Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Building Community: Jen Burke/ Soul Essentials of Ocala...by Su Zi

  For community to exist as a living entity—a collection of folks working in unity—there must be a Third Place : a safe haven that is neither home nor work, where people can congregate comfortably. The mindful creation of a Third Place is no easy task. Often times, institutions seek to capitalize on the need for Third Place , but institutions are hierarchical and many people can find this stifling. Nonetheless, Jen Burke, with Soul Essentials of Ocala, has successfully created a Third Place that has existed now for almost a decade.

      Beginning as a shop “in a little stone cottage house across from a school”, Soul Essentials of Ocala  was both gift shop and event host for meditation meetings, drum circles and psychic fairs. Jen Burke acquired the shop in December of 2006, and Soul Essentials existed in the cottage for four years, until Jen acquired the Victorian house that has been the Soul Essentials home since 2010. The house
was “built in 1912” according to Jen and “was a miracle: I went to do a house cleansing and some healing and we were on the way back and pulled up to this house. It was available […] I know it has been a boarding house, an antiques store, and it went into foreclosure, which is how I was able to get it” The house is  registered  as historical, and is in a neighborhood of recognized historical buildings.

     While Soul Essentials of Ocala as a gift shop has both an eBay and a physical presence, it also hosts an array of events that include yoga classes, recovery meetings, psychic fairs, drum circles, meditation groups, porch concerts, art events, and sacred tribal dance classes. Jen opens her home to the community for these events; she resides in the Victorian house that is home to the shop. Jen mindfully seeks to promote community:
                      “ I think there’s a need for an offering of
events, other than going to local bars, that build a family-friendly atmosphere and which promotes community. I love seeing everybody taking time out for themselves, to come meditate, to try and better themselves”. Any visitor can testify that they find themselves lingering, not only at the objects in the shop, but often on the porch of the house itself, which is wide and gracious and has plenty of comfortable seating. The porch is arrayed with statuary of angels and creatures, bordered by a year round flowering garden, and looks out on other historic buildings: one can sit comfortably without hurry, greet friends, meet new ones.

     In a community that resonates with mega-churches, the items housed within Soul Essentials can feel, to some, like coming home: there are multiple rooms that display everything from semi-precious stones, candles and clothing, to rare antiques from Asia .  For the most rare items, Jen posts their availability on eBay (ebaystores.com\soulessentialsofocala ). There is also a Facebook page for Soul Essentials of Ocala , and a webpage http://www.soulessentialsofocala.com with a link to the ebay site. On these pages, Jen says she posts “ the more rare, one of a kind, new and vintage , antique treasures: antique carved jade, jewelry, eastern antiquities.”  Soul Essentials is where one goes to get a statue of Quan Yin for the patio, a candelabra, a four foot tall geode of amethyst.

     Of the objects  available through Soul Essentials, Jen says: 
“ They’re all passions—everything I have in here is stuff I love.
 I know when I was struggling and having difficulties in this earthly realm, everything in here was a tool that helped me feel more connected to a spiritual realm, a universal source. I do better surrounded by beauty. It reminds me to focus on the good”. This dedication to positive, community support can be witnessed, most simply, by the more peaceful expressions on folks’ faces when they take their leave of Soul Essentials—there’s no rush anymore, there are smiles, hugs. People hold paper bags of their chosen treasure, wrapped in tissue and sprinkled with sage; people hold their yoga mats and move more fluidly; people linger and notice the evening.

     Although Jen Burke’s Soul Essentials of Ocala is by patriarchal technicality, a residence and gift store, it is far more than that: it is a place to take a class, to come drum, to join guided meditation, to bring home the wind-chime that makes one always smile, to get that heart quartz necklace that seems to ward off grumpy vibes at the job. Jen, herself, is far more than a shop keep: hers is a dedication to community, a community of “the importance of healing”; she quotes YogaNanda “more than removing bombs and hunger, the way to transmit the consciousness of god to others is through meditation”; by her home opened to others, by the tools for healing and delight she offers, by the no hurry hospitality, Jen has given  everyone who reaches out to her Soul Essentials presence a most crucial gift.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

David Rovics: The Musical Version of Democracy Now!

