On Sarah Palin’s Spoken-Word Performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit

Josh Preston Sarah Palin Mall of America

The Author with spoken-word da da artist Sarah Palin at the release of her book-length prose poem, Going Rogue.

Recently speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit, former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin gave a speech that, as one writer for the conservative National Review wrote, was “meandering and often bizarre.” Satirist Jon Stewart had a field day with this, of course, comparing Palin’s speech to those Lincoln commercials where Matthew McConaughey drives around making sounds. This criticism, though, is unfair.

I mean, sure, if you’re a philistine everything she said was stupid, babbling nonsense (that’s because you’re a philistine), but just look at how Palin’s speech has been excerpted/butchered by the mainstream media (note the formatting):

Things must change for our government. Look at it. It isn’t too big to fail. It’s too big to succeed! It’s too big to succeed, so we can afford no retreads or nothing will change with the same people and same policies that got us into the status quo. Another Latin word, status quo, and it stands for, ‘Man, the middle-class everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride.’ That’s status quo, and GOP leaders, by the way, y’know the man can only ride ya when your back is bent. So strengthen it. Then the man can’t ride ya, America won’t be taken for a ride, because so much is at stake and we can’t afford politicians playing games like nothing more is at stake than, oh, maybe just the next standing of theirs in the next election.

That’s a total misrepresentation of Palin’s work, and I’m not about to waste anyone’s time jumping on the liberal bandwagon and riding it to philistineville. Why? Because I respect any writer with the courage to stand up and drop one of the dopest SLAM poems of January 24, 2015. Now, I will cede that this wasn’t her best performance (who can forget the 2008 Republican National Convention?), but in this spoken-word, da da dreamscape, it doesn’t take a Harvard Professor to see the influences of John Berryman (the quirky asides), Allen Ginsberg (the not-so-subtle homoeroticism), and William McGonagall (just all of it).

Check it out for yourself, as it was meant to be read:

THINGS MUST CHANGE FOR OUR GOVERNMENT.

By Sarah Palin, Former Alaskan Governor.

I.

Look at it.

It isn’t too big to fail.
It’s too big to succeed!

It’s too big to succeed,
so we can afford no retreads
or nothing will change with
the same people and same policies
that got us into the status quo.

(Another LATIN word, “status quo” –
and it stands for:

“Man,
the middle-class
everyday Americans
are really getting’ taken for a ride.”

That’s “status quo”)

GOP leaders!
By the way!

Y’know the man can only ride ya
when your back in bent.

So strengthen it. 

Then the man can’t ride ya.

II.

America won’t be taken for a ride,
because so much is at stake
and we can’t afford politicians playing games
like
nothing more is at stake than,

oh, maybe just the next standing
of theirs in the next election.

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This is why I don’t take arguments about “moral and cultural decay” seriously.

There’s a common trope among conservatives that we’re living in an era of moral and cultural decay. With a nervous sweat on their brow, they cite Elvis Presley! Marilyn Manson! Miley Cyrus! and call for censorship, suggesting it’s the American thing to do. (And, I suppose in some ways it is).

But, alas, this kind of outrage is nothing new — the following comic was printed in Illinois’ Rock Island Argus in 1915. Replace the statue with Beyonce and the old, white aristocrat with … the old, white, aristocratic Gov. Mike Huckabee and it’s just as relevant a century later.

Rock Island Argus - I Never Thought of That - 1915

“I Never Thought of That,” The Rock Island Argus. August 30, 1915.

 

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A Review of Alan Lightman’s “Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation” (2012)

Lightman_mr_g_book_jacket

Mr g by Alan Lightman

Ever since I read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972) and David Eagleman’s Sum (2009), I’ve been interested in magical realism — a playful, imaginative curiosity that, lately, has even snuck into my own writing. Shortly after reading their work, it did not take long for me to find Jorge Luis Borges and Alan Lightman (whose Einstein’s Dreams I reviewed last year). Lightman’s perspective on the genre I’ve particularly enjoyed given his background as an MIT physicist. So, I was excited when, once again prowling the stacks of Half Priced Books, I came across Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation (Vintage, 2012).

To be blunt: I have mixed feelings about it. Sadly, though, (to compromise my authority as an unbiased reviewer) I’m emotionally incapable of being too critical. You see, I once wrote Lightman a letter asking him to contribute to my blog Giraffes Drawn By People Who Should Not Be Drawing Giraffes. And he did. What a sweetheart.

