Monday, July 07, 2014

Review -- WHAT WERE THEY LIKE? BY JULIA STEIN

Review by Chris Butters

(Available at CCMarimbo, PO Box 933,Berkeley, CA 94701,or at CCmarimbo.com, $15)

As powerful forces clamor for yet another U. S. military intervention in Iraq, it should be pointed out the recent events are the harvest of the previous U.S. military intervention there, and the situation cannot be fixed by more of the same. Perhaps it is a good time to turn to our progressive working class poets – specifically, Julia Stein’s recent poetry book about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars What Were They Like? -- for illumination.

“Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
Had they an epic poem?
Did they distinguish between speech and singing?”
-- Denise Levertov

These lines of poetry, written after the US Pentagon carpet bombing of Vietnam by the poet Denise Levertov, are the basis for the title and theme of this powerful new collection by poet Julia Stein regarding the recent US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What were they like? This books portrays through a series of poetry portraits (some through the use of monologue, some through the use of third person) the impact of the US military intervention upon at least some of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. We meet farmers, shopkeepers, school teachers, booksellers, poets and professional women seeking to live their lives despite the terrorism of US bombings – bombings ironically waged in the name of fighting terrorism. We see these characters struggle to get by, despite the growth of right wing Islamic fundamentalism -- a right wing fundamentalism in many respects strengthened, not weakened, by the US military intervention.

Stein’s poetry is very different stylistically from Levertov’s. Stein’s language is not a transformative language, of swirling metaphors and similes. Instead the connections are to be found in the relationships between people in the poems, rather than in the language itself. Furthermore, various ghosts and furies haunt the characters unwilling or unable to make these connections, giving “What Were They Like?” the character of a good novel.

We meet five year old Doha Suheil, who becomes the victim of a cruise missile. We meet Lynndie England, for whom Iraqis are characters in a video game, just like the pilots who drop the Cruise missile on Doha Suheil. We meet “The Woman Who Disappears Bit By Bit”, who must seek refuge in Syria because women are no longer allowed to work or walk without a burka in the “new” Baghdad. We meet soldier Joe Darby, who must flee his Pennsylvania hometown for a witness protection program because he blew the whistle on the CIA- US Army abuse of prisoners at Abu Graib.

For the people in “What Were They Like?” the US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not bring the “freedom”, “democracy” and “security” from terrorism (let alone the removal of the fabled “weapons of mass destruction”) that was promised. Their lives in these pages are haunted by the “collateral damage “ of deaths from cruise missiles, profiling by US troops of Arabs as terrorists, and the “shock and awe” of the destruction of their cherished way of life.

Furthermore, the removal of the Hussein regime in Iraq and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan only enables right-wing Islamic fundamentalists and warlords to move into the power vacuum.

In “Before the War”, Stein provides a word picture of life in Baghdad before the US occupation. The stillness in the poem is all the more eery because we know what happens next.

“Some Baghdadis are digging wells for when
the water pipes break and stockpiling rice and
dates. Not at the clothing shop in old Baghdad.
The boss Issam Taka, who gets tea for his visitors,
tells about studying in Wales and touring the U.S.
He says Iraq women are working and walking
around the city. Iraqis don’t like bin Laden.

Admin Baldi is pressing women’s dresses under
fluorescent lights and listening. After work he is
walking past the cafes where men are laughing,
playing backgammon, and smoking water pipes.
Folk songs wafting in the wind. He can be found
watching the motorboats ferry people
back and forth across the river.”

Furthermore, Iraq before the war is not portrayed as the Islamic theocracy and its citizens the mass supporters of El Queda many Americans were led to believe, based on portrayals in the big business media.

Here are lines from the poem “Do I Look Like a Sumerian Goddess?” Stein appeals to the US Congress – only half-humorously invoking the ancient Sumerian goddess Ningal – to stop the destruction of Baghdad.

“Goddess Ningal, give me voice.
I’m just an ordinary American citizen.
Give me an airline ticket to Washington DC where I can
cry to Congress.

Baghdad, the gift of the gods,
the mother of the Arabs,
the caliphs’ city with the House of Wisdom,
the city whose libraries go back 1400 years,
the city whose great physicians studied the eye, cured its disease,
the city whose teachers preserved ancient Greek writers for the world,
the city whose scholars invented the card catalogue, invented algebra
measured the spheres,

now she has been bombarded by
the missiles that rained down upon her.

