Monday, August 15, 2016

The Big Job


This is a holy tome every poet should read. Most if not all of the poetry in this great book have been published in the Blue Collar Review. The Big Job is published by and available from, Red Dragonfly Press. These are poems of militancy and humor interwoven by a master. Below is a review by poet Chris Butters.




THE BIG JOB: POLITICAL POEMS 1978-2004 BY ROBERT EDWARDS (RED DRAGONFLY PRESS, 2016)

147 years since Marx’s Communist Manifesto, 26 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, four years after Occupy Wall Street, Robert Edwards publishes a retrospective of his political poems.The title is The Big Job: Political Poems 1979-2003. Part retrospective, part invocation, part manifesto, at a time when the American poetry establishment and much of American poetry is governed by the strictures of an insular post- modernism, Edwards calls for a “Big Job”.

Come one, come all, you laboring tribe
and get your seven heel boots on,
the seven-leaguers. Lets go,
carpenters and data poets, dreamhackers
and cement finishers! Join the crew,
you wind-welders and stormy roughnecks laughing
open mouthed over roofs of the world!
Come on and get your feet muddy with common cause.
Let’s drink the light profane
from a jug we pass mouth to mouth like a kiss.

This is the Big Job,
the high bridge to the future, never finished.
See the cities of the Americas,
of Africa and Asia of Europe and Down Under, mate –
my people built it all, every working color of us,
our labor, our genius, our patience with the stone.

The seven wonders of the world are all in a day’s work to us.
Babel was an outhouse, Notre Dame a closet,
the skyscrapers are toothpicks and the pyramids
bricks in a fireplace where we warm our feet,
compared to what we raise and span.

No ordinary construction project, this is a big job with work for everyone, hard work, but honest work, work not only to build bridges and schools,but the very foundations of a new society And it is big for another reason – it is governed by a big idea: that working people can take destiny into their own hands and shape the new society in their own interests, and not the capitalists.
Women and men, we need your steel.
Your feet are the foundations ,your arms the girders,
your talents the rivets and mortar. Bring everything you have,
we need it all because
it is ourselves we make –

Edwards poems express the blood truths of the class struggle. But at the same time the journey to get to any punchline (if there is one) is never straightforward. Rather it is like reality itself, frequently marked by surprising images, twists and rhythms of a North American language, surrealist juxtapositions, and the dance and interplay of contending forces.

This is a poetry deriving its power from an interdependence with the workers movement and simultaneously and continually drawing on a power independently from it i.e. the fountain of the imagination. This is a poetry that resonates powerfully as poems, as well as being contributions to the political struggle.

If The Big Job is based on the premise that workers have the power and skill and intelligence to rule society, it is also based on the premise that workers have the power and skill to create their own working class culture. Such a culture includes use of the most advanced artistic techniques developed under capitalism, but speaks by, for and on behalf of working people, reflecting our own experiences and struggles.

The poem “Inauguration Day, January 2001” (regarding the 2000 U.S. presidential election) concludes with the line, “the coup was successful” (the “coup” being the ascension to power of George Bush through a coordinated campaign of criminal vote tampering by the Republican Party, collusion by the big business media and a rubber stamp by the Supreme Court). What could easily have been another bulletin that the emperor has no clothes, instead accumulates power through the juxtaposition of surreal images leading up to a conclusion with the force of revelation.

The oceans did not boil.
Earth did not roll a grown around the sun.

A hundred dollar bill lit a cigar with a human being.
The dead did not rise to march on Washington.

Without one rain of toads,
without one plague of boils,
George W. Bush, III, proud member
of the wrecking class and the new CEO
of America, Inc., in a hostile takeover,
stepped to the podium and placed
the melting icecap of his hand upon
some dead paperweight box of words.
The spigot of his mouth opened
and a geyser of crude flowed
over the green earth.

The sky did not darken at noon.
The moon did not turn to blood.

The coup was successful.

In the poem “Inquest”, a poem that concludes with a rhetorical question is preceded by a tableau of images that take on the power of a Diego Rivera mural.

Our statesmen, those politicians
fat with contempt for the People,
and holding a nuclear pistol pointed
at the world’s hostage head –
why do they keep digging foxholes
on Wall Street?

Can’t they see the angels descend
from dusty heavens, helpless
to take the injured workman’s place?
Can’t they see the braiding together
of earth and sky on the rainy horizon?

Why are they trying to dam up the future
before the dawn? And why
are they whispering
to one another in a language of blood?

Isn’t it fantastic
they don’t know that the equation in the leaf
is not the end of mystery?
Are their feet dead, or are they just plain stupid
because they can’t understand that the dance
of millions together
is the terror of the gods?

In the space of four stanzas, the poem moves swiftly from political statement to lyricism, from the humorous to the serious, from an image of descending angels and gods to an earthly language of blood , all anchored by the voice of one worker speaking to another.

Sometimes the “point” of Edwards poems is the river of images, as in the haunting poem of homelessness, “River Of The Dispossessed”. “American Dark”, on the other hand is part love poem, part political missive, and an almost perfect fusion of the personal and political.

