Friday, September 21, 2012

A New Twist to Public Library

I was reading an article today about a new concept of a public library in Manila, Philippines. A bibliophile decided to open a "library" in 2000 after his parents passed on by collecting books and setting shop in front of his house. Soon, people took the hint and started reading books. The bibliophile doesn't charge a cent to anyone. Anyone can take a book permanently. He started from a collection of less than 100 books in 2000. Now, he has between 3,000-4,000. It's amazing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Whiskey Coke

I haven't been posting for a while. To be honest, I must say that I was traumatized last year by an incident which I shall not recount here for fear of a repeat incident. So I must write in riddles. Is a poem a riddle? Because if it is, then it's better to write that way. But can I sustain writing in poem form? What if I can't? But what if my whole way of seeing becomes the perspective of a poem? I heard that once from the fabulous poet Eileen Myles, a recent Guggenheim recipient. I guess it works. Anyway, I haven't read any of my work in public since that faux pas at the Bowery Poetry Club many, many, MANY years ago. So it was a pleasant surprise to be asked to read a poem for the Whiskey Coke readings at Freddy's Bar every 2nd Tuesday of the month. So I was there this June. Pretty cool. It was laid back. I forgot I could be funny. I didn't get nervous and got a few laughs. I guess the Whiskey Coke reading was very special to me. It's because the Frank O'hara poem by a similar name is very special to me. If you were like me and didn't know the Frank O'hara poem before, then you have no excuse now. You can read it below. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Having a Coke with You_____________________________----- is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles _________________________________________________________________-- and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them ____________________________________________________________________ I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse _______________________________________________________________________ it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it _________________________________________________________________________ by Frank O’Hara __________ Watch Frank O'Hara read it here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Letter to a Child like Me

I'm having my class read this article. It is a piece written by a boxer. Apparently, it is not available on the web. So I've reprinted it here. Hopefully, no one comes after me for copyright infringement!


José Torres

A Letter to a Child Like Me

February 24, 1991


José Torres was born in an impoverished Barrio in Puerto Rico and rose to become the world light-heavyweight boxing champion in 1965, and, later, distinguished himself as a writer. We asked Mr. Torres what he would say to a child, someone like the boy he was—we’ll call him Pedrito—facing his future in today’s world.

Dear Pedrito:

You’re 13 now, and you must certainly be aware that there are some people in this country who refer to you as “Hispanic.” That is, you’re a member of a “minority group.” You read newspapers and magazines, you watch television, so you know that the world is moving into the 21st century faced with big problems, enormous possibilities, huge mysteries. I worry that you might not be fully prepared for the journey.

The statistics are scary. They show us Hispanics facing a sea of trouble. The United States has 250 million people, a little more than 20 million of whom are of Hispanic descent. That’s only 8 percent of the nation’s total population. We’re also the youngest ethnic group in the nation. We earn the lowest salaries, and, in cities where we have a large concentration of Hispanics, we have the highest school dropout rate. In New York City, for example, we comprise 25.7 percent of the high school dropouts, 42.7 percent of pregnant teenagers and 8.9 percent of the unemployed.
It should not be too hard for you to understand, my friend, that these statistics hurt us a lot. That means that many of our young people end up badly, as both victims and perpetrators. Some blame us for these conditions, despite our miniscule stock in this country and the fact the overwhelming majority of us are hardworking, decent, law-abiding citizens.

Still, you should realize that the world is not made up of statistics, but of individuals. By the year 2030, you’ll be my age, and what you do now is going to determine what you’ll be doing then.

I’ve had my defeats; I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I’ve also learned something along the way. Let me tell you about a few of them. You didn’t ask for this advice, but I’m going to give it to you anyway.

Let’s start with the fundamental human problem, and I don’t mean race or religion or origin. I mean fear. Fright, my young friend, may be the first serious enemy you have to face in our society. It’s the most destructive emotional bogeyman there is. Cold feet, panic, depression, and violence are all symptoms of fear—when it’s out of control. But this feeling, ironically, can also trigger courage, alertness, objectivity. You must learn not to try to rid yourself of this basic human emotion but to manipulate it for your own advantage. You cannot surrender to fear, but you can use it as a kind of fuel. Once you learn how to control fear—to make it work for you—it will become one of your best friends.

I learned this the hard way. I was a boxer. I became a world champion, but on my way up the ladder I found Frankie Kid Anslem, a tough young Philadelphian made of steel. The match proceeded, to my increasing dismay, with me hitting and Anslem smiling. At one point, I remember, I let go a particularly left hook-right cross combination. The punches landed flush on his jaw, but he simply riposted with a smile—and some hard leather of his own.