Where once businessmen had factories with workers sewing and pouring
concrete,
now buildings turn to rubble.
Where once stood the finest doctors, the ill emerged healed restored
now bodies piled up on the roadside.
Where once Baghdad had the best universities the finest scholars
now bodies piled up in mass graves.
Baghdad cries over all the bodies of her people.
“The heart of the wasted city is crying, flutes of lamentation play.”
O Baghdad.

Like Ningal asked the gods
I ask Congress to stop the destruction of this city.”

Stein portrays the ensuing carnage and collateral damage, whether it be the indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods, or the profiling of Arabs as terrorists.
“At Al – Musantansinya College Hospital in Baghdad
the first patient brought in; five year old Doha Suheil
with shrapnel in her legs and her spine.
Now she had a frown on, her legs in gauze,
a drip feed attached to her nose,
as she tried to move her left side.
Nothing moved.
Her mother bends over her,
strengthens her right leg. A cruise missile left her
paralyzed on half of her body.”

One reviewer, while praising the power of the book’s political message, argues that the poem, relying on the shock of its last line, points to the “dangers” of political poetry, substituting “flat statements” for “poetic” language. (What about the danger of writing love poetry? Nature poetry? Poetry about baseball?)

But at a time when Americans are largely ignorant of the collateral damage of their tax dollars, Stein’s strategy is to present the forbidden image without metaphor or adornment so that we (and the other characters in her book?) look into the eyes of the paralyzed child.

Journalism? Or poetry? The poet and critic P.J. Laska has defined poetry as "neither fact nor fiction.  It is a frontier of repressed force where human shadows seeking substance forage for truth." I would argue what is lacking in “poetic” language in these poems is offset by the power of the truth which Stein has foraged. It is poetry, and necessary poetry at that.

It should be pointed out that victims of this war are not just the Iraqis and Afghans. U.S. soldiers participating in the war are also victims. If originally signing on to fight “terrorism” after the 9/11 attack, they are haunted and brutalized by their actual role in the US occupation, even if they are not sure what they should or can do about it.

In “An American Soldier Awakes From his Dream”, an American soldier’s childhood dream of being an American soldier “came true as he drove in Iraq a huge truck/that hit a mine.” Lying in Walter Reed Hospital, his leg amputated below the knee, “waking from the dream,” he exemplifies the debate and divided consciousness within many U.S. soldiers.

“He told his parents he wanted to return
to his unit in Iraq, and this was a good war
helping the Iraqis, to get their freedom, and
that his cousin thinking of joining the army
was crazy, and his cousin shouldn’t go.”

Unable to make the connections, especially the connections which would enable the participants to struggle to change the policies of the war machine, many are haunted by ghosts and furies.

In “Sleep Well, Baby Boy,” Sergeant Rand commits suicide when sent home after being pursued by ghosts who take shape during his second tour in the killing zone of Iraq. The ghosts represent to him the Iraqis he has killed in the occupation.

Even that war criminal president George Bush, commander in chief of the policies which led to the torture at Abu Graib, is pursued by a “ghost” of his own making

. “We keep them safe with heavy armored cars,
attack helicopters overhead. We’re good guys
leaving Iraqis pickups, vans, SUVs parked
white trailers their troops can live in.

Now I’m afraid the damn Swiss will arrest me for their
stupid ideas of torture, so I stay home.”

(From “My Name Is George Bush”)

A central feature of the book is a series of portraits of the soldiers who participate in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Graib CIA prison. Like the those who program the Cruise missiles to drop bombs on five year olds like Doha Suheil, Lynddie England and Sabrina Hartman see the Iraqis not as people but as characters in a video game.

Stein places their collaboration in the context of the politics and culture of the US war machine: the CIA, the president, and the military brass who “who didn’t think twice and looked away.”

In “The Furies”, as much a theater piece as a poem, Stein the poet “wakes up the furies”. The furies visit a post- prison Lynndie England, alone and increasingly embittered by her newfound infamy as the “face of the Iraq War.”

“Now you can’t go anywhere people recognize you.
You dyed your hair people recognized you.
You wore sunglasses and a hat people recognized you.
There’s nowhere to run.
You’re the Face of the Iraq War.”

