poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

March 24, 2011

In which I am interviewed by InoForum!

Filed under: Culture: Russia,Culture: U.S.,Interviews,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 2:26 PM
Tags: ,

Posted below is the English version of my Q & A with the folks at InoForum, “Интервью автора блога Poemless с читателями Инофорума.” (more…)

March 21, 2011

and Peace.

Filed under: Lazy Quote Diary — poemless @ 3:32 PM

The following is from an e-mail I received from a college friend (one who as it happens studied Russian with me…) I am posting it here, with her permission, because there is too much negativity and suffering and ugliness in the world, and I feel partly responsible for propagating it. So I’d like to put something positive out there into the world to counter that. She is much better at being positive than I…

Dear loved ones,

Happy Holi!

Happy Equinox!

Feeling the connections between all of us, and the powerful planetary
pulls which direct our consciousness-

The largest full moon of the year, and the closest to the earth that
it has been since 1993, the orb of spring hangs balanced directly
between sun and earth in chaste Virgo Sun sitting in Pisces at the
point of the vernal equinox where day and night are elegantly poised
in tandem, gazing at one another in calm mutual adoration through the
eyes of sun and moon.

A rare alignment of the Sun with the planet Uranus at the Equinox
point (0 Aries) under which we dance and laugh and overstep the
boundaries of decorum to smear colors on one another.

“On this day,” says my elderly house-owner, as he and his wife and two
daughters waylay me on the staircase with handfuls of orange powder
and huge grins, “you cannot refuse anyone….”

Suddenly, kirtan, clapping…tambourine! Erupt from outside the window..”Ganapati om, Ganapati om!”

“Govinda Hare, Gopala Hare….”

On the porch next door, the family, with pink, purple and green faces,
sit reverently for puja.

A band of purple/pink striped mauraders carrying bags of color (some
respectable members of society I suspect) go door to door clanging
cymbals and demanding entry, the charged atmosphere is punctuated by the squeals of ecstatic children, I catch the sheepish grins of a few
grown men with squirt guns on rooftops and inside the confines of
their gated compounds given over completely to the mood, sporting
Jackson Pollak-designed tee-shirts in pink and green.

Here in my little rooftop room, Krishna is wearing a new fragrant
garland and there are rice-flour decorations on the floor.

Krishna, the Lord of sport, Lord of the lila, out of infinite
compassion for us in our delusion, delicately peels open the petals of
the lotus in the heart and releases the fragrance of divine love, he
is the lotus, the bee, the intoxicating nectar, and lest we become too
lost in the heady beauty of his mesmerizing attraction, he shakes the
earth with the shattering magnitude of his force, striking awe into
our very core at the enormous power of the divine being-

“with many hands, bellies, mouths and eyes, possessing infinite forms
on every side…blinding with the effulgence of the blazing fire and
sun, and immeasurable…with no beginning, middle or end, of infinite
prowess, with infinite arms, with the sun and moon for your eyes and
the blazing fire in your mouths, scorching this universe with your
radiance…hosts of gods are entering into you, some being frightened
are praising you with joined palms, while the bands of great sages and
perfected souls, uttering the word ‘peace’ are praising you with
numerous hymns.

O infinite being, o ruler of the gods, o abode of the world, you are
imperishable, the manifest and the unmanifest, and that which is
beyond both. You are the primeval god, the ancient being. You are
the supreme repository of this universe. You are the knower and the
knowable, the highest abode. O you of infinite form, by you is the
universe pervaded.

Salutations, a thousandfold salutation to you; salutations again and
again to you. Salutations”

Om Namo Narayana.

I’m not a religious person. I don’t even know if I am a spiritual person. But it’s rather beautiful, isn’t it? Poetic, even. Salutations, dear readers!

