#100Days100Poems Day 40

It seems a lifetime ago that we discussed how even the nation’s most important cultural institutions are in the struggle against the cacophony of crazy from Trumpet and his minions. The Museum of Modern Art installed several works to add voice to the chorus of those of us protesting and fighting. With each plaque accompanying the pieces you read

This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”

Inspired by this, today’s poem joins the other ekphrastic pieces responding to some of the works in the MoMA’s collection. The poem, untitled at the moment, simply bears the name of the artist and painting. Photos of the piece are the author’s own.

***

The Mosque 1964
Ibrahim El-Salahi, Sudanese, born 1930
Oil on canvas

somewhere just off-canvas

        or so it seems

                the muezzin begins the adhan

        and it calls out from the minaret

        stretching far beyond frame

                and gallery, far

        beyond wall and window

and from the west

        a figurey shadow looms

                menaces in manic paranoia

        the mosque suddenly marked & monitored

                        no longer sanctuary

to the east, a figure

        masked,

                perhaps Munchian in style, no

        El-Salahian

                        perhaps he the muezzin

                is it a look of dread

                        eyes wide mouth agape

                is it a look of reverence

                        the call pouring from outspoken lips

                is it a look of caution

                        a warning warbled of the wicked

                wizard of

                                the west

the shadow rising from

        & the call continues

        and the mask reveals nothing

                as if frozen in oil on canvas

        & the call continues

        through soundless swirls and silhouettes

& the call continues

        the muezzin is muzzled/is the muezzin muzzled

the perilous penumbra poised in the west

        poisonous in its prevarications

        dangerous in its discharge of belligerent jingoism

the western aggression

        threatening bans & walls & wars & blitzes

another call starts

is it to line up for prayers

        or deportation

        or encampment

                        for petitions

        or capitulation

        or opposition

somewhere just off-canvas

another call starts

***

 

© David Siller – Text and Images – 2017

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For the first 100 days of the Trumpet administration, this blog will feature a new poem of protest, by my own hand and by others. They will be polished gems, or rough cut drafts of rage, or in process pieces searching for peace. They may be haiku or tanka, limericks or lyrics, verses free or fettered. If you would like to submit to this endeavor, please send an email, with poem saved as a word document (.docx) to waxyandpoetic AT gmail DOT com. All rights remain with the author.

VISUAL ARTISTS ! Do you have something visually poetic that you’d like to submit? GO FOR IT!

Please address any formatting preferences in your email. I will post submissions time permitting, with at least one per day. Editing will be limited to obvious errors of spelling and the like.

Read, follow, share, re-tweet, submit, live, love, spread light! Don’t forget to use #100Days100Poems !

*****

#100Days100Poems Day 23

For today’s poem, I simply include the note from the poet herself:

The story behind this poem is two fold: First, it was in response to artist Jackson Pollock’s work ‘Untitled. C.1950.’ This poem is also in response to the recent ban on immigrants and refugees, and a growing increase of intolerance in the United States. According to Carl Jung, everyone has parts of themselves that they suppress and ignore. These parts make up what Jung referred to as our shadow. Jungian scholars pose that just as an individual has a shadow, so do societies and nations. According to Japanese author Haruki Murakami, ‘At times, we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts, or else, try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. No matter how high a wall we build to keep intruders out, no matter how strictly we exclude outsiders, no matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves.’

 

A link to the referenced artwork can be found at: Jackson Pollock, Untitled (c. 1950)

 

we are a land of shadows


sometimes they break through
the veil
dark, dense and outside
the light
black winged things
swishing saurian tails
dancing
encircling
containing
what we cannot reconcile
thought and memory
blur
incite 
the primitive
to rise 
a fevered frenzy
of feathery trails
engulfs us
lifts and carries us
not above our own wounds
but the world’s

 

© Mary Katherine Creel – 2017

Bio:

Mary Katherine Creel lives in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and their animal collective.  Her poem ‘we are a land of shadows’ first appeared in What Rough Beast. She has worked as a journalist, freelance writer and counselor, and currently serves as communications manager at an art museum. Her poems have been published in Paper Rabbit, Tar River Poetry, Pittsburgh Poetry Review and Avocet. Her first poetry chapbook, Exit Wound, is forthcoming.