Suddenly, I found myself struggling for my life. I was afraid. For two rounds—the eight and the ninth—Anslem and I seemed contestants in an evil struggle. My punches seemed to give him energy and pleasure! Unexpectedly, my chest began to burn, my legs weakened, my lungs gasped for air. I felt exhausted. I was dying! Thoughts of defeat and humiliation assailed me. I was grappling with these facts when I saw Anslem’s jaw exposed and, reaching from somewhere beyond my terror, I threw a straight right with all my might. And Anslem lost his smile and dropped like an old shoe.
My fatigue disappeared. I felt good, happy, invigorated. Fear had overtaken me, been recognized, then resolved and manipulated for a positive result.

I was obliged to learn about handling fear through the brutal trade of boxing. I didn’t have the option now open to you, my young friend. I was one of seven poor kids who lived under many layers of an underdeveloped subculture. I chose a tough profession because two black boxers—a heavyweight champion named Joe Louis, and a middleweight marvel called Sugar Ray Robinson—showed me the way. They lived far away from my hometown in Puerto Rico. But I knew them. I wanted to be like them.
Looking back, I wonder what my choice would have been if real alternatives had been available when I was your age. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my first profession. To be recognized as the best in the world at what you do, even if only for a moment, is a wonderful experience. Still, I was very much aware that boxing was a temporary activity intended only for the young. And so I had a pretty good idea of what your choice should not be if you’re given a chance to become an artist, a corporate executive, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a writer, or a prizefighter—though it should be my choice.

Whatever your ambition, you must educate yourself. School is a great gift our society offers you. It provides the key for your future. You must accept this gift, not disdain it. School is where you’ll learn about your country and your world and your life in both. You also discover the conflicts and contradictions of history. You’ll unlock the treasure chest of the world’s literature and begin to sense the beauty of music and art. You’ll acquire the tools of abstract thinking, of science and mathematics—and the computer, perhaps the primary instrument of the world you’ll inherit.

At home, you should learn about compassion and dignity and care. You should realize that the workings of an individual’s heart and soul can be as important as the histories of the great battles, military generals, dictators and kings. Most of all, you should learn that it’s you who are responsible for your future.

There is a basic principle you should never forget: Don’t be ruled by other people’s low expectation of you! It almost happened to me. I grew up in Playa de Ponce, a small barrio in the southern part of Puerto Rico, an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, with a dense population today of more than 3.3 million— 1,000 human beings per square mile. I was only five when I first noticed the American military men—many of them tall, blond, and blue-eyed—wearing a variety of uniforms, roaming the streets of my neighborhood and picking up the prettiest girls. They seemed to own Playa de Ponce. Their attitude in the streets and their country’s constant military victories, which we witnessed at the movie houses, became symbols of these young men’s “obvious superiority.” By comparison, we Puerto Ricans felt limited, inadequate.

To catch up, I volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army as soon as I became of age. And, for some mysterious reason, I joined its boxing team. My first four opponents were two compatriots and two black men from the Virgin islands, all of whom I had no trouble disposing of. But just before my fifth fight—against one of those tall, blond, blue-eyed “superior” American soldiers, doubt started to creep into my mind. Yet, despite my worries, after three rounds of tough boxing, I overcame. I won! I had discovered the equality of the human race.

Your best defense against the ignorance of bigots and haters is pride in your own heritage. That’s why you must learn your own history. Do it now. Don’t wait until you are in college. You don’t need teachers. Go to the library. Ask your parents and relatives and friends.

Be proud of your ethnicity and language. Don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t give up to the stupidity of those know-nothings who insist one language is better than two or three. You should know, and be proud, that in the Western Hemisphere more people speak Spanish than English; that Español was the language of the Hemisphere’s first university—the Santo Tomas de Aquino University in the Dominican Republic, founded in 1538—and of the books in its first library. When you discover the long and honorable tradition to which you belong, your pride will soar.

So do not lose the language of your parents, which is also yours. Instead, refine your skill in it. If you’re having trouble with grammar or writing, take courses in Spanish. Go to the library and read Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the first full-fledged novel, or the works of the hundreds of great modern Hispanic authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Lola Rodriguez de Tió, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, and Oscar Hijuelos, the 1990 Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction (who writes in English). Read them in both languages; know the strength of both. This is the treasure that no one can ever beat.

Puerto Rico is a nearly imperceptible dot on the map, my friend. Still, this small island recently had five boxing champions at the same time. And consider this: Baseball star Reggie Jackson; the great entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr.; Dr. Joaquin Balaguer, poet, writer and six-time president of the Dominican Republic; the renowned cellist Pablo Casals all had one thing in common—one of their parents was Puerto Rican. The film and stage star Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican, is one of the few performers ever to win an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy, and an Emmy award. José Ferrer, a proud Puerto Rican, was once selected as the American citizen with the finest English diction in the United States. Ferrer also won an Oscar for his brilliant performance in the classic film Cyrano de Bergerac. Dr. Raul García Rinaldi, a physician of world prominence and a native Puerto Rican, made extensive investigation into Black history. In his honor, the New York Public Library system erected the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The contribution of Hispanics to the development of the United States of America has been vast and unquestionable. But much more remains to be done, my friend. Every member of society must work together in order to survive together.

