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.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fall Issue Editorial

As this issue goes to press, we are witnessing the playing out of the corporatized culture and attitudes the public has been fed for decades. Cop culture, military, or "warrior" culture, rape culture, and Wall Street culture are inseparable. All are racist, misogynist, inherently violent, alienated, antisocial, and ego-centric. Vengeance, greed, and prejudicial judgment are key to this mindset. Sadly, many working people have bought into it to our social and class detriment.

This is the cultural perspective that justifies worker abuse, victim-blaming, criminalization of poverty, racism, sexism, police abuse, torture, exploitation, corporate theft, destruction of the ecology, imperialism, and war. It is the fascist ideology of raw power or, "Power of the Will" where the brutal rule of those with power is justified and under which illness and poverty are seen as character flaws and deserved conditions of the weak.

Fortunately, not all are taken in by this pathology. As the ugly reality of corporate right-wing culture is bared, the best remedy is the recognition and rejection of this destructive paradigm, reclaiming and recreating our older, healthier, more community-focused working class culture.

In rejecting the corporate, militarized police state, we affirm our common humanity and solidarity, realizing that our class commonality and collective interests include and transcend differences of gender, race, religion and national origin.

This is what gives us, as working people, the strength to survive. This is what this journal is about.

In these pages are poems about the satisfaction of work and caring for and about our co-workers, as in the poem "Henion Bakery" by Virginia Schnurr and in "The Man Who Made Your Breakfast" by Christy Passion. We have several strong poems about union organizing -- its basis in humanity and working class empathy which includes the joy of real empowerment over our lives when we realize that together, united, we have more power than our bosses, and even more than the politicians that represent them.

Poems in this issue get to the nitty-gritty of bad jobs, poverty and homelessness. These poems also speak with outrage, disgust and horror at the abuses of our corrupt system and of the nightmare of torture and murder unleashed by our police and our military, both at home and around the world.

We are proud to be able to continue presenting the strongest poets and writers of our awake and aware working class and hope to be able to continue. This project is a collective effort. We can't do it without you. We are grateful for your support and your inspiration.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Summer Issue Editorial

We've got the blues; the bad job, no job, hungry child, can't afford a doctor, bad landlord, dying planet, not another stupid bogus war blues.

Our Summer issue deals with the inseparable themes of war and environmental destruction which are unfortunately more timely than ever. As the climate, both political and global, becomes more dangerous and oppressive, people are making the connections, recognizing that capitalism is the prime driver of climate destruction as well as the biggest obstacle to addressing it. The recent massive People's Climate March on September 21st built a coalition demanding systemic change that moves beyond the destructive tyranny of corporate rule.

The so-called economic recovery has failed to trickle down and work has become increasingly part-time, "independent" and temporary. Nationwide strikes and demonstrations by fast food workers demand a living wage. They have brought the reality of job injustice and the costs of economic disparity to the national conversation.

This season has also witnessed the growth of pervasive, blatant racism pushed by the right and the existence of an increasingly militarized police state as a response to rising economic desperation and anger.

Writing together as workers, this magazine is one place we can express our experience. We are proud to announce the winners of our Working People's Poetry Contest. This year's winner, "Rana Plaza: Fire in the Rescue Tunnel" by N.C. Otter appears in this issue. Like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and theHamlet Chicken Plant fire in North Carolina where profits were prioritized over the safety and lives of working people, Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing over a thousand workers. As winner, N.C. Otter received the $100.00 prize and a one year subscription. Our runner up was "Out of Darkness" by J.L Schneider, a beautiful poem illuminating the love and pride of accomplishment work can bring. J.L. Schneider also receives a one year subscription. Both poems are posted on our website for a year.

We are grateful to the poets who entered out annual contest. Some of the poems which did not win appear in this collection or will be published in the future. As hard times continue and the struggle for social justice and ecological sanity heats up, we look forward to publishing more of strongest poets in our working class.

Monday, July 07, 2014


Review by Chris Butters

(Available at CCMarimbo, PO Box 933,Berkeley, CA 94701,or at, $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
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.


“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.”