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*****

For the first 100 days of the Trumpet administration, this blog will feature a new poem of protest, by my own hand and by others. They will be polished gems, or rough cut drafts of rage, or in process pieces searching for peace. They may be haiku or tanka, limericks or lyrics, verses free or fettered. If you would like to submit to this endeavor, please send an email, with poem saved as a word document (.docx) to waxyandpoetic AT gmail DOT com. All rights remain with the author. VISUAL ARTISTS ! Do you have something visually poetic that you’d like to submit? GO FOR IT!

Please address any formatting preferences in your email. I will post submissions time permitting, with at least one per day. Editing will be limited to obvious errors of spelling and the like.

Read, follow, share, re-tweet, submit, live, love, spread light! Don’t forget to use #100Days100Poems !

*****

#100Days100Poems Day 21

Even the nation’s most important cultural institutions are in the struggle against the cacophony of crazy from Trumpet and his minions. The Museum of Modern Art recently installed work to add voice to the chorus of those of us protesting and fighting. With each plaque accompanying the pieces you read

This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States, according to a presidential executive order issued on January 27, 2017. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.”

Inspired by this, today’s poem will be the first of eventually several ekphrastic pieces responding to some of the works in the MoMA’s collection. The poem, untitled at the moment, simply bears the name of the artist and sculpture. Photos of the piece are the author’s own.

 

 

 

The Prophet 1964
Parviz Tanavoli, Iranian and Canadian, born 1937
Bronze on wood base

I. The Profit
Eyes downcast
 this blockhead leaning or falling back
  hands worse than tied: stopped locked and boxed
   such constraints only propel the reverse
    this is the devolution, where capitalism
     trumps democracy, where regression
      brings a high ROI, at least to the top
      (lean back enough, you’ll see up there)
       hands worse than tied: unable to reach the ballot box
        from this prison of our own (though not the majority of us)
         making the stench in the air comes from the refilled swamp
          a reminder that money does(n’t?) buy democracy

                                                      The Prophet II.
                                                    Eyes high & wide
                                               arms folded & strong
                                         we lean into the future
                                       lean into the struggle
                                    our queer straight immigrant
                                  citizen shoulder to the wheel
                                 you see hollowed stomach,hungry holes
                               this is how we feed ourselves,
                             that pit yearning for freedom
                           this pit to be filled with justice,
                         that with equality, this with light,
                       those with shared bread, shared love,
                     shared dream
                    this is the revolution,
                   where, like comic book heroes,
                 we stand firm, we plant ourselves like a
               “tree beside the river of truth,
             and tell the whole world, No, you move
           because for the struggle forward is the only way


through walls & bans & backroom bargains
through bought pols & bought polls & 
bought nominations & bought abominations
the power of a prophet always mightier than that of the profit

 


© David Siller – Photos and Poem – 2017

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*****

For the first 100 days of the Trumpet administration, this blog will feature a new poem of protest, by my own hand and by others. They will be polished gems, or rough cut drafts of rage, or in process pieces searching for peace. They may be haiku or tanka, limericks or lyrics, verses free or fettered. If you would like to submit to this endeavor, please send an email, with poem saved as a word document (.docx) to waxyandpoetic AT gmail DOT com. All rights remain with the author. VISUAL ARTISTS ! Do you have something visually poetic that you’d like to submit? GO FOR IT!

Please address any formatting preferences in your email. I will post submissions time permitting, with at least one per day. Editing will be limited to obvious errors of spelling and the like.

Read, follow, share, re-tweet, submit, live, love, spread light! Don’t forget to use #100Days100Poems !