Scapegoated by the military higher ups, nowhere left to hide, Stein makes clear that the only way out for England is reconciliation with the Iraqis she abused and tortured, and at long last “to learn their names.”

“The people whose names you never knew in Abu Graib.
They can’t get jobs in Iraq like you.
They have sons like you.
They’re afraid for their sons will be kidnapped like you.
They’re afraid someone will shoot them every day in Iraq like you.
They have nowhere to run to like you.
Will they ever cease being cartoon characters to you?
What are their names?”

As in all of Stein’s books, there is a special emphasis and attention to the lives of women. We meet Malalai Joya, who joins the gallery of other memorable Stein female strugglers from her previous books. (Stein is the author of four other poetry books with working class themes, as well as the anthology “Walking Through a River of Fire: 100 Years of Triangle Factory Fire Poetry”, also from CCMarimbo. )

After growing up in a refugee camp during her “first war” (the Afghanistan-Soviet Union war); teaching young girls to read in an underground school in Afghanistan during her “second war”; and surviving the American bombings (“The American bombs decorated the land/ the Taliban fled the village/ the warlords rose into the capitol on trucks”) in her third war; Stein then describes the struggle of her “fourth war”.

“In her fourth war she stood up to denounce
the warlords at the Loya Jirga.
They howled, shrieked, threw bottles at her.
A mob surround her house to rape and lynch her, but
she had already fled underground.
Her dreams still blossomed into school for girls
in blue uniforms and white scarves.

Like her father she’s a rebel fighting on
in her burka moving from safe house to safe house
trapped between the Americans dropping bombs from the sky and
the Taliban on the ground with their guns.
Her parents named her Malalai.
Like the first Malalai she carries the flag daily into battle.
She named herself Joya.
Like the imprisoned poet Joya she uses words as her weapons.
smuggles them out to the world.
Malalai Joya will never surrender.

If she should die, remember
she asks if you will carry on her work after the death?
Then you are welcome to visit her grave.
You must pour water on it
and shout three times.
She wants to hear your voice.”

Some of my favorite poems in this book are poems where Stein seeks to inhabit the female furies she writes about. In “Inanna” her voice takes on the rhythms of ancient Sumerian poetry as she presents a contemporary version of the Sumerian goddess of the same name.

“You know her.
She stands before the courthouses in her blindfold
holding scales in one hand,
a sword in the other.

She knows how it feels to be raped.
To wake up from a deep sleep under the shade of an Euphrates poplar
10,000 years ago
her genitals torn bleeding onto her skirt.”

As goddesses in myths who have been wronged are prone to do, Inanna looses three plagues upon the world as part of an effort to find her rapist. Unsuccessful, she cries to her father the god Enki that her rape must be avenged and she will only return to her shrine when he sends her the rapist. Enki orders her to “stop being the goddess of vengeance” and “ sets her outside against the sky/as far as earth like a huge rainbow”.

The closing lines describe Inanna’s contemporary mission. They are no doubt directed against both the US military machine and the right wing Islamic fundamentalists. But they could well speak to all the wrongs awaiting the scale and sword of justice for the Iraqi and Afghan people.

“Back in her shrine she wrote the first legal code,
stands in front of the first courthouse she built.
She has lived, from ancient Sumer to modern Iraq,
knows how to distinguish the criminal from the just
faster than any Supreme Court.
She knows how to detect truth from falsehood
in any TV broadcast.
Now she has Internet in her shrine.
She’s good at Google searches.
She is Inanna Ishtar Ma’at Themis Lady Justice.
At night she rips off her blindfold,
takes off from the porches of a million courthouses,
flies around heaven around earth,
faster and more powerful than Cruise missiles,
more accurate than any Drone missiles.
Look for her against the night sky.”

The US war in Iraq has been widely proven to be a war for oil and superprofits by US banks and corporations. The withdrawal of US troops (though military bases in the region still remain) has since left Iraq in shambles, destroying much of its infrastructure (although not Iraq’s oil refineries, which have now been privatized, the result of the US occupation). America continues to stagger under the weight of its military spending. As Stein’s book makes clear, the ghosts and furies she portrays and invokes in this book will continue to haunt both Iraq and the US landscapes for many years to come.