And who could believe that writing based on the working class could be so exuberant and so much –well, FUN -- interspersed with such partisanship? Here is a stanza from “Dear America”.

Ach, mein friendly Totenkamph Papa,
how about if I give you an empty glass and promise
to fill it next fiscal year?
No, thanks, you say? You have to be going?
You have to make sure
that the production of silence is maintained
in the factories of the dead?
Wait, Dad of Eagles, don’t go!
We have so much to talk about.
When is America going to be the Motherland too?
And in the basement of the Smithsonian
are you holding the real Uncle Sam?

Dear America, now is the time to bristle with Spring
and green thunders!
What we ignore will surface like a submarine
in our coffee—

Dear America, America mine,
…. you’re already out the door with your fingers
in your ears….

This voice – marked by rollicking word play and a deadly seriousness lying just beneath the surface – will be repeated in other poems in The Big Job. The carnivalesque quality of Edward’s exuberant language may strike some as in contradiction to the book’s flip side of plain speaking and sober truths. But when one remembers the historic role of carnival in overturning society’s established class order through festival and theater (even if just for the day), Edwards’ strategy becomes clear.

This book, which collects poems from 1970- 2003, is like a compendium of political struggles in the U.S. during those years. There are poems here written in solidarity with the Central American and South African revolutionary movements. (Even here, the headlights of the South African miners are “like a third eye that opens far underground /in the infernal midnight galleries of exploitation”.)

There are poems like “Fourth of July”. In the summer of his class struggle, the young poet experiences a solidarity with other workers, and the world view of Marxism. We will need these poems, given the struggles to come.

Edwards is particularly good at lambasting the extreme right wing figures of the Republican party of these years, and the big business forces who stand behind them. The poem “When Newt Gingrich Speaks” exposes the stench of fascism lying just underneath the glittering rhetoric of Gingrich and Helms (and our present day Trump). Poems like “Progress, Holidays, And The Official Story” poignantly remind us that racism is alive and well in the supposed U.S. “post-racial” society, and the fight against it is an integral part of the struggle of our “Big Job”.

The destruction of the Soviet Union throws a big shadow in the course of this compendium, as well it should. Whatever one’s view of the Soviet Union, the loss of a counterweight to imperialism clearly threw the socialist movement on the defensive --and the working class in retreat under an emboldened imperialism in its trumpeted “new world order”.

At a time when the capitalist class hailed the destruction of the Soviet Union as evidence of “the death of communism”, Roberts defiantly reaffirms his Marxist commitment (“The Death Of Communism”). At the same time, reflecting the soul searching shared by many of us on the Left at the time, Edwards asks us, “Shouldn’t there be an inquest?/ And isn’t it time to demand answers from our hands,/ to interrogate our tools?).

He then asks,
“Yes, there are better shopping opportunities now,
and all the world’s currencies flow
into one sea of trade whose bottom line is salt
to the thirsty, riptide to the unemployed,
or a painter’s light – a green steel Vermeer
tha never fed a child. Yes black money
continues to frag the future,and the same oppressions
gather their old names to new men.
This is the perfection we need not surpass?
Accommodation is the wisdom we have awakened to?
An this is why our hands framed the tools
that troubled the thunder of gods outgrown?”

And if imperialism has been temporarily strengthened, it hasn’t changed its spots. In another poem Edwards uses his knowledge of Greek mythology to give it a different name: Erysichthon.

Because he would devour the world and be Death,
Erysichthon was cursed by Demeter with insatiable hunger
. Driven insane by appetite, he sold his daughter for food,
dragging all he could to his mouth,
until he broke his teeth on rocks,
until he tore the meat from his own bones
and dying drank his own blood down.

Like you, America. Like you.

But it is the poems about America , where I think Edwards poems especially sing. The poems in The Big Job are filled with American heroes: Pete Seeger, Gus Hall, Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie, Geronimo Pratt, Martin Luther King, Ma Joad and Grandma Millie. (And a new one – Uberman !). I also think it is no accident that it is in these hard-won poems his language, voice and meaning come together and most successfully fuse.

In Pete Seeger, Edwards uses a music festival as occasion to portray the hope and aspirations of American working people.
The floodplain is claimed in one voice by the People,
if only for tonight. A summer sound of joy
goes down to the dark currents of Big Muddy singing,
and we feel what is possible:
the good American heart of its men and women,
open to the world, all the labor in the fields of justice
bearing beautiful fruit at last,
all highways open, and the rivers running untainted
into the future, mixing the black earth of the Heartland
with the cold salts of the sea….

“Highways” is another example where Edwards fuses his lyricism, use of imagery and commitment into a new whole. He sees the “rusted steel towns”, but also identifies in the course of the poem a “rainbow tribe” and a promise.
and when I awoke I held a dream in my arms
tight so tight believing
all of us or none, believing that America will rise
into itself, climbing its prayers
into the promise of the morning. Yes
I have seen the sleeping face of that dream
in your restless rainbow tribe
as they struggled in their labor and against
the hatred or indifference of the rich
and their own scabs and traitors.

wherever I awoke, I held a dream in my arms,
rocking it in the cradle of my ribs ---
a dream that could not wake up.

