LIBERA NOS A MALO

12311306_10153398015347893_6493216149465489250_nThis poem appears in the current issue of The Manhattan Review, Vol. 17, No. 1:

LIBERA NOS A MALO

             (for Mark Ludwig)

1.

A friend halfway around the world

refers to his home as his motherland.

His email asks me to understand,

 

but half a century in that last century

purged for me some arrangements

of words no matter who deploys them.

 

Fall-out, we call such consequences now.

 

2.

I have lived here all my life but

never on just earth, rather

on a language landfill, mounded

and overgrown with tinder, dry,

inviting an errant spark, a cigarette

flicked from a fiction headed

elsewhere fast on cruise control.

 

Residue rumbles away on a signal

via satellite down iron tracks now

overgrown with grasshoppered weeds,

the smell of sun on creosote.

 

3.

Who dies? Soldiers? Or sons?

Real boys, face down among

the scattered corpses:

 

in brown water at the cattle crossing,

wedged in a crevice in the rock,

scattered across a blasted field.

 

Then blessings, old school as a last

cracked chunk of naptha soap,

are chanted over graves (oh man,

hard work, fat city in full view,)

 

the mourners’ full measure of grief

the principle product

of what had once been wilderness.

 

The age of wonders was one short story.

 

4.

Here is a riddle: if I am

a misgiving, tagged in a code

to scan, a son at the sky’s edge

waiting for love or money,

marked man from smoketown,

a lyric sung at zero db,

gravity’s own voice, perhaps

a little blue boy of a singular

urge, why was I born and why

do I feel foolish asking why?

 

5.

The dead are noisy as a hedge of wrens.

I am ignored among them.

 

Whose is that face in the shadows?

The art of this inquiry is all night

 

work, done while weeping for them,

their separate woes, our common lives.

 

6.

Afterward, forward

is undefined. I suspect the past

does not resemble its photos:

 

breath in a jar,

tremulous as a willow,

 

so long see you

a single parenthesis mark

in the long dialogue,

 

when the grass is straw,

and the ants, the bees, and all

the late languages

are ghosts, each one alone,

bewildered by the music

of creaking branches.

 

7.

Deaf to the winter sun,

I returned where the grass

would never again be as tall.

 

Late messenger, the bare trees

whispered, pray for forgiveness.

 

All of my fathers are dying.

The archive is on fire.

 

The possible arts: resistance,

refusal, requiem, remembering,

 

require another schoolroom

where the work, parsing the syntax

 

of the ways things happen, scars

inadmissible, begins again.

 

8.

Fixations and saccades:

certain movements of the eyes

are discouraged,

 

redirected to luminous

ciphers, fixed like a laser

on the heart of the amygdala,

 

and our children, never

having read a word

of mercy, will be our jurors.

 

 

9.

 

Once I no longer believed,

I could not say what it was

I had believed.

The words themselves

became delight, illuminating

a single yearning,

and I saw that darkness,

reassuring, undescribed, remained.

 

And I can still see paradise aflame

through all the days of obligation.

 

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PEN/ACLU event. “Something to Hide” Kirsch Auditorium, MIT, 21 October 2015

This is one of the texts I read at last night’s PEN/ACLU program. It is shocking on so many levels:

This is a reading from Hemingway’s friend and biographer, A.E. Hotchner: an excerpt from his essay in the New York Times in 2011. It speaks for itself.

In November 1959 I went out West for our annual pheasant shoot. When Ernest and our friend Duke MacMullen met my train at Shoshone, Idaho, for the drive to Ketchum, we did not stop at the bar opposite the station as we usually did because Ernest was anxious to get on the road. I asked why the hurry.

“The feds.”

“What?”

“They tailed us all the way. Ask Duke.”

“Well … there was a car back of us out of Hailey.”

“Why are F.B.I. agents pursuing you?” I asked.

“It’s the worst hell. The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using Duke’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.”

We rode for miles in silence. As we turned into Ketchum, Ernest said quietly: “Duke, pull over. Cut your lights.” He peered across the street at a bank. Two men were working inside. “What is it?” I asked.

“Auditors. The F.B.I.’s got them going over my account.”

“But how do you know?”

“Why would two auditors be working in the middle of the night? Of course it’s my account.”

All his friends were worried: he had changed; he was depressed; he wouldn’t hunt; he looked bad.

Ernest, Mary and I went to dinner the night before I left. Halfway through the meal Ernest said we had to leave immediately. Mary asked what was wrong.

“Those two F.B.I. agents at the bar, that’s what’s wrong.”

