Thursday, February 28, 2013

Small Government

I've been thinking a lot about government recently; more precisely, about the role of government in my life and in the lives of my students. This whole sequester situation and the sweeping budget cuts coursing through congress are really making me reconsidering my stance on small vs. large government.

I've traditionally never been one of the fear-mongerers who tries to convince the population that our government is already too large, is bridging on socialism, and will soon become a totalitarian state ending in utter devastation and sole prosperity for only the richest.

I instead have always looked at government as a tool to level the playing field; as a source for funding for things like student loans, so that if one were to be inclined to work hard and study and only needed the starting funds to pay for school, one could achieve a semblance of the American Dream.

I've also always looked at government funding as something that should grow every year; not something that is full of waste. The more, however, that I observe the amount that the government requires to operate and the amount that it wastefully spurns out, I start to actually think that a smaller, much less-intrusive and much less consuming government is better.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, this idea popped back into my head when I read Verse Daily the other day and say Kevin J. Craft's poem, "Small Government." (Pasted below) Much of its content resonated with my conscious, as well as my poet-soul.

Nature juxtaposed with the nuances of humanity (and blight of the earth as a result) is a perennial poem theme, but this poem in particular seemed to resonate with a lot of what I was thinking about, particularly the government illusions of prosperity and happiness juxtaposed with the reality of outsourcing, wars, stock markets, elections and factories.

The well-constructed poem showcases the negligent destruction of pine forests, oceans and the entire pastoral scene for the sake of human expansion and a kind of progressive worldwide manifest destiny. We are, as the poem asserts and our consciences echo, cheating our parents and ancestors while squandering resources, opportunities and certain futures for our children.

But is our government the root of this? And would government be less intrusive if it were smaller, or is the argument trifling and futile? Would humanity still roll through rainforest and less-developed countries for the sake of profit and ephemeral joy? Or would a smaller government rekindle a by-gone kinder era of smaller intrusion and effect/affect?

Either way, the government that wastes the most will only create more waste in its wake; much like a society that allows the waste will produce more as a by-product of its percolation. This percolation is brimming right now, with only hours remaining until the sequestering and cuts take effect; so the question resonates--will our government lead us to our downfall or will we produce our own downfall regardless of the impact and/or size of our government? Or do we have the power, or will, to change?

Small Government
For instance, the sheen of headlights on a wet freeway
or a skunk hunkered in its burrow as the pinelands
shrink around it. Things exhibit de facto suffering
whenever you turn away from them, like that hammer
from your father's hand or the glass factory
sure of repeated blows from within. Turn back the clock,
the cloak and stagger. By now it's late,
too late for plate tectonics to save us from our lesser
natures, erecting cornfields between warring factions
or swallowing the acid rhetoric of an ocean,
any ocean with its plastic sheen and sinkhole interior,
its flotsam of made-in-China ducks and water pistols
loosed from a storm-knocked ship to circumnavigate
the globe at bath-time, little friend. What we have here
is a conspiracy against suffering, what we have here is
a declarative sentence with an election to swing. It takes
only two or three furnaces to turn the pinelands into
coke and/or whiskey bottles and/if gazing by an open window,
fewer the foundries of original intent. Father, I lost
the hammer and the appetite, it was I stole your cigarettes
your Buffalo nickels, we got marathon bars for them
father, packs of Topps, mouths of smoke and gum ...

Through which time the freeway thrumming, through which
loophole blue whales in their burrows, the glistening fenders,
quick glances lengthening in the windshield of tinted glass
because looking is a form of longing, in the end.
For instance, a blowhole, a sand flea, that silly putty smirk
you wear in the checkout line while having a nice day.
If not the stench of having rolled through county
after county awakening once more to its factory consent.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Oscars

There seems to be a serious disconnect between the real world and the celebutized fallacy of the award show. Celebrities dress in clothing that rivals the GDP of third world countries, spend the evening congratulating one another and who portrayed the best false version of someone else, and then award one another in a celebration that does little more than reinforce our perceptions that they are untouchable, divine beings unlike our crude and poor human race. But still, somehow, the appeal and viewership is gravitational bordering upon obsessive.

And while I must admit that certain celebrities do sacrifice their time and much of their money, and many others try to raise awareness for particular charities or causes, the majority live in a sterilized personal Olympus, devoid of public (and most likely private) recognition of the atrocities and disparities that exist just beyond the shine of the lights. On the Oscars last night no celebrity mentioned the impending layoff disaster and deep budget cuts that our government is struggling through, including the first lady, Michelle Obama, who was given a cameo to name an award winner.

Is the reason because they don't care, or because they are promoting an illusory world? One of the major problems with our world is the perception versus the reality of everyday life. When children, potential activists and the general public view an award show they are transported into an utopian society which strips them of their cares, priorities and responsibilities. I, too, am at fault for this, as I have all too often fallen for the disguised world of celebutized thought-killing fodder. But I want to try to make a change.