Elsewhere, poems indicate that this dream can only be actualized through militant struggle against the capitalist class – and against the false patriotism and jingoism of “Yesterday’s War”, and “The Republican Café”.

At a time where poetry is dominated by a “post modernist” aesthetic of essentially “art for art’s sake”, Edwards has created a significant body of work that bases itself on the working class, and which also possesses a rare power and resonance.

I hope this book enables Bob to reach the broader audience he deserves. To those who ask where are the new Pete Seegers, I say: read this book. To those who say, where are the political poets who speak for us, I say: read this book. I hope this book will get into the hands of those who need to read it most. I hope it will be read and, what is more, USED.

At a time when the capitalist crisis is deepening, this book is a call for workers to imagine. It is a call for workers to act. At a time marked by the biggest looting of the wealth of the working class by the capitalist class in centuries, it is especially a call to a new generation to pick up the torch and carry the struggle for the Big Job forward. In Edwards’ poems there is also a special emphasis on the role of poets in this daunting but important work.

This is a long road and heavy lifting awaits. But if this means continued struggle by the working class “rainbow tribe”, there is also joy and comradeship -- and poetry and beauty and music -- along the way.

“Women and men, we need your steel.
Your feet are the foundations, your arms the girders,
your talents the rivets and mortar.
Bring everything you have, we need it all because

it is ourselves we make –
the earthquake-proof human highway,
carrying our children and their imaginations
to skies beyond our last nail.

The weather and the official Press
are always against us -- I like the odds!

And I don’t know about the dead,
but we’’ll make enough noise to wake the living!

Friday, July 08, 2016

Spring Issue Editorial

As this issue goes to press we find our country and world caught up in a historic working class rebellion as people reject the corrupt politics of corporate dominance and failed neo-liberal economics.

Here in the US, both of the corporate political parties are facing division and disarray. The GOP, long the party of the most extreme anti-civil-rights, anti-woman, anti-labor, climate change denial and militarist xenophobia wrestles with the rise of the crude, racist know-nothing Donald Trump. He is an embarrassment and a danger.

The Democrats too are split. The insiders favor the corporate liberalism of the Clintons which represents failed and corrupt economics along with drone assassination, aggressive imperial foreign policy, fracking, oil drilling and toxic trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many people, more than were counted in rigged primaries, prefer the authentic populism and people-first democracy represented by Bernie Sanders.

In England, the Brexit vote was a working class rejection of the undemocratic, trans-national economics of corporate greed and citizen austerity embodied by the European Union. Like the false populism of Trump, those pushing Brexit played on nationalism and anti-immigrant hostility, ignoring that many immigrants are refugees of the same corrupt economics and of wars perpetrated by the US and England. As with Trump's campaign, the result of misplaced anger could be disastrous for working people. Americans should take note of this.

We understand the pain that leads to this. The poems in this collection give voice to the frustration and hopelessness of being trapped in soul and body killing jobs, as well as the hardship of poverty resulting from low wages, and the anguish of destitution in their absence. Our rejection of the corrupt monstrosity of capitalism and our anger at the thieves who reap fortunes from our misery is, unlike the scapegoating by venal opportunists, on target.

We understand people's anger but we know better than to kick ourselves. History and the unfolding present repeatedly demonstrate that it is much easier to reject something than it is to replace it.

We still have political conventions ahead of us which promise to be tumultuous to say the least. People are rightly upset and the power brokers of this rotten system are doing everything in their power to hold on to their influence and protections.

No matter what happens in the coming months and what our actual ballot choices turn out to be, our movement has come together and will continue to fight on issues vital to our survival. We need to be moving toward the emergence of an organized populist bloc that will speak and move with power beyond the confines of the corrupt corporate politics which serve the elites.

This journal continues to be a voice for the voiceless and more importantly, of worker poets who understand that other victims of the same crimes which oppress us -- of exploitation and oppression -- are not to blame. They are not our enemies. We understand that it is this criminal system of greed which threatens us all and that only united can we replace it and save ourselves. We are not and will not be fooled by charlatans and shills.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Winter Issue Editorial

Winter is a hard time. The poems in this issue describe in personal ways the obstacles we face daily from the difficulties and degradation of tenuous jobs, to the struggle for the basic security of food and a warm home. They reveal the resentment, not of the rich, but of the stilted and corrupt reality that denies opportunity to so many for the benefit of so few.

These are exciting times as well. It is a rare moment when the things we've been saying -- the working class reality this journal has been publishing for decades -- is being heard from a major party Presidential candidate. Even more uplifting is the record support and state landslide victories a candidate calling himself a "socialist" is receiving.

What we are witnessing is the growth of class consciousness and the potential for an organized movement. We are seeing the rejection of corruption, greed and the corporate economics that impoverish us and which feed global climate disaster.

Partisan Press is a not-for-profit publisher and is officially non-partisan, meaning that we cannot and do not officially endorse candidates. That said, it is obvious to anyone in the working class movement for economic justice, peace and sustainability that there is only one candidate really addressing these issues vital to our survival and who has a consistent record of doing so.