I can’t just sink a relationship like that.

You understand.

Mr g is a first-person-except-when-it’s-not narrative about God’s creation of the universe (or rather a universe). Tolerating the squabbles and input of his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva, Mr g introduces space and time to “The Void” (the non-dimensional realm they inhabit), deciding thereafter to create a universe merely to keep himself occupied. Beginning with a few “organizing principles” (natural laws), he spends most of his time fawning over the harmony of the cosmos’ as they effectively create themselves. In the book as in nature, it is rules that govern and build not a spirit’s hands. Thus emerge stars and the fusion of basic elements to create more, which in clicks of the atomic clock form the richness of planets, solar systems, galaxies. The way Lightman lays out this natural progression — leading to the emergence of life — was where I found his prose most engaging. Unfortunately, when this life becomes intelligent, moral, that’s when the writing becomes clumsy.

As Mr g quickly discovers, his act of changing the Void, creating something from what was literally nothing, led to the emergence of other trans-dimensional creatures: Belhor and two mischievous demons named Baphomet the Larger and Baphomet the Smaller. At different times in the universe’s development, they appear to discuss with God the nature of good and evil, principles versus loyalty, and so on. Each dialogue ends with Belhor commenting how great and clever his intellectual equal (God) is. As a reader, though, these are no more than mere assertions because at no point in the dialogues are these qualities evident (in either himself or God). In fact, they read like the grandstanding of two college freshmen who read the Wikipedia entry on Aristotle for the first time. I’ve heard it before.

Most readers, I’m sure, will enjoy the book — if you have a passing interest in science and enjoy the colorful, scientific prose of Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’ll enjoy it. (Though like all physicists and cosmologists, Lightman is not immune to saturating his text with the words “harmony” and “order” between references to classical music). The book’s merits don’t come from the strength of its named characters; instead, the only character who mattered to me was not the creator but the created: the universe. In 214 pages we witness the cosmos’ birth, life, and, in several beautifully-written chapters, its death. If you read Mr g, ignore the talking in the background: watch the show. This is a novel about creation after all.

Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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Thoughts on “American Sniper” (and “Nation’s Pride”)

Regardless as to what one may think of Clint Eastwood’s abilities as a filmmaker, his latest American Sniper has earned him the largest opening weekend success of his directorial career. For those unfamiliar with the film’s premise, it’s an adaptation of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, in which he brags about having murdered 255 human beings. The Raw Story notes in “Real ‘American Sniper’ was hate-filled killer — why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?” that in his book he

… described killing as “fun”, something he “loved”; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a “bad guy”. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.

Kyle also looted Iraqi apartments and never doubted his work, seemingly incapable of understanding that the world isn’t black-and-white and that just because a country claims to be on a liberating mission does not, in fact, make it a liberator. Similarly, saying you’re a patriot does not make you a patriot. So when some writers called out Kyle’s narrow-mindedness — and dare I say nationalism? — the, well, nationalistic response was “swift and violent”:

“Move your America hating ass to Iraq, let ISIS rape you then cut your cunt head off, fucking media whore muslim,” wrote a rather unassuming-looking mom named Donna. “Rania, maybe we to take you ass overthere and give it to ISIS … Dumb bitch,” offered a bearded man named Ronald, who enjoys either bass fishing or playing the bass (we may never know). “Waterboarding is far from torture,” explained an army pilot named Benjamin, all helpfulness. “I wouldn’t mind giving you two a demonstration.”

To no one’s surprise, these same people are now, while celebrating the film, talking about how much they “really want to kill some fucking ragheads” (quoted in “Eastwood film ‘American Sniper’ sets box office record while setting off flurry of racist tweets“). It’s obvious there is no part of the neo-con psyche striving to “win the hearts and minds” of a people when they’re idolizing a man who — I can’t say this enough — bragged about personally murdering a record amount of human beings. If any other country celebrated a man who did this to American soldiers, what do you think the response would be? I promise no one would be debating the biopic’s artistic merits.

Years ago when I heard that American Sniper was being made into a film, I was reminded of Nation’s Pride, the film-within-a-film from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009). In it a young, attractive Nazi sniper mans a tower heroically gunning down more than 200 soldiers while intermittently carving swastikas into the floorboards. Interesting.

They say Hollywood only has twelve scripts, but nationalism only has one: The culture hero always wins.