Which brings me to the thesis of this post. Can the award shows next year mention at least some of the problems in our world, try to urge the public into some kind of activism to solve or at least address something pertinent to our or someone else's survival? Mention global warming, the many genocides, impending nuclear war, extinctions, conflicts, growing homeless/poor population, stray animal populations, hungry children, forgotten elderly, etc.? I think we, as a people who look to celebrities to portray the kind of romantic ideals which we want to possess, need to know that they care about issues and that these things still exist. When we ignore things we tend to continue to ignore them, but if our idols mention them and take a stance toward them, perhaps we as a greater population also will.

I feel like there can be no better award acceptance speech than to stand in front of the academy without speaking and instead hold up a piece of paper that reads "Because we do not speak of the ills of our world, I will not speak either."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Kyle McCord's "I Write You This on a Train Named for an Endangered Bird"

I discovered a new poet, Kyle McCord, two days ago on, where else, VerseDaily. His poem "I Write You This on a Train Named for an Endangered Bird" is pasted below. The poem surely isn't simple or trite, but its full comprehension still eludes me--I grasp the premise, several of the metaphors, cherish the newness in some of the lines, but I feel as if there's something grander which is still just beyond my reach.

The premise for the poem is extraordinary--the perennial question: how to begin the poem/story/etc. And this one begins by not beginning in a way, an irony I fully appreciate. From a teaching perspective it seems it would be simple to include in a creative writing class since it's structured perfectly in the beginning and develops organically, that is until the poem namedrops Hamlet and then rushes past a perfect analogy that could have been developed much further. Why leave the idea of fighting for the dead as a way to not begin a poem, because isn't that how Shakespeare began? Why not discuss it or riff off of it? Fight for the dead to come back? Isn't that the premise of so many stories? What about the idea of dooming something/someone (mainly the protagonist) from the onset of the story? But, as consolation, he does riff off the idea of the living having enough problems--both humans, then animals, and especially those (on the extinction death row) noted for their dwindling numbers. Then he riffs on the idea of stories starting and never developing the way one hopes (paralleled so smartly in the party mishap). After this point I get what McCord intends, and I love the idea of refusing to admit that the symbolic and obligatory act of placing certain sacraments atop a grave is anything but impulsive and pre-planned and perhaps without emotion, and that it fits so well into the ideas presented earlier on; but still, I wait for another deeper, more moving objective correlative connection to blossom.
But before I end, I must make mention of the title. Something I have been striving to do in my work is to create titles that fit metaphorically in with one of the ideas of the poem but which do not necessarily make an ideal name for the poem. This poem does this. I admire the way it relates back to the metaphor of the extinct animals whose time is dwindling, much as the poem's time to connect with the reader is dwindling, and simultaneously how long/well the poem has to develop/can develop is also dwindling.
Overall, a solid and interesting poem which delves into the human psyche, the mechanisms by which writers write and readers read.

I Write You This on a Train Named for an Endangered Bird

There are ways a story can't begin. Like pitting your protagonist
against an all-knowing, all-seeing jaguar spirit.
Or, worse, against an abstraction—like immorality or human unhappiness.
It could be argued that Hamlet's vengeance was doomed from the outset
because you can't fight for the dead, only against the living
who have enough problems as it is. Your Canadian brother-in-law
unemployed, rubs his knuckles while he sleeps.
A whole range of unadorable animals are on the docket for extinction.
I've identified some plot problems here. Like on New Year's
when Jeremy A's sister blew you in the bathroom
and midway through they threw you out of the house
without your high-tops: was no way to begin a story, and it did.
And I refuse to put bread on anyone's tongue and pretend it's flesh
to put cigarettes and fruit on a grave and pretend I intended it
more than an hour before. Why should it mean less?
The Confederate dead who haunt your city. Jeremy A's sister
years later aboard the California Zephyr. The blood rushing
to your extremities, the makeshift fan, the Mahler left open.
Even now, you can't play it perfectly—notes too far, too fast.
What do you want from any of us, reader? Elegy? Epiphany?
I am hunted by an all-knowing spirit who grows a shade over my head one day
and withers it the next.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Following

My wife and I are always searching for new and better television to watch as the drain of reality television has become more affecting. Two weeks ago we found something rather surprising--a show starring a well-know yet past-his-prime actor, Kevin Bacon--and a surprisingly intelligent and literary plot, one in which a serial murderer/cult leader is inspired to create "games" through the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

The Following chronicles a down-and-out alcoholic (read: Poe) detective who earlier in his career tracked down and stopped a serial killer, and who now must once again solve the happenings of the serial killer's cult-like followers as they wreak destruction. I'm sure it will make it to a second season.

The imagery of Poe's visage, the allusions to his work and his famous macabre aura are ubiquitous enough to appease even the most hardened Poe fanatics and it's this kind of television-literature connection that hopefully will cause people, especially younger people, to become interested enough in Poe again to begin re-reading his works. Anything that can attract a student to a book is a win for our society.

Bottom line: The 5 degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and literary nerd status has narrowed.