Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Poetry Book Discussion Change of Date

We are rescheduling our January book discussion for Mon. 9 Jan., 7:00, Lemon Grove. Join us in a pre-semester cup of Irish coffee and an excellent book, Robert Miltner's Hotel Utopia. We apologize for the one-time change in schedule. Hope to see you there.

Friday, December 23, 2011


I recently listened to an interview with attorney Michelle Alexander on Sherry Linkon’s local NPR  program. I couldn’t make Alexander’s talk “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” but I can’t stop thinking about the interview. You can listen to it here.

We all know the high rates of incarceration for black men, but I didn’t know drug laws specifically targeted the black community. I don’t mean unintended consequences: there’s a paper trail, and that was the plan. Alexander explains that the rates of drug use are the same in all segments of society. But blacks are pursued by increasing police intrusion, and laws are skewed so that blacks have a higher penalty rate. Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible for a released felon to be re-integrated into society. We all break the law, Alexander points out – under-age drinking, speeding, smoking pot. But most of us go on to be productive citizens. However one segment of us is singled out, and forced to pay for those mistakes for the rest of their lives.

I get some insights from my students; YSU is one of the most integrated settings in Youngstown. One of my black students wrote that her father and all of her uncles have been to prison. She is struggling to conceptualize family and her expectation of a future partner and co-parent.

During one of our discussions, a white student commented that instead of government assistance, people should “get a job.” A few black students spoke about how they’ve tried for years. The jobs are in the suburbs, and employers pick people who went to their high school or who are kids of their friends. That’s just human nature, right?

Sure, except that when you add up all the factors, it’s devastating. I live in a neighborhood built in the 1920s. Gorgeous, sturdy houses with lots of brick and beautiful arches and wide porches. These areas were sold off by whites in the 1950s in white flight to the suburbs. The blacks who bought them took wonderful care of them – there were plenty of good paying jobs, and these old houses are money pits. But when the steel mills went down and we lost half our population, the blacks were disproportionately affected. And that was before the predatory lending/mortgage crisis. Falling real estate values and massive cuts to education on all levels leaves city schools with the lowest paid teachers and a high turnover. Our students at YSU are sometimes the first in their family to attend college. Many arrive without skills or context, and have a high dropout rate. And those who succeed and want to start a business in the black neighborhoods have a harder time getting loans and support. If they move into a neighborhood with good schools so their kids have a better chance, they are harassed. One of my students, in the nursing program, saved and saved to move into a white neighborhood so her son could have a good education. She and her visitors were pulled over by police so often, she felt more afraid, and moved back.

One of my white students wrote about his black roommate this semester. He admitted that when he learned his roommate was black, he was really angry. He was from a small town and had heard a lot of things. But although he’d already realized his roommate was a good guy, he was surprised to learn through the interview that they had a lot in common.

I teared up when I read the paper. But let’s be clear: that’s one small step for man, but no giant leap for mankind. My black students were thrilled when Obama was elected, but they feel betrayed, and why wouldn’t they? Obama can’t even talk about race. And Obama is genetically half white and culturally all white, so even the way we talk about his race doesn’t parse. What is our problem? We’ve been living together 400 years. And let’s not forget the ancestors of many blacks came in chains. The Germans are on their knees over their ancestors’ treatment of the Jews. My student’s great-grandfather, who was a slave, kept running away, so his foot was cut off. We’re not on our knees over any of it – rather we blame people for being in the trap we made for them. My father once explained to me, “Well, honey, you have to understand: people like to live near other people who are like them.” He was a kind man, and certainly a product of his time, but that so neatly explains away any of our responsibility. And the fact that for-profit prisons mean that some individuals are becoming incredibly wealthy, and some struggling communities rely on prisons to off-set shuttered business and falling wages, adds more dark and complicated elements.

 We use the national rhetoric of freedom and equality. We should strive to live up to that. We are the most diverse nation on earth. We should be so proud of that.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Call for Papers: College English Association of Ohio Spring Conference

I'm an at-large board member this year, and wanted to share this call for papers. Should be an engaging conference in a lovely corner of our lovely state.