The next day Mary had a private talk with me. She was terribly distraught. Ernest spent hours every day with the manuscript of his Paris sketches—published as “A Moveable Feast” after his death—trying to write but unable to do more than turn its pages. He often spoke of destroying himself and would sometimes stand at the gun rack, holding one of the guns, staring out the window.

On Nov. 30 he was registered under an assumed name in the psychiatric section of St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where, during December, he was given 11 electric shock treatments.

In January he called me from outside his room. He sounded in control, but his voice held a heartiness that didn’t belong there and his delusions had not changed or diminished.

His room was bugged, and the phone was tapped. He suspected that one of the interns was a fed.

During a short release he twice attempted suicide with a gun from the vestibule rack. And on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, though heavily sedated, he tried to jump from the plane. When it stopped in Casper, Wyo., for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.

I visited him in June. He had been given a new series of shock treatments, but it was as before: the car bugged, his room bugged. I said it very gently: “Papa, why do you want to kill yourself?”

“What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? Or do any of the other things he promised himself in the good days?”

“But how can you say that? You have written a beautiful book about Paris, as beautiful as anyone can hope to write.”

“The best of that I wrote before. And now I can’t finish it.”

I told him to relax or even retire.

“Retire?” he said. “Unlike your baseball player and your prizefighter and your matador, how does a writer retire? No one accepts that his legs are shot or the whiplash gone from his reflexes. Everywhere he goes, he hears the same damn question: what are you working on?”

I told him he never cared about those dumb questions.

“What does a man care about? Staying healthy. Working good. Eating and drinking with his friends. Enjoying himself in bed. I haven’t any of them. You understand, goddamn it? None of them.” Then he turned on me. I was just like the others, pumping him for information and selling him out to the feds.

After that day, I never saw him again.

Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

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AGNI 82 Release Party, Boston Playwright’s Theatre, October 20th, 7:30

Tuesday, October 20, 2015, at 7:00 p.m.

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave, Boston (Green Line B, Pleasant St.)

AGNI celebrates its EIGHTY-SECOND issue with readings by:

  • Gjertrud Schnackenberg: Winner of the Rome Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; author of six poetry collections, including most recently Heavenly Questions.
  • Sándor Jászberényi: Hungarian fiction writer and war correspondent, here from his home in Cairo; author of the story collection The Devil Is a Black Dog.
  • Richard Hoffman: Author of the acclaimed memoir Half the House, just reissued in a twentieth-anniversary edition; poet, fiction writer, and former chair of PEN New England.
  • Nicole Terez Dutton: Author of the collection If One of Us Should Fall, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and the inaugural poet laureate of Somerville.

And a NEW FEATURE: AGNI welcomes a surprise musical guest!

The fall issue brings you stories by Malerie Willens, Ihab Hassan, and Colin Fleming; poems by Kathleen Graber, Julia Hartwig, and Bob Hicok; essays by Andrea Barrett and Susan McCallum-Smith; an abstract comic by Rosaire Appel; and much more.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg is the author of Supernatural Love: Poems 1973–1992; the book-length poem The Throne of Labdacus (2000), named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry; and her sixth collection, Heavenly Questions (2011), which won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. She has also been awarded the Rome Prize of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953 in Tacoma, Washington. She began writing poetry as a student at Mount Holyoke College and as an undergraduate earned a reputation as a poetic prodigy, twice winning the Glascock Award for Poetry. Her first two books of poetry, Portraits and Elegies (1982) and The Lamplit Answer (1985), established her as one of the strongest of the New Formalists and confirmed her early promise. Reviewing The Lamplit Answer, Rosetta Cohen noted Schnackenberg’s “talent for creating small, intricate worlds [which] seems to place Schnakenberg within a tradition that has less to do with a particular poetic mode than it does with the nineteenth-century novel.” Schnackenberg’s third book, A Gilded Lapse of Time (1992), revealed the influence of Eliot, Yeats, Auden, and Lowell. The poems demonstrated mastery of dense rhymed and metered lines on subjects ranging from classical philosophy to Christian theology and Russian poetry.

In 2000, Schnackenberg’s selected poems Supernatural Love: Poems 1973–1992 was released. The book-length poem The Throne of Labdacus (2000), a retelling of the Oedipus myth from the points of view of Apollo and a slave, was published simultaneously. It was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Schnakenberg’s sixth collection, Heavenly Questions (2011) won the Griffin International Poetry Prize. Comprised of six long poems written in rhyming iambic pentameter, the book oscillates between lyric and epic modes.