Hillary Clinton stated during one of the debates that one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose. The poetry of the Sanders campaign in speaking truth, is touching a nerve. As the he himself states, it will take all of us to govern if we are to effectively confront the monstrosity of this system. As with poetry, creative thinking is vital if we are to be successful in saving ourselves as a species and creating a more just and enlightened society.

This is our annual fund drive season. If you are only viewing online, You can support us on our website. If you are a subscriber or being published, you will find in this issue a slip asking for donations of support. We do not beg during the holiday season like most other not-for-profits, because as working people, we know how strained a time that is for all of us. We wait until spring because we know that some of us can expect a refund on our taxes. Our staff is small but we do have expenses. We need to cover the costs of producing this journal. We must cover the increasing price of mailings and we have to pay for supplies as well as basics like rent and keeping the lights on.

We've been publishing this journal, as well as poetry collections by some of strongest voices of our working class for going on 20 years. We have succeeded where many have not because of your support. The things we've been saying for years are finally catching on. Something is working, and while we cannot claim all the credit, we can claim that we've been a part of what has made this moment in the struggle possible.

Progress cannot happen without a change in consciousness. much of which is culturally defined. That is what Partisan Press is all about, as our mission states: "We hope to create an awareness of and involvement in working class culture as well as to promote a progressive vision that will move our class and our society forward toward a more just and peaceful future."

The truth is, we cannot do it without you. Our editor is an impoverished, unemployable radical and our co-editor is retired on an inadequate income. We cannot afford to do this. We struggle on out of an obsessive dedication made possible by supporters who find our collective efforts worthwhile. Like the Sanders campaign, this isn't about our selves -- it's about all of us. It's about what kind of society we want to live in. It's about shaping consciousness in a way that only poetry can do. Thank you for your support.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fall Issue Editorial

These are dark Times. As if things weren't difficult and nerve-wracking enough with half the country at the poverty level and our climate on the brink, we are experiencing almost a mass shooting a day along with a rise of fear, bigotry and hate being stirred by the extreme right, reminiscent of the worst of the last century.

Campaign rhetoric has been especially telling in this regard. The GOP, always glad to exploit the ignorance, anger and prejudice of its base, has become entrapped in fascist ideology as candidates compete to be more right-wing than each other – and it's more than just campaign jargon. Donald Trump demonizes Muslims and Hispanic refugee immigrants, running on the promise of massive roundups and deportations. The rest aren't any better pushing guns, anti-Muslim bigotry, and a malignant mixture of fundamentalist religion and militarist nationalism.

The poets in this collection aren't buying the lies. We have never done so. These poets have been through the meat-grinder of horrible jobs, destitution, loss and job related injury. We see the corruption, the manipulated fear and hatred for what it is. These poets have been radicalized and are armed to the teeth, not with guns but with words sharpened to a razor's edge armed with ideas and even worse, ideals!

These are voices of sanity amid the rising barbarism. These are the ideals of human solidarity and outraged humanity. As the poems in this collection illustrate, we deal with the madness around us in different ways. We rant and rage. We speak out against the mindlessness, hate, ignorance, cynical lies and unbearable psychopathology around us. We march arm in arm. We take care of each other. We look for truth and meaning we can hang onto. We insulate our sanity. We retreat from the media lies that pour like endless toxic waste from our TVs and radios. We find solace in community, and we drink.

Let this be a journal be a sanctuary of solace, an assurance that you are not alone. Let this journal be a refuge of inspiration, knowing we are in this fight together, resisting barbarism and struggling for the sanity and security of a better world. Let the poems in this journal, be the firing sequence of the revolution we need to save us.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Lasting Gift of Sanity and Inspiration

In this season of giving, you have no doubt been accosted by every cause and charity imaginable. There was "Black Friday" and "Giving Tuesday" -- matching gifts, and desperate pleas up the wazoo. I've always wondered why the begging is upped when the majority of us are most stretched to the limit. I realize that giving now ups the annual take for charities and organizations but for working stiffs and those of us for whom jobs are but a memory, the timing is unrealistic.

For this reason, our press -- which relies on your support and exists on a the tattered remains of a shoestring, waits until after the holidays to beg. That said, there is a way you can support us while easing your own guilt ridden burden of giving gifts while also doing your part to heal the diseased mindset that plagues our nation.

Consider giving subscriptions of the Blue Collar Review! For a measly $20.00 you can buy a loved one, friend or co-worker inspiration and sanity that will last an entire year! Not only that, you'll be helping to sustain the best if not only journal of Progressive Working Class Literature and, if you are a worker-poet, one of the few venues for your own work.

The best way to do this, given the time, is to email us with the information and gift subscribee info. I will send you an invoice you can pay with your plastic and mail you a gift certificate you can give (first class) as our journal, which is in the process of production, will probably not be out before Xmas -- and even if it was, it's taking three to six weeks to get to many of you due to the undermining of our Postal Services.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Continuous Performance: The Selected Poems of Maggie Jaffe

This is a collection of work by poet Maggie Jaffe who died in 2011. This collection put together by our familiy of working class poets keeps her vital poetry alive. It is edited by Christopher Butters, Marilyn Zuckerman, and Robert Edwards and published by Red Dragonfly Press. Below is a review by Julia Stein.