2012 College English Association of Ohio Spring Conference
Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH, May 4, 2012

Changing Landscapes: New Directions in Literature, Writing, and Rhetoric

Keynote Speaker:  Susan Oldrieve, Professor of English, Baldwin-Wallace College

There is always a danger of exaggerating the extent to which practices have changed in our profession.  Yet there can be little doubt that we are experiencing some dramatic new directions in English studies.  The explosion of technological venues and tools for pedagogy and scholarship; the pressures of a tight academic job market; new directives from college administrators to produce more with fewer resources; and the growth of community college, for-profit institutions, and large public universities are just a few indications of a changing landscape.  Please join us as we discuss how to advance our profession while also addressing these opportunities and challenges.
Possible topics might include:
·         Changing pedagogical practices in literature, composition, creative writing, and linguistics courses;
·         New ways of reading, writing, and teaching different genres, such as novels, short stories, poems, non-fiction, and online texts (blogs, wikis, etc);
·         Visions of the future for universities, colleges, and community colleges;
·         New landscapes of and for college teaching;
·         New methods implemented by literature, composition, creative writing, professional writing/journalism, and linguistics departments/programs to handle issues related to staffing and scheduling, course curriculum, textbook costs, training of new faculty, assessment, and budgetary issues;
·         Innovative practices for engaging students in the community, the university/college, and the classroom through civic engagement, service learning, and other outreach opportunities;
·         New professional development opportunities;
·         Approaches to addressing the national movement towards Common Core Standards and other changes advocated by state governments.

CEAO welcomes proposals for individual 15-20 minute sessions or 60 minute panel sessions from full-time faculty, graduate students, adjunct and part-time instructors, as well as individuals living/working both inside and outside Ohio.

Send proposals of 300 words or fewer by Friday, March 16, 2012 to: All proposals submitted by the deadline will be considered.  In addition, include your name, academic rank, university affiliation, and a short 100-150 word biography in the email message.  Please indicate if you will need technology for your presentation.
Please visit for additional information.  Presenters must be registered for the conference by the deadline.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apples to Apples

My CSA share included apples many weeks in a row this fall. You know the kind - so fresh, so crunchy. I ate them alone, with cheddar and with peanutbutter, made them into pies and cakes and cobblers. Then my mom and I went to a local orchard and bought a giant bag of Cameos. Manoman, they're incredible. And because they're not bred to pick green and ship and store, they have to be consumed right away. But I'd give up apples all the dark year to have apples in season. I made this pie and bread in the last couple days, and the recipes are well worth sharing.

I've made custard or creamy fruit pies before, and generally the custard lies in a layer and holds its own. This is more like a whisper, so first you get the taste of apple, and then a hint of this lovely creamy mapleness. The Cameos stayed so ivory, and there's no cinnamon so it doesn't look caramelized. This is a delicate pie, and the sugared crust is a delight. I clipped the recipe from a magazine long ago, which attributed the recipe to Richard Caudill of BroadRipple Pie Co. in Indianapolis. If you know Richard, please thank him for me. You'll also notice this recipe is a snap. The apple pie I took to Thanksgiving dinner took half the day - one of those recipes that should begin with: Take out every piece of kitchen equipment you own. And it wasn't half as good.

Apple Maple Cream Pie

Pastry for 9" double crust pie

1/3 c. sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
6 c. sliced, peeled apples
1/2 c. maple syrup (I used real, local syrup)
1/4 c. whipping cream (I used half and half)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

In large bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add apples and gently toss. In small bowl, stir together syrup, cream and vanilla. Pour over apples. Fold until combined. Transfer to pastry-lined pie plate. Even out and cover with top crust. Cut vents. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar (I used large crystal sugar). Bake 375 for 55 min.

I thank my Aunt Kit for sharing this recipe with me. She is famous in our family for her baking, and I know any recipe that comes from her will be amazing. Again I used the Cameos, which made a gorgeous, golden applesauce. I like it on the chunky side, and that left a nice texture in the bread too. This batter is well spiced, and that sets off the apples, dates and walnuts.

Applesauce Loaf

1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 1/4. c. applesauce
1/2 c. each chopped dates and walnuts

Beat butter and sugar, add egg. Stir together dry ingredients, blend in. Gently add applesauce, dates and walnuts. Bake greased loaf pan 1 hr. at 350.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My New Definition of Terrorism: Fracking

Are you on this map?

My friends have been talking about the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox for some time now, so we finally bumped it to the top of our Netflix queue and watched it last night. If you haven't seen it, get thee to it.

I'd seen the clips of tap water igniting, filling the sink with flames, but that's just a small part of it. People tell me that fracking will be safe here in northeast Ohio because our ground water is so shallow. That's ridiculous logic right there, but even so, that's just part of it.

