Honika, or the Politics of Warmth

•January 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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[Narrative poem based on true story of a Nazi skinhead Horst who changed to a Left Party Monika, which I found in the German magazine Der Spiegel No. 15 in 2011. Maybe even of use in the context of the resurgent populist and extreme right in many countries, looking at human interiors not just exteriors…]

HONIKA, OR THE POLITICS OF WARMTH

It’s glam rock at the cusp of punk
when Horst’s born in a German village
to parents who split like a band
soon as he pops. Mum’s on tranx.

Fostered at three to a dad who loves
the cane. Horst burns down
the ugly living room curtains
to get a better view of the fields

breathing their fake canola sun far
as the eye can see. Ten years later
it’s back with mum, now clean &
Catholic, a stepdad budgie breeder

& drunk who belts the shit out
of mum who belts him back to
the tune of Horst pulling the pillow
over his ears between walls happy

with Metallica, Madonna, Queen.
The budgies die. The first stubble
finds Horst unhappy with this
sudden roughing up of face & pubes.

No friends, he’s the perfect victim
for the schoolyard pack & never
fights back. Just closes his eyes till
he hears an alpha voice growling

lay off, & Horst looks up to see four
mirror Doc Martins under two skins.
No more bullying, now he’s got
friends, beers in pubs, pamphlets

& joins the Nazis for the warmth.
Hands out flyers, marches, nods
along to their ‘migrants out !’ & ‘hate
the queers !’, though that hurts.

His soul squirms in his body
like a left hand in a right glove.
Secretly meets men, wants boobs,
a pussy, but doesn’t tell mum.

When she dies he’s in hell, life
an ugly fucking sculpture
he wants to smash. He leaves
his skinhead family, then his body

to the clever knife till abracadabra
she’s: Monika, & loves her boobs.
On the dole, she’s drawn to bolshies,
justice, more pamphlets, pubs.

She joins. It’s the warm feeling,
like a family she says. A candidate
for The Left, she gets 2%, heckling
she’s mad, a fat swastika on her door.

She fears the Nazis might do more.
Now she’s leaving for Berlin. Maybe
slough all over again in some warm
village big cold cities can still contain.

Anti-National Anthem

•January 9, 2017 • 7 Comments

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[Rhyming poem or song I wrote about 20 years ago. Given the current resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia everywhere, might still be relevant. Emerging One World Consciousness still needs to be fought for. Can easily be sung to any invented melody.]

Anti-National Anthem

My nation is the planet
My flag it is the sky
My passport is my breathing
That I’ll hand in when I die

I’ll fight for no government
‘cept the government of the heart
But I’ll fight the war-and-money machine
That tears this world apart

So you can keep all your nations
Keep your money men
Left and Right
Cause they’re all just
Halluci……nations
In this never ending night

(Break)

But mother earth and sister sea
And father sky and brother tree
These are my Royal Family
These are my next of kin
These are the ancient voices
That breathe through my skin

(Break)

So we’ll sing no more anthems
Till people everywhere
Can live in peace and justice
And laughingly declare:

My nation is the planet
My flag it is the sky
My passport is my breathing
That I’ll hand in when I die

My passport is my breathing
That I’ll hand in when I die

Mapping the Landscape Mapping Itself

•January 8, 2017 • 2 Comments

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[A little philosophy of language to kick off the year folks. Have a great 2017. The image is supposed to be a ‘3D model’ of a known unknown called ‘dark matter’.]

Mapping the Landscape Mapping Itself

There are more things twixt heaven and earth than are contained in thy philosophy, Horatio. (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

As far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality they are not certain, and in so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. (Einstein)

The frog thoroughly known in all its parts, juices, and processes, is a frog that no longer hops and catches flies on a lazy summer afternoon. (Walter Benesch, An Introduction to Comparative Philosophy, p. 197.)

The Buddha’s Diamond Sutra insists on truth being undeclarable. To declare is to use words, names, theories. Words and theories are (using Alfred Korzybski’s distinction) maps, not the landscapes themselves.

So,

what if all words and theories are different ways of looking at the same thing, the same landscape?

What if no map (words or theory) can ever fully describe the whole landscape because to do so it would have to become, at the very least, as large as the landscape it is describing? If the landscape is all there is, then how can there be room for a map of the landscape that is as large as the landscape itself? (Unless of course, as in J.L. Borges’ story ‘The Library of Babel’, the universe itself recursively becomes one huge Library documenting itself…)

What if the landscape thus encompasses the map and the map-making but the map and the map-making cannot, by definition, ever encompass the landscape?