Rovics tours regularly on four continents, playing for audiences large and small at cafes, pubs, universities, churches, union halls and protest rallies. He has had his music featured on Democracy Now!, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Acik Radyo and other networks. His essays are published regularly on CounterPunch and Truthout and the 200+ songs he makes available on the web have been downloaded more than a million times.

In an interview article with the Baltimore Independent Media Center entitled “Inspiring the Troops” Through Music, Rovics said:
"...when I first started writing any songs that were any good I had already become very much involved with activism and wanting to talk about what was happening in the world. But when I first started writing songs, I wasn’t writing political songs..." 

"I say, that I’m not really hardly at all involved with the folk music scene and I don’t play for the folk music audiences so much and shows don’t get booked by the folk music presenters. Everything I’m doing pretty much in the activist scene. I find that when folk music aficionados come to my shows that they usually like it. I think I could be doing fine in the folk scene if there was enough interest there for more people to be booking shows. The interest in the kind of music I’m doing is almost entirely in the activist scene, which is fine..." 

"If you look at it – take a real cursory glance of the world around you we see that pretty much every institution out there uses music in one way or another. Every corporation uses music to sell their products. The military uses music to inspire their troops. I use music for my troops. It’s the same basic function that music is playing. You know, even from a capitalist perspective you could say it’s used to sell products and to foster – in the military for example, that people are working together – that they’re part of the same thing, that they’re sticking up for each other. That’s what we’re using music at marches and rallies. It’s to inspire the troops. And in other settings it’s to educate people about things that are happening and to talk about it in a way that hopefully might be more memorable than a speech..." 

"Yes, to communicate to people on an emotional level. And perhaps even a spiritual level and reach them in a way that people don’t often get reached by other means. And it’s just one of many means of communication, but I think it’s an important one and when we have events, whether they’re protests or educational events or whatever, the events that have music and food at them are so much different from the ones that don’t. Everyone, whether or not they’re conscious of why they come out of those events inspired and feeling like they’ve learned something and they’re going to do something with that knowledge – that’s the difference between even a really good speaker, they’re still – are not really pessimistic but good educational optimistic speaker – there’s still something missing compared to when you hear that speaker and you sing a few songs before or after – preferably after I think because then you leave on a feeling on more togetherness and optimism even when the songs are not particularly optimistic. There’s something about music that makes people feel optimistic..." 

Opinions on file sharing
David Rovics supports file sharing of his own work. "Feel free to download these songs. Use them for whatever purpose. Send them to friends, burn them, copy them, play them on the radio, on the internet, wherever. Music is the Commons. Ignore the corporate music industry shills who tell you otherwise. Downloading music is not theft, you're not hurting anyone, I promise. (And in any case, yes, this is legal, and I'm making all of these songs available myself.)" 

Rovics' album Meanwhile In Afghanistan features a track entitled Steal This MP3, in which Rovics encourages listeners to steal the very track and states "I've got words for these plutocrats who claim to represent me. Steal this MP3." The song is critical of copyright and the record industry.  (Wikipedia)

Visit David's website for more info.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Donna Snyder

Cover art by

Victor Hernández

Donna Snyder has carved out quite a name for herself in El Paso and far beyond.  I first met her not long after she started her Tumblewords workshop in the mid-90s.  In fact, she was still living, working and holding her workshops in Las Cruces. She was introduced to me at a meeting of the Literary Arts committee at the El Paso downtown library. We read our poetry in little casual groups, at coffee houses and at parties at her house and mine.  Her writing was so good I wondered why she wasn't published everywhere.  She simply hadn't sent it out yet.  That has been corrected.  The road is paved for the world to hear now and it is listening.
I was honored to write this blurb for her latest book:  "Death is the universal intimate stranger, replacing loved ones with a void. The void cannot be filled but art can rise from agony. Donna writes through her losses, cloaks herself in memories against the darkest nights until eventually she sees the moon brighten up the sky."

From the El Paso Times article by Ramon Renteria: 
Donna Snyder recalls how her new poetry collection, "Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal," came together just about the time she desperately needed some healing.

"I was pretty much incapacitated. Grief can pretty much incapacitate you. And it did for a while," Snyder said. "The only thing I could keep doing was writing."

Snyder spoke in a recent interview about how Chimbarazu Press, a small, independent publisher in New York City, invited her to submit some of her poems soon after her husband, El Paso artist Mario Colín, died this past October at age 54.