Each well requires thousands of semi trips, which chews up roads. The fracking fluid contains over 500 chemicals, and some of the worst we have. It goes into the ground with millions of gallons of fresh water. Half of this toxic drink stays in the ground. Half of it comes back up and sits in evaporation pits where chemicals like benzene and toluene go airborne. Then it's sent to local wastewater plants, or pumped back into the ground at injection wells.

On every level this is terrifying, and wherever Fox goes, he hears about wild, domestic and farm animals sick and dead, and adults and children with cancer, brain damage and a host of horrors. Ground water is forever poisoned, but often residents don't know until they've been drinking it and have gotten very sick. Imagine this: your family has lived on that farm for generations, and now you can't use your water for anything, ever again. What will you do: sell the place?

You think flaming tap water is graphic - wait until you see the clip of the well that explodes. It's a biblical hell. Here in Ohio we're fracking in the rural areas, but also right up against communities, too. And now we've had a series of earthquakes linked to an injection site.

I know why Dick Cheney brokered the 'Halliburton loophole' - the law that exempts fracking from the Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act and a host of regulations designed to keep arsenic out of ground water. Because, as someone noted to my friend, Dick Cheney understands that some people want to be very, very rich.

But why we in Ohio would sell our water and our children's water and our children's health for money is something I can't swallow. What are future generations going to say, that they understand why we signed, because we needed jobs? That we didn't know about climate change? That there was no sun, no wind, no insulation, no public transportation, no other way?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Interview with H.L. Hix up at AGNI

There are so many interesting people in our world, and I foster a wish to take them home and ask them all the questions. So you can imagine how happy I was to be able to do this with H.L. Hix - the question-asking, anyway. I've long loved Hix's poetry, and after I read God Bless in a class on the poetry project (poetry books arranged around a central theme or idea), I thought of interviewing him to fulfill a course assignment. After his first answer, I knew I'd want to keep asking way after the class was over, and in fact we were still talking after graduation and then some. It's a long interview (it won't take a year to read it, but do get into your comfortable chair).

Thanks very much to H.L. for these thoughtful and poetic answers. I aim to read the books and articles noted in the interview, as well. And thanks to AGNI for publishing our conversation. We're in such good company there.

Here it is: AGNI.

Poetry Book Discussion: Robert Miltner's Hotel Utopia

Come out of the insulting January cold to discuss Hotel Utopia by Robert Miltner. We'll meet over steaming mugs of organic coffee at the Lemon Grove on 3 Jan. at 7:00. Robert is an Ohio author and all-around good guy and friend to many of us. We're thrilled to celebrate his first full-length collection. If you can't get a copy from the poet, himself, you can order it from New Rivers Press.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smoke (1995) dir. Wayne Wang, written by Paul Auster

Sure - it would be impossible not to love a film whose actors include Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Stockard Channing. But it's the writing, too. The characters push against their stereotypes, and are good - they are - and the movie's about that. How to be generous and good within life's weirdness. The storyline is compelling and unpredictable.

The advertisement makes it look like a screwball comedy. There are some light moments, but they have a real humanity, and the dark moments do too.

I'm late to the party on this one, but I bet it's a film that reveals something on each viewing. I'm putting it on my watch-in-a-decade list.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day at Home

Days like this are great - a big blank square on the calendar, just home. I'm not talking about do-nothing days: my brain has that manufacturer flaw - no on/off switch. I am in the middle of so many projects, books, magazines, writings, ideas.

Today I've got a tall stack of student essays to go through. By now I can hear their voices when I read their work. Their writing is insightful and interesting, with the occasional amusing textual mishap, like escape goats and an unfinnished draft.

But the home part is that I can put on my scruffiest clothes, sit in my soft-back chair in the room that's most full of light, drink coffee and mint tea all day, break for apples and granola, turn on the space heater when it's chilly and damp like today.

Sometimes I get caught and end up making an unexpected run to the store dressed like a rummage sale. But if I've planned it right, I won't have to leave the house at all. I wouldn't want too many solitary days, but I wouldn't want too little either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chickpea Soup and other recipes

I love trying new recipes. I have a giant box of them - I've been clipping them from various sources for years. When I find a new one I stick it in the back. When I need one, I draw from the front. I have hundreds, so I tend to recycle a recipe after I've tried it. Yes, even if it's good. Even if it's really, really good. My friend Amy calls this the life's-too-short-to-make-the-same-dessert-twice philosophy. I think that's great. My other friends, though, are distraught. I'm not sure why - but I'm hoping that posting the high-praise, the wow you MADE this?, the please please please make this again recipes here, it will help my friends overcome, and hey, maybe I'll have some of these deliciosities at their houses.