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Walking with Paul Gruchow: A Poem

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Minnesota author Paul Gruchow

For those who care about such things, in February 2013 there was squabbling in Minnesota over the possibility of there being a state poem. What’d happened is that, upon the recommendation of a constituent, a state senator proposed “Minnesota Blue” by singer-songwriter Keith Haugen. Naturally, this upset the state literati as, besides the fact that Haugen lives in Hawaii, the poem is boring. In fact, to highlight this, I even had a fake debate with Sally Jo Sorenson of Bluestem Prairie where I tried (and struggled) to defend it.

I’ll leave it to the public to decide who won.

Some, like state poet laureate Joyce Sutphen nominated James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” or Robert Bly’s “Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River,” both of which I think would be fine (albeit broody) symbols. I would personally like to see something by Bob Dylan, but I know that when the time comes, it’ll likely be Garrison Keillor who gets it. And I’m OK with that.

As all of this was happening, The City Pages hosted a contest to select an alternative, and I was fortunate enough to make the final four (“Which of your submissions should be our state poem?“). Sadly, I didn’t win, and the world moved on, the whole conversation on there being a state poem fading away. (To be honest, I don’t even know if the state senator’s bill passed).

I’m re-posting here my submission, which I wrote some time in the fall of 2012 after reading Paul Gruchow‘s Grass Roots: The Universe of Home (Milkweed Editions, 1995). I first discovered Gruchow’s work growing up in Montevideo, MN, which is where he was from, and was fond of his Leopold-esque environmental essays. Sadly, I never had a chance to meet him as, in 2004, he committed suicide.

So, we walk only in prose, talk through poems.

Walking with Paul Gruchow

Kind words and best wishes don’t bring rain.
Subsidies won’t end a drought. His spirit,
like the last boots he’ll ever buy, wear
down down down in the dust.

“We never ran from change, but it sure
ran us out,” he says. “There’ll always be
somewhere to farm but there won’t be farmers.”
Footsteps scare out a ring-necked pheasant.

I ask what happened to the Farmer-Laborites,
the community, the culture. I’ve driven more
Interstates than walked desire paths, can
name more skyscrapers than native grasses.

Out on the wind everything I say is carried,
no telling where it’ll end up or what marsh
it’ll sink in. “I try not to dwell on it,” he says,
“or there’s bound to be a revolution.

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The time I gave Michio Kaku’s public presentation (and had him draw a giraffe)

Originally posted on Giraffes Drawn By People Who Should Not Be Drawing Giraffes:

For those who do not know, Michio Kaku (website; twitter) is a theoretical physicist at City University of New York and co-founder of string field theory. Just as importantly – and this is the context in which I first discovered him – he is a popularizer of science in the stead of the late Carl Sagan. Essentially he is one of only a handful of scientists taking the initiative to condense great scientific ideas into an easily digestible form. In a world that unfortunately casts a paranoid eye to the sciences, this is a virtue; through his books Physics of the Impossible (2008) and Physics of the Future (2011) Kaku reminds us all that science is, frankly, cool.[1]

So it was under this pretense that I made my way to the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus to attend a lecture and book signing by…

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A Letter from Charles Bukowski to Robert Bly

Charles Bukowski Letter to Robert Bly 1966 (1)

Charles Bukowski to Robert Bly (c. 1966).

Back in November, I wrote about two letters from Garrison Keillor and Bill Holm I found in the University of Minnesota’s Robert Bly Papers. What I didn’t note is that I also found one from writer Charles Bukowski. Pulling it out of the stack was a surprise — though it shouldn’t have been given Bly’s stature in the literary world at the time — and so I made a copy of it thinking Buk’s may be interested. It’s not as big of a literary event as the discovery of Neal Cassady’s “Joan Anderson letter,” but it does include an unpublished poem.

In the article I wrote to accompany the letter’s publication in Empty Mirror, I note that both Bly and Bukowski were literary outsiders disdainful of what the former called “university poets.” The 1960s were a different time, and lacking the small press culture, I wonder whether they could gain such widespread prominence today. I’m doubtful.

In terms of its modern relevance, [this letter] should inspire reflection over the state of writing nearly a half-century later. In an environment where young writers are only taken seriously if they have an MFA and are competing for dwindling print-space, could another Bukowski gain traction? Can a writer survive outside the university, “scratching his naked belly in the kitchen”? It is hard to imagine.

Read the full article and letter here.

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