Thursday, September 28, 2006


E.coli - graze the cattle already!

Turns out the spinach e.coli scare is due to feeding grain to cattle. Just graze the cattle and the risk drops tremendously. Read Nina Planck's excellent piece explaining all this to the unitiated, but freaked out: Thanks to the Mt. Pleasant Farmer's Market for sending out this link. A reminder to buy from your local organic farmer!

Friday, September 22, 2006


Pens Not Swords

Poets Against War, and Sam Hamill's subsequent ambassadorial work, offered the world an alternative U.S. foreign policy, crafted by the American people rather than its government. When the policymakers were busy trying to silence the opposition here and abroad, the poems on demonstrated to anyone with an Internet connection that many Americans opposed their government's policies. The poems humanized Americans in Baghdad and Paris and Pisa, Italy, just as they humanized the Iraqis for Americans.

Read the full essay I wrote, "Pens Not Swords," in Fiesta! the new culture pages at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


South Africa’s poet laureate Mazisi Kunene dies

His works recorded history of Zulu nation

HANNESBURG, South Africa - Mazisi Kunene, the first poet laureate of a democratic South Africa whose works recorded the history of the Zulu nation, has died at age 76.
Kunene also played a leading role in the anti-apartheid movement while in exile. It was during his time outside South Africa that he published poems such as “Emperor Shaka the Great”, “Anthem of the Decades” and two anthologies, “The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain” and “Zulu Poems.”

Read the full story:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Never to forget the cost of war

"Next to the Humvee is a silver metal trash can with the smoldering remains of the rags and bloodied equipment that couldn't be cleaned, such as the dead soldier's boonie cap and his used compression bandages. ... A fragment from the bomb hit him in the back of the neck, severing his spinal cord. I can't imagine how scared he must have been in those final moments as he saw his life slowly slipping away, bleeding to death and beginning to lose motor function. He was a private, 22, and had only joined the unit about eight days earlier. It was his first mission out into the city."
– Robert Swope, U.S. Army, chronicling the aftermath of an improvised-explosive-device attack, from Operation Homecoming

The boy - we don't even get his name - was 22. At that age, what had he had a chance live? How can we steal that future so thoughtlessly?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Twain on the Question of Patriotism

“You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; its institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags – that is a loyalty of unreason….”

I find this quote from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in an essay by Howard Zinn in the latest newsletter of Poets Against War. I have been struggling a long time to figure out how to answer, "Do you love your country?" Or "Do you consider yourself patriotic?" Zinn's words come closest to answering that question for me.

A wonderful surprise is Zinn's first paragraph, in which admits to getting discouraged (he's human!) and says that he turns to literature for restoration. A marvel.

"Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four) I lift my spirits by remembering: the writers are on our side! I mean those poets, novelists, playwrights and songwriters who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse." Read the full essay here.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Remembrance: My Letter to the Peace Library

The California-based artist-activists Melinda Forbes and Julie Frankel have organized the Peace Library and are inviting everyone everywhere to write them letters for peace. This morning, on this sad anniversary, I wrote my letter. I am sending the hand-written original. I urge you to write something as well - a letter, a poem, an email, a scrap of hope. Here is my letter, below.

September 11, 2006

Dear Melinda,

Yesterday, I had to tell my son – my beautiful, sweet, baseball-obsessed, 8-year-old son – about this date, what happened five years ago, when he was only three. Somehow, we have managed to keep it from him until now, and I think we made the right decision. Now, at 8, we can talk about the tragedy of it – the madness of the men in the planes – but also about our country’s response, our president’s misuse of this horror as an excuse for war against a country unconnected to the crime. I had finally decided to tell Ben because his school had sent home a note, urging the children to wear red, white, and blue today, “to show [their] patriotism, to show that Janney [Ben’s school] doesn’t forget!”

Remembrance. Yes.

After having this talk with Ben I left him to rollerblading and baseball with his dad and went to a poetry reading to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the literary magazine Gargoyle. There, the poet Reuben Jackson talked about September 11, about the man who called it “the greatest tragedy to occur on American soil.” A man from Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Where is the national day of mourning for the victims of the American genocide, the millions of Indians slaughtered by a terrorist state – first the British empire and later the new Republic, these United States?

When do we remember and mourn the 40 million dead in the Middle Passage, in slavery’s brutality, the beatings, the torture, the wholesale rape? What about a day of remembrance for all those dead at the hands of home-grown terrorists, the lynch mobs?

When the noose is etched in shadowy lines on the cover of The New Yorker; when our country truly faces its terrible past, acknowledges the terror waged here, every day, for hundreds of years; when we use September 11 as a day to mourn and atone for our monstrous crimes; when we take this day to remember Chilean president Salvador Allende, democratically elected by his people and murderously deposed by a CIA-backed coup on September 11, 2003; when we honor and emulate Ghandi, who on this day 100 years ago, first risked arrest rather than submit to the racist laws of South Africa, thus embarking on the great movement of non-violent resistance; when the day arrives that the United States tells the truth about our past, takes responsibility; on that September 11, I will be proud of my country, I will urge Ben to wear red, white, and blue, I will believe we are truly on the road to peace. I know that day will come. I believe it must come.

