Sunday, August 31, 2008


Off to Rome

I'm headed to Italy for a year -- in a few short hours. I'm told it's not the easiest thing getting internet hook-up over there, so I will be blogging even more intermittently than I have been the past month or so.

I'll try to post some pictures and give impressions when I can. Am already gearing up to protest Cheney's Roman Holiday September 9. Watch for us on BBC World News...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Ahmed Faraz: poet of love and defiance

The loss of another great.

From the Daily Times of Pakistan:

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Ahmed Faraz, who died in Islamabad on Monday night after a long struggle with a host of ailments, having taken ill in the first week of July while on a visit to the United States, was a classicist like Faiz Ahmed Faiz who, like him, produced poetry of great lyrical beauty and who, like his mentor, never hesitated to stand up against oppression and never was afraid of suffering for his beliefs.

Faraz, steeped in the classical tradition, was the true inheritor of Faiz’s mantle. Like Faiz, he suffered prison and lived in exile during the dark days of military rule in the 1980s. Like Faiz, he was loved by the people, especially the young, and nobody wrote with more intensity about love than Faraz. He gained fame as a young man – he was teaching at Peshawar University at the time - and while much in the way of comfort and the easy life forsook him on more occasions than one, his fame and his popularity never languished. Few poets have had more of their work set to music and performed by the great singers of the age than Faraz.

Almost always, he found himself on the wrong side of the government of the day. From Ayub, through Yahya, through Bhutto and down to Musharraf, Faraz was always viewed by the establishment as the rebel he was. He was never afraid to write what others only whispered about and he never let adversity stray him from the path he had chosen for himself. More of his poetry is remembered and recited by his admirers in his own country, in India and wherever Urdu is loved and spoken, than that of any other poet of modern times.

The journalist Iftikhar Ali recalled in New York as the news of Faraz’s death broke, “Faraz was a year senior to me when I joined the Islamia College Peshawar, in 1954. He was remarkably handsome, full of life but very much into poetry. He would gather students around him and read out his mostly romantic poems. There was no open mixing of male and female students in those days. But somehow his poems managed to reach girl students who felt greatly attracted to him. He would receive dozens of hand written letters from them, not only those at the university but from a women’s college in the city as well. The well-to-do ones would have their servants deliver their letters while others would drop them in front of Faraz at bus stops. At that time, he loved to watch hockey and would lead slogans at the annual match between the two old rivals -- Islamia College and Edwards Collge.”

During Bhutto’s days, Faraz was sent home by Maulana Kausar Niazi for writing a couplet that some considered heretical, a misstep that was soon rectified. He lost his job under the Zia regime and he spent many years in exile in Europe and America, quite a few of them in London. His great poem Mohasra (The Siege) remains one of the most powerful indictments of military rule. Faraz told the BBC in a recent interview that he would never like to leave Pakistan because he wanted to live in the country, which was his home, because it was there that he would want to continue his struggle against dictatorship. “I am against dictatorship and military rule. The time has not yet arrived when I should escape from the country out of fear. I will stay home and fight.” He was actively involved in the movement that has built itself around the ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Faraz used his influence to urge writers and poets to join the protest.

Few people know that in 1947 when the uprising in Kashmir against the Maharaja’s rule began, among the volunteers who went in to fight on the side of the Kashmiris was the teenager Ahmed Faraz from Kohat. He said in a recent conversation that his heart bleeds at the military aggression to which the people of Waziristan and Balochistan have been subjected. He said what we know today as Azad Kashmir was not liberated by the army but by Wazir tribes who went into the state to fight the Maharaja’s forces. Faraz, asked why he had returned the Hilal-i-Imtiaz conferred on him by the Musharraf regime, felt that he could not keep the award because it was given to him by a military regime, although many people had told him that it was an honour conferred on him by the people of Pakistan. He said whenever the country has come under an army rule, it has suffered grievously, to the extent of being rent asunder, as in 1971.

Ask why he had not written another poem like Mohasra, he replied, “Because I do not want to write the same poem again. In Pakistan, things do not change and, consequently, the poems I wrote in the past have not become dated."


In Memoriam: Del Martin (1921 -2008)

From Charles Flowers at Lambda Literary Foundation

Del Martin (1921 - 2008)
Dear Friend,

With great sadness, I report that the legendary Del Martin (pictured on the left) passed away on Wednesday, August 27, with her wife, Phyllis Lyon by her bedside.

