their device can trigger an orgasm:
flashing her bum in a Bahamas club
on a boozy date with her new bloke, Nick Carter.

They claim their device can trigger an orgasm.
American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity
on a boozy date with her new bloke, Nick Carter,
say he confessed under torture in Syria.

American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity
without touching a women’s genital area
say he confessed under torture in Syria.
“There’s no explanation why. We’re just not saying anything.”

Without touching a women’s genital area,
I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation.
There’s no explanation why. We’re just not saying anything
to make this objective absolutely clear.

I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation,
but he was in the special removal unit.
To make this objective absolutely clear,
the development of counterterrorism technologies—

but he was in the special removal unit.
This had profoundly shocked the commission,
the development of counterterrorism technologies
with the flick of a switch. Women get turned on.

This had profoundly shocked the commission.
No one detected any radical political views.
With the flick of a switch, women get turned on
to a new business model that only pretends

no one detected any radical political views.
I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation
to a new business model that only pretends
to give consumers more control. In fact,

I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation
that she refused to be photographed in body paint
to give consumers more control. In fact,
he was handcuffed and beaten repeatedly.

That she refused to be photographed in body paint
constitutes an integral goal of the IOA.
He was handcuffed and beaten repeatedly.
There’s no explanation why. An information whiteout

constitutes an integral goal of IOA
while Justice turns to Syria’s secret police.
There’s no explanation why. An information whiteout.
Forebodings of disaster enter into box scores

while Justice turns to Syria’s secret police,
constructing systems to counter asymmetric threats.
Forebodings of disaster enter into box scores
to achieve total information awareness,

constructing systems to counter asymmetric threats.
This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was
to achieve total information awareness
& smash something. The hotel heiress snapped.

-- John Beer

09 February 2011

Voices and Soul

8 February 2011

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

I had a conversation after the Super Bowl, Sunday, with a white progressive friend about Obama's pre-Super Bowl interview with O'Reilly. I appreciate this particular friend's tactic of playing Devil's Advocate; but it has gotten tiresome over the years; to the point I've accused this friend of actually advocating for his arguments. Regardless, he is intent on finding common ground with whatever opposition so that advances can be made, no matter how incremental; and it is that incrementalism that has always bothered me.

Where I saw O'Reilly barely able to temper his disdain for Obama, my friend saw O'Reilly has polite to a fault. The conversation devolved from there. We then discussed Fox News in general; I taking the position of Fox as being a powerful propaganda arm of the GOP; my friend pointing out evidence that is not true. We then debated about a Woman's Right to Choose; though a liberal, he has always been against abortion. He's a vegetarian and deems all life sacred, I will hand it to him, he does have some intellectual integrity; unlike my more reactionary acquaintances who oppose abortion, my friend also opposes the Death Penalty. He takes issue with, what he calls my, "inflammatory rhetoric", that I cannot expect to sway the anti-abortionists if I insist on referring to their position as "forced birth". Of course, calling someone a murderer for saving her own life is somehow not inflammatory. Regardless, if a law was passed to stop funding or treatment for any aspect of men's health, he would be at the front of whatever protest there was; yet, somehow, a microscopic mass of cells in a woman's womb can be more important than the woman. He doesn't exactly put it that way, but that is what I get every time we have this argument.

He then went on to discuss the advances racial minorities have achieved over the years, that by attrition, true freedom will occur; I brought up the anti-brown people laws passed and the insane numbers of minorities incarcerated to show that this incrementalism is not the success he insists.

My friend voted for Obama and considers him a great President; on that we agree. So how is it that two people who claim to be of the same persuasion so mightily disagree with the direction and success of reforms?

He sees the irrevocable change of rocks being worn away by the crashing of the sea; it may not happen in our lifetime, but change will indeed occur. I see that the rocks need to be smashed with sledge hammers; that change and freedom in the future mean little when folks are suffering now.

We may be friends, we may have the same concerns for the well being of the individual; and yet I cannot accept his safety in incrementalism. The gates need to be crashed and the walls of oppression need to be made to tumble down.

Waiting for Time to wear away oppression has never worked for those living in oppression; and it also is proved their great-great-great grandchildren won't experience the freedom that the argument of Time seems to assure.

We may have a Black President, as my friend points out as evidence of the great strides we've made; but when american latino families are murdered by white nationalist vigilantes, when black men and women are incarcerated in astronomical numbers, when income and housing inequality, when segregation are still prevalent; having a Black President is somewhat then, like a nice shiny ribbon on a gift.

The package looks nice, but the hate contained within is not negated by the beauty of the bow.

Going along to get along has never worked.

Booker T. and W.E.B.

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,
“It shows a mighty lot of cheek
To study chemistry and Greek
When Mister Charlie needs a hand
To hoe the cotton on his land,
And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,
Why stick your nose inside a book?”