The final poems in this book are about the spirit and resilience of the Iraq people in the face of such catastrophe. “Still the Date Palms Grow” and “Grape Juice You Can’t Forget” are wonderful poems testifying to the spirit of the Iraqi people to survive and resist oppression, whether invasions by the Mongols, the Turks, the British, or the recent US occupation.

These poems remind me of the poetry of another poet, who also celebrated a people’s spirit and resistance to their oppressors. Langston Hughes in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” speaks about the struggles and will to survive of African-Americans in the course of their history. His poem “Let America Be America Again” speaks of the struggles of all the oppressed in America, as well as the tradition of progressive working class struggles for peace, jobs, equality and justice.

Such American progressive working class traditions may not be as old as the ancient Sumerians traditions in Stein’s poetry, but it is organic to our country, just as the date palms and grape leaves are in Iraq. They are rooted in the labor movement’s struggle for the eight hour day, and the right to form unions. But they are also rooted in the struggle against racism, war and injustice in all its forms. Its motto is “We Are Naught, But We Shall Be All”. It is this progressive working class tradition that was instrumental in the movement to end to the Vietnam war, as well as the war in Iraq.

And It is a full bodied tradition that has historically embodied not just political struggle, but poetry, music and people’s culture. Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Edwin Rolfe, John Beecher, Muriel Rukeyser, Karen Brodine, Jack Hirschman, Amiri Baraka, Sam Cornish and Martin Espada are the names of some of its better known poetry practitioners, although there are many others who worked and are working outside the radar of the big business media. Without such working class culture our spirits cannot be galvanized and renewed in the fierce political struggles to come.

Julia Stein’s “What Were They Like”, like Levertov’s poem two generations before, provides another poetic link in this historic chain.

from DEAR JOE

“Please come home soon from Iraq.
We’ll go to New York to see Whitman’s ghost,
jostle with him through the crowds up Broadway
to go hang out on at his favorite saloon.
go take a ferry boat ride with him to Brooklyn,
follow him when he takes his manuscript to the local print shop
to be printed,
spend a lazy day with him loafing on the grass.

Please come home soon from Afghanistan.
We’ll spend some time with Langston Hughes’s ghost in Harlem,
eat with him at the table when company comes,
listen to him speak of rivers,
then go with him to the club on Lenox Avenue,
listen to the Negro play the weary blues.

Please come back soon from Germany.
We’ll take a long raft ride down the Mississippi,
wave goodbye to people on the shore,
avoid the steamboats and the grifters,
actually make it this time to Illinois a FREE state,
trek off to a new town for a free people,
Jefferson’s village.

Please come home from Korea.
We will all live in Jefferson’s village,
go every week to the meeting in the town hall,
Just remember now we in the village love you,
where we miss you,
where we’re waiting for you,
where we’re praying for you to come home soon.”

Friday, July 04, 2014

Spring Editorial

The poems in this collection speak of the endless frustration, drudgery and inanity of the workplace. They speak of pride and of skill. They illuminate on the job racism and the added fear and exploitation immigrants face for the benefit of profiteers. They voice the fear of job loss and the desperation of unemployment. They are rich with class sympathy and the solidarity that gives us unrealized power.

Working class literature is not limited to the workplace. In these pages are poems of the daily struggle of living on less. There are poems of war and of resistance, of police brutality and the tortured nightmare of imprisonment. Most important are the poems of political awakening and the active struggle for a better world.

We often feel powerless, intimidated by the tyranny of bosses and landlords, fearing the bill collector on the phone, banging our heads against the scam want ads taunting us with false and inadequate possibilities. We can feel utterly depressed and beaten by the idiocy of people around us who are taken in by the right-wing corporate media machine. But giving in to hopelessness is as self defeating as the idiocy spouted by the Fox addicted Teabaggers.

We are not powerless. If there is one thing I hope this journal does, it is to let you know that you aren't alone. That there are many progressive, class conscious workers out here and that like you we are mad as hell and we know where to direct our wrath. Though most of us feel helpless on our own, we increase our power exponentially when we work together. This is not just idle theory. The actual paper journal you can hold in your hand is proof.

Though we are still operating on a very tight budget, we would not have been able to even publish this issue had it not been for the generous support of our readers and subscribers over the course of our recent annual fund drive. We are grateful to be able to continue the labor of putting out this unique journal publishing the strongest writers of and for our working class.