Maggie Jaffe’s poetry is reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s, but with a distinctive, tough-edged American voice. After getting a B.A. from the New School for Social Research in New York, Jaffe lived in Guatemala, where she was inspired by Latin American poets such as Claribel Alegría, Otto René Castillo, Ernesto Cardenal, Pablo Neruda, and Roque Dalton—poets who were spokespeople for the wretched of the earth. When she died in 2011, she had published six books of poetry, received an NEA fellowship, and had won the San Diego Book Award for Poetry twice.

This new volume of selected poems is an excellent introduction to her work. One of the poems from the opening section celebrates Cardenal’s lines “the earth belongs to everyone, / not just the rich!” by voicing them at an anti-immigrant rally on the border. Another poem looks at Salvadoran misery, but also celebrates Alegría’s hope for change in El Salvador “in pueblo-owned milpas after / sweet green corn ripens.” Jaffe wasn’t a poet for the squeamish: in one piece, a minor Salvadoran union official finds the death squad has “decapitate[d] / her five children” and placed their bodies “around the kitchen table.” The poem ends with the phrase “Shit happens.” In “Emily Dickinson,” Jaffe criticizes the nineteenth-century poet, calling her “one of the few women / you can trust to keep / her mouth shut.”

In selections from How the West Was Won, Jaffe begins with “Can’t Happen Here”—referring to the “Gen·o·cide” that did happen here, to Native Americans. The theme of resistance runs through these poems—for example, she lauds the Zapatistas as people who will “die fighting rather than from dysentery.” The poet also finds a heroine in Emma Goldman, saying that after the U.S. deported Goldman for “‘hysterically’ agitating for peace,” only “in death will they allow / her back in the Imperium.” These voices contrast with that of Jaffe’s student in “Poverty Sucks,” who feels that he has “the right / not to know about the poor.”

:Jaffe’s third book, The Prisons, compassionately describes prisoners and their visitors such as “Marianne” with her “3 advanced degrees”: “She’s also doing time: / one-room Portland / flat, post office by day, / clichéd lonely nights.” The poet creates another fine portrait in “Daniel in the House of Cards” who wants to make it up to his parents who visit him every weekend, but the con next to him says that when Daniel gets out his parents will “be holding hands six- / feet under.” The Prisons has the finest poems written in the U.S. about our penal system; in this book, Jaffe also identifies with “degenerate” artists such as George Grosz, calling him “a small no in the big / YES! of Nazi Germany.”

As her career progressed, Jaffe continued to create haunting portraits such as “Kafka at Work,” capturing the author’s short, sad life in six poignant stanzas, and “Otto Dix: Artist Against War,” describing his powerful antiwar drawings created while he was a soldier in the German trenches. Jaffe wrote many poems about those artists called “degenerate” by the Nazis, such as Dix, Grosz, and Kandinsky—“‘degenerate’ because they won’t paint / golden bodies for the Reich.” Jaffe also both loved and hated the movies, as evidenced by her many poems about Hollywood; these include “Sign of the Times,” about failed starlet Peg Entwistle, who jumped from the thirteenth letter in the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, and who “still haunts the scene of her demise . . . when there’s a strong scent of gardenia in the air.” In another film-themed poem, “Letter to the Actor Charles Laughton Concerning the Life of Galileo,” German refugee Brecht writes admiringly to Laughton “as if words would save us.”

The hard-assed honesty, courage, and hope in these poems make Jaffe equal to Brecht and her other “degenerate” heroes. Like them, she refused to make safe art during troubled times; her uncompromisingly tough style bores unflinchingly into our piercing reality.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction written by Robert Edwards and whether you buy this book or not -- and you should -- the introduction alone is well worth the purchase price. It speaks not only to the powerful writing of Maggie Jaffe but to progressive working class poetry as a whole. Edwards writes:

The great American poet, Thomas McGrath, spoke of “the lost poets of America.” He was referring to poets such as Don Gordon, Meridel LeSueur and Bert Meyers (and many others) whose work set a high standard of accomplishment but was ignored or shunned either because their style was at right angles to the conventions of the day or because they wrote political poems, or both. I would suggest there is another generation of lost poets in America, of whom Maggie Jaffe is one. Maybe there is always a generation of lost poets in America.

Every age of poetry begets a particular stylistic type which becomes the dominant meme of its time and eventually comes to be seen as indicative of that time. There also exists in every time poets who do not write like anyone else, as if their influences came from an alternate world. Sometimes these poets are loved for that, but mostly they are not. Just being different is enough to get doors slammed in your face and the reasons for this are many, as writers of anything resembling political poetry know all too well. Some editors are just not very imaginative people. They also can be the cops, courts and wardens of an official culture that will tolerate no dissent on their turf. Different always carries with it the implications of subversion. “Have you ever felt like an alien?” Maggie once asked me. “After all these years, I still do.”