War

Filed under: Politics: Russia,Politics: U.S. — poemless @ 3:24 PM
Tags: , ,

I am extremely angry about the war with Libya. Perhaps I am a peacenik and am simply opposed to all war, but I am also worried about the state of my own country and wondering how on earth we can afford this when we, ostensibly, cannot afford to pay for the education, healthcare, retirement and enlightenment of our own citizens. I can be a selfish person too. The bombing breaks my heart, makes me so sick that after turning on, and immediately off, the CREEPTASTIC American news this morning, I did yoga. I usually never am able to do yoga in the morning, but I needed some type of psychic shower after about 5 minutes of CBS. I felt that rage bubbling up inside me, the same rage I felt about the Iraq war, same helplessness and frustration and moral disgust. It is true, I am morally disgusted by just about everything these days. I don’t know how much more I can handle, so I am making an effort not to pay close attention to what is going on, which would normally be impossible for a news fiend like myself, but depression-induced apathy appears to be an asset at the moment.

However, I have found a few articles of note. Articles my regular readers have probably already seen a dozen times, so no breaking news here. Just gobs of interestingness.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy has been hammering out one gem after another:

I. How Obama turned on a dime toward war.

Or, why the FUCK is President Obama acting on the advice of his notoriously bone-headed Russia advisor and not that of Congress or the Department of Defense when choosing whether or not to bomb Libya?

“This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values,” a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

“In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook,” said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. “The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one.”

Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia.

I am beginning to wonder if every bad foreign policy decision made by Obama might be traced back to Mike. Or is it just coincidence?

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America’s core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P — over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

II. Inside the White House-Congress meeting on Libya (also by Rogin)

President Barack Obama hosted 18 senior lawmakers at the White House on Friday afternoon to “consult” with them about the new plan to intervene in Libya, exactly 90 minutes before Obama announced that plan to the world and one day after his administration successfully pushed for authorization of military force at the United Nations.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) complained on Thursday that the administration had not properly consulted Congress before deciding to support military intervention in Libya, and called for a formal declaration of war by Congress before military action is taken. Inside the White House meeting, several lawmakers had questions about the mission but only Lugar outwardly expressed clear opposition to the intervention, one lawmaker inside the meeting told The Cable. [...]

Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Friday that the White House clearly emphasized the U.S. role would be limited.

“We are going to play a very supportive role. France and Great Britain and others are going to lead the way along with our Arab League allies; there may be four or five Arab countries participating,” he said.

Rogers said that the administration had been in contact with lawmakers and had kept him up to date, but the communications had been mostly one way.

“I wouldn’t call it consultation as much as laying it out,” he said.

Oh look, there is a Dick Lugar being sensible again. At this point if he ran for President I might even vote Republican. Not that I can see any discernible difference between the Democrats’ and Republicans’ foreign policy strategy. Or any strategy at all, to be honest.

This last article from the Moscow Times is in response to a question recently posed to me by an Inforum reader wanting to know why I liked that Prime Minister Putin fellow so damned much:

III. West in ‘Medieval Crusade’ in Libya, Putin Says

VOTKINSK, Udmurtia Republic – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin likened the call for armed intervention in Libya to the medieval crusades on Monday in the first major remarks from Russia since a Western coalition began airstrikes.

In some of his harshest criticism of the United States since President Barack Obama began a campaign to improve ties, Putin also compared the intervention to the George W. Bush-era invasion of Iraq and said it showed Russia is right to boost its military.

Putin, whose country opted not to block the UN resolution last week leading to the strikes, said that Moammar Gadhafi’s government was undemocratic but emphasized that did not justify military intervention.

“The resolution is defective and flawed. It allows everything,” Putin told workers at a ballistic missile factory in the city of Votkinsk. “It resembles medieval calls for crusades.”

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council member, abstained from the vote on Thursday in which the council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against Gadhafi’s forces.

“What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself — I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs,” Putin said. “This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy.

“During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade, Bush sent forces into Afghanistan, then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq, liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership — even children in Saddam Hussein’s family died.

“Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population,” Putin said. “But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?” [...]

“The Libyan regime does not meet any of the criteria of a democratic state but that does not mean that someone is allowed to interfere in internal political conflicts to defend one of the sides,” Putin said.

U.S.-Russian relations have improved in the past two years under Obama’s “reset,” capped by the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty that took effect last month.