In the larger struggle, the evidence of our united strength continues as we struggle for minority rights and against the worst abuses of corporate power. Efforts continue to rule corporate personhood unconstitutional, to fight militarism and the growing police state, to stop the XL Pipeline and destructive "fracking" and to stop the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement which will further gut labor law and worker protection.

All of these issues are inseparable from the abusive economic system of debt slavery, international sweatshop exploitation, corporate deregulation, worker disempowerment and massive impoverishment that have resulted in the greatest transfer of wealth in history to the very few, leaving an increasing number of us discarded to destitution and the streets.

Thomas Piketty, in his popular book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" focuses on the increasing disparity of wealth that is built into the capitalist system. He blames the difference on the greater rate of return on investments than of the growth rate of wages and production as the reason for the pooling of wealth to the top 1%. Working people know that capitalism, by its nature and internal rules, has a corrupting influence on government and is blindly destructive in its drive for maximum profits. We have a better formula: The power of a conscious, united working class is greater than than that of all the armies and governments that money can buy. Working class culture sustains and fuels us as we build that unity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

You Could Have Been A Contender!

The Spring issue of the Blue Collar Review is in progress but there are three very fine poems that I had to pull from the collection because the authors did not bother to read our Submission Guidelines.

In this case, the authors failed to put their name and address on the poem so that I have no way of knowing who wrote it. The poems, now sitting in the ashcan of questionable history are: "Invocation," "Droning On" and "9 am Break, Line 3, Engine Assembly".

Guidelines exist for a reason. If you are sending us, or wish to send us your writing, it is important to know, not only what we are looking for but our basic requirements. As an editor, I try to catch this kind of thing and, if the poem or prose are astounding in quality, write in the missing info. Otherwise it is rejected and, if not accompanied by the obligatory self addressed stamped envelope, tossed and forgotten. I find it maddening after the work of assembling a strong collection, to find that a piece has no listed author.

If one of these poems is yours, take some time and review our Submission Guidelines before sending anything else. Also, you may fess up and send me your name and address because these are really good poems.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Winter Issue Editorial

As we dig out of a hard winter, we find ourselves still trapped in a stagnant economy. Jobs remain scarce, low paying, and too often, abusive. Older workers are especially hard hit by long-term unemployment and the younger generation finds itself unable to find sustainable work. Sexual harassment is rife and women bear the brunt of it, as poems in this collection attest.

The corporate right and its sycophants continue to rail against even the modest insurance reforms ushered in by Obama, and to block the expansion of Medicaid to many left too poor to afford insurance. It is being revealed how thoroughly our environment and water are tainted with unregulated industrial chemicals. These affect not only our health but the development of our children. Pollution as well as the mass-impoverishment of our working class is a direct result of public policy written by and for major corporations. Some of us suffer workplace related injuries and illness. Some of us suffer from environmentally related illnesses. Autism rates are growing due to exposure to the contaminants that enriched the few. None of us are disposable for the enrichment of others.

The poems in this collection speak from desperation. They speak with intimate knowledge of the daily struggle for survival in this deadly system. They speak with anger, and most importantly, with militant solidarity and determination to create something better.

This journal, too, struggles against the odds to survive and to publish the strongest writers of our class. Your editors, being among the economically discarded, make this project even more difficult to sustain. This is our fundraising season and, like the last issue, you will find within these pages a Fund Drive request for support. We are grateful to those of you who have already contributed. We have enough to cover this issue and maybe one more. Our printer needs replacing and our other equipment is in need of upkeep. We have to cover supplies and expenses including paper, ink, and rising postal costs.

Admittedly, it would be cheaper to do our journal online but we are averse to that for numerous reasons. A real, ink on paper journal has a life of its own. Issues that we published 10 years ago are still circulating from hand to hand and in used book stores. New eyes continue to see them even without having to search online or even have a computer. Also, there is a major difference in the quality of attention and time that goes into reading an actual book as opposed to scanning a website. Long after the internet is too censored, long after the lights go out, the work you had published here will still be read -- will still make a difference. We remain stubbornly determined to keep the words flowing and are thankful for your support in making that possible.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Another Brother Gone

Your editors had the pleasure or meeting Amiri and having dinner with him in New York. We heard him in Philly raging truths like fire at a rally demanding freedom for Mumia Abu Jamal. I was pleased that he liked and responded to my own work in the Blue Collar Review. Like the best poets he was and remains controversial. He was, beyond Black Nationalism, a class conscious revolutionary who enriched and left his mark on American poetry. He will be missed but, thanks to print and video, he ain't goin' nowhere. Amiri Baraka Presente!