These two great pioneers smashed barriers for lesbians throughout their 55 years together. Co-founders in the 1950s of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization in the United States, they battled homophobia in the National Organization for Women in the 1960s; founded the Lyon-Martin Health Services clinics for lesbians in the 1970s; and in the new millennium, became the first gay couple to be married in San Francisco - twice. Their books Lesbian/Woman and Lesbian Love and Liberation are classics in lesbian literature. In 2003, Joan Biren immortalized their amazing lives in her award-winning documentary No Secret Anymore: the Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

Our thoughts are with Phyllis, as we treasure the legacy of Del on this very sad day.

Charles Flowers
Lambda Literary Foundation

From the Associated Press, by LISA LEFF:

Del Martin, a pioneering lesbian rights activist who with her lifelong partner became a symbol for the movement to legalize gay marriage, died Wednesday morning. She was 87.

Martin died at a San Francisco hospital two weeks after a broken arm exacerbated her existing health problems, according to Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Her partner of more than 55 years and wife of just over two months, Phyllis Lyon, was with her.
"Ever since I met Del 55 years ago, I could never imagine a day would come when she wouldn't be by my side," Lyon, 83, said in a statement Wednesday.

"I also never imagined there would be a day that we would actually be able to get married," she added. "I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed."

Martin and Lyon exchanged vows at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, the first day same-sex couples could legally wed in California, after being together for more than half a century.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated the wedding, singled them out to be the first gay couple to be declared "spouses for life" in the city in recognition of their long relationship and their status as pioneers of the gay rights movement.

"The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all," Newsom said Wednesday.

The couple, who in 1955 co-founded the nation's first outspoken advocacy group for lesbians, Daughters of Bilitis, similarly served as the public faces of the marriage debate four years earlier, when Newsom in 2004 challenged California's one man-one woman marriage laws by directing city officials to issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Their marriage, along with those of almost 4,000 other couples, were invalidated later by the California Supreme Court.

The action laid the groundwork for a series of lawsuits that ultimately led a 4-3 majority of the same court on May 15 to strike down the state's gay marriage ban. Martin and Lyon were two of the original plaintiffs.

"We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren't for Del and Phyllis. They fought and triumphed in many battles," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. "Through it all, their love and commitment to each other was an inspiration to all who knew them."
An imposing and uncompromising figure, Martin in 1970 wrote an influential article for the Advocate magazine that criticized what she saw as the gay rights movement's persistent chauvinism. The schism, which mirrored the increasing cultural influence of the women's movement, eventually prompted Lyon and Martin to adopt feminism and racism among their causes.

Trained as journalists, they together wrote "Lesbian/Woman," a landmark 1972 book in which they tried to make the point that lesbians should be seen for more than their sexuality and simultaneously offered a frank, no-nonsense account of lesbian relationships.

A year later, Martin became the first out lesbian to serve on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women, a position she won despite opposition within the feminist organization. Critics in the group feared the impact of having a leader that many in the mainstream still viewed as socially deviant.

Born as Dorothy Taliaferro on May 5, 1921, in San Francisco, Martin acquired the surname she would use the rest of her life from her four-year marriage to her college sweetheart, James Martin. They had a daughter, Kendra, before they divorced.

In "Lesbian/Woman," Martin recounted that the growing realization that she was attracted to women initially sparked thoughts of suicide. She eventually worked through her feelings despite the discrimination and threat of arrest gay people faced during the conservative 1950s.

When she started working for a construction trade publication in Seattle, she carried a briefcase without worrying whether it made her appear manly. The briefcase was the first thing Lyon noticed about her future spouse, she always recounted in stories about how the two met.
"Ultimately, it gets down to self-acceptance. If you accept yourself, you don't give a damn what anyone else thinks," Martin said in "No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon," Joan Biren's 2003 documentary about the couple.

Martin is survived by Lyon; her daughter, Kendra Mon, a son-in-law, two grandchildren and her sister-in-law.

In Martin's honor, Newsom ordered the American flags at City Hall and the rainbow flag in the Castro District, the heart of the city's gay and lesbian community, to be flown at half-staff until sundown Thursday. Plans for a public memorial are pending.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Judith Arcana Talking About Grace Paley on KPFA

from Judith Arcana, literary biographer of Grace Paley:

This note, sent one year after Grace Paley's death, is to let you all know that on 8/20/08 KPFA in Berkeley aired a special section of Dennis Bernstein's "Flashpoints" show commemorating Grace Paley's death ... Dennis and I talked for a little over half an hour about Grace, remembering her with much pleasure (the whole show is about an hour long) ......... Includes Paley reading a poem.

You can find the KPFA show at: ..........

Scroll to the 20-minute mark in the show.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In Memoriam: Mahmoud Darwish

It is with very great sadness that I note the death of the extraordinary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

I thank Dan Vera for these links:

Obituary in the New York Times:

Video on youtube from AlJazeera:

More soon.

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