Schnackenberg’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute. She is the recipient of the Rome Prize of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has been a Visiting Scholar at the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and Humanities and a Christensen Visiting Fellow at St. Catherine’s College in Oxford. Schnackenberg married Robert Nozick, a Harvard philosophy professor, in 1987; he passed away in 2002. She has lived in Italy, Tacoma, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently resides in Boston.

Sándor Jászberényi is a writer and Middle East correspondent who has covered the Darfur crisis, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, the Gaza War, and the Huthi uprising in Yemen. His first collection of stories, The Devil Is a Black Dog, was published in late 2013 in Hungary and Italy. Born in Hungary, he now lives in Cairo, working as a correspondent for Egypt Independent and Hungarian newspapers.

Richard Hoffman is the author, most recently, of the memoir Love & Fury, finalist for the New England Book Award from the New England Independent Booksellers Association; also Half the House: a Memoir, just reissued in a twentieth-anniversary edition; the poetry collections Without Paradise, Gold Star Road, and Emblem; and a collection of short fiction, Interference & Other Stories. A past chair of PEN New England, he is senior writer in residence at Emerson College.

Nicole Terez Dutton’s work has appeared in Callaloo, 32 Poems, Salt Hill Journal, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the Frost Place, the Fine Arts Work Center, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her collection of poems, If One Of Us Should Fall, was selected as the winner of the 2011 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She lives in Somerville, where she serves as the city’s inaugural poet laureate, and teaches in the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program.

Free and open to the public. For further information contact AGNI Senior Editor William Pierce at agni@bu.edu or (617) 353-7135 or visit AGNI Online at www.agnimagazine.org.

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Half the House is turning 20!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Classic memoir, Half the House, published in a 20th Anniversary Edition, with a new introduction by Louise DeSalvo.

This October marks the 20th anniversary of the original publication of Richard Hoffman’s groundbreaking memoir, Half the House, the first literary memoir to explore the experience and consequences of boyhood sexual assault. Years before the scandal in the Catholic Church, and long before the Penn State scandal, Hoffman had written movingly of the lives of blue-collar boys for whom coaches are a kind of priesthood. The publication of Half the House resulted in the arrest of a serial child predator with more than 400 victims over a 40 year period, a man who died in prison under mysterious circumstances.

Continuously in print since 1995, Half the House has been an important focal point in the discourse about child sexual abuse, especially the sexual abuse of boys. It has helped to create an awareness, and then become a catalyst in a worldwide movement of survivors of boyhood sexual violence. For its enactment of justice, reconciliation, and healing, it remains a beacon to survivors around the world.

“As stark and graceful as a bare winter tree.” — Los Angeles Times

“Hoffman makes very clear the complex encounter of his old life and his new one. There are no easy wrap-ups, no comforting bromides. But in the generational panorama we suddenly discern that a hard, brave victory has been achieved. The family saga has come full circle. Hoffman, sober, a father, has not only lived to tell the tale. He has worked to understand it and fashion it into art.” — Sven Birkerts in The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

“Spare, poignant….” — Time

Half the House offers heartening evidence, to borrow William Faulkner’s phrase, of the human capacity to endure and prevail.” — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

 “Ultimately a story of love, reconciliation, and triumph over adversity.” — Library Journal

Please direct inquiries to Nayt Rundquist, Managing Editor, New Rivers Press, 1104 7th Avenue S., Moorhead, MN 56563. 218.477.5870. rundquisna@mnstate.edu            <http://www.newriverspress.com>

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South-South Institute 3

At the final plenary session of the Institute last Monday, I had planned to read three poems. I chose, at the last moment, to read only two. We were ready to project this Rembrandt painting behind me as I read, but I thought better of it. The conference was winding down, and the poem is a poem of outrage meant to bring attention to the plight of the world’s poor children. It was both the wrong moment and the wrong audience: in the hall were people who not only know very well the situation described in the poem but have dedicated themselves in their work to addressing it. I will, however, post it here. The research it is based upon (see footnote 2) is old — it was published in my Gold Star Road in 2007, but remains, alas, relevant.

07mythol

AN EMBLEM FROM DRESDEN

In Rembrandt’s The Rape of Ganymede ,
the boy, a chubby toddler torn from his play,
kicks and wails and pisses in terror as,

clamped in beak and talon, he looks down.
The sky is smoke, a billowing smudge
as after the bombardment of a city.