*****

How to Poetry Better (*w/ apologies to Fischli &Weiss)

The Guggenheim Museum here in New York City recently closed a wonderful retrospective of the Swiss artist duo of Peter Fischli and David Weiss. For those unfamiliar with their work (as I was), I suggest reading this from one of the Gallery Guides who posted on the Guggenheim Museum’s blog. Explore the site further to learn more about the exhibit.

 

One of the things that struck me about the retrospective was the infectious sense of play that clung to the works and also influenced museum goers of all ages. You could hear laughter and sighs of contentment, bursts of Aha! as jokes or visual puns sunk in; the entire space was filled with the buzz of people not just talking and reacting to the art, but feeding off its energy and fun. I’m currently working on a poem that more directly deals with the themes of Suddenly This Overview and some of the popular opposites that emerge there. But this present blog post comes inspired by a completely different piece in the exhibit, the Large Question Pot (1984), an enormous painted polyurethane and cloth vessel, filled with dozens upon dozens of questions on the inner wall, written in German in various colors.

large question pot
Photo by Philip Greenberg for the New York Times

 

In keeping with the theme of play (and, in some cases, the juxtapositions found in popular opposites), I wrote answers to some selected questions that the curators translated for the exhibit. These answers, at times short poems, or even poetic bits, or simply sharp responses, were written in quick bursts, as the muse struck, with no rhyme or reason necessarily to unite them, other than the poetic exercise itself. At some point I’d like to find translations of all the queries inside Large Question Pot (my German being, well, non-existent), to continue exploring what Fischli and Weiss bring out of me with their work. Until then, you’ll need to be content with these selections.

 

 

 

 

 

A Kettle of Answers to

Select Queries from Large Question Pot

When does the money get here?

Tuesday. As long as I get the burger today.

Should I put a red hat on?

No.

Should I sing?

And dance. But no beatboxing. Or humming.

Or mumbling. Or made up lyrics. Read the

karaoke screen for gods’ sake!

 

To whom is the moon useful?

Wooing lovers & lost wanderers & whitening

launderers & leaping wagyu & wage deficient laborers &

lonely werewolves & star-struck stuck strivers lacking in accuracy

Am I being watched?

Nice tie.

Should I invade Russia?

Napoléon: Non.        Reagan: No.

HItler: Nein.                Genghis Khan: Maybe.

        McDonald’s: HELL YEAH!

Should I go to the zoo?

Old MacDonald: But there are so many creatures on my farm

Ol’ Dirty Bastard: Brooklyn zoo!

Ol’ Man River: Roll along, jus’ roll along

Old Man: No, The Sea

Who governs the city?

Mr. Mayor, cousin to the congressman, son of the

senator, consort to the queen, lackey to the lords,

monkey for the mob, that sniveling sot standing at the open bar.

Why must I always fight?

Because of your honor. I’m a man

hero dreams etc, etc

Should I lie?

awake at night the mind swarming with thoughts lapping worries in photo-never-finishes?

saying the thing which is not? I love you.

down? Only if the ache has reached the tips of your fingers

Am I the chosen one?

Let’s review. She chose you and divorced you. They hired

the other candidate. The bouncer left the velvet rope up.

They skipped your number at the butcher’s. They called another name

down on The Price Is Right.

Sans scar, sans midichlorians, sans hammer, sans scantron, sans prophecy,

sans sword, sans portent, sans oracle, sans sacrifice, sans adoptive parents,

I’m gonna go with no.


Is there another bus?

The SMS says six minutes and the schedule says

yes and the queue says probably and the traffic

eventually and past experience at some point and

all I want is a window seat and a courteous driver

 

Why are the forests silent?

With no hikers and no bears and no trees or leaves or

loves falling, they’re really just enjoying the peace.

Do I know everything about myself?

A. YES                C. Maybe

B. NO                  D. Can I?

E. ALL or NONE of the above

Why can’t I sleep?

GCS nighttime

Who will pay for my beer?

On Tuesday, when Wimpy catches me back for

that burger, I got your beer.

Where are the galaxies moving to?