Nevertheless, despite the usual obstacles, during her life she published eight books (The Prisons, 7th Circle, Continuous Performance, How The West Was One, The Body Politic, Roque Dalton Redux (co-edited with Esther Rodriguez), 1492: What Is It Like To Be Discovered? (with Deborah Small), and Flic(k)s), of which 7th Circle (1998) and The Prisons (2001), received the San Diego Book Award for poetry. At various times she was the editor and driving force behind Cedar Hill Books and the small press magazine, The Cedar Hill Review. Without her the press would have gone out with the tide, as so many small presses do. She fiercely kept it going, against the odds. She was generous and encouraging to many poets, publishing books that otherwise would have never seen the light of day. Unfortunately, due to a malicious and frivolous lawsuit filed by a contributor to Cedar Hill Books—a person Maggie had once helped and published—Cedar Hill Books was severely crippled and never recovered.

Maggie was never entirely comfortable with the term political poet. She viewed herself as a poet who wrote about, amongst other things, political matters as they affected her. This is actually how a great deal of the poetry writing (and reading) world views the role of a poet in a modern society. A poet might write a love poem or a poem about their Grandmother or the way autumn leaves fall into a river. And write a poem about the latest war. Giving expression to the entire range of human experience is what a whole person and a responsible artist does.

Still, it seems not a year passes without well heeled and appointed poets within the mainstream literary community in America throwing up the question, “Can political poetry be poetry?” Well heeled and appointed poets have been asking this question since the McCarthy era. No surprise what the answer is.

Of course, what is really being objected to is speaking truth to power. As one well heeled and appointed poet once smugly told me, “Poetry is about revelation not revolution.” But of course it’s about both. It is impossible to truly arrive at one without the other. Indeed, separating Art into acceptable and non-acceptable categories based on content will inevitably lead one into hypocrisy and contradiction. To imagine that poets are somehow above or outside the political structure of the society in which they exist is itself a political notion that soon collapses under the weight of its own assumptions. As the cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, said, "All films are political." Knowing of Maggie's interest in film, I mentioned this quote to her. Over the phone you could hear the ice in her drink tinkle as she swirled it. "Yes," she said, "all poems, too."

We never met. At various times she was going to fly to Seattle and visit with poet friends here. Sadly, that never happened. In the 1990s, perhaps the last decade when people still wrote letters, we exchanged letters. Later, we exchanged emails. Hers were always brief, laconic, almost aphoristic, like telegrams sent by someone who needed to cut to the core of the matter and only had minutes on the schedule before the train arrives. What we did, however, was talk on the phone for hours at a time. Maggie was a charming conversationalist and we were like teenagers sharing long distance secrets.

I’ve only seen one picture of her. It’s the one on most of her books: a hipster in sunglasses. She carries a brave and twisted smile—amused, not only at the world but at herself, her face caught at just that instant when the stand up comedian has brought down the house with a joke at everyone’s expense.

In her early poems, a major theme was language and how it is used to obfuscate and conceal the real agenda of the U.S. empire builders. My co-editor, the poet, Christopher Butters, and I had the opportunity to read an early, unpublished manuscript of Maggie’s called Job’s Wife. The work is a harbinger of things to come though it is uneven, as early work often is. But what is clear is that over the course of the manuscript you can see the poems become tougher and leaner. What is lyrical becomes increasingly pared away, the only music that of the forge, hammer and sparks as an edge is applied. Once Maggie found her voice, she created a kind of poetry that was relentlessly stripped to the essentials, everything superfluous burned away in the underlying fury that inhabits these poems.

Once, after publishing some of her poems in Pemmican, I got an email from a reader who complained that her work was nihilistic and that it lacked hope and promise. It’s true, Maggie’s poems don’t have Disney endings. These are not poems that cheerlead for social change. And yes, very rarely do they offer hope. When I read them, I think this is someone who has gone beyond all hope and yet who keeps putting one foot in front of the other. These are brutal, unflinching looks at brutal situations, and Maggie refuses to sugarcoat them. We are like that captive viewer of horrific documentaries, strapped to a chair with eyelids taped open, unable to turn away from an endless reel of atrocities wrapped in patriotic packages, forced to witness one shattered life and holocaust after another. We are immersed in History and its consequences, and we are not allowed to make excuses for anyone, not even ourselves.

Can't Happen Here
     for Ward Churchill

    The poster announced a Conference on Genocide
    at a southern California university.
    Represented were Jews, Armenians, Cambodians,
    even Gypsies, but no American Indians.
    I phoned the professor in charge,
    who had "thought of including Indians,
    but the students decided against it."
    He explained: "Indians don't fall
    within the dictionary
    definition of Gen•o•cide,
    namely 'the systematic,
    planned extermination of a people.'"
    "You don't think invasion, land theft,
    chronic murder of civilians & the slaughter
    of 50 million bison with the intention of starving
    Indian people, wasn't planned?"
    "No," he said, "we just went too far."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Summer Issue Editorial

It's been another long, hot Summer. We have once again broken the record for high temperatures. We continue to witness the ravages of our self-pepetuating wars, worsening climate and the imperialist economics of greed and austerity. As a result, Europe is experiencing a crisis of refugees. Our own country has been facing a similar influx of refugees for years. The corporate media labels them "illegal aliens. Racist xenophobes of the right stir fear and hate calling for massive arrests and deportations, ignoring the criminal policies that create the problem. And the refugees are not always alien. Several poems in this issue remind us that poverty and homelessnes are increasingly criminalized. The poor and homeless fill our prisons.