Her husband's death rekindled the grief that Snyder had experienced 13 years earlier when her longtime partner Jesus Guzman fell to his death at age 44. Intertwined in all that grief was the loss of her father, other relatives and friends, and one of her favorite dogs.

Snyder also was dealing with health issues and the loss of her professional identity as a lawyer.
"Being a lawyer is a huge element of my self-image," she said. "I never expected to retire early. I expected to work until I died. Not being a lawyer was upsetting to me, and my health issues were upsetting to me."

Snyder put together a manuscript of poems she had written about the men in her life; catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; immigrants left to die in the desert; and mishaps such as the shooting death of a young goat-herder in Redford, Texas, by a U.S. Marine.

From Donna's newest book, Poemas Ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal
"I Am the sound of the Sea"

Bio from Red Fez:
Donna Snyder's first full-time job was waiting tables on Route 66. She grew up surrounded by cotton fields her daddy didn't own, in a stucco shotgun shack beside US Hwy 83 in the Texas Panhandle. She worked as a waitress in a jazz cafe in Fort Worth, a blues bar in Austin, and a diner in Houston. Her Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal was released from Chimbarazu Press September 2014. NeoPoiesis Press will publish her poetry collection, Three Sides of the Same Moon, in 2015. Her chap, IAm South, published by VirgoGray Press in 2010, will be reissued as a book in late Fall of 2014. She has read her work in Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, and Texas. She founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995, and continues to coordinate its free weekly workshops, occasional publications, and frequent performance events in El Paso, Texas. She contributes regularly to VEXT Magazine and Return to Mago.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

CHIRON Review, # 97

   This 152 page book is issue #97 of Chiron Review.  It contains poems and short stories from 68 literary artists.  Many of us have appeared in publications together over the past 30 years.  So, it's like a party under the covers.  We're so happy to see new work from Robert Cooperman, Rochelle Lynn Holt, Catfish McDaris, Gerald Locklin, Eckhard Gerdes, Charles Harper Webb, Mark Weber and so many others. This book is a treat I dip into from time to time and yes, I found a favorite poem and I will share it with you.

 Sing at Unnatural Hours in the Presence of Artificial Light

There are times I have to remind myself

that a bridge is a way to travel over water

not a diving board for suicides.  That airports

aren't just places for departures, but places

for arrivals, and hospitals aren't only

where we go to die, but where we're born.

I'd like to think not a single bomb

was dropped on anyone today, not a single

person was diagnosed with cancer.

Somewhere someone misses you.

A friend remembers something

you once said.  Someone somewhere

thinks you're beautiful.  A man holds

a guitar in his hands.  A couple dances behind

the living room couch mouthing words

they've longed to share with each other.

At this hour only astronomers

and insomniacs find natural,

as the blazing red lights of an ambulance

flicker fear past the window,

I have to remind myself:

it doesn't always mean somebody's

dying in there, sometimes it means

somebody's being saved.

    Clint Margrave

This issue is dedicated to Robert Peters, a talented poet and writer, who so many of us knew and whose work we respected, and still do.   I close this article with a clip from his bio on Wikipedia:

Billy Collins, a former student of Peters and now a noted poet in his own right, once described Peters' poetry: "[…] modifies poetic language and breaks new artistic ground. By combining playful rhymes with painfully serious matter, he has returned new tonal possibilities to poetry. By fully exploiting the metaphor of the body, […] he has provided a fresh code for the expression of feeling ..."

Poet and author of Iron John, Robert Bly, wrote about Peters' American Poetry Bakeoff book of criticism as "not maternal ... insights are set down simply, unornamented, as if intended to glance off, and yet I think they are important, and belong to the center ... He deserves numerous readers, particularly among young poets dissatisfied with the celebrities who keep writing the same poem over and over again ... [His] essay on Robert Creeley is superb; the best essay on his work I know."

He has been published by both large and small presses, including W.W. Norton, Wayne State University Press, Crossing Press, New Rivers Press, Cherry Valley Editions, Unicorn Press, GLB Publishing, Paragon House, Chiron Review Press and University of Wisconsin Press. In the fall of 2001, the 40th volume of his Familial Love and Other Misfortunes was published by Red Hen Press. Peters has served as a contributing editor for The American Book Review, Contact II and Paintbrush.

R.I.P.  Robert Peters 
October 20, 1924 – June 13, 2014

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