On up. To the east side. Where they’ve finally got a piece

of the pii-iii—ie.

What does my dog think?

IMG00016-20110103-1419

Do I stink?

Yes. At many things. But not hygiene. I bathe like nobody’s

business. Soaps and scrubs and shampoos and exfoliants

keep me clean. But they’re no help to my math skills,

flirting, dancing, drawing, and picking the fastest line at the market.

Was I a good child?

Grandma J: Indeed, the family’s Great White Hope

Grandpa L: I won’t get to see

Grandma L: Save the one time I drove you, wiperless, in the rain

Grandpa F: I won’t get to see either, but drink this beer, it’ll open your appetite

Grandma E: You’re too young to be bad, and I definitely won’t get to see

Mom: That’s my boy

Dad: Until you got your license

Brother J: Hell no, you just got away with it

Sister A: Probably-obably


Is the New Ice Age coming?

–Man, are they making another one of those movies?

or, alternatively,

–Of course, and the polar bears are more than a little impatient.


How far can one go?

Space-You-are-here-950x320

Is everything a game? And is it over?

If yes, up up down down left right left right

A B B A start select start. Then 99 lives.


Am I not right to ask?

it’s just that I never ask the right

questions or proffer the right answers

she: can I get your number? me: really?

she: flirts. I flirt. 20 minutes. Dammit I should’ve asked for her number.

Should I go? Should she stay?

Is she coming? Is she going? Is it love? Is it

like? Is it over yet? Is it really starting?

How will I know? How will I know? How will I knooooow?

Who you gonna call?

Naughty? Nice?

Candidate A? B? R? D?

When does it end?

 

 

From the Garage to the Studio–DIY Sculpture Poetry

In an effort to switch things up a bit, the poem for this post,

“Picasso the Sculptor Sculpting Sculptures Scrupulously and Scrappily in his Workshop”

will simply be presented as audio, with a gallery of photos showing some of the works mentioned in the poem. A post at a later date may include the text of the poem.

 

 

“Tingling like a first kiss, crazier than a death wish…” or just really ekphrastic!

The Kiss

22 February 1930, charcoal & oil on wood panel

painted by Picasso, probably on a cupboard door

It is awkward, yes, but all the better

to practice

You must first, my dear,

lean your head towards me,

hair falling behind

you like waterfalling just before

    the great maw of tropical cave

your tongue, sharp, isosceles

    must invite

you sir, tilting head slightly back

    your upper lip above hers

    your tongue, too, arrowhead, trying to pierce her

keep your eyes open

it is awkward yes

do not touch tongues

    yet

open-mouthed—imagine devouring the other

        engulf breath and voice and time

do not touch tongues

    yet

open-eyed enter the other

mouth, consume and be consumed

    hold there

        first kiss, first loss

        I will sketch you

        it is awkward yes

        two forms always almost coming

            together

         awkward—to enter

            the other

                in voice & breath

                awkward

                forward

                you will not get this back

except perhaps when you open cupboard door.”

the kiss
With apologies for the size, it refused to get bigger.

All poetry is political; some politics are poetical.

Reading the Ranting Rainbow

At the big pink building

in the big red state (the second biggest

until you take into account the

        heights of the hair

    widths of the buckles

            depths of the stupidity

        & lengths gone

                    by the gerrymandered godsquad)

sits-in the pink shirted army, crimson-faced

        because confronted with the blackest of hearts.

    Brown uniforms DPS the public lack of safety,

rose red running from foreheads & noses as

    they wade through the gray of maintaining order.

    Blue jeans & pink shoes run ragged

            the cautions of filibuster yellow.

& still the Red tide rolls, as if the T-party had

    the yellow moons on its side, the sun, orange stars.

        Pink hearts wishing on green clovers.

        Blue diamonds in the rough struggle, willing

    to throw purple horseshoes

            at the white milquetoast men.

“Stop!” they say, red light on their health care;

“Go!” they say, green light to bygone eras and errors,

    the green faces of those in pink, sickened

    by the s-curve in mountainous descent.