During that period, Putin toned down the anti-Western rhetoric he often employed as president.

Apparently Dima and Vova are in quite a little row about this now… You might say he’s simply covering his ass in reference to Chechnya. You might be right. But in this case acting in his self interest and being bloody right as hell in his assessment of the situation do not appear to be mutually exclusive possibilities. Medvedev may be trying to be a team player with the West, but the world will always need people unafraid to call it like they see it, even if it means losing friends, or rather, realizing that foreign policy has nothing to do with being friends. This isn’t middle school, people.

March 17, 2011

Checking In (with politics, art & poetry)

Filed under: Too Much Information — poemless @ 3:17 PM
Tags: , , ,

The past week or two has left me feeling like I’ve been trampled by a drunken crowd, and I am not even referring to St. Patrick’s Day. You might imagine that a person with major depression would spend all day lying in bed. Oh how I’d give anything to spend a whole day in bed. But construction season has arrived in Chicago with the spring air, and peace is elusive. A few mornings ago I awoke to two turtle doves on the windowsill by my pillows. It was magical… until they were swiftly chased away by the clatter of jackhammers below. A metaphor for my emotional state.

I hate Spring. I REALLY hate Spring.

Monday evening I met with my politically-minded friends at a bankrupt hippie joint on the outskirts of town to celebrate our recent victories in the the local Aldermanic elections. Most notable was that of Ameya Pawar, a young, first-time, independent candidate who, to everyone’s surprise – including his own, won a seat that had been held by the same machine candidate for 30+ years. Democracy, it seems, does have its moments. In other news of the evening, Ilya Sheyman announced his exploratory commission for for Congress. Ilya is a fabulous young man I’ve known through Democracy For America, a far more nuts&bolts&elbow grease lefty organization than its name belies. He is a smart, community-minded, dedicated guy with gobs of organizing experience, and perhaps most importantly, he bought me a drink. Tell Ilya to Run!

I must confess that having several attractive Russian Jewish men buy me drinks within the course of one week has got me thinking that this is a habit I could really get into. Perhaps I should have dramatic life crises more often?

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent having a hysterical breakdown after two separate people took it upon themselves to send me wholly inappropriate emails. It’s a miracle I survived.

NEVER. EVER. CONTACT ME ABOUT MY FATHER.

Some people find the peace they seek in churches; I find it at The Art Institute. So I gathered the shattered pieces of myself and made a pilgrimage, to escape my ego and remind myself why life is worth living. The John Marin and Margaret Bourke-White exhibits were especially divine. Side-stepping the intellectual debate over What is art? and what is good art, I admit I approach it like wine: consume a lot, try anything once, decide what you like and just go with it. Marin’s compositions had an airiness (thanks, ds) and playful pastels like Duffy but with a modern, edgy abstraction. Bourke-White’s Depression Era photographs were too timely, but I preferred her highly stylized decontextualized industrial photos that reminded me of Vertov’s Man with Movie Camera. I could fill my apartment with the works of both of these artists and feel as though they’d all been created especially for me. I was also able to revisit my old friends the Chagall windows, Picasso’s Old Guitarist, Van Gogh’s Bedroom, Miro’s Circus Horse, the still life with a monkey and that reclining female nude with her back turned to the room.

Friday through Monday was a blur of social engagements and visits with dear friends, old college dorm-mates, family, gluttonous amounts of food (Spires’ favorite Cafe Selmarie, Spacca Napoli, croissants, butternut squash kugel…), too much generosity, good long talks, glasses of wine, and everything else one does everything else in hopes of enjoying. And Tuesday I crashed. Very hard.