“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,
“If I should have the drive to seek
Knowledge of chemistry or Greek,
I’ll do it. Charles and Miss can look
Another place for hand or cook.
Some men rejoice in skill of hand,
And some in cultivating land,
But there are others who maintain
The right to cultivate the brain.”

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.,
“That all you folks have missed the boat
Who shout about the right to vote,
And spend vain days and sleepless nights
In uproar over civil rights.
Just keep your mouths shut, do not grouse,
But work, and save, and buy a house.”

“I don’t agree,” said W.E.B.,
“For what can property avail
If dignity and justice fail.
Unless you help to make the laws,
They’ll steal your house with trumped-up clause.
A rope’s as tight, a fire as hot,
No matter how much cash you’ve got.
Speak soft, and try your little plan,
But as for me, I’ll be a man.”

“It seems to me,” said Booker T.—
“I don’t agree,”
Said W.E.B.

--Dudley Randall

03 February 2011

Voices and Soul

1 February 2011

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

The anti-apartheid, white South African poet, writer and painter, Breyten Breytenbach, was exiled after marrying a French national of Vietnamese descent while studying in Paris in the early '60's. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 and The Immorality Act of 1950 made it a criminal offense for a white person to have sexual relations with a person of a different race. He made a trip to South Africa in 1975, was discovered in the country, (it has been reported that the ANC betrayed him to the government because they didn't trust him), arrested and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for High Treason. Massive international intervention ultimately secured his release in 1982, he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship.

Nigerian poet, novelist and musician, Chris Abani has a prescience that is almost uncanny. His first novel, Masters of the Board, about a neo-Nazi takeover of Nigeria earned him praise as "... (A)frica's answer to Frederick Forsyth." The government, though, believed the book to be a blueprint for an actual coup and sent the 18 year old Abani to prison in 1985. After serving six months, he was released; but he went on to perform in a guerilla theatre group which led to his arrest and imprisonment at the notorious Kiri Kiri prison. He was released again, but after writing his play Song of a Broken Flute, was arrested a third time, sentenced to death and sent to the Kalakuta Prison; where he was jailed with other political prisoners on death row.

Languishing most of the time in solitary confinement, Abani was finally and fortunately released in 1991. He lived in exile in London until 1999, when he emigrated to the United States; where he currently teaches at UC Riverside in California.

With events in Egypt unfolding; and the following poem written in 2006, it seems Abani's prescience is once again put to the fore.

Hanging in Egypt with Breyten Breytenbach

There are stones even here
worn into a malevolence by time
gritting the teeth and tearing
the eyes with the memory.

Out in the desert, the wind
is a sculptor working the ephemera
of sand. Desperately editing steles
to write the names of thousands of slaves
who died to make Pharaoh great.
It is a fool’s game.

And we are like the blind musician
at the hotel who tells us with a smile:
I’ll see you later.

The guard at the pyramid eyes me.
Are you Egyptian? he demands,
then searches my bag for a bomb.
At the hotel they speak Arabic to me,
don’t treat me like the white guests,
and I guess, even here, with all
the hindsight of history we haven’t
learned to love ourselves.

I cannot crawl into the tombs, and cannot
explain why. How do you say: In my country
they buried me alive for six months?
And so you lie and tell yourself this is love.
I am protecting the world from my rage.

Rabab tells me: We know how to build graves
here. I nod. I know. It is the same all over Africa.

Do you have a knife? Do you have one?
the guards at the museum ask Breyten and me,
searching us. We call this on ourselves. We
are clearly political criminals.

I trace the glyphs chipped into stone.
As a writer I am drawn to this. If I could
I too would carve myself into eternity.
Breyten watching me says: Don’t tell me
you’ve found a spelling mistake in it!

A line of miniature statues is placed
into the tomb to serve the pharaoh.
One for each day of the year. Four hundred.
The overseers are a plus. I think
even death will not ease
the lot of the poor here.

Statues: it seems the more I search the world
for differences the more I find it all the same.
Perhaps the Buddha was a jaded traveler too
when he said we are all one.

Mona argues about who should pay
to see the mummies. It isn’t often I can
treat a girl to a dead body, Breyten insists.

A woman nearby tells her husand she can see
dead bodies at work. Why pay?
Do you think she works in a hospital? I ask.
That or the U.S. State Department, Breyten agrees.

From the top of Bab Zwelia, flat rooftops
spread out like a conference of coffee tables.
Broken walls, furniture, pots, litter the roofs
like family secrets sunning themselves.
Two white goats on a roof chew
their way through the debris.

On the Nile, Rabab sings in Arabic, tells me
she wants to be Celine Dion.
She is my sister calling me home to Egypt.
Perhaps one day I will be ready.
For now it is enough to know I can
be at home here.

-- Chris Abani