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More here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Autumn Issue Editorial

The darkening days of Autumn are a time for reflection. This year it seems we can look back on a darkening of times as the economy remains stagnant abandoning many of us to destitution. Attacks on working people continue from the right with the help of "centrist" Democrats willing to cut unemployment compensation to 1.3 million workers left jobless. If that isn't bad enough, federal court judge Steven Rhodes recently ruled that the pensions of retired public servants can be cut in this economy hard hit by corporate plunder. The contracts protecting those hard-earned pensions are apparently not as sacred as the contracts allowing AIG execs to get six-figure bonuses after being bailed out with public money.

This season also saw the utter hypocrisy of the climate summit in Warsaw derailed by the fossil fuel industry as disasters caused by oil spills, fracking, coal burning, and the subsequent climate change wrought horrific destruction in the US and globally.

As the capitalist feeding frenzy desperately pillages what is left of our natural resources, squeezing the life out of us and sacrificing our future, awareness of the reality of our situation is growing along with resistance. From admissions in the corporate media of the growing chasm between the wealth of a shrinking oligarchy and the rest of us, to the devastating effects of the climate crisis, we are seeing a change in consciousness in the US and globally.

Around the country, service workers at Walmart and the fast food chains are striking for living wages, breathing new life into the class struggle.

The poems in this collection speak to these times. "You've got Mail" and "Tech on the Train," voice resentment of technology thatalienates, replacing our real human activity and interaction with a shallow virtual version, thus dehumanizing work and social interaction.

In this issue we have poems of motherhood and of growing up poor with scant hope. Poems here describe the difficulty and frustration of being an underpaid and under appreciated teacher in our schools and speak to the real social devastation of a system poisoned by the political corruption of self-serving greed.

The loss of hope revealed in the poems "Sky Pie" and "Utopia" paves the way for long overdue protest and organizing. There is a strong sense throughout this issue of our determination to survive in spite of the worst efforts of the corporatist ruling class to abandon us to starvation and homelessness. That determination is a consistent aspect of our historic working class reality.

If we are to survive this century, much less create a more just society, it is necessary to reclaim our class values of community and mutual responsibility. We must coalesce into a movement that takes our world back from the forces that are destroying it -- from the brutal rule of wealth. As an old song by the Doors reminds us, "They've got the guns but we've got the numbers."

The awareness, anger, and determination that fill these pages must become the rule, not the exception. We are glad to be able to give voice to the progressive values and consciousness that are the last best hope for a civilized future thanks to your collective generosity and contributions, both monetary and literary. The world and the future belong to us. Let us unite and take it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Summer Issue Editorial

I write this in a time of flux when things seem to change by the moment. Daily, new revelations come out exposing the extent of government surveillance and just when you think it couldn't be any worse, more emerges. Then there is the threat of impending attacks on Syria echoing the same insane neocon aggression we witnessed in Iraq. For the moment, it seems the critical mass of public opinion has stopped it which may be a historic first but by the time you are reading this, the bombs may already be falling.

All this comes at a time when scientists are telling us that we are on the brink of planetary ecological destruction. The inseparability of war and ecological collapse are a regular sub-theme in our summer issue and this year is no exception. It is more relevant than ever.

The market system in its dying throes cannot provide the basic necessities of sustenance, much less work, for a growing number of us and its destruction of the planet exacerbates those shortcomings. As people realize this and begin to ask questions challenging the rule of money, distractions like war are usually used to boost nationalism. The real danger is that capitalism when truly threatened morphs to fascism. We are seeing this in the growth of the police state with most intrusive national security apparatus in history. This is not lost on our contributing poets. In the poem, "This-and-That," Luis Berriozábal describes the effects of this ubiquitous NSA presence on our sanity.

The history and continuing danger presented by nuclear weapons and nuclear power are also addressed in this collection. In the poem, Science Lesson, Robert Joe Stout attempts to explain the reality of Hiroshima to his daughter. roibeárd Uí-neíll's poem goes further in addressing the insanity and legacy of the nuclear age. The plague of tenuous, low paying bad jobs and the permanent unemployment that haunts many of us permeates this collection as well.