So today I mourn. I mourn all the victims on our soil. And I call us. I call us to truth telling, to remembrance. “Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever,” wrote the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz in his Nobel acceptance speech. Our mandate is to speak. Thank you for this opportunity to do so.

Let us remember.

With love,

Sarah Browning


September 11: A Day of Peace

I received the following email letter from the good group 20/20 Vision this morning. A reminder that today, as we remember the dead, we also honor nonviolence. For today is the 100th anniversary of Ghandi's first action of nonviolent resistance, against the racist laws of South Africa. May you live this day in peace.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. And there will be memorials, rallies and speeches that will remember that tragic day. Some will be centered around the 2,996 dead in the attacks. Others will remember the almost 2,700 US troops who have been killed in Iraq. Still others will focus on the over 3,000 dead as a result of US actions in Afghanistan, or the reported over 100,000 civilian dead in Iraq.

It will be a tragic anniversary of a tragic day.

But September 11 is another anniversary, too. 100 years ago today, the first nonviolent action was begun by Mahatma Ghandi in South Africa. In response to a racist anti-Asian law, Ghandi declared that he would go to jail, or even die, before obeying the law. With Ghandi's action, a new approach to changing the world was born.

On this day in 1906, non-violence was born.

On this day in 2001, the act of a group of violent extremists plunged the US, and the world, into a round of violence that has not yet ended.

2020 Vision has long worked for peace. From opposing the spread of nuclear weapons to opposition to the Iraq war, we have worked to make the world a safer place. Now, with our continuing work to end the Iraq occupation and our focus on stopping the next oil war by working for energy independence, that work is as vital as it's ever been.

We thank you for all of the work you've done. And we know that the work is not over yet. As Congress rushes to finish its legislative calendar this month, there will be too little serious discussion of peace, too much politics played with war.

Today, as we remember the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we hope we can also remember the other September 11. One hundred years
ago, a great leader taught the world that peace could be a driver of change, not just a goal. He taught that peace is an action, rather than merely the absence of war.

As we mourn the dead around the world in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, let us not forget the lesson of September 11, 1906.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Money for libraries, not for war!

The sun slanting hot on the concrete; the young guys from Food Not Bombs laying out rice curry and thousands of spectacular peach slices; the kids making posters - Honk for the library! Bring back our library! The families, the older women, the neighbors, the politicians, the pride, the frustration.

It was a beautiful afternoon on Good Hope Road SE as the good people of Anacostia gathered to demand the return of their library, shuttered for two years. Miss Joy was a spectacular MC and many residents and their supporters spoke of the huge hole in the community created by the loss of the public library. There are many reasons for the delay in building a new library. But really, when the city can muster the political will to spend $611 million on a new stadium and start the digging and the building almost immediately, why can't it cut through whatever red tape is holding the community hostage and spend a few million on a new library? It can be done. It must be done.

The highlight of the rally were the two sister poets, Kyndall and Monique Brown, 11 and 9, who read their poems on the open mic. I had the privilege of publishing Kyndall's poem, "When is war going to stop?" in the Wartime Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. They astonished the crowd and moved me to tears with their poems filled with hopes for a reopened library, for homes for all of us, for a world without war. The children are our treasures.

The Washington Post sent a reporter and a photographer. So where's the story in today's paper? And where were: Fenty, Cropp, Johns? The rally was organized in part by Chris Otten, the DC Statehood/Green Party candidate for mayor. Need I say more?

To get involved in the struggle to reopen the 4 closed libraries - and to revitalize all our needy libraries - contact the DC Library Renaissance Project.

The library is surrounded by a chain-link fence. The fence is high and very very clean. We ended the rally tying yellow ribbons on this clean fence: The city is holding the library hostage after all.

I thought of the fence later, at the party to celebrate the first birthday of Busboys & Poets. The marvelous spoken word duo The 5th L was performing one of their signature pieces and the refrain was, "Shackles on my feet, chain links on my mind."

The party was - a party! Fun and rowdy. Not the easiest place to read poetry, but the vibe was so swinging, who could complain? Thank you, Andy Shallal, Pam Pinnock, Brian, Michael, Michael, and all the spectacular staff of B&P for an incredible year!


My kind of auto-reply

A friend and poet comrade on leave from his academic job this year signs his auto reply (after the obligatory "I'm on leave" notice), with the following statement. Just what I want to say!