As temperatures, climate-related disasters, violence and abuse rise, so too does the struggle for justice and sanity. From Greece to Guatemala, from Spain to our own city streets, new movements are rising and old ones are breathing new life.

Our summer issue focuses on war and on ecology. Given the state of our biosphere and the continuing assaults against it by this deadly, myopic and stubborn system of greed, we've been tempted to rename this journal "The Fossil Record." In spite of the mounting evidence of disaster, we are encouraged by the expanding consciousness of the real cost of capitalism. This is reflected in the massive and growing support for Bernie Sanders as well as for policies that address the looming climate catastrophe. The global conscious rejection of capitalist greed, gun proliferation, war and climate destruction gives us some reasons for hope.

Poems in this collection describe the misery and oppression of working conditions and the injustice many face on the job, as well as the desperation of unemployment.

Our Summer issue presents the winning poem of the Working People's Poetry contest. This year's winning poem was "Absence" by Diane Sahms-Guarneiri. This poem describes the loss of a loved one to job-related illness. Too many of us have stories of job-related injuries, disability, and lives sacrificed to greed. As usual, picking the winning poem was tough. Other contest entries appearing in this issue include Ed Werstein's powerful poem "Austerity" and "Portals in Alessandro's Restaurant" by Tanya Pilumeli. Her poem is a beautifully composed portrayal of the music and energy of restaurant work. It ran a close second.

This issue completes eighteen years of publication. We hope to see many more. For the first time since 1997, we have raised our subscription rates -- but not much. Subscriptions are now $20.00 per year or $35.00 for two years. We strive to keep this journal affordable and could not break even on subscriptions alone as costs of materials and postage have continued to rise. Partisan Press is a charitable not-for-profit institution. Not only does that make your contributions tax-deductible, it means we send 20% of our journals to those who cannot afford them free of charge. Let us know if the subscription price increase causes you difficulty. We will not cut you off.

We are grateful to those of you who have entered our contest and who continue to support this journal financially as well as with your writing. Whether we are a catalyst for conscious change or a fossil record of our times, we believe in the vital importance and power of poetry which speaks the truth.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Review Up

As our newest issue goes to print, a review of our last issue is up at New Pages. It is always good to get noticed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Stewart Acuff Reading

I was fortunate to get a recording of Stewart Acuff reading some of his poems on WBAI-FM's Arts Express radio show this coming Thursday, July 16 between 2 and 3 PM. This can be streamed live or listened to later.(Probably the last spot before 3:00 PM). Acuff is a long time labor organizer besides being a great working class poet with an honest authenticity, as Chris Butters describes in introducing him.

These poems have all appeared in the Blue Collar Review.

Listen, enjoy and pass this around.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Spring Issue Editorial

As this season moves from bitter cold to record heat, things are warming up around the country as well. Poems in this collection speak of both the pride and the misery of work. They flesh out the real insecurity and resentment of underpaid and tenuous jobs and the seeming hopelessness of unemployment.

The pride and the power of solidarity in the struggle for living wages, basic economic security and respect also grace these pages. The poem "Raising the Floor" by Ira Woodward comes out of the strike by fast food workers at McDonalds which has spread to a larger struggle for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage. This effort has seen success in several states and continues to grow.

As we go to press, we have seen much resistance to the passage of "fast track" negotiations on the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" trade agreement, or TPP, which would give the President a free hand to negotiate this secretive legislation. The TPP would harm labor laws and override environmental and workplace safety laws, as well as establishing the supranational rule of corporations with their own courts.

We are witnessing the long overdue growth of populist resistance to corporate tyranny and to the corruption of government by big money influence. With this comes the vital discovery of common ground and the spread of working class consciousness. This is exemplified by the significant and growing support for Bernie Sanders. We are also seeing more awareness of and resistance to institutional racism and to racist police misconduct with some action being taken to demilitarize abusive police and to hold them accountable.

We still have a long way to go, but that we have made any progress at all on this and other issues is due in no small part to massive citizen activism. Much more is needed.

Real sustained progress requires an organized ongoing mass movement. Ensuring the vigor, popular support and duration of that movement requires a cultural paradigm shift. We must see a rejection of the alienated, divisive, violent egoism promoted by corporate media, reclaiming and strengthening a culture of class-conscious solidarity.

We labor to do our part by publishing the powerful visionary voices of our working class in spite of the very real obstacles of our own poverty and the rising costs of publishing and mailing. We are only able to keep doing this thanks to your ongoing support for which we are extremely grateful. But these words, your words, need to be more widely read. We passionately believe in the power of poetry to change lives and expand consciousness. Consider passing this journal around, buying extra copies to leave in places where others will find them, or getting subscriptions for friends.