“Slow down!” they say, yellow-bellied response to

    the hot pink of progress, of parity, of

        personal choice.

At the big pink building

in the big red state

    pink shirts & crimson faces,

        dirtied by Brown uniforms & White Privilege

    fight to no avail

            against the blues of servitude

                the red of loss

                the gray of history’s clouded precedent

And hundreds of miles east

in the state sun yellowed & bleached blond

        black is still the shaded suspect

        white the night watch ranger

            red the blood on the sidewalk

                silver the bullet in chest

                    black the hoodie, black the gun

        and always, all ways

                the gray of uncertainty

                    blindfolded

        unseen, blinded Justice, whether under shined sun or lone star,

            mourns the loss of hues;

                gone the red of valor

                gone the white of innocence

                gone the blue of justice.

But Wait!

The new fall colors are in

                        GSR gray

                        Protest pink

                        Keltec 9MM black

                        Kevlar blue

                        Fascist brown

dress appropriately, you never know whose path you’ll cross.


Oh My! That’s So Ekphrastic!

Ekphrasis, in Greek, means “description.” I’m a big fan of ekphrastic poetry, that genre that, on the most basic level, is writing something descriptive about a visual representation (a painting, a photo, a sculpture). As the Poetry Foundation defines it, “An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.” The Academy of American Poets offers some fine-tuning that syncs nicely with my own work, saying “[M]odern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects.”

Since my first encounters with the poetry of Ferlinghetti, and my first attempts with the flaming giraffes of Dalì, I have grown quite fond of art as inspiration. Thus is born the first poem inspired by the art of David Sweeney. His work, if you’ll forgive the brief, Cliff Notes-style, non-poetic ekphrasis, reminds me of the dream-like canvases of the Surrealists; his paintings make use of collage, of mixed media, which always summon my attention, reminiscent of the way I gravitate to some of the works of Picasso, Ernst or Braque. I am especially drawn to the appearance of text–newspaper clippings, stenciled quotes, scribbled phrases–in his art; the intersection of image and word begging for the poet’s ekphrasis. Lest I ramble on too much, I leave you to look at his œuvre at your leisure. If you find something you like, snatch it up, it’s hard to find good original art these days.

And now, to the poem.

It was first inspired by David Sweeney’s painting #517.

It can also be found at http://www.davidsweeneyart.com/works/b/david-sweeney,paintings, the second painting from the top.
It can also be found at here, the second painting from the top.

The italics (except for the French), including the title, are taken from some articles in the NYTimes regarding air travel. The thrust of the poem, in language and subject, has changed repeatedly, and the last line was a surprise, unexpected in its return to a minor detail in the painting, as I finished this, draft version 1.5.

Whatever Happened to First Class?

First, let’s get things straight. The euphemism for first caste has got to go, cleared for takeoff–always a misnomer misnaming for misdirection. Even before da Vinci’s device and the Wrights’ winged wonder, the ocean-gliding, wave-riding masted masterpieces kept the dividing line pretty clear, offering free passage to free labor for the not-so-free folks packed in the hold, barely holding on to their humanity, barely holding on to their little-scrap lunch.

So what happened to first caste? Classy became the label rather than the behavior, fancy china replacing fine company, fancy curtain replacing fine linen. And in first caste, room to stretch and kick, lie flat as capital’s whore, 300 channels to choose as you charge IMac and IPad and IPod and IPhone and IBeeper and ISnob, sip champagne, the warm wet sandpaper towel wiping from your face the grime of those in the back of the bus, the tail of the plane, the bottom of the boat. High above, the 1 percent fly first class; the .1 percent fly Netjets; the .01 percent fly their own planes.

Meanwhile, tail-side, knees to chest, elbows tucked with three-pretzel packs and chocolate-chip puck, the chosen few of the 99% lucky to escape the surface, grouped into herds by booking for boarding, one movie on one screen, one position for your one-inch seat, unsettle in for takeoff and turbulence.