"In these times of individual or state terror and bombings, of suicide attacks and massive killings in Israel and Palestine, in Afghanistan and Iraq, let's make sure we cultivate plants and smell their flowers; make sure we laugh all the time with children, learning to be kind to people even the ones we don't know yet. Let's choose Don Quijote, César Vallejo, Lorca, or Baudelaire over the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran; let's choose Gandhi, Madre Teresa or Martin L. King over Bin Laden, Toni Blair or G.W. Bush. Let's drink wine to clean our bodies and read poetry every day to clean our soul. Let's give without hoping for anything in return, let's be our own selves, and search for peace building it relentlessly. My friend, these are hollow days of imperialistic belligerence and patriotic mania. We need more books and schools, more hugs and guitars; not more soldiers or bombs, not more executioners or lies. Prosit!"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Elthelbert's New E-Mag

I had breakfast this morning with the inimitable E. Ethelbert Miller, who told me he's launched a new feature on his blog, an E-Mag, in which he invites writers to guest blog about their week, giving us a peek into the writer's life. The first one features novelist Charles Johnson and poet Ai, as well as comments on the transformations of Harlem by the writer Grace Ali. Good stuff. Scroll down to Saturday, September 2 or click here. The second edition is due out September 10. Keep it coming, E!


Writers from the Other Asia - Korean Literature

John Feffer has written a wonderful review of recent releases of Korean literature in translation for the Nation. It was an eye-opening read, introducing me to a literature with which I had very little familiarity.

You can read the whole piece starting here, or skip to the section on the poet Ko Un (the rest is on fiction - well worth it!), which includes this description of the poet's amazing project, Ten Thousand Lives:

During his varied life, Ko Un has been a youthful scalawag, Buddhist monk, drunkard, teacher, political activist, jailed dissident and, now, Nobel Prize contender. He has published more than 100 books of poetry and prose. But his greatest claim to fame is Maninbo, or Ten Thousand Lives, which he American poet Robert Haas has described as "one of the most extraordinary projects in contemporary literature." Ko Un conceived of this project holed up in a military prison with other prominent dissidents. He vowed to write a poem for every person he had ever known, from his closest relatives to historical figures he'd only met in books. Green Integer has published a one-volume selection of this vast work for the first time in English, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-moo Kim and Gary Gach.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Browning for Delegate!

No, I haven't moved to Maryland. But at the Kensington Labor Day festival yesterday, drawn by my name on a large banner, I met James Browning, the former director of Common Cause Maryland -- the good government group -- who is running for delegate from the Silver Spring-Kensington area. Endorsed by Progressive Maryland and refusing PAC and corporate contributions, Browning seems like exactly the kind of progressive we need at every level of government. I don't know who else is running, so I'm not endorsing. But I am suggesting that if you live in his area, you check out Browning's web site and think of voting for him for delegate. His site is:


Even in picturesque Venice, they've got politics

While we're on the topic of Venice and Titian's marvelous use of the color red (see the post from last Friday, below), here's an arresting photo by a friend of the UK Chancelory after an anti-war protest. You can see his other Venice photographs here and much other marvelous work from the main page here. I especially love the Argentina pictures.


Dear Senator Kennedy...

An open letter about the war in Lebanon
by Preston M. Browning, Jr. - my father, who lives in Senator Kennedy's state of Massachusetts

Several days ago, Senator, I called your Washington office to request that you use your influence to urge Israel to cease its devastating attack upon Lebanon and to begin to address in good faith the root causes of the conflict in the region.

When I expressed my deep concern regarding the loss of civilian lives and the widespread destruction of homes, roads, bridges and even the Beirut airport, the aide with whom I was speaking informed me that you believe that, because of Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel and its capture and killing of Israeli soldiers, Israel has no other option than to strike back in an effort to root out Hezbollah forces from their safe havens in Lebanon.

I was stunned...

Read the letter here.

Go, Dad!


The voice wearing through stone

"In a history of spiritual rupture, a social compact built on fantasy and collective secrets, poetry becomes even more necessary than ever. It keeps the underground aquifers flowing, it is the liquid voice that can wear through stone."

Adrienne Rich

(with thanks to Melissa)

Friday, September 01, 2006


Titian is My Main Man

You still have time to get down to the National Gallery and see the exhibit, Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian, which closes September 17. Titian is one of my favorite painters of all time. The colors and the details and the frills on the end of a sleeve that catch the light. My kind of guy.

This piece is not in the exhibit, but it is the painting that got me started on my Titian Thing. I was on a trip to Venice with my family when I was 15 and drifted into the Church of the Frari, only to find this spectacular Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece. I couldn't quit looking - I think the light is especially marvelous; I love the light at the center of the piece, between the crowd and the cloud. Aparently the painting was controversial - some thought the figures in the bottom half were too large and would distract from Mary and Karl Marx - oops, I mean God, up there in the clouds. But the yearning of the crowd below is so great, surely we join them.

So, head on down to the National Gallery - you've still got a couple of weeks!

Here's a good read for today: Kathi Wolfe's terrific review of a biography of sci-fi writer James Tiptree, Jr., in the Washington Blade. Turns out Tiptree was a... No, I won't tell! You'll have to go read the review to find out!

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