This is a variation on a recipe from the New York Times. It sounds so simple, and it is, but it's incredibly good, and oh so good for you. (This will be the last time I make that observation.)

Chickpea Vegetable Soup

1 whole clove
1 onion, sliced
1 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
small handful of your favorite herbs (I used oregano because my fellow soup eaters don't like rosemary)
1/3 c. olive oil
1 1/2 T. salt
1 large can whole tomatoes, cut up
a good heap of sliced carrots
2 celery stalks, sliced 1/4"
1/4 t. black pepper

Insert the clove into one of the onion slices. Put in large pot with the drained chickpeas, herbs, garlic, bay leaves, olive oil and salt. Add 5 c. water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about an hour, or until chickpeas are tender.

Add tomatoes, carrots and celery, cover loosely and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 25 min. longer. Season to taste with pepper and serve with Parmesan.

At the Ward Bakery open studio this past weekend, I dropped off a couple pans of bar cookies:

Chocolate Nut Bars

1 3/4 c. flour
3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 c. cold butter
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. chocolate - chocolate chips or chopped up candy bars (I had some tiny milk chocolate candy bars leftover from Halloween, which make an elegant and special baking ingredient)
2 c. nuts - I used unsalted peanuts, but any chopped nuts would be great.

In medium bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until crumbly. Gently press onto bottom of 9/13" baking pan. Bake 15 min. In medium bowl, combine milk, egg and vanilla. Spread over prepared crust. Top with chocolate and nuts. Bake at 350 20-25 min. or until bubbly.

This is from the annual Christmas collection published in the Northwestern, a newspaper in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I made a few changes from the original, submitted by Marjorie Breivogel of Montello.

Almond Shortbread

1 c. sugar
1 c. butter, softened
1 egg, separated
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. flour
1 T. water
1 c. sliced almonds
1 T. or so coarse sugar, optional

In large bowl, combine sugar, butter, egg yolk and almond extract. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, 1-2 min. Add flour; beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, 2-3 min. Press on bottom of greased 10x15" pan (I used a fork to spread it evenly). In a small bowl, with fork, beat together egg white and water. Brush over dough; sprinkle with almonds and press in slightly. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 350 for 20-30 min. or until lightly browned.

Both of these recipes say cool before eating. Tragic advice. They are so good warm, even if the roof of your mouth shreds and your eyes tear, it's worth it.

My CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares (organic fruits, vegetables and eggs I received each week over the summer and fall) ended with a couple pie pumpkins. This recipe came from ACCION: Helping Millions Help Themselves. My mom brought me the recipe, which features a photo of a lovely woman dispensing cream cheese frosting over a gajillion cupcakes. I've never made cupcakes with a cup of melted butter, and it sounds like they would be doorstops. But they are moist, yet tender, and amazing.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1 c. butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 c. pumpkin puree

Cream cheese frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 c. confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, butter and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin.
Fill each cupcake liner about halfway. The recipe says makes 18, but I got 20 (and some bowl licking). Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20-25 min.
To make frosting: beat cream cheese, and gradually add butter. Beat until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla.

Again, it says to cool, but have one warm. I'm telling you. Then share them. That's too much butter to eat by yourself!

Ok, four more. Fresh summer ripe tomatoes are one of the most precious resources on our living earth. Am I right? So when I tell you this recipe is worthy of your summer tomatoes, I don't say that lightly. If you use sickly Florida tomatoes grown in toxic sand by underpaid migrant workers, I will know. And despite what I said above, this is very healthful, especially over whole grain pasta.

Vegetable Pasta Sauce (a recipe namer with no poetic inclination or appreciation for how good this is)

2 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped carrot
1 c. chopped pepper
4 cloves garlic
1/4 c. olive oil
8 lb. (24 medium) fully ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (about 16 c.)
12-oz. can tomato paste
1 c. red wine
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. celery seed
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 medium zucchini, chopped

Note about the vegetables: the tomatoes and their liquid should be close to these specs, but everything else is open to what you've got on hand. I think I had red, orange, green and purple tomatoes and red, green, orange and yellow, sweet and hot peppers and it was gorgeous. I used fresh herbs, and didn't really measure.