The eagle is unnatural, painted in the way
myth borrows nature for its purposes,
larger and more saurian, power from on high,

but the boy, as Rembrandt understood, is real
and not especially beautiful, a fat boy fed
the diet of the poor, potatoes, turnips, bread,

and for sweetness the grapes in his fist.
Ovid has Orpheus sing the story Hermes,
the slippery consigliare, tells the parents:

the boy will learn the language of the mighty,
an acolyte, loved and provided for, a story
that comes with a payment of valuable horses,

wealth enough to secure the future, more
than even a grown son could expect to earn
them. What does the boy see, rising? Over Laos

200,000 children trafficked into Thailand’s
brothels, building sites, and sweatshops; over
Kazahkstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Albania,

procurers riding shotgun, helicopter cargo
bound for prostitution in the streets of Athens;
from Nigeria, bush pilots make the short flight

over jungle to the secret auction, “Clean, no HIV. No HIV.”
Euros for their trouble from the French, the Belgians,
dollars from Americans. The eagle on the money,

each child a disappearance. “Too young,” says the madam,
pulling back the beaded curtain for her client,
“no boom-boom this one, not yet, only yum-yum.”

1. 1635, Oil on canvas, 171 x 130 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden.
2. US Dept of State, Human Rights Report, 1999; ECPAT International, “A Step Forward” 1999; and UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children” 1997.

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South-South Institute 2

lotus

When I arrived here in Cambodia, I thought to report on my comings and goings as if it were a vacation trip. The fact is that I have been entirely focused on the Institute’s sessions, including my own workshop and reading, and I’m just now able to even begin digesting the rich colloquy and moving experience this week has been.

This whole journey is making me rethink everything I thought I knew. I feel enlarged in my appreciation of people’s ability to live joyfully in the face of great hardship, but I also feel, in a way that I suppose is good, very very small.

A few of us, led by Alastair Hilton (First Step Cambodia) have come to Kampot to debrief, keep talking, and plan for the next SSI, which will be in Christchurch New Zealand in 2 years. It’s hard for me to communicate how deeply moved I am to be in the company of people who are working on a global scale to mitigate the consequences of sexual violence against men in conflict and detention and the commercial exploitation of boys. It will take me months to digest it all. Conversations move easily from politics to philosophy to spirituality to jurisprudence, lgbt and gender issues, and organizing in our own countries.

If you want to be moved and edified take a look at the web site of the Refugee Law Project – on Facebook, you can watch videos of the stories of several of the men here at the conference, including 80 year old survivor Julius Okwera.

During the war in northern Uganda, government forces sang drinking songs that no one from outside Uganda really understood until Julius and others spoke out, under the protection of The Refugee Law Project — songs of victory about tek gungu, which translates as we made the enemy bend over the hard way. Of course the enemy were villagers, farmers, anyone deemed unsympathetic to the government and branded a rebel. Men, women, and children were raped indiscriminately.

Dr. Chris Dolan, who has been in the forefront of this work, points out that many of these rapes are hidden under the blanket term torture because men cannot talk about it without shame in their culture, and because while there is compensation for torture victims, the opposite is true for rape survivors. Speaking out in Uganda’s homophobic political climate, where gay men are imprisoned and sometimes executed, can cost you your life.

I’ve seen, thanks to this Institute, how the same pattern of savagery plays out again and again. The particulars change, but the general pattern remains the same. I’ll write more about that later. I’m trying to accurately describe what I think is a synthesis of sorts resulting from research and testimony from Uganda, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and 26 other countries.

Please believe me when I say that this is not depressing. I have never been among such joyous and heroic and passionate people. Clarity is bracing. Here is a joyful shot of some of the participants, including me, at the end of the Institute yesterday:

IMG_2957

I have much more to say, and a few wonderful photos to post, but that’s enough for now.

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South-South Institute on Sexual Violence Against Men & Boys

Here in Phnom Penh, the weather is hot and humid. Everyone is waiting for the rainy season to begin. The Institute delegates have been arriving: from USA, UK, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Japan, Norway, Serbia, Albania, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, China, Philippines, Nepal. Here’s a photo of some of us at breakfast this morning:

breakfast pp

Phnom Penh is glorious: hot, stinky, humid, dynamic, loud, colorful, intense. On my walk today I found a little Buddha factory up a smoky alley that wound back into a neighborhood of people:

buddhas1 pp

And here are couple of shots taken in the “Russian Market” where the smoke from cooking fires, frying fish, burning incense and tobacco, raw meats hanging on bamboo racks, and sweat, will smother and gag you after a few minutes in the 120 degree heat:

russian mkt pp

meats pp

My body clock is all off. I don’t feel especially jet lagged or tired, just out of sync somewhat. I have been moved many times already by my conversations with other delegates: activists, survivors, researchers, clinicians — and the Institute has not begun! That’s in four hours. I’d better try to get some sleep.

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