And on the ground, far below, the (un)lucky 99%, stick in traffic, hostage to the toll road trolls, opt for one of the 300 $ burgers at the 300 fast food joints for the 300 lbs, the only bubbles from the soda machine–bottom caste transport never felt good.

“You go into first class because it’s less horrible than coach.” No cash to pay outright, CapitalOne card hassled to the max? Then it is perhaps with the free upgrade, high miles in your frequent flier club, without mile high club fornicating to give the bumpy flight some purpose. Which seat do you book? Which level are you?

Platinum Premium or Bronze Business, Elite Economy or Cushy Coach
Poached Ivory or Plated Silver, Gaudy Gold or Dazzling Diamond
these are the new
Fabulous First, Satisfying Second, Thirsty Third, Struggling Steerage which were
Captain and mates and crew and slaves from
King and Court and Lords and Serfs. Plus ça change, the more it stays the same.

And somewhere in the middle, betwixt the heaven and the hell, the poet, drifting in his dirigible, observes them all.

The Loss of Literary Giant, The Power of Art

Two events of late seemed to converge in my mind, making this big, blue marble seem more like a little, blue marble in my hand.

achebeThe first is the passing of a literary giant, Chinua Achebe, whose “Things Fall Apart” you should have already read already. If not, get thee to your local bookery, um, bookstall, er, bookmonger, or big-box book shop. (Let me interject to say that I’m very disappointed we don’t have more synonyms for bookstore, nothing with a ring to it like bouquiniste in French. But I digress, though I vow to use bookmonger more often.)

With the loss of this man, often called the “Father of African Literature,” I’ve given much thought to my own  invitation to African letters.  I must admit, I came to  Achebe much later in my literary addiction. My gateway was the French-speaking countries of North and West Africa and the Caribbean; my hosts included Léopold Senghor, Camara Laye and, even earlier, Aimé Césaire.  Since then, I’ve read the likes of Tchicaya U Tam’si, Kateb Yacine, Ahmadou Kourouma, Mariama Bâ, Patrick Chamoiseau,Werewere Liking, Assia Djebar—the list goes on.  I’ve used Césaire in poetry workshops, I’ve heard Wole Soyinka speak, I’ve shared margaritas with Alain Mabanckou.

I know it is a cliché to say that reading opens up the world to you, but there is truth in it.  And the world must be opened.  If we are ever to get along, or help each other, we must understand each other.  As Ferlinghetti declared, the world is a beautiful place to be born into. But it’s so much more, it’s big and its beauty is never-ending, we simply need to look for it.

Chinua Achebe captured this succinctly when he said:

“I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place. The masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.”

I am grateful for the perspective of Chinua Achebe.

*****

The second was my latest trip to the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas to view the recently-closed exhibition “The Progress of Love.” Rather than try to sum it up, here’s a summary from the official site:

“The Progress of Love is an unprecedented, transatlantic collaboration between the Menil Collection in Houston; the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria; and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis that explores the universal emotion of love. The three concurrent but unique exhibitions that make up The Progress of Love constitute a narrative arc, addressing love as an ideal, love as a lived experience, and love as something lost.

The Progress of Love at the Menil presents works by more than 20 artists from Africa, Europe, and America and examines the ways in which language, mass media, cultural traditions, and socioeconomic forces foster images and expectations about love. The exhibition pays particular attention to the effects of the digital era, asking whether our ideas about love are now coming into closer alignment across the Atlantic.”

Saddened though I am that I am unable to head to St. Louis and Lagos to experience all three exhibitions, I was enthralled by the offering at the Menil.  Rich, moving, smart, my only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay longer.

Much of my time was eaten up by the installation piece of Romuald Hazoumè, from which I had much difficulty in pulling myself away.  So enamored was I that I wrote an ekphrastic poem inspired by the work; it is a tribute to the NGO SBOP—Solidarité Béninoise pour Occidentaux en Péril (Beninese Solidarity with Endangered Westerners)—featured in the piece.   According to the pamphlet available in the installation, “SBOP wants to reverse the trend: the citizens of under-developed countries could also help those of developed countries…and also help themselves.”