During it all I continue daily therapy, struggle to sleep (though I am eating again), remain overwhelmed by my obligations and take medicine I hate. I take the medicine because I saw a PBS documentary about PTSD and depression which explained that scientists have recently discovered that these tortures, in addition to making you feel like shit, KILL YOUR BRAINCELLS. Well, so long as I absolutely must continue in this world, I’d like to have all the braincells I can get. So, drugs…

I’ve also become obsessed with the situation in Japan. I am told it is not wise for someone so emotionally fragile as myself to watch the news. Neither is it wise to drink or chase boys, but they way I see it, a bad decision is still a decision, and therefore an improvement over the anxiety-induced paralysis in which I had previously been trapped. So I am addicted to the shots of terrible disaster, emergency alerts and incomprehensible press conferences on NHK, which is constantly on my TV. Sometimes it is not even in English, but I watch anyway. This happened to me during Katrina, 9-11 and the cloning of Dolly the Sheep. I bought all the magazines with Dolly on them. It’s morose, really. Yet it does seem weirdly therapeutic.

It’s not all so awful. I did buy a book at Borders’ fire sale. I know. I feel really horribly guilty about it. I was just posting hysterically about the threat of homelessness. But when my step-brother was sleeping on my studio floor I realized the only bedtime reading I had was an anthology of erotica that arrived in a care package from a friend. It was mortifying. I suppose a better idea would be to go to the library, but I keep having my books recalled before I finish them! And besides, I was not only buying something pleasurable for myself, but supporting a cause my readers know is near and dear to my heart: the contemporary literature in translation movement. Yes, I purchased the Best European Fiction 2011, edited by Sasha Hemon. Oh! I know! It seems it was only yesterday that I was reviewing the inaugural edition of this project. Oh, halcyon days!

In closing I was going to post a poem written by my Russian poetry professor, Ilya Kutik, about a Tsunami. But hell if I can find the damned thing on line. I did, however, find this, which seems just as appropriate:

A Hermit Pets a Cat, WhileThinking About the Ocean by Ilya Kutik
(trans. Andrew Wachtel)

I

O, my verse! Walk, don’t run…

Why run anyway? And where to…For you can’t

roll outta here like a tear drop

from grief—because the ocean’s made

of the name teary doremifasaline…

And I don’t want to add saltiness

to the world—much less to the water..Tears

have a lot to learn from the ocean: they are suicidal

flashes…While the ocean’s breast bursts against the shore

and, shazam, rises again…Which proves

once more that—despite the eternal

self-torment, it’s not worth taking your own life.

As always, thanks for reading.

March 3, 2011

Chicago doesn’t believe in tears.

Filed under: Culture: U.S.,Too Much Information — poemless @ 6:14 PM

Lamest. Title. Ever. I know. Look, I am depressed. You should be thankful I am writing anything at all! However, for those of you who normally come here looking for a shot of All Russia Lovefest All The Time and have had nothing but my personal problems thrown in your face, appeasement is at hand. It’s one thing to alienate my family and friends, from whom, let’s be honest, one can never truly alienate themselves, regardless the effort made to do so. But readers I live to please. It is precisely because I owe you nothing that I owe you everything…

Anyway, I’ve not really been paying close attention to anything going on outside of North Africa, Wisconsin or my own head recently, so I have no insights into the Russian political outrage du jour, nor do I even know what the current source of today’s outrage is really. Other than what it always is: awful Russia, being awful Russia. The nerve… In better times, I would be able to tell you about Surkov’s latest attempt to portray modern art as a spiritual justification for the Kremlin’s current political philosophy, or what our Vova had for breakfast. Now I am more concerned with my own breakfast and obnoxious justifications.

Poemless, you said you were not going to write about your personal problems!

Ok, so I was getting on the bus Tuesday evening to go to Aldi. This is probably the most depressing sentence I have ever written. Yet I was not depressed. Across the street from my apartment is a church which hosts a food bank each Tuesday evening. The longer the recession lasts (yes it is) the longer the line for the free food grows. For a moment I wondered if I should not be in that line. But the thought of limited resources and limitless need propelled me past the line and toward the bus stop. I had never seen so many people in the food line, and there is always a long food line. On this particular evening, there was less a queue than a mob. As I waited for the bus – a Kafkaesque routine wherein the driver sits in the bus with the doors closed for 15 minutes while people wait outside, peering in, until the scheduled arrival time appears on the digital display – the mob slowly transferred itself from the church to the bus stop.