Cook onion, carrot, peppers and garlic in oil in a heavy 6-qt. Dutch oven (I used a big, deep skillet), covered, 5-7 min. Stir occasionally. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 60-75 min. or until thick, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini. Simmer, covered, 5-7 min. more. Freeze leftovers. Makes 7-8 pints.

I took this next dessert to my writing workshop at Mill Creek, and one of the writers remarked that he'd expect it to be on the menu at a fancy restaurant. It's surprising how easy cheesecake is, compared to how well received. This one is a tiny bit more work because of the apples. I think this recipe came from Midwest Living. My grandmother sent me a gift subscription for years.

Apple Strudel Cheesecake


1 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. cold butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla


4 c. sliced peeled tart apples
(2) 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped walnuts

In a bowl, combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in vanilla. Press onto the bottom of an ungreased springform pan. Bake 350 for 10 min. Cool. Place apples in an ungreased 13x9" baking dish. Cover and bake 375 for 15 min. or until tender; drain and cool. Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/2 c. sugar, eggs and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. Pour over crust. Toss baked apples with cinnamon and remaining sugar. Arrange apples over cream cheese layer; drizzle with any remaining cinnamon mixture. Spinkle with nuts. Bake 375 for 15 min. Reduce heat to 350; bake 45-50 min. longer or until set. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

More almond bars. I tend toward bars if I'm pressed for time - they're so much faster than cookies.

Almond Bars


1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. shortening


1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. preserves (I used strawberry, but any will work)
1 T. butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. sliced almonds

In a mixing bowl, beat flour, sugar, butter and shortening. Pat into the bottom and 1/2" up the sides of an ungreased 13x9" baking pan. Bake at 350 for 15-18 min. or until lightly browned. For topping, beat egg, sugar, preserves, butter and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth. Spread over hot crust. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake 350 for 15-20 min.

Next is the first recipe I tried with my leftover Clark Bars and Butterfingers from Halloween. These cookies are so good, I'm at a loss for words. Really. They're that good.

Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 c. shortening
2/3 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 c. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1 c. chopped nuts

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening, butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Fold in the chocolate and nuts. Chill for at least 1 hr. Drop by 1/4 cupfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake 375 for 13-15 min. or until golden brown. Cool for 5 min. before removing to a wire rack.

While they're still warm, you know what to do.

A lot of recipes went into the recycling bin, but this handful is worth sharing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The power of our money

Coca Cola's been in my news stream a couple times lately. One article was about the Grand Canyon. Because 1/3 of the park's waste is single-use plastic water bottles, park officials set up water refilling stations and crafted a policy banning plastic bottles. As renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben points out here, Americans throw away 80 million plastic bottles every day. I've seen this statistic several times, and I can't seem to wrap my head around it. All that petroleum, electricity, water, and land for plastic bottles? Even if we recycle them, we save a fraction of those resources. And how simple to just refill a container with water that comes right into our houses. Not like we are walking miles to the stream or community pump.

So in walk the Grand Canyon park officials with a plan to reduce waste in the park, and bring down costs as well. Not so fast, said Coca Cola, which blocked implementation because they make a lot of money selling their products in the park. Coca Cola donated $13 million to the National Park Service, and the parks didn't want to risk losing a major donor. You can read about it here.

Does that make you angry? I'm livid. The other article was about Coca Cola and other corporations blocking the implementation of new school lunch guidelines. Never mind that obesity will be the costliest epidemic in American history, and that one of three kids born in 2000 will become diabetic, largely due to their consumption of soda and other high calorie, low nutrition foods like pizza and fries. Those are big contracts for these companies, and they are not about to lose them to the "nanny state." You can read about that one here.

Corporations like Coca Cola have a lot of power in this country, but their power sits on a house of cards. If people get so pissed off over their abuse of influence and stop buying it, they will simply wither and die on the vine. I don't want Coke setting environmental policy, or funding my country's elections, or exporting their government subsidized high fructose corn syrup all over the world, or having any influence whatsoever on children's school lunches or the national parks. I would rather pay higher taxes and fully fund the parks and schools than see Coke's outrageous profits fund our public places.