We are proud to announce the winners of the Working People's Poetry Contest in this issue. This year's winner is Joe Weil for his poem, "The First Time I Got Up Early." He wins the $100.00 prize as well as a one year subscription. Choosing this years winner was especially tough and so we have two runners up: "Coney Island Dialectic" by Dave Iasevoli and "Burn Bright" by Willie Wilson. These poems are related in that they deal with the tensions between work, education and expectations. They are presented together in this issue and online on our contest winners page. The runners up also receive a one year subscription to this journal. Other strong entries will also be published. Some appear in this issue.

We as a press occasionally publish collections by poets, though it is rare due to the expense and stress involved. We are proud to announce a new book from Partisan Press. Who Are We Then, by Ed Werstein is a dynamic, reflective collection of working class poetry. Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Marilyn Taylor comments, "Ed Werstein, a deeply talented practitioner of the poetry of protest, is profoundly familiar with the frustration of the powerless -- and also possesses a rare ability to communicate his indignation with striking sincerity and conviction. The poems in Who We Are Then? are precisely on target."

We are grateful to all who entered our contest and those who contribute support and work to our efforts. We remain committed to publishing the most vital and talented truth tellers of our working class.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who Are We Then?

Those who subscribe to the Blue Collar Review are familiar with the strong, well crafted poetry of Ed Werstein. Partisan Press is proud to announce a new collection of his work, entitled Who Are We Then.

Barbara Crooker, author of Radiance, Line Dance, More, and Gold writes about this collection, "Ed Werstein, in his new collection, asks, Who Are We Then? The answer is, it's all of us, people with good intentions, people who work in factories, folks watching the news: women "falling from factory windows in Bangladesh / while you wait in lines at Walmart." This is the world we live in, where "the richest one percent are guaranteed / their forty percent of the pie." Werstein writes poetry as manifesto; these are politically engaged poems that want to change the world. But it's also poetry as prayer: "Let the leftover bread feed the hungry. / / Let all soldiers return to hometowns / unchanged." Werstein says, "Let's write a new curriculum of love and understanding," and I say, "Amen."

An excerpt from the title poem shows the collection title to be a question more relevant than ever; a burning question all Americans need to ask:

sixteen civilians shot dead
in Kandahar
a soldier snaps
and sixteen die
mostly women and children
a soldier snaps
three tours of duty in Iraq
now deployed in Afghanistan
he snaps
sixteen dead.

and Hillary says,
that is not who we are.

well, who are we then?
are we the Marines who
unzipped and pissed
on their victims?

are we the soldiers who
burned the Quran?

are we Navy Seals who
steal across borders,
in midnight invasions,
to assassinate our prey
and anyone else who gets in the way?

are we predator drones
piloted by remote joystick jockeys
raining terror on guilty
and innocent alike

they see their kids each night
and never snap thinking about the ones they've killed.

are we people who fight
terror with terror?

This is the kind of poetry that is worthy of the name. This is the kind of truth telling, socially necessary and class conscious work that needs to be published and we are honored to make that happen. This flat-spined edition is available on our website for only $14.00 which includes postage.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Working People's Poetry Contest Winner

This year's entries we all so good that choosing a winner was exceptionally difficult. Most of the poems entered will be published in future issues of the Blue Collar Review.

The winner of the $100.00 grand prize is Joe Weil for his Poem, The First Time I Got Up Early. We had two runners up: Coney Island Dialectic by Dave Iasevoli and Burn Bright by Willie Wilson. Both of these poets win a one year subscription to our journal and have their fine poems posted as runners up on the Contest Winners page of our site. We are thankful for all who sent in such great poems.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Spring Issue Editorial

The truth is finally emerging. We knew that the corporate oligarchy robbed us of our pensions and savings. That they shipped our jobs to poor countries exploiting desperation. That they preach austerity for us to pay for their plunder, cutting jobs, vital services, the benefits of those lucky enough to have them, and unemployment compensation from those unable to find work. Their courts and Congress have criminalized real journalism and dissent with laws written by cabals like ALEC. Now we hear that they are listening to and recording our every phone call and email, tracking our every purchase and internet activity.

