Wednesday, June 24, 2009


"Who" is correct

Many thanks to my Dad, Preston Browning, Jr., who let me know that in fact "who" is correct in the following sentence:

Plus a bunch of nonfiction writers who I'm sure are just as cool.

This was in a previous post about Sweet Literary Journal -- I had thought that the correct usage in that sentence was "whom," but Dad, the expert, says that: "'who' is correct since it's the subject of the verb 'are.' Using 'whom' in such a construction is sometimes done today but it's incorrect."

Thanks, Dad!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn Brooks!

From the good folks at the Poetry Foundation:

Remember that poetry is life distilled.
—Gwendolyn Brooks

June 7, 2009, would have been Gwendolyn Brooks's 92nd birthday; to join us in celebrating one of America's greatest poets, check out the Hall Library stop on the Chicago Poetry Tour, which features archival recordings of Brooks reading from and speaking about the impressive span of her work. The program ranges from the intimate neighborhood portraits included in her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville, such as "kitchenette building" and "the rites for Cousin Vit," to the political turn her poetry took in the '60s as she became involved with the black arts movement:

And we did such exciting things. And we went into the park and recited our poetry and we went to city jail. And the most exciting thing we did was just to walk into a tavern, and someone like Haki Madhubuti, once known as Don L. Lee, would say, "Look folks, we're gonna lay some poetry on you!" . . . And they would turn from their drinks, temporarily, and listen to poetry, which they hadn't come to the tavern to hear, of course.

The Poetry Foundation website offers a critical biography of Brooks, as well as contemporary articles, including Danielle Chapman's "Sweet Bombs," a review of the recently issued collection The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks.

For a broader look at Brooks’s effect on Chicago poetry, listen to "Confronting the Warpland," an original one-hour radio documentary produced by the Poetry Foundation. The show presents African American poets who have found influence and inspiration living in the city, and features Brooks, Tyehimba Jess, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Haki Madhubuti, Sterling Plumpp, and Margaret Walker in interviews, readings, and archival recordings.

Finally, Brooks is showcased in the Essential American Poets archive, selected by Donald Hall during his poet laureateship in 2006. Recorded at the Library of Congress in 1961, Brooks, in her early 30s, reads several poems not available on the Chicago Poetry Tour, including "the mother," "of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery," and "A Sunset of the City," which ends,

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


America's Sorry Policy

On Obama's Speech in Cairo and US Policy in the Middle East
by John Feffer, the always-astute co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus

In 1697, five years after the judges of Salem, Massachusetts sent 20 suspected witches to the gallows, one man stood up in front of his congregation and apologized. Samuel Sewall was one of the nine judges that gave official sanction to the hysteria of the witch trials. In a remarkable act of contrition, Sewall took upon his head the "blame and shame" of the tragedy and wore a hair shirt until the day of his death to remind him of his sin. More intriguingly, he went on to become a champion of civil rights and an early abolitionist.

It would be truly breathtaking if George W. Bush - or any of the architects of the U.S. foreign policy fiascos of the 21st century - donned a hair shirt, repented of his actions, and performed an ideological about-face. The parallels with Salem are not trivial: the hysteria, the torture, the legal travesties. But don't hold your breath waiting for a mea culpa from the 43rd president. Instead, it's left to Barack Obama to come to terms with the Bush legacy.

Last week in Cairo, President Obama gave a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world. In many ways the speech was extraordinary. The president reaffirmed his own personal ties to the Islamic world, quoted from the Koran, lauded religious tolerance, upheld the rule of law, recognized that "the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable," called on Israel to stop settlements, reaffirmed his commitment to nuclear abolition, and tactically refocused U.S. military campaigns against "violent extremism in all forms."

The speech "reflected a significant shift away from the ideological framework of militarism and unilateralism that shaped the Bush administration's war-based policy toward the Arab and Muslim worlds," observes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Phyllis Bennis in Changing the Discourse. It will be remembered, as Akiva Eldar writes in Haaretz, "as the last day of the 9/11 era." And the speech could also help shift the U.S. public's attitudes about Islam, which have been largely negative. "If it reduces American prejudice against Arabs and Muslims, then his address would truly mark a new beginning for U.S.-Muslim relations," writes FPIF contributor R.S. Zaharna in Improving U.S.-Muslim Relations.

For all its strong points, however, the speech didn't contain any apologies. The president might have taken the opportunity to apologize for the way the Bush administration demonized Islam, killed countless Muslim civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, supported repressive states in the region, and abrogated the civil liberties of Muslim and Arab-Americans in the United States. But the United States rarely does apologies. And Obama prefers to focus on the future rather than the past.

The closest the president came to an apology was when he mentioned U.S. complicity in the overthrow of Iran's democratically elected government in 1953. He didn't apologize for the act (nor did Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000 when she too acknowledged U.S. involvement in the coup). "Rather than remain trapped in the past," Obama said in Cairo, "I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward."

The president no doubt fears a slippery slope - apologize for one U.S. policy and the demands will escalate to apologize for them all. For the conservative attack dogs, meanwhile, the word "sorry" is like the scent of fear and weakness. At the merest mention of an apology, they will leap at Obama's throat.