I would rather go thirsty than buy Coke or their water brand Dasani, and luckily my city's water is delicious. I have a metal reusable water bottle that saves me a lot of money. It saves my city money too, because my recycle and garbage bins are that much emptier. It saves health costs for me down the line. Even one soda a day doubles my risk for diabetes. And Diet Coke is no better - aspertame is a dangerous and addictive chemical that, itself, leads to obesity and diabetes by stimulating the hypothalamus.

I can imagine a country where we think about the power of our money, about how it shapes the world we live in. Was that new cell phone made with minerals that fund war in Africa? Was that chocolate bar made with cocoa grown and harvested by enslaved kids? Is that milk inexpensive because the corporation is filling cows with antibiotics and growth hormones? Is the money we spend at WalMart making a few people as rich and powerful as countries, while undermining our local economy and earning power?

We have some good choices. This weekend a historic bakery here in Youngstown is filled with artist studios and all the money the artists earn stays in our community. This isn't just a plug for my artist friends, although I think the world of them, and I think art is one thing that makes Youngstown such a great place to live. But all of our purchases should be mindful. Bank transfer day was a great start. Why should we patronize the megabanks that brought the world economy to its knees and did so much damage to our neighborhoods? Let's empower our money to rebuild our country, by seeing each purchase as an investment in the community we want to live in.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My 11-11-11

It just worked out that way. I have 238 titles on my Netflix queue, and right now I'm alternating documentaries and movies. Two DVDs ago I got partway into The House of Mirth, based on Edith Wharton's novel. Despite the impressive cast (Dan Aykroyd, Anthony LaPaglia, Laura Linney, Eric Stoltz), I found the acting flat and the story too chopped up to follow. And maybe watching the 1% flounder in their own social construct isn't appealing just now. Maybe living without healthcare is staring to make me cranky.
But I digress. Last night I watched the important documentary War Made Easy, and today it's Veterans Day. I want every American to watch this. We are soaked in the rhetoric of war.
I talked to a young veteran yesterday. He said he's between tours of duty and is having trouble readjusting to civilian life. He was talking to me about the statistics of PTSD. I've been reading about the high rates of unemployment and homelessness for vets, as well as the disabilities, disfigurements and suicides, not to mention social struggle.
This young man told me he's going back for two more years. When I expressed sympathy, he corrected me - he wants to go. I said I'd heard from vets that what they loved about the military was a tight community, and a real sense of purpose. That the work was hard, but everyone pulled their weight. He nodded, eyes wide. I asked him if he could imagine living in a country where we channeled the talent of our young like that here - solving hard problems here. He really couldn't.
Isn't that sad?
I can imagine him running his own business - talk about intense - working with a small group of people who have put everything on the line. I could see him working in an E.R. or at a crisis intervention center. Or maybe high rise construction, disaster cleanup, fighting forest fires, something with a little thrill to it. On his day off, he might parachute out of an airplane or hang glide or climb up a rock face. But to put him at the end of a gun in a war that will mean nothing in a decade's time when we're back to being trading partners, that's what doesn't make sense.
We have to know on some level that starting all these wars doesn't make us safer. We tell him, thank you for your sacrifice! Thank you for keeping our country safe, for protecting the American way of life. Freedom isn't free. But even after Saddam Hussein (our one-time ally) and 100,000 Iraqis (90% civilians) are dead, and there were no weapons of mass destruction, and nothing about that was a threat to our country, we still drive around with Support our Troops magnets on our SUVs.
And what about all these young people who go
willingly - I wonder if they have read anything about these places, the history of these conflicts, the political dynamics, the economic realities, anything about our wars since Vietnam. And I wonder if their parents have informed themselves, as well.
Support our troops? What are we really supporting? An obscene abuse of power, and a few corporate war makers. There should be a special ring of hell for those who have gotten into the 1% on the profits of war.
I'm sick of war, and I'm sick of my country telling me we can't afford what's important. Yes, we can.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