The so-called war on terror is finally coming home, only now the "terrorists" are those who threaten corporate interests. The new persons of interest are you and I. This brings home the vital importance of real, non-virtual communication and of the printed word. Their National Security State can tap every phone and computer but they can't read everything printed and they certainly do not pay much heed to poets.

But poetry, at its best, is truth telling. Though this press continues to struggle on a ragged piece of a shoestring, we are grateful for the support that has allowed us to continue to publish the uncensored, unvarnished truth of our class reality and our proletarian commitment to a just and livable world.

Many of the poems in this collection reflect a gritty nostalgia devoid of sentiment. We remember the jobs that have been stolen from us and the misery of that work. We remember the injured and the disappeared even as we look with trepidation and anger at the bleak future offered by this system of corruption in its dying throes. Women's increasingly difficult experiences are expressed in this collection. There is a strong focus on parenting and family, as well as on culture and a sense of "home."

What comes through is that whatever our background or our economic state, we are all in this together. As working people, we share common experiences and interests. We struggle with debt. We suffer the degradation of job hunting, dreading bosses and landlords. The same face of greed sees us all as expendable tools and as a threat when united.

We have been monitored on the job and off but we are watching too. We as workers are both agent and victim in the process. Like Edward Snowdon and other operatives know, as soon as you look up from your monitor and ask why, you are the enemy too. We who do the work know where the weaknesses in the system of dominance are. We know who benefits, who suffers and why. We will continue to speak that truth until everyone has had enough of their abuse and the illusion of their power dissolves like a bad dream.

Their power depends on our consent and cooperation. Our realization of that begins its subversion. Let this be a turning point uniting the majority against the destructive tyranny of the global corporate - NSA regime that threatens us all. So let the truth telling continue.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Winter Issue Editorial

This issue comes out as our government, held hostage by an obstructive block of regressive extremists, is rendered increasingly dysfunctional. The false crisis of sequester and the possible further government shutdown over raising the debt limit, predicate intolerable hardship for struggling workers -- the poorest, the infirm, the unemployed, and retired people. Instead of creating jobs or addressing climate change, we will hear more demands from the wealthiest for imposing austerity, meaning the evisceration of lifeline programs including Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, as corporations see record profits and the stock market soars, jobs remain scarce and most of us find even the illusion of security a luxury.

Many of the poems in this issue could just as well have been written in the great depression. They speak of work related illness and of lack of medical care. They speak of the desperate invisibility of homelessness and the disillusioned poverty of old age. More importantly, they include an awareness of the global nature of exploitation; of how we are pitted against each other, our poverty underwriting the wealth that oppresses us. Poems by John Kaniecki, James Eret, and Fred Voss reject the competitive prejudice all of us are fed against immigrants, voicing the class solidarity upon which our mutual gains depend. This vital solidarity is echoed throughout this issue as is a militant commitment to the struggle for economic justice and a livable future.

Tough times are continuing, but the hardest times are often fertile ground for struggle as the illusion of individualism gives way to the necessity of community. It will take a change in attitudes and cultural consciousness to get us through to really better, secure and sustainable times. The worse things get, the more violent and reactionary the movies, music, and cultural attitudes the corporate ruling class pump out in order to fortify attitudes which undermine our unity and the class perspective that threaten their power over us.

This is why working class culture is so vital to our struggle. This is what our journal is about. There are very few venues for consistently progressive, class conscious and militant writing. This is our annual fundraising season. Tight times make supporting this project both more difficult and more vital. We are amazed to have lasted over sixteen years and honored to have published the strongest poets of our working class. We get no backing from organized labor, literary or political organizations, or universities. This is your journal. In better times your editors covered expenses from our own meager pockets but given our more tenuous economic reality, we cannot cover all the costs involved. That we have been able to continue publishing over the past few years is a tribute to the loyalty of readers who have found this journal worthy of support. We are determined, with your help, to continue.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Contest

Only four months left for entries to the Working Peoples' Poetry Contest! So far the entries are few meaning your odds are good. If you've read the Blue Collar Review and especially if you've been published in it, you have the advantage of knowing what we like.

Enter today! Send your best shot and you could be the big winner of the $100.00 prize. Winners also have their poem published on our website for an entire year and receive a one year subscription to our journal.

Only $15.00 per entry, to: "Contest" Partisan Press P.O. Box 11417 Norfolk, VA 23517