And then there's the problem of current U.S. actions. We continue to support autocratic leaders in the Arab world. "Many Arabs and Muslims have expressed frustration that Obama failed to use this opportunity to call on the autocratic Saudi and Egyptian leaders with whom he had visited on his Middle Eastern trip to end their repression and open up their corrupt and tightly controlled political systems," writes FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes in How Not to Support Democracy in the Middle East. The Egyptian government's crackdown on dissent prior to Obama's visit was a painful reminder of U.S. double standards on democracy in the region.

Obama pledged to adhere to the timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, noted that the United States desires no military bases in Afghanistan, and referred to the $1.5 billion in infrastructure assistance for Pakistan. But we're still at war in these countries, and apologies, if they come at all, are issued long after the last shot is fired.

For all of the president's attempts to focus the debate on "violent extremists," U.S. aerial assaults and counterinsurgency operations are still claiming civilian lives in the Muslim world. This is particularly problematic in Afghanistan, as FPIF contributor Farrah Hassen points out. In his Cairo speech, the president "failed to acknowledge the growing civilian casualties due to increased U.S. drone attacks ostensibly aimed at dismantling the Taliban - a reality that only increases the risk of blowback against the United States, as opposed to winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, and of Muslims, alike," she writes in Lifting the Veil. "Indeed, a military investigation concluded the United States made mistakes after the May 4 airstrikes in the western province of Farah that killed dozens of civilians."

On the ground in Afghanistan, where support for NATO military operations has declined precipitously over the years, U.S. forces are experimenting with a new policy of prompt apologies for civilian casualties. The apologies are welcome in the region, but words can only go so far. "Apologies are good things," Maolawi Hezatullah, provincial council head in Kunar where U.S. troops killed six civilians in April, told Reuters. "But the foreign troops should convince the people that there will be no more such incidents."

Samuel Sewall didn't simply apologize for his role in the Salem witch trials. He tried to remedy his errors by working to ensure that such atrocities would never reoccur. We may not see apologies for U.S. conduct in the Muslim world coming from top U.S. officials. But if Obama manages to end the "collateral damage" to civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, then U.S. policy will change indeed.


Eve LaPlante, "The Opposite of Thanksgiving," The Boston Globe, November 18, 2007;

"A New Beginning: Obama's Egypt Speech," The Huffington Post, June 4, 2009;

Phyllis Bennis, "Changing the Discourse: First Step Toward Changing the Policy," Foreign Policy In Focus (; Obama's approach toward the Muslim world may be diplomatic, but it remains the work of mobilized people across the United States to end Obama's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, halt the occupation of Iraq immediately rather than years from now, stop U.S. military aid to Israel, and launch new negotiations with Iran not based on military threats.

Akiva Eldar, "Obama's Cairo Speech Signals End of 9/11 Era," Haaretz, June 8, 2009;

R. S. Zaharna, "Improving U.S.-Muslim Relations," Foreign Policy In Focus (; For the United States to focus only on improving its image in the Arab and Muslim world is to see only half of the picture.

Madeleine Albright, "American-Iranian Relations," March 17, 2000;

Stephen Zunes, "How Not to Support Democracy in the Middle East," Foreign Policy In Focus,; Obama failed to address Egyptian and Saudi repression in his address to the Muslim world.

Hossam el-Hamalawy, "Cairo Under Siege Ahead of Obama's Speech," The Huffington Post, June 3, 2009;

Farrah Hassen, "Lifting the Veil," Foreign Policy In Focus (; A Muslim-American reflects on Obama's Cairo speech.

Peter Graff, "New Tactic for U.S., NATO in Afghanistan," Reuters, April 17, 2009;

Friday, June 05, 2009


Sweet is sweet!

The new issue of Sweet: A Literary Confection is online, happily including my poem, "Kissing Girls" from The Smart Girl Poems. I'm very happy to be in the company of the magnificent Tim Seibles, as well as poets Barbara Daniels, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Laura McCullough, and Emily K. Bright. Plus a bunch of nonfiction writers who I'm sure are just as cool. (Should be "whom" but that would be um... uncool). Check it out here:


Help Out GirlChild Press and Get a Great Book

GirlChild Press is moving to the West Coast and they need help. Here's a note from the publisher, Michelle Sewell:

We have 300 first edition copies of Just Like A Girl left from our 1,200 copy run. It is cost prohibitive to ship them to the west coast when we relocate so we are asking that everyone buy a copy. Simple as that. They are $20.00 a piece. Go to

to make your order. We have about 20 copies of Growing Up Girl if you are interested in that anthology. If you would like a bulk order of 12 copies or more please email me at for a special rate!

If you can't afford to buy a copy pass this announcement to someone with deeper pockets:)

Thank you for your continued support!
Michelle Sewell
Editor/Founder of GirlChild Press

(ps from Sarah - My poem "Poem for Turning 40" is included, plus lots of other terrific writings, poetry and prose. A perfect gift for the feisty gals in your life!)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?