 The Progress of Love

As you can see in the photo, the installation is quite complex:  at the back, a wall; on the left, a TV showing documentary footage of the fundraising efforts by various Beninese celebrities; on the right, a TV showing still images of all the community agencies offering aid to people in Cotonou, Benin. In the center, a “closet” entered through a “bead” curtain (made from folded beer bottle caps) in which copies of clippings from articles about the NGO in French and African newspapers are mounted. In front of the wall, chairs, a table, and a desk made from used five-gallon oil/gas containers (a common theme in the work of Hazoumè).

The film follows Zeynab, Eléphant Mouillé, Danialou Sagbohan, John Arcadius, and Angélique Kidjo (the aforementioned celebrities) as they stroll through market and street, asking for contributions to the NGO. The residents of Cotonou are dubious, the plight of the white westerner difficult to fathom. But SBOP is convincing, and slowly but surely under-developed countries help the developed.  The gesture is unmistakable, the assistance real.

The poem (which you can find here) comes from this footage as well as the comment that has appeared of late in American social media, in which people complain about first-world problems (my cell/wi-fi doesn’t work, the bus was late, my A/C is out, etc).  These complaints contrast sharply with the willful ignorance of the problems we do have.   It is an early draft, far from complete, but its timing seems appropriate.

*****

I write this because my perspective on the world has been influenced by the work of Chinua Achebe.  I write this because, through literature, I have found a voice in which I may offer my own perspective.  I write this because, through the stories and histories of Africa, my shelves and mind are ever-expanding and continually understanding.  I write this because of the travels, real and imagined, inspired by the writings of Achebe and Senghor and others; because of the friends to whom their art has guided me.

Pick up a copy of “Things Fall Apart.”  Spend some time reading about “The Progress of Love.”  Take a journey that is no more out of reach than your bookshelf and your internet browser.

This is for Sani and Lamaka.

In memoriam, Chinua Achebe.

First World Problems — An Early Draft

First World Problems

                                    pour Sani, pour Lamaka
pour ONG SBOP

 

 jingling in the gallon, scrunching of bills, flip in front of flop through the market and down the street–steps of valiant members of NGO SBOP—Solidarité Béninoise pour Occidentaux en Péril—Beninese Solidarity with Endangered Westerners—who call to action and reaction

“Can you give today? Spare some coins, share some bills! They need help in the West, the Whites in the West!”

occidentals accidentally wandering the streets, eyephone statue of libertied in search of 4G and free wi-fi. help for the whites, poor, poor whites, with fat non-flat TVs and regular ray DVDs

“Help for the whites, help for the West! —help the poor in America, the hungry. Not everyone is rich like J.R. Ewing! Aid for the white poor!”

westerners wasting away—poor? poor literacy perhaps, poor manners, poor attitudes and poor gratitudes, poor pub men pouring piss-poor PBRs in pilsners, poor wages and poor vision, poor women and war rages, poor insurance, health, independence, poor wealth

occidentals enduring accidents

“They are hungry in America, they suffer drought and hurricanes, they have no homes, they have no help!”

“Well then, brother—
“Well then, sister—
how can we help?”

“Share your change, even a little will help. We may have here next to nothing, but we can help. We know how to help,

                                                              We in Africa have love, love for our neighbors.
                                                                           But in their country, they have no love,
                                                              no love for helping their neighbors.

I did not know this.”

“And so you know, and you must help our poor, Western brothers and sisters, endangered and angered, imperiled and impoverished. We must show them the love for neighbor in Benin, our neighbors on the globe…”

change for a chance , and then more jingle into the gallon

et aussi
pour Zeynab,
pour Eléphant Mouillé,
pour Danialou Sagbohan,
pour John Arcadius,
pour Angélique Kidjo

For a brief word about the origins and inspiration of this poem, simply click here.