I just read a piece in The Atlantic Monthly about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. My god, this building designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie looks so beautiful, and how enlightened of the Kauffman family, who made their money in pharmaceuticals, to give Kansas City such a gift. Even if, as the Atlantic wryly notes, they did it for publicity reasons, the music inside is real.
But this news comes to me at a strange time. I've been reading student essays about health and medicine. A few brave souls took on the labyrinthine funding questions, so I've been beefing up my understanding of Medicare and Medicaid. Of course, since all American public discourse must fit on a bumper sticker (we need to get it quickly so we can get back to news of Michael Jackson's doctor and Kim Kardashian's divorce), I'm reading lots of simplified accusations about bankrupting our country and throwing granny off a cliff.
The truth is, we'd howl if the government wanted to build a performing arts center in any city. Americans keep voting for candidates who promise to lower taxes, so we're not even protecting teacher pay, let alone creating public spaces for ourselves and future generations.
But the way I see it, lot of the money the Kauffmans made came from taxpayers. Between public workers, Medicare, Medicaid, the military and prisons, the government funds 60% of all health care. What didn't come from taxpayer money came from private insurance companies, funded by employers and individuals. That's us, all of it. And maybe some of the people we read about who had to choose between food and medicine funded it, too.
The Atlantic Monthly piece lists other arts and sports centers funded by AT&T, Sprint, etc. And if these corporations take a break from lobbying Congress and funding candidates to build stuff, I think that's great. And, again, funding the arts is wonderful. I hope to go to KC to see this breathtaking building. But I also think we should be howling, loudly, over the way corporations are making money hand over fist from us - so much more than they need to cover costs - because they can. I'd rather pay higher taxes and have some say in the shaping of my community. It's not just sour grapes - that we don't have a Kauffman's here in Youngstown to sweep us off our feet - it's that private money gets little public say, and has a huge effect on public life.
So thank you Kauffman family, and Andrew Carnegie, and Gates foundation. Sometimes the uber rich make beautiful leaps of faith that government could not imagine. But the dark side is the gutting of the public sector, and money manipulation by the axis of evil: Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, et al.
Let us shift the balance back toward a rich public discourse, a shaping of the future, and public money working toward a public good. Let's put the public back in public. How's that for a bumper sticker?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Poetry Book Discussion Group

On an unseasonably warm November evening over cups of lemon grass tea, we had an engaging discussion on Phil Metres's Ode to Oil, a poignant, elegant collection with lovely movement through time and place, and an intriguing sexual tension. Kattywompus Press puts together beautiful chapbooks with paper that feels good to the touch, a clean and pleasing layout, and cover design that is at once rich and spare.

We're staying in the Middle East in Dec. with Beirut Again by Allen West, published by Off the Grid Press. I read with this poet in Appleton, Wisconsin, over the summer, and was very moved by his work. He is a wonderful reader as well.

A suggestion was made to add a workshop to our monthly discussions, and I love the idea. We'll meet at 6:00 - bring half a dozen copies of your poem. See you at the Lemon Grove on Tues. 6 Dec.

You can order Beirut Again here:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Zookeeper's Wife

I just finished listening to Diane Ackerman's poignant book on CD. The writing is lushly Ackerman - what a master of the sensory detail. The book chronicles the directors of the Warsaw zoo during WWII, and describes the scrappy resistance, and Poles who risked their own lives by saving others. Ackerman also zooms in close to the loneliness and deprivation of this terrorizing occupation - the loss of ritual, childhood, and normalcy, as well as more primitive concerns like heat, nourishment and safety.
I am struck by the way some people, like Jan and Antonina Zabinski, are so highly evolved - incredibly moral, empathic, and driven. This family stands out in relief against the brutish behavior of the Nazis, but Ackerman shows that they were plenty remarkable before their country fell under assault. We have our own version of the Zabinskis here in Youngstown, and of course in every community where I've lived. I wonder of what stuff these qualities are made. We are lucky to have them among us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Freeloaders