As the struggle heats up and progressive populism grows, our work is cut out for us. As the poet Robert Edwards has written, it's time to "get our Joe Hill Boots on."

Friday, April 03, 2015

Winter Issue Editorial

This is a hard collection coming in hard times. Usually we have more poetry about work conditions, good and bad, but fewer of us are working, especially those of getting us on in years. Corporations are reaping record profits and statistically, hiring is up a few percentage points but the jobs are mostly part-time low-paying service jobs and the wages remain stagnant if not decreasing in relation to actual living costs. Young people are stuck with low-wage service work. This includes college graduates who are yoked with lifetimes of debt while older workers are discarded like yesterday's trash.

Of those still working, half of us are now at the poverty line, in debt, and a shaky paycheck away from destitution. Corporate ownership of our government is degrading our economy to third world conditions, because you and I are being subjected to the same neo-liberal austerity foisted on Greece and Spain. Republicans have made further impoverishing us their platform, pushing "right to work" laws, written by ALEC, in Wisconsin and other states and further criminalizing the poor. Democrats, with few exceptions, are only nominally better.

As our economic security erodes, the disparity between desperate poverty and obscene wealth is reaching levels unseen since the age of robber barons. The police abuse and public robbery reported in Ferguson Missouri are typical of the abuses heaped upon poor and minority citizens throughout this country. Our working class continues to be cynically divided against ourselves with phony partisan politics by the same corporate interests that impoverish us. From continuing attacks on labor, Social Security and civil liberties, to escalating violence against women, fascism is raising its ugly head.

For working people, our only defense is community and the awareness of our strength when united as a class. Spreading that progressive class-conscious awareness is what this journal exists for. As this collection shows, we as a class have a long memory in spite of every attempt to erase it. We remember the struggles against slavery. We remember the fight for the eight hour day, for women's rights, civil rights and the right to organize. We remember our martyrs; the bonus marchers, the Ford workers, the San Francisco dock workers, The Haymarket and Panther martyrs, the Triangle Shirtwaist, Hamlet Chicken Plant, and Rana Plaza factory workers sacrificed for the bosses greed. We remember them because of working class poets and writers.

We too are struggling, holding on to the crumbling edge to get these words -- our words, out. You will find an insert in this issue asking for your help in keeping this collective project going. You can also help support this journal by entering a poem in our annual contest. If you've been published in this journal, you know what we like and you have an advantage. The winner will get $100.00, a one year subscription and online publication.

We are grateful beyond words to those of you who have already contributed to our fund drive as well as to those whose vital words grace our pages. We look forward to continuing to speak truth to power and, more importantly to each other, letting our fellow workers know they are neither alone nor powerless.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hebdo Schmebdo

A good friend of mine named Shirley who had come of political age in the struggle against the KKK in Greensboro, NC in which most of the KKK were also police once said to me, "All people want is Justice and Respect." Muslims in France have had neither. Muslims living in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Israel have born the brunt of invasion, war, torture, apartheid, assassination and the murderous terror of drones. They continue to have their culture and beliefs attacked and disrespected in the western media. In our country they face violence, assault and attacks on mosques.

There is no justification for the suppression or murder of cartoonists or writers by governments or religious fanatics of any kind. But the reality is that far more innocent Muslims have been attacked and murdered around the world without big marches of solidarity against hate crimes. As for "Charlie Hebdo," it is easy to be controversial and "edgy" by poking fun at others, lambasting their cultures and beliefs. There is a long history of this. Think of old caricatures in our own country of Germans and Japanese dating from WWII, or for that matter of African Americans who still get little justice or respect. Think of German portrayals of Jews from the 1930's. A good analysis of this issue shows the utter hypocrisy of making this into a free speech issue.

I guess what irritates me the most about this, given the limits of the US media, is the portrayal of cultural chauvinism drenched in racism as "free speech." The reality is that there are real truth-tellers relegated to the margins like Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow!, Glenn Greenwald and others on The Intercept, or Consortium News, and Truth Out. There are people like Eric Snowden and Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and many others who put everything on the line to speak the necessary truth.

Then there are you and I. If you're reading this, there is a good chance you read or have been published in the Blue Collar Review. We are certainly controversial if not downright revolutionary in that we speak truth to power exposing the filthy, monstrous, destructive and oppressive reality of the capitalist system. We are even more revolutionary in that we seek to UNITE rather than to divide. I am also a writer publishing articles in a local magazine that speak to real issues and point fingers at powerful institutions including NATO, the CIA and the police. I pay the price for doing so as do many others and you can bet I'm on the local FBI watch-list.

Am I "Charlie Hebdo"? Are you? Hell No! If anything Charlie Hebdo can only wish they were us! If they really spoke truth to power, it would not be getting such coverage nor the hypocritical appearance of creepy leaders. When hate groups or the state comes for me or you, it won't make the national news but we keep on because we must.