We live in a country where more than 27 million people can’t read or write well enough to take a driving test, and many can’t recognize “danger” or “poison”. Every eight seconds of the school day a student drops out; every sixty seconds a teenager has a baby; every six minutes a child is arrested for drugs; every year, the schools graduate 700,000 who cannot read their diplomas.

Most of them are not Hispanics. Yet, many of these victims are the same people who, day after day, throw themselves in front of a TV set and become passive, docile ghosts, allowing their lives to be easily controlled by others. Television, with its emphasis on package images and quick bites, discourages thought and imagination. Studies indicate that chronic televiewers develop problems with their thinking processes and articulation. Excessive viewing dulls the most indispensable muscle—the brain.

Instead of watching TV, read and write. Words are the symbols of reality, and a well-read person, skilled at decoding those symbols, is better able to comprehend and think about the real world.

Many years ago, the great Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai lay on his deathbed at age 89. Experts say no one could paint better than Hokusai during his prime, and many are convinced that his work is as good as—or better than—today’s top artists. But Hokusai was never satisfied with his triumphs and successes. “If I could live one more year,” he said, “I could learn how to draw.”

You, my young friend, would do well to become like Hokusai—a person who can lead a humble but useful and productive life, free of harm and, most important, free of the influences that generate hate, murder, suicide, and death. If you choose to spend your time not reading, thinking, and creating, but watching TV and learning how to deceive, cheat, and lie, then you become another person out there perpetuating the cycle of ignorance that leads to poverty, suffering, and despair. But if you commit yourself to a lifetime of honest work—if you assure yourself that a day in which you are unable to produce anything positive is a tragically misspent day—then, my friend, the 21st century is yours.

Go and get it!

Friday, March 2, 2012

some thoughts

I wish I could wrap my thoughts around how I feel. But whichever way they turn, they return to the issue of love. What is it? Who receives it and who creates it? What happens when it goes away? Why does it go away? Then, if it does, was it love in the first place?

So is love an ephemeral thing?
Is it that capricious?


But is it love?


But love changes a person.

True love does anyway --

So maybe love is not that thing that flies away, frightened upon the slightest movement from the wind.

I want to say to the world

I love you
I want to hug you
I want to open my rib cage
rip my heart out
and put you there
I want to cradle you
protect you
I want you to breathe
my breath
when you breathe
I breathe
as my heart beats
I want you to feel
my heart
and be in bliss
to know it
caress it
and realize that
your heart beats

The world has become smaller
a heart in my hand

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Response to "Poem Tied to a Chair"

So I wrote a poem a few days ago. It was inspired by that horrible teacher who teaches poems by beating them and tying them to chairs.


dear poem tied to a chair
why are you a poem
you are brittle bones and hair
masquerading as a poem
the chair squirms beneath you
the rope strangling
the poem you once were

dear poem tied to a chair
why are you a poem
tied to a chair

sad and lonely
you want to tether other poems

suffocate and kill them
just like you

dear poem tied to a chair
why are you a poem

you should be a verb
you should be preposition
you should be a noun
but not a poem

other words around you
commit suicide
because they do not want
to be like you

a poem tied to a chair

Introduction to Poetry

So one of my friends e-mailed me this poem because she's in a poetry class that is horrible. She said that the teacher is not teaching but screaming, "tying it to a chair." It's such so appropos.

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

deux, khalil gibran

I just remembered that I posted about Khalil Gibran's "On Love" before.
What can I say? It's one of my favorite passages of all time. So I will post something else that he wrote which strikes true.

On Friendship

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

1st post in 2012

I have been reticent in writing partly by choice and partly because of the vigor of living being thrust upon me. In the past few months, people have said to me that I have changed them in ways that they can and cannot express. This has something to do with just becoming attuned to what was needed - a gesture, an encouragement, a mouthful of words, my chest opening up to hold my heart in my sleeve.

I think I'm getting the hang of being alive, not just surviving but actually living and, ultimately, loving.

Because what does it mean to love?

I think it's been written best before so I will just quote.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a sounding [piece of] brass or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophesying and am acquainted with all the sacred secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to transplant mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.

4 Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, 5 does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. 6 It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. But whether there are [gifts of] prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with. 9 For we have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially; 10 but when that which is complete arrives, that which is partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the [traits] of a babe. 12 For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known. 13 Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


But then again, there was something else written about love that is just as biblical and epic.

Kahlil Gibran

On Love

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.