Somehow the critics of the Occupy protests have gotten the idea that what protestors want is a handout. A recent editorial in the Youngstown State student newspaper excoriated Occupy Youngstown for criticizing corporate greed, and went on to accuse unions for causing our economic woes, since their demands force corporations to send our jobs overseas. A few of my colleagues are critical of those who went to private school and now want help with their debt. They are proud of the fact that they chose a state school, and now work hard and live within their means.
And so they should be. They do work hard, and their being at Youngstown State makes it a better place. But I haven't seen any signs from Occupyers that say THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SEND ME A CHECK SO I CAN GO HOME AND WATCH TV. They do tell a myriad of stories of also working very hard, and still being crushed by student debt, or losing homes, jobs, pensions, or not getting medical care.
Let's take the editorial first. Say this young journalist has his way, and the small bit of union power we have left is hamstrung. Let's say we are successful at competing with overseas workers, and we keep our jobs at the wages currently being paid to Mexican and Chinese workers. It seems to me we'll still have the problems many of the Occupyers are pointing out.
It costs a billion dollars to run for president, hundreds of millions to run for Congress. If the last competition to corporate money, unions, no longer exists, then corporations will have the only voice in the process. GE and Halliburton profit immensely from our military actions. Should they help decide what military actions we pursue? Should BP, Massey and other energy corporations shape our environmental and energy policy? Should private prison corporations shape our immigration policy? Big pharma and insurance companies medical policy? Walmart labor policy? JP Morgan Chase et al finance policy? Cargill and Monsanto agricultural policy? That's all happening now - and by shape, I mean spending untold money lobbying and financing campaigns, and being in on the legislation.
This is what throws me about the young journalist. I feel rotten for the country we are handing off to the young. The climate crisis, dead zone in the Gulf, mountaintops blown off, 30,000 domestic gun deaths a year, seemingly endless war and militarization, crumbling infrastructure, gutted education, lack of access to good medical care and a host of other problems are causing real suffering for millions of Americans. I've read that for every five Chinese families who rise up into the middle class, two American families drop from the middle class into poverty.
I would add that a decreasingly informed and analytical public has been an important driver. I'm not implying I have the answers - the questions are complicated, and I'm learning as fast as I can.
But it seems to me that Americans sometimes talk like we've been hit by an asteroid - we all have to pull together, tighten our belts, be responsible, live within our means, get through these hard times. But the crisis we're in is man made. It's not an act of nature that we are not investing in what would make us a better country - education, infrastructure, low-carbon energy, higher wages. And it's not like we have a smaller government - our increasing surveillance and massive military costs us plenty. And making the rich as rich as they are has taken a few decades of sacrifice for the rest of us, but we got there.
I don't think that only rich kids should be able to go to good private colleges. Smart and hard working middle class and poor kids should be there too. As wealth has accumulated at the top, it's taken access to opportunity along. And even for those of us living unheroic lives, I think if we work hard we should have our basic needs met, including consistent, affordable medical care, good schools for our kids, clean air and water, parks, adequate public transportation, libraries, a chance at homeownership. I think that's the definition of the American dream. We still have the largest economy on earth. But now we are the fifth most unequal nation on earth. Do we really want to be number one?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Poetry Book Discussion Group

On the first of November we'll again meet in the Lemon Grove on Federal Street in Youngstown. We'll be talking about Philip Metres's chapbook Ode to Oil, published by Kattywompus Press. If you order it here, you'll be supporting a wonderful new press in Cleveland, as well as adding a commendable book to your bookcase.

Phil Metres has been a longtime voice in our country, advocating for peace and connection. Kattywompus describes this collection as "a poetic weaving-together of the history, geology, and culture of fossil fuels in the age of big oil."

I met a friend recently at the Lemon Grove, and we talked over creamy tomato soup and grilled sandwiches. I had a dark roast coffee and my friend a black tea. We came out warmed on the inside, and delivered lunch to the artist and installation crew putting in a set of three sculpted bikeracks on the city square. The next morning the playful and curving pieces were alive with light, all presence and absence in their graceful lines.

If you're around, I'll see you on the first, and we'll take up our own conversation. If you ride your bike, you can park it on the new sculpted rack. If you don't get the book in time, come anyway. Bring an idea for next month.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poetry Reading and Writing with Nin Andrews

As part of Afternoon of the Arts, Nin Andrews and I will give poetry readings and writing workshops this Saturday, 22 Oct., beginning at 2:00 at the YMCA in Boardman, Ohio. All ages welcome! Free and open to the public.

Occupy Rhetoric

I saw this image going viral, as they say, on facebook.

I don't trust that it's true - lots of stuff is going around without being checked. It's more symbolic, so the truth is, at least in this case, beside the point. (When we're circulating data, however, it falls on us to check out its truthiness.)
Then I saw this on facebook.

I call myself lucky that I have friends with different points of view. I think a vigorous discussion is good for our democracy, and it helps us clarify and challenge our own positions.

However, this isn't a discussion. Both of these images fall far afield. Likely some of the Occupyers are having the communal time of their lives and hope it never ends. And I'm sure some anarchists are hoping government crashes so we can live in some sort of Lord of the Flies dystopia.

But most of us fall in between somewhere, wanting both clean water and those funky red shoes. Let's keep looking for that common ground.