Suddenly I was surrounded by like 30 Russian pensioners examining the contents of their newly-filled pakety with vocal suspicion and judgement. There was much trading of ground beef for cranberry juice, hemming, hawing, rustling about and interrogation interrupted periodically by sighs of resignation, “Nu… zdorovo… zdorovo…,” a brief silence and then another round of grumbling. The driver’s shift began and everyone piled, not filed, but piled into the bus. It was me, a boatload of aged Russians and a young black woman, all shooting similarly distrustful looks about. It reminded me of Moscow and those crowded buses along Varshavskoe in the evening. Not just the language being spoken, but the whole scene: older women in their fuzzy pastel caps, flourescent lipsticks, cheap dye jobs, smiling eyes and depressing coats, lugging plastic carry-alls half their weight, conversing as though everything in the world were simultaneously revolting, humourous and proof of their own unquestionable wisdom. Men in their slippers, sitting across the aisles from their female companions, looking like young boys who had just been told a pornographic joke in church, speaking like characters in some existential play. “Why?” silence “Why what?” silence “So come sit here.” “You.” silence “Why?” smile “You know why. Why don’t YOU come sit HERE.” silence smirks “You know.” “What do I know?” And this when on for like a mile.

The whole time I really wanted more than anything to ask them how they felt about leaving the breadlines of the Soviet Union for the breadlines of America. But I didn’t. Mostly because, had I been in line for handouts, I wouldn’t be in any mood to discuss my questionable life decisions with judgemental strangers. I also kept thinking back to that Dmitry Orlov piece about Americans and shame:

The Russian author Eduard Limonov wrote of his experiences with poverty in America. To his joy, he discovered that he could supplement his cash earnings with public assistance. But he also quickly discovered that he had to keep this joy well hidden when showing up to collect his free money. It is a curious fact that in America public assistance is only made available to the miserable and the downtrodden, not to those who are in need of some free money but are otherwise perfectly content. Although it is just as possible to be poor and happy in America as anywhere else, here one must make a choice: to avoid any number of unpleasant situations, one must be careful to hide either the fact that one is poor, or the fact that one is happy. If free public money is to be obtained, then only the latter choice remains.

It is another curious fact that vast numbers of Americans, both rich and poor, would regard Limonov’s behavior as nothing short of despicable: a foreign author living in America on public assistance while also earning cash! It seems reasonable that the rich should feel that way; if the poor can’t be made miserable, then what exactly is the point of being rich? But why should the poor particularly care? Another cultural peculiarity: what dismays them is not the misappropriation of public funds. Tell them about the billions wasted on useless military projects, and they will reply with a yawn that this is just business as usual. But tell them that somewhere some poor person is eating a free lunch, and they will instantly wax indignant. Amazingly, Americans are great believers in Lenin’s revolutionary dictum: “He who does not work, does not eat!” One of the rudest questions you might hear from an American is “What do you do for a living?” The only proper response is “Excuse me?” followed by a self-satisfied smirk and a stony silence. Then they assume that you are independently wealthy and grovel shamefully.

Most shockingly, there are many poor Americans who are too proud to accept public assistance in spite of their obvious need for it. Most Russians would regard such a stance as absurd: which part of “free money” don’t these poor idiots like—the fact that it’s money, or the fact that it’s free? Some Russians who are living in the US and, in trying to fit in to American society, have internalized a large dose of the local hypocrisy, might claim otherwise, but even they, in their less hypocritical moments, will concede that it is downright foolish to turn down free money. And rest assured, they will mop up every last penny of it. Mother Russia didn’t raise any dummies.

Well, I’m not one for sweeping generalizations or assumptions about what goes on in the minds of strangers. But my fellow passengers did not seem to possess the demeanor of those who have just been subjected to a degrading experience, and I think most people I know would consider standing in line for the food bank a degrading experience. OTOH, most people I know are not from countries where standing in line or otherwise hustling for basic necessities was an unavoidable fact of life for years.

Yet.

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