What if a life encompasses the writing about this life but the writing cannot, by definition, ever encompass the life?

What if the map-making is thus a possible form of recursive self-constructing which the landscape manifests as a way of ‘externally’ knowing (mapping) itself?

What if words grows out of a mind which grows out of life which grows out of the world which grows out of the cosmos like an apple grows from a tree?

What if we were thus BOTH the apple AND the tree, the landscape and the mapping of the landscape as it constructs or projects the map and the landscape, both, as in Chuang Tzu, a man dreaming he is a butterfly AND a butterfly dreaming he is a man?

What if ‘there is, brethren a condition’ in which this BOTH-AND state can sometimes be directly experienced in states labelled (mapped) negatively as ‘non-experience’, ‘no thought’, ‘no dream’, ‘no self’, ‘emptiness’, ‘silence’, ‘non-action’, ‘void-form’ etc. in which both-and is also neither-nor and all purposeful map-making ceases, and

Reality, the Landscape, is simply all there is and that Landscape is neither map nor thing nor self nor dream nor any thing at all, nor nothing?

Reading an Aquarium

•December 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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[Poem I wrote when I was thirty seven, thirty years ago.]

Reading an Aquarium

Fish I say being
a part of the cosmic everyday,
glowing water thick as light,
ecstatic bubbles pumping night

a part in the play of God’s crystal
thoughts devilish to decipher,
mulled over monkishly, ever
blurred as through a glass darkly

brackish glory of our need
to desire, net, believe, naming,
as flitting things do not, flaming
sea patterns heralding all

the deadly colours of living
material intelligence, deathless
as mirrors dancing mosaics giving
off dome-shaft light, void-

suspended, centred in the small
prosaic clockwork heart, in-
comprehensible to the very last,
some translucent emblem’s vast.

the poetics of spirit. a manifesto

•December 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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[Poem from earlier this year, another of my beloved/accursed manifestos. Spirit, poetics, philosophical anarchism…The photo a still from German director Wim Wenders’ film of the great Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring.]

the poetics of spirit. a manifesto

poetry is spirit is a mystical anarchist: one-mind freedom immersed in a riot of difference

like spirit nothing you can put your finger on, nail down with the hammer of theory

the certainty of freedom from certainty yet not the certainty of wallowing in doubt

against Aristotles A can very well be B or C or Z or even A on a good day

life nature soul abyssal as ocean sky night depth inexpressible as godhead

spirit ever shifting flowing morphing a river of light the ocean called wave

grasp & it’s gone like water wind air love life, ketchup

grasping is silly bloody knife cutting itself, eye seeing itself, hand shaking itself

spirit lives in the mansion of self-contradiction ambiguity ambivalence irony paradox, or not

spirit wears a cloak of coincidentia oppositorum, both/and, androgynous Tao of daydark & nightlight

spirit of poetry spirit of life spirit of anarchism Trickster spirit spirit of spit & polish

a poem: you say one thing & feel pregnant with the possibility of its opposite

spirit is humour-as-awareness-of-incongruence, the coin dropping, a collapsing wave function

spirit irrepressible source of all dissent essential freedom to say yes to no and yes and yes

all institutions kill it with either/or law letter literal authority plan mission statement

spirit digs Lao-Tzu Chuang-Tzu Heraclitus Diogenes Meister Eckhart Hui-Neng Dogen Silesius

Blake Whitman Landauer Dada Joyce Cummings Cage Beckett Watts Monty Python

yes, oh yes large as Walt containing multitudes & platitudes past present future now-ever

no, oh no small as the universe in midge-fly breath shoe-pebble swamp-moss toothache

the wheel of the everyday woid is the same wheel of galaxies centred on black hole voids

poetry sings the wheel till the wheels fall off, the real till the real falls off the cliff of imagination

despite everything like god or Molly Bloom always always saying: YES (including no)

Castro & the Police State Left

•November 29, 2016 • 2 Comments

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[This essay can also be read in conjunction with my previous critique of double standards on the Left, posted February 2014.]

Castro & the Police State Left

Fidel Castro has died. His enemies and his sympathizers are framing their predictable responses. I am addressing the latter. I have read many glowing eulogies from the Left in the last few days, some hagiographic, some more carefully worded, but all quite problematic in what they say, imply, and more especially, in what they do not say about ‘Fidel’ and the Cuban system.

I come not to demonise nor to idolize. He was not my friend or comrade, and just as I do not talk about Barack or Hilary or Donald, so I will not call him ‘Fidel’.

I come not to deny the violence and many atrocities of US imperialism, including those perpetrated against Cuba. I come not to deny that such external violence and pressure always exacerbates all internal tensions, problems and conflicts in any social system.

I come not to deny that the terror, suffering and obscene levels of inequality and poverty in most US client-states in Latin America were much worse than in Cuba.

I come not to equate Castro with Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet. Cuba knows no killing fields, death squads or outright gulag system. Castro was the son of a wealthy landowner, taught by Jesuits, a lawyer, an avowed Jacobin fan of Robespierre and Napoleon who let himself be called The Maximum Leader and did not sing and dance like other Cubans but loved to harangue and preach to them for five to seven hours at a stretch. Despite all this Cuban ‘communism’ was of course culturally tempered by heat, cigars, guitars and a certain erotic sultriness.

I come not to ask about good subjective intentions but about objective social facts.

In fact, I come to ask ‘the Left’ what it really stands for.

I ask whether the Left wishes to be an authoritarian Police State Left or a radically democratic and libertarian one that eschews all double standards when it comes to evaluating oppression and suffering, no matter where.

I ask the Left whether it is always on the side of the victims, the common people, the workers, the suffering people, the dissenters from authority or whether it is as often on the side of the new ‘revolutionary’ oppressors and ruling classes who are responsible for the massive suffering of those common people, those victims and dissenters.

I come to stand by those thousands executed without due process after the Cuban revolution. I stand by the persecuted anarchists, liberals and non-political dissenters. I stand by the thousands sent to forced labour camps and prisons where conditions are so abysmal that both Amnesty International and the International Red Cross are denied access. I stand by the dissidents, homosexuals, Jehova’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors who were sent to do their military service to be ‘re-educated’ for their ‘deviations’ at such forced labour camps during the 1960s under appalling conditions, malnourishment and maltreatment.

I stand by the workers who have no right to strike or form their own unions but must, as in all Communist ‘worker-oriented’ states, join state-controlled unions and sign pledges of loyalty to the Communist Party. I stand by labour activists harassed and imprisoned for trying to form independent worker-controlled unions.

I stand by the victims of the state terror that puts informers on every block and sends Rapid Response Brigade mobs to engage in public ‘acts of repudiation’ (verbal and physical abuse, stone-throwing) against the homes of alleged dissenters and ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Even when I may not share their ‘politics’, I stand by the more than a million Cubans who have, often at risk of their lives, voted with their feet and fled the country in disgust (there was no freedom of travel until 2013).

I stand by the citizens, dissenters and human rights activists who are harassed, intimidated, sometimes beaten and prevented from free association, free assembly and free speech. I stand by all Cuban citizens who wish to have free access to information of their own choosing instead of living under total state and Communist Party control of the media (TV, press, books, internet). Cuba has found itself at the bottom of the global press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders and is one of the ten most censored countries in the world.

But is this fair? What of the other side of the ledger, what of Castro’s achievements? What about Cuban education, health care, Third World medical aid?

Yes, education is universal and free. It is also a state propaganda and conformity machine demanding devotion and loyalty to Castro and the state without the teaching of critical thinking. It once strongly encouraged students to ‘denounce to the militia anyone who threatened the Revolution, including friends in the neighbourhood with long hair, cousins who listened secretly to the Beatles, and boys who were said to kiss other boys’ (Luis M. Garcia, ‘How the Maximum Leader made my family leave home’, Sydney Morning Herald 28/11/2016, p, 17). A file is kept on children’s ‘revolutionary integration’ and this file accompanies the child for life. University options depend on how well the person conforms to Marxist ideology. The Code for Children, Youth and Family states that a parent who teaches ideas contrary to communism can be sentenced to three years in prison.

Yes, health care is universal and free. Cuban Third World medical aid has been spectacular. However, there is no right to privacy or a patient’s informed consent or the right to protest, refuse treatment or sue for malpractice. Doctors are expected to keep records of patients’ ‘political integration’. There are many complaints about empty pharmacy shelves and ‘politics’ in medical treatment and health care decision-making. Like Mao’s food exports during Chinese famines and shortages, it may not be too far-fetched to speculate that Castro’s generous medical help to Third World countries may to some extent also have been a form of ‘soft power’ geopolitical influence-seeking bought at the expense of Cubans’ health care.

If ‘socialism’ is to be simply equated with decent education, health care, adequate food and housing for all, then a social democratic welfare state as in Germany or Sweden, the US New Deal and even Hitler’s Third Reich also come fairly close to being ‘socialism’.

If ‘socialism’, in contrast, means a radically participatory society and economy in which the people democratically decide all major political and economic issues, then Castro’s Cuba, like all ‘Communist’ systems, is much further from ‘socialism’ than are social democratic capitalist systems. Socialism, if it is still to mean anything at all, is not the abolition of democracy but its deepening by extending democracy to economic decision-making, both in workplaces and regionally/nationally.

To conclude. Instead of hagiography or ‘balanced’ praise, a Left worthy of the name would be applying critical analysis to a Cuba in transition. Central to this might be Cuba’s ruling class of apparatchiki and its various factions after Fidel Castro. For example, 40% of the Cuban economy belongs to the holding company Gaesa that controls the Cuban military’s business interests. Its president Lopez-Callejas is thus one of Cuban ‘socialism’s’ most powerful men; another is Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son and coordinator of the military’s and Interior Ministry’s intelligence services. Old Communist hardliners like Ventura seem pitted against younger liberals like Mariela Castro Espin and Bermudez.

As in Russia and China, one can from a rigorously Marxist perspective fairly comfortably predict that the opening of Cuban state capitalism to the power of market capitalism will most likely be accompanied by the usual in-fighting, jockeying and shifts within the ruling elites from being communist apparatchiki to being the new capitalist oligarchs. Their wealth and privileges will increase, as will inequality, and a rising middle class will finally get cable TV, flash cars, Chinese consumer goods and holidays in Miami and Las Vegas.

Vale Dave Dowsett

•November 28, 2016 • 2 Comments

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[Fellow Bundanoon poet Dave Dowsett died last month. Dave and I met back in the early 90s when we first got some of our poems published together in a local competition. For the last two years we had been meeting twice a month together with a few other people in a local poetry appreciation group and also in a discussion/bring a plate get-together we call the ‘convivium’. I had the honour of launching his outstanding first poetry book From Butter to Ice last winter. He will be sorely missed. Below one of Dave’s poems (one I’d strangely chosen for discussion in the poetry group 10 days before his death and then read out again at his funeral), followed by my elegy dedicated to his memory. The photo of Dave is by my friend Chris Donaldson, also a member of the poetry group and convivium.]

D.J. Dowsett: At the Funeral of a Scarcely Known Man

When images are enclosed in that box with him,
what memories are being removed from the world?
In those last moments, when low sunlight
slides across the pale walls,
while a dog is barking in the distance
and somewhere a motor mower starts,
there is a scene from half a century before:
a dirt road beside a wide cold field,
the hiss of dry grass blowing,
and a lone horse far up the side of a hill
is lifting its head towards the wind.

Peter Lach-Newinsky: Out of the Blue

i.m. Dave Dowsett (1951-2016)

1

The last time we talked
you mentioned your first presentation
at our monthly convivium
next year. I asked what
your topic would be and you said:
Blue. Two weeks later you died.

2

It wasn’t something you first noticed
reading your poems, that colour blue.
Then again, if it was one thing
your poems admonished, it was:
look again, more closely, you might
be surprised, always the familiar
becoming unfamiliar, the unfamiliar
familiar, the dream real, the real
infused with all the unbearable clarity
of dream, ‘in the dim colonnades
defining its/turquoise precincts
which contained unhurried pools’.
There is too ‘the accustomed weather:/
a north-easter, small brown clouds/
and that lifetime blue sky’, even
an ant within a landscape where
‘a bottle top like a pressed flower/
lies beside a bluestone chip.’ And
then there is Drifting, a poem drifting
between anaesthesia and dying:
‘It seems like drifting slowly out to sea/
those on the shore becoming indistinct…
all the lovely faces smiling/quietly,
a long way off./ Everything seems blue.
So blue.’

3

What blue might your milky blue eyes
have yet seen for us, Dave? The detail
in the under-feathers of a Pacific
Black Duck as it lifts from black water,
that incandescent blue blotch
on a Fairy Wren’s throat as it gyrates
like a first-time public speaker on its twig
eyeing out friend or foe, the screeching lights
on a police car at 3 am rotating through
the trembling eye of a puddle, the spikes
on a punk in Hyde Park or the strobe-lit
hair of the young girl at the blue light disco,
that black blue note rooted in the blood
and sweat of cotton plantations, the dream-
thieving light of ubiquitous screens,
the blue-chemical feast of Aussie birthday cakes,
even the absence of blue in some languages
on this mirror sky planet, a bright water drop